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
“A real Flitzbe,” Hirianthial prompted again.
“Would you like to hold him?” Reese asked, wondering why she was offering.
“May I?” he said.
Reese held Allacazam out to him, wondering if Hirianthial would take him directly from her hands and risk touching her, or if she’d have to set the Flitzbe on the floor and let him roll to the man’s boots. But no, the Eldritch didn’t flinch at the transfer, though his hands never touched hers.
“You’ve never seen one?” Reese asked.
“In textbooks,” Hirianthial replied. He set Allacazam against his ribs, tucked against his elbow, and rested his opposite hand on top of the Flitzbe. It was a tender hold, and in it Allacazam blossomed all sorts of calming colors. Pastel purple. Shimmery silver. Touches of rose and peach and blue. Reese stared, mesmerized, until the lift door opened.
“I didn’t think you’d want to touch him,” she said. “He emotes a lot.”
“I didn’t think I would either,” Hirianthial said. “But it seems rude not to, given he can’t communicate any other way.”
“The clinic’s this way,” Reese said, glancing one more time at the supreme contentment of the Flitzbe before heading down the hall. She heard the soft whisper of the Eldritch behind her, wished that the Earthrise would at least oblige her by sounding noisy under the man’s feet. Naturally, the ship wouldn’t. Did anyone dislike an Eldritch? Except her? She’d liked them fine as mythical characters, but meeting one in person… no one had told her how infuriatingly perfect they’d be.
Reese opened the door on the small room Kis’eh’t used as a lab. The Glaseahn had studied some sort of fancy chemistry and with Reese’s permission installed some enigmatic lab equipment. Since she occasionally donated money to the ship when her articles earned any, Reese didn’t complain. The things took power, but they were Kis’eh’t’s romance novels, her escape to something else. Somewhere better. Why the Glaseahn didn’t do her chemistry as a formal job Reese didn’t understand; Kis’eh’t had only ever said that she and academia had had a difference of opinion.
“Larger than I expected,” Hirianthial said, sitting on a stool. He was petting Allacazam now. They seemed well-suited. Reese wondered if the Flitzbe would take to sleeping with him from now on.
Reese tapped the comm, glad for the distraction. “Go ahead, Sascha.”
“We’re looking at at least three hours of repair. Maybe four.”
“Four hours!” Reese said.
“Just be glad we’ve got the parts on hand.”
Reese sighed. “All right. Get us out of this, Sascha, and I’ll buy you and Bryer dinner at Starbase Kappa.”
“Yeah, right. With what money, boss?” A chuckle. “Still, thanks for the thought. I’ll give you an update when we’ve got one.”
“Thanks,” Reese said, and switched channels. “You guys hear that?”
“Three or four hours to hide in the rocks. Can do, Captain.” In the background, Kis’eh’t added, “Didn’t we tell you to stop worrying?”
“Not going to happen,” Reese said. “Tell me if we get visitors.”
“We will. Bridge out.”
“They seem like good people,” Hirianthial said.
“They are good people,” Reese replied testily. “Just a little less formal than your average Fleet crew.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Reese sighed and sat on the low bench Kis’eh’t used for herself.
“As long as we’re here,” Hirianthial said and trailed off.
Reese eyed him. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“If you have a first aid kit I could do something about that digestive problem. Or your head.”
“I don’t need you to mess with my head, or my stomach. They’re fine,” Reese said.
His calm gaze on hers only infuriated her more. She looked away, blushing. “I’ve done fine on my own.”
“You have. But you could do better,” he said.
“I’m not interested in you fixing me,” Reese said, and when he looked about to object she said, “And that’s final. Get it? I’ve got chalk and I’ve got elixir and I’ve got pills. That’s enough.”
He looked down at Allacazam, but not fast enough to hide the irritation that pulled ever-so-slightly at his mouth. Reese hid her satisfaction. At least he could get angry.
A memory flashed in her mind of his face when talking about the slavers.
Okay. Maybe not that angry. Pettily angry, like normal people.
“So,” and she couldn’t hear any of that anger in his voice, “how did you meet a real Flitzbe?”
“On a space station near Earth,” Reese said. “I was docked there for licensing and repair and he just… well, started following me. We seemed to get along, and he didn’t like the idea of me leaving him behind, so I didn’t.”
“You can talk to him?” Hirianthial asked.
The Eldritch shrugged, that hitch of one shoulder that was so easy to miss. “I’m an esper. They say it’s supposed to be easier for us to talk to them.”
“Do they?” Reese warred between agitation and curiosity. “I’ve read about them but there’s not much available in the u-banks. The usual stuff… some biological information about how they eat and reproduce, and historical information about how we ran into them. But nothing more than that.”
“Probably because there’s not much more than that to be said.” In the Eldritch’s arms, Allacazam turned an amused goldenrod yellow. “We had some additional information in medical school but not much more. I never saw a Flitzbe anywhere I worked. If they get sick, they’ve never done it where someone could record evidence of it.”
“Never?” Reese asked.
“Not that we know of,” Hirianthial replied. “Even seeing one is fairly unusual. You’re a lucky woman.”
Reese said nothing to that, only watched the colors on Allacazam as they changed. All happy colors. “He likes you.”
“You sound surprised,” Hirianthial said and laughed. “I suppose you can’t imagine anyone liking me right now.”
“I’ll thank you to stop reading my mind,” Reese said, bristling.
“I’ll thank you to stop assuming I’m some sort of magician,” Hirianthial replied. He leaned down and set the Flitzbe on the floor. “The only thing I can sense from you is your emotional state, and trust me, any number of factors can cause a single emotion. Guessing at which of the many things in your life is currently causing you distress isn’t as easy as you would presume. I am making an educated guess from your tone of voice and the things you’ve said, lady. Not plucking my wisdom out of your frontal lobes.”
“Are all Eldritch this infuriating?” Reese finally said, unable to help herself.
“No,” Hirianthial replied. Then, glancing at the ceiling. “Most of them are worse.”
Allacazam bumped up against Reese’s toe. She pulled him into her arms and was surprised at how quickly he soothed her. She sighed over his round body, feeling the thrum of the engines in the deck and wondering how soon they’d be able to escape this particular nightmare. Allacazam slipped a tendril of curiosity into her mind, like a shoot of green trying to push up through soil. She imagined packing it back into the earth. She wasn’t ready to deal with the alternatives to their venture if they failed.
The ship chose that moment to shudder hard and jink to one side. Reese clutched Allacazam with one arm and the bench with the the other. The moment it passed she was on the intercom. “What in Freedom’s name are you people doing up there?”
“Sorry,” came Kis’eh’t’s terse reply. “We got dinged by a small rock. We’re not going to get out of this without dents, Reese.”
“I’m coming up there,” Reese said, and cut off Irine’s protest.
“Lady,” Hirianthial said.
“Not now.” Reese set Allacazam down and headed for the door.
“I would sit down—”
Her stomach felt like a burst fuel-line. Even her throat was burning. She kept going.
“Captain Eddings,” Hirianthial said, standing, and that almost made her stop but Irine and Kis’eh’t were going to get her ship completely bent out of shape and she was the only one who could possibly stop it—
An ominous taste in her mouth gave her pause. Was she queasy? She hated being queasy. The corridor suddenly seemed a lot longer.
“Maybe you should come back in here and sit.” His baritone was so soft she almost couldn’t disobey. But no doctor, no Eldritch doctor was going to tell her what to do. She kept walking.
Her stomach lurched. The burning in her mouth intensified. Reese licked her lips and swayed beneath a wave of hot unease. She reached out and braced herself against the wall, no longer caring if he saw her. What was he going to do… come out here and pick her up? Not likely!
“Since kind suggestion doesn’t work on you,” Hirianthial said with what sounded like a hint of asperity, “I’ll simply be blunt. If you don’t walk back in here under your own power and let me treat you for the ulcer you’ve been nursing for what looks like several years, you’re going to fall and vomit up what remains of your last meal, which I am wagering was a pack of antacids. Then you’ll be forced to accept the help you’re currently refusing, which will only make you angrier. So save us both your future frustration and come in here now.”
Reese stared at the lift at the end of the hall as waves of sickness flooded her, each one making her hunch just a little more. Every word made her clench her teeth harder. When he finished his speech she felt crushed between her body’s impending crisis and her obstinacy.
“Treat me out here, because I’m not moving,” she said, and fell forward onto her knees.
I did mention we were get into that whole “I think my ulcer can be fixed by antacids” problem, right?
We are already a dollar toward our Thursday episode. :)