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Her Instruments, Book 1
Reese ducked behind Kis’eh’t’s upper body. “I thought you were unconscious!”
“I’m not?” Hirianthial asked. He sounded curious, distracted. His eyes when she chanced a look at them failed to focus on any one person or point in space. Still, when he folded his limbs up, knees to chest and arms around them, Reese let out a relieved breath.
“Now what?” Kis’eh’t asked.
“We wait,” Hirianthial said. “For Sascha.”
“I miss him,” Irine said.
“Sascha,” Reese said, puzzled. “Where is he, anyway? Hirianthial?”
But the Eldritch had closed his eyes again, forehead lowering until it touched his knees.
“Hey, no, don’t do that. Hirianthial! Stay focused!”
He didn’t move.
“This is ridiculous,” Reese said, covering her face. “Ridiculous. I’m trapped in a storage closet while pirates ransack my ship.”
“Naked,” Irine added.
“You’re not helping,” Reese growled.
“Sorry,” Irine said. “If it helps, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Nothing to be ashamed of!”
Kis’eh’t fanned her feathered ears. “You could have phrased that better, Irine.”
“If I tell her she’s attractive in any other way she’ll decide I’m flirting,” Irine said.
“Are you?” Kis’eh’t asked.
“No,” Irine said. “Well, not yet.”
“Clear your minds,” Bryer said suddenly. “Or you will tax the healer.”
“Right. Easy for you to say,” Irine said.
Hirianthial mumbled something. Kis’eh’t bent closer, carefully. “Speak again?”
“Take the tabard. For the lady.”
“I don’t need your clothes,” Reese said, frowning.
“That’s just what I was saying!” Irine said.
Long white fingers unclasped one of the brooches, then the other. The tabard dropped forward into Hirianthial’s lap, crumpling between his knees and his stomach.
“He’s still dressed under it,” Kis’eh’t said, pinching one of the tabard’s edges and pulling it free before drawing the opposite side from behind the Eldritch.
“Why me?” Reese asked.
“Because you make more of it than we do,” Bryer said. “That disorders your mind more.”
“Well, your nakedness disorders me as much as mine does!” Reese exclaimed.
“Yeah, but he’s only got enough clothes for one more person,” Kis’eh’t said, twisting toward her. “Besides, we’ve got fur. And, er, scales. You don’t. Here, put it on.”
Grumbling, Reese accepted the fabric. Her fingers began petting it before she stopped being angry. It was very soft. She wouldn’t have called it velvet, but it had pile and it felt good on both sides. Irine helped her with the brooches, which were surprisingly heavy. Similar pins she’d handled in jewelry stores were usually hollow or alloyed with something lighter. These pressed on her shoulders like stones.
“Better,” Bryer said.
“I guess so,” Reese said. “How are we going to get out of this, though?”
“Sascha’s still free,” Irine said.
Or dead. Reese didn’t voice that thought. Instead, she asked, “Can we break out of the closet?”
“I can check,” Irine said.
Irine sidled past her, skirting as far around Hirianthial as she was able—which was only a half-inch or so. She ran her hands over the door frame, sticking a claw-tip into the seam between the door and the pocket and checking the join and the corners. She ran her claws under the bottom, tapped along the opening edge, finally kicked it.
“No good,” Reese guessed.
“Closets aren’t meant to be opened from the inside,” Irine said. “Standard Alliance construction wouldn’t allow a closet to lock at all, but the Earthrise was built to a Terran spec that keeps doors on rooms under a certain size open while someone’s inside.”
“Except this door is closed,” Kis’eh’t said.
“If you short the circuit, the door will close and stay that way,” Irine said. “Actively. It’s supposed to be a response to possible decompression.” She flattened her hands on the inside of the door and dragged. “This would usually work, but the door’s holding itself closed.”
“If we could get enough leverage on it could we get it open?” Reese asked.
“Possibly,” Irine said. “But we’d need a door hook. If I had my clothes with me we could do it… ” She scanned the cramped walls. “Is there anything in here made of wire?”
“There’s nothing in here but us,” Reese said. “I didn’t use this closet for anything. I didn’t even bother with shelves.” She squinted. “You always carry lock-picks on your clothes?”
Irine shrugged. “Or things that can be made into picks. You never know when you’re going to be locked in a closet.”
“Nude,” Reese finished.
“I’ll have to start hiding them in my—”
“Don’t finish that sentence,” Reese said, covering her eyes. “I don’t want to know.” She rubbed her aching brows. “Look, are you sure we can’t use something? A pin?”
Irine eyed the door. “You can’t make a door hook out of a pin. You need at least an arm’s length of heavy gauge wire. The short of the matter is we’re not getting out of here by forcing the door.”
Reese stared at her. “And you were hiding that kind of thing on your clothes?”
Irine shrugged, still pressing on the door frame. “I wasn’t wearing those outfits because I needed lift. You’d be surprised what you can do with steel-sprung boning.” She backed away from the door and snuggled back in behind Reese. “No go on the door. Not that way, anyway.”
“Maybe we could talk our way out? The way we did in the slaver prison?” Kis’eh’t said.
“Can they even hear us?” Reese asked.
“No,” Irine said. When Reese eyed her askance, Irine blushed at the ears. “Well, what good are empty closets if you can hear through the doors?”
“We could yell,” Reese said. “Or is yelling also not enough?”
“No, if you yell it’s audible,” Kis’eh’t said, and added, “And I have my own cause to know that.”
Irine blushed harder. “Sorry.”
Kis’eh’t waved a hand. “You have a nice voice at that octave.”
“Ack!” Reese said. “Moving on from this topic. So if we yell we’ll be heard. We need a plan.”
“We could just say that Hirianthial needs medical attention,” Kis’eh’t said. “That would be true enough.”
Reese tried not to look at the man slumped against the wall. “And then what? We jump them? They’re still armed and we’re not only not armed, we’re naked.”
“Bryer’s always armed,” Irine said. “And I’ve got claws, too.”
“There’s only room for one of you to jump out at a time,” Reese said.
“Bryer then,” Kis’eh’t said. “He’s more likely to succeed.”
“So we jump the guards,” Reese said. “Disarm them. Then what? Kill them all? How do we keep the Crawler and that second ship from sending more people? We can’t escape them with a dead Well drive.”
The door opened, flushing in a wave of cooler, fresher air. Stunned, they all looked out just as Sascha tumbled in, then fell over Kis’eh’t’s paws and landed in the narrow space between Hirianthial’s calves, Bryer’s claws and Reese’s thigh. The door swooped shut again.
“Sascha!” Irine said and grabbed him. “Angels! I thought you were dead!”
“Did you?” Sascha asked. “Silly sib.”
“Ungh,” Kis’eh’t said. “I love you all but three of you pressing on my spine is too much. And you’re stepping on my wing, Sascha.”
“Sorry!” Sascha said, wiggling down onto the ground and pressing his back against the wall opposite the door.
“You’re hurt,” Irine said. “What did they do to you?”
“Contusions,” Hirianthial said without looking up. “Two broken ribs. Fractured radius. Bind the cut on his forehead.”
Sascha touched the patch of red above his eye. “They just beat me up. It doesn’t matter. I got a call out on the Fleet broadcast channels, and they didn’t catch it until just now. It’s been going out for fifteen minutes now.”
“Will they come in time?” Irine asked.
“I hope so,” Reese said.
Hirianthial had seen centuries pass—had spent those centuries in what he’d perceived as appropriate tasks. He’d bred horses through generations. He’d mastered many of the more genteel arts a lord of any rank should know. He’d become educated in several disciplines, traveled, and even taken up a profession when he’d left Jisiensire. Though he’d done more and learned more than the member of any other Alliance species could have in several lifetimes, he’d never felt old until he’d lost his Butterfly. His wanders through Alliance space had been an epilogue to a life he’d decided was over until the Earthrise‘s crew reminded him that there was still joy in the world, still surprises. When remembering that hadn’t chased away all the aches and pains in his limbs, he’d realized he actually was old, but hadn’t minded.
Some part of his mind had always equated age with death.
That part of him was wrong.
He was currently trapped in a closet surrounded by people, but he could feel neither the floor beneath his flesh nor the touch of their bodies. He couldn’t tell where the walls stopped and his hallucinations began. He couldn’t hear his own heart beating… couldn’t hold a thought about anything long enough to freight it with meaning.
He was standing across from death, and his knees were weakening. Too much longer and they’d crumple, and he would fall at the mercy of that shade and be gone. And to leave so soon in such an ignominious fashion after discovering relationships worth tending was too much to bear. He had to stay alive, somehow. That the disconnected thoughts of the people in the closet with him were hastening his demise was obvious. Out of well-meaning concern for him they remained silent, as if stilling their voices would likewise still their minds. Instead it allowed each of them to descend into a private storm of thoughts, all on different topics with crazed tangents. He had to stop them. He had to get them thinking down the same path.
Their attention focused on him, though he couldn’t see their lifted faces. His voice sounded hoarse and too far away. He cleared it. “Tell us a story.”
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This next part is one of my favorite soliloquies in the book. I hope you enjoy it too. :)