protected his gravbelt. He rose and moved slowly toward her. Survivors
Fingers closed on her arm. Around her shoulder she saw Glydh. He swung
her before his body. “That’s not nice,” the oncoming invader pealed. He
spun his blaster nozzle to needle beam, aimed, and fired.
Glydh’s brow spurted steam, brains, blood, shattered bone across
Kossara. She knew a heartbeat’s marvel at that kind of precision
shooting. But then the heavy corpse bore her down. Her head struck the
floor. Lightning filled the universe.
The armored man reached her, stood over her, shielded her. A
spacecraft’s flank appeared in the entry. It had sprouted a turret,
whose gun sprayed every doorway where an enemy might lurk. Kossara let
darkness flow free.
A breath of air cool, pine-scented; all noises gone soft; a sense of
muted energies everywhere around; a lessened weight–Kossara opened her
eyes. She lay in bed, in her cabin aboard the Hooligan. Flandry sat
alongside. He wore a plain coverall, his countenance was haggard and the
gray gaze troubled. Nonetheless he smiled. “Hello, there,” he murmured.
“How do you feel?”
Drowsy, altogether at ease, she asked, “Have we left Diomedes?”
“Yes. We’re bound for Dennitza.” He took her right hand between both of
his. “Now listen. Everything is all right. You weren’t seriously harmed,
but on examination we decided we’d better keep you under sleep induction
awhile, with intravenous feeding and some medication. Look at your left
wrist.” She did. It was bare. “Yes, the bracelet is off. As far as I’m
concerned, you’re free, and I’ll take care of the technicalities as soon
as possible. You’re going home, Kossara.”
Examination–She dropped her glance. A sheer nightgown covered her. “I’m
sorry I never thought to bring anything more decorous for you to sleep
in,” Flandry said. He appeared to be summoning courage. “Chives did the
doctoring, the bathing, et cetera. Chives alone.” His mouth went wry.
“You may or may not believe that. It’s true, but hell knows how much
I’ve lied to you.”
And I to you, she thought.
He straightened in the chair and released her. “Well,” he said, “would
you like a spot of tea and accompaniments? You should stay in bed for
another watch cycle or two, till you get your strength back.”
“What happened … to us?”
“We’d better postpone that tale. First you should rest.” Flandry rose.
Almost timidly, he gave her hair a stroke. “I’ll go now. Chives will
bring the tea.”
Wakefulness returned. When the Shalmuan came to retrieve her tray,
Kossara sat propped against pillows, ready for him. “I hope the
refreshments were satisfactory, Donna,” he said. “Would you care for
“Yes,” she replied. “Information.”
The slim form showed unease. “Sir Dominic feels–”
“Sir Dominic is not me.” She spread her palms. “Chives, how can I relax
in a jigsaw puzzle? Tell me, or ask him to tell me, what went on in that
den. How did you find me? What did you do after I lost consciousness?
Chives reached a decision. “Well, Donna, we trust that in view of
results obtained, you will pardon certain earlier modifications of
strict veracity which Sir Dominic deemed essential. The ring he gave you
was a mere ring; no such device exists as he described, at least within
the purview of Technic civilization.” She choked. He continued: “Sir
Dominic, ah, has been known to indulge in what he describes as wistful
fantasizing relevant to his occupation. Instead, the bracelet you wore
was slave-driven from an external source of radiated power.”
“Slave-driven. A very good word.” And yet Kossara could feel no anger.
She imitated it as a duty. Had they given her a tranquilizing drug which
had not completely worn off?
“Your indignation is natural, Donna.” Chives’ tail switched his ankles.
“Yet allow me to request you consider the total situation, including the
fact that those whom you met were not noble liberators but Merseian
operatives. Sir Dominic suspected this from the start. He believed that
if you reappeared, they were sure to contact you, if only to find out
what had transpired. He saw no method short of the empirical for
convincing you. Furthermore, admiration for your honesty made him