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Authors: Anne Mccaffrey

Third Watch (2 page)

BOOK: Third Watch
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They stepped out of the water again, onto the grassy banks. Behind them the
sii
-Linyaari dived and fished, or sunned on the island just offshore. Before them, a meadow full of wildflowers, insects, and small animals stretched up to the mountains. Over the mountain peaks shone Vhiliinyar’s two moons, one of which was to become the Moon of Opportunity. It glowed with the fullness and benevolence of Hafiz Harakamian’s face gazing fondly at the profit balance on his ledger. The other moon was a mere crescent-shaped sliver of light.

Reflecting the light of both moons were the white and shining coats of the creatures hunted on their homeworld for the healing, purifying, and supposedly aphrodisiacal properties of their spiraling, golden, opalescent horns. There they were called unicorns, for obvious reasons. Here they were simply the Others, who were not the same as the Friends, although their kind varied. The Others were beautiful, useful, and innocent beings with whom the habitually self-centered Friends had become uncharacteristically enchanted. Usually, the Friends were the ones who did the enchanting, chiefly of themselves, when they beheld their own reflections. If they didn’t like what they saw, they simply changed it to something more pleasing.

Most had a bipedal and humanoid form that generally alternated with a dominant alter form. Khiindi’s own dominant alter form had always been feline, though not always or even usually a mere moggy.

“We must hide Khiindi here until we need him,” Ariin told Khorii. “He has enemies in this time, and even more enemies later on, when we’re going. We’ll have a use for him soon, but we have to lay some groundwork first.”

Khorii bent and picked the cat up, laying his head against her neck, his front paws on her shoulder, his magnificent, fluffy tail curled around her forearm. “Khiindi-cat, you know the Ancestors in our time. These are their ancestors. They are very good creatures and as you know, they like cats. You’ll be safe here with them. There are fish in the sea and other creatures for you to eat in the meadows. We’ll return for you before you know it, if I understand this timing thing correctly.”

Khiindi clung to her with every available claw. He knew Khorii would not abandon him willingly, but he had no idea what Ariin was up to. That one had a positively
ka
-Linyaari ability to conceal her thoughts. He also knew she meant to repay him for bringing her to be studied by his kind as their experiments in creating the Linyaari race continued. They knew they had created the Linyaari. They just didn’t know how or when. Of all of them, Grimalkin was, if not the only empath, certainly the one in whom the quality was best developed. He had imagined he would be around during Ariin’s youth to see that she was treated well and reasonably happy. Instead, his people, who were angry because he had brought only one of Acorna’s embryonic twins instead of both, took away his crono and froze him in little cat form for all time, the first part of which he was to serve as Khorii’s guardian and friend. This had left Ariin out in the cold, an object of pity and even scorn.

She hadn’t taken it well at all.

Khorii unhooked him and tried to set him down, but he clung to her arm. When she shook him off and tried to step back, he clung to her leg, even wrapping his tail around her ankle. Finally, Ariin grabbed him around his sizeable girth and threw him into the middle of the unicorn herd, to be surrounded by white-bearded muzzles and long, slender white legs. The unicorns parted enough that he zipped out from among them to catch up with the girls, but they had already vanished.

He meowed his frustration, and one of the ancestresses touched him gently with her horn. “Poor little fellow. Stay with us. They’ll be back. You’re welcome here. You’re sort of cute. What are you anyway?”

The horn touch made Khiindi feel even warmer and fuzzier than he actually was, which was saying something. He purred and gazed up at her with wide, adoring kitty cat eyes, his specialty.
Oh well, gather ye allies while ye may.

K
horii and Ariin were back in the closet again.
“I hope you had a good reason for that, Ariin,”
Khorii said.
“That was kind of mean. Poor Khiindi was really upset and he doesn’t like to be tossed around.”

“We can’t have him tagging along while we’re going undercover,”
Ariin replied.
“You do want to get to the bottom of this alien threat, don’t you? And release Mother and Father from quarantine?”

“Of course, but I don’t understand the plan or what Khiindi has to do with it,”
Khorii replied.
“You insisted we bring him along and then the first thing you do is abandon him.”

“The first part of the plan depends on us being interchangeable, so that the Friends think we’re both me,”
Ariin explained.
“That way, while you are doing what they expect me to do, I can try to get people to tell me what we need to know.”

“What is it that we need to know? And what makes you think I can’t gather information as well as you can?”
Khorii demanded.

“I know this time better than you do,”
Ariin said.
“I know these people and how they act and what they want. I know what we’re looking for and—be patient, I’ll tell you—and I know where to look and how to ask. You’re much too polite.”

“No, I’m not! I can be very rude if it helps my family. Our family. I can be—”

“That’s not what I mean,”
Ariin said, trying to be patient.

“Well, what do you mean?”

“I don’t like to say.”

“Then I don’t like this plan,”
Khorii said.
“I want to go home. I haven’t seen Mother and Father in months, and I’m worried about Elviiz.”

“You needn’t be. We’ll be back before they know we’ve gone. We can be back before Elviiz wakes up and reads your note even. It will be fine. Trust me.”

“Why should I?”
Khorii asked.
“You don’t even trust me enough to let me help find out the information we came for.”

“Yes, I do. But I’m better at it than you. If you keep the Friends busy, I can move around more freely and probe a little. If we’re clever, they’ll never find out there are two of us.”

“Why shouldn’t they know that?”
Khorii asked.
“These are the Friends who saved the Ancestors. They’re not evil or anything.”

“If they know we’re both here, they’ll want to interrogate and experiment on both of us,”
Ariin told her.

“We could just tell them we can’t do that right now, but will be back later to answer their questions.”

Ariin gave an internal groan.
“Look, Khorii, you know how you can see plague indicators? It’s your special talent? Well, I can—persuade—people to think about something I want them to without them realizing I’m doing it. That’s my special talent.”

“That’s not very nice. It’s kind of sneaky, isn’t it?”

“I was afraid you’d feel that way,”
Ariin said.
“That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. You grew up among our people, but everybody isn’t so nice. Like that Captain Coco.”

“I thought you were pushing him, but I was surprised when it worked,”
Khorii said, remembering how unexpectedly reasonable the pirate chieftain had been.
“I gave him credit for seeing how sensible Mikaaye’s solution was.”

“People like that rarely care about how sensible things are. They just care about getting what they want. Speaking of which, Akasa is awake now. I’m going to hide. You be me.”

“But won’t they know?”

“It’s not like we can’t thought-talk,”
Ariin replied, dismissing her fears.
“If they wonder why I’m so slow all of a sudden, tell them you’re getting in touch with your inner self. They like anything that refers back to themselves, so they’ll think it’s perfectly natural that you do, too.”

The door of the wardrobe opened and a beautiful, human-looking female with long rainbow-colored curling hair stood in the opening. She had large, gemlike eyes that glittered from amethyst to sapphire blue as she looked at Khorii. “Narhii, you stupid child, what have you been doing in here? You’ve washed off all of the cosmetics I helped you with. I thought you wanted to wear some of my robes and jewels?”

Khorii stammered, having no idea what the radiant being was talking about. Ariin told her,
“Oh, yes, they call me Narhii, and I was loaded with robes and jewels when I left. Sorry. Her name is Akasa. Tell her you didn’t want to take them.”

“I’m sorry, Akasa. I thought you were just letting me play; I did not know I could wear them outside of this room.”

“You really are rather backward, you know. I cannot imagine where you found that rag you’re wearing. I must have left some old coverall in my closet long enough for the fabric to deteriorate to lose its color and shape, and you put that on.” She flipped Khorii’s beaded braid between her fingers. “This shows some promise, though the effect is more
sauvage
than
soignée
. Still, I suppose it shows you are making an effort. Ah, well, if you’re good, we can do this again later. No time now. You must return to your quarters or to the field with the Others if you like. There is a ball tonight, and I must find something to wear.”

“Oh, no! If she starts searching through her clothes she’ll find me.”
Ariin said.
“Tell her since it’s the first time you’ve been in her house, you’ll get lost.”

Khorii said, “I understand, except I have never been here in your rooms before, Akasa. Can you not take me back to my home yourself?”

Akasa shrugged, then grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out the door and to the front of the house. The house reminded Khorii a little of the mansion where the cruel and untrustworthy Marl Fidd had tried to hold her captive.

Looking over her shoulder, she was startled to see that the door through which she and Akasa had emerged was an eye that looked very like one of her hostess’s, set in a wall-size depiction of the upper half of the female’s face.

Akasa’s grip loosened and her mouth softened when she saw that Khorii was staring seemingly awestricken at her countenance. “It is rather good, if I do say so myself. Self-portrait. I wanted to make my home look like me.”

“You—certainly succeeded,” Khorii said, rather stunned at the vanity of it all.

“Ask her about her other artwork in the house,”
Ariin, monitoring Khorii’s thoughts, suggested.
“That should keep her occupied until I can escape.”

Khorii did as her sister suggested. Admiring Akasa’s decor did indeed turn out to be a good move. Akasa unhooked her hand from Khorii’s arm so she could use both hands to make grand, sweeping gestures as she indicated her various sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, and some more striking but rather gaudy self-portraits of herself in various outfits painted against a black velvet background and embellished with shiny beads and—what were those called?—oh, yes, sequins.

“There are an awfully lot of rooms here that don’t seem to have any function except to be cleaned,”
Ariin remarked, seeing the tour through Khorii’s eyes.

“It’s a huge gallery!” Khorii said aloud.

“Why, yes, it is, child. As you can see, the depth and breadth of my creativity are well represented here, although my home is far too small to include my public art works and various other contributions to this city.”

“I had no idea,” Khorii said, quite truthfully.

“Naturally. A mere child lacks the aesthetic experience to appreciate my work. But don’t despair. Your attitude clearly demonstrates that you are maturing into a young adult with excellent taste and a discerning eye. Many of the gowns and robes in my wardrobe are also my creations, you know.”

“No! Really? I am truly impressed. It was so good of you to allow me to handle your precious things. I would be overjoyed if you would do so again someday.”

“Another time, when there is not a ball for which I must prepare. Perhaps if your development continues to be so pleasing, I will help you gown and bejewel yourself in earnest next time, so you may attend.”

“Oh, goody!” Khorii said, clapping her hands and borrowing an expression she’d heard Sesseli use. She said it loudly enough, she hoped, to mask her insincerity.

“After all, it’s high time you learned to attract suitors,” Akasa continued.

“Oh, yuck!”
Ariin said.
“There’s nobody here but more of her kind, and even though most of them can manage to be fairly good-looking—as humans go—they are very old, and none of them have ever really been nice to me.”

“Obviously they aren’t familiar with our customs. Choosing a lifemate is serious—and it’s almost like my people don’t even choose. Lifemates just recognize each other.”

“These people do a lot of mating, but never bear young,”
Ariin said.
“They don’t seem to stay with each other for any longer than it takes to mate. In fact, I don’t think any of them will ever find a lifemate the way you think of it, outside of a mirror. The only thing they seem to love is themselves.”

“That is very sad. But now that you mention it, I have noticed quite a lot of mirrors in this dwelling,”
Khorii said thoughtfully.

“I’ve found an exit now,”
Ariin told her.
“You can go whenever you want. I’ll check in when I’ve gotten what I need.”

“What do you need?”
Khorii said. But she got no answer. Left alone in this strange time and place, she could only hope that Ariin wasn’t up to her horn in trouble. And that she hadn’t dragged her twin with her straight into even more trouble.

Chapter 2

K
horii bid farewell to Akasa, who pointed out the way back to Ariin’s tiny quarters.

While on a field trip with a teacher and twenty other Linyaari younglings, Khorii had once seen Kubiilikaan as the ruined underground city it was in her time. She was curious to see what it had been like before it was a ruin. She also thought she’d go see the original Ancestors and visit with Khiindi if he was still there. The poor cat would be very upset at being abandoned. Really, she had to put her foot down with Ariin about being so rough with him. Though she had never seen any evidence of his being so, she was sure he was a very sensitive cat.

BOOK: Third Watch
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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