An Accidental Goddess
By Linnea Sinclair
Random House Linnea Sinclair
All right reserved. ISBN: 0553587994
It wasn't the first time Gillie had hazily regained consciousness flat on her back in sick bay, feeling stiff and out of sorts. And unable to account for a missing two or three hours. Pub-crawling did have its side effects.
But it was the first time she'd been unable to account for a missing two or three hundred years. Not even a week of pub-crawling could explain that.
Three hundred forty-two years, sixteen hours, Simon's voice stated clearly in her mind. If you want to be absolutely accurate.
She didn't. Her math skills had never been her strong point. And three hundred years was a close enough estimate to cause her stomach to do flip-flops in a way a bottle of Devil's Breath never had.
The possibility that she'd died flitted across her mind-though death wouldn't have thrown her inexplicably into the future. Even so, she thought it prudent to pull her essence out of her physical self and make a cursory examination of her own body on the diag table. By all appearances, she was still short, blond, and very much alive. The readout on the medistat confirmed the last part of her hastily conducted diagnosis. It detailed a few bumps and bruises as well as notations on a mild concussion, no doubt the source of her blistering headache.
A headache that wasn't the least bit helped by whatever heathen concoction was being pumped into her system through the round med-broche clamped to her wrist. Med-broches! Raheiran technology rarely used such invasive things. She longed to alter its feed rate but knew her mental tinkering would likely set off some alarm. She'd almost tripped a few when she'd awakened ten minutes ago, groggy and achy, then tried to spike into this sick bay's systems.
Impatience invariably leads to sloppy work, Simon had chastised.
Sloppy work, a bitch of a headache, and a reality that suddenly did not make sense.
How in the Seven Hells had she ended up three hundred years from her last conscious moment, flat on her back in some unknown space station's sick bay? With Simon in a similar state of disarray a few decks below.
Ah, yes. Small matter of a large warship intent on her destruction. Obviously, the Fav hadn't succeeded. Though something had happened.
They're vicious and powerful, Simon, but they don't have time-travel capabilities. Neither do we. Someone or something else pulled us here. Wherever here was. That much she ought to find out.
She stepped away from her unconscious body on the diag table, peeked around the corner of the small room. Felt foolish and could hear Simon's wry chuckle. No one could see her.
At least, no one other than Simon, who, from his tone, was very aware she'd pulled out of her self to explore her surroundings. Have a care, My Lady. You were injured.
We've more serious things to consider than my few aches and pains. There were two other patients in the sick bay in much worse shape than she was. She didn't know them; there'd been no one on her ship when the Fav had attacked other than Simon and herself. The girl on the diag bed was too young to be part of the squadron she'd worked with in the Khalaran Fleet. Almost automatically, Gillie touched their essences, sending healing energy as she walked by. Then she sidestepped quickly, and unnecessarily, as a thin man in a blue lab coat hurried past and into the corridor.
She followed him and for the next fifteen minutes was thoroughly astounded, and more than a little disconcerted, by what she saw.
Wide corridors were filled with people in various modes of dress, from the utilitarian freighter-crew shipsuits to more exotic costumes with flowing skirts and elaborate fringed shawls. She noted the familiar range of skin tones-from the dusky to the pale-and hair colors-mostly browns and blacks but a few bright reds and light blonds-and heard all three Khalaran dialects. A few languages were harder to identify. Rim-world tongues, most likely, clipped and rapid in their sound.
She raised her eyebrows at the antigrav pallets trailing behind a group of dockworkers, surprised by the pallets' advanced configuration. Raised her eyebrows further at the state-of-the-art holovid news kiosks and station diagrams near the lift banks. Those she studied carefully, listening to the chatter around her; tech talk about scanner arrays and enviro grids. That matched what she saw on the diagram suspended three-dimensionally out from the bulkhead.
The Khalaran Confederation, with her assistance, had just been developing the technology to create a deep-space station the likes of which she looked at now. At least, they had been a day ago.
Correction, three hundred and forty-two years ago.
Yet it wasn't this jump in technology that bothered her. Nor this space structure bristling with unexpected weapons and sensors and databanks. Nor her headache. Or the stiffness in her left shoulder, the result of her sudden collision with the bulkhead when the Fav'lhir ship had exploded a little too close for comfort off her starboard side.
Even the unexplained missing three hundred some- odd years failed to bother her. Or the fact that, in those three hundred some-odd years, there'd been no other Raheiran advisers in this sector. Simon had checked station security logs.
Given her people's minimal-intervention policy, that was one of the few things that made sense.
No, none of those things bothered her at all.
What really bothered her was something she heard in the corridor chatter as she continued her brief, hurried tour. Something she viewed on the news kiosks and station diagrams. And finally, something she saw as she stood before the temple's double-doored entrance, shaking her head in disbelief.
What really bothered Gillaine Davre was that during her three-hundred-some-odd-year absence, the damned Khalar had gone on a shrine-building kick and made her into a deity.
Simon? There's a huge holograph of me in this temple! But I'm not-
It appears they think you are, My Lady.
Oh, hell. Oh, damn. This wasn't a minor error in alien protocol. This was a mistake. A big one that encompassed an entire culture. Gillie shuddered at the ramifications. We have to get away from here. Now.
Now is not possible, I fear.
Three weeks, perhaps less. There's much damage to repair.
There'll be worse damage if they find out who I am!
Calm down, Gillaine, Kiasidira. There's no reason they should. That holo's fairly old-you're in formal dress in it and your hair's quite different. And I'm finding no references to you as Captain Davre.
Only as the Kiasidira. However, just to be on the safe
side, I do recommend avoiding contact with any Raheiran crystal and, of course, any itinerant witches or sorcerers.
The Khalar aren't mageline.
Then we'll have no problems, will we? Just be your usual charming self for the next few weeks and no one will know a goddess walks among them.
I'm not a goddess!
Nor are you seriously injured. Therefore, if you don't return to your self rather quickly, that medical officer trying to wake you may start running tests you won't like.
Rynan Makarian frowned at the irritatingly incomplete data on his deskscreen and knew it was all his fault. It had been four months since he'd been given the command to establish a Fleet presence on Cirrus One and secure it for the Project. Station systems were still far from optimal. Cirrus One was far from optimal; the station had passed its prime well over eighty-five years ago.
"Give it to Mack. He'll fix it," someone in Fleet defense and logistics no doubt had said.
It wouldn't have been the first time it was said either. He knew his reputation for unerring efficiency preceded him. It had bestowed upon him the rank of admiral in the Khalaran's newly organized Fifth Fleet at the unlikely age of forty-three. And bestowed upon him the derelict monstrosity known as Cirrus One, to rehab into a usable headquarters for the Fifth. And, within the next four months, to have that same derelict monstrosity serve as something even more important than that: as the primary terminus for the critical Rim Gate Project.
That project, more than Cirrus One, had drawn him off the bridge of the Vedritor and ensconced him behind a desk-albeit a well-dented, slightly rusted one.
But it was Cirrus One that took up the majority of his time. And time was the one thing he lacked. He had little more than a month in which to get his HQ fully operational and secure. Missing supplies, incomplete data, and delayed support staff notwithstanding.
He rested his elbows on that same battered desk and leaned his forehead against his fists. Damn.
There was a wisdom in imperfection. He saw that clearly now. What was that adage that Lady Kiasidira's priests used to comfort the misguided? We are all in a continuing process of growth. There are no mistakes. Only lessons.
Cirrus One was one hell of a lesson.
Had he allowed himself a few mistakes in his career, he might well still be on the bridge of the Vedritor. A mere senior captain, not an admiral with an impeccable reputation to solve the unsolvable. To rectify the-
His intercom trilled. He tapped the flashing icon, leaned back in his chair. "Makarian."
A familiar thin, dusky-toned face wavered, solidified on the screen. Doc Janek, his chief medical officer. His blue lab coat bore the Vedritor's insignia. Like many things Mack had requested, Fifth Fleet uniforms were still "in transit." As supply routes went, Cirrus One wasn't in the middle of nowhere. It was just the last exit before it.
"Admiral, you asked to be notified. Our visitor from that damaged freighter's awake."
Yet one more thing to plague his schedule with delays: an unauthorized ship with an unconscious pilot. An image flashed through Mack's mind: a pale-haired young woman in nondescript spacer grays lying awkwardly on the decking, just behind the pilot's chair. Emergency lighting had tinged the small bridge with glaring shades of red, casting eerie shadows over her small, still form. Another smuggler, he'd thought at that moment, whose ambitions had far exceeded her ship's weaponry.
He had a studied dislike for smugglers, yet had felt it would be a shame if this one died. He'd caught little more than her profile as the med-techs had lifted her onto an antigrav stretcher, but it had been enough for him to mentally tag her as beautiful, before he was even aware he'd done so.
That wasn't like him. It was unprofessional, judgmental. She was nothing more than a temporary annoyance.
But she was beautiful. It made the job of questioning her a bit less unpleasant.
"On my way." He slapped off the intercom, threw one more frustrating glance at the inadequate, nonsensical data, and strode from his office.
The sights and sounds of Cirrus One assaulted him immediately. He'd thought by now he'd be used to them. Had the sights and sounds been continually repetitive, he probably would have been.
But there was always something new. Or rather, there was always something. His office was a few steps from the main atrium. Raucous laughter barked out from a level or two below, or possibly above, as Mack stepped into the open corridor. A man and a woman, in the blue shipsuits of a starfreighter crew, leaned against a wide metal pylon on his left. They were locked in a passionate embrace, oblivious to his presence. And oblivious to the snickers of a trio of adolescent boys in various stages of sartorial rebellion loping past, their long skirts catching between their gangly legs.
Mack shook his head and sent a mental plea to the gods for understanding. And patience. He missed the orderly routine of the Vedritor.
There was a loud whoop, then a high-pitched screech. His gaze automatically jerked to the right. A flash of bright yellow and blue hurtled quickly uplevel through the atrium's center.
His hand automatically swiveled his comm set's thin mouth mike into position. "Makarian to ops."
"Ops." A familiar male voice sounded in his earpiece. "Lieutenant Tobias."
"I thought we'd solved the parrot problem."
"I thought we had too, sir."
"I just left my office." He sidestepped a merchant whose balding head barely topped the bolts of cloth stacked in his arms. Evidently someone was getting hard-goods deliveries. Where in hell were those uniforms? "Main north, Tobias. Heading uplevel. The problem's not solved."
"Logged and noted, sir."
He tapped off the mike, flicked it back down. Fleet crewmembers, whose uniforms showed mixed insignias, nodded respectfully as he passed. Stationers and freighter crew, whose clothing and demeanor showed an unholy mixture of unknown origin, simply ignored him.
Janek's sick bay was at D5-South, five levels down, on the opposite section of the ring. He headed for the stairs. Cirrus One's lifts had been known to ignore him too.
The lanky CMO turned from the med-stat panel when Mack stepped through the sliding doorway. "She's in Exam Four."
A second sliding door; this one ceased opening at the halfway point. Mack squeezed through sideways, after Janek.
The young woman on the diag bed had her knees drawn up under the silver thermo-sheet and her arms wrapped around them. There was a flush of color on her pale cheeks, a slight curve on her lips.
And an engaging, almost challenging tilt to her chin.
She was, most definitely, beautiful. But young. Couldn't be any more than twenty-five years old, though sick bay's analytics transed to him earlier had stated early thirties. Something more than her youthfulness didn't fit the smuggler's profile as he knew it. He couldn't pinpoint what it was, but then his mind seemed very reluctant to focus on business at the moment.
Janek moved to her bedside. She smiled, then her gaze found Mack.
"This is Admiral Makarian, commander of the Fifth Fleet on Cirrus," his CMO was saying, but Mack only half listened. The other half of him was unprofessionally captivated by the color of the young woman's eyes.
Green, yet lavender. Her eyes widened slightly at his introduction. He assumed the cause of her surprise was his age-he was the youngest admiral in Fleet history to date-or his uniform. His shirt, like Janek's lab coat, still had the Vedritor's insignia. The bars decorating his breast pocket showed only the three for senior captain.
His admiral's bars, like the requested uniforms, had not yet materialized. Now he wished they had. For some reason, he wanted to look his best in front of her. He shook off his uncharacteristic self-consciousness. She was just a smuggler. She was-
"Gillaine Davre." She leaned forward, extended one hand. No salute. Therefore she wasn't military, or even ex-military.
He took her hand, got a closer look at those eyes.
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