(Second in the Kennings Series; sequel to Picker
of the Slain)
byNene Adams © 2001 -
All rights reserved
(Author's Note: In Old Norse poetry and
sagas, kennings - or metaphorical compound words/phrases - were
used to describe gods, people, animals, places and events in poetic
fashion. Sometimes, the description has a correlation with mythology,
sometimes it's fallen into common usage. "Mouth-Tale of Giants"
is a kenning meaning "Gold.")
The woman walking through the dining room was plump, generous flesh
barely covered by a thin cotton dress. She was Tyvesh, her skin
a faded russet that contrasted beautifully with the deep amber of
her eyes. Silver ankle bangles clashed together with every step.
"What's a Heart of Vashti doing here?" Fey Lonyali muttered through
a mouthful of salad.
"A what?" Amalthea Quint stared at her companion. "Is this a bad
thing requiring flight or fight?"
"No." Fey chuckled, shaking her head. Silver hairbells entwined
in her dark hair chimed softly with the movement. "I'm a Fist of
Vashti, a fighting priest. That one's a Heart, a healing priest."
She glanced around the restaurant. "Hmph. None of the patrons seem
"Maybe she's after a decent dinner." Amalthea picked up her three-pronged
fork and took another bite of spiced steak. Real meat, too, not
the plankton-based substitute favored on Confederation ships. "You
know, I'm glad we decided to take a leave of absence together. After
that business on Ifni, I could use a holiday; gods know the Corps
owes me down time."
"Mmmm... nothing nicer than cruising in luxury." Fey took a bite,
swallowed, and narrowed her lime-green eyes in pleasure. "How much
is this costing, by the way? I don't want to have to kill the maitre'd
to avoid paying our bill."
"It's all taken care of," Amalthea replied smugly. "Praise-to-the-Crescent-Sky
Nym felt guilty for setting us up, so he wrangled first-class accommodations,
all expenses paid. We'll have to disembark when we get to Tyvesh,
but it's worth it. That'll be at least four days." Traveling on
an interstellar cruiser like Hy Brazil wasn't something a
Confederation advocate got to do every day. "Want to see a zero-grav
ballet later? Or there's VR fireworks on the promenade deck."
"Maybe." Fey slid her hand across the table, touching Amalthea's
wrist with her clawed fingertips. Mellow globe-light deepened her
cinnamon skin, highlighted the spiral scars on her cheek. "I'd rather
see the view from our cabin... preferably in a reclining position."
Amalthea's round freckled face was suffused with pink. It seemed
like forever since she'd met the gloriously exotic priest, but in
reality, they'd been together barely a week. In that brief time,
she'd learned that her infatuation with a Ginzan corporal had been
nothing more than a delusion. That heartbreak was soothed by Fey;
each hour she spent with her, Amalthea fell deeper and deeper in
"Pardon me." The strange Tyvesh woman had stopped at their table.
She was looking at Fey. "Please forgive the disturbance of you and
your kajalni. I am Siv Toryali, Second Heart of Vashti."
"Fey Lonyali, First of Fist," Fey replied. "And Lt. Commander Amalthea
Quint of Yggdrasil, an advocate in the Corps."
Amalthea belatedly remembered her manners. "May Vashti's flame
protect and guide you. Will you join us, mem?" She made a
mental note to ask Fey what 'kajalni' meant when they were
Siv brought a hand to her brow, flicking clawed fingertips to show
respect in her homeworld's fashion. "Briefly, yes." Her dark hair
was swirled up in a bun at the top of her head, skewered by gilded
pins - a very different style from Fey's free-hanging locks. She
sat down, the chair's responsive foam molding itself to her ample
contours. "There is a difficulty aboard ship. I hoped you might
be willing to assist."
"What sort of difficulty?" Fey pushed her salad away.
"There has been... hmph." Siv made a face. "I cannot speak of particulars
in a public place. Can we go elsewhere for discussion?"
Amalthea sighed, gazing mournfully at the big slice of steak still
left on her plate. Then she, too, abandoned her dinner. "Perhaps
you can tell us whether the matter is personally connected to you,
or if it's ship's official business."
"I was contracted by Hy Brazil's ownership consortium to
provide healing services on board, therefore I must be familiar
with the medical requirements of all guests. When the... incident
occurred, I recalled there was a First of Fist on the passenger
manifest, and a Corps advocate." Siv gave them both a tight smile.
"Your deductive work on Infi has been the subject of many data-flashes
lately. Solving a murder and preventing damage to an entire civilization...
very impressive! I suggested to Captain Ning that you might be persuaded
"I hate mysteries," Amalthea muttered in Yggdrasilan. Siv showed
no sign of understanding, but Fey's eyes sparkled. She continued
in the Confederation's Universal tongue, "Well, I can't see any
harm in listening to your story."
"Nor can I." Fey dropped her napkin on the table. "Provided it
is understood that we are private citizens on holiday, not
representatives of the Confederation or the Corps."
"So noted." Siv stood, the chair hissing as it returned to a neutral
configuration. "Will you join me on the bridge?"
Amalthea eyed the holo-menu card. She'd been planning on ordering
cardamom-sunspice cream with chocolate sauce. I guess I can always
call room service. Then she thought about Fey's naughty suggestion,
and sighed again. "Let's go before I change my mind."
Fey leaned over to whisper in her ear, "I'll make it up to you
tonight." There was a wealth of wicked promise in her gaze that
made Amalthea's knees feel weak.
Siv put her hands on her hips. "Are you coming to the bridge or
"Can't keep Captain Ning waiting." Amalthea rose to her feet, pulling
Fey up with her. "After you, mem."
Siv led the way to the bridge in a continuous clash of ankle bangles.
Fey's hairbells provided a chiming counterpoint. The ship's corridors
were lushly decorated. Epiphyte moss carpet released a spicy odor
as it was crushed underfoot; vines cascaded down the walls, giving
way to water sculptures and neon holo-paintings. When they reached
the bridge, Amalthea was relieved to see it was spare, plain and
business-like, resembling a Confederation vessel's ops center. Gaudily
uniformed personnel manned various consoles and displays.
Captain Pangalor Ning was a Muradeen male; his facial scales gleamed
blue-green, but his skull was smooth, not covered with cranial spikes
like a female of his race. Chameleon-like eyes swiveled independently
in their protrubent sockets. "This person greets you in gratitude
for your swift response." It wasn't clear who he was addressing;
his left eye jerked between Fey and Amalthea, while his right focused
on Siv. That was one thing that irritated Amalthea; the other was
the Muradeen habit of referring to themselves in the third person.
"How may we assist you?" Fey asked. "Siv Toryali was hesitant about
"Hy Brazil is host to the Duchess of Banjul, a very important,
very wealthy personage." Captain Ning looked a little pale. "Her
mate is a High Counselor with much political influence." He stopped
speaking, searching for a way to explain the situation in Universal
- a deplorably unreliable language, as far as Muradeen were concerned
- without taxing the women's patience. His own tongue was much more
concise and efficient. "Duchess Sweet-in-the-Morning has many valuable
jewels, including the hereditary ducal tiara. These jewels were
stored for safe-keeping in the purser's office. They have been stolen."
Amalthea ran a hand through her short-cropped, butter yellow hair.
"Well, unless you're missing escape pods or ship-to-shore transport
vehicles, your thief must still be on board. Why don't you have
your security personnel search passengers and their cabins? That'll
be a good start. If you don't uncover the thief, start tearing the
place apart. You'll find the jewels eventually."
"This person is forbidden by the ownership consortium to take any
action that will compromise the comfort and safety of our guests."
Ning rattled this off by rote. "Discretion and caution must be exercised
to the fullest extreme."
"In other words, there are a lot of heavy juju sophonts cruising
on Hy Brazil, and the owners are scared to upset the money
flow." Amalthea snorted. "Typical. So what do you want us to do
"It was this person's hope that you and mem Lonyali might
condescend to examine the crime scene. Perhaps a clue will be discovered
that points to the thief's identity. Your work on Ifni is well known,
and the ship's security personnel have no expertise in matters of
this kind. Theft has never before occurred on this person's watch."
Ning's wandering gaze settled on Siv.
The Heart priest spread her hands apart. "I, too, am bound by the
consortium's orders, but we hope to have this issue resolved within
"And do you also want us to teach a pig to sing?" Fey scoffed.
"You have our sympathy, but don't expect miracles."
"Your pardon," Siv replied, her amber eyes hooded. "In six hours,
Duchess Sweet will attend a midnight ball. She knows about the theft,
and is extremely distressed. An ultimatum has been issued. If her
jewels are returned by the time the ball opens, she will do nothing.
If they are not, she'll institute legal proceedings against the
consortium, Captain Ning and the entire crew, even if her property
is later recovered. There will be a great scandal. Duchess Sweet
is a powerful woman whose resentment will mean ruin for all of us."
"And it doesn't help that the owners have tied your hands." Amalthea
bit her lip, considering. She glanced at Fey; her lover nodded in
agreement. "All right. We'll help, provided we can reach agreement
on a few points."
"This person is regrettably unable to sanction any action which
contravenes the ownership's wishes."
"I understand that. Will you set the ship's AI to record?"
"Done." Captain Ning issued the order and stood waiting.
"First, we require your authority to question ship's crew as we
see fit. Second, Fey Lonyali and I are private citizens acting as
amicus inquisitorus at your request. I'll upload a contract
to your AI which indemnifies us against being held responsible for
the outcome of the investigation, whether successful or not. I want
the Duchess' personal guarantee. Last, I want complete access to
the scene, all reports, personnel files, passenger manifest - in
short, every scrap of data, relevant or not."
"This person agrees to your conditions. Will you permit mem
Siv to show you the crime scene while this person informs Duchess
Sweet? A copy of the signed contract will be logged in ship's permanent
records, which you may access at any convenient time."
"Once an advocate, always an advocate," Fey murmured, while Amalthea
subvocalized instructions to Hy Brazil's AI via her implant.
She turned to Siv. "Where is the purser's office?"
"On Deck Nine, sub-corridor D."
"Sails filled with the breath of Vashti, our journey begins well,"
Fey quoted from the Book of Vashti.
Siv tapped her foot, causing ankle bracelets to clash together
loudly. She countered with a quote of her own, "Speech is silver,
deeds are gold."
"Then let's not waste any more time. Coming, Mal?" Fey followed
Siv off the bridge. Amalthea finished her uploading and hastened
to catch up.
Sub-Corridor D, Deck Nine was not far away from the bridge, and
also within easy access of the deluxe suites occupied by those of
rare fortune and influence. Duchess Sweet-in-the-Morning's rooms
were only one level above. The door to the purser's office was open.
It was solid, with only a small translucent panel set in the front.
"Can anyone enter at will?" Amalthea asked.
Siv indicated a control panel to the left of the door. "From the
outside, a retinal scan, fingerprint and DNA analysis, plus two
passcodes are required to open the door. Codes are changed every
day. Only our captain, first officer and purser have authorized
access. Additionally, a laser sensor keeps track of how many people
enter and leave. If one wishes to deposit or retrieve an item, they
use the doorchime. If he's inside, the purser checks through the
window, to see if he recognizes the guest before opening the door."
"No." Siv shrugged her plump shoulders. "Strict confidentiality
has to be observed. If guests cannot trust that their private business
remains so, they'll choose another cruise liner."
Fey tapped her cheek scars thoughtfully. "You're a healer," she
said. "How did you come to be involved in the matter?"
"The purser - Samozel Dix - didn't report for dinner at his usual
time. I often dined with him in the crew canteen." Siv picked at
a loose thread on her dress. "When I received no word and was unable
to hail him on the com, I informed Captain Ning. He attempted to
make contact, was unsuccessful, and the AI log showed Samozel was
still in the office. Ning opened the door. Samozel was unconscious.
He's in sickbay now."
"Was he attacked?"
"He was." Siv's russet complexion deepened to a more scarlet hue.
Her eyes flashed angrily. "Someone used an aerosol anesthetic called
Lethe. It doesn't render the patient unconscious; it alters brain
chemistry and disables short-term memory, so that any sensory input
is immediately forgotten. Lethe isn't used much anymore because
the side-effects include temporary loss of most stored memories.
Samozel won't be able to tell us what happened, nor does he recall
anything after eating breakfast with me this morning. It will be
at least a week before he recovers completely."
Amalthea thought that Siv's feelings for Samozel Dix were much
stronger than she was revealing. The Yggdrasilan raised an eyebrow
at Fey, who confirmed her suspicions with a nod.
Siv continued, "According to the AI log which monitors the laser
sensors, Samozel was alone when he was attacked. He had been with
someone shortly before, but they left."
"And we have no way of knowing who that someone might be." Amalthea
peered at the doorframe. The two tiny laser emitters were intact
and showed no signs of tampering. They were about six inches apart
in the center, facing each other. "Was a can of Lethe found inside
the room?" She didn't think there was anything wrong with the question,
but Siv's reaction was immediate and explosive.
"How dare you accuse Samozel! He is innocent!" Siv turned to Fey
and poured out a spate of aggrieved Tyvesh. Amalthea didn't know
much of the language yet, but it sounded like verbal razor blades.
"Approximately translated as 'no,'" Fey eventually got in, when
the Heart priest ran out of breath. "No Lethe was found, nor has
it turned up in the recycler bin. Whoever used it must still have
"Fine, fine," Amalthea flapped her hands. "I meant no offense,
mem Toryali, and I'm not accusing anyone. If we don't find
the jewels, the authorities will be notified as soon as we reach
Tyvesh. Believe me, they'll consider ser Dix the #1 suspect,
and their questions will be a lot more awkward than mine. Losing
your temper won't help him."
Siv had the grace to look abashed. "I apologize. It's just that...
I'm very fond of Samozel. I would hate for him to be falsely accused."
She smoothed back a stray lock of hair. "Before you ask, it is not
possible for an individual to spray himself with Lethe and still
be capable of disposing of the evidence. A second after inhalation,
and he won't even remember he has a can in his hand, nor
will he recall what it is or what it's used for from one moment
to the next."
"Fair enough. Do you mind if we go inside the office?"
Amalthea went through the door. She was wearing low-heeled shoes
with her tunic and trousers, but Fey was barefoot. The Fist claimed
to love the feel of moss carpet scrunching between her toes. Fey
took a step inside, jumped, and let out a pungent exclamation.
"Gods of my fathers, what is it?" Amalthea knelt down and grabbed
Fey's foot, turning it so she could examine the bottom. There was
a sliver of glass in her heel.
"How often are the carpets cleaned?" Amalthea asked, gently easing
the sliver out. Siv got down on her knees and took over, elbowing
the taller Yggdrasilan out of her way. Fey stayed still while the
healer manipulated the small wound so that it bled freely. Siv answered
Amalthea's question while she worked. "General maintenance occurs
once every eight hours, but nanites and cleaner 'bots work shipwide
on a continuous cycle."
"When are the 'bots scheduled to clean this office?"
Siv looked up from her work. "In two hours, I believe. You'd have
to check the duty logs."
Amalthea got up, staring at the shard in her palm. It was thin,
slightly curved and mirrored on one side. She couldn't imagine where
it had come from.
Fey tried to lean over, the better to see the article her lover
was holding, and almost fell over. Siv hissed, "Stay still!" Amalthea
took pity and held the sliver up between thumb and forefinger, so
that it caught the light and sparkled.
"None whatsoever." Fey grimaced. "Are you trying to remove my heel
with a dull knife?" she asked the healer. "It's a tiny cut, for
"I needed to be sure it was clean." Siv let go of Fey's foot and
stood up. "I can put a skin-seal over it. You'll have to come to
"Unnecessary, but I thank you for your trouble." Fey stood up straight,
glancing around curiously. "Where are the valuables stored?"
"Here." Siv pointed to a bank of metal storage boxes attached to
the wall. Only one of them was open. The door faces were blank except
for stamped numerals. Amalthea frowned and said, "No sign of forced
entry. The thief not only knew which box the Duchess' jewelry was
in, but also had the code to get into it."
"That indicates foreknowledge," Fey said.
"Or they were able to access the purser's files." Amalthea went
over to the sole piece of furniture in the room - a desk with attached
chairs. It ran the full length of the back wall. There was a wafer-thin
computer screen connected to a pair of data-gloves on top of the
desk. The screen was blank.
"Ship's records are protected by AAA+ encryption software, military
version run by AI. Very secure." Siv began picking at her dress
again. "Do you have further questions? I'd like to see Samozel."
"Go ahead. We'll call you if we need you." Amalthea watched the
Heart priest leave, and put the piece of glass into her hip pouch.
"Okay, let's reconstruct the crime. Our thief somehow gets past
all that security and comes into the room. He sprays Dix with Lethe,
breaks the encryption software and picks Duchess Sweet's jewelry
as his target. He takes the code, opens the box, and carries away
his prize. Or he already knows the box number and the code. All
he has to do is secrete the jewels, wait until we reach Tyvesh,
walk off the ship without being suspected, and hop another interstellar
transport. That's a whole lot of speculation."
"Problem - how can he avoid detection? When we reach Tyvesh, the
authorities have the power to detain this ship's guests and do a
complete inch-by-inch search. You can be sure that with Duchess
Sweet applying pressure, the owners won't be able to protect their
clientele. So how can our thief possibly get away with it?"
"There is another explanation."
"I knew you were going to say that. I'd already thought about it
"Samozel Dix knows which box belongs to whom, and what the contents
are. He decides to steal a fortune in jewels." Fey began prowling
around the room. "Dix waits until he's alone. He opens the box,
hides the jewels somewhere, and sprays himself with Lethe to provide
"Problem - no aerosol can. You heard mem Toryali."
"She could have been working with him. She was present when Captain
Ning opened the door. Siv could have picked up the Lethe and hidden
"Hmph. It's plausible."
"What is?" The question came from an unfamiliar voice. Amalthea
turned to see a thin, richly clad woman standing in the corridor
outside the office. She was albino pale, her hair silver-white,
eyes concealed behind big mirror glass spectacles. Her face was
wet with tears, which she wiped carefully with a cloth.
"Who the hayel are you?" Amalthea blurted impolitely.
"Cardiwen of Zvartholm. I'm in the Duchess of Banjul's employ as
a fourth Wardrobe Mistress, in charge of her jewelry collection."
Cardiwen glided into the room, the long skirts of her gem-dusted
gown rustling. "If you are the investigators employed by Captain
Ning, my lady wishes to see you immediately."
Fey had no experience with Zvartholmers, but she had read a little
on the subject. That world's axis was tilted oddly, creating areas
of near perpetual darkness and perpetual daylight, except for a
thin zone around the equator. The population lived in every zone,
requiring gene-tailoring to deal with the extremes. Cardiwen, with
her deathly pallor and shielded eyes, had to be a twilighter. Normal
light would have seriously damaged her vision. Fey didn't know the
proper greeting forms, so she stuck with neutral body language.
"I think we're finished here for now," Amalthea replied. "I'm Amalthea
Quint. This is Fey Lonyali."
"Are you in distress?" Fey wondered why the woman was crying.
"A pollen allergy," Cardiwen answered with an apologetic smile.
"A minor nuisance, not life threatening."
"Perhaps you should seek Siv Toryali, the ship's healer. Are you
sure you're not being affected by light leakage? That could be dangerous."
"No, mem. Just an allergy." Cardiwen dabbed more wetness
away and curtsied, sinking down in a billow of sparkling satin.
"If you would be so kind..." she murmured, a hint that the Duchess
They were taken to Duchess Sweet's suite, which was big enough
to house a lap pool, separate apartments for her servants, a gourmet
kitchen, and a spectacular view of the stars. There were no flowers;
instead, huge vases held dried foliage from poisonous plants, each
leaf sealed in thin plastic.
The Duchess was dressed as flamboyantly as most Banjul'ee, covered
from neck to knees by a series of meandering ribbons in violent
colors, with plenty of well-fed flesh on display. Amalthea thought
numbly that one could have hidden a regiment in the Duchess' ample
cleavage. The woman's red-tinged hair was a corkscrew explosion;
her hands were covered in precious dragon-scale gloves. Every gesture
caught the light and shattered it into garnet-black splinters.
"There you are!" Duchess Sweet trilled. "Well? Have you found my
"Not in the last ten minutes, mem," Fey said, making the
elaborate salutation necessary for Banjul'ee custom. Amalthea followed
suit. Neither got the chance to inquire after the woman's House,
offspring or marriage partner, which was normally part of the customary
The Duchess' dark eyes narrowed. "Do you know who I am, you impertinent
sophonts?" She proceeded to tell them in detail, listing her genealogy
back to the founding colonists of Banjul, and detailing her husband's
wealth and accomplishments. Amalthea quickly tired of impassioned
speech; glancing around, she saw Cardiwen standing to one side,
While Fey attempted to soothe the Duchess' ruffled feelings, Amalthea
went to the Zvartholmer. "Do you wear those all the time?" she asked,
nodding to the spectacles.
"Oh, yes," Cardiwen replied, "I'm a twilighter. Without them, I'd
be blind." A tear slowly trickled down her cheek; she wiped it away
"You could have surgery. Nikkon has an excellent range of artificial
optics that are better than the real thing."
"No, I'll be leaving the Duchess' service soon and returning home."
Mirrored lenses flashed as she turned her head towards Amalthea.
"Thank you for your concern, mem."
"Are you listening to me?" Duchess Sweet exclaimed. "I'm not used
to being ignored!"
Amalthea hastily bowed to the Banjul'ee, using profound inferior-to-superior
mode. She squashed the urge to make a sarcastic reply. "Beg pardon,
mem. You wished to know how our investigation is progressing?"
"I warned Captain Ning. I will not attend the ball without
my ducal tiara." Duchess Sweet-in-the-Morning folded her arms across
her chest - no easy feat. "That tiara is the symbol of my hereditary
authority. Frankly, I'm appalled at the level of irresponsibility,
unprofessionalism and lack of security on a vessel that was rated
five-supernovas in Virtual Baedeker's. Hah! If my property isn't
returned, I'll make sure Hy Brazil doesn't even rate a half
"So we were given to understand," Fey said in her most unctuous
diplomatic tone. Only Amalthea was in a position to see the amused
glitter in her eyes. "In fact, mem - and please understand
that I tell you this in the strictest confidence - it seems we are
very close to exposing the thief."
Amalthea was surprised, but hid it well. Duchess Sweet's eyebrows
rose nearly to her hairline. "Oh? And why haven't I been informed?"
"We are still perplexed by the lack of a single clue." As Fey explained
the 'Samozel Dix is guilty' hypothesis they'd been discussing (leaving
out Siv Toryali's possible assistance), Amalthea suddenly understood
her lover's motive. Gods of my fathers, she thinks she knows
who did it... and so do I.
She touched her hip pouch, careful not to cut herself on the glass
shard they had found. Yes, we're taking a fekkit great
chance doing it this way, but as we say on Yggdrasil, 'risk not,
gain nothing.' That reminded her of another Yggdrasilan proverb:
'He who digs a grave for others, falls into it.' Amalthea hoped
that she and Fey weren't making a terrible mistake.
"...but how did the purser spray himself with Lethe and then dispose
of the aerosol can?" Fey concluded. "If only we could find this
"Have you searched his office?" Duchess Sweet huffed.
"We had only just begun before we received your kind invitation,"
Fey said. "The ship's security personnel are unfamiliar with criminal
investigation procedures, so Captain Ning left the matter to us.
I can say no more, alas. I fear we are overdue for an interview
in sickbay with the suspect, but rest assured, we will make
a thorough search of Samozel Dix's office." The Tyvesh priest put
a hand to her brow and contrived to act sorrowful. "It will be difficult,
tearing ourselves from your charming company, but catching the miscreant
and retrieving your jewels must be our priority."
Don't overdo it, by Odin! Amalthea was appalled by Fey's
theatrical dramatics, but the Duchess was mollified. She patted
her corkscrew curls and simpered, "Such a well-spoken sophont! I
confess I was wrong about you. One should never judge inferiors
when one is in a temper. Things haven't be going right for ages!"
She shot Cardiwen a glare. "I wish you'd stop dripping and get some
medicine for that allergy. You've been crying since before the theft
and my nerves are in pieces!"
"I'm sorry, mem." Cardiwen tried to wipe her streaming cheeks
Duchess Sweet made a face. "It's so hard to get decent help these
days." She continued more graciously to Fey, "Should your mission
be successful, you have permission to enter my presence and return
the tiara personally."
"Such a magnificent boon! We are overwhelmed by your generosity,
mem." Fey fluttered her lashes as if overcome by emotion.
Amalthea thought her partner was laying it on a bit too thickly.
"Ah, please forgive us, Duchess. We really must be going." Without
giving Fey an opportunity for more kak shoveling, she grabbed
the priest's arm and escorted her out of the suite.
"Odin's Empty Eye!" Amalthea swore when they were safely in the
corridor. "Okay, I'm pretty sure I know why you did it, but aren't
you afraid our thief might get suspicious?"
"Perhaps." Fey leaned against the taller woman for a moment. "I"m
sorry that I didn't have time to tell you my plan. It came to me
in a rush."
Amalthea hugged her. "I don't mind being put on the spot, even
if it's a potentially disastrous one. What's our next move?"
"To the purser's office. Can you contact Siv Toryali on that implant
of yours?" Her clawed fingertips delicately touched an area on Amalthea's
jaw, just in front of her ear. "She knows the medical requirements
of everyone on board."
"Not a problem. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Fey smiled, which made her cheek scars disappear. She quoted from
the Book of Vashti, "A flame cannot hide in the shadows, nor can
darkness conceal itself in day," and disentangled herself from Amalthea's
"Right. I'll question Siv while we're walking." Amalthea kissed
her lover's mouth. "No matter how it turns out, we'll stand together."
"Just as long as we don't have to grovel to Duchess Sweet-in-the-Morning
again." Fey wrinkled her nose. "That woman's fashion sense is terrible!"
Amalthea laughed, gave Fey another hug, and led the way to the
lift. "What do you want me to ask Siv?"
"Ask her about Zvartholmer allergies, and duplicate eyeshades."
"I knew you were going to say that."
The thief walked boldly to the purser's office, tightly clutching
a can of Lethe. There was no need to hide; the thief knew that there
was no surveillance here, and the investigators were in sickbay.
This wasn't part of the original plan. That had not required
a scapegoat to take blame for the crime, but the opportunity was
too good to resist. Some of the globe lights were out, but 'bots
were doing maintenance - it happened sometimes.
Suddenly, Amalthea darted out of the shadows and hit the thief's
hand. The can dropped to the carpet with a soft thud. Amalthea put
her foot on it, while Fey snatched off the pair of mirrored spectacles
on the thief's face.
Cardiwen did not scream, nor did she try to shield her eyes when
Captain Ning reactivated the globe lights. He had a sour expression
on his scaly face. "Busted eggs and scrambled yolks!" he hissed.
Fey flinched; she had never heard a Muradeen use such a strong obscenity
The Zvartholmer's sensitive eyes were protected by dark contact
Ning recovered his composure. "How did you know?" he asked, pointing
at Cardiwen. She put her chin up and stared at him defiantly. Tears
spilled over and ran down her cheeks - not of remorse, but a sign
that the lenses were extremely irritating.
"We weren't sure, to be honest," Amalthea said. "Fey and I both
thought Cardiwen might be responsible for the crime. We set up a
trap by telling the Duchess about the missing Lethe, hoping it might
lure the thief back here."
"A plausible alibi, if it wasn't for this." Fey held up
the glass shard she had stepped on earlier. "Do you recognize it,
"I... I don't have to say anything," Cardiwen muttered.
"That's your right, of course." Amalthea turned to Captain Ning.
"Fey got the idea that Cardiwen was responsible after connecting
her spectacles to the piece of glass found in the office. These
spectacles aren't damaged, but she's got several other pairs plus
those lenses. Siv Toryali confirmed that the items are listed in
her medical log. There's also another pair in sickbay, just in case."
"No Zvartholmer with common sense would risk being blinded. They
always carry spare protection." Fey took up the explanation. "I
wasn't sure about the lenses, though. My theory had to be tested."
"Here's how it happened. Samozel Dix knew Cardiwen by sight - she's
a Wardrobe Mistress, and responsible for the jewels. She already
knew the passcodes. He wouldn't have questioned her presence. She
sprays him with Lethe as soon as he opens the door, walks in, opens
the box and walks out with the jewels. Since she's part of Duchess
Sweet's entourage, all she has to do is conceal the goods until
we reach Tyvesh. Cardiwen could leave the ship unscathed, maybe
by making an excuse about arrangements for the Duchess." Amalthea
gave the silent Zvartholmer a tight smile. "My curiosity will be
satisfied when you make your confession."
Ning blurted something in Muradeen song-speech. To Amalthea's ears,
it sounded like a melody written for tuba and bass saxophone. He
switched to Uni. "Not possible. There are laser counters that record
each entry and exit. Samozel Dix was alone at the time of the theft.
That is proven."
"A clever deception. If you'll permit me?" Fey took the spectacles
over to the door. She applied pressure to the thin nosepiece, and
the device snapped in half. "Each time the beams are broken, Hy
Brazil's AI makes a record. However..." Fey swiftly but carefully
slid mirrored lenses in front of each laser emitter, entered the
room, and pulled them away again. "By reflecting a beam back at
itself, the AI is fooled into believing it remains intact. No record
is made. Cardiwen did this both times to conceal her entry and exit.
Very simple but very effective. She made a single mistake; one of
the lenses cracked as she was leaving - perhaps it struck it against
the frame - and she failed to notice the splinter left behind."
"Those long skirts can hide a multitude of sins," Amalthea said
to Cardiwen. "I wonder..."
The Zvartholmer stumbled backwards. "You can't search me!" she
cried shrilly. "I'm a personal servant of the Duchess of Banjul!"
"She's not an official envoy, so Duchess Sweet's legal status doesn't
include diplomatic immunity for herself or her servants." Amalthea
reached for a handful of rustling satin gown. Fey stepped behind
Cardiwen and forced her to stand still. Amalthea flipped up the
gem-dusted skirt, to reveal a pair of cloth sacks hanging on either
side of the woman's pale legs.
"Looks pretty heavy to me. Unless you've got a gravity deficiency,
I'll bet those contain the stolen jewels." Amalthea unhooked the
sacks and gave them to Captain Ning.
He opened one, let out a two-toned whistle, and showed them the
contents. Necklaces, bracelets, rings - valuable ornaments of every
description were piled together. The ducal tiara was on top; it
was an ornate gold monstrosity that resembled a pierced cooking
pot without a handle.
Fey shook her head, hairbells chiming. "Clever of you to keep them
on your person," she said to Cardiwen. "Too bad your intelligence
didn't extend to pursuing a less criminal line of work."
"What if I'd taken out my lenses? You could have blinded me with
that ploy," the Zvartholmer replied.
"I admit it was a dangerous assumption," Fey answered, "but you
said you had a pollen allergy. There aren't any flowers in public
places on board, and none in the Duchess' suite. Your tears were
caused by irritation from the lenses. As long as you were crying,
I felt fairly certain that your eyesight was protected. Captain,
I suggest you check Cardiwen's room as well as the recycler bin
for a pair of damaged spectacles."
Cardiwen's silver-white hair was limp with sweat. "I've worked
for that ungrateful snob for years," she sobbed. "That gold is fair
payment for all the insults she's given me, all the kak I
had to put up with! She's rich, she can afford more jewelry. I just
wanted to go home!"
"I sympathize," Amalthea said, "but if I were you, I'd save it
for the judge." She sighed and tried to catch Ning's wandering eyes.
"Can I please go back to my dinner now?"
"This person is grateful," Ning said. "Will you delay your nutrient
ingestion long enough to return the Duchess' property to her?"
"Absolutely not." Fey gave Cardiwen a push that sent her reeling
into the captain's arms. "Let your security people deal with it.
We have more important matters to attend to. A feast of love, as
Amalthea grinned. "I knew you were going to say that."
"Mmm-hmm. A veritable banquet of delights."
"I'm working up quite an appetite myself."
Fey's lime-green eyes were incandescently bright. "Insatiable,
"I'm always hungry for..." Amalthea's voice trailed off. She whispered
in her partner's ear. Fey began to giggle.
Captain Ning looked at both women as they walked away. He had a
feeling that they weren't talking about food.
Held motionless in the Muradeen's arms, Cardiwen began to cry in
Later, Amalthea requested an update via her implant. She listened
to the messages, rolled over in bed and reached for a plate on the
side table. "Poached white peaches in spice meringue with warm Xipitec
chokla sauce. Want some?"
Fey grimaced. "No, since I've been to Xipitec and know exactly
where chokla sauce comes from."
"Don't tell me. I'm enjoying the taste too much, and I don't care
if it comes out of a bug's butt."
"Okay, I won't tell you."
Amalthea's blue eyes were brimming with suspicion. "It does
come out of a bug's butt, doesn't it?"
"You said you didn't want to know." Fey shrieked when Amalthea
flicked the spoon, splattering sauce on her bare breasts. "I saw
you subvocalizing, by the way." She wiped the chokla off
with a corner of the sheet. "Any news?"
"Cardiwen has been locked in her room, pending our arrival on Tyvesh;
she's under house arrest. The Duchess is telling anyone who'll listen
about her harrowing ordeal - but we're being given credit for saving
the day. Hy Brazil's ownership consortium had an emergency
meeting and decided to hire us to head their security team. I refused
for both of us. And Captain Ning has extended an invitation to fly
free anytime, first class."
"What about Siv Toryali?"
"Ah, yes. Siv says 'thank you' for exonerating her beloved purser.
She wants us to attend the wedding next year."
"How wonderful!" Fey sat up. "I hope Samozel Dix recovers fully.
He'll need all his stamina for a Tyvesh wedding. The celebrations
last for a full month."
Amalthea put aside her dessert. She had just recalled something.
"Hey, what's a kajalni?"
"That's what Siv said when she came to our table in the dining
room. She called me your kajalni."
"Oh. It's a Tyvesh word. It means, 'spirit-flame.' It's our word
for someone who has a close relationship with another."
"Like a lover?"
Amalthea stared at Fey for a long moment. "You missed a bit of
sauce," she said casually, but her heart was singing. She loved
Fey so much...
The priest's long eyelashes fluttered. "Are you still hungry?"
Her body arched towards Amalthea in naked invitation.
"Come here, my kajalni." Amalthea's arm swept out and gathered
They kissed and kissed again.
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