I'm not sure why but I've been going so fast and furious this week, but I churned out new material--which occurs out at the 75% mark of the book. Oops. Since July, I've been uploading chapters as I edit them and got to about the 40% mark with the uploads, but I don't want to upload chapters out of order, even though I usually work out of order.
My regular readers will know, I never ever do anything "in order." It's just not my Webbiegrrl Way. I am a blizzard, not an orderly row of snowflakes. Hence, I'm snippeting here to make unwanted spoilers less likely. If you don't care about spoilers and just want to read for the fun of it, this is a pretty darn good chapter if I do say so myself!
I've got a major plotting event occurring in the chapter titled "the trigger" which comes 2 chapters after this one (about 10,000 words after this) and I'd planned to stop uploading/sharing/snippeting after that climax comes and dies down (double or triple entendre intended). The book will be nearly done by the time "the trigger" is uploaded to Authonomy anyway.
I don't regret doing this week's new content ahead of schedule--it was about 25,000 words worth with about 15,000 of it on Tuesday! Don't even ask me how I cranked all that out on Monday and Tuesday but this is what happens when I'm allowed to write and not have to go to some stupid low-wage day job (like I'm doing tomorrow). If I could just sit here and crank out words, I could have this sucker done before Thanksgiving! As it is, I'm worrying if I can get it done in January or February of 2012.
If you're someone who prefers to read the whole book at once, and not see anything before then, stop reading now or click through to Authonomy to read from the beginning straight through. You can read there free of charge there, but you have to register with the Harper Collins site if you want to leave me a comment or "back" the book. (See the end of yesterday's post for an explanation of what it means to "back" a book on Authonomy.)
For those of you who need it, here, I'll put in a jump break to help protect your virgin eyes from my evil spoilers. ^_^ For those of you who are reader sluts, who love spoilers or who just like reading eARCs, click on through.
This is one of only a few scenes told in Raif's POV and I just love his voice. I know why I haven't written in his POV voice more often. It was a stupid "rule" I made up. I decided early on in this series (e.g., back in 2005 when I first created the Raif character and "inserted" him into the series) that when we saw the Phoenician world, Shayla's world, it would be through Raif's POV and anytime we saw his world, the Council's, it would be through Shayla's POV.
Book 1 is all about Shayla and the Phoenicians and how she ends up with Raif--so it's told mostly from Raif's POV. This Book 2 is all about Raif and how he...ends up, so it's told mostly from Shayla's POV. This chapter is the first time in this book we've gone back to Phoenician land. I've missed Raif's voice.
This is 100% new material, not proofread for typos or pacing or smoothness or anything else. It is raw but then, it is also free and on a blog, not in a book. It's here for your reading pleasure. Nothing more, nothing less. Oh, and not only are there spoilers ahead, but a few F bombs as well, but just a few of those. Raif's under a lot of stress; please cut him some slack *grin*
Ch 12a-1: the seven chiefs
Raif watched Shayla’s car soar off into the sunset, so to speak. Actually, the sun was setting north of them while the car headed easterly, but it was one of those sayings from Old Earth that he liked. He understood it anyway. Most of the sayings he heard made no sense here on Altair. Caine had been fond of talking about Old Earth as though he’d actually seen the place, which was absurd. There weren’t even any images in the Council Archives of humanity’s home planet, just verbal references to it. Earth was described as being a “blue planet,” which everyone assumed meant the predominant foliage was blue-colored, the same way the predominant foliage here on Altair was brown. Here it was due to the high iron content of the soild. On Earth? Raif couldn’t imagine what would make plants blue. Earth’s plant life had been high on the chlorophyll scale so the place should’ve been called a green planet. Raif was sure Caine would claim to know why it was described as blue. Caine seemed to think he knew everything.
When Raif looked back at Shayla, he found her waiting, watching him impatiently, arms crossed over her chest. Great. She was in one of those moods still. He said, “We should get moving. There’s bound to be a report to traffic control at the very least.” He waved a hand at the trees, as though to shoo her along.
She shook her head and turned, walking briskly towards the treeline. Beyond the trees lay a broad expanse of plains—Phoenician land. The Closure, an energy field not visible to the naked eye, was approximately aligned with the treeline at this particular location. That was why he’d chosen it as their landing site, so they wouldn’t have far to go before they could find cover from random passers-by. Of course, once they were on the other side of the Closure, it really wouldn’t matter who noticed them. They’d be untouchable. Literally.
Shayla stopped a few paces in front of a large tree and put her hands up in the air, palms out, fingers splayed, as though touching an invisible wall. The air in front of her began to glow with a blue-white light and then she appeared to be pressing and sliding the lighted air apart, tearing a gash into the fabric of the space in front of her.
It was an optical illusion, of course. In reality, she was redirecting the energy field through her body in order to make a hole through which Raif could climb unharmed. He’d seen her do this many times before—in fact, he’d helped to teach her to do it—but it was still amazing to watch. He had to admit, he still had no idea how Phoenicians did what they did. The Council—or someone like Caine—would insist on studying them to figure it out, if they could just figure out how to coerce the Phoenicians into being lab rats without getting swatted away like annoying flies. The Phoenicians definitely had no interest in interacting with Council Citizens, let alone being studied by them.
“Well?” She called out to him. “Are you coming or not? I thought we were in a hurry.”
He trotted over to her side then angled himself to step carefully through the gap. It wasn’t easy, given he had to crouch to get under her arm and in front of her without inadvertently touching the edges of the gap. It was more than a little distracting to bend his head down to her waistline and not hover there for other reasons. He forced himself to pay attention to the task at hand.
Shayla might forgive him for leering, but the Closure was indiscriminate and unforgiving. One touch and he’d disintegrate in a puff of smoke—or at least, whatever part of him touched the field would vanish. He didn’t relish the idea of being without a shoulder or foot, which were the two most common injuries suffered by Closure crashers. Shayla’s innate ability to redirect the field wasn’t the only way around the system. Hence why the Proctors patrolled and investigated any indications of traffic or intrusion. He and Shayla were currently double blips on some Proctor’s radar somewhere.
He caught sight of her again when he was pulling his trailing foot through. She was looking up at the field, not down at his crouched form, and she was glowing from head to foot. Her dark brown hair had deepened in color to a raven black and each swirling curl of the long cascade shimmered with a blue light. All of her shimmered with the blue-white light, like an angel. She was breathtaking at that moment, but then he’d always thought she was beautiful, even when she wasn’t glowing. He needed to resolve the situation between them. He certainly couldn’t keep going on the way things were. Things had changed—and were going to change even more if he had his way about it!
She asked him, “Are you going to pull your foot through or stand there all day staring at me? What’s wrong with you all of a sudden?”
He withdrew his foot and stepped back. She let the field go in a flash of light, then stepped through it, a halo of light outlining her as she did. She asked, “Are you having more memory issues or…are you having trouble thinking clearly now?”
“No, I’m not a senile imbecile quite yet.”
“I wasn’t trying to insult you but—you’re not yourself, Raif. I don’t think you realize how different you are now. Do you want to run?”
“Is that your way of saying you want to talk and make sure I shut up listen since I’ll have trouble enough breathing if I run alongside you? You’ve been getting faster the last six months.”
The truth was a Phoenician could run for days and never get tired, given they just recharged by taking in sunlight as needed and their bodies seemed innately acclimated to the arid desert-like air. That was probably why they preferred to make camp in the middle of an open plains while humans clustered around forested areas. Given Raif’s long legs compared to her short little ones, it was quite the feat that she could outpace him so easily. He usually held his own for the first kilometer, then she lost him. They only had about five kilometers to go today, though, assuming she didn’t try to make him climb the cliff today.
“You’ve been getting slower, Raif, but I won’t run too fast and yes, I wanted to talk to you and I wanted you to just listen. Do you mind?”
“Lead on, Councillor. I’ll be the dutiful Proctor and shut my—wait. Do you have the water?” He gestured to the bag she had slung over her shoulder. There was no question she’d carry it from here on out. She took out a bottle and handed it to him.
“Drink first. I don’t want to stop every two minutes.”
“Forgive me for my human hydration deficit. Just so you know, Councillor, I’m not climbing that cliff today.” He swallowed half the water in one long gulp. He resealed it and handed it back to her.
“Fine, Proctor.” She returned sharply as she restowed the water. “We’ll go the long way around, up the ridge. Happy?”
She looked up and smiled. “Good, because it’ll give me more time to say what I want to say before we sit with the Seven Chiefs.”
“Marvelous. Shall we go?”
She let him run in silence the first kilometer. He was sure that was a ploy. She was probably waiting for him to get winded before she started so he’d be less likely to interrupt her. He didn’t want to interrupt her. He didn’t want to even start the discussion. He didn’t need to hear about her and Kyree, or her and Charlie, or her and Caine or her and half of the other men on the planet, not that the AI was a man, even if she treated it like one. When she did finally say something, he was fully-focused on regulating his breathing and therefore, she caught him a little off-guard.
“I wish we could go back in time, make different choices.”
He had about a dozen choices he wished he could make differently himself. Like killing Dramond on that cliff thirteen years ago or never agreeing to be a liasion for the Seven Chiefs. Of course, then he wouldn't have been here with Shayla right now. He started the famous Phoenician saying, “The past only exists….” He had to pause long enough to gulp at the hot, dusty air of the broad, open plains.
“In the minds of those who choose to recall it.” She finished for him easily. “I can’t help but recall it, Raif, all of it. I’ve just been retracing my steps in my mind, trying to figure out where I made the wrong turn.”
He had no idea what she was thinking of, what wrong turn she thought she’d made but he yearned to know what she regretted. Was agreeing to go with him back into the world Outside her wrong turn?
“Raif, I told you before, I have to take this sample for Charlie. I can’t just not take it. The project I started with Charlie…I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to see it through but I can’t stop now, not this close to completion.”
He watched the metal shaklet on her left hand glinting in the sunlight and suspected the AI was what compelled her to keep going. If not the AI, then the Seven Chiefs. He doubted Shayla would feel compelled to go on without some external force. She was too conflicted over the whole project to just keep doing it anyway. It wasn’t in her nature to do things she didn’t wholeheartedly embrace.
She went on, “I don’t approve of Ronningers. You heard me talking to Joshua, didn’t you?” She glanced back over her shoulder at him and he nodded in answer. “We’re making Charlie a body, Raif, a Phoenician body, but it’s not a Ronninger. It’ll be his even before it’s brought out of stasis. He’ll be occupying that mind, filling it with his own choices of data and conducting the stimulation of the bodily functions for himself. He’ll be alive inside the body even before it’s ready to be used. That's not a Ronninger.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him again, searching his face for reaction. Did she want his approval? He had no idea what she might’ve seen. All he could think about was the hot, dry air burning down his throat, scorching his lungs. How could she run in this like it was nothing? He always forgot how hard it was on him to do it. She stopped abruptly and he stomped a few steps past her before managing to overcome his own momentum. He folded over and held himself up with his hands on his knees. When he looked up, she was holding out the half-empty bottle towards him.
“You’re turning red again. Drink—and next time tell me when you’re getting winded.”
If the wind weren’t blowing, she wouldn’t even have a hair out of place. It was entirely unfair. He was in good shape. He was in better shape than Proctors half his age. However, when he wiped his tan shirt sleeve across his brow then drew the crook of his elbow down over his face, it came away dark, drenched in sweat. Good thing he’d taken the jacket off in the car. He wondered if she’d stuffed it into that bag of hers. He could feel the heat stress he was under. He was going to get the chills tonight if they stayed past dark.
Finally able to stand and breath again he took the water from her and wished he had another snappy retort but he was just grateful for the cool bottle in his hand. He forced himself to drink slowly this time, taking the whole thing down in two slugs. He handed her back the empty and she already had another out for him to trade.
She went on thoughtfully, “I need a sample from a Phoenician man, a bodily fluid that’s still viable. Alive, Jorle called it, but what he’s getting at is I need to be able to detect which enzymes are triggered when a Phoenician prepares to throw. We’re looking for the control mechanism behind the Phoenician ability to store and expel energy. It’s got to be chemically activated, right?”
“Why can you just use your own blood?”
“I don’t know. Jorle said something about mine not showing the right enzymes. It's a hormonal thing--male hormones. I haven’t even had time to look at this problem. It never occurred to me there’d be an issue. I thought if we just designed a Phoenician male, the same way we do a human, it would just…work. I’m not sure I was prepared for these kinds of major differences between Phoenicians and humans.”
“So you already took the samples?”
“I told you that back at the Office, don’t you remember? From Kyree and Mandreas and the placental material over a year ago from—”
“From Treante and Demeter’s girl, right. I forgot.” He remembered the little girl being born, but he had no recollection of her having removed genetic material after the birth. He certainly had no memory of her having discussed it with him—at the Office or anywhere else. He took another swig from the water bottle and tried to reassemble his thoughts. He was a little shaken to realize he actually had forgotten it. Unless…
“Did Caine do anything to my memory when he—”
“No! I promise, Raif. I was standing right there. He just took a copy of your map and discussed it with me. He didn’t touch a thing. I would have noticed.” She held her left hand up, the golden shaklet glinting in the light. Charlie would have noticed and told me. I asked him, just to be sure. I trust Joshua, mostly, but not completely. Not when it comes to you. He’s your progenitor, after all. I have no idea if he’s as disinterested in you as he claims.” Raif nodded. He had a hundred other reasons to dislike and mistrust Caine, but he’d add Shayla’s concern to the list.
After a long pause, she asked, “You really forgot that I told you that?”
“It’s not a big deal.” He brushed it off because she sounded scared to think it was true, but he knew it was a very big deal. It was the first time in his entire life he’d ever forgotten anything. Caine had said he thought Raif was “damaged goods.” Raif had thought the man had meant, genetically, given the rich asshole was his progenitor and seemed far less than pleased to find his Designated Heir was a Proctor. Raif figured he just wasn’t what Caine had wanted for an Heir, which was too bad but not Raif's problem. It never dawned on Raif that Caine had meant, literally, Raif had been damaged. If true, that was his problem—and it was an even bigger deal than forgetting something despite his eidetic memory. Also, if true, then Raif had to wonder who had done it? When? How? And when was he going to get his mind back under his own control?
“You said you wanted to fix whatever it was that Kindi did to me, didn’t you?”
She nodded. “When we get back, first thing.”
“So tonight you’ll do that and in the morning, none of this will have mattered—assuming we can get through this sitting with the Seven Chiefs. Let’s keep going before I cool down.” He waved her on.
She started up again, but slowly enough he could keep pace more easily this time. She was slowing for his sake. Well, he needed the accommodation, so while it pained him to take it, he’d keep his mouth shut and let her accommodate him.
She called back, “I’m sorry, Raif, I didn’t realize how much it would bother you for me to take this sample, and I don’t think you realize how much it means to me to do this.”
She fell silent again and he knew he’d regret it, but he answered her, “I’ll never be happy about the idea of you and Kyree, whether you call him your Mate or just claim you’re taking a sample. Thinking about you and him—you and any man—”
She stopped abruptly and turned to face him. “Why do you keep saying this kind of thing to me? It’s not fair, Raif. You’ve been with more women than I can count and Kyree’s not just some man I want to have sex with. He’s my Mate. I can’t believe you still don’t understand what that is.”
His breathing was still labored, but he managed to be indignant when he answered. “Just how do you figure it’s fair of you to make me watch it? And for ten years, Shayla! If it’s not fair to someone, it’s me. Watching you with him is why I’ve slept around so much but you know what? I’ve had enough. When we get across this fucking desert, I’m telling those—the Seven Chiefs I’m done. They can find someone else for you to order around. There’s always Collier. He’ll still jump if you snap your fingers. Just tell him how high but don’t ever think that you can order me to watch you fuck some stranger again. I’m done.”
Her eyes flashed white and her hand came up. He caught her wrist before she struck him but he knew she could’ve forced it. She could’ve kept moving through his block, breaking his hand in the process and smashed his skull to pieces without even making her hand sting. Belatedly, he was grateful she apparently didn’t really want to do him harm. He needed to just get out of the situation before he drove her to forget herself, before he did harm to himself.
He forced himself to say, “Thank you for not killing me just now—or breaking anything.”
“Thank Charlie. He stopped me. I didn’t even think about it—and don’t you dare speak to me like that again. It’s not fair of you to claim I’ve somehow been insulting you all this time just by honoring my vows to Kyree. You knew the situation going in—”
“That’s right and I know the situation now. You’re choosing Kyree and I have the right to choose how I want to live my life, too, Shayla. I’m choosing to live it without you. The Seven Chiefs are going to release me from this or I’m walking out without their permission! They don’t own me—and neither do you.”
He started walking. That had felt good to say. First time in his life he really didn’t feel owned and it was far more freeing to say it outloud than he’d ever suspected it would be. He strolled happily along not caring if she got impatient with his “weak human” failings. Then again, she had the water and now that his heart had stopped racing and he wasn’t yelling at her, he was pretty thirsty. He turned around, expecting to see her standing ten paces behind him, pouting with her hands on her hips, but instead, he found her right on his heels.
“Shit! Don’t sneak up on me like that.” She was the only person in the entire world who could sneak up on him.
“Stop swearing at me.”
“The stop pissing me off.” He was tempted to swear non-stop for the next ten minutes but that wouldn’t solve anything and he’d deeply regret it a few hours from now when he’d calmed down again. He was sure he’d get over this. Eventually.
“May I please have the water?” He asked, being carefully polite with his tone.
She opened the bag and pulled out his half-empty bottle, then hesitated before handing it to him. “On one condition.” She clutched the bottle to her chest with both hands over it.
“You’ve got to be fu—you’re kidding, right? Please say you’re not holding the water hostage?”
She didn’t even smile. She got a more determined look on her face, if that were possible. “I’m not kidding. I’m not giving you this water until we settle something. I plan to ask the Seven Chiefs for permission to take this sample from Kyree. I can’t keep lying to them about Charlie. Eventually they’d know anyway and now,” She held up her left hand a little to move the shaklet in the light. “Charlie insists I tell them and ask their permission. Assuming they say yes, and I’m assuming they will, then I intend to let them choose how I take it—that is, by blood or…otherwise. I’ll do whatever they say on both counts. Will you agree to that as well?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She had the water bottle nestled in between her breasts, her hands both folded over it. He saw it moving, the water inside jiggling, each time she breathed in and out. He wasn’t sure what he was actually watching, the water or her breathing behind it. They both looked pretty appetizing at the moment.
He’d never really looked at her this closely—either that or he’d never really noticed how perky and round her small little breasts were. Maybe it was just the shimmering Privilege Class silks catching the light against her contours. He didn't really need the water, after all, he noticed with his backbrain. His mouth was watering on its own now. Maybe he could just take a taste of her and leave the water for later.
“Will you agree to ask them our situation, and if they tell you to stay with me,” She took a deep, distracting breath, “Will you promise to stay?”
It took him a moment but then he registered what she was saying. She didn’t want him to go. Maybe she hadn’t chosen Kyree over him after all. “Will you? If they were to choose me over Kyree, would you walk away from him?”
“I’ll agree to do whatever they Rule if you will.”
He barely hesitated. He said, “Deal,” and put his hand out to her. He had no idea what he was agreeing to, but then, neither did she. That was the problem with the Seven Chiefs. The old men were the only ones who knew the whole plan. She handed him the bottle and breezed past him.
He kicked himself for being disappointed she hadn’t taken his hand instead, but shaking hands was a human custom. The Phoenician custom was to be good for their word without needing to physically seal the deal. Raif wanted to physically seal the deal with her in a painfully distracting kind of way. He assured himself that he could talk his way through this. Cadmus, the Elder, always gave Raif anything he’d ever asked of them, since he’d so rarely asked for anything. Now he was going to collect on that backlog of debt they owed him. The way he figured it, they Seven Chiefs owed him Shayla.
Kyree was waiting for them outside the main tent when they came into the camp, a cluster of small children hovering nearby. He was angled slightly away from Raif and Shayla's approach, instead, watching the children play a game with a ball on the ground. He stood over them, feet planted apart, arms folded in front of himself, like some stoic guard who could stand there for hours and protect every child in the group if he had to—and Raif knew the man could, would and had stood waiting outside the main tent for hours, waiting to be first in line for Shayla’s attention after the business with Seven Chiefs was concluded. He was also annoyingly good with the children who all wanted to be Kyree when they grew up.
Nearly as tall as Raif, the man was lean with an athletic build that came from living an active life. He wore a sizeable blade, more than 20cm long, sheathed against his thigh. Raif had seen the man throw the knife with impeccable accuracy, just like he “threw” energy around. Kyree wore a necklace with a small charm, but was otherwise, plainly dressed for a Phoenician. Most Phoenicians, male and female alike, wore an abundance of jewelry from anklets to bracelets and rings to necklaces. Even hair decorations. Especially hair decorations. Phoenicians made hair styles an art form.
In keeping with Kyree’s simple life imitating a monk, however, the perfect Phoenician wore nearly no adornments. He hardly needed any. His features were classicly handsome in an understated way. Of course. He wore a loose, traditional shirt made from the same worm-like insect source used by the Council for Privilege Class silks. Kyree’s shirt was, of course, simple. The thin fabric was undyed, left in the natural color, which was a shimmering pale rose-violet. Given the loosely styled design, the fabric blew gently in the soft breeze and when it moved, a rainbow of blues and greens shimmered through the violet base of color. The fabric’s natural color picked out the deep blue Phoenician eyes on Kyree’s chiseled face.
Beneath the loose shirt, Kyree wore traditional leggings made from a Pello hide. Soft and supple, the yellow-colored hide of the grazing beast that was the staple of the Phoenician diet looked new, unmarked. It wasn’t the right time of year for the annual hunt so Raif was surprised to see Kyree wearing new clothes. He couldn’t help but wonder if the simple man had finally found a drop of vanity and dressed up for the occasion. Obviously, he’d known they were coming.
The one difference today was Kyree’s hair. Usually, he wore it loose. Today, Raif could Kyree’s long, Phoenician-black hair had been twisted into at least five or six braids which were, in turn, knotted together in some kind of complicated fashion Raif could never figure out. The mass of blue-black hair still fell down between Kyree’s shoulder blades. Loose, Raif knew it was as long as Shayla’s. The fact it was done up in this complicated style meant Kyree had had help with it this morning. Hair care was a morning ritual around the Phoenician camp, Raif had learned the very first time he’d stayed over with Shayla. Actually, Raif had stayed with Kyree’s mother who completely disapproved of Raif’s “short” hair.
Raif wore his hair long for a Proctor, long enough to brush his shirt collar, but Phoenicians never cut their hair—or if they did, it was only once in a lifetime: if and when a Mate died, as a signal to all who saw them of their loss. It was rumored they used to cut off a hand but that practice had been stopped by the Seven Chiefs centuries ago. Raif had never seen a Phoenician with short hair who was taller than knee-height. Even most of the children already had hair past their shoulders. Phoenician hairstyles were a cross between an art form and a fashion statement. Given Kyree lived alone—or had a year ago when they’d last visited—it was puzzling as to who exactly would have done his hair for him. Knowing Kyree, Raif wouldn't have been surprised if Kyree had figured out how to do it for himself, like everything else.
Raif was fairly sure the man was still living alone, like a perfect little Phoenician monk. Kyree did his own cooking, his own cleaning, his own sewing, and anything else a woman might do for a man as well as doing his own hunting, his own building and helpful little jobs for just about everyone else around him. He was about as perfect as a man could get and still be a man, not a god. It was hard not to hate him for it. Then again, he was also so genuinely kind, warm and open, it was hard not to like him just as much.
Kyree turned at their approach and his face lit up. He put his arm out to Shayla and his brilliant smile widened, those perfect teeth of his gleaming in the sun. She slid easily into his embrace and Kyree lifted her with one arm around her waist, then cupped her face with his other hand and looked her in the eye like the rest of the universe no longer existed for him. He spun her around while he kissed her. On the mouth. Hard. He was staking a claim.
Enjoy it while you can. Raif thought, comforting himself that soon enough the man would get the verdict from on high and the perfect Phoenician would do as he was told. Served him right.
An older man came out of the main tent behind Shayla and Kyree and stood there patiently watching them suck face, his hands folded in front of him. Raif knew his name was Cantoria, but that was nearly all Raif knew about this member of the old men’s circle. Cantoria rarely spoke, even inside the circle.
When Kyree finally put Shayla down, and broke from the kiss, he clasped his hands at the small of her back and said, “Hello, Shayla.”
She smiled up at him, her own hands clasped behind his neck, and answered, “Hello, Kyree.” Then she noticed Cantoria. Still standing in Kyree’s embrace, she addressed the old man directly, “You wait for us already?”
The old man’s eyebrows went up but that was the extent of his answer. As Kyree turned his head to look at the old man, Shayla’s hands slid down off his shoulders and Kyree noticed the shaklet on Shayla’s left wrist. Raif had wondered when he’d get to that. This ought to be interesting.
Kyree’s smile vanished as he drew Shayla’s hands down between them and turned the left one over and back again to examine the golden jewelry.
“Where did you get this? It looks exactly like mine but I am certain I did not give it to you.” He looked up at her and his voice rose when he demanded to know, “Who put this on you?”
Well, it was about fucking time the perfect Phoenician lost his temper.
Before Shayla could answer, the old man cleared his throat. Kyree turned at the sound and Cantoria told him, “We will speak with her first, Kyree. Wait here until we call you.” Kyree’s mouth hung open only a moment before he closed it, simmering in silent frustration.
Cantoria looked to Shayla and indicated the open flap of the main tent. She gave Kyree just one quick glance then ducked through the opening.
Raif put his hand out to Kyree as he came alongside him. Kyree wrapped his fingers around Raif’s forearm—the Phoenician method of shaking hands—and looked Raif in the eye before asking, “You are well?” It seemed to Raif that Kyree was actually asking, not merely greeting him. He didn’t get a chance to answer.
As quickly as he said, “We shall see.” Cantoria added, “Both of you, Raif.”
“Of course. How else?” Raif patted at Kyree’s shoulder sympathetically and Kyree released Raif’s arm from his grip with a sigh of discontent.
Raif followed Shayla’s retreat into the main tent. He glanced back at Kyree once before ducking in under the tent flap. The man looked abandoned, deflated and thoroughly confused. Raif knew exactly how Kyree felt, and if Raif had his way, it was only going to get worse.
The main tent of the Phoenician camp was large but mostly empty right now. Raif knew as many as a hundred people could cram in here for a special ceremony but the far depths of the interior were dark. He filed in and confirmed from counting the seating mats around the fire that it was going to be just him, Shayla and the Seven Chiefs in the dirt around the fire today. The fire burned in the center of the group of old men, arranged in their usual U-shaped hierarchy. He had no idea what the internal structure of the Seven Chiefs really was, but he knew the fire wasn’t burning wood despite the charred remains of whatever had been its kindling. The old men were its fuel. The flickering of the flames, as the fire seemed to grow brighter and dim, he’d learned over the years of sitting here with them, was actually a reflection of the changes in their moods. Today, they were in an energetic mood if the bright flames were any judge.
There were only five men seated around the fire today, Cantoria coming in behind them. Lorinth, the Speaker nodded in silent greeting when they entered. To his right, Thuvius, B’tar and Cadmus, the Elder, never took their eyes from the flames. Cantoria would be seated at Lorinth’s left hand and Marcus next to him, but there was a gaping hole beyond Marcus where another man should be. For the life of him, Raif couldn’t remember the name of the missing man. He was worried, after that moment out on the plains when he’d forgotten what Shayla had told him about Charlie’s project, that he’d forgotten something else. He was afraid to ask about it, afraid to get an answer that he had yet another gaping hole in his mind. He had to admit, he was a little comforted at the sight of the rest of them sitting there, unchanged from the last time he’d seen them. Old, wizened, controlling, unreadable, intrusive and incredibly arrogant. They were his Phoenician family.
Shayla barely paused to nod at Lorinth before she’d filed past Marcus and took her seat near the empty space. She angled herself so that if some seventh old man did show up, he still had his spot reserved. That was a comfort to Raif’s mind, confirming that there was a seventh old man and he was missing. At least he wasn’t imagining things. More things.
Once Raif had folded himself into a cross-legged seat on the mat placed next to Cadmus, Lorinth pierced his steely blue-grey gaze through the fire and directly at them both. Lorinth was not the leader of this circle, but he would generally speak for the group. He was middle-aged, not quite the youngest of the group but grey-haired and respectable. He was a reasonable man, Raif had found.
Lorinth asked, rhetorically, “You are well today, Shayla?”
“I am well, Lorinth. Thank you.”
“And you wished to speak with us. We are listening.”
“Yes, Lorinth, I did—I do. I—we are here to Request a ruling.” Shayla glanced over at Raif. He studiously ignored her—and the fact that the Cadmus, the Elder, was staring intently at him from the other side.
Lorinth said, “Indeed? On what subject do you require our guidance?”
“Raif and I have come to a point of disagreement.”
Raif couldn’t stop himself. He snorted in amusement. Lorinth turned his attention to Raif and asked, “You disagree?”
Raif reached back and leaned on his hands. It was enough that he was refraining from stretching his legs out. “Apparently, I do. I thought we’d finally agreed to disagree.”
“No,” Shayla said in a low, tight voice, “That’s why we’re asking them to decide. You won’t agree, remember?”
Raif bit back, “I remember that it’s not my fault you’re not being completely honest.”
Lorinth interjected before they could continue bickering, “What is the subject of your disagreement?”
At the same time, Raif answered, “Ask her where she got the Shaklet.” Shayla said, “Whether or not he should stay with me if my Mating with Kyree is finally going to be Sanctified.”
The Elder smiled when Raif glanced over at him, and he could swear Cadmus gave his head a slight shake. Then again, Cadmus laughed silently at a lot of jokes only he ever heard.
Lorinth said, “We will answer you first, Shayla. It is not yet time to Sanctify your Mating with Kyree. We cannot tell you—or Kyree—when that time will be, or if it will be. Do you now Request to be released from your Mating with Kyree?”
Raif didn’t like that Shayla hesitated a moment before giving the proscribed answer, “No, I ask for your guidance, Lorinth, of course, but—”
“And,” Lorinth cut her off, turning to Raif, “The choice of where Shayla sleeps at night is still her own. It is not tied to her Mating. This shaklet, however, does resemble the one made by Kyree. Tell us more of this, Shayla.”
Shayla mumbled, “Thanks a lot.”
“It’s your own doing,” he told her, keeping his voice respectfully low though it was pointless. The old men heard every word they both were saying. “You said you planned to tell them about Charlie. Now’s your chance. Say whatever you want.” Raif waved a hand at the fire, burning brightly in front of them. It was actually a little warm for him.
Shayla started, “There is a machine I have built in the world Outside. Raif has not been a part of this. I did this without his knowledge.”
Raif rolled his eyes and muttered, “Mostly.”
Cadmus smirked again and poked his long cane into the fire.
“This machine,” Shayla continued, “Now has a name, Charlie, and I have been trying to make…” She paused, searching for the words.
The Elder’s cane dropped to the ground and although he was still staring at the fire, Raif noticed the old man’s expression shifted, then the fire shifted and danced suddenly. Whenever this happened, it seemed to Raif, there was some kind of silent communication flying around the circle.
Shayla faltered only a moment and started again. “I am making Charlie a body, a Phoenician body, from Phoenician sources. He will be Phoenician, but, see, there’s just this one little catch.”
Lorinth asked, “You are making a mirror image of Kyree?”
“Um,” She looked around the circle at all of their faces. Raif watched her struggle and had she looked to him, he would have encouraged her, but she never looked in his direction. He sat beside and just behind her and waited silently like the rest of them for her to speak the answer.
“He will look very much like Kyree but there are many sources, many…parents, so he won’t exactly be a mirror image so to speak.”
The fire died down low enough Raif could see through it again to Lorinth’s face. He wasn’t quite bored with the conversation but he didn’t look as upset as Shayla sounded nervous.
Lorinth asked, “What do you Request of us, Shayla?”
“I require one last sample, either blood or…” She gulped and looked down into her lap, then glanced back at him.
“Blood or semen.” Raif said, not taking his eyes from the back of her head. “And she wants to take it from Kyree.”
“Is this correct, Shayla?”
“And you object, Raif?”
Now was his chance. “Yes, Lorinth. I don’t think she should sleep with Kyree to steal his semen and use it to build an abomination of a man. I don’t think you should allow her to continue with this project.”
She spun around to look at him, her eyes flashing white. “You never said you were going to ask them to forbid me—”
“Shayla,” The Elder spoke and all eyes turned to him. “What will you do with this…creation if we allow it?”
“I would teach him in our Ways.”
“That will take time.”
“Yes, Elder. I would require about one year.”
The fire brightened again. Raif wished they would just get to the point and say yes or no to her.
Cadmus asked, “And at the end of this year? What then?”
“I would Request you allow him to face the Three Tests of Manhood, like any other young man does before he is accepted into a clan.”
“And you would have him join your clan?” Thuvius, at Lorinth’s right hand, asked her in disbelief.
“I would…think about it.”
“You have other plans for him?” Cantoria asked.
Lorinth lifted a hand and waved at the air then said, “We will speak on this among ourselves. Have you brought with you a way to take this blood from Kyree?”
Shayla turned to Raif and he said, “You can’t mean to let her make this thing! It’s not Phoenician, it’s a machine!”
Cadmus placed a hand on Raif’s knee. “Give her your tool.” The Elder looked down at Raif’s belt where he still had a MedScanner clipped to his hip. Shayla put her hand out for him to hand it over. When he did, Cadmus added, “You may visit with Kyree now, Shayla. Ask him to give you his blood and if he agrees, you may take it. We will speak alone with Raif.”
She sprung to her feet and barely glanced back at Raif before leaving the tent. He felt more hurt by that abandonment than by the fact she’d once again chosen Kyree over him.
Cadmus said, “You have fallen in love with her.”
Marcus added, “He has always been in love with her.”
Raif said, “He is still sitting here and can speak for himself.” Raif looked around at the old men. “And none of you has any idea what you’ve just given her permission to do.”
“We know.” Lorinth said.
“And this was part of your plan?”
“No,” Cadmus admitted, “But then, neither were you.”
“You have given her a child.” Marcus said.
“What are you talking about?” Raif demanded, half shocked and half appalled at the idea.
Raif knew his memory was faltering but he was sure he’d remember if he’d agreed to let Shayla use his genetic print to make another Heir. Then it sank in what they meant. Phoenicians bore children in their bodies. The Seven Chiefs always knew when a woman was going to bear young; in fact, the way Shayla had explained it to him, the Seven Chiefs controlled a woman’s womb, before, during and after child birth. These old men were saying she was with child—now—but it wasn’t Raif’s child. It couldn’t be. They’d somehow read the genetic print of the embryo inside of her and concluded it was but he knew better. He knew it was Joshua Caine’s child. He had no idea how Caine had done it but that must have been what the man had been doing with her for about an hour in the lab under the Centre. It had to be. Raif dropped his head into his hands. Could his life get much worse?
In answer, Lorinth said, “She will lose this child soon, but you will give her another.”
Raif’s head snapped up. “Give her another what? Another child? I didn't give--how am I supposed to—. What are you talking about?”
As far as Raif knew, unlike a Phoenician male, but like every other human male on the planet, his seminal fluid contained no sperm. That was why they had the Breeding Selections. There was no other way for humans here on Altair to reproduce. He could never give Shayla a child the way they were suggesting.
The Elder held out his wrinkled hand for Raif to take. Raif knew what Cadmus wanted. The contact would help him look into Raif’s mind. Reluctantly, he slid his fingers into the old man’s hand and the bony grip closed around his hand like a vice. Even old and frail, the man had far greater strength than Raif. Cadmus squeezed Raif’s hand tightly for just a moment then relaxed his grip and looked into Raif’s eyes another moment before releasing him entirely. The fire dimmed quickly to barely more than glowing coals, as though someone had dumped something on it to squelch the flames.
Cadmus said, “I am so sorry, my child. I was confused, and I—forgive me, Raif, I misspoke. I am old and do not see clearly anymore. We will grant your Request to take Shayla back with you. She will not be Joined with Kyree now, but we ask one last thing of you. Assist her in this creation she wishes to make. Help her, Raif. Do not abandon her now.”
“And Kyree will agree to this?”
“We will speak with Kyree.”
“But does he—”
“Raif, trust in what you feel, not in what you think. Shayla will guide you to your future. It is clear to me now that you have trusted me with your thoughts.”
Raif knew when he’d been dismissed. He had more questions but he wouldn’t get them answered here, not today. He nodded and said, “All right. I’ll go back with her now, but this isn’t done.” He got up and walked out of the tent, noticing in his peripheral vision that the flames grew brighter the further he withdrew.
“The child is not his.” Cadmus said.
“Then you were confused, Elder?” Lorinth asked.
Cadmus poked at the flames with his cane. “I was. The child is not his, but his father’s. They are so alike, I could not see the difference. I was confused. It is unforgiveable that I spoke of this and now, Raif has been injured, damaged beyond repair. I tried. Thoughts I could repair but what has been done to him…it is too much damage, and I am too old now. He is completely lost to us now.”
Marcus said, “Then who will give us the child we need?”
Cadmus poked with his cane again. “This plan of Shayla’s, I believe we can use this.”
Cantoria, next to Marcus, asked, “First, she must lose this child, like the last one.”
Marcus said, “It will not be long after Raif is gone. She will lose much when she loses Raif.”
B’tar, seated next to Cadmus and who spoke less often than the Elder whom he served, said, “She will avenge Raif. This is why she will lose the child.”
“No,” Lorinth corrected him. “This is how, not why.”
Thuvius grumbled, “I don’t want that other Outsider back here. We’ve had too many Outsiders here already!” Lorinth reached a hand out to the man on his right and patted at Thuvius’s knee without even making eye contact.
Lorinth said, “Raif’s father will not be returning, Thuvius, we are discussing another Plan. Tell us, Cadmus, how will this plan of hers serve ours?”
“I know only one thing clearly now.” Cadmus said, quietly.
Lorinth nodded. “Ahh, yes, I saw it, too. It will be difficult for her. We must discuss how to handle her. Afterwards.”
Cadmus poked at the flames and his eyes glossed over. “There’s nothing to handle. You may not like him, Thuvius, but Raif’s father will serve our Plans, one way or another.” Cadmus sighed. “I cannot help but wonder what she will be like without Raif at her side. He was the first Outsider whose mind I actually understood. And he has a son I wish to meet Raif's son.”
“You have seen all this, Elder? Will he…?” Marcus began, hopeful, then finished deflated, “Raif’s son will also not serve our needs.”
Lorinth nodded, looking into the flames. “No, and we shall all miss Raif, but there is always a Plan. If Raif is no longer a part of ours, there will be another.”
Cadmus nodded and stared into the low flames. “I think I met this Other today. Let me tell you about him.” The flames grew high, threatening to lick at the roof of the tent.