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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Freedom's Ransom
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“The dentures were easy. All I needed was a decent adhesive.” Eric twitched one shoulder. “So when do we go?”

“I suspect it is now necessary to figure out a flight plan,” Zainal said, nodding to Kris, “to cover as much territory as we need to as quickly as possible. Please make a list of the items you would require. And where we'd need to go in this Manhattan . . .”

“Also known as New York.”

Zainal shot him a look. “Is Manhattan the only place to acquire what you need?”

“No, but it's the one I know best. And, if they haven't been demolished in the Resistance, I could quite honestly retrieve the equipment I had in my office.”

“Please give me the location,” Zainal said, holding his pencil over his pad and looking intently at Dr. Sachs for his answer.

“My office was in the main city, on Fifty-ninth Street at Columbus Circle.”

“Fifty-ninth Street?” Peter echoed. “I don't think it still exists, Dr. Sachs. Would you have any other ideas?”

“Well, quite a few dentists had offices in the general area.”

“If you will agree to accompany us on this
‘adventure,'” Zainal said with a little chuckle, “I'm sure we can locate what you need to take with you.”

“With me?”

“Yes, to Barevi,” and before Eric Sachs could rattle off the questions that must have flooded his mind, Peter told him what had to be done and how Eric was essential to spurring the merchants to action.

“By offering to those who want them immediate gold crowns?” Eric asked, his eyes merry with appreciation of the scheme. “I must advise you that making a gold crown is not an ‘immediate' proposition.”

“The simple fact that you are there and an expert would allow us to charge them not only for the metal necessary to make their teeth, but for the expert to do the work, and would provide another reason to barter for the goods we desperately need which they are holding back!”

Eric was stunned by the explanation and then grinned broadly. “I like it. I like it. But as I said, it takes time to make proper crowns, and if I am to do the work, I insist on doing proper work.”

“Of course, of course,” Zainal and Peter agreed.

“I know there's gold available on Botany,” Eric said, excitedly bouncing about on the chair, jotting down notes, “and platinum, too, I've heard.” He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically before setting down more scrawls which probably only he could read. “What I need more than anything,” he flushed and grinned sheepishly, “more than the equipment, is certain materials without which I cannot succeed. Such as an alginate to take good impressions and accessories like the carrying trays to secure the impressions. The gold caps would take time to prepare. One has to pound the gold into fold leaf. Rather fun to do, actually, and oh, well, you don't need a blow-by-blow description of the process right now. But I remember the dental supply house I used, and quite possibly no one bothered looting such items.”

“Alginate?” Dorothy asked. “Seaweed. We have seaweed in quantity.”

“I'd also need a mixing gun to deliver the alginate where I need it.” Eric flapped his hands. “And a whole lot of stuff if I'm to do this properly.”

“How did you hear about the gold and platinum?” Zainal asked.

“Same way I heard about gold crowns on Catteni teeth,” Eric said. “Hey, could we get more than one set of office equipment? And find a few more dentists while we're about it?”

“And we will be about it!” Zainal said. He pushed back from the table and rose purposefully, gathering up his notes and the letter from Kamiton that he seemed to be rereading. “Kamiton will never know what hit Barevi.” He grinned with total satisfaction at the prospect.

“Ahem, Zainal,” Eric said, raising one finger to attract the Catteni's attention. “It would be useful if I had a trained dental assistant. Speed things up.”

Zainal glanced at Peter. “Would you handle that detail, Peter? I'm going to draft the Catteni-speakers who are still here. We will have to go after some of the others who've gone to Terra. We can get what you need on that trip, too, Eric. Will you come with us?”

“Yes, and I think I'd better take some lessons in your language. I'll need to be able to give simple instructions to any patients you might wish me to attend.”

“Like ‘open,' ‘spit,' ‘close'?” Kris asked, her eyes sparkling with amusement.

“And some basic instructions about what I'll be doing. I'll also need analgesics like Novocain and procaine—”

“Oh, you won't need painkillers,” Kris said, grinning broadly. “Catteni would disregard mere pain as beneath their notice.”

“Not if I have to work close to nerves. Catteni do have those, I believe.”

“Check with Leon Dane,” Kris advised.

Eric wrote that down and then began to jot down more notes. “I'll need so much to even get started.”

“A list of your requirements is a good start.”

“There are talented scroungers on Terra,” Peter remarked. “If it still exists, they'll find it for you.”

Eric gave him a long, hard look. “I thought ‘scroungers' were what put us in this position?”

“Oh, not those who will scrounge
for
us,” Peter said with a grin. “I'll see if I can find you a dental assistant. And a technician. You'll need one of those, too, won't you?”

“If business is brisk, yes.”

“Oh, it will be brisk,” Zainal said emphatically. “No one ever developed tooth restoration under the Eosi.”

“Did they have teeth?” Kris asked, shuddering as she remembered the awful grotesquerie of the one Eosi whom she had seen.

“Surely every species has teeth of some kind,” Dorothy remarked.

“Eosi didn't eat as we do. They used some form of matter ingestion . . .”

“Osmosis?” Eric asked, startled.

Kris giggled and Dorothy smiled as she shrugged and replied, “Well, it's often been suggested as a possible means of nutrient absorption. But we don't have to worry about them anymore, do we?”

Zainal gave her a startled look and Kris frowned. “Not all the Eosi were . . . ah . . . terminated.”

“They will be far too busy making certain they survive,” Zainal said, “wherever they have taken refuge. And it won't be nearby.”

“How many Catteni worlds are there, Zainal?” Peter asked.

“I know of nine. There may be new ones. That's one of the details I need to find in the files at Barevi, Peter. Scouts were constantly finding new worlds, for resources and colonization. I know many of them, but not all. And it is essential to have accurate information.”

“Would the Eosi have taken refuge on a distant world?”

“Possibly. But they had strongholds on suitable moons
as well as planets. I've no idea where the survivors might be. But it's wise to find out, if we can.”

Peter nodded agreement with the sentiment. “I'll go find out if we have any other dentists or assistants or technicians on our roster.”

“If you will gather what will be needed for my sons, Kris, I'll collect them first before things get busy.”

“Let me come, too,” Kris said. “It shouldn't take me long to set up two cots. But we should also, I think, bring some thank-you gifts to Chief Materu.”

“As you will,” was Zainal's reply. “And yes, presents are in order. Can you do that for me?”

Remembering the bright prints she had seen the Masai wearing, she thought there was at least one bolt of a tropical floral print that they might like in the cargo she had brought back from her last trip to Barevi. She supposed she should take something for Chief Materu, though she hadn't a clue what would be appropriate.

She borrowed the cots she needed from the day care center and told Sarah McDouall that the boys were coming, and also told Zane that he would be seeing his two half-brothers while she gave her daughter a cuddle. Amy was a pretty baby but Kris could see no resemblance in the heart-shaped face to herself or to Chuck, apart from fair hair, blue eyes, and the long bones of her legs. Leon Dane, the chief medical officer, had commented that she would be tall. Kris borrowed a land cart, got the mattresses and the blankets down to the cottage, and set them up in the living room. If the boys wanted to sleep in the loft that had been built for that purpose, they could haul their beds up there to suit themselves tomorrow. She also put the bolt of wildly patterned dress material on the cart along with the leather belts, which Astrid had recommended as an appropriate gift for the chief.

Chapter Two

ZAINAL AND KRIS TOOK THE FAST SCOUT BABY to make the quickest possible run down the coast to where the Masai had chosen their new home. She hadn't been there in a while and was impressed by the neat huts within the kraal enclosure. Amazing that the Masai had found substitutes for their traditional materials. Their encampment, despite the night crawler-resistant flagstone flooring, looked like her memory of African settlements from
National Geographic
magazines. The tribe came filing out, men with their spears and long shields, arraying themselves in front of the curious women. The pre-adult children were ranged in their own age groupings in which they learned responsibilities and tasks suitable to their age-set. Camp dogs bristled and daringly ran at the ramp as Zainal and Kris walked down it. A shrill whistle called the dogs off but they sank to the dirt, still on their guard and not entirely happy to be called off the intruders.

Kris saw the bright gold hair of Floss among the women and realized with some remorse that she had only just then thought of the girl again. Floss and her band of abandoned and orphaned kids, calling themselves the
Diplomatic Corps, had enjoyed the undisputed freedom of the Occupation and the leadership of a devoted band of young men and women. Sent to Botany to recover from their trauma and make a new home, they had been so undisciplined and rowdy that the Botanists were all for sending them back to fend for themselves on Earth. However, Dorothy Dwardie had suggested an alternative: place them with the disciplined Masai culture until they lost their wildness and were ready to “settle down.” The Masai had agreed. Floss had been the most recalcitrant and reluctant to leave Retreat, but she was mostly to blame for being exiled. Across the distance separating them, Kris made eye contact. Turning back to the men, she noticed the unmistakable figure of Clune, solid among all the lithe, gaunt Masai, with his two former lieutenants, Ferris and Ditsy, standing beside him. Those Diplomatic Corps kids had survived the Catteni invasion and the roundup of Terran inhabitants. That was very clever of them. Idly she wondered if any of them had learned some Catteni. Such survivor-types might be useful.

Greetings and gift-giving aside, Peran and Bazil were called forward from their age-set by Chief Materu and sent to pack whatever they wished to take with them. Both boys had put on inches, vertically, and the deep tan that Botany's sun was giving everyone. Her glance strayed to Floss, who seemed to have improved. Chief Materu was examining the leather belts, noting the buckles and testing the straps with great interest.

Almost as if compelled, Kris wandered in Floss's direction and, when she was close enough, signaled for her to approach. Floss shot the older woman beside her a beseeching look while Kris made a formal gesture of asking for the girl to help her with the bolt. The head woman gave Floss a push in her direction. Floss corrected her balance and all but ran to assist Kris with the bolt.

“Hello, Floss. It's good to see you again. Do you happen to speak any Catteni?”

“Yes, Lady Emassi, I do. I had to learn enough to stay alive, you know. Just ask Peran or Bazil. I've learned a lot more words from them while they've been here. They aren't bad kids for boys!” The last word was spoken with the usual contempt of an older girl for a younger male. Then Floss hoisted the bolt onto her shoulder, balancing it with unexpected expertise, and walked with Kris back to the waiting women. There was no question that the fabric would not be put to immediate use.

“Do any of the others in your Diplomatic gang speak Catteni?”

“Besides Peran and Bazil? Sure, Clune did all our negotiating for us. Ditsy and Ferris knew enough to listen in to some int'rusting conversations. Saved our necks a coupla times.” Then Floss cocked her head and looked at Kris with eyes far wiser than her years. “Why? Will it get me outa here?”

Kris held up a hand to indicate she did not wish to explain but she saw hope flare in Floss's deep blue eyes. “Please tell the head woman that this is a gift offering for her care of you.” She ignored Floss's snort, then gestured her to follow her back to Zainal and Chief Materu, who were deep in conversation. Floss kept well behind Kris, trying to look invisible, Kris thought.

“Floss said she's been keeping up her Catteni with Peran and Bazil. Clune did their negotiating with Catteni. Back in DC they managed their own little trading enterprises. Could sell you your own teeth. Those two skinny boys standing with him also know the language.”

“Really?” Zainal gave a snort that was half skepticism and half amusement. Just then Peran came racing back, a square of cloth held tightly in one fist with a spear while he had the framework of a Masai shield in the other. He came to a halt by his father, respectfully silent as Chief Materu was awaiting Zainal's pleasure.

“Does anyone here speak Catteni, Peran?” Zainal asked him.

“Yes, that one by Kris does and a couple of the other
Terrans. We talk with them sometimes,” Peran said with a diffident shrug.

“Their names are Clune, Ditsy, and Ferris,” Kris murmured.

In Catteni, Zainal asked for volunteers who could speak the language. Clune, his expression astonished, made his way to the front of his age-set, as did Ferris, hauling the thinner, wiry Ditsy with his free hand. He had a finished shield and two fine spears in the other. Floss, taking no chance of being overlooked, held up her hand, waggling it at Zainal.

BOOK: Freedom's Ransom
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