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Authors: Tracy Cooper-Posey

Tags: #Science Fiction Romance

Cat and Company (8 page)

BOOK: Cat and Company
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“I won’t.” Connell grimaced and shifted his legs, recrossing them. “This is the most comfortable spot you could find?”

“Comfort isn’t the point.”

“What is the point?”

“Distraction.”

Connell tilted his head and a thick fringe of hair fell across the corner of his eye. “Distraction from what?”

“From myself.”

* * * * *

Even though she couldn’t hear anything through two walls of steel glass, Catherine could see that there were thousands of people gathered on the big observation deck of the docking bay, watching the
Hana
maneuver to line up with the clamps and drop gracefully down onto the pad. From the way those watching through the glass were gesturing and waving, she suspected they were cheering and calling out.

Her heart squeezed.

“Bedivere isn’t out there, you realize,” Devlin said softly, from behind her.

She swiveled the navigator’s chair around to face him. “I know that.” Devlin meant that Bedivere was not here on Charlton. Except he was. He just wouldn’t be anywhere near the dock. He wouldn’t be here to greet the arrival of the
Hana
.

Devlin tugged his jacket down and straightened his collar. “They’re probably waiting down in the dock by now,” he pointed out. “Shall we?”

Catherine got to her feet. Unlike Devlin, she had not made any effort to dress up or make herself presentable beyond her normal effort. It wasn’t her everyone was here to see, anyway.

Even so, her heart lurched as they stepped out onto the external stairs and a cheer went up from the observation deck. The protective shields had been lowered and now she could hear the crowd just fine.

There was a small group of people waiting a dozen paces inside the big dock doors. Only the man-sized door within the doors was open right now and there were two large men standing there, controlling who entered. They weren’t armed and that pleased Catherine.

Devlin was already heading toward the small welcoming committee. Catherine was forced to follow or be left standing in the middle of the docking bay floor by herself. Everyone else, including Devlin’s personal assistant and the Varkan pilots, were following him.

She caught up with them as they reached the waiting group.

Lilly was standing in front of all of them. She was wearing one of her more outrageously gorgeous outfits, something flowing and long and that made the most of her figure. Her curls were all piled on top of her head and her makeup accentuated her large eyes.

Devlin smiled at her. “Lilly Washmaster, you honor us all with this…welcome.” He glanced up at the observation deck. The noise had intensified as soon as they walked down the stairs and was not letting up at all.

“It is good to have the
Hana Stareach
visit us here in Charlton,” Lilly told him. “Although I would have preferred a quiet conversation in the suite, it wasn’t my choice to make. People have a way of making their own minds up about such things here.”

“I’m starting to remember that,” Devlin told her gravely. “Freedom of choice.”

“Freedom in all things,” Lilly corrected him. “Along with the associated responsibilities.”

“Including the responsibility to figure out how to live, eat and breathe in a free world. Yes. The Varkan philosophy.” He smiled again and this time, his smile seemed even warmer. “It is
good
to be back in the heart of Varkan territory again.”

“Will you be staying with us long, Devlin?” Lilly asked. “Your dock request was open-ended.”

“I have no immediate plans,” Devlin said. “This is the closest to a vacation I and my crew can get away with. Anywhere else, we would be caught up in business in a minute. Here, we can relax among like-minded people. If you don’t mind?”

Lilly’s smile was warm and Catherine wondered if she was the only one to sense the hesitation and doubt behind it. There was a shadow in Lilly’s eyes. The smile, though, looked completely genuine. “Of course you are welcome to stay as long as you want. Charlton will be honored.”

Devlin reached back and caught Catherine’s arm and drew her forward. “I’ve taken up too much of your time and attention already,” he told Lilly. “It’s Catherine’s turn to say hello to her friends.”

* * * * *

“How much do you know about Darzi?” Bedivere asked Connell.

Connell looked down at his hands, resting on his lower legs. “I’ve done some reading. I’d never heard of it until we went looking for you.”

“No one in the core worlds has heard of it. Addictions of any sort are so simple to treat these days that no one really gives them any thought. However, out in the fringe worlds—”

“There are no fringes anymore,” Connell pointed out. “Everyone has free access to the datacore.”

“You and I both know that is only the official truth,” Bedivere said patiently. “The fringes still exist. Not on the unconnected edges of the galaxy, but all around us, sliding beneath and between the civilized and safe worlds. You’ve been there. You found me there.”

Connell studied him. “Dark worlds. Still connected to the core, yet they’re places no one in their right minds would go.”

“High risk worlds. Non-terra. Places where people can shrug off their histories and take new ones. Then there are all the people who don’t mind taking advantage of desperation. They use people who have reasons to hide or escape to further their profits.”

“Like you?” Connell’s pale eyes studied him frankly.

Bedivere sighed. “I don’t know. I still can’t remember why I ended up there. Although I’m starting to understand why I can’t remember.”

“Darzi?”

Bedivere nodded. “It’s a fringe invention. A sedative so addictive that one dose is enough to set up the addiction cycle. I only found that out later, of course. By then it was too late for me. Here, where longevity therapy is so advanced, it might not be such an issue, if you get treatment fast enough. Any sort of therapy beyond the most basic medicine is impossible to find out there.”

“So you stay addicted,” Connell said softly.

“The slow-go makes you not care too much about that. You don’t really care about anything, except when you get your next dose.” Bedivere shrugged.

“You’ve regenerated since then,” Connell pointed out. “You would have left the addiction behind in the old body.”

“The physical addiction, yes. Darzi is psychologically addictive. Powerfully so, because it messes with your memories. All the logic you can use to talk yourself out of taking it…the Darzi interferes with the higher reasoning functions of the brain. It clogs your memories so you don’t recall a better life, or reasons to stop. Everything gets shut down, so that you’re just moving through the current moment, doing whatever it takes to earn your next dose.”

Connell leaned back on his hands, propping himself up. “You’re still addicted…” His voice was rough, uneven.

“If I can recover my memories, that will help. The more I live through my days and create new and normal memories, the weaker the attraction grows.
A
bnormal stress on the other hand, excitement, any of the stronger emotions…the emotions the Darzi muffles to make you not care—those emotions trigger cravings.”

Connell stared at him. Horror was making his jaw sag. He’d lost color. “That’s…hideous,” he breathed. “Why didn’t you tell us this before?”

“It wouldn’t have changed anything,” Bedivere said. “Lilly would still be unhappy with me. You would still not have spoken to me. Brant would still feel moralistically superior. Even more so, perhaps.” Bedivere grimaced. “And Cat would still be gone.”

“We would have been kinder!” Connell cried. “We would have been more understanding. Gentler!” His distress was almost a physical thing, making him shift on the floor.

“You don’t understand,” Bedivere said. “Not yet. All the things you have done. All the anger, the frustration, all the stressors…every time I live through them and
not
give in to the cravings, they make it just a little bit easier to resist the next time.”

“You mean, wanting to beat the crap out of you…that
helps?
” His horror was climbing.

Bedivere threaded his fingers together. He wasn’t surprised to find his hands were shaking. That was usually a sign. “It’s a delicate balance,” he explained. “Some stress, some emotions, just the right amount, that stir the cravings but let me resist them…that helps. It builds my immunity. Too much stress or the wrong sort of emotions and the cravings become unbearable.”

“So you go to sleep when they do?” Connell asked, suddenly putting it together.

“Or meditate. Whatever it takes to disconnect from this body and the physical reactions to emotions.”

“You withdraw to Interspace when you sleep?” Connell asked curiously. “Still?”

“Not for…” He stopped and sighed. “Not when Catherine was sleeping beside me,” he said, making himself say it. “Even now, sleep is an escape.”

“Catherine…” Connell whispered. “She’s arriving here today with him. She’s probably already here. That’s why you’re sitting on this floor, staring at the trees.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to face that yet,” Bedivere told him. “I don’t think I can stand seeing her.”

* * * * *

Lilly surprised Catherine by hugging her. Hard. Then she stepped back and brushed at her dress. Her eyes were glittering as she gave Catherine a small smile. “You’ve been missed,” she said quietly.

Catherine’s gut tightened a little bit tighter. “You, too,” she said honestly. Now she was standing there in front of them, looking at them, she realized the degree to which she really had missed them all.

Brant’s hug was just as warm and just as long. His pale eyes studied her. “We should talk, when you have time,” he said softly.

Her heart lurched. “Yes, we should,” she agreed.

Yennifer didn’t hug her. Hugging wasn’t Yennifer’s style. She was too inhibited for that sort of open expression. Her smile, though, was sweet and genuine. “It is good to have you back in the city,” she said. “You are a positive influence whenever you go.”

Catherine laughed. “That’s not what Lilly and Bedivere think. Trouble follows me wherever I go.”

“I never said trouble,” Lilly protested. “I’ve always said that life is interesting whenever I’m near you.”

“Wars are interesting, too, just not while you’re living through them,” Brant pointed out dryly.

It was the same easy back-and-forth from hundreds of conversations in the past. Catherine’s eyes began to sting with tears. “I really
have
missed you,” she said. She had to force the words out past the constriction in her throat.

She glanced at the rest of the welcoming group. Devlin was talking to the sandy-haired Nichol August. They had been close friends and colleagues when Devlin had lived here, before he had acquired the
Hana Stareach
. There were three other village mayors that she recognized, too, all of them watching Devlin as he spoke softly. Even Devlin’s pilots were gathered around behind him, listening gravely.

“Where is Connell?” she asked Brant. “I thought he would be here to give me hell about what I’m wearing.”

“He…stayed back at the suite,” Lilly said carefully.

With Bedivere, Catherine guessed. Lilly wasn’t going to be the first to say his name, though.

Disappointment touched her. She really had not expected Bedivere to stand there with the welcoming group. She hadn’t expected a welcome like this at all. Yet they were all here and part of her wanted Bedivere to be there, too. It would be like him to defy everything and look her in the eye, daring her to react.

She wanted him to show her he was the same as always, untouched by her absence.

She also refused to be the first to speak his name aloud.

It seemed she didn’t have to, though. Brant, Lilly and even Yennifer seemed to sink into themselves a little, their gazes downcast.

Fright touched her. What was wrong? Something was wrong, but she had given up any right to ask.

Then Lilly stirred, remembering her role and turned back to Devlin. “We would be honored if you could join us for dinner this evening.”

The old first-night tradition. Catherine gritted her teeth together, hiding the rush of warm feelings and sentimentality that came with that thought.
Please say no!
she mentally begged Devlin.

Devlin, though, looked delighted. “That would be absolutely wonderful,” he said. He looked at Brant. “Do you still have the pattern for that brandy you used to drink?”

“Pattern? It’s planet-produced,” Brant assured him. “That’s the difference. And I just happen to have a few bottles and no one to drink it with.”

Devlin squeezed his shoulder. “I can change that,” he said, his voice warm.

* * * * *

Connell shook his head. “I wish you’d told us about this sooner,” he said softly.

Bedivere kept his shaking hands together, fisting them tightly. “Think about it,” he said, his voice low. “Just telling you, explaining this, is hard enough. You think I could have managed it the week after regeneration? Even a month ago?” He grimaced.

Connell sighed. “I suppose the gift in all this is that you can’t get the shit here. You’d have to dive down the hole into the fringes and none of us will ever let you do that again.”

“You couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to,” Bedivere assured him. “I just don’t want to, anymore.”

“You might,” Connell said, his voice very low.

Bedivere shook his head. “No.”

Connell’s clear gaze locked with his. “Yennifer just blocked out Lilly’s and Brant’s and my schedules for tonight. Devlin Woodward is coming to dinner.”

Bedivere sighed. The old first-night dinner thing. He should have remembered that.

Connell leaned forward. “You could rent a room in a village somewhere for the night. Stay away altogether. Don’t put yourself through it.”

“That would be the sensible thing to do,” Bedivere agreed. His heart had leapt at the news and now his gut was fizzing with a low-grade pleasure. Anticipation.

To see her again. Just to look at her….

Did he dare? Could he afford to risk it?

Chapter Eight

Charlton Space City, New Cathay (Ji Xiu Prime), Ji Xiu System, Perseus Arm. FY 10.187

BOOK: Cat and Company
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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