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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Power Play

BOOK: Power Play
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Power Play

Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This book is merrily dedicated to

Maureen Beirne

Good Friend Staunch Ally

Cheerful Companion Experienced Tour Guide

for many kindnesses for many years

 

1

 

 

 

Yanaba Maddock and Sean Shongili held hands in a darkness illuminated only by the glowing eyes of hundreds of animals and the flames of hundreds of candles. The drumming had stopped now, replaced by the sweet slapping of sliding water, the beat of many hearts, and the breathing of many creatures. One pulse was louder than all the drums had been, one breath a wind that guttered and flared the candles with each respiration.

“So how do we do it here?” Yana whispered nervously to the father of her unborn child. “Does the planet give me away or what?”

Sean smiled and winked. “No one has that right but you, love. Let’s just say that the planet acts as witness and honorary best being.”

“. . . best being . . .”
an echo sang from the cavern walls. “. . . best being . . .”

He stopped walking and she stopped beside him. All she knew was that they were getting married, Petaybean-style.

She’d been so busy with her new duties as Petaybee’s administrator over the last two months that she hadn’t had enough time to inquire as fully as she would have liked into the rituals or folkways of the Petaybean marriage ceremony before it was upon her. Sean’s niece, Bunny Rourke, one of her chief informants on matters Petaybean, had told her that it was a special sort of latchkay with a night chant at the hot springs. Yana had attended the breakup latchkay when she first arrived. This occasion differed in that the night chant was at the beginning of the latchkay instead of at the end. As at all latchkays, there would be much singing; however, there would probably be more at this particular one. Sean and Yana were each to prepare a song for the other. Songs were how Petaybeans celebrated or commemorated all their most noteworthy experiences. The mode was mostly either a rhyme scheme to some ancient Irish air, or a free-verse poem, chanted Inuit-style to the accompaniment of a drum. Yana,
whose heart was full but whose mind was too crowded with administrative details while her body was having to make physical accommodations to her pregnancy, had finally created her song. Other than that, she simply hoped that things would go well and allowed herself to be led through the proceedings by the people she had trusted with her life more than once.

Two hours earlier, Kilcoole’s premier couturier, Aisling Senungatuk, had arrived with the gown she had created for Yana—rabbit hides crocheted together with woolen yarn in a long, paneled design with a flared skirt, scooped neck, and long sleeves. The crocheted lace inserts were heavily decorated with beads made from scavenged wire and the little pebbles found in certain Petaybean streams. Tumbled, polished, and drilled, the stones were lovely and translucent. The gown was yellow, the Petaybean wedding color, Aisling explained, “because most of the plants make yellow dye.” The rabbits were contributed from the collecting places of all of the hunters in the village. Sean’s vest was a darker shade of the yellow, trimmed with beaver fur and blue and white beads.

Now the light motes formed a circle around the two, and Clodagh Senungatuk, Aisling’s sister and the village’s healer, stepped into the center with Sean and Yana. Yana noted with some amusement that as many of Clodagh’s orange-striped cats as could crowd around her feet did so, their eyes eerie and iridescent in the candle glow.

“Sean Shongili and Yanaba Maddock, we’ve come here because we understand you got somethin’ to say to all of your friends and kin here where the planet hears you best, is that right?”

“It is,” Sean said. “I have a song to sing for you all.”

“Sing for us,” soft voices said from the shadows, accompanied by an underlying rumble of throaty feline purrs, the whicker of the curly-coats, and the affirmative yips of the dogs.

“Sing,” the echo said.

Yana had no idea how many bodies were clustered into the cave that day. The line seemed to stretch clear back to the village and included every man, woman, and child, horse, cat, and larger track-cats, and even everybody’s dog teams. And she could have sworn that she saw wild game emerge from the brush and join in the procession just before Clodagh led them into the darkness of the cave behind the hot-springs waterfall.

Sean cleared his throat. The candle flame shadowed the chiseled planes of his face and softened the outlines of his mouth as he began to chant.

 

“Yanaba, she met the enemy

Coming to us, she met friends as well

And honored them.

She met me, and I met love.

Aijija

 

With her friends, here around her

With her lover, I who take her hand

For these people and this world embracing us

She met the enemy again and again

It is in her name to do so.

Aijija

 

Yanaba, who knows my aspects

Yanaba, who has my heart

Yanaba, who honors my world and my people

Yanaba, who carries our future in her body

Yanaba, you are already part of my life

Yanaba, you already possess my heart

I tell you this here, with our world as witness

I want you with me forever

Aiji.”

 

Yana’s mouth went suddenly dry. Something soft and furry rubbed against her bare ankles. Her stomach gave a heave and she wondered if the baby could be moving so soon, pushing her to speak. She took Sean’s hands as much for support as encouragement and clung to them so tightly that she was afraid she’d leave bruises. But he returned the strong grip, and that gave her the courage she needed. Suddenly light-headed, she felt as if she needed to hold on to him to keep from floating to the top of the cave.

 

“Sean Shongili, my truest friend and love.

Here I am, a woman whose only song

Was of war and death.

How can I sing what I feel for you?

You gave me life when I was dying

A home when I had known none in

Many years of wandering

A family when all of mine is dead

A life to bear

When I thought I could give only death

You showed me a new world and

Invited me to make it my own.

 

And I do.

In old songs by better singers

They say, ‘You are all the world to me.’

I say so too.

Sean Shongili, you are all the world to me

And the world to me is you.

I love you. Take me as I take you.

As they used to say on earth, ‘I do.’ ”

 

Sean took her in his arms then and kissed her, letting his body rest against her belly, which, although still not too obvious, was growing fuller and rounder by the day.

Then Clodagh clapped her hands and everyone dispersed, leaving Yana and Sean alone in the cave, but not in darkness. As the candles departed, a warm soft glow pulsed throughout the cavern, and he eased her to the rock, which seemed to melt into a comfortable bed as she and Sean made love. They always enjoyed that occupation, but here, now, in the cave, where the planet was also part of their communion, she felt as if she had never before been so consumed by the passion that always fired up between them in the act of love. Sean felt it, too, for his hands were tender, possessive in a fashion she would once have resented, exciting in ways she had never experienced. The climax was so extraordinary that she wept and knew, from the wetness of the cheek he pressed hard against hers, that he also had been rocked by the intensity of their consummation. For a moment, she thought she had died.

This time they did not sleep afterward; nor did they dress before leaving the cave to join the throng waiting outside at the thermal pools.

Cheers and laughter greeted them. Overhead the stars and moons, real and man-made, lit the sky, while the candles planted along the sides of the pool garlanded it with ribbons of light. The big cats sported rather clumsily in the water while the dogs fetched various things thrown by their masters. The smaller cats sat disdainfully on the edge of the pool. Yana laughed when one of the curly-coats took a running jump and dived into the pool, making a whale-sized wave that swamped the shore and wet several disgusted felines, who began furiously to lick themselves dry.

Then Sean pushed her in and, a moment later, a seal appeared among the splashing, laughing, naked company. This activity continued till daylight and was the merriest, raunchiest festivity she had ever attended. Periodically, someone would hoist himself out of the water and run bare-assed to the baskets beyond the candles to fetch something to cram into his mouth before diving back into the pool.

At daylight, everyone went ashore, dressed, and walked limply home except Sean and Yana, who rode double on one of the curlies, following Bunny and the village girls, who strewed flower petals and seeds on the path before them.

“I’m starving,” Yana muttered up into Sean’s chin.

He nuzzled the top of her head. “Good, you’ll like this part then. The feast was prepared before we left. But don’t eat so much you’ll be too full to dance with me afterward.”


Dance?
You have to be joking! My legs feel like noodles. Umm, noodles. Do you suppose Clodagh made hers? The ones with the smoked fish and dried tomato sauce?”

“I have it on good authority that she did. Is all you think of your stomach?”

“I’m eating for two!”

“So you are. Forgive me,” he said, lifting her down from the curly-coat’s back.

During the feasting, she had an ample chance to rest and gaze into Sean’s eyes and messily feed him and be fed by him, also part of the wedding protocol. The food was arrayed in the middle of the meeting house, and Sean and Yana and the other adults sat on benches along the wall, while Bunny led the youngsters of Kilcoole in offering them food.

Meanwhile, everyone occupied themselves by singing the songs
they
had written for Sean and Yana. Bunny sang of her first meeting with Yana and their wild ride down the river. Sean’s sister, Sinead, told how she knew Yana would be one of them from the time she went on her first hunt. Adak sang of the hiding of Sean in the snocle shed with Yana, making frequent clandestine trips which the Powers That Be did not know anything about.

Even Steve Margolies, now residing in Kilcoole with his partner, Frank Metaxos, and Frank’s son Diego, sang of how Yana and Sean had reunited him with his family.

Yana’s neighbor across the street had a hilarious pantomime song about Yana throwing Colonel Giancarlo out of her cabin with the burned fish. That was one of the few songs rhymed and sung to an old Irish air instead of chanted to drums. Clodagh said she believed the tune went originally to a song called “The Charladies’ Ball.”

As the other young people began to clear away the empty serving plates, Diego took his newly crafted guitar and joined the drummers, Old Man Mulligan on his whistle, and Mary Yulikilik on her handmade concertina. All together, they wheezed up a quite respectable dance tune.

Sean took Yana’s hands in his, led her out on the floor, and then swung himself opposite her at the top of the cleared hall. Two by two, the others followed: Dr. Whittaker Fiske, who had returned especially to dance at the wedding, partnered Clodagh, followed by Sinead with Aisling, Moira and Seamus, Bunny and her sister ’Cita, Frank Metaxos and Steve Margolies; Liam Maloney and Bunny’s cousin Nula completed the reel line. Captain Johnny Greene, who had extended his shore leave for the occasion, had Captain Neva Marie Rhys-Hall from SpaceBase as his partner for the dance in another reel line, while his fellow copter pilot, Rick O’Shay, gallantly led old Kitty Intiak onto the floor. Orange cats tiptoed daintily to the food that had been put on the side for them, while the dogs went home to their kennels to eagerly await scraps from the feast. Track-cats lounged by the doors and on top of the roof, and the curlies grazed in the last of the green fields left by the unusually long, warm summer,
now turning to fall.

Somewhere in the middle of the third dance, Terce, who was minding the snocle shed, came in and tapped Adak on the shoulder; Adak, in turn, tapped Johnny on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear. The men left, accompanied by Captain Rhys-Hall, and returned in time to rescue Yana from a fifth dance. Marmion de Revers Algemeine and two company corpsmen in dress-white uniforms were with them.

Yana and Sean stopped dancing to greet their friends. Marmion was elegant as usual, in a royal blue tunic with a purple underdress, the top heavily embroidered in jade and silver, matching her earrings and rings.

“Marmie! How wonderful that you could come!” Yana cried. Marmion kissed both her cheeks, then Sean’s.

“Yes, and in addition to your wedding present, I’m afraid I’ve come to take you away from all this. The CIS court is reconvening a week from now and your testimony will be necessary to augment Commissioner Phon Tho Anaciliact’s decision on Petaybee. I thought you’d want to do it yourself, since going off-planet would be lethal to native Petaybeans.” She glanced down briefly at Yana’s middle and a look of consternation flowed over her classic features. “Oh, my. Time flies, doesn’t it?”

Yana smiled. “It does indeed. But I see no reason . . .”

“I don’t think it’s wise for you to go off-planet this far into your pregnancy, Yana,” Sean said, his hand on her shoulder tightening protectively.

But others in the room had joined them by now. Clodagh and Whit Fiske greeted Marmie with busses on the cheeks, and Bunny pushed her way through to them, trailed closely by Diego, who had stopped playing and slung his guitar across his back as soon as he saw the newcomers arrive.

“How long does she need to be gone, Marmie?” Clodagh asked.

“Not long, I should think. Counting the journey, two weeks your time, three at the most.”

“Huh,” Clodagh said. “I’d never last that long. Sean, neither.”

BOOK: Power Play
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