On Vega III, Lady Nimisha Boynton-Rondymense loves the challenging world of her father, Lord Tionel, owner and principal starship designer of the famous Rondymense Ship Yards. Precociously gifted, Nimisha becomes his secret assistantand, in the aftermath of a shocking tragedy, his chosen successor at the helm of the Ship Yards.
When Nimisha takes an experimental ship on a solo test flight, something goes horribly awry, marooning her light-years from home on a planet as deadly as it is beautiful. Now the ruthless members of a rival branch of the Rondymense family are given the chance they've been waiting for: to reclaim the Ship Yards by any means necessary.
Only Nimisha's ingenious child, Cuiva, stands in their way. But for how long? For just when her daughter needs her most, Nimisha is in a precarious situation herselfand unable to help. But Nimisha has never given up in her lifeand she's not about to start now . . .
About the Author
Anne McCaffrey, one of the world’s most popular authors, is best known for her Dragonriders of Pern® series. She was the first woman to win the two top prizes for science fiction writing, the Hugo and Nebula awards. She was also given the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement in Young Adult Fiction, was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and was named a Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Grand Master. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1926, McCaffrey relocated to Ireland in the 1970s, where she lived in a house of her own design, named Dragonhold-Underhill. She died in 2011.
Read an Excerpt
Lady Rezalla Boynton-Chonderlee was often bemused and puzzled by her body-heir, Nimisha Boynton-Rondymense, as the child began to develop a personality. She was, indeed, all and more that a womb-mother could wish in her body-heir: beautiful, gentian-eyed, intelligent, healthy, and obedient in almost every matter. Lady Rezalla considered the infrequent displays of temper and minor rebellions against necessary protocol only to be expected in the very young. Nimisha was certainly not as wayward or overindulged as some of the children of her contemporaries.
However, as Nimisha grew past the nursery stage and started the formal tutorial lessons, she showed decided preferences that were unexpected. She loved to take first mechanical and then robotic units apart, a hobby that struck her womb-mother as unusual. Lady Rezalla consoled herself that at least Nimisha showed an aptitude for something that kept her occupied for hours. Lady Rezalla knew that some of her social peers had ... difficult ... children with tendencies to be violent or abusive as the very young often were. Even in the best families. She privately admitted to some anxiety that Nimisha's mechanical avocation might be considered "quaint" for someone in the most prestigious social level of Acclarke City on Vega III. On the positive side, the Boynton-Chonderlee-Rondymense connection was sufficiently powerful to permit much that might have been censured or condemned in a lesser Family.
"It's in the genes she inherited from me, Rezalla," Lord Tionel Rondymense-Erhardt remarked on one of his visits to see the daughter he had contracted to provide Lady Rezalla. Though he would have been perfectly willing to have had a much longer contract with the elegant Rezalla, she had never given him the least bit of encouragement for an extension. This disinterest both annoyed and intrigued him since he was much in demand as a sire in the best Acclarkian circles. Still, he enjoyed her company and excruciatingly accurate remarks about their society and peers. She was not averse to his visits since she felt that her body-heir by him was quite the best of the lot he had so far sired. She was less sanguine about the way he encouraged Nimisha in her whimsical bent, happily answering her questions or giving her a pointer when she seemed at a standstill in reassembling what she had taken apart.
"It has obviously escaped your attention, my dear Rezalla," he remarked one day after explaining to Nimisha the function of the tiny chips she had spread out on the floor, "that she invariably improves the design and function of whatever she's tinkering with. I find that most ingenious of her. Most ingenious. If she continues to develop this aptitude, why I might just leave her my Ship Yard. No one else I've sired shows the least bit of interest in spaceship design. Much less doing any work of any description. I have grave concern that what nine generations have built up in the Rondymense Ship Yard GmBH might decline and disappear in the next one."
"My body-heir," Lady Rezalla replied, rather more dismayed than pleased by Lord Tionel's remarks, "will have no need for unsuitable bequests, Lord Tionel."
"You were happy enough to find ten thousand shares of Rondymense stock in her birth-gift portfolio," he remarked. Then he went on in his softest, most persuasive voice, his blue eyes dancing, though his face had assumed a properly repentant expression. "Don't be angry with me, Rezie. There's nothing unsuitable about a firm that has been designing spaceships and in profit for over two hundred years. Surely the financier in you appreciates that!"
The point was well taken, Lady Rezalla had to admit in all fairness. She herself had increased her holdings and wealth due to a nearly infallible instinct for the profitability of new businesses. Tionel was not given to casual remarks. She knew very well that his body-heir, Vestrin, a decade older than her Nimisha, was a disgrace to his sire. He seemed to have no interest in anything that wasn't "thrilling, exciting, or totally new," which included dangerous hunts and rather nasty jokes on those who might be considered "close" friends. Tionel could do worse than sign the Rondymense Yard over to his girl child if he wished it to continue. Nimisha need not do anything in such a well-run establishment. Rezalla didn't know how much Tionel did in the administrative end of the business, but she was quite capable of instructing her daughter in the financial aspects sufficiently to keep the Yard in profit. Especially as many contracts from the Admiralty were awarded to Rondymense Ship Yard GmBH. It was always good to be "in" with the Admiralty, especially as she had recently acquired the controlling interest in a small freighter company.
"I have never faulted you on your business acumen, Ti," she replied, relenting as they both watched Nimisha's careful reassembly of a robotic toy, the gift of her Great Uncle Dahmison. While expressing appreciation for the gift, Lady Rezalla wondered if Uncle knew which sex the child was. But it was certainly the sort of thing Uncle would give: It made the most appalling noise. Children liked noise; Rezalla didn't. "You've always been lucky with your designers."
"My designers?" Lord Tionel looked insulted and gestured at Nimisha. "I'm my designer. I am responsible for all the innovations at the Yard. And half of what the Vegan Fleet uses."
It was Lady Rezalla's turn to be surprised, and despite her many years of schooling her expression to show only what she wished an audience to see, it was a full minute before she could respond with cool dignity.
"You never mentioned that, Tionel." It was as near a reprimand as she could bring herself to make. Members of the First Families had to set good examples to everyone, even their peers, but they delegated duties; they didn't do them.
"I thought everyone knew," Tionel replied with a properly cool indifference and a shrug of one shoulder. "Ah, very nice, Nimi," he said as his six-year-old offspring presented him with the repaired toy. He set it on the floor and pressed the activating stud. It began its series of acrobatics, making Nimi clap her hands. "What did you alter in its circuitry?"
"She's made it quiet!" Lady Rezalla said, her voice echoing her delight. So Nimisha had noticed her distaste for the sound it had made. "Such a dear child."
"Well done, Nimi, well done!" Lord Tionel clapped his hands and, without a glance at his former contractual spouse, held his arms out to the child. She promptly climbed into his lap and put her arms about his neck, a show of affection that caused Lady Rezalla to regard Lord Tionel with dismay. He noticed. "Nonsense, Rezie. I am her father and I like to cuddle my children."
"How ... how exceedingly ... old-fashioned of you," Lady Rezalla said, seething with a variety of emotions, the most dominant being envy.
Nimisha would never have dared to climb onto her mother's lap. But then, Rezalla had never indicated that such a display would have been acceptable. Lady Rezalla did not like her exquisite self handled. What with Nimisha's preoccupation with mechanical things, her fingers and hands were rarely as clean as they should be, though Nurse did the best she could. Oddly enough, Nimisha did not have even a smudge of dirt on her clothing.
If Tionel wished to have his fashionable tunic and trousers marred by dirty fingers, that was his choice. He had always been a tactile person. If she had once found this trait of his charming, she did not think unessential personal contact dignified. Certainly not in their social sphere. At least Nimisha was still very much a child, so such a display could be condoned. She and her sire seemed to have established a bond that was not entirely due to the child's interest in taking things apart. It did the child no harm to receive paternal caressesif not carried too far. Lady Rezalla was fair-minded. She thought she and Nimisha had an excellent relationship; certainly she enjoyed her daughter's company whenever she chose to take her anywhere. For the first time, Lady Rezalla realized how odd her own behavior might look to others. Very few of her social friends bothered to have their child-heirs accompany them as much as Lady Rezalla did. But she genuinely liked the child and thought her occasional observations clever. Rezalla also thought herself quite broadminded in rearing Nimisha. The child's only flaw, as her mother saw it, was this fascination with dismantling and reassembling mechanical and chippy things.
She did remonstrate with Tionel when he started presenting Nimisha with birthday gifts of a construction nature; things to assemble even down to schematic drawings and instructions. To offset Tionel's influence, Lady Rezalla subtly began to emphasize the feminine instruction that all girls of their social level had to acquire and display suitably in Acclarkian society. She was quite successful in such tuition. By the time Nimisha was eight, she insisted on choosing her own apparel. As she displayed an innate good taste, as well as a sense of color and design, Lady Rezalla stopped fretting about her child's quaint preference for mucking about with greasy gears and engines and the chips she so enjoyed fooling with. What only Nimisha's Nurse knew was that her charge knew how to strike a balance that permitted her time to do what she really wantedto examine things mechanical and improve themand time to satisfy a mother whom she genuinely loved and respected, at least in matters of dress and deportment.
"Actually, good design is good design anywhere," Nimisha told Nurse after a shopping session with her mother. "And choosing clothing isn't much different from choosing the right chassis for a sleek skimmer."
Such a remark merely proved to Nurse that her charge was cleverer than Lady Rezalla realized, a fact that Nurse proudly ascribed to her own careful nurturing of her charge.
Because Nimisha's sire did show a marked interest in herand the guidance counselors admitted that a friendly paternal regard generally contributed to the stability of a child, male or femaleLady Rezalla permitted Lord Tionel to take Nimisha on trips to the Rondymense Ship Yard. Since Nurse was agoraphobic and bluntly refused to leave the solid surface of Vega III even for Nimisha's sake, Lady Rezalla sent to the employment agency she patronized for a suitable female attendant who had experience in space travel. Five candidates were offered by the agency, and their prospective employer subjected each to a long and searching interrogation.
Lady Rezalla settled on twenty-one-year-old Jeska Mlan because of her family's long and illustrious record as military and naval personnel. Mlan had trained and applied for Service as well, but sadly she was one centimeter too short and a half kilo too light to be eligible. So she had registered as a bodyguard. All her credentials were in order, her intelligence was above average, her manner pleasant, and her accent that of an educated Acclarkian (acceptable in any social circle). It was important that Nimisha did not pick up any "common habits." Lady Rezalla deplored the latest fad in her societyof using certain cant terms or resorting to archaic language and expletives that mystified her.
The young woman certainly didn't look like a bodyguard. Though not traditionally pretty, Jeska was attractive, her face showing good character, and she knew enough about dressing herself to enhance her appearance. She would look well in Lady Rezalla's stylish personal livery. But the telling factor was Jeska's interest in things mechanical.
"My father and brothers taught me how to keep a skimmer serviced, Lady Rezalla," she said, and then added with a slight smile, "and other equipment that I hope I shall not have to use."
"Then you are familiar with stunners?"
"I have been checked out by the Acclarkian Peace Guardians on hand weapons and carry permits for personal defense implements," Jeska replied.
"Do you have a current valid permit with the APG?"
"Not at the moment, ma'am, but my training has been registered with them."
"I shall apply for the necessary permit immediately. Do you generally carry two knives, Mlan?"
"Yes, m'lady," Jeska said without apology. The security arch on the main entrance had disclosed that the girl carried one sheathed between her shoulders and another in her right boot, a slender blade that the Residence Manager termed a "stiletto."
Lady Rezalla could approve of the quiet dignity of that response: consonant with her training, certainly, and a basic precaution for an attractive young female. There were parts of Acclarke where personal weapons would undoubtedly be required, though Mlan's address was not in one of those insalubrious areas.
While Jeska's primary duty was to accompany Nimisha on any excursions outside the Boynton-Chonderlee compound, she was also enjoined by Lady Rezalla to keep the girl physically fit. Mlan's résumé had included a list of the awards that she had received for gymnastic events. Rezalla herself used daily dance and an aerobics routine to keep supple, in addition to weekly sessions with a trainer. So many of her contemporaries resorted to surgical methods to maintain their figures, a practice that Rezalla found abhorrent and which she intended to eschew. Though one of her close personal friends, Lord Naves, specialized in body sculpture, she did not intend to use his skills. Good physical habits in childhood would result in a firm adult body that would need no surgical interference.
"So many children these days are content to have everything done for them," Lady Rezalla said, leading her new employee to meet her daughter. "I do not care to see my daughter become languorous and ineffectual. You will see that she is kept in top physical condition."
As Lady Rezalla did not specify what physical fitness program she wished her daughter to learn, Jeska passed on more of what she herself had been taught by older brothers and sisters in the services. Gymnastics provided a solid base from which to start. When Jeska saw how beautiful her young charge was, she included general self-defense moves in the exercise program. As Nimisha grew in height, weight, and strength, Jeska added offensive tactics, including the use of daggers, stunners, and hunting weapons, and how to turn seemingly innocuous objects into weapons in an emergency. While Jeska knew that many members of the First Families were ardent hunters and enjoyed pursuing very dangerous prey on those preserves set aside for such sport, Nimisha was uncharacteristicallyfor her social rankdevoid of any interest in the hunt. She ignored those of her peers who boasted of killing this animal or that predatory avian and waved aside details of such prowess. She was vitally interested in how the flitters, skimme rs, and ground vehicles worked. And how to improve their performancean interest that Jeska was certainly delighted to foster.
Like most scions in her rank of society, Nimisha was tutored at home, her mother deciding what subjects she should study. Languages, of course, and mathematics featured very early on, as well as a foundation in economics. She was also tutored at the appropriate age in astrography, galactic history, various branches of the physical sciences, the workings of the Vegan civic administrational structure, and basic legal precepts.
"Which means when to put in a hurry-up call to the family legal advisers," Nimisha said to Jeska with a droll grin. At ten she was far more aware of civic responsibilities than Jeska had ever been.
Jeska was quite willing to improve her own education, especially in useful areas like mathematics, legal codes, and statutes. So, since she had no duties during the morning tutorial sessions, she took to sitting quietly in the back of the room, acquiring knowledge that had not been available in the general curriculum of her school. Like any member of a serving family, she had learned phrases and words of many different languages, but not necessarily those appropriate for the ears of a First Family scion, so she was pleased to become acquainted with more socially correct usage. She was delighted when Nimisha emphasized more and more engineering concepts with the science tutor who was only hired to give her a basic general understanding of the profession.
Nimisha regretted that the schoolroom computer system did not have a tri-d display device sophisticated enough to allow her to design something more satisfying than gowns or interior decorations or the other programs available to a First Family scion of the female sex. However, her tutor did find a manual for a professional design unit and privately sighed over its seemingly unlimited virtual display factors. Although Lady Rezalla allowed her body-heir a great deal of leeway, Nimisha knew when discretion was required. It was enough to have Jeska permitted to join the lessons.
"It's much easier to review lessons with someone," Nimisha had confided in Jeska. "I'm glad you're not bored."
"That's highly unlikely in your company, Nimisha," Jeska replied with a grin. She had quickly grown fond of the bright, cheerful child in her care, and if she bent a few rules for Nimisha, the girl did the same for her.
As Nimisha grew older, she was invited on more frequent excursions with her sire, and these Jeska enjoyed almost as much as her charge.
The Rondymense Ship Yard occupied an area on the outskirts of the primary Vegan Fleet Space Yard, where new vessels were built and older ones underwent maintenance and refitting. While Lord Tionel never said anything to the point, Jeska Mlan was quick to realize that Rondymense was in such proximity to the big Fleet installation because it supplied the Fleet with a great many of its improvements, most of which originated in Lord Tionel's fertile mind. Jeska was thrilled: She might not have made the Service, but she became privy to a lot that her serving relatives would never know. Since discretion had been a facet of her early childhood training in an active service family, she had no trouble keeping what she saw and heard to herself. On her infrequent visits home, she often had occasion to smile quietly as she listened to her siblings raving about this or that improvement to the Vegan Spaceship 7890B, or the brand-new VSS 8650Cinnovations she had watched from the design stage onward. She was also alert to the fact that Nimisha was equally discreet, though Lord Tionel had frequently discussed technical aspects that Jeska knew to be very top secret. But discretion was subtly inbred in any child of the First Families.
It didn't take Lord Tionel long to realize that his daughter's bodyguard was as eager to learn as Nimisha. So he equipped them both with tools and gave them projects to complete, all deftly geared to augment the larger educational program he now had in mind for Nimisha. When she appeared to have stopped growing, he had them both measured for space suits so they could accompany him and his crews on exterior investigations. Of course, they knew as well as he did that Lady Rezalla would have instantly curtailed these visits had she known that they'd accompanied Lord Tionel into the vacuum of space. But he had undertaken their instruction himself, been satisfied that they appreciated the risks and would adhere to the precautions. They were always safely linked to experienced EVA personnel.
Early on, Lord Tionel tested Jeska's piloting skills in a space skimmer as well as a ground vehicle and rated her competence equal to that of many pilots. He also taught Nimisha how to drive, preferring to be certain she was capable long before Lady Rezalla allowed her body-heir a personal ground vehicle.
"I may be usurping some of her birth-mother's prerogatives," he told Jeska one day without a trace of guilt, "but I prefer to oversee her education in such matters. I've no doubt Lady Rezalla instructs her as efficiently in the purely feminine skills in which she herself excels."
Jeska nodded, understanding completely what he had not said. "I am very appreciative, Lord Tionel, of the benefits I have received while in Lady Nimisha's company."
"You've an aptitude worth cultivating, my girl," he replied honestly. "When Nimisha no longer requires your ... companionship, this Yard would consider you an asset." He smiled in his beguiling fashion, rubbing his hands together as if already anticipating the moment when he could make good on his offer.
"Small wonder you succeed so well with the Fleet types, Lord Tionel," she said, grinning impudently up at him. The current High Admiral of the Fleet was an attractive and highly efficient woman. Jeska knew he spent considerable time with her and her Design teams.
His smile broadened and he accorded her a slight bow. "I like to encourage talent wherever I encounter it. Now," he continued in a brisker tone, "what trinket would please my daughter when she receives her Necklace four weeks from now?"
"A skimmer, sir," Jeska replied promptly, sober-faced, though she couldn't keep the glint of mischief out of her eyes.
"A skimmer?" The uplift of his voice in surprised repetition made her grin.
"Even Lady Rezalla will agree that Lady Nimi, at fourteen, should have her own transport. Especially as she will promise to service it herself." Jeska paused, rather pleased that she had been able to astonish Lord Tionel. "That way no one but she and I will know the engine capacity, the optimum cruising range, or the versatility of the vehicle."
"Ah!" Lord Tionel's eyes lit up. He gave Jeska's back such an approving thump that only the girl's superb natural reflexes kept her from bouncing off the worktable in front of her. "Oh, sorry about that, Jeska. Caught me by surprise, you did. Excellent. Excellent." And he went off, chuckling to himself. "Capital idea! Just the thing."
Since Jeska had been Nimisha's companion for six years, she was permitted to attend the important Necklace Ceremony, traditional in First Family circles. She stood well behind those who were related by blood, of course, but she was there when Nimisha celebrated her minor majority, colloquially known as the Double M.
The adult majority was four years hence, but body-heirs were expected from the moment of their Necklacing to act in an adult fashion and leave childish practices and manners behind them. Beside Jeska, Nurse was sniffling, since this ceremony marked the end of her employment. That she was being munificently rewarded by Lady Rezalla and need never work another day in her life did not seem to compensate for leaving Nimisha. Since Jeska was fonder of Nimisha than she was of any of her own siblings, she quite understood Nurse's sorrow. She would continue in her duties to the body-heir of Boynton-Chonderlee House, but she and Nurse had been of one mind in keeping certain aspects of Nimisha's daily routines from Lady Rezalla. Once Necklaced, Nimisha was guaranteed more freedom from constant supervision. Indeed, during the festivities, other servants would be moving Nimisha's belongings out of the nursery and into private quarters in the west wing of the House.
Before relatives from both sides of the bloodline, as well as Lady Rezalla's particular friends and confidants, Nimisha was led in by her dam's mother, the Lady Astatine Boynton-Tatanovic, a formidable woman who had never approved of her own body-heir's friends or her deplorable tendency to dabble in "finance." But Lady Astatine knew what was owed to Family despite the fact that she deplored Nimisha's height, among other things that were beyond the girl's control.
"You make me look like a midget, young woman. Most inconsiderate," was the grandam's complaint. "Don't bruise my fingers. Gels are supposed to be delicate, not have the grip of a man. Did not your dam teach you any feminine arts?"
"Your couturier made my gown, Grandam," Nimisha murmured. She might not have gone through the ceremony officially allowing her to speak out to an elder, but she would not allow anyone to fault her birth-mother. Especially her grandam.
"That much Rezalla learned from me," was the haughty reply. "Who the most original designers are."
"And learned well, Grandam."
A muffled throaty growl greeted that courteous reply. Then Lady Astatine passed Nimisha's hand to Lady Rezalla for the rest of the ceremony and stepped back, deftly kicking the train of her elegant and fabulously expensive gown out of her way.
Nimisha was handed by her mother onto the three-level podium set in place for the ceremony, so that she was clearly visible to the assembled. Lady Rezalla, her eyes bright with tears of pride, advanced with Lord Tionel, equally bright-eyed and grinning widely with delight in his part of the ceremony. He held the case in which Nimisha's Necklace reposed. He had insisted on sharing the cost so, when he turned to display the magnificent jewelry, there were muted gasps and astonished oh's of approval.
The family of Tionel Rondymense-Erhardt was just fractionally older and more exclusive than the Boynton-Chonderlee, so the necklace intricately displayed the families' identification patterns, the same ones that had been indelibly tattooed on Nimisha's neck shortly after her birth. With the courtliest of bows, Lord Tionel presented the case to his former contractual spouse. Lady Rezalla lifted the glittering ornament by its ends and, standing on the highest level of the podium, deftly encircled her body-heir's neck and fastened the clasp. Using one finger, she gave a minute adjustment to the left-hand side to cover the tattoo beneath. Then she tapped Nimisha. Nimisha turned and her mother accorded her the six embraces required by the ceremony, the accolades of approaching adulthood. And for once the kisses were genuine touches of lip to cheek and lip to lip.
Moving gracefully, and as deftly as her grandmother with the train of her splendid gown, Nimisha then accepted the salutes from her sire, her grandam, and the relatives awaiting to applaud her entry into Society. She did a smooth and gracious circling, though she could have done without Great Uncle Dahmison's sloppy kisses. She wasn't the only one of the younger relatives in the auxiliary lines who disliked his tendency to slobber.
Then she made her way to Nurse and embraced her warmly, giving her the four kisses of extreme favor. She gave Jeska the two proper embraces allowed and squeezed her hands tight, covertly promising that they'd both try out the new skimmer that was parked behind the house. They might have to sneak out of the house at night to do so, but fortunately her Necklacing party would not be as prolonged as the one to celebrate her adult majority. That was four years away and there would be so much to do to reach that exalted state. Especially now that Nimisha would have more control over her daily activities.
The music startedsince this was a Boynton-Chonderlee House affair, the musicians were humans, not mechanicalsand her sire requested the first dance, as was his right. Lady Rezalla watched, not quite beaming with pride at the elegant way father and daughter danced, but as close to such an expression as she allowed herself. She sighed once, rather pleased that she had picked Tionel to sire her body-heir. He had done well by her and was doing far more than most sires did for their offspring. Certainly more than he did for the oaf who was his body-heir. She spared a sideways glance at Vestrin. He was as tall as his sire and with the same nose and ears, but after that he resembled his dam, the insidious Lady Vescuya, far too closely. Fortunately Lady Vescuya was not among the invited: She had a previous engagement she could not cancel, for which Lady Rezalla was grateful, since she had as little use for Vescuya as did almost everyone else of the First Families.
When Lady Astatine brusquely waved off Tionel's offer to dance, as etiquette required of him, he more gladly took his former spouse onto the floor. At the end of that dance, everyone paired off to enjoy the music and the rest of the celebration.
Lord Vestrin did the obligatory dance with his blood-half-sister and spent the next hour, Lady Rezalla noted, on the sidelines criticizing the guests to Great Uncle Dahmison, whose hearing was minimal anyway. Then Vestrin abruptly departed, making the barest of bows to his hostess and birth-father.
When the last guests were well gone, Nimisha and Jeska slipped down the stairs, dressed in clothing appropriate for an early morning spin in a newly acquired skimmer. Nimisha spoke the security passwords into the estate system, and the two walked quickly to the garage area.
Jeska had her knife out a second before Nimisha did when a shadow detached itself from the corner of the first parking slot.
"If you two thought you'd try it out on your own, you thought wrong," Lord Tionel said, holding his arms widespread as he emerged.
"Scare the life out of me, you would," Jeska said, sheathing her knife. "I could have skewered you, Lord Tionel." She didn't sound the least bit repentant.
"I know your reflexes by now, Mlan, so I was in no danger," Tionel said, chuckling.
"I could have sworn I saw you drive away, sir," Nimisha said, after taking a deep enough breath to calm a fast-beating heart.
"Oh, I did, and doubled back around before the security net was activated. I brought suitable clothing. And I can be Tionel, or Ti, as you wish, m'dear, now you're Double M."
"Don't you have any faith in your training of me, Tionel?" Nimisha asked, quick to accept his offer.
"Oh, I do, but you haven't driven something as powerful as this one, and neither has Jeska. In this test run, you'll drive with me until I'm sure you both have the measure of these engines. Get in."
As this was a two-seater skimmer, suitable for city and country travelor so Lady Rezalla would thinkthere were only two bucket seats. However, behind them, there was a little space and a ledge across the back, just adequate for someone as slender as Jeska, if she sat sideways with her knees bent.
The skimmer purred into activity when Nimisha thumbed on the engine.
"Slowly, my girl. Those engines could wake even your dam from a sound sleep," Tionel said, raising one hand in warning.
"I can feel the power in them," Nimisha agreed, smiling. "You're such a good father, Tionel."
Tionel sighed and Nimisha wished she'd phrased that some other way, for she knew how disappointed he was in his own body-heir. And really, she couldn't blame him. Vestrin was useless and he needn't have been. Once again Nimisha had cause to thank her mother for her upbringing and nurture. Vestrin's dam might have been the acknowledged beauty of her debut year, but that, seemingly, had been her one achievement. She had, however, presented four notable Lords with body-heirs, never once losing her elegant figure in the process and increasing her personal wealth each time. Three of them were as indolent as Vestrin. Only the fourth, young Lord Haricore, showed signs of being interesting, and he was such an active child that he required a full squad of bodyguards ... more to rescue the victims of his never-ending pranks than to keep him safe.
Nimisha lifted the skimmer slowly, turning the lever to port once she was above the low garages and heading out the main entrance, which opened at the use of her password. There was no sense of movement, though the ground passed swiftly beneath them.
"Lights ..." Her sire gave her a grin, for her finger was already depressing the appropriate panel.
"Light is more likely to wake my mother than noise," she said coolly. "I read the operating manual three times. So did Jeska."
"The manual and the operation are distinctly separated by hands-on experience," Tionel said. "Take us to the lakeside. I've cleared it with Traffic Control that I'm testing a new vehicle. There won't be any repercussions when we let this sleek motor out."
The two in the front heard Jeska's throaty chuckle. "You think of everything, don't you, Lord Tionel?"
"Well, that was an obvious precaution."
They reached the lake within minutes.
"Take it down to the end at whatever speed you feel you can handle to reach that destination," he said, sitting back and folding his arms.
Jeska took a firm hold of the conveniently placed seat tabs and willed herself heavier as she felt Nimisha increase the forward motion. The girl was cautious, possibly because it was so obvious that the skimmer possessed a very high-powered engine and she needed to get the feel of it. Nimisha executed a neat U-turn at the base of the lake. The geographical feature was actually an earth fault, one hundred and two kilometers in length and forty in width, that had been dammed to make a water-sports facility convenient to Acclarke.
Nimisha headed down the moonlit ribbon of water and began to increase the power, slowly at first, getting the feel of the controls and then speeding up.
"What's holding you back, Nimisha?" her sire asked teasingly. "The engine has been well broken in, you know."
"I will go as fast as I want to, Tionel Rondymense, and I'll thank you not to taunt me."
Tionel threw back his head and laughed. "Impudent scut!"
Jeska sighed with relief, but she really ought not to have doubted Nimisha's common sense. She did crane her neck to see what speed was being achieved and saw the gauge holding steady at three hundred kilometers. She saw the cliffs that bordered the north side of the long lake zipping by and then kept her eyes straight ahead. Moments later Nimisha eased back on the stick and, when it came time to execute a turn, the skimmer was doing a sedate speed of one hundred klicks.
"Now, let me see you handle a few basic maneuvers, Nimi," her father said. "The controls, as you will have noticed, are light to the touch. And you have no doubt noticed where the ejection controls are." He turned his head around. "There's one for the rear ledge, too, Mlan."
"I felt no need to look for it, milord," Jeska said in an amiable drawl.
When Nimisha had performed the aerobatics her father requested, she landed and looked back to Jeska. "Your turn," she said and, inserting herself between the two bucket seats, managed to cram herself into one corner while Jeska went forward.
With no desire to show off, Jeska did the length of the lake at the same speed that Nimisha had used.
"I'm disappointed in you, Jeska," Lord Tionel said, clicking his tongue.
"What's suitable for Lady Nimisha is so for me, too, sir," Jeska said dryly.
"I am reprimanded," Lord Tionel replied, one hand on his heart as he executed a bow in her direction. "Which of you will take the skimmer home?"
"I will, sir," Jeska replied promptly. "This has been an exciting day for Lady Nimi and she must not appear hollow-eyed from fatigue tomorrowor, rather, later this morning, when she's formally allowed to take possession of her Double M day gift from you."
"Well answered," was his comment.
"Thanks, Jes," came from the back. "It's such a comfortable vehicle, I'm nearly asleep."
What neither young woman ever publicly admitted was that this particular skimmer was also spaceworthy, which made it much easier for them both to go to the Ship Yard. There they spent a great deal of time with the trainers that Lord Tionel had employed to teach his daughter the engineering skills she expressly wished to learn. Since these included advanced mathematics, she could honestly reply to her mother that she was applying herself to lessons that would be useful in her adult life. Having Jeska to work with her on the lessons made them more fun and provided a competition that had them both vying to be the best.
On their first trip to the Rondymense Ship Yard in the new skimmer, Lord Tionel celebrated by taking them into the Design section and introducing them to the methods by which he achieved exactly the right design for the ship that he wanted to construct.
It was a big empty room, which surprised both girls. Lord Tionel grinned and motioned them to the side.
"Lights off. Designer on," he said.
The lights obediently went off. "Designer on," a quiet voice said.
"We are to design an interstellar freighter, displacement tonnage thirty thousand, cargo tonnage eighteen thousand, cargo space to be sectioned off into freezer units, liquid or bulk."
"Did you want to start with an existing design?"
"Accepted. Do you have a basic shape in mind?"
"Yes, I'd like to see an ellipsoid."
An elliptical shape appeared in the room, lighting the darkness, along with lines that denoted scale. "Like this?"
Lord Tionel considered. "Mmm, no, let's go with a deltoid pumpkin-seed shape."
The shape changed. "This is similar to the StarStream hull in my database; would you like to use that instead?"
Tionel shook his head. "No, for the kind of freighter the client wants, this is a better starting point. Now, I want to push a new star drive through the back of the hull, taking up no more than five percent of the rear volume, to give the most cargo space."
A portion of the rear of the image changed color. "Like this?"
"Yes." Lord Tionel stroked his chin. "Now," and he pointed, though he needn't have with a voice-operated Designer, "extrude that through the hull for one percent of its length and flatten the new face."
The colored image bulged through the pumpkin seed. "Like this?"
"Exactly. Now, put in a standard ten-g star drive in that space, add tankage and plumbing, and tell me how it performs at top Interstellar Drive."
"Such a shape, fully loaded at maximum speed, would exceed the performance of the StarStream hull by two percent."
"Not good enough. Let's see what changes we can make with our pumpkin to improve performance."
"What about making it a plumper pumpkin, Ti?" Nimisha suggested. "After all, it's cargo space you want, isn't it? If she carries more than the StarStream hull and still exceeds performance without other modifications, you've already achieved an improvement."
"Designer, let's see a plumper pumpkin," Lord Tionel ordered with a chuckle.
None of the three in the Design facility realized that they had spent nearly eight hours working on a variety of modifications until Jim Marroo, who was night supervisor, buzzed through on the comunit. Lord Tionel frowned angrily, for they were about to solve a major difficulty in the drive coefficient.
"No one is supposed to interrupt me here," he said in a growl and then looked at his wrist chrono. "Lady Rezalla, or my name's not Tionel Rondymense-Erhardt."
"Lord Tionel, it's Lady Rezalla, or you may be sure I would not"
"In this case, an interruption is quite in order, Jim. Tell Lady Rezalla I've had the girls helping me ... helping me ..." He turned to Nimisha and Jeska for assistance.
"Choose the color scheme for your new yacht," Nimisha said quickly. The information was repeated and Lord Tionel breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief.
"Designer, save the entire session under the password decor. Lights on, and open door," he added. He ushered the girls out quickly. "I'd no idea we'd been in there so long."
"It was a lot more fun than I've had since the day you gave me my skimmer, Ti," Nimisha said.
"You've got a definite gift for design, Nimi, and I won't have it wasted on ... decoration. Which reminds me: You'll have to think of a color scheme on our way home so your dam won't know what we have been up to."
"I'm sure we could have worked out that problem in just a few more moments," Nimisha went on dismally, shaking her head with disappointment.
"I've no doubt about it," Lord Tionel said, and then turned to Jeska. "And you, young woman, have the good sense to see when enthusiasm needs to be reined in for practical matters. We'd've lost a good forty tonnes of cargo space if we'd kept on with a main tunnel for all conduits."
"Besides being difficult to access," Nimisha said. "What's your favorite color, Ti?"
"Green, of course," he said as they arrived at the dock of his private vehicle.
A complete color scheme, including fabrics, rug, and a well-known furnishings establishment to custom-design sketches, was figured out by the two girls on the short trip home. Nimisha casually left them on the hall table when the Residence Manager opened the door to the girls. The fact that the RM said nothing at all to Lord Tionel, closing the House door almost on his nose, was indicative of the disgrace he was in.
Such a miscalculation in time did not occur again because Lord Tionel installed an automatic cutoff within the Design Room, to save the work and give the girls ample time to reach home in Nimisha's very fast skimmer. So Lady Rezalla had no further opportunity to complain that her birth-father monopolized his daughter.
Having these fascinating and instructive sessions cut short to deceive her mother did not sit well with Nimisha. She knew what she wanted to do with her life, which was far more than most of her peer group did. Especially as she enjoyed none of their so-called diversions whatsoever. She and Jeska kept trying to figure out ways in which to achieve their objective of placating Lady Rezalla sufficiently to really dig into their engineering studies. Circumstance, as it so often does, gave Nimisha the perfect opportunity. And she promptly seized it.
Three weeks after the installation of the alarm that would allow the girls to be home when Lady Rezalla expected them, the breakfast vidcast was full of replays, interviews, and stern statements by high-ranking Acclarkian Peace Guardians concerning the antics of certain young scions who had already received warnings about reckless behavior. The fact that the main culprit was Lord Vestrin Rondymense-Waleska, Lord Tionel's body-heir, was the only reason Lady Rezalla would have continued to view the matter. On a bet to see who could maneuver his skimmer fastest through the rush-hour traffic in a crowded industrial complex, young Vestrin had lost control of his vehicle and had crashed into a public transport, killing nine craftsmen.
"He had no business in that area at that hour," Lady Rezalla said indignantly. "If he must drive at dangerous speeds, let him at least do so at the lake and drown himself instead of killing people. And then to send a minor solicitor to offer the most paltry compensation for the deaths of hardworking and decent folk! Mere craftsmen they may have been, but they were supporting their families and educating their children to be useful citizens, which is more than I can say Vescuya ever did with Vestrin. In fact, they're far more worthy of extreme consideration than that young, heartless lout. How such a total disaster of a man can be Lord Tionel's body-heir is beyond me. First Families have obligations, above and beyond the fact that they were the first, and most successful, of the colonists to land on a planet. They endured much to carve out the homes, fields, businesses, space stations, cities, and the amenities of which we are now so proud. That young man needs to be sent where his attitudes can be professiona lly altered. In fact, he should be made to earn a living as the craftsmen he killed did. He must learn to appreciate what his ancestors endured to give him the advantages he has and doesn't seem at all able to understand and appreciate, much less improve. I shall inform the Residence Manager that Lord Vestrin is no longer received by this House."
"I did so myself, six weeks ago, my mother, when he" Nimisha stopped, because Lord Vestrin's message had been a blatant threat for her to stop visiting his father so often.
"When he what, Nimisha?" Lady Rezalla demanded, tapping her fingers with displeasure.
"When he made improper advances at me, Lady Rezalla," Jeska said, managing a flush. "Lady Nimisha interfered and told the RM Lord Vestrin was not to be admitted to the grounds."
"As indeed he should have. Why was I not told of that affront, Jeska? You are in my employ and I will not have my people subjected to such embarrassments. Even by kin to Lord Tionel." Lady Rezalla turned to Nimisha. "Your sire ..."
"Is above reproach, my mother, as you certainly know. You have, yourself, remarked on how Lady Vescuya seems to delight in Vestrin's excesses. I know that Lord Tionel does not and will certainly discipline his body-heir over this latest horrific escapade."
"Indeed he will have to," Lady Rezalla said with a sniff. "The Peace Guardians may upon occasion turn a blind eye to an innocent lark by high-spirited young men and women, but they take a different view entirely when deaths are involved. A period in a rehabilitation center is most certainly on the agenda. And community service. Hopefully on a difficult and primitive planet.
"Furthermore, I don't see how Lord Tionel could possibly allow the Ship Yard to be handed over to such a want-wit as that young man. Why, the business would be defunct in half a decade! You know how hard Lord Tionel works and how often the Fleet contracts for him to build their special designs."
"I do, my mother," Nimisha said almost humbly, "which is why I regret, for Lord Tionel's sake, that Vestrin has no interest at all in the Yard." She did not need to add "except for the credit it earns." Lady Rezalla's eyebrow rose sufficiently to have mentally appended that clause. "I have always known how fortunate I am to be your body-heir, my mother, and appreciative of the care you have lavished on my upbringing and education."
"You're a Boynton, after all," Lady Rezalla said at her haughtiest.
"And proud to be, my mother. I would like to utilize my advantages to the fullest extent possible and prove that the privilege I enjoy as a First Family scion is not wasted on stupid pastimes but turned to the best possible effect for my family name and my community."
Even at breakfast, Lady Rezalla was far from slow. She gave her daughter a long, thoughtful look. "I believe we have come round to your fascination with design again, have we not, Nimisha?"
"Yes, my mother."
"And you wish to spend more time at Lord Tionel's Ship Yard?"
"Yes, my mother."
Lady Rezalla poured herself another cup of coffee, added the dollop of cream she liked, stirred it, and took a sip.
"I could have wished you shared my interest in investment and how to recognize the potential of one business over another, but I can scarcely fault you for wishing to achieve ..." She paused, her lips tight. "As the antithesis of wanton acts born of irresponsibility and lack of purpose."
"Then I may ... ask Lord Tionel if I may learn more about running the Yard?"
Lady Rezalla had never quite forgotten Lord Tionel's casual remark about leaving Nimisha the Rondymense Yard. It surfaced propitiously.
"Learning how to manage a reputable firm that produces spaceships is certainly preferable to plowing through public transport vehicles. I shall inquire if Lord Tionel would be willing to instruct you in managerial duties."
Oddly enough the "managerial duties" Lord Tionel graciously told Lady Rezalla he was willing to teach her body-heir happened to include "managing" the Designer and helping him complete the freighter they had started together. That was only the first of the projects they, and Jeska Mlan, worked on together over the next few years, during which time Lord Tionel outlined for them a ruthless course of academic studies, laboratory experiments, and special use of the smaller Design Room where they could examine and improve on the myriad components of the modern spaceworthy craft. Using his influence, he arranged for them to sit the same engineering examinations that would qualify them for full employment in his, or any other, Ship Yard.
As for his reckless body-heir, Lord Tionel sent him to the most reputable rehabilitation center available, ignoring the pleas of Lady Vescuya and not informing her in which center her darling son had been placed. Once the center was satisfied with his moral improvement and an acceptable level of responsibility for his own actions, he was to spend a year on a struggling colonial planet to learn what being a First Family scion actually meant. Lord Tionel increased the compensation to all the families of that fatal crash and took a quiet, personal interest in the education and promotion of the surviving siblings.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an interesting read, and I was eager to finish it. However, I did find that it was a bit too easy on the characters at times. They had a long-distance time-lag, but they lived longer and could go into cold sleep. Everyone was conveniently beautiful; bad guys were conveniently stupid. Everyone paired up, because that was the thing to do, and no hard feelings, etc. Despite these naggings, I did find McCaffrey's universe very intriguing, as I've come to expect from her work.
McCaffrey is wonderful as always. A great read as well as a reread.
One of those books that is so hard to put down. Now that I’ve finished it, it’s back to reality. Too bad there isn’t a sequel.
It’s always nice to read a sy-fi book that is exactly that. A book and not a damn 10 book opera.
A great read especially for adolescents Bingaux
I never get tired of rereading this story of exploration and self discovery.
Anne McCaffrey is the best in science fiction writing. It is sad she has left us and cannot pen any further great novels. Nimisha's Ship will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time with how the story presents itself. The interaction of Nimisha and the AI's will keep you wondering what is next. I have read this book through twice now and plan on reading it several times more. Every time I do read it, something new will invariably show up and make the whole story anew.I would have liked having a follow-up book about the continuing story.
Her characters are always well rounded and enjoyaable to know. This is very different from her DragonRider's books but still a great story. What a great imagination she has. I would recommend this book to anyone who is into reading books about science fiction and science fiction fantesy. This is a story of a woman who starts out in one class of people and shows what can be done if you learn and grow and always work toward doing what is important to you while having a lot of fun doing it. It also is a book where if you work at what you want to be in life you can and background or money is not as important as your doing it, yet it does not come across that way while you are reading it. It is just a great read.
Being an avid fantasy reader, I thought I'd give Anne McCaffrey's Pern series a try. I was disappointed to find, however, that most of the newly acquired series had already been checked out at the library, so instead I borrowed Nimisha's Ship, having heard such high praise about the author. The novel was, to say the least, a bit of an eye-opener. First, I was overwhelmed by the terms McCaffrey used that I was unfamiliar with, but gradually it became easier to understand. Second, I was surprised at the lack of emotion displayed in the book. I thought there could, and perhaps should, have been more depth to the scenes of Nimisha dealing with her father's death. It took me 3 days to plow through the first half of the novel. I found it hard to be absorbed, or even interested, in the characters. The second half of the novel was a much easier read. There was a great deal more emotion here than in the first half (ie: Nimisha and Cuiva's reunion). It was also more interesting, reading how the First Families of Erehwon worked with the alien Sh'im to produce what surely must be the beginnings of a foundation of life on the new colony. However, I found myself still surprised occasionally at the relationships between parent and children. Tim regards his parents more as friends, and all four of the adults in his life act as his guardians. Perhaps it is normal in this future society to regard offspring as a mere necessity rather than blood and bone family, but it does take some getting used to.