This is the tenth part in a serialized story. If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.
Shihs said, “This is your doctor. He is the only doctor who knows about your … son’s condition. He will monitor the Praccin for you.”
At Avdonina’s surprised look, Shihs said, “Oh yes. The moment I decided you might be an asset, I had a stockpile of Praccin brought on board. Now, as I was saying, you are to see no other doctor for either you or your son. Is that clear?”
“We’re on a new planet, what can it hurt if people know?”
Shihs smiled thinly. “Is that clear?”
“Yes.” She didn’t want to know what the unspoken threat of “or else” might be, but she now understood the power of … power. It was like currency. Those who had some, used it and gained more.
Shihs drew in his breath and then nodded at the medic, who exited the office. Shihs then turned to stare out a portal window, speaking to her. “Do you know what I see when I look at the people on this ship? Worker ants. Like Miggs. They work long and hard at what they do. And they do it well. If they fall, they get up and go at it again, as if nothing happened. They can fall a million times and get up a million times. That’s why they’re here: to work.”
He turned and walked around the desk to face her. “Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see a woman desperate enough and determined enough to break seventeen laws just to save her brother. A woman smart enough and talented enough to steal a screaming child right out from under the government’s nose. I see a woman who has enough balls to back-talk the most powerful man on two planets. You’re not a worker ant. You’re something entirely different.
“If you fall, you won’t get up to return to the same thing again, you’ll find out why you fell, fix it and move on to something new. But, I bet you don’t fall down too often. I bet you scratch and kick and scramble to find a way around those dangerous places. I think you can see them before almost anyone else can. You’re like a junkyard dog, watching out for what you love, guarding against all manner of danger. Am I right?”
Avdonina’s face flamed as Shihs stepped closer. Was this some kind of intimidation game? It wouldn’t work with her. She glared right back at him. Quenden pushed at him with his tiny hands; he didn’t want to share his Nana.
Shihs went on. “You changed your identities, broke all those rules, risked everything, because you wanted one thing. You wanted your baby brother safe and by your side. Well, I’ve done that for you. I gave him to you by letting you come with us even though I knew about his ‘condition’.”
He stepped in even closer, close enough she felt the soft puffs of his breath on her face. “Now, what will you give me in return?”
She watched him, now, wary and tired, as he stepped back and looked her up and down. “You have a nice enough body and your face is okay to look at, but I’ve got better looking and better trained, waiting in my bed already. I want something else from you. Something that uses your unique skills.”
He leaned against his desk. “Miggs is important to me. If he’s not happy, he won’t work as well as he should. I frankly don’t think you’re the kind of woman that can make him happy. I’ll arrange for new quarters for you two.”
Avdonina frowned, worried at what his generosity would cost her, but before she could say anything, he continued. “It seems we’re not alone on this planet. Some of the medical team have discovered that a race here contains an adequate amount of intelligence to be a threat to our claim. Your job is to get to know as much about these people as possible. Make friends, if you will.”
Avdonina frowned, but before she could say anything, Shihs continued.
“We thought they were just animals. A few of the boys cooked up a couple, even. Said they tasted like chicken.” He laughed and shook his head.
Then, Shihs stood and ruffled Quenden’s hair. He looked up at Avdonina. “Will you do that for me? In return, I’ll protect you two from any ‘accidents’ that may come your way.”
She nodded. “Yes.” For now.
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If you don’t want to wait to read the whole story, it’s available in “Sunlit Night, Coffee and Sweet Dreams“.