Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:
Her Instruments, Book 1
“Feeling better?” Sascha asked as they entered.
“Much,” Reese said. “You two look better too.”
“What did you do to your hand?” Irine asked.
“It’s nothing.” Reese drained the sink and joined the Harat-Shar in her room. “Just a cut.”
“We checked the ship from feet to sensors,” Sascha said. “Fleet did everything but tap out the dents in the hull. We can leave whenever you’re ready.”
“Good,” Reese said. She waved them to her bunk and sat on the chair. “Let’s do that after everyone’s gotten at least six hours’ sleep.”
“Do we have a destination?” Sascha asked as Irine settled at his feet.
Reese grinned. “Do we! Turns out we’re civilian heroes and while Fleet doesn’t do anything as crass as paying them for bravery, they do get generous with gifts.”
Irine’s ears perked. “This sounds good.”
“The pirates that were tailing us? Their ships are ours now. Salvage waiting for us at Starbase Kappa.”
Sascha whistled. “Not a small gift.”
“No,” Reese said. “So we’ll head there, evaluate the wrecks and sell them to best advantage. After that… who knows? I guess we’ll go wherever sounds most interesting.”
“We could go anywhere,” Irine said, eyes wide.
“We could,” Reese said. “Just not back to Harat-Sharii.”
“I’m guessing you’re not here to check up on me,” Reese said.
“You’re wrong,” Sascha said. “We are here to check up on you. We’re just also here for one more thing.”
Reese took a deep breath. “Which is?”
Irine said, “You know.”
“Pretend I’m without clues,” Reese said.
“You’ve been treating Hirianthial like the lowest form of dirt,” Sascha said. “Since the rest of us like having him around, we’re hoping you’ll make it clear to him that you like having him around, too.”
“What if I don’t like having him around?” Reese asked, surprising herself with her own uncertainty.
Apparently her quiet tone surprised the twins as well. They exchanged glances. With furrowed brow, Irine said, “How can you not like having him around? You read more novels about Eldritch than any person I’ve ever met. Now you’ve got the real thing!”
“Sometimes the things you fantasize about aren’t what you end up really wanting,” Reese said, staring at her folded hands. She shook herself and smiled wanly. “Though I don’t guess that’s something Harat-Shar are familiar with.”
Sascha was studying her. “Actually, that’s the first thing you’ve said that makes sense.”
Reese frowned. “Really?”
“Really,” Sascha said. He sighed. “Look, if you really want him gone then send him away. But if you’re not sure… then tell him he’s welcome.”
“Because if you don’t expressly tell him,” Irine said, anticipating Reese’s question, “he’ll go away. He won’t stay if staying is going to make you miserable.”
“He doesn’t make me miserable,” Reese said. “He just makes me… ” She shifted in her chair, looking for the right word. “Uncomfortable.”
Sascha nodded. “Of course he does. That’s how all the best things start.”
“Pardon?” Reese said.
He smiled. “The best things. Adventures. Destinations. Knowledge. Relationships. All of them start with uncomfortable moments. It’s only when you’re grappling with something new that you might uncover something wonderful… but unfortunately, that means grappling with something new.”
“New things chafe,” Irine said, plucking at her tail.
Reese stared at them.
“Promise you’ll be decisive,” Sascha said quietly. “Either tell him to go or tell him to stay, but make a decision.”
She ran a hand over the top of her head. “Sascha—”
“Please, Reese,” Irine said. “If we’re going to lose the prettiest guy on the ship, let it be because you really don’t want him around, not because he thought it would please you to leave.”
“I promise,” Reese said, then glared at them as best she could. It wasn’t much of a glare–hadn’t she been planning to work on that? “You two are such trouble. If I’d have known what I was in for when I hired you… ”
“You would have done it anyway,” Sascha said with a grin. “Because we’ve grown on you like flowers on an open field.”
“Get out of here,” Reese said, suppressing her laughter. “Before I throw you out. I have thinking to do.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am!” Irine said, climbing to her feet. She added, “I learned that from the yummy Fleet people.”
“Did you—oh, get moving. I don’t want to know!”
Irine snickered. They headed for the door, where Sascha bent down and plucked up a crumpled cloth from beside the door. “You might want to return this, Boss.”
Reese caught it as they left. She shook her head and started to stand when her fingers registered the caress of felt-soft fabric. Abruptly she sat again and looked at the tabard in her lap. Cleaning her room had been the last thing on her mind the past few days and she’d given little thought to the clothing she’d discarded on the way to the shower after Fleet had dragged the pirates off the Earthrise.
She petted the silky material. The pile was so thick it reminded her of Allacazam’s neural fur, plush and soft. On the tabard’s face, deep channels cut through the velvet, exposing the nap in an elegant but random pattern of swirls and spirals. Most of the books she’d read about Eldritch had only made passing references to their clothing… but the recent ones, the ones by the Harat-Shariin matron, had mentioned an expensive but beautiful tapestried cloth the Eldritch called meander. One of the novels had even described its laborious production, hand-made by artisans famed for the individuality of their patterns.
Reese bit her lip. If that part had been true, the tabard represented months of painstaking craftsmanship, unique and irreplaceable. Her fingers traced the tattered edge of the front panel, following the broken threads, the unraveling seams that connected the satin lining to the cloth. It suddenly seemed so senseless. She bent over it and hugged her knees.
The smell of perfume—no, cologne—clung to the fabric. Something rich with a touch of spice, a woodsy scent that reminded her of trees. She wondered if the twins had smelled it when they’d been braiding the crew’s gift into Hirianthial’s hair… and she was suddenly glad she’d added her own contribution to the dangle.
But he’d read her mind. And he could do it again. She’d seen the ease with which he’d guided them through the chaos in the pirate compound. Not only could he read minds, but he wasn’t dumb. Simply hearing her thoughts wasn’t scary enough alone. The fact that he could read them and then construct the secrets of her heart after knowing her for the briefest fraction of her life… and that didn’t even begin to touch what he’d done with a single dagger. Not even one as impressive as the ones she’d glimpsed in the case.
Bad enough that he knew all her secrets. It was entirely unfair that he got to keep all his own. And she wasn’t sure she knew what to do with the knowledge that someone knew her well enough to hurt her, without her having anything to use against him as a shield.
Even thinking of it that way hurt. Why did she always have to plan for the inevitable hurt?
Reese closed her eyes. The tabard pulled her in one direction. The dagger another.
This is it, our second-to-last episode! Next time, the conclusion!