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Authors: Anne Mccaffrey

Third Watch (5 page)

BOOK: Third Watch
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“You’re just more interested in the raw modeling than the nuances of refined sculptural training,” one of the other fellows said haughtily.

“You have to tame them first, or they’ll sculpt you. Don’t forget, I was on that last collection mission. I saw them in their native habitat, before the modifications.”

“The way I hear it, they are their native habitat.”

“In the last stage, yes, because they’ve processed everything else, one way or another. Pircifir discovered them by chance and was intrigued. We tracked them to their original planet. Once there, we experimented until we coaxed them into some of the more popular shapes you see throughout the city today.”

That was it! Ariin wanted to go out onto the dance floor and twirl around a few times herself, she was so excited. The stuff the Friends used for houses had to be the same thing as the aliens that had caused the plague. They fit the description exactly. Now all she had to do was find Pircifir and get him to tell her what modifications he’d made to render the aliens harmless, even helpful. She would be even more of a heroine than Khorii, more than her mother and father, loved and revered not only by their own people but by all people everywhere for subduing the menace. Everybody talked about the bug monster Khleevi her parents had finally caused to destroy each other, but this would be even better.

The only problem was that she didn’t know this Pircifir, had not met him or even heard of him before, which was odd because if he modified a life-form, he had to have some interest in genetics. Her old quarters were in the genetics lab. Never mind. She would simply use the timer thing and be there when he did it. Then she’d go back to her parents with the solution.

She dampened her own enthusiasm and tried to draw out the technician who’d actually been on the mission, but he was preoccupied with the stupid ball. She would have to wait and follow him home and work on him there, where the distractions were fewer.

horii reluctantly left the herd behind and walked back to the city. It looked very different than it had when she left. It was dressed for the ball, she thought, with twinkling lights outlining graceful domes and curves and sparkling on softly glowing walls and windows. It looked beautiful. One especially elegant structure overlooked the sea, its reflection doubling its grandeur. As Khorii approached, gaudily dressed beings strolled or flew, even swam away from the building, laughing and talking, some continuing their dance steps in the streets. They were incredibly giddy, and she couldn’t imagine why until she was close enough to detect the fragrance of their collective breath. At first she thought they might all have been afflicted with the same happy illness, but then she saw some waving and occasionally drinking from delicate globes filled with something soft green and sloshing.

So that’s what intoxication was. Her people didn’t have that sort of thing, since their touch turned any beverage to water. She’d heard the human plague survivors talk about it—among the older ones, especially, who spoke of wishing they could get drunk. They could not, of course, because in order for supplies to be safe for consumption, a Linyaari had to decontaminate them with horn touch, which meant that the intoxicants lost their ability to intoxicate.

The fancily garbed celebrants danced and sang and whirled each other around. Some walked with an odd gait, indicating that their equilibriums had been compromised. Others spoke or sang with strange accents so pronounced she felt a LAANYE would be helpful at understanding them. Their numbers had dwindled by the time she turned from the waterfront road onto the one leading from the ballroom up the hill and past the building where the time device and her sister’s former quarters were located. Music still poured from the ballroom, and some of the revelers sang or hummed snatches of tunes. One of these jumped into her head and onto her tongue before she realized it, and she twirled and skipped up the hill. Though Linyaari vocal cords did not lend themselves to humming, she made noises that approximated the tune and thought it sounded lovely.

“Narhii?” a voice said behind her. She thought the woman was calling a friend until she said more sharply, “Narhii! What are you doing out here at this hour, child?”

Khorii paused in midtwirl and faced Akasa, accompanied by a large male wearing a feathered cloak.

“I went to visit the Ances—the Others,” she said.

“I’m busy”
her sister replied tersely.

“Where are you? I may need your help here. Akasa is right behind me.”

“Stall her,”
Ariin said, and though she did not answer Khorii’s question, Khorii could feel her sister ahead of her, places and numbers—dates?—occupying most of her thoughts.

“You’re at the timing device, aren’t you?”
Khorii asked.
“What are you doing there?”

“Researching. I found out something important, but I have to follow it up.”

“Good. I’ll come, too.”

“You can’t. You have to keep them busy. Ah! There it is. Don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know I’m gone.”

And then she was gone—her thoughts and presence vanished out of Khorii’s mind. All she had gleaned from Ariin’s mind was a set of numbers, but they didn’t mean anything to her.

“Don’t scold her as if she were still a child, Akasa,” the male said. “Our little Narhii is becoming quite the grown-up female these days. See how she likes to dance?”

Without asking, he grabbed her hands and spun her around and around in the middle of the road until she felt quite dizzy. He was dizzier than she was, however, and pulled her to a stop so he could lean on her. They both fell down, and, for a quite-alarming moment, he lay on top of her and leered down at her, his thoughts full of mating. It was far more straightforward than Marl Fidd’s sadistic fantasies but no more appropriate. The drunken Friend was very strong and quite heavy. Bits of him pinned her arms and legs. She took a deep breath, ready to pull her knees up sharply in an attempt to dislodge him, when Akasa grabbed the feathered cape and jerked him upward. Khorii noted that the female was extremely strong.

“You’re frightening her, Odus,” was all Akasa said. Khorii was not so much frightened as she was disgusted. No wonder Ariin had wanted to escape this place and these people. Odus clearly had no moral qualms about forcing himself on her, not because he was actually cruel but because he was so conceited he believed he was doing her a favor, that she did not offer to mate with him because she was intimidated and made shy by his magnificence. Akasa intervened not because she was concerned about Khorii but because she was jealous. How could awful people like these have been partially responsible for her people?

Ariin had been absolutely right to leave when she did, but she was absolutely cracked if she thought Khorii was going back to that cell to wait for Odus to try to convince her once more that she was good enough for him. Or almost. Her mane shook all the way down her spine. Odus? Odious was more like it. She’d heard her human friends use the word, and it fit. Odious Odus.

It wasn’t very nice of Ariin to leave her here. Khorii decided that rather than returning to the cell, she was going to keep moving and try to learn what she could. The crono Ariin was wearing wasn’t the only one. Akasa and Odus both had them, and Khorii figured a lot of the people here probably did as well.

Akasa’s gaze pierced her back. Khorii turned around and wiggled her fingers as a parting gesture before entering the building containing the timing device. She wasn’t going back to that cell, but she was going to see if she could figure out when Ariin had gone.

rimalkin thoroughly enjoyed his unicorn disguise, but it was important to return to little cat form for two reasons. Once was so that Halili would see him and know that unicorn-him, Ahlkiin, really had saved kitty-cat-him, Khiindi. She would not worry, and she would continue thinking that Ahlkiin was wonderful.

The other was that, as he had learned over the years, little cats could make themselves invisible, could overhear private conversations and thoughts unnoticed, and could steal small objects and be far away with the loot before anyone else noticed.

He found the company of the unicorns, especially Halili, most congenial, but if he stayed with them, it would be because he chose to do so, not because some inferior copy of his Khorii stuck him there.

With a lash of his tail, he leaped out of the grass, sprinted past the herd and toward Kubiilikaan. He had done so much traveling through time and space in his former life that he was not certain exactly where Grimalkin-he might be at this moment, but nevertheless, he had a mission. He had to find himself.

riin knew exactly where she was, which was where she had been before she touched the crono. She stood in the middle of the time lab in the same spot she had been, but according to the time signature on the illuminated wall display, it was three hundred
before, though it looked the same, as far as she could tell.

According to the pictobase built into the time device’s display, this was when Pircifir should be setting off on his mission. The display showed an ever-changing map of where each person on Vhiliinyar was located at any given time. Of course, it was coded, and you had to know the code to find the person. In Ariin’s time, the Others were all represented by white dots. She didn’t see them on this board, but maybe their dots had been added later. Each of the Friends had not only a specific color code but a shape code as well. Other creatures were also represented in the woods, meadows, ocean and streams, although the
-Linyaari, who had aqua dots in Ariin’s time, had no dots here at all. Maybe you had to know where to look to find them. At any rate, there was another shortcut. “Pircifir,” she said, and a red-orange dot began blinking brightly near the spaceport.

She had timed it very close indeed. He must be about to set off on his mission, and she needed to be there, too, along with that technician she’d overheard talking about him in the ballroom.

What luck! Just as it had been in her own time, the time lab building seemed deserted, and she met no one as she bolted from it. The time of day she had chosen was just past sunset and as she left the building, she heard a babble of voices in the distance. But that was secondary to what she saw—or rather, did not see. The time building looked much as it always had, but outside it, everything was quite different. Instead of the fascinating ever-changing facades of businesses and homes, Kubiilikaan was surrounded by a hodgepodge of partially completed structures of stone, wood, mud, even steel. Within each there seemed to be a somewhat solid core, but all around it sprawled construction and destruction in various phases of completion or dilapidation. Whatever talents the godlike Friends had, building and the design of buildings was evidently not one of them at this point in their lives.

The voices congregated at the seaside, and she saw that there was a dancing platform erected down there, lit by many tiny lights of the same sort that were in the time wall. Their festive air was somewhat diminished by the fact that they blinked as if in alarm rather than twinkling. Twinkle technology must have developed later, she thought, since the lights in the ballroom she’d seen definitely twinkled.

She skirted the seashore and made her way to the spaceport. A half dozen ships stood in dock, but only one of them was loading supplies. A Friend she had never seen before supervised the technicians equipping the ship. She didn’t see the one she’d overheard. Perhaps she simply didn’t recognize his younger self.

How would she get Pircifir to take her along? Maybe she’d tell him Akasa and Odus had ordered her to go as part of her education—to see how she’d respond to alien environments or something.

She approached cautiously, and the supervisor glanced at her, then returned his attention to his work.

That was unexpected. In her time people were somewhat used to her, even though she had never been allowed out much, but here, would she not be a novelty? Perhaps other Linyaari had traveled back to this time? That would be disappointing. If she was going to go to all this trouble and brave alien dangers and that sort of thing, she wanted to be the first.

While she was deciding how to ask to go on Pircifir’s mission, he glanced down at her again. “So, how’d you come up with that guise? It’s certainly original. I can’t even tell who you are.”

Oho! So he thought she was one of the Friends in disguise? That would be handy. “It’s something new I’m trying out,” she said. “We’re hoping it will be a handy shape for space travel. I need to go along with you and try it out.”

He shrugged. He didn’t care who she was. Theirs was a closed society, and he felt confident she would turn out to be someone he knew. Some of the Friends had political rivals, but their squabbles were short-lived. They had each lived a very long time, she knew that, and expected to live a lot longer, in good health and without perceptible aging. They didn’t seem to have any children, but she didn’t know if that was by choice or if they were sterile. She didn’t think that was why, since they seemed to have everything they needed to create babies in the lab and had tried several combinations to create her own race. Odus had made advances and remarks about mating with her in order to jumpstart the Linyaari race. He certainly didn’t seem to think he was sterile. She’d never thought to probe into the matter. Mating matters had not concerned her earlier because she was too young. Once Odus had tried to interest her in the subject, she avoided any natural inclination she might have had in that direction. It was just too—what did Jaya and Hap say? Yucky. That was it. It was too yucky to contemplate. It had become much more interesting when she was among her own kind, or even among human males close to her own age.

She certainly hoped Pircifir would not be as interested in that sort of thing, especially if she were going to embark on a space voyage with him. So it was handy that he thought she was a Friend. Their guises could cross genders, as their romantic interests often did, so if Pircifir made advances, she could say she was what he did not prefer or that she had a mate for the time being or—well, she could read him and find out what would dissuade him and make him think she was that. Simple enough, really.

BOOK: Third Watch
4.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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