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Her Instruments, Book 1
“Are you sure?” Sascha asked.
“Please,” Hirianthial said.
“It would pass the time,” Kis’eh’t said.
“What story, though?” Reese asked.
“Tell us what happened on Mars,” Sascha said.
Reese’s denial fractured the fog in the room. “That’s not a story.”
“You went to Mars?” Irine asked.
“I want to hear about this,” Kis’eh’t said, her thoughts narrowing to a pinprick of curiosity.
“It’s not your business what I did on Mars,” Reese said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Is it all that important compared to us dying in an hour or two?” Sascha asked.
“We’re not going to die!” Reese said testily.
“I hope we’re not,” Kis’eh’t said, “but odds aren’t good.”
The silence grew top-heavy with Reese’s wariness and fear.
“Tell us, Reese,” Irine said. An arabesque of humor that dissipated like incense smoke, softening the air: “What could be worse than sitting naked in a closet with a bunch of Harat-Shar?”
Reese’s voice lost its taut pressure. “Fine. Fine. Mars.” A sigh. “A long, long time ago, Mars was a colony. It was a productive colony. Lots of cities under bubbles, tourism, mining, very exciting stuff. We were humanity’s first major colony in space, the first self-sustaining one… would you believe the Moon didn’t get a permanent colony until after Mars was established? Yeah, really.”
With the words came pictures: rolling landscapes, red and pink and dusty. The approach from space, with the long curve of the planet seeded with Reese’s affection. This place was home. All the thoughts of the listeners aligned, caught up in Reese’s words. Hirianthial began to breathe again—no, to notice his breathing.
“We were just heading into space, really into space. Those were really special times,” Reese said. “It wasn’t as easy for us as it was for you in the Alliance. You left and… I don’t know. You just had it easier. We had to fight our own instincts to get out into the solar system. It was expensive. There was so much to do on Earth… how could we justify spending the money on pie-in-the-sky projects like space? If we hadn’t started getting scared about asteroid hits, we might have never gone.” An introspective pause, full of apprehension over something that had never happened. “But we did go. And we prospered. Humans need to be pioneers, you understand? They need to get out. I think we must have given that to you Pelted, and I’m glad, since it’s one of our better qualities.
“Anyway, we were a colony under a strange charter. Earth had a united world government then, if a sort of rickety one made up of all the nations agreeing to a super-body above them. It wasn’t a very effective world government, but it worked for a while. Mars was established under their charter, so they’re the ones Mars went to when it decided it was done being a colony and was ready to be a real nation. Except they didn’t want to be governed by Earth’s global government because it was, well, Earth’s global government. Mars was a different planet. We had different needs. And since Earth needed so much more than we did… and we had so much to give, we didn’t want to end up indentured servants for life. We thought it was reasonable, anyway.”
Reese stopped for a moment. The dense cloud of thoughts and emotions in the room had clarified to the point where he could see again; she was picking at her nails.
“This is ancient history, but it feels like it happened to me because in a way it did,” Reese said. “The short of it is that there was a war. The nations on Earth couldn’t even agree on whether to attack us or not, so they separated and started fighting one another at the same time half of them were fighting us. It was a very long, vicious war, and by the time it was done Earth was in shambles and Mars had lost most of its fighters. Most of them men. The women got by and had families by ordering sperm and getting artificially fertilized.
“That was ancestors ago for me,” Reese said. “Most Martian families now are normal, but some insist on keeping tradition. My family’s been an unbroken line of girls born to fatherless women for generations. We stay home, eke out a living doing something appropriately homey, have a nice baby daughter and then that daughter takes care of us when we get old.”
“And you’re out here,” Irine said—Hirianthial was fairly certain, at least. Their thoughts were so loud it was sometimes hard to tell when they were being said or being nursed in silence.
Reese nodded. “I’m out here. Spending the family money on something not very homey at all. And very definitely not settling down to take care of my mother and grandmother and having a girl of my own.” No, instead, I’m looking for the father my mother never picked because she was afraid of real partnerships. Of love. Love like in romance novels. Love that lasts until you die and maybe after that.
“You can’t give your mother a husband,” Hirianthial said.
Utter shock, so bright he realized Reese’s last thoughts had been just that.
“Excuse me?” Reese asked.
So long as he was damned, he should give her the antidote in its entirety. “Nor can you prove to your family that not all masculine endeavors are unworthy and not all marriages are travesties. You cannot give them the happiness and balance they have denounced. You can only seek it yourself.”
All the doors in her mind slammed shut, demonstrating that non-espers could in fact shield their thoughts—they just didn’t know how to do so consciously and rarely had cause. The last thing that leaked from her before the lock-down completed was a wrath at his betrayal so towering it nearly branded the words into his heart: HE ROBBED MY MIND. HE INVADED ME!
“My deepest apologies,” he said, though he knew the words would fall on closed ears.
“It’s okay, Boss,” Sascha said. “We’re all looking for something we can’t find.”
“What’s that?” Reese asked.
“Home,” Sascha said.
“Purpose,” Irine said.
“A garden,” Bryer said, surprising them all.
Kis’eh’t nodded. “All of those things. And peace.”
Reese eyed Hirianthial. “And you?”
Surrounded on all sides by the purity of their longing and the clean light of their candor, Hirianthial thought of how lucky he’d been to have had all those things for a short time… and how unlikely it seemed that he could hope for them again after so much destruction and pain.
And you? What do you want?
“A second chance.”
The intensity of their married thoughts helped keep Hirianthial focused, so focused he could prepare for the door opening.
“Time to go,” the guard said. “Pastehead first. Then the rest of you.” He grinned and waved several pairs of cuffs. “This time, no tricks.”
“You could just leave us in the closet,” Sascha said cheerfully. “We might even look the other way about you stealing our cargo.”
“No go, furry,” the guard said. “The boss wants you all now that you’ve become so much trouble.” He grinned. “White and skinny first.”
The guard was not alone, and using what remained of his strength in an attempt to win free of the tangle of limbs and escape the men lined up in the hall would be a waste. If there was a path leading to freedom from this place it didn’t diverge now. Best they thought him weak—it wasn’t far from the truth anyway. “I can’t get up alone.”
The guard snorted and grabbed his arm, stabbing him with irritation and the smog of an unexamined mind. With the help of a comrade, they cuffed his hands behind his back. His knuckles rested over his hair and against something hard that filled his eyes with the sight of Irine’s mischievous smile. The dangle, probably.
Shaking his head, Hirianthial waited in the corridor as the guards marched each of the crew out of the closet. His tabard fell to the floor on Reese, and Irine hadn’t found the side clips that held it closed at his waist; on Reese, those clips hung near the upper thighs. As they started down the hall, she tripped on the tabard’s edge twice.
“Cut it,” the guard said. “We don’t need her making an excuse for any sudden movements.”
“No!” Reese said, twisting away. “I don’t know where Blond and Nasty picked you people up, but don’t you have any decency at all?”
“The lady says decent,” the guard said with a grin and grabbed the front end of the tabard. Before Reese could object, he burned it off at the knees and left it hanging, ragged. “There. Nice and modest for the queen here.”
“Do you like destroying beautiful things or is it just part of the job?” Reese asked with a knotted asperity.
“Just keep moving, chocolate.”
It’s traditional in romance plots for the love interests to have a fight over something stupid that keeps them apart. I like to think I came up with a pretty novel variation on the reason for that fight!
Anyway. We are (once again) only $5 from our bonus episode. Thanks to all our patrons!