Partners in Necessityby Sharon Lee, Steve Miller
Here they are again, the three novels that introduced us all to the Liaden Universe over a decade ago. It is time to get reacquainted with our old friends: Edger & Sheather, Liz, Susiki, Jason & Anthora, Val Con & Miri and Priscilla & Shan. Remember how Miri and Val Con first met? How about the trouble Priscilla was in before she met Shan? Who can forget the way… See more details below
Here they are again, the three novels that introduced us all to the Liaden Universe over a decade ago. It is time to get reacquainted with our old friends: Edger & Sheather, Liz, Susiki, Jason & Anthora, Val Con & Miri and Priscilla & Shan. Remember how Miri and Val Con first met? How about the trouble Priscilla was in before she met Shan? Who can forget the way that Edger and Sheather have of coming to a friend's rescue or contemplating the weave of a carpet? Partners in Necessity also contains a new introduction by Anne McCaffery and a new afterword by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. The exceptional cover art is by Michael Herring.
Conflict of Honors opens with a young woman hiding in the shadows, watching her own funeral, searching the crowd for her mother and finally making eye contact -- only to have her mother turn away. What a grabber of an opening! We pick up Priscilla's adventures years later when the outcast with a sense of honor is taken in by Shan, a starship Captain who has a habit of caring for strays. While teaching her about the Liaden concept of melant'i, a sort of cross between self-esteem and social standing, he also must teach the woman he has come to love that she is worth loving. All while trying to foil the plots of two psychopaths bent on revenge, explore the use of Healing psychic powers, and provide for the future of Clan Korval, among other twists and turns.
Agent of Change and Carpe Diem tell the story of Shan's brother, Val Con, a brilliant Scout who has been brainwashed (more like brain folded, spindled and mutilated) to become a covert operative for the mysterious Department of Interior. He meets Miri Robertson, a retired mercenary whose cushy bodyguard job for the wrong man has landed her on the deadly side of vengeance with an intergalactic Mafia, and the two must struggle to stay alive without killing each other, facing existing enemies and adding scores of new ones with every disastrous attempt to break free of pursuit. Due to a misunderstanding with a clutch of Turtles and a knife, Val Con and Miri are unintentionally married and intentionally lifemated, a pair of complications they'd love to live long enough to figure out. By the end of Carpe Diem, the stakes have escalated to the point where the entire clan is in danger, and they are forced to put Plan B into effect.
I'd previously read and reviewed Plan B, but after reading Partners in Necessity, I immediately bought a new copy so I could reread it. The added depth of understanding (one might say I correctly perceived the characters' melant'i) was such that it was like reading an entirely new book.
Count me as one of the rhapsodizers. Better yet, buy a copy of Partners in Necessity and join the legion of Liaden fans yourself. Science Fiction Romance (#73 May 2000)
Read an Excerpt
LOCAL YEAR 1002
Eight Chants past Midsong: twilight.
In the plaza around Maidenstairs a crowd began to gather: men and women in brightly colored work clothes; here and there the sapphire or silver flutter of Circle robes.
The last echo of Eighthchant faded from the blank walls of Circle House, and the crowd quieted expectantly.
In a thin pass-street halfway down the plaza, a slim figure stirred. She adjusted the cord of the bag over her shoulder, but her eyes were fixed on Maidenstairs, where two of the Inmost Circle stood.
The shorter of the two raised her arms, calling for silence. The crowd held its breath, while across the plaza a dust devil swirled to life. The watcher in the by-street shivered, hunching closer to the wall.
"We are gathered," cried the larger of the two upon the stairs, "to commend to the Mother the spirit of our sister, our daughter, our friend. For there is gone from us this day the one called Moonhawk." He raised his arms as the other lowered hers to intone the second part of the ritual.
"Do not grieve, for Moonhawk is gathered into the care of She who is Mother of us all, who will instruct and make her ready for her next stay among us. Rejoice, indeed, and be made glad by the fortune of our sister Moonhawk, called so soon to the Mother's side."
The crowd spoke a faint "Ollee," and the shorter Witch continued, her voice taking on the mesmerizing quality appropriate tothe speaking of strong magic.
"Gone to the Mother, to learn and to grow, Moonhawk walks among us no more. For the span of a full lifetime shall she sit at the feet of the Mother, absorbing the glory, seen by us no more. In this Wheelturn none shall see Moonhawk again. She is gone. So mote it be."
"So mote it be," echoed the larger speaker.
"So mote it be," the crowd cried, full-voiced and on familiar ground.
The slim watcher said nothing at all, though she ducked a little farther back into the byway. The dust devil found her there and made momentary sport of her newly shorn hair before going in search of other amusements.
A tall woman at the edge of the crowd made a sharp movement, quickly arrested. The watcher leaned forward, lips shaping a word: Mother. She dropped back, the word unspoken.
It was useless. Moonhawk was dead, by order of she who was Moonhawk's mother during this turn of the Wheel. The funeral pyre of her possessions had been ignited at Midsong while the mother looked on with icy face and sand-dry eyes. The watcher had been there, too. She had criedperhaps enough for the mother, as well. But there were no tears now.
In the bag over her shoulder were such belongings as she had been able to bring away from her cell in the Maidens' wing of Circle House. The clothes she wore were bought in a secondhand store near the river: a dark, soft shirt with too-long sleeves that chafed nipples unused to confinement; skintight leggings, also dark, except for the light patch at the right knee; and outworlder boots with worn heels. The earrings were her own, set in place years ago by old hands trembling with pride of her. The seven silver bracelets in the pack were not hers. In the shirt's sleeve pocket was a single coin: a Terran tenbit.
The two of the Inmost Circle left the stairs; the crowd fragmented and grew louder. The watcher quietly faded down the skinny by-street, trying to form some less desperate plan for the future.
Moonhawk is dead. So mote it be.
At the end of the by-street the watcher turned left, toward a distant reddish glow.
You might, she thought to herself diffidently, go to the Silent Sisters at Caleitha. They won't ask your name, or where you're from, or why you've come. You can stay with them, never speaking, never leaving the Sisterhouse, never touching another human being ...
"I'd rather be dead!" she snapped at the night, at herselfand began to laugh.
The sound was horrible in her ears: jagged, unnatural. She knotted her fingers in the ridiculous mop of curls, yanking until tears came to replace the awful laughter. Then she continued on her way, the rosy glow ever brighter before her.
"Liadens! Gods-benighted, smooth-faced lying sons and daughters of curs!"
A crumpled wad of clothing was thrown toward the gapemouthed duffel with more passion than accuracy. From her station by the cot, Priscilla fielded it and gently dropped it in the bag. This act failed to draw Shelly's usual comments about Priscilla's wasted and talent.
"Miserable, stinking half bit of a ship!" Shelly continued at the top of her range, which was considerable. "One shift on, one shift off; Terrans to the back, please, and mind your words when you're speaking to a Liaden! Fines for this, frees for that ... no damn shore leave, no damn privacy, nothing to do but work your shift, sleep your shift, work your shift ... hell!"
She shoved the last of her clothing ruthlessly into the duffel, slammed a box of booktapes on top, and sealed the carryall with a violence that made Priscilla wince.
"First mate's a crook; second mate's a rounder ... here!" She slapped a thick buff envelope into Priscilla's hand.
The younger woman blinked. "What's this?"
"Copy of my contract and the buy-out feein cantra, as specified. Think I'm gonna let either the first or the second get their paws on it? Cleaned me out good and proper, it has. But no savings and no job is better than one more port o' call on this tub, and that I'll swear to!" She paused and leaned toward the other woman, punctuating her points with stabs of a long forefinger. "You give that envelope to the Trader, girl-o, and let 'im know I'm gone. You got the sense I think you got, you'll hand in your own with it."
Priscilla shook her head. "I don't have the buy-out, Shelly."
"But you'd go if you did, eh?" The big woman sighed. "Well, you're forewarned, at least. Can you last `til the run's over, girl?"
"It's only another six months, Standard." She touched the other woman's arm. "I'll be fine."
"Hmmph." Shelly shouldered her bag and took the two strides necessary to get her from cot to door. In the hall, she turned again. "Take care of yourself, then, girl-o. Sorry we didn't meet in better times."
"Take care, Shelly," Priscilla responded. It seemed that she was hovering on the edge of something else, but the other woman had turned and was stomping off, shoulders rounded and head bent in mute protest of the short ceiling.
Priscilla turned in the opposite directiontoward the Trader's roomher own head slightly bent. She was not tall as Terrans went, and the ceiling was a good three inches above her curls; there just seemed something about Daxflan that demanded bowed heads.
Nonsense, she told herself firmly, rounding the corner by the shuttlebay.
But it wasn't nonsense. All that Shelly had said was trueand more. To be Terran was to be a second-class citizen on Daxflan, with quarters beyond the cargo holds and meals served half-cold in a cafeteria rigged out of what had once been a storage pod. The Trader didn't speak Terran at all, though the captain had a few words, and issued his orders in abrupt Trade unburdened with such niceties as "please" and "thank you."
Priscilla sighed. She had served with Liadens on other trade ships, though never on a Liaden ship. She wondered if conditions were the same on all of them. Her thoughts went back to Shelly, who had sworn she would never serve on another Liaden ship; though Shelly had done okay until the Healer had left two ports ago, to be replaced by a simple robotic medkit. That move had been called temporary. "More Liaden lies!" she had said. "They're liars. All liars!"
The first mate was a crook and the second a rounderwhatever, Priscilla amended, a rounder was. Liaden and Terran, respectively, and as alike as if the same mother had borne them.
Perhaps, Priscilla thought, the Trader only hired a certain type of person to serve him. She wondered what that said about Priscilla Mendoza, so eager for a berth as cargo master that she had not stopped first to look about her. Yet she had been eager. In a mere ten years she had gone from Food Service Technicianwhich meant little more than scullery maidto General Crew, and then into cargo handling. Among her goals was a pilot's certificate, though certainly there was no hope for furthering that aim while on Daxflan.
The Trader's room was locked; no voice bade her enter when she laid her hand against the plate. So, then. She shook her head as the 1100 bell rang. She would be short of sleep this shift.
The captain, she decided, would do as well. She continued down the hall toward the bridge, then paused, hearing voices to her righta man's, raised in outrage; a woman's, soothing.
Priscilla turned her steps in that direction, Shelly's envelope heavy in her hand.
The door to the Liaden lounge was open. Heedless, Sav Rid Olanek flung the paper at his cousin, Captain Chelsa yo'Vaade.
"Denied!" he cried, the High Tongue crackling with rage. "They dare! When all my life I have left this finger free to bear only the ring of a Master of Trade!" He waved gem-laden fingers also at Chelsa, who blinked, automatically cataloging Line-gem, school-gems, Clan-gem among the glittering army of others less important to Say Rid's melant'i.
"They say you might reapply, cousin," she offered hesitantly. "You need only wait a Standard."
"Bah!" Sav Rid cried, as she might have known he would. "Re-apply? That for their reapplication!" He snatched the letter back and rent it twice before flinging the pieces away. "They think me unworthy? They shall be schooled. We shall show them, Daxflan and I, how it is a true master of the craft goes about his business!" He turned then, eyes catching on the shadow at the door.
"You, there!" he snapped in Trade, crossing the room in four of his short strides. "What is it, Mendoza?"
Priscilla bowed, offering the envelope. "I did not wish to disturb you, sir," she replied in Trade, "but Shelly van Whitkin bade me give you this."
"So." He tore the envelope open, glanced at the paper with no great interest, and fingered the coin idly before slipping it into his belt.
One cantra, Priscilla saw, her stomach sinking. A sum so far beyond her resources that it was absurd to consider following Shelly's example. She might, she supposed, jump ship, but the thought of the dishonor attached to such an action cramped her stomach further.
"You may go, Mendoza," the Trader told her, and she bowed again before turning away. As she stepped into the hallway, she heard him address another comment in High Liaden to Captain yo'Vaade, something about having made a cantra and lost a big mouth to feed.
Daxflan was two days out of Alycone, and dinner looked terrible. Cargo Master Mendoza meekly accepted her tray and carried it into the crowded, steamy Terran mess hall. Peripheral vision showed Second Mate Dagmar Collier waving to her from a table near the door. Face averted, Priscilla moved to a newly vacated corner table. Self-preservation would not allow her to sit with her back to the noisy room, but the temptation was strong.
She frowned at the greasy soup and put her six)on down, then picked up the chipped plastic mug. Grinning, she sipped the tepid coffeetoot, recalling that Shelly had never sat down to a meal on Daxflan without indulging in a rant, the salient point of which was always the economic infeasibility of a tradeship serving 'toot instead of the real bean.
It had been Shelly's belief that serving 'toot to the Terrans was another deliberate snipe from the Trader. However, Priscilla had overheard Liaden crew members complaining that the beverage called tea aboard Daxflan had never seen Solcintra. Shelly had only a spacers handful of Liaden, High or Low, and had just shaken her head at Priscilla's theory that perhaps none of the crew was treated very well.
Resolutely, the cargo master put the 'toot from her and picked up her spoon. Horrible as it looked, the soup was dinner and she would get no better; the alternative was the sodden breadroll and the sticky lump of cheese she knew from experience to be inedible to the point of nausea. It would have to be the soup.
Taking a gelid spoonful, Priscilla found her mind turning, as it had these last two shifts, back to the containers they had taken on at Alcyone Prime. Sealed cargo. Nothing unusual in that; she had the manifests listing the items the sealed hold contained, their weights and distributions. All according to book. And yet there was something ...
With a scrape and a thump! the second mate was with her. Priscilla jumped, splashing greasy soup on her sleeve. Clamping her teeth, she patiently daubed at the spot, avoiding Dagmar's eyes. The second grinned and leaned back in the chair, flinging her legs out before her.
"Scare you, Prissy?"
Priscilla's slim shoulders stiffened. Dagmar's grin widened.
"I was thinking." There was no emotion in the cargo master's soft, level voice.
"That's our Prissy," Dagmar said indulgently. "Always thinking." She leaned across the tiny table and touched the back of a slender hand, delighting in the slight withdrawal. "What about after dinner, though? What say I bring along something to keep you from thinking, and we have fun?"
"I'm sorry," Priscilla said, hoping she sounded like it, "but the distribution charts are behind. I'm going to have to spend some of this off-shift getting caught up."
Dagmar shook her head, secretly pleased at Prissy's seemingly endless supply of excuses. The game had run three months now. Dagmar considered the quarry worthy of an extended pursuit. It might be easier if the girl weren't so serious about her workand so popular with the crew. The younger woman wasn't much on getting high or sleeping around. But Dagmar knew that Priscilla would have to relax and reveal a weak point one dayand when she finally did catch Prissy out, the spoils would be that much sweeter.
"That's all right," she said consolingly. "You work as hard as you want. Good to see that in a new hire. And at the end of the runif you do real good---I'll give you a reward." She narrowed her eyes a bit, looking for signs of distress on the other woman's face. She detected none and played her ace.
"A reward," she repeated, and reached across the table to take one cool, slim hand in hers. "How 'bout ... at the end of the run you and me go offjust us twoand have a Hundred Hours together? Huh? A hundred hours of loving and cuddling and fancy food and drink. Don't that sound nice?"
It did, Priscilla admitted to herself. Present company excluded.
She withdrew her hand carefully. "You're very generous," she murmured, "but I'm not"
The second recaptured her hand. "Think it over. Got plenty of time." She squeezed the hand until she heard knuckles crack and then released it. "Nice, long fingers. You ought to wear rings." She smiled again, tipping her own hand so that light glittered sullenly across the dirty gems worn three deep on each fat finger. "I'll buy you a ring," she finished softly, "after our Hundred Hours."
Priscilla drew a deep breath, trying to drown a sudden, flaring urge to mayhem. She stood.
"Going so soon?"
The cargo master nodded. "Those calculations are going to take awhile." She fled the mess hall.
A ring! Holy Mother! Priscilla became aware that she was breathing hard, nearly running down the lowering corridor. She slowed, willed her hands to unclench at her side, and continued with outward serenity toward her quarters.
Inwardly she still raged. Day after day of the second's pursuit was bad enough, though at least she could be put off with excuses, but only this past shift had First Mate Pimm tel'Jadis come to her in the master's cubicle, and the less thought of that encounter the better.
Caught between the two of them, powerful as they were, with neither the Trader nor the captain willing to take the part of a Terran against a Liaden, or of one Terran against another ... Priscilla slapped the palmplate and thumbed the light switch to HIGH before entering her tiny cabin.
The room was empty.
Of course, she jeered at herself, stepping in and locking the door. She leaned her head against the door frame and closed her eyes briefly. Stress, poor food, little sleepshe was getting nervous, fanciful. Surely the first mate would not secret himself in her cabin and wait to surprise her.
"Damn!" she said violently. She moved to the cramped 'fresher cubicle. Stripping off her clothes, she shoved them into the cleanbot and twisted the dial to SUPERCLEAN. More carefully, she removed the silver and opal drops from her ears and put them on the shelf under the short mirror. Then she dialed the unit temp to HOT, the intensity to NEEDLE, and stepped under the deluge.
Priscilla rubbed dry eyes and sat back, frowning at the screen. She was right. At first, she had mistrusted her equations and so rechecked everything a second time, and a third. There was no doubt. She wondered what she was going to do now. Contraband drugs were certainly nothing she wanted to be involved withand as cargo master, she had signed for them!
Shaking her head, she leaned over the keyboard again.
First, she told herself, you're going to seal this data under the cargo master's "Confidential" code. Then you're going to take a cold needle shower and hope it'll make up for a sleepless nightyou're on duty in an hour! She rose and stretched.
She would make no decisions until she had had at least a shift's sleep. It was important not to make a mistake.
"The following personnel," blared the speaker over the door, "will report to Shuttlebay Two at 20.00 hours: Second Mate Dagmar Collier, Pilot Bern dea'Maan, Cargo Master Priscilla Mendoza, Cargo-hand Tailly Zeld, Cargo-hand Nik Laz Galradin."
"What?" Priscilla demanded, spinning to stare at the speaker. Bay 2 at 20.00 hours? That was less than ten minutes from now!
She spun back to the desk and cleared the screen, then spun again to rake her gaze around the closet-sized room, tallying her meager possessions. There was nothing she would need on Jankalim here. Smoothing her hands over her hair, she left the room.
It was only as she was striding toward Bay 2 that it occurred to her to wonder why she was needed at all. Jankalim was a drop-only, the sort of thing most commonly handled by the first or second and a couple of hands.
Maybe there had been a mistake? There had been no trip worldside listed on her schedule last shift, of that she was certain. Come to think of it, it was silly to send the cargo master on a trip like this one. Almost as silly as sending the Trader.
She rounded the corner into the bay corridor at a spanking pace and brought herself up sharply to avoid walking over the small man just ahead.
Trader Olanek turned his head and inclined it in unsmiling recognition. "Mendoza. Punctual, as always." The words were in Trade and heavily accented.
"Thank you, sir," she said, politely shortening her stride to match his. Somehow, she had never managed to inform the Trader that she had limited fluency in his language. She glanced at his profile and shrugged mentally. The Trader's temper was legend on Daxflan, but he seemed to be in as amiable mood as she had ever seen him.
"Are you going worldside, sir?" she ventured respectfully.
"Of course I am going worldside, Mendoza. Why else should I be here?"
Priscilla ignored the irritation in his voice and plunged on. "Has there been a change in schedule, then? My last information was that Jankalim is only a drop point. If we're going to take cargo on"
"I must therefore assume, Mendoza," the Trader cut in, clearly irritated, "that your information is not complete."
Priscilla bit her lip. It was folly to goad him further. She inclined her head and dropped back to allow him to procede her into the shuttle. Then, sighing, she slipped into the first unoccupied seat, eyelids dropping. Half an hour, ship to world. At least she would get a nap.
"Hi there, Prissy," an unwelcome voice said in her ear. "You're not asleep, are you?" A hand was placed high on her thigh.
Gritting her teeth, Priscilla opened her eyes and sat up straight.
Jankalim possessed one spaceport, situated on the easternmost tip of the southernmost continent, within a stone's throw of the planetary sea and the edge of the world's second city.
As spaceports went, this one was subaverage, Priscilla decided, watching Tailly and Nik Laz unload the few containers and pallets that represented their reason for stopping here at all. The spaceport boasted three hot-pads for in-system ships, four shuttle cradles, and a double-dozen steel warehouses. All the pads were empty, though there was a surprisingly well-kept shuttle in the end cradle.
She glanced at the corrugated metal building to her right. A lopsided sign proclaimed it to be the port master's office. Trader Olanek had disappeared within it immediately upon setdown, Dagmar trailing behind like a double-sized shadow.
As if summoned by the thought, the second appeared in the doorway, jerking her head as she crossed the yard. "Gimme a hand, willya, Prissy? Trader wants a couple boxes from that end house. Ought to be able to get 'em fine between us."
Raising her eyebrows, Priscilla looked back at burly Tailly and miniature Nik Laz, who were just setting the last pallet in place.
"Aah, give 'em a break, Prissy," Dagmar growled. "They worked plenty hard already."
Kindness was uncharacteristic of the second mate. Probably the woman wanted a little privacy to press her suit further. Trapped without a reasonable excuse, Priscilla nodded and fell into step beside her, keeping a cautious distance between them.
The lights came up as they entered the first warehouse. Dagmar turned confidently to the right; Priscilla, a few steps behind, let her lead the way. Several more turns led them to a musty-smelling hall, somewhat dimmer than the previous corridors, flanked with blank metal doors.
Priscilla wondered what the Trader could possibly want from a section of warehouse that was clearly abandoned, then she shrugged. She was cargo master. It was her job to stow what the Trader contracted for.
It just would have been nice, she stormed to herself, if the Trader had seen fit to inform his cargo master that he expected to take on goods at Jankalim.
Dagmar moved slowly down the hallwaycounting doors, Priscilla thoughtthen stopped and slid a card into a doorslot.
The light in the frame lit, but nothing else happened. Dagmar grunted. "You're real good with computers. You try it."
The tone of voice made Priscilla uneasy. She took the card, inserted it, and was rewarded with both a light and a clicking noise from within.
Dagmar pushed at the door, then grunted again. "Damn thing's stuck. Come 'round here, PrissyMint's right. Now, I'm gonna pull back on the door an' get it started in the track. When it starts to slide, you get yourself between an' push, okay?"
Dagmar laid her hands against the door and exerted force. For a moment it looked as if the mechanism would resist. Then Priscilla saw a crack appear. She slipped her fingers into the slender opening as the crack began to widen, adding her own pressure to the enterprise. The gap widened farther. She slid her body into the opening and shoved.
As she pushed, there was a shadowy movement behind her, and she heard Dagmar say, "Can't be all that smart now, can ya, Prissy?" Then something clipped her behind the ear, and she crumpled sideways, tasting salt.
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