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Authors: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller,Steve Miller

Tags: #bipolar, #liad, #sharon lee, #korval, #steve miller, #liaden, #pinbeam

Loose Cannon

 

 

LOOSE CANNON

Adventures in the Liaden
Universe
®

Number Seven

 

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

 

Pinbeam Books

http://www.pinbeambooks.com

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters
and events portrayed in this novel are fiction or are used
fictitiously.

 

 

 

LOOSE CANNON

 

Copyright
©
2001, 2003, 2011
by
Sharon Lee
and
Steve Miller
. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.
Please remember that distributing an author's work without
permission or payment is theft; and that the authors whose works
sell best are those most likely to let us publish more of their
works.

First published in 2001 by SRM,
Publisher.

 

A Matter of Dreams
originally appeared in
A Distant Soil
#27
, April 1999

 

ISBN:

Kindle: 978-1-935224-69-3

Epub: 978-1-935224-70-9

PDF: 978-1-935224-71-6

 

Published May 2011 by

Pinbeam Books

PO Box 707

Waterville ME 04903

email [email protected]

 

Cover Copyright
©
2011 by Steve
Miller

Cover design by Steve Miller

 

 

LOOSE CANNON

Smashwords Edition

 

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Dedicated to:

Dorothea Neale

 

 

 

 

A Matter of
Dreams

 

 

ON SINTIA, it's the dreaming that first
marks a witch.

A child will dream the minutiae of life,
relate the sending in the morning, all innocent and dewy-eyed;
astonished when the dream events turn true next day--or next
one.

She's watched then, for grandma will have
contacted Temple, never doubt it; and after a time the child will
dream the name of the one she had been Before. Then she'll be
brought to Circle and trained to be one with the Dream.

I know the way because Jake used to talk
about his Mam, my gran'mam, who'd Dreamed a Dream and had the
training and then left the Temple and who she'd been--for love,
Jake said, and for stars.

I've never dreamed the naming-Dream, being
outworlder, even though witch-blood. I figure only the damned come
to me--those who died unquiet or outside the love of the Holy;
those who somehow lost their Name. I figure that, but I don't say
it. I dream the dreams and I let them go. Sometimes they come back.
Sometimes they come true.

The first time I saw Her was dreamsight.

She was in a port side bar--too coarse a
place for Her to be--standing straight in her starry blue robe,
with her breasts free and her face shining with power, black hair
crackling lightning and spread around her like an aurora. Her
eyes--her eyes were black, and in the dream she saw me. At her feet
was broken glass; the shine of a knife.

She was young--not above fifteen--with the
silver bangles hiding half of one slim arm. But for all that, I
wanted to go down on my knees in front of her and lay my cheek
against her mound from which had sprung the worlds and the stars
and the deep places between. That's how it was, in the dream.

But then the dream ended, as they do, and
there was Lil, yelling about orbit and was I conning or not, so it
was out of the cot and let the dream go and get about the business
of making a living.

I never talked to Lil about the dreams. They
scared her, and there's nothing worth that. Still, she's
witch-blood too and knows as sure I do when I've dreamt, though she
never dreams at all.

"Well?" she spat at me, spiteful the way
sisters are, within the protection of Us against Them. "Was it wet
this time?"

"Keep it down and keep it clean," I
answered, no more gentle, because there was the flutter in the
nine-dial I didn't like, which meant relying on number eight, a
thing that had been a bad idea since I was co-pilot and Mam on
prime.

"Where's the passenger?" I asked, because
there was a certain amount of care taken, when you'd been paid hard
coin to deliver someone intact to a place.

"Webbed in gentle as a
roolyet," Lil said and I gave a grin for the old adventure, though
putting
Mona Luki
through the orbiting sequence was proving more of a problem
than usual.

"Shit," muttered Lil, hands over her part of
the business. "We gotta get that reset before we lift, Fiona."

"On Sintia?"

"Federated port," she answered, which was
true. And, "Credit's good," which was not.

"Yeah," I said, not wanting to argue the
point and have her start to worry. "We'll let our passenger off and
see if we can't patch it. Bound to be junkyards."

"Flying a junkyard," she answered, which I
should have known she would. "Mam'd have a fit, Fiona..."

And that was another line of thought better
left alone.

"Mind your board," I growled, and she
sighed, and looked rebellious, and turned her head away.

Tower came on in another few seconds, with
an offer of escort, if we had equipment trouble. I turned down the
escort, which was expensive, but requisitioned a repair pad, which
came gratis, they having noted trouble, and we got her down without
any bad glitches.

Our passenger, that was something else.

Cly Nelbern got her first sight of Sintia
Port there in screen number one, looked sour and flung herself into
prime pilot's chair like she had a right to it. Lil had her mouth
half opened before she caught my headshake, but I doubt Nelbern
would have heard a shout just then.

I finished making my coffee-toot and ambled
over, leaned a hip against the chair-back and spoke over her head.
"We can give you a hand with your baggage," I said; "or you can
leave it stored. We'll be here a day or two. Repairs."

Nelbern gave one of those snorts we'd
decided between us passed for her laughing and shook her head, real
gentle, eyes still and always on that screen.

"So eager to lose me, Captain?"

"Not to say," I answered, calm, like Mam'd
taught us to talk to dirtsiders. "It's just that you paid cash
money for Jumps in a hurry. I figured you had an appointment."

"An appointment," she repeated and snorted.
"An appointment." She licked her lips like the phrase tasted sweet
and glanced up at me out of wide blue eyes.

"As it happens, Captain, I do have
an--appointment. Yes." She smiled, which I had never liked in her,
and nodded. "I wonder if I might impose upon the good natures of
yourself and your sister just a bit further."

I gritted my teeth and brought the cup up to
keep it from showing; feeling Lil tense up behind me. I was
mortally sick of dirtside manners and a stranger on our ship,
whether she carried an ambassador's ransom in Terran bits or no. It
was on the tip of my tongue to say so, though not as blunt as that,
when she turned full around to face me.

"I noticed a bit of a boggle on the way in,
I thought," she said, in that conversational way officials use when
it's bound to cost you plenty. I stared down at her and
shrugged.

"Told you we'd be here a day or so."

"Indeed. Repairs, I think you said." She
stared, sizing me up, maybe, though I was sure she'd done that long
ago. "Repairs to the central mag coil don't come cheap, Captain;
and it's hardly anything you'd like to trust to the junkyard and a
gerryrig." She smiled. "If you had a choice."

I felt Lil behind me like a wound spring,
and in my heart I cursed all dirtsiders--especially this one. I
gritted my teeth and then bared them, not caring a whit for
manners.

"So now I've got a choice, have I?"

"Certainly you have a choice." She brought
her hand up, and I focused on the thing that gleamed there; did a
double-stare and nearly dumped my drink in her lap.

She was holding a Liaden cantra piece.

I stared, not at the coin--enough money for
several choices and maybe a luxury, too--but at her face--and read
no more there than I ever had, save it was the first time I thought
her eyes looked mad.

"What in starlight do
you
want
?" That
was Lil, coming up like she was stalking tiger, bent at the waist,
her eyes on the shine of the money.

Cly Nelbern looked up at me and she smiled
before turning to face my sister and hold the coin up high.

"An escort," she said softly. "Just an
escort, Ms. Betany, as I walk around the town. In case the natives
are restless."

"An escort," I scoffed, around the cold
dread in my belly. "On Sintia a woman needs no escort--unless
you'll be breaking into the Temple?"

The mad eyes gleamed my way, though she
forbore to smile again. "Not the Temple, Captain. Of course not."
She did smile then, her eyes going back to Lil. "That would be
foolish."

"Then us not being fools--" I began,
short-tempered with something near terror.

But Lil shot a glance that
silenced me long enough for her to gabble: "A
cantra
, Fiona!
New
parts, backups, a new 'doc,
coffee...
" Her eyes were
back on Cly Nelbern and I knew right then I'd lost her.

"Lillian!" I snapped, as much like Mam as I
could.

Too late. "I'll do it," she told the
dirtsider. And held out her hand for the money.

I sat down slow on the arm of the co-pilot's
chair and brought the tepid coffee-toot up to sip. There was
nothing else to do, the word having been given. Nothing except:

"I'll be coming along as
well, then. If that coin's so wide a treasure, I reckon it'll pay
berth-cost while we
escort
this lady 'round town."

Nelbern laughed, a half-wild sound no more
pleasant than her smile. "Think I won't pay, Captain?" She sent a
brilliant glance into my face, and flicked the coin to Lil.

"Order your repairs," she said, standing up.
"And you'll--both--be ready to come with me in one hour."

She sauntered off toward her cabin and I
looked at my sister, standing there with her hand clenched 'round
that money, and her cheeks flushed with lust of it and I sighed and
hovered a second between sad and mad; figured neither would mend it
and stood up myself.

"I'll take first shower," I said, tossing
the cup into the unit as I went past.

At the door I looked back, but she was
showing back to me, head half-tipped, like she hadn't even noticed
that I'd gone.

* * *

WE WANDERED, that endless afternoon,
visiting trade-bars, dives, and talking-booths on both sides of the
river. Some places folk eyed us; some places they eyed our
employer. Other places they ignored us entirely, and those I liked
least of all.

The last was near the city-line, close
enough to the Temple that the evening chant echoed off the dirty
windows and the tawdry buildings, making even Cly Nelbern look up
for a moment before turning down the short, ill-kept walk.

This place at least made some pretense of
cleanliness: the window was clear enough to let the evening light
come through; the bar was chipped but polished; the tender's
tattered apron had recently been washed.

I was three steps into the
room before I realized why it felt so comfortable. It reminded me
of
Mona Luki
:
desperately ship-shape and tidy; and showing the worn spots despite
it.

It hadn't always been so.
When Mam and Jake had run her, back when I was little enough to be
strapped in a net slung between their seats, watching baby-eyed
while they worked the Jumps between them--then
Mona Luki'd
gleamed, oiled and
cared-for and prosperous as you like. Then there'd been
coffee--yes, and chocolate--and repairs when they were needed and
spare parts in third hold. Lil was too young to remember those
days--too young, just, to remember Jake, killed in the same mishap
that had taken Mam's leg.

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