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Authors: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller,Steve Miller

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Changeling

BOOK: Changeling
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CHANGELING

Adventures in the Liaden
Universe
®

Number Six

 

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

 

Pinbeam Books

http://www.pinbeambooks.com

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters
and events portrayed in this novel are fiction or are used
fictitiously.

 

 

CHANGELING

 

Copyright
©
2000, 2001, 2011
by
Sharon Lee
and
Steve Miller
. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.
Please remember that distributing an author's work without
permission or payment is theft; and that the authors whose works
sell best are those most likely to let us publish more of their
works.

First published in May 2001 by SRM,
Publisher.

 

ISBN:

Kindle: 978-1-935224-63-1

Epub: 978-1-935224-64-8

PDF: 978-1-935224-65-5

 

Published May 2011 by

Pinbeam Books

PO Box 707

Waterville ME 04903

email [email protected]

 

Cover Copyright
©
2011 by Steve
Miller

Cover design by Steve Miller

 

CHANGELING

Smashwords Edition

 

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Miller, and Sharon Lee and Steve Miller at Smashwords

 

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Changeling

 

THE FIRST THING THEY told him when he emerged
from the catastrophic healing unit was that his wife had died in
the accident.

The second thing they told him was that her
Clan was pursuing retribution to the fullest extent of the
Code.

They left him alone, then, the med techs,
with instructions to eat and rest. The door slid closed behind them
with the snap of a lock engaging.

Out of a habit of obedience, he walked over
to the table and lifted the cover from the tray. The aroma of
glys-blossom tea rose to greet him and he dropped the cover, tears
rising.

He had not known his wife well, but she had
been pretty and bold and full of fun--one found it inconceivable,
newly healed from one's own injuries and with the scent of her
preferred blend in the air, that she was--that she was--

Dead.

The tears spilled over, blinding him. He
raised his hands to cover his face and wept where he stood.

His name was Ren Zel dea'Judan, Clan Obrelt.
He was twenty-one Standard years old and the hope of all his
kin.

* * *

THEY WERE SHOPKEEPERS, Clan Obrelt. It
scarcely mattered what sort of shop, as long as it wanted keeping.
In the hundreds of years since the first dea'Judan took up the
trade, Obrelt had kept flower shops, sweet shops, hardware shops,
book shops, wine shops, green groceries and shops too odd to
mention. The shops they kept were never their own, but belonged to
other, wealthier, Clans who lacked Obrelt's genius for
management.

Having found a trade that suited them, Obrelt
was not minded to change. They settled down to the work with a will
and achieved a certain reputation. Eventually, it came to be Obrelt
managers that the High Clans sought to manage the stores the High
Clans owned. In the way of commerce, the price that Obrelt might
ask of Clans desirous of employing their shopkeepers rose. The
House became--not wealthy, not in any Liaden terms--but comfortably
well-off. Perhaps not nearly so well-off by the standard of the far
homeworld, Liad itself; but comfortable enough by the easy measure
of outworld Casia.

A Clan of shopkeepers, they married and begat
more shopkeepers, though the occasional accountant, or librarian,
or Healer was born. These changelings puzzled the Clan elders when
they appeared, but honor and kin-duty were served and each was
trained to that which he suited, to the increase and best advantage
of the Clan.

Into Clan Obrelt, then, in the last relumma
of the year called Mitra, a boychild was born. He was called Ren
Zel, after the grandfather who had first taken employ in a shop and
thus found the Clan its destiny, and he was a normal enough child
of the House, at first, second and third counting.

He was quick with his numbers, which pleased
Aunt Chane, and had a tidy, quiet way about him, which Uncle Arn
Eld noted and approved. No relative was fond enough to proclaim him
a beauty, though all allowed him to be neatly made and of good
countenance. His hair and eyes were brown; his skin a rich,
unblemished gold.

As befit a House in comfortable circumstance,
Obrelt was wealthy in children. Ren Zel, quiet and tidy, was
invisible amid the gaggle of his cousins. His three elder sisters
remembered, sometimes, to pet him, or to scold him, or to tease
him. When they noticed him at all, the adults found him respectful,
current in his studies, and demure--everything that one might
expect and value in the child of a shopkeeper who was destined,
himself, one day to keep shop.

It was Aunt Chane who first suspected, in the
relumma he turned twelve, that Ren Zel was perhaps destined to be
something other than a shopkeeper. It was she who gained the Delm's
permission to take him down to Pilot's Hall in Casiaport. There, he
sat with his hands demurely folded while a lady not of his Clan
tossed calculations at him, desiring him merely to give the answer
that came into his head.

That was a little frightening at first, for
Aunt Chane had taught him to always check his numbers on the
computer, no matter how certain he was, and he didn't like to be
wrong in front of a stranger and perhaps bring shame to his House.
The lady's first calculations were easy, though, and he answered
nearly without thinking. The quicker he answered, the quicker the
lady threw the next question, until Ren Zel was tipped forward in
his chair, face animated, brown eyes blazing in a way that had
nothing tidy or quiet about it. He was disappointed when the lady
held up her hand to show she had no more questions to ask.

Also that day, he played catch with a very
odd ball that never quite would travel where one threw it--at
least, it didn't the first few times Ren Zel tried. On his fourth
try, he suddenly understood that this was only another iteration of
the calculations the lady had tossed at him, and after that the
ball went where he meant it to go.

After the ball, he was asked to answer timed
questions at the computer, then he was taken back to his aunt.

She looked down at him and there was
something ... odd about her eyes, which made him think that perhaps
he should have asked the lady's grace to check his numbers, after
all.

"Did I do well, Aunt?" he blurted, and Aunt
Chane sighed.

"Well?" she repeated, reaching to take his
hand and turning toward the door. "It's the Delm who will decide
that for us, youngling."

Obrelt Himself, informed in private of the
outcome of the tests, was frankly appalled.

"Pilot? Are they certain?"

"Not only certain, but--enthusiastic," Chane
replied. "The Master Pilot allows me to know that our Ren Zel is
more than a step out of the common way, in her experience of
pilot-candidates."

"Pilot," the Delm moaned and went over to the
table to pour himself a second glass of wine. "Obrelt has never
bred a pilot."

Chane pointed out, dryly, that it appeared
they had, in this instance, bred what might be trained into a very
fine pilot, indeed. To the eventual increase of the Clan.

That caught Obrelt's ear,
as she had known it would, and he brightened briefly, then moved a
hand in negation. "All very well to say the
eventual
increase! In the near while,
have you any notion how much it costs to train a pilot?"

As it happened, Chane did, having taken care
to possess herself of information she knew would lie near to
Obrelt's concern.

"Twenty-four cantra, over the course of four
years, apprentice fees for two years more, plus licensing
fees."

Obrelt glared at her. "You say that so
calmly. Tell me, sister, shall I beggar the Clan to educate one
child? I allow him to be extraordinary, as he has managed to become
your favorite, though we have prettier, livelier children among
us."

"None of whom is Ren Zel," Chane returned
tartly. She sighed then and grudgingly showed her lead card. "A
first class pilot may easily earn eight cantra the Standard, on
contract."

Obrelt choked on his wine.

"They say the boy will achieve first class?"
he managed a few moments later, his voice breathless and thin.

"They say it is
not impossible
for the
boy to achieve first class," she replied. "However, even a second
class pilot may earn five cantra the Standard."

"'May'," repeated Obrelt.

"If he brings the Clan four cantra the
Standard, he will pay back his education right speedily," Chane
said. Observing that her brother wavered, she played her trump.

"The Pilot's Guild will loan us his first two
year's tuition and fees, interest-free, until he begins to earn
wages. If he achieves first class, they will write paid to the
loan."

Obrelt blinked. "As desirous of the child as
that?"

"He is," Chane repeated patiently, "more than
a step out of the common way. Master Pilot von'Eyr holds herself at
your pleasure, should you have questions for her."

"Hah. So I may." He walked over to the window
and stood looking down into the modest garden, hands folded behind
his back. Chane went to the table, poured herself a glass of wine
and sipped it, recruiting herself to patience.

Eventually, Obrelt turned away from the
window and came forward to face her.

"It is a strange path we would set the child
upon, sister, to a place where none of his age-mates may follow. He
will sail between stars while his cousins inventory stock in back
storerooms. I ask you, for you have given him his own room in your
heart: Do we serve him ill or well by making him a stranger to his
kin?"

And that was the question that needed to be
asked, when all considerations of cantra-costs were ended. What was
best done for Ren Zel himself, for the good of all the Clan?

Chane set her glass aside and met her Delm's
eyes straightly.

"He is already a stranger among us," she
said, speaking as truly as she knew how. "Among his age-mates he is
a cipher--he is liked, perhaps, but largely ignored. He goes his
own way, quiet, tidy, courteous--and invisible. Today--today, when
the pilots returned him to me, it was as if I beheld an entirely
different child. His cheeks glowed, his eyes sparkled, he walked at
the side of the Master Pilot visible and proud." She took a breath,
sighed it out.

"Brother, this boy is not a shopkeeper. Best
for us all that we give him the stars."

And so it was decided.

* * *

REN ZEL ACHIEVED his first class piloting
license on the nineteenth anniversary of his Name Day. He was young
for the rank, especially for one who had not sprung from a piloting
House, but not precocious.

Having thus canceled out half of his tuition
and fees, he set himself to paying off the balance as quickly as
possible. It had been plain to him for several years that the Clan
had gone to extraordinary expense on his behalf and he did not wish
his cousins to be burdened by a debt that rightly belonged only to
himself. That being so, he had the Guild accountant write a
contract transferring the amount owed from Clan Obrelt to Ren Zel
dea'Judan Clan Obrelt, as a personal debt.

He was young, but he had a reputation among
the elder pilots with whom he'd flown for being both steady and
level-headed, a reputation they were glad to broadcast on the
Port.

That being so, contracts came his way--good
contracts, with pay-outs in the top percentage of the Guild's
rates. Often enough, there was a bonus, for Ren Zel had a wizard's
touch with a coord string--or so his elders praised him. Those same
elders urged him to go for Master, and he thought he would,
someday.

After he cleared his debt.

BOOK: Changeling
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