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Authors: Sharon Lee,Steve Miller

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Plan B (42 page)

BOOK: Plan B
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The valley was full of planes and ships of various sorts, for the mercenaries were taking no chance that the 15th would come to finish the campaign the 14th had started. There were missile units and fighters, and one odd small ship which he guessed to be the courier or personal vessel of a commander.

The blast crater where the scout's ship had been was already, and wisely, being recycled into a foundation for some new structure.

Was it a trick of his mind or was that not a scout ship dropping quickly into the valley?

His heart nearly crawled into his throat in admiration of those lines. One day, perhaps the captain would permit him inside such a vessel.

He finished the pastry in a gulp, watching as the scout ship set neatly down on the near edge of the field. In a moment he began to run.

 

There were three of them standing by the ship in casual uniform when he arrived: a woman and two men, all Liaden, all pilots by their stance and alertness, speaking with a soft Erob official. The official was pointing to a spot of trees and Nelirikk heard, "Fighters . . . only defense left. . ." as he slowly approached the group.

The two men were surely of the elder pilots. One carried a cane, the other grew a mustache on his face, as if he were Terran. Both showed gray in their hair. Both were weeping openly, as the woman stood sober-faced and watchful.

Her eyes widened when she saw him, and she moved a hand, gently and with purpose. The men turned to face him, instantly alert to threat.

Nelirikk saluted.

The Liaden with the mustache—surely the first Nelirikk had seen—stood as if under great strain, face wet with his recent tears. The other man was both more at ease and more dangerous: his eyes quickly touched lieutenant's bar, scarf, Tree-and-Dragon, then lifted to Nelirikk's face.

Momentarily Nelirikk felt as he had when the captain had first walked round him. This one could take his life in a moment if need be. This one, by Jela—

"Nelirikk Explorer, Lieutenant First Lytaxin Irregulars," he stated in the Liaden High Tongue. "May I be of service, scouts?"

The three looked between themselves, and as one, they bowed, equal to equal as he had learned it. The Erob official took this as a good sign and removed herself quickly from the scene.

"Shadia Ne'Zame, Scout Lieutenant, First-In," the woman said, laying her hand over her heart. "Clonak ter'Meulen, Scout Commander," said the man with the most tears. "Forgive my display, Lieutenant. I have heard just now that my daughter died here."

The third looked him over very carefully, and drew from some inner pocket a hand on which gleamed a single, silvery ring. He opened his palm, displaying a pin which was the twin of the Tree-and-Dragon Nelirikk wore.

"I, too, serve Tree-and-Dragon, Nelirikk Explorer, and am at some pains to recall your name among our lists."

Nelirikk stood rooted, as if he faced the very scout, the scout who—

"I am recently recruited, sir. I am personal aide to Captain Miri Robertson, First Lytaxin Irregulars, who is lifemated to Val Con yos'Phelium, Clan Korval. I serve Line yos'Phelium."

Gently, the scout lieutenant sighed. The man with the mustache shook his head, Terran fashion, and looked piercingly at the man with the dragon in his hand.

"Clans revert to type, my friend. So here we have a true Soldier and if that ship over there isn't a Juntavas courier—a pirate, in plain speaking—I'll eat my coord book."

Ignoring his companion's speech, the nameless scout bowed deeply.

"Sir," he said to Nelirikk, "I must put myself in your hands and beg the grace of an introduction to your captain, she who lifemated Val Con yos'Phelium, for I, too, am pledged to line yos'Phelium. Where may she be found?"

"Sir, she is in the infirmary, recovering from wounds received in the recent glorious battle."

"Is she able to speak with me? Or perhaps her lifemate might speak with me."

"The captain is now allowed visitors. I think it likely that she would speak with scouts, although I cannot guarantee. Her lifemate. . ."

He paused, recalling what had been brought out of the Pilot Elite fighter.

There was sudden bleakness in the air, and the face he looked down upon was very close to one he knew in its bland intensity.

"Her lifemate, sir, is in the sealed autodoc. The medical technicians expect he may be able to speak next week, and perhaps in a month to walk."

The air warmed, the face before him all but smiled.

"Then I am persuaded you should take me to his lady with all speed." And abruptly the shift came, from High Liaden into the tongue of the Troop.

"Soldier, do your duty well, for your charge is a heavy one." He bowed, and the language was again Liaden, in the mode the scout's brother had taught him was called 'Comrade.'

"I am very pleased to see you, Nelirikk Explorer. My name is Daav yos'Phelium."

Authorial Denial

The book you have just finished reading is not our fault.

We freely admit that
Conflict of Honors
,
Agent of Change
, and
Carpe Diem
—the first stories in the Liaden Universe—were our fault. Yes, we committed those stories—and others. We're not ashamed.

But having committed those stories—and seen them published, back in the late 80's—we were told by our publisher that the numbers weren't there. No one had read our books, that means in Publish-Speak. And, since no one had read the first three, the outlined fourth—and the proposed fifth—would not be needed.

We don't pretend that this news wasn't a blow—even a severe blow. But life goes on. We had moved to Maine just before
Carpe Diem
came out; we busied ourselves exploring our new state, landing—and losing—gainful employment, buying a house, and adding cats to the household as appropriate. Amid it all, we wrote.

Steve wrote computer columns, features, book reviews, brochures, web pages, and advertising. Sharon did some of that, some of the other, some more of something else. That was for other people.

For ourselves, we wrote Liaden stories. Over dinner, during drives in the country, one or the other of us would break out of conversation, or reverie, with, "Story stuff. What if. . .?" We fine-tuned the Liaden Code of Proper Conduct, argued esoteric points of melant'i, painted in scenes, and met some wonderful characters.

Let's be clear here. The Liaden Universe is where our hearts are. Home. Yxtrang, DoI, Aunt Kareen, and all.

Sometime during all this life-going-on time, the rights to our novels reverted to us. Sometime a little later, the internet arrived in Maine and we—electronic communications addicts from the old days of neighborhood bulletin boards—drove on up to join the party.

Within days, we were deluged—a phenomenon that continues to this day, though it has slowed to a gentle shower—with e-mail. "
Are you the
Steve Miller?
The
Sharon Lee? When's the next Liaden book? When is
Plan B
coming out?"

One of our early correspondents put together an electronic list for discussion of things Liaden, and so the Friends of Liad were born. From them, we began to understand that people
had
read our books—and wanted more.

Without the encouragement and support of the Friends of Liad,
Plan B
would likely have never been written down.

But the blame for
Plan B
doesn't rest solely on the heads of the Friends of Liad; there's another party equally culpable.

 

Stephe Pagel.

 

A book isn't done until it's published, and Stephe is the man who decides what—or if—Meisha Merlin will publish. He not only decided to make
Plan B
a reality, but he contracted to reissue the first three books as the omnibus
Partners in Necessity
, two prequels in the omnibus
Pilots Choice
, and the single-book
I Dare
. He's also been heard to say that a book about Clutch turtles would be really cool.

Clearly, this man merits watching.

Oh, and one more thing: True enough that a book isn't done until it's published, but a story—a story's not done until it's been read.

That's where you come in.

For reading our book, for completing the arc of wonder—thank you.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
October 1998

 

THE END

 

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BOOK: Plan B
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