Another excerpt and Art

So here’s another excerpt — this time from the 2nd (unfinished) novel in the Luninatia Orchid, currently called “the Venus Collateral.”  It’s one of my favorite flashbacks, illustrating the problematic relationship between my two protagonists.

“‘New Fenway Park,’” Carlos reads from the program, “‘has been carefully re-constructed out of the materials from the original Fenway, dismantled and shipped to Luna City in 2215.’”

“Never mind that Luna City wasn’t settled until 2216,” Wing mutters. “And I’ve been to the site of the original Fenway Park on Earth. The structure’s still standing. They use it for storage.”

“Horrors,” Percival grins.

They sit in the family’s private box, just behind home plate. Fake though it might be, Kat has seen vid of old Earther games and she thinks the park is top-clip. From the ancient-style stadium seats to the legendary Green Monster wall, from the glare of the halogen lights to the calls of the peanut vendors, the entire place is a monument to one of humanity’s proudest traditions.

“I didn’t think the Company would let any of us Offers anywhere near Boston,” Rebecca says.

“The captain is good at getting into places he shouldn’t be,” Sumi smirks, from the seat directly behind Wing, who turns his head and looks up at her.

“What, is it an election year already?” he smiles wickedly.

“Just practicing, sweet,” Sumi purrs, reaching forward and squeezing Wing’s shoulder. He kisses her hand before turning back to watch the warmup.

Kat narrows her eyes at her Orchidary and her mother. Since when are they so flimmered on each other? she thinks. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Percival nudge Carlos and grin.

“Dad, can I go get some ice cream?” Serena asks.

“Wait until the second inning, chica,” Carlos says absently. He leans over to his husband, and Kat, in the seat behind him, can hear him murmur: “So, how long until the lovebirds start squawking?”

“Three innings,” Percival whispers back.

“Wing, how did you manage to get access to Boston?” Rebecca asks.

Kat rolls her eyes. She’s scrolling on her new status, she thinks with disgust. Wing this, Carlos that. Just like she’s been clicking with them for years.

Wing shrugs dismissively. “I was there on Guild business,” he says vaguely.

Yes, but which Guild, Captain? Kat thinks bitterly. Although he healed the wound immediately, she’s sure she can still feel the cut across the ribs he gave her yesterday, and has not yet forgiven him for the sharp rebuke he gave her for failing to dodge the blow  in time.

Hiroshi pokes Kat right in the sorest spot of her ribs with uncanny accuracy. “Hand over the binocs, tweeg.”

“Don’t call me a tweeg, you little pilk,” Kat snaps back.

“Shhh, pups,” Percival says softly.

Kat hands her brother the binocs, and ignores the face he makes once their father’s back is turned. Little sleg, she thinks.

“Here comes Jamal,” Wing says suddenly. He pulls out his handcomp, speaking into it as he straps it to his wrist: “Rochester, talk to me.” As he stands up, he shifts into what Kat always thinks of as his ‘professional’ posture: left hand resting on the holster at his hip, right hand to his ear, carefully blending into the background behind Percival. He’s always just behind my father, she thinks. And somehow, no one ever sees him.

Perce Sandersen also has a professional posture, a carefully constructed persona every bit as artfully crafted as Lady Carmen; Prince Percival is well known for his charm and charisma with the press. The Heir Apparent stands up and smiles broadly, his arms open wide as he steps forward to embrace his good friend Jamal, roving anchor of Luna Today.

Kat stands reluctantly with the rest of the family as the vidcams hone in on them. We just came to watch a krecking ball game, she thinks resentfully, forcing a smile. Can’t you leave us alone?

Jamal slaps Prince Percival on the back. “Great to see you and the pups here today, Perce.”

“Jamal! Always a pleasure,” Percival says with the heartiest of the laughs in his ‘jovial’ repertoire.

“Sumi! I thought you were back in Freedom! Glad to see you could get away from your busy schedule,” Jamal rambles on.

“Loved your editorial last week,” Sumi says smoothly, with only the slightest hint of sarcasm showing through. Jamal pretends not to notice, moving on down the line. “Carlos!” he says brightly. “When did you get back from Europa?”

“Just yesterday, Jamal. I’m glad to see you around and up,” Carlos says with an ominous chuckle. “Pity the client didn’t want to try again; as you said in your last link to the Shatner Log, I could certainly use the Orchids.”

Beside him, Sumi and Percival exchange a smirk. Jamal swallows heavily but says nothing, momentarily startled into silence.

“Jamal, we’re on in ten,” a cameradroid says tactfully.

“Smile it up, family,” Sumi mutters under her breath.

“…and five, four, three…” the droid flashes her lights twice.

Jamal recovers his composure instantly. “Brian, I’m here with His Royal Highness Prince Percival, Heir Apparent to the Buckingham Lease. I see you brought your family with you today, your Highness.”

“Why, yes, Jamal,” Prince Percival replies with a large toothy grin. “I’m here today with my wife, Mayor Sumi Kimyoto, and my husband, Citizen Carlos Ramirez, and these are our children: Rebecca, who has just passed her Third Ascension; Katherine, who has just entered the Smugglers’ Guild Academy; Hiroshi, who is in his final year at the Luna Arts Academy; and our youngest,” he smiles, ruffling her hair fondly, “Serena, who will be performing in public for the first time at Spencer Concert Hall this Saturday night.”

“We’ll be sure to be there, Highness,” Jamal laughs charmingly.

“And we’ll be glad to see you, Jamal,” Percival replies with another selection from his catalogue of sincere and winning smiles.

“Thank you, your Highness.” Jamal turns back to the camera. “Luna’s own Royal Family, Brian. Back to you.”

“… and we’re clear,” the droid buzzes. “Great energy, people. Thanks.” She zips away to the next vid-op.

“Thanks for putting up with us, Perce,” Jamal winks. “Gotta give the flebs what they want.”

“Of course,” Percival replies with another toothy grin. “Always glad to help out.” He and Jamal kiss the air next to each others’ cheeks before the anchor drifts away.

“Give the flebs a fleb,” Carlos chuckles lowly, as they all sit down.

“Sometimes,” Percival says, “I look into those eyes and think there’s a real person underneath the glastic.”

“There isn’t one,” Sumi answers. “I coupled with him once, when we were at Stratos University together. The man has no soul.” She leans forward and begins to rub Wing’s shoulders. “Just like another man I know.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wing smirks, reaching his hand up to hold Sumi’s again. “I think that he’s just pretending to be superficial in order to hide his real self. Of course, that might just be another act.”

Percival looks over at his cousin quizzically. “So he’s wearing a mask under a mask to cover a mask?”

“I don’t think I can contemplate that in my current state of mind,” Carlos says, winking at Percival.

“Nor can I. Lord Chancellor,” Percival grins at Wing, “hold down the Royal Fort. We are going on a journey with our worthy consort.”

“Just don’t get caught,” Wing sighs, leaning his head back onto Sumi’s knees and closing his eyes as she rubs his temples. “We’re not in Freedom.”

Percival puts on an air of injured innocence. “Meaning?”

“Meaning,” Wing replies primly, “that smoking of any kind is illegal outside the designated maryterias. Public copulation is also severely –” he winces as he remembers the pups; Serena giggles and Kat and Hiroshi smirk openly.

Carlos merely smiles indulgently at his children. “Come on, Perce, let’s go before my little nephew here works himself into a froth. We’ll try not to get in trouble.”

“Daddy, can you and Papa Perce get me some ice cream on the way back from not getting in trouble?” Serena asks wisely.

Carlos rolls his eyes. “All right, chica.”

“Get us a couple beers,” Sumi adds, grinning.

“I’ll have one, too,” Rebecca says casually.

Give me a krecking break, Kat thinks, but still looks hopefully up at her father, who and shakes his head knowingly.

“Kat, you don’t even like beer,” Percival chuckles, as he and Carlos stand up.

That’s not the point, Kat thinks, watching her fathers wandering away together. I’d like to be an adult, too.

“Papa Wing, can I go and find Lina?” Hiroshi asks.

“As soon as the jolly adventurers get back,” Wing answers mildly. “I’d like to keep just one group of us away from the box at a time.” He watches the field as the visiting team, the Shatner Trekkers, finish their warmup and cede the diamond to the Luna City Red Sox.

“Is this Lina Goldblum?” Sumi asks with a smile.

“She’s my first primary,” Hiroshi blushes. “We just swore handfast last night.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Sumi grins. “I’m so happy for you.”

Wing opens his eyes. “Congratulations, pup,” he says, leaning over Rebecca’s shoulder to press palms with the boy.

Kat’s stomach turns. Why would Lina want to commit to that little fleb? she thinks. She and Serena share a disgusted look over their brother’s shoulder. She’s just glad that Chaz pulled clinic duty with Doctor Patel this weekend; her fiancé and her brother have been getting along annoyingly well lately, and they and Lina are currently inseparable.

“That’s great news, Hiroshi,” says Rebecca, “but why didn’t you wait until Perce and Carlos got back? You could have told us all together.”

“They would have only tweaked me,” Hiroshi mutters, bowing his head.

“Oh, they wouldn’t,” Wing says reassuringly.

“Oh, no, Dad and Papa Carlos never tweak anyone,” Kat mutters under her breath, and Wing shoots her a sharp look. How the kreck can he hear me over there? she thinks angrily. I deliberately sat as far away from the scrab as possible.

“Would you like me to tell your fathers for you?” Sumi offers facetiously.

“Mo-om,” Hiroshi groans.

Sumi reaches over and ruffles her son’s hair, laughing gently.

Wing turns to Rebecca. “So, have you decided on which courses you’re going to take your first term?”

“Well, I’ll be taking the required Intro to Law and the History of the IF, of course,” she says seriously, “but I’m not sure whether I should take the Diplomacy Seminar or the Survey of Government Styles.”

“Neither,” Wing replies. “Your first year is about exploration, Becca. Take a literature course, try a general history survey. You’ll want to get a broad picture before you focus on the details. And you should definitely take something in the arts. Don’t give up your dancing, but you also might want to take something you haven’t tried before. Take an art class, or maybe a poetry seminar. Do something that moves you to be creative.”

“Oh, bushi – but really…” Sumi breaks in.

Nice save, Mama Sumi, Kat thinks, and notices Wing stifle a laugh into a cough.

“Becca,” Sumi continues, shooting an acid look at Wing, “the Inner System has been at the rim of war for over a decade now. You’ve been following it closely enough to know how quickly you’ll be needed. It’s ghenna out there, and you’ve got to plan your strategy carefully. If you’re going to follow in your mother’s footsteps –”

“That is, if you decide to follow in your mother’s footsteps,” Wing puts in. “And if I remember correctly, Ambassador Lloyd received her doctorate in philosophy, and her baccalaureate and masters’ degrees were in old Earth literature and Martian poetry, respectively.”

“Captain,” Sumi replies evenly, “my Orchant has already made it clear that she feels called to the diplomatic corps, which is an important and sacred duty. Particularly in your family,” she adds significantly, “particularly now.”

Wing waves a hand dismissively. “The various nations of humanity have been and always will be at war, Mayor Kimyoto. No diplomat has ever been able to change that.”

“At least the diplomatic corps try to stop the fighting,” Sumi snips at Wing, “rather than reveling in it like our military, Captain. Now, Becca,” she continues, “You’re going to want to focus on your deliberation and negotiation tactics, so –”

“Honestly, Mayor,” Wing cuts her off with an impatient gesture. “There’s more to life than diplomacy and politics. Some of us like to experience the universe, rather than argue about it.”

“You mean the way the two of you are arguing now?” the words are out of Kat’s mouth before she can stop herself. Wing’s reaction is classic; he turns around slowly and glares so intently at her that she can feel the center of her forehead burn.

What did you say, Cadet Sandersen?” his whisper is deadly ice, and his eyes glint like the frozen landscape of topside.

Kat stares back bravely, but drops her head after a few seconds. “I’m sorry, Captain Parkhurst,” she mumbles.

“She’s right, Wing,” Rebecca says suddenly, and Kat looks up in genuine shock at her sister.

Rebecca ducks her head slightly as Wing turns to her with a slight frown.

“I’m not quite sure I follow you, Citizen Sandersen,” he says quietly.

“Kat’s right; you two don’t need to argue. You and Sumi both have excellent points. I’m going to be a diplomat,” she says, smiling at her mother, “but I feel it’s important that I be a well-rounded diplomat, too.”

Wing’s face breaks into a smile. “You’ll be a spamming fine diplomat.”

Sumi grins proudly. “That’s my pup.” She reaches out and squeezes her daughter’s shoulder.

Wing shakes his head, smiling, and leans back onto Sumi’s knees again, staring out at the players warming up on the field.

“Are you two going to kiss and make up now?” Serena asks in a bored voice.

Wing smiles up indulgently at her. “Manners, young Citizen.”

Oh, bushit, Kat thinks sullenly. She can say anything she wants to him, but I get shut down every time.

“You didn’t answer my daughter’s question, Captain,” Sumi murmurs, slipping her hand back onto Wing’s shoulder.

“Which question was that?” he asks innocently, reaching up and squeezing her hand.

Sumi laughs. “Are we going to kiss and make up now?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Wing replies mischievously.

“Such a python,” Sumi sighs, leaning forward and kissing Wing’s forehead.

“Did a couple of beautiful women order some beer?” Percival calls, slipping back into his seat. He passes Sumi and Rebecca each a large polyflex drinkbulb.

Kat and Hiroshi wrinkle their noses at each other; they can smell the distinct odor of mary hanging in a cloud around Carlos and Percival, and their hair and clothes are suspiciously ruffled and unkempt; they have clearly been doing more than smoking in whatever disused corner they found.

“I drank your brew, little nephew, so here’s mine.” Carlos passes Percival a beer, who passes it along to Rebecca, who passes it to Wing. Carlos sits down, pulling out another drinkbulb for himself.

“I thought you drank mine,” Wing smirks.

“So I got an extra,” Carlos answers mildly.

“Alcohol and mary,” Wing mutters. “Now there’s a combination.”

“Oh, crash it, Wilma,” Percival retorts, rolling his eyes. “It’s only litebrew.”

“I can tell,” Wing replies, pulling a face as he takes a sip. “Total spam.”

“Where’s my ice cream?” Serena frowns. “You and Papa Perce got smecked and you forgot,” she accuses.

Carlos and Percival grin at each other.

“Well, then, I guess we’ll just have to eat all this ourselves,” Carlos chuckles, and with a dramatic flourish of his hand (and Kat notices that the other hand goes into his pocket), a large platter with three ice cream sundaes appears in the aisle next to him.

Serena grins in delight. “Thank you, Daddy!” she squeals.

“Thanks, Papa Carlos,” Hiroshi says, leaning across Kat and taking two of the sundaes. He passes one to Serena, who immediately begins to wolf it down.

“Thanks, Papa Carlos,” Kat echoes, as she takes the remaining sundae. She looks down at her father quizzically. “So how did you stabilize the holomask over the viscous surface of the sundaes?” she asks.

“Don’t spoil a good trick, pup,” Carlos laughs. He leans back and drapes an arm around Percival. “So have we missed anything?” he asks Wing.

“The Trekkers take as long to warm up as the Sox do,” Wing answers, looking impatiently at his handcomp. “They’re taking their sweet time starting this game.”

“Well, our son has some news,” Sumi begins, and Hiroshi shoots her a look as his face turns a bright scarlet.

“Hiroshi swore handfast last night,” Serena blurts out immediately.

“You blabby little slegger –” Hiroshi snaps.

“Language, pup,” Perce says gently. “And Serena, sweetie, you wouldn’t want your brother to tell all your news, right?”

Serena looks down, blushing. “No, Papa Perce.”

“So apologize to your brother,” Carlos says.

“And you to your sister,” Percival adds.

The two youngest pups exchange a reluctant hug. “Sorry,” they mumble.

Percival smiles up at his son. “Now, is this true, young man?”

Hiroshi nods, blushing.

“And who’s the lucky one?” Carlos asks.

“Lina Goldblum,” Hiroshi says quietly.

“Max Goldblum’s pup?” Perce laughs. “She’s a pretty one,” he says, winking at Sumi. “Our son’s got taste, at that.”

“Why didn’t you tell us first?” Carlos chuckles.

“Our son was worried that you two would tweak him unmercifully,” Sumi replies with a slight smile.

“We wouldn’t tweak him,” Percival says.

“Not unmercifully,” Carlos adds.

Kat feels a strange prickling on the back of her neck. Something’s not right … she looks around the field, startled. The warmup has ended and now the grounds crew is preparing the diamond for play.

A lazy voice over the loudspeaker is explaining to the tourists about the rules adjustments for New Fenway (“… does not have artificial gravity, so the dimensions of the diamond have been expanded accordingly, and the players and equipment specially weighted to simulate …”).

Something’s not right, the voice repeats in her head. She only halfway listens to her brother telling everyone about his big night.

“She told me she decided to ask me two weeks ago, but…”

Something’s not right. Tell the captain. She shakes herself. Wing is listening to Hiroshi with the other adults, his right hand idly tracing up and down Sumi’s leg, while Sumi absently strokes Wing’s hair. A flicker of movement in the corner of Kat’s vision startles her, a flash of green light.

“Captain,” she says.

Percival hushes her with a gesture.

“Captain, something’s wrong,” she persists.

“Cadet,” Wing growls, “you’re interrup–” he breaks off, suddenly snapping into alert, his every muscle tensing. “You’re right,” he mutters. “Perce, get down.”

“Wing, what –”

“Get DOWN!” Wing shouts, diving over the seats and pushing both the Heir Apparent and his eldest daughter to the floor. The captain’s shoulder bursts open into an exploding cloud of red blood and white bone. Carlos leaps over the side of the box, his blaster appearing from nowhere, turning all around to find the source of the shot. Sumi huddles down, pushing Serena and Hiroshi down with her, as a platoon of black-uniformed guards converges on the family box. Another shot rings out, and Kat hurls herself across the aisle and into the panicking crowd, where she slips underneath one of the seats. She surfaces a few rows away, surrounded on all sides by people desperate to get away. Without meaning to, Kat has separated herself from the safety of the family’s guard, and now she finds herself pushed further and further from her family.

They’re looking for me over there, she thinks desperately, trying to fight through the press of people. Another blaster shot makes her jump. But I don’t want to draw attention to myself, either. Kat crawls underneath the seats, trying to get as far away from the excitement as possible. She pulls the hood of her tunic over her head and crawls under the seats, emerging a few sections away, where the people have already calmed down and are milling around and watching the drama over by the Royal Box. She sits in an unoccupied seat, crouching down and deliberately making herself as invisible as possible. The shots have stopped; but she’s heard Wing’s lecture enough to know that she should never assume an attacker has been caught until the captain gives the all clear.

Now what? she thinks. Captain Parkhurst won’t give the all clear until he finds me, and I don’t know if it’s safe.

The next moment, Kat has gotten up again and now she makes her way to the Security office, forcing herself not to run or make herself look conspicuous.

The Dingo’ll be shocked to find out I actually paid attention to his slarmy Emergency Drills, she thinks, smiling despite herself as she pushes her way into the Security office. A long line of people in various states of crisis throng the front desk, including one woman who is having hysterics because she ‘was looking straight at the captain’s head when it blasted into a million pieces.’ No one notices a slouching teenager with her hood pulled over her head, and in all the confusion Kat is able to sneak past the front desk and into the back hall when the guard supposed to be keeping people out is attending to the screaming woman. Kat has been here on official tours, of course, and so she makes her way down the hall to where she knows the control room is located.

She’s about to push back her hood and walk in when she hears a coarse laugh from inside, and she peeks around the corner to see a tall man with reddish-blond hair and a cruel face sitting at the console.

“The family’s denying it, but buzz is that Princess Katherine is missing,” he tells his friend just out of Kat’s field of vision. “I’ll bet she’s worth a pretty ransom.”

“Socket, I’d kidnap her myself,” the friend agrees. “The whole clan’s loaded with Orchids; they can afford anything.”

Kat freezes at the doorway, her heart pounding in her ears. She hears approaching footsteps behind her, and without thinking, she ducks into a door across the hall from the control room. The door slides shut behind her, and she is relieved to see that the room contains nothing more threatening than a rickety table and a couple of chairs.

Now what do I do? she thinks desperately. Before she can calm her jangled nerves, she is startled by voices outside the door.

“We’ll hold him in here for now,” someone says, and Kat realizes with a chill that the speaker is referring to this room.

Hands shaking, she pulls out her handcomp. “Holomask on, blank screen,” she mutters. Gaia, please let this work, she prays silently.

With a flickering beam of violet light, the holomask settles over Kat, and she leans against the wall, hoping that her Intro to Engineering project will hold out better than it did in class. Still, if Papa Carlos can make it work for a platter of ice cream ….

The door slides open and two Luna City guards bustle a man in between them, and sit him forcibly down at the table.

The taller of the two guards cuffs him to the table. “Ease it, there! You’re only –” he deals the man a stiff blow, “– making it harder on yourself.”

“You’ve got the wrong man, I tell you. I didn’t blast at no prince.”

“We’ve got seven witnesses,” the other guard says in a bored voice.

“People don’t know what they seen. There was a lot of mary fumes floating around the section, not that I’d ever puff.” The prisoner looks up with a nervous grin. “I’m an honest citizen, I am.”

“You were holding the weapon.”

“I picked it up after the joe dropped it.”

“The joe?”

“The joe what blasted the prince. I seen him. I can idee him for you.”

The second guard leans forward, her face inches from the prisoner. “I’ve got an idea,” she sneers. “You can idee the joe for Captain Parkhurst.”

The prisoner blanches. “Wing Parkhurst?”

Kat’s jaw drops. The captain’ll krecking crash me if he finds me in here, she thinks.

“So you know him, do you?” the second guard grins up at her partner.

The prisoner licks his lips, his eyes shifting between the two guards. “I’ve heard of him,” he says in a low voice.

“Well, what a coincidence. He’s in our captain’s office right now, isn’t that right, Stanley?”

“Oh, yeah,” Stanley agrees. “He’s demanding to be let in to visit with you.”

“He’s looking pretty fissioned,” the other guard continues. “He’s got that fancy l-blade of his, and he’s waving it around.”

“I told you, I’m not –”

“Madge, why don’t you go get Captain Parkhurst in here?” Stanley grins.

“No – wait! I’ll talk,” the prisoner blurts out. “Don’t let him in here.”

Madge and Stanley smile at each other, then they both sit down opposite the prisoner. Stanley pulls out his handcomp and lays it on the table.

“All right, let’s start with your name,” Stanley begins.

The door slides open. “Rigel, old click!” Carlos smiles, stepping into the room.

“You have no idea how much trouble you’re in this time, Rigel,” Wing growls, sweeping in behind Carlos. The look that Madge gives Stanley tells Kat that neither of them had any clue that Captain Parkhurst was anywhere near. Rigel, however, flinches guiltily at the sight of his cousins, his pale face turning even paler.

“Carlos! Wing! I’m so glad to see you!!” he laughs nervously. “There’s been a horrible misunderstanding. You can tell them. Tell them I nerver’d hurt Cousin Perce …”

Behind her holomask, Kat gapes in astonishment. That’s Cousin Rigel? He’s krecking pathetic …

Wing turns to Stanley, and Kat can see that his left shoulder has been crudely wrapped in a cloth bandage, along with a malfunctioning holo-cast barely keeping the whole thing together. The crackling disk is already allowing some blood to seep through the bandage, and a thin stream of scarlet is slowly dripping down his arm. “Sergeant, you may leave us with the prisoner,” he says ominously.

The two Luna City guards stand up, putting themselves between Wing and the prisoner. “Captain, this is our jurisdiction,” Stanley begins.

“Rigel Stedham,” Wing replies, “is, regrettably, a citizen of Freedom.”

“The crime happened in Luna City –”

“I don’t have time for this,” Wing snaps. “I need vital information from this prisoner.”

“Come on, clicks,” Carlos adds, flashing his most charming smile. “You’re going to have to extradite him anyway. Save us the scrolling and let him talk to us now.”

“You can talk to him with us here,” Madge says bluntly.

“Now, Corporal,” Carlos says smoothly, “you know that he’s more likely to be honest with –”

“We’re wasting time,” Wing cuts in. “I know you’ve been ripping our com. You know she’s missing. Now let me do my job.”

“Or perhaps you’d like to discuss things with the girl’s mother,” Carlos says with a menacing smile. “I’m sure Ambassador Lloyd would love to hear why you feel it necessary to keep us from questioning a suspect in her daughter’s kidnapping.”

“We’re not keeping you –” Stanley breaks off, and both Luna City guards shrink back as Wing takes out his slaadyen with his right hand, the blade flickering on immediately. Straining against the holo-cast, he slowly lifts his hand to eye level and holds it out unsteadily in front of the guards.

Kat watches in horror as her Orchidary calmly cuts off a finger from his own left hand, his face remaining totally expressionless. The holo-cast’s sensors immediately scan the opening of another wound, and the photon field flickers and buzzes irritably as it stretches the cast’s parameters to the limit in order to staunch the bleeding.

Kat feels her throat growing dry. He’s just put himself in mortal peril in order to prove a point.

“You know,” Wing says quietly, “what happens to people who stand in my way.” He hands the finger to Carlos. “Save this, will you?” he murmurs calmly.

Carlos manages a faint smile, and pats Stanley on the shoulder. “Why don’t you two just leave us with our friend? I promise I won’t let the captain kill him.”

“How can we trust you?” Madge challenges, without much enthusiasm.

Carlos drops the smile. “I give you my word as an Assassin,” he replies darkly. “I shall not let my colleague here kill Rigel Stedham.”

“Leave us,” Wing growls threateningly. “Now.” With a crackle of green sparks, the photon field around his hand gives way, and the stump of his finger starts bleeding at an alarming pace. Wing does not even glance at his hand, but keeps glowering at the guards, who wordlessly slink out of the room as quickly as possible. The door slides shut behind them with a foreboding hiss.

Wing turns on Rigel and violently tears off a piece of his tunic, using it to wrap his bleeding hand. He sits down opposite the prisoner.

“Where’s the pup, Rigel?” he asks through bared teeth.

“I didn’t know Cousin Becca was gone, Wing. Honest…”

Wing gives Rigel a sharp backhanded clout to the side of his head. “Idiot,” he barks.

“Come on, Rigel,” Carlos puts in. “You know it’s Kat that’s missing. You can save us all a lot of trouble if you’d just tell us now.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” Rigel protests feebly, rubbing his cheek where a red welt blossoms from Wing’s blow.

Carlos steps behind Rigel and puts his hands gently upon the man’s shoulders. “Did you know,” he says conversationally, “that an Assassin is expected to know no less than seventeen different ways to break a man’s neck?”

“You promised the guards you wouldn’t kill me,” Rigel says nervously.

“No, Citizen Stedham,” Carlos replies in a soft voice. “I promised the guards that I wouldn’t let Wing kill you.”

“Now where is Cadet Sandersen?” Wing snarls.

“I tell you, I don’t know,” Rigel protests. “I didn’t know she was missing. I don’t do kidnappings, you know that,” he babbles on in terror. “If I was going to move into kidnapping, I’d go for the mega-Orchids. I wouldn’t twizz around for no throne insurance.”

What did you call her?” Wing’s voice is icy, and Rigel shrinks down into his seat.

“I didn’t mean nothing, Wing.” Rigel trembles under the captain’s glare.

“That ‘throne insurance,’” Wing hisses, “is an intelligent, talented, warm-hearted and beautiful young woman, and every single hair on her head is more precious to me than life itself.”

Kat’s jaw drops in shock. For a moment, she can see a softness in Wing’s eyes that she hasn’t seen since she was a small child.

She’s not the only one who senses Wing’s vulnerability. “Sounds like she’s more than just your charge,” Rigel says with an insolent smirk.

“She’s my Orchant.”

Rigel laughs crudely. “They let you have an Orchant?”

Wing leaps across the table with a savage roar, but Carlos pulls him back.

Wing turns on Carlos with a furious glare, but Carlos holds his ground. “We don’t have time for this,” he growls, and un-holsters his blaster, raising it slowly to Rigel’s head. “All right, Stedham,” he snarls. “Estoy con jugar juegos[1]. Where is my daughter?”

“I don’t know, I’m telling the truth,” Rigel cries. “Please –”

“You have until the count of three before your brains are decorating the wall behind you,” Carlos says in a dead monotone. “Uno.”

“Carlos, I wouldn’t –”

Dos.”

“But I don’t –”

Tres –”

“Papa Carlos,” Kat snaps out of her shock and shuts down the holomask just in time.

Wing and Carlos wheel around to face her.

Rigel grins in relief. “I told you I didn’t know nothing –”

Without looking back, Carlos delivers a sharp blow to the back of Rigel’s neck with the butt end of his blaster, and the man slumps over unconscious.

Then Carlos is throwing his arms around Katherine, hugging her tightly. Over her father’s shoulder, she sees Wing gaping at her, his shock, relief, and annoyance all battling for control of his facial muscles. He opens his mouth, then shuts it again, then closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens his eyes, his face is totally pinoker.

“Rochester,” he says into his handcomp, “we’ve found her Highness; she is safe and under my personal guard.” He turns to Kat. “Cadet Sandersen,” he says in a cool voice, “explain yourself.”

Carlos shoots his nephew a filthy look. “Wing, crash the scrabbing,” he snaps. “The pup’s been through enough. Kitkat, where the kreck have you been? We’ve been worried sick.”

Kat looks back and forth between her Orchidary and her father. “I – I got separated from the family during the shooting,” she begins. “Then I found myself out of the Safe Circle, and so I came here, to the Security Office.”

“And once you let yourself get separated from the group,” Wing says darkly, “why did you choose to hide, rather than sensibly announcing your presence and saving everyone –”

“Ease it, Wing,” Carlos growls. “Kat, did something frighten you when you got here?”

“I heard two men talking in the control room,” she tells them. “One of them said he’d kidnap me himself for all the Orchids we have.”

“Kreckholers,” Wing mutters. “I’ll teach them a thing or three –”

“Wing, you’re about to collapse,” Carlos says with a weary sigh. “I can tell; you always get pricky when you’re bleeding to death. Let me take care of them. And I’ll clean up this mess, too,” he finishes, indicating Rigel with a dismissive wave.

Wing chuckles humorlessly. “Don’t do anything rash,” he warns.

Carlos’ eyes glint menacingly in the torchlight. “Oh, I’ll behave myself,” he says in a low voice. “After all, he only tried to murder my husband.”

Wing shakes his head at the body slumped over the table. “And we’ve warned the little sleg about taking contracts on the family before.” He claps Carlos on the shoulder. “Throw in a few punches for me.”

And for me, Kat thinks, but knows better than to say this out loud.

“Here, don’t forget your finger,” Carlos says. He rips a bit more of Rigel’s tunic off, and wrapping the digit in the cloth, hands it to Wing. “Make sure he gets to a medcenter before he passes out,” he tells Kat, kissing her on the forehead.

Kat follows Wing out into the hallway. “The guards are going to want to know how the ghenna you got in here,” Wing tells her, “but we’ll just bluster through that.”

“I don’t think any Luna City guard is going to give you trouble, sir,” she says timidly. “Not after today.”

Wing flashes her a rare smile, then turns and strides over to the front desk. “All right,” he begins in an authoritative tone, “everything is under control and I shall be –”

“Ease, Wilmington,” Luninatia Sandersen interrupts quietly, stepping forward. She reaches out and touches her great-grandson’s bleeding shoulder. “Poor sweet,” she murmurs.

One of the Luna City guards snickers audibly, and Luninatia wheels round on him, her eyes glinting like twin sapphires. “You,” she growls, “have a lot to answer for.” She backs up slightly, taking the assembled guards into her steely gaze. “The captain,” she continues severely, “was supposed to be enjoying a day off with his cousins, but instead he ended up having to cover for your neglect.”

Luninatia turns abruptly, coming face-to-face with one of the guards, and Kat gasps as she recognizes the blond man from the control room.

“So,” Granna whispers, her eyes narrowing, “my great-great grandchild is worth a pretty ransom, eh?” She spins around to face another guard. “And you’d kidnap her yourself, is that right? Oh, don’t pretend to look shocked,” she continues with an impatient gesture. “Ripping com is an old established tradition among the city-states of Luna.” She shakes her head sadly. “But there was a time, once …” she trails off, closing her eyes a moment, before pinching the bridge of her nose.

She looks just like the captain on a bad day, Kat thinks.

The Queen of Luna opens her eyes and lets out a deep breath. “I’m going to take my family home now,” she says quietly. “All of them, including the two in the interrogation room. And you’d better fetch them quickly,” she tells them, “before the one kills the other. I really can’t permit that.”

The officer in charge nods to a guard, who runs down the hall swiftly as everyone else waits in complete silence, watching Granna, who stares down at the floor, scowling slightly. Within a few seconds, Carlos and a revived (and badly bruised) Rigel are brought to her, Rigel looking terrified, Carlos looking frustrated.

“Carlos, you’ve been playing roughly with your cousin,” Granna says, and Carlos opens his mouth as if to speak. “I know,” she says, cutting him off with a gesture, “I know. We’ll discuss it thoroughly, later.”

Rigel flinches as Granna fixes him with a fierce look. “Believe me, young Rigel,” she whispers, “we will discuss this quite thoroughly.”

“But, Granna –” Rigel begins.

Luninatia Sandersen raises a warning finger. “Would you like me to leave you to the tender mercies of your cousins in the Assassins’ Guild?” she asks sharply.

Rigel stares down at his feet.

“Well, then,” Granna continues, after an awkward silence. “Let’s go.”

No one in their party dares speak until they have left the office and are safe in the now-deserted private section of the ballpark’s underground hangar. Granna turns to Carlos.

“So has your cousin told you who put him up to this despicable act?” she asks him in a low voice.

“But I –” Rigel begins.

“I wasn’t speaking to you, Rigel,” she snaps. “We already know you can’t be trusted. Carlos?”

“He hasn’t told me the truth yet,” Carlos growls, flexing his muscles, “but he will soon enough.”

“I’ll let you get to it, then,” she says. “Take him to your hopper, and report back to me once he tells the truth.”

“Yes, Granna,” Carlos answers with a glint in his eye that chills Kat to her core. He tugs Rigel by the arm. “Come on, you.”

“And Carlos,” Luninatia says sternly, “he’s still family. Please remember that.”

“Yes, Granna.”

Granna Lune shakes her head sadly as her youngest grandson leads one of her older great-grandchildren away in handcuffs.

“Granna,” Kat whispers.

“Yes, child?”

Kat thinks a moment, trying to put into words the bleak misery and nameless dread that fills the pit of her stomach. She shrugs hopelessly.

“Why?” she finally asks.

Luninatia puts a hand on Katherine’s shoulder and opens her mouth to speak. A slight noise behind them causes both women to turn around just in time to see Wing slumping gently to the floor.

Granna shakes her head. “Oh, socket,” she sighs, and kneels down beside her great-grandson. “Come on, Kat, he’s going to need a medtech soon.”

Together they lift Wing onto their shoulders.

“Where are we going?” Kat asks numbly. I’ve never heard Granna swear before, she thinks.

“To the Tudor, of course. Patel’s already there; I imagine he’ll be properly fissioned once he sees what young Wilmington’s been doing to himself.”

Wilmington Parkhurst lies pale and still on one of the long couches of his great-grandmother’s ship, bleeding heavily into the hempvelt cushions as the family physician hovers over him. Charles kneels on the lush carpet beside his father, assisting Doctor Patel. Kat watches her fiancé in shock as he moves mechanically through the procedure, his face blank, his eyes glassy.

“Where the ghenna’s his finger?” Adar Patel mutters.

“In his right tunic pocket,” Kat answers in a flat voice. Everyone turns to look at her. “He cut it off himself,” she explains weakly. “He was making some kind of statement about the futility of standing in his way, I think.”

Charles’ face flashes with sudden emotion before snapping into an expressionless mask once more. The doctor, however, merely rolls his eyes and calmly reaches into the pocket, unrolling the finger from its wrapping.

“He could have found a clean dressing this time,” Adar grumbles. “Oh, he’s going to live, Medtech Parkhurst,” he tells Charles. “He’s come back from worse. He always comes back. Now we’re going to need a half-liter of blood here, maybe more.” He taps at his handcomp. “For that amount, I’ll need a live donor in order to filter the blood factors more efficiently. Lune, do you think …”

“I’ll do it,” Kat replies dully.

“Kat,” Adar begins cautiously, “no one expects you –”

“I said I’ll do it.”

Adar nods at Charles, who motions Kat forward. “Holo-stretcher,” he mutters into his handcomp, and a shimmering blue web of flickering light appears alongside the couch. Just as Charles takes Kat’s elbow to help her down onto the stretcher, however, Wing begins to convulse violently.

“Defib, stat,” Adar snaps, and Charles slaps the patches into the doctor’s hand. “Clear,” the doctor calls, and Wing’s body jerks up as if pulled by strings attached to his chest.

He cut his own finger off because he thought I was in danger, Kat thinks with leaden panic. And now I’m going to watch him die.

“Clear,” Adar repeats, and once again Wing’s body jumps with the charge but then rests still.

Please, Gaia, Kat prays fervently. Please let him live. She feels Granna’s hand on her shoulder, squeezing tightly.

“Clear.”

Kat feels a tear roll down her cheek. Please, Gaia, I love him …

With a shudder, Wing begins breathing again.

Adar’s face breaks into a wide grin. “You almost had me scared there, you old star-dog,” the doctor smiles down at his patient. “All right, let’s get some blood into him. Medtech, prep the donor.”

“Yes, doctor,” Charles says in a deadly calm voice.

Kat lies down on the stretcher, nervously holding his hand.

“Oh, and medtech?”

“Yes, doctor?”

“I think that professional protocols can be stretched slightly for today,” Adar chuckles. “You may give the donor a kiss for luck.”

Kat closes her eyes, and feels the comforting touch of Charles’ lips on her own. She jumps only slightly at the prick of the hypo on the inside of her arm, as she hears the door slide open.

“Kitty!” Her father’s voice rings out, and Kat’s eyes fly open in time to see Percival striding into the cabin, his face pale with concern.

“Ease, Kat. You need to stay still,” Charles says quietly.

“Your daughter here has been kind enough to offer a half-liter to the captain,” Adar says, not looking up from his work, “so she can’t get up just yet.”

“And Wing?” Percival asks nervously.

“Your bodyguard will be up and around and back to his usual charming self in no time. I’m just patching him up until I can get him to the medcenter, of course. Looks like he’ll need another new shoulder, but I’ve pulled him through worse.” Adar turns to Charles, patting him on the shoulder. “What did I tell you, pup?” he smiles kindly. “Your father always comes back.”

Percival heaves a sigh of relief, and sits down heavily on the couch opposite them. “Sweet Krishna,” he breathes softly, and smiles down at his daughter. “Kitty, I was so worried about you.”

Kat returns her father’s smile. “I’m all right now,” she murmurs. Already she is feeling slightly dizzy from the transfusion. She looks over at Wing, who lies next to her, his breathing shallow and rapid. He always comes back, she thinks.

Percival looks over to his great-grandmother, who has taken another seat. “Carlos linked me,” he begins. “He says ‘twas Cousin Rigel.”

Luninatia nods solemnly.

“Granna, this’s got t’stop,” Percival says angrily. “Can’t even see a ball game with m’family.”

“And exactly what do you want me to do about it, young Percival?” Granna asks sharply, her eyes narrowed.

“I –” Percival begins.

You have had over a dozen attempts on your life this year, Percival,” Granna cuts him off impatiently. “When was the last time anyone tried to kill me?”

“June fourth,” Wing mutters.

They all turn to look at the captain, who glares up at Granna with fire in his eyes.

“Pop! You’re alive,” Charles sighs, his face breaking into a wide grin.

“Barely. What hit me?” Wing asks in a low voice.

“You crashed yourself, Wilmington, as usual,” Luninatia replies evenly. “Now what do you mean, ‘June fourth?’”

Wing tries to sit up.

“Ease, Wing,” Adar warns, pushing him back down gently.

“Crash it, cutter,” Wing growls, and pulls the transfusion tube out of his arm, squirting blood wildly. Adar makes an annoyed noise and clutches at the end of the tube, making only a half-hearted attempt to re-insert it into Wing’s arm.

The captain sits up, brusquely pushing Adar aside, and glares at his great-grandmother. “I mean, Commodore, that out of respect for your wishes, I have not allowed you to see any of my guards following you.”

“I’ve seen them, Wilmington. I was being too polite to say anything.”

Wing raises an eyebrow. “Then you must be aware that my squad has had to prevent more than twenty attempts on your life since Terrapass. The last one,” he finishes, “was June fourth.”

Kat has never seen Granna look so shocked before. The matriarch has been quoted as saying that she’s lived much too long to be ever shocked again. But now Luninatia Sandersen’s jaw drops to her chest as she stares at the family bodyguard. “But that was –”

“Less than two weeks ago, yes,” Wing growls.

“You’re not – no, you’re not. I can tell you’re serious, Wilmington. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize …” she trails off, looking down at her hand, twisting the ruby filigree ring on her finger for a long time before she speaks again, her voice barely audible above the hum of the generators. “Twenty? In six months?”

“Twenty-one,” Wing replies sadly.

Luninatia chuckles nervously. “Well, Percival, that makes your dozen look like a trip topside.”

“Fourteen,” Percival mutters.

“Actually, seventeen, including today,” Wing replies, and Percival looks sharply at his cousin. “Since Terrapass, Perce,” Wing says flatly. He lies back down again, wincing slightly as his shoulder touches the cushions.

“May we continue the transfusion now, Captain?” Adar grumbles.

“No,” Wing answers curtly, closing his eyes.

Adar merely shakes his head and motions to Charles, who disengages Kat from the tubing. Luninatia frowns thoughtfully, and once again Kat is struck by the resemblance between Wing and his great-grandmother.

“Wing,” Granna Lune asks quietly, “who else in the family …” she shakes her head. “Who else is a target, and how often?”

Wing heaves a long sigh, but doesn’t open his eyes. “Well, Susan has had twenty-four attempts, but she’s an ambassador, so few of those have anything to do with her status as a family member. There’s been forty-seven attempts on my life, but I tend to annoy people.”

“Only forty-seven?” Adar smirks.

“It’s been a slow year,” Wing replies evenly. “But there are still plenty of attempts that are all about the Inheritance. Rebecca’s had nine attempts, there’s been five attempts on Albert’s life, four on Cousin Liz, eight on Cousin Ed, and two,” he finishes, covering his face with his uninjured arm, “on young Cadet Sandersen here.”

“All since Terrapass?” Luninatia challenges.

“All since Terrapass,” Wing answers softly.

Someone’s tried to kill me two times since Terrapass, Kat thinks in a stupor. She stumbles up off the stretcher, and Charles helps her to the seat just next to Luninatia, sitting down beside Kat, his hand slipping automatically into hers.

The silence is magnified by the door hissing quietly open. Carlos steps in and sits down next to his husband, briefly kissing him before turning to his grandmother.

“’S Marcoux again, Granna. He offered Rigel two thousand Orchids.”

“Two thousand?” Percival asks miserably. “That’s all I’m worth?”

Carlos puts an arm around his husband’s shoulder. “’S krecking keet feed. No one else would take a price like that; Rigel’s just pathetic, simple and out. I swear, Perce,” he growls, “if Granna hadn’t ordered me to keep him alive –”

“You would now be guilty of murdering your cousin,” Granna says softly.

“He was almost guilty of murdering my husband,” Carlos protests. “And Wing might think he’s indestructible, but how many more blaster hits can he take for Perce before his luck runs out?”

“As many as I need to,” Wing mutters sleepily.

Percival smiles at Wing, but Carlos is not amused.

“My point,” he continues, “is that I’ve had enough. We all have. We’ve got to make an example, Granna.”

“And how would you explain this example to your young cousins Tia and Liu?” Granna counters. “How would you tell them their father’s not coming home tonight so that your children can sleep safely?”

Carlos looks down at the floor, his face reddening.

“Why don’t we just all buy out of the Inheritance?” Kat breaks in.

All the adults look at Kat in shock.

What was that, Katherine?” Percival growls.

Kat flinches. He never calls me Katherine unless he’s really fissioned, Kat thinks. But what the kreck did I say? “I only mean,” she answers quietly, “that the only reason these tweakers are trying to kill us is because of the Inheritance, right?”

Granna, Carlos, Percival and Adar all stare at her pointedly, as Charles busily inspects his fingernails. Wing does not move, but merely lays still, his arm over his face.

They’re not even going to answer me, she thinks angrily. Well, kreck them.

“Captain,” she asks, “how many of our family have been killed due to the Inheritance?”

“Well, Cadet,” Wing replies from underneath his elbow, “it’s not easy to say which assassinations were due to our historical status as humanity’s only extant royals, or our current notoriety for our political activism. Many independent observers point out that our family still retains freehold of more than one-third of the Farside of Luna, which in any conflict against the Company, would be the most strategically convenient point in Solaris. My personal theory,” he finishes with a weary sigh, “is that it’s because some of us are total scrabs that prick off the wrong people.”

“You’re hedging, Captain,” Kat persists, and even she is amazed by her nerve, but still she presses on. “How many?” The rest of the adults glare at her with stony faces, but Wing lifts his arm off his head, opens his eyes and fixes her with a sad look.

“Since the Buckingham Lease was drawn up a century and a half ago,” he answers quietly, “no less than twelve family members have been killed outright, and a further twenty-five have died in suspicious circumstances.”

Kat turns to Granna. “Is all of this suffering and death worth it?  We just stood here and watched the captain nearly die, and for what? For – for a couple of moldy old castles and some antique jewelry?”

Granna’s face flushes bright crimson. “Do you even know what you’re saying, child?”

“Katherine Millicent Sandersen,” Percival hisses, “you will apologize to Granna this instant.”

“No,” Katherine says, glaring angrily into her great-great-grandmother’s eyes. “All those family members dead, Granna. I’m not apologizing until I hear a spamming good reason why it’s necessary.”

Granna shakes her head slowly. “Wilmington, you’re the child’s Orchidary,” she says in a menacing tone. “Don’t you think you should be correcting her?”

“Actually,” Wing answers in a suddenly jaunty tone, “I think the young Cadet has come up with an excellent question. I’d like to hear the answer myself.”

Kat can’t believe her ears. The rest of the adults gape at Wing, while Charles continues to stare at his hands, his ears reddening as he tries to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.

“Wilmington,” Granna growls, “you already know the answer.”

“Do I, Granna?” Wing says quietly. “All the pain, all the suffering, all of it – can you really tell me it’s worth it?”

“I don’t think that this is the time or the place to discuss your misgivings with the Order’s plans,” Granna replies flatly.

“How about my misgivings for the way my life has been hijacked from me,” Wing answers hotly, “could we discuss that?”

“Not in front of the pups, we can’t,” Percival snarls.

Wing howls in angry laughter. “That’s right, Perce! Not in front of the pups! That’s rich!” He looks from Percival to Kat, shaking his head in dismay. “Guess what, Cadet,” Wing hisses at Katherine. “We’re going to be taking your life and totally shooting it down the flipper, and we’re not going to tell you why until you’re thirty –”

“Wilmington Samuel Parkhurst, that is ENOUGH!!”

Everyone flinches at Luninatia’s voice; no one within living memory has ever heard her shout. The matriarch stands up slowly, and everyone watches her in silence as she steps calmly forward, then turns around to face her great-great-granddaughter. She solemnly holds out her open hand to Kat, who takes it after only a moment’s hesitation.

“Katherine,” Luninatia begins softly, “how old were you when you first coupled?”

This seems so beyond the Belt that Kat blinks, startled. “I …” she stammers. Over Granna’s shoulder, she can see Charles’ face turn ashen in panic. She swallows hard, knowing that she can’t lie to Granna. “Just before my Second Ascension. About four months before,” she admits, watching regretfully as Charles winces.

The adults, however, all grin, and Kat feels the tension in the room dissolve as her parents chuckle softly and even Wing cracks a slight smile.

“And I’m sure,” Granna replies, with a twinkle in her eye, “that neither you nor young Charles were doing any harm by rushing things a tick or two. But in any case,” she continues seriously, “would you have been ready to couple with each other before your First Ascension?”

“Of course not,” Kat answers.

“Why not?”

“We were too young,” the girl replies. “We wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It would have done us harm.”

“Excellent. Now, your sister will be going to Phobos University this September. Why aren’t you going with her?”

“I’ve still got two years at the Academy.”

“In other words, you’re not ready.”

“Not yet. But –”

“Katherine, I promise you, we are not shooting your life ‘down the flipper,’ as your Orchidary has so colorfully put it,” Luninatia sighs wearily. “However, there are certain aspects of the Inheritance that need, for now, to be kept secret from you until you’re old enough to understand.” She squeezes Katherine’s hand. “Can you trust me, child?”

Kat looks up into Granna’s blue-gray eyes and nods silently. “I’m sorry, Granna. I won’t doubt you again.”

Granna pulls Kat into a hug. “Don’t tell anyone I said this, little one,” the matriarch whispers in her ear, “but you’re asking the right questions. And yes, it’s worth it. All the pain, all the suffering. It is worth it, child.”

Katherine turns to face her Orchidary. “Thank you, Captain,” she says quietly.

Wing’s face is suddenly pinoker. “Cadet?”

“You nearly killed yourself to protect me,” she tells him, staring down at the floor. “And you told … you told Rigel …” she trails off. She feels her face begin to burn as the main cabin of the Tudor falls into a leaden hush. “You still love me,” she whispers.

She hears a few gasps from the others around them, but Wing remains silent.

Kat bravely lifts her eyes, and is shocked to see that the Captain is staring not at her, but over her shoulder at Luninatia, his eyes pleading helplessly. Kat wheels around to face the matriarch, but Granna merely smiles mildly back at her, her eyes somewhat distant; Luninatia Sandersen invented pinoker. Thoroughly confused, Katherine slowly faces her Orchidary again, to find him scowling at her.

“Cadet,” he begins in a strangely distant voice, “let me make this perfectly clear. I only did today what I would have done for any member of this family, even Cousin Rigel. I am sworn to protect the descendants of Queen Catherine and King William with my life. I would not, however, have needed to risk my life today,” he continues coldly, “if you hadn’t so recklessly endangered yourself in the first place.”

Kat gapes at Wing, stunned at this attack. He sits up and regards her with icy contempt, his features as motionless as marble.

“Do you understand, Cadet?”

Kat’s mouth hangs open. “You –”

“Today, Cadet,” Wing continues calmly, “you not only put your own life and mine in jeopardy, but also the lives of seven of my guards.”

“But I –”

“You needlessly panicked your parents and siblings,” he interrupts, as he pulls himself to a standing position. “In addition, you willfully eavesdropped on a classified interrogation, remaining hidden long after it would have been clear to any idiot that you were no longer in mortal danger.”

No, I would have just been in danger of you and your temper, Kat thinks bitterly.

Wing stands over her, and from this angle a trick of the light gives his eyes a bizarre violet tint; for a moment the taste of Orchajj leaps inexplicably to Kat’s lips.

“Furthermore,” Wing continues in a leaden tone, “your delay in revealing yourself nearly cost Cousin Rigel his life. All told, Cadet, in the course of one afternoon, you have managed to endanger nearly a dozen lives, frighten hundreds of people, and precipitate a diplomatic crisis that will take weeks to soothe.”

Kat looks helplessly around the room, but no one will meet her eyes. Everyone is looking at Wing with expressions of shock and dismay, except for Granna Lune, who has shut her eyes, her head bowed and her brow furrowed as if she is in deep concentration.

“And as for loving you,” Wing finishes, his face now a grim mask, “I am your Orchidary. I am required to love you by the laws of Freedom. You might want to remember that –”

“I hate you!” Kat yells. “I hate you, you vicious, sadistic, cruel …” she shakes in blind fury. “I … I wish you had died, you evil kreckholer!”

No one else breathes as Wilmington Parkhurst stares at his Orchant for a long time. Finally, he shakes his head slowly, and calmly lowers himself onto the couch once more, reclining into his former position, his elbow covering his eyes.

“That will be all, Cadet,” he says simply. “You are dismissed.”

“You –”

“You practically grew up on this ship, Cadet. I know that you can find your way to the guest cabin. Do I need to send for one of my guards to escort you?”

Katherine turns on her heel, and, shaking with rage, exits the cabin.


[1] I’m through playing games
Then here’s another Luninatia-themed picture. The central flower is what I imagine a Luna Orchid would look like.

(c) copyright 2010 Karin A. Robinson

‘S all for now — please comment!

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2 Responses to Another excerpt and Art

  1. Mike Olsen says:

    thorougly engaging. I can’t wait for chaper 2.

  2. phoenyxrose says:

    Glad you liked it — actually, it’s a flashback from chapter 3 in book 2, so that particular thread of plot ends there; it’s just a bit that Kat remembers to set her up for something Wing will be telling her in the present narrative later on. But I’ll be putting up more of the complete novel (that is, book one) as I’m looking through it.

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