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Her Instruments, Book 1
He almost asked if it was Salaena’s imagination, but Sascha sounded frightened. With gentle hands, Hirianthial lifted his two sleepers onto Jarysh’s lap, shattering their fragile dreams. He hoped the fragments reassembled after he’d gone.
“Hopefully nothing too serious,” Jarysh said.
“I’ll be back,” Hirianthial said, answering the question Jarysh had wanted to ask and failed to.
Sascha was waiting for him at the garden gate when he arrived at the house. “The midwife won’t let anyone in,” he said. “She said to get you immediately, but wouldn’t say what’s wrong.”
“Thank you,” Hirianthial said absently and passed the Harat-Shar, heading toward Salaena’s resting room. He’d wondered when he first arrived what a closed door would look like in a Harat-Shariin home… now he knew. He knocked.
“Who is it?”
“The doctor,” Hirianthial said.
Karya opened the door, and with it came a long wail and a smell that struck Hirianthial deep in the gut, like a knife there, like a memory.
“I think she’ll be fine, though I want you to check,” the midwife said. “I suspect she did it to herself somehow, though I can’t find any evidence.” After a pause, she added, “I haven’t had time to clean up.”
She looked clean enough. He didn’t understand until he reached the blood-drenched bathroom. In the middle of the stench and the mess, Salaena kneeled, rocking and sobbing into her knotted night-dress. A swift sweep revealed a pebbly red aura, already smoothing as the cramps faded: her emotional distress was surprisingly mild, a bare wobble of gray and orange. The sense of the peaceful infant was, of course, gone. It hadn’t developed enough to offer any more information to his mental touch and now it never would. If she’d had to miscarry, doing it early was at least less traumatic.
Somewhat less traumatic.
Hirianthial stepped into the bathroom, preparing to unpack the more sensitive, technological diagnostic tools. As he moved, Salaen stopped crying and lifted her tear and blood-streaked face. Her eyes glittered, and the sudden spear of violent crimson in her aura twisted her words into fierce, lethal things.
“You weren’t there.”
The words entered his mind, which filled with white noise. He knew there were sounds outside his head, but they seemed very distant.
You weren’t there.
It wasn’t the first time.
Very carefully, Hirianthial shut the door on Salaena. He walked, unsure of his footsteps, back into the outer chamber and past a puzzled Karya. He closed the second door on the chamber and stood in the hallway. He had no idea how long he remained there. Staring. Tracing the lines in the stone walls with dry eyes. Sensing from very far away the breeze against the side of his neck and jaw. Perhaps the fan made noise as its blades cut the air, endless toil.
He blinked to clear his eyes and looked down and to one side. Sascha was standing there, ears flat against his skull. “Are you okay? You—there’s blood—what happened?”
He should move. Leave. Go someplace where no one would happen on him. This sounded like the best course. The gentlest wisdom. Hirianthial forced his stiff joints to bend and walked, one foot before the next, toward where muscle memory dictated.
Did Sascha follow? He thought he heard someone talking. Best not to listen to people talking. People spoke without thinking. Short-lived people in particular.
One foot before the next. And the next. He thought of the pond with the geese, the one that children—stop—the one that would make a pleasant meditative retreat. He would go there.
“Boss, I need your—what are you doing?”
“Packing,” Reese said. “I need to take a trip.”
Sascha stood at the door into her chambers, one ear pointed up and the other out. His expression was a fine example of astonishment. Reese ignored it to toss another shirt onto the unused bed.
“You can’t leave!” he exclaimed.
“Actually, you have that backwards,” Reese said. “I can’t stay. If we’re going to get the money to get off this rock, I need to go arrange for our finances. I won’t be gone long. I should be back in a week.”
“No, you don’t understand, you can’t leave,” Sascha said. “Hirianthial’s breaking. You have to take care of it.”
Reese paused, her nightgown over her arm. “What?”
“Hirianthial. You need to dissolve his contracts and put him back together. Better yet, take him with you. Get him away from here.”
“I’m not taking him with me!” Reese said. “I don’t need more trouble where I’m going.”
“He won’t make trouble,” Sascha said. “He’ll barely make noise, the way he looked just now. Take him with you, Reese, please.”
Her irritation mounded into something more extreme. “I don’t have time to babysit.”
“If you don’t do something you won’t have anything to babysit, period,” Sascha said. “Look, if being alone with him’s what’s frightening you I’ll come along. Or ask Kis’eh’t. Whatever it takes, just… just do something.”
For the first time since he appeared, Reese took her time and looked at Sascha. Noticed the white rims around his banded irises. The fur standing on end at his shoulder-tips. The way he flexed his fingers, and the switching tail. With a frown, Reese said, “You’re really upset.”
“Yes!” Sascha said. “I haven’t seen him look this bad ever! Call that hospital, recall him. I’ve already told my mother to expect your message.”
Uneasy, Reese turned to her data tablet and searched for the hospital address. “Where is he now?”
“I don’t know,” Sascha said, balling his hands into fists. “I should have followed him but I wasn’t brave enough.”
“He’s not exactly scary,” Reese said.
“He doesn’t have to be scary to give off “don’t come near me” waves,” Sascha said. “Those are forbidding enough.” He stood at her shoulder as she connected with the hospital. “He wouldn’t answer me when I called. I’m not sure he even heard me.”
The man on the other end of the hospital line was obviously loath to terminate the contract, but Reese reminded him of her prerogatives as Hirianthial’s original employer and he signed the release. It bothered her that she could make decisions like this for all her crew on Harat-Sharii—simply choose to end whatever job they were working on. For a few moments after the call ended, Reese stared at her reflection in the data tablet’s finish; she was chewing on her own lip.
With a sigh, she had Sascha build the call for his mother and informed her that she wished to terminate Hirianthial’s contract with her.
“I’m happy to do so,” Zhemala said. “We won’t be requiring his services any longer and I was planning to discuss it with you anyway.”
“Did something happen?” Reese asked.
The woman waved a hand. “I asked him to oversee the pregnancy of a sister-wife, but she miscarried. We have no more need of a doctor.”
“That sounds unpleasant,” Reese said.
“She would have been a troublesome mother,” Zhemala said. “The Angels took care of it.”
“I see,” Reese said. “Do you have any idea where he is?”
“Not here, if the blood he tracked out of the house is any marker,” Zhemala said. “He went out by way of the Lizard Garden.”
The woman shrugged. “Miscarriages are messy. I wish you luck finding him.”
“Thanks,” Reese said to the ending call. She turned to Sascha. “Sounds like he had a bad time.”
“The Lizard Garden’s the way he goes to the hospital,” Sascha said. When Reese eyed him, he said, “You told me to watch him for you, so I did.”
She sighed. “I didn’t mean it literally.”
“I know you didn’t,” Sascha said. “Let’s go check the hospital grounds.”
“I need to finish packing!” Reese said.
“You can do that later,” Sascha said. “I’m not going to go looking for him alone. You’re his employer… you come with me.”
“His employer,” Reese said. “That sounds so formal.”
“Yeah,” Sascha said. “Not at all the person you want to comfort you over something bad that’s happened. For that you want friends.”
Ouch, Sascha has teeth.