When Djazin arrived at the Ashewe summer compound, she found the estate in an uproar. She hurried to the bungalow she shared with Liz of Nambo House, her best friend since music school, and found her friend in their bedroom, packing.
“All hell’s broken loose on Alnos,” Liz informed her, “K’elle and Vinyat had a conference with Pallas Eden and he wants us at a more secure location. K’elle is working something out with the O’bonne. A university retreat not too far from here.”
Liz stopped what she was doing and Djazin sat down on her bed and asked, “What’s happened on Alnos?”
Djazin could tell that her friend did not relish being the bearer of bad news, “A series of attacks. And some bombings. Well, four of them, in four different cities, including Zyss.”
“Attacks?” Djazin repeated, and she knew there was more to it. Though unusual, attacks on Alnos would not make her friend uncomfortable. Unless, of course … Djazin spoke her inference, “Ven attacks?”
With an unhappy look, Liz nodded.
“I see,” Djazin said. After a moment of silence, she inquired further, “How many deaths?”
“K’elle didn’t tell me. But one attack was on Goal and Nerses. Well, all the attacks targeted Ven-Alnese couples, and the bombs took out sponsored centers. Ours in Zyss. But the bomb went off early in the morning, before the seminars had started.”
“Jotun blizzards!” Djazin cursed in spite of her relief at hearing that most of their friends and teachers were most likely safe. Then she remembered what Liz had just said about the attacks, “What about Goal and Nerses?”
“Nerses got away with Amadeos. Goal is missing. They were on their way for their summer visit to Ice Mentor Vrezh.”
“They were in ice? How would any Ven know where to find them in ice?”
Liz shrugged and fell silent. Then she remembered, “Oh, um, K’elle wants to talk to you. Privately. She … has some news.”
“News?” Djazin echoed.
Liz met her gaze and told her, “About Joran.”
Liz nodded, “They got to him, but he survived.”
That attack did not come as a surprise, but Djazin still caught her breath.
“K’elle told me that Eden had him taken to a Mythran clinic. He’s expected to survive.”
“Apparently, there were four attackers, and they had weapons, too. Both Joran and his body guard were seriously injured. Actually, the Ven used weapons for all their attacks.”
One bodyguard. Joran never took security seriously, despite the death threats. “Weapons?” Djanzin repeated quietly to herself. If nothing else, the presence of weapons indicated the seriousness of this wave of Ven attacks. Djazin shivered and crossed her arms as if to protect herself, “Pallas Eden’s alarm makes sense.”
“Yeah,” Liz concurred. “Look, call K’elle. I don’t think it’s just the news about your husband.”
Djazin didn’t think so, either. With a quick smile to her best friend, she got to her feet and returned to the bugalow’s combination family room and kitchen to find her handheld and send First Officer K’elle her signal.
The Mythran warrior did not take long. Fifteen minutes later, Mythran First Officer K’elle Kuan Safyr arrived. Djazin served some chilled mint-sparkle, an O’bonne summer favorite cleared by the obstetrician during her earlier visit, and began with, “Liz told me about the attacks, and about Joran.”
“Your husband is expected to recover, though it may take a while.” The First Officer offered between sips.
“That’s good to know,” Djazin replied. After a short pause, she encouraged the First Officer to go on by observing, “Liz thought there’s something else.”
First Officer K’elle smiled, “There is. Nambo’s a good observer. It’s just … a bit delicate.” She took another sip, then began, “You know my eight and I are here for the security of Pallas Kyet and his family, and First Lieutenant Vinyat is here for the security of Pallas Vailexi and her family.”
“Yes,” Djazin acknowledged. Kyet himself had observed that their little retinue had the best security details on O’bonne.
The First Officer looked away and continued, “Ordinarily, I would never presume to ask such a question, Sotoros Djazin, but it’s part of my job: Are you expecting an alliance child?”
Of course the Mythran officer knew of her pregnancy. That was to be expected. Djazin answered honestly, “Yes and no. It’s complicated.” To an Alnese, regardless of biology, a clear “yes” meant that the child was Joran’s, and Joran’s only, and a clear “no” meant that the child was not his. According to their unique views, Alnese mothers always made the final determination, and everyone accepted their choice. Or their choices, as often happened. As was most likely to happen with Djazin.
The First Office asked the logical next question for an Alnese, “Do you plan on recognizing another father?”
The First Officer drew the correct inference, “Pallas Kyet?”
Djazin nodded wordlessly.
Looking a bit puzzled, K’elle continued, “I’m not sure I understand, Sotoros. It’s a bit unusual for a woman to conceive an alliance child with a second father, even if there are difficulties fulfilling an alliance contract. True, your alliance does go back a decade and there’s been no child, so most of us think there might have been difficulties.”
“I did get pregnant almost immediately after I got married, but lost the child due to a genetic incompatibility.”
K’elle looked even more puzzled, exclaiming, “But you’re the same species.”
“It can happen within the same species,” Djazin smiled briefly. “In any case, I doubt very much my husband wants a child from another father. That’s not the complication.”
The First Officer’s face went blank for a split second. Djazin might not have caught that moment of determined neutrality but for the fact that she’d grown quite skilled at spotting it. The Alnese knew perfectly well how few of their ideas about family ties the Ven shared, yet they never ceased to be surprised by concrete examples. In spite of all their travels and all their mixing across the universe, the Alnese remained persuaded that theirs was the only right and natural way to work out family ties. And to them, a shared child pointed in only one direction, a solution to a failed alliance contract.
“I see,” the First Officer said a moment later, her face once again reflecting the mindfulness of an attentive listener. Djazin could see her evaluate whether or not to press for details. K’elle decided against it, as she made clear when she spoke again, “I think you know why Mythrans have been assigned to Kyet and his family. We have watched over him since the day he was born, and we have watched over his family since he contracted his alliance. I need to know whether that will soon include you.”
Djazin took a deep breath and said, “I think so. My child is an alliance child, just not with my husband.”
The Mythran officer pointed out, “Pallas Kyet has four alliance children with his wife. I am not sure how he could have an alliance child with someone else.”
“That’s what’s complicated,” Djazin acknowledged. “I’m not contracting an alliance with him, obviously.”
“Oh.” Djazin could tell she’d once again managed to surprise the Mythran First Officer, but it took K’elle just a moment to regain her composure, “If I could give you a little advice: Perhaps you could be … circumspect … about the relationship. We stand ready to extend our duties to you and your child, of course, but it would make it easier if the child’s blood tie to Pallas Kyet were not generally known.”
“Yes. Lately, I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Djazin suppressed most of a sigh.
The First Officer got to her feet and announced, “I must get going. Mythras joins Legate Pallas Eden in his concern, and we have identified a more secure location for all of you. There is no need for panic, but both Vinyat and I would be grateful if you could be ready tomorrow morning.”
Rising herself, Djazin pointed to the bungalow’s bedroom, “As you can see, Nambo Liz has already started to pack.”
The First Officer smiled again, and observed, “The Nambos have always distinguished themselves as among the most level-headed people on Alnos.”
Djazin smiled back and nodded, “Yes, they have.”
After the First Officer had left, Djazin joined Liz back in their bedroom. Two hours later, they’d managed to squeeze their accumulated gear into four suitcases, two equipment backpacks, and the two cases for their instruments. Djazin shook her head and commented, “We started with one suitcase each. Where the blazes did all this other stuff come from?”
Liz shrugged and observed, “We don’t have to take it all with us, you know. We could just leave some and have the Ashewes give it away.”
“Right.” Though Djazin recognized that unloading some of their O’bonne spring acquisitions would have made a lot of sense, she didn’t feel up to unpacking and sorting at this late hour. She smiled back at Liz, “Never mind.” And they both made ready to catch a few hours of sleep.
Before turning off the lights, Djazin quickly went over the instructions she’d gotten that morning from the doctor. Monthly visits until the end of summer, when they were all expecting to return to Alnos.
When she’d been wrapping up her hair up after her consultation, and she’d looked into the mirror to guide any rebellious strands under her white scarf and paused and really taken a look, and thought, We don’t look that different, the Ven and the Alnese.
Djazin had the classic butternut-tan skin and the hazel eyes of a Ven. Or, as Ven men liked to say, the golden eyes and golden skin of a Ven. Her grandfather said it often enough: The Kobrans have always coveted Venuer’s gold, our people, and don’t you trust that modern veneer of universal brotherhood they’ve donned lately, they’ll revert back to their old greed soon enough. But of course, recently, Ven men had found a new preoccupation, a new threat to Ven survival: the Alnese.
The Alnese didn’t kidnap the Ven to take them half a universe away into generations of servitude, like the Kobrans. Quite the contrary: It was the Ven who’d moved to Alnos. And yet, most Ven were convinced the Alnese coveted Venuer’s gold just as much as their old enemies. They just used seduction instead of kidnapping to achieve their aim.
Djazin had finished tucking a few rebellious auburn strands under the scarf, then slipped her coat on and stepped back into Doctor Eyinge’s consultation cabinet.
The obstetritian had been studying something on her data screen, though she’d shifted slightly towards Djazin and waved her down to a body chair in front of her desk. She’d also changed back into a simple O’bonne suit, sunflower yellow with red accents complementing her coal-dark skin.
“Now, Miss Sotoros, you have some concerns about genetic incompatibilities?” The doctor had thrown Djazin a quick glance, and after sliding into the chair, Djazin had nodded.
“I don’t see anything worrisome. Do you have any specific worry?”
“Well, it’s …”, Djazin had found it surprisingly hard to speak, had taken a slow breath, then finally had explained, “We’re not the same species. I mean, the father is not Ven.”
With a slight shrug, Doctor Eyinge had scanned her report one more time and replied, “No, he’s not, but that’s about the only thing I can say about him. Let’s see, there’s Orin, Kobran, Danyx, even a little O’bonne. If you don’t mind my asking, what species is the father?”
“Alnese? No wonder I can’t pin anything down. They’re the original Space Gypsies, aren’t they? Picked up people wherever they went before they settled down. And even after that, they never really stopped mixing it up with new visitors.”
The Alnese said that about themselves often enough, but Djazin had never really thought about what that meant until she’d made her decision. “And, it’s okay?” she’d asked, bracing herself for the possibility that it might not be.
Doctor Eyinge had gifted her patient with a reassuring smile and nodded, “Yes, it’s okay. Actually, we’d probably have identified the man in question as a very good match, genetically speaking. I heard that the Alnese always do genetic screenings before they plan for a pregnancy. Have I been misinformed?”
“They do, yes. The Alnese do. But we Ven, we don’t.”
“True.” After a slight shrug, the doctor had commented, “Probably don’t think it’s necessary, seeing as you don’t mix much.” She had tapped a couple of commands into her data screen and a moment later, Djazin had heard her handheld ping.
“There you go,” Doctor Eyinge had reassured, “I’m glad you’ve done it now and set your mind at ease. You are healthy, your pregnancy is healthy, and you’re about to contribute a little more to Alnese diversity. Not too much Ven mixing in yet, from what I’ve read.”
For some reason, that had prompted Djazin to respond, “They’ve been trying. I mean, the Alnese. There are quite a few of us on Alnos now, and the Alnese have been trying to get us to adapt more to their customs.”
“Is that what led to your pregnancy?”
Djazin had been about to shake her head, but had stopped, thought about it for a moment, and had finally waved a hand back and forth, “Sort of, yeah. Not formally, though.”
“Ah.” The doctor had smiled again, “And now, let’s talk about your care. How much longer do you plan to stay on O’bonne?”
They’d worked out a monthly schedule of visits using O’bonne’s five-week monthly schedule, and the doctor had tapped in a number of recommendations. A second ping had alerted Djazin to her proposed next appointment, and she’s sent back a quick confirmation.
When Djazin was about to leave, Doctor Eyingo had risen, bowed slightly, and told her, “Congratulations, Ms. Sotoros. You are about to have a wonderful experience.”
Djazin had returned the O’bonne bow with a soft, “Thank you, Doctor Eyinle.”
On her way out of Doctor Eyinle’s office, she’d stopped by the nutritionist’s station, as instructed, and picked up instructions for her Ven-O’bonne diet. But she’d delayed summoning her glider to return to the Ashewe compound until the early evening and spent the afternoon meandering around town.
She’d needed some time by herself. Her grandfather’s grumblings had circled about her mind. They lure us to their world with their immense wealth, put us to work just the same as the old slave-drivers, and if we want to stay long enough to get our fair share, they ask us to abandon our traditions and become Alnese.
And there she was, as if on cue, poised to become the example to prove her grandfather right: Djazin, mating with an Alnese, crossing over, abandoning her traditions.
The trouble with this script was, Djazin was born on Alnos, and she’d grown up on Alnos. She had never actually set foot on Venuer.
A daughter of Alnos.
With golden skin and curly auburn hair. Not so different from the wild curls of her Alnese lover, Kyet.
Seduction. It cut both ways.