Star of Wonder, page 32
* * * * *
“Quickly,” a voice hissed in Amanda’s ear as the lights went out, and the arm around her waist drew her away to one side, guiding her down a steep and spiraling ramp, pausing for a moment to pull her against the wall as a pair of people bolted past them towards the sound of wild applause. Her companion pulled the mask from his face and tossed it to one of the pair, who caught it on the fly, and then he and Amanda were moving again, sprinting down the ramp and through the dimly-lit corridor into which it led. As they approached the door at the corridor’s end, her companion raised his left hand, and the door slid open just as they reached it, hissing shut again behind them with a sound like a sigh.
“Well,” said her companion, turning to her. “That was—”
He got no further, mainly because Amanda had flung herself into his arms and was kissing him as passionately as he was kissing her back. “Dai,” she whispered against his lips when they both surfaced. “Oh, dear God, Dai, I thought they’d killed you!”
“Not quite, love. Though not for lack of trying.” Dai Evans cradled his wife against him, one of his hands exploring upwards through her hair to cradle the back of her head. “They wanted us separated, yes, and permanently, since they wanted you free to marry again, but it seems they weren’t ready to order a murder in so many words. But they ended up outwitting themselves.”
“What do you mean?” Amanda’s chest ached from the deepness of the breaths she was drawing in, breaths filled with the scents of home, her own floral shampoo mingled with Dai’s light balsam, the lemon of the cleaning supplies she stocked for their little wally robots, and the cooking spices from the galley. “What happened?”
“You happened, cariad.” Dai drew her out of the main cabin, which was set up in an impersonal reception style to double as the business area of Evans Shipping, and down the short corridor into their personal quarters, decorated in deep blue and rich gold with hints of Amanda’s favored coral. “Going to look for help, and finding…I’m not sure what to call them. Other than experts in mayhem, and I’m happier to have them on my side than against me. Not only did they find the California before she was slated to leave the system, but they got you to open the secondary lock for them rather than trying to break in through the main.”
“So my voice code did work.” Amanda laughed shakily, sinking down onto the enormous softsack chair in the corner of their sleeping cabin. “I wasn’t sure if it had. Someone tried to tap the transmission just then and they had to cut it off or risk being found out. But what did that have to do with anything?”
Dai’s face darkened as he seated himself beside her, and Amanda scowled at him. “I can’t possibly think any worse of my grandparents than I already do,” she snapped. “Get that ‘protecting the little woman’ expression off your face and tell me.”
“And here I was worried about what this might have done to you.” Dai managed a light laugh, but Amanda could see the strain behind his eyes. “They, or whoever they hired to do the work, came up with something—if I’d seen it in a vid, I would have called it evil. Clever, but evil. You know they’d placed me in cold sleep, to be sure I couldn’t take the ship back, or try to contact you.”
Amanda nodded, laying her hand gently over Dai’s, to allow him to choose how much contact between them he wanted.
“They’d interfaced the controls of the cold sleep tank with the main lock and hidden the command structure, so no one would be able to find it unless they were looking for it specifically.” Dai’s fingers tightened around Amanda’s, his grip stopping just short of painful. “If anyone had tried to open the main lock, either by hacking into it or with one of the master keys the First Responders use, the tank would have shut down. And they’d left a note on one of the computers claiming that since my wife had left me, I didn’t want to live any longer, so I’d put myself into cold sleep with an unreliable tank and set the California to skip randomly across the greater galaxy until either the tank failed or the ship flew into a star…”
A snarl of purest rage ripped from Amanda’s lips, and Dai laughed more truly. “Now there’s my lady,” he said, granting her a seated bow. “And what did you think of the way our new friends snatched you out from under your grandparents’ aristocratic noses?”
“I think it was…magical.” Amanda tightened her own grip on her husband’s hand. “I was thinking all the time in the pattern dance that if I only were the Winter Princess, I’d have nothing to be afraid of, because I knew exactly how her story ought to end. Her love would be there, at the masquerade, and she’d know him the instant he touched her hand. They’d dance together, and he’d carry her off, and they’d all live happily ever after. And then it truly did end that way!”
“Except that not quite everyone is going to live happily ever after.” Dai leaned back on the softsack, twisting and rotating his shoulders. “There’s always the Wicked Grandparents, after all. Would you care to see what’s happened to them?”
“Yes, I would.” Amanda shook her head, as though surfacing from underwater. “How could I forget about them? They’re going to suspect what must have happened here, you know they will, and waking up without you is the sort of thing I only want to do once in my lifetime, thank you very much!”
“O ye of little faith.” Dai placed a kiss on Amanda’s lips with his fingers. “Watch and learn. Computer,” he said in the general direction of the ceiling, and was answered with a soft ‘ready’ chime. “Play vid feed seven on bedroom screen C. And well done to you, by the by, love, for following unexpected instructions,” he added as the screen set into the wall at the proper height for viewers on the softsack activated. “I knew you didn’t freeze when strange things happened to you, but I didn’t know you’d throw your tiara with quite so much vigor. The stagehand almost couldn’t catch it in time.”
“For just those few moments, I was the Princess.” Amanda shut her eyes to recall the heady feeling of certainty, of treading a path long foretold which would lead her to the place she desired most to be. “I’d been on that journey, to the Moon and the Sun and the Stars, and rescued the man I love from a terrible fate, and now he’d come to rescue me in return. I wasn’t about to let some silly little symbol of power, power I never wanted in the first place, mind you, get in the way of my happy ending.”
“I wish I could say I felt worthy of that strong a love.” Dai slid his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer to his side. “But all I can truthfully say is that I will strive to be worthy of it, all the days and nights of my life.”
“And I of yours.” Amanda laid the side of her face briefly against his hair, then turned her attention to the screen, which was showing a wobbly view of her grandmother’s indignant face from slightly below eye level. “So what might this be?”
“It might be that Deirdre, Lady Duskdance, agreed to wear a camera button on her dress tonight, to make sure we wouldn’t miss the last chapter of our own story. Or should that be the last act of our own play?” Dai shrugged the shoulder against which Amanda was not leaning. “Either way, when I found out what they were going to do, I knew I wanted to see it, and you would too.”
About to ask for clarification, Amanda closed her mouth as an audio feed cut in to join the vid, Julia Prince’s shrillest tones ringing throughout the cabin. “—to know where my granddaughter is at once!”
“Your granddaughter, ma’am?” Deirdre inquired, in a tone of polite sympathy.
“Yes, my granddaughter! Amanda Prince!” Julia jabbed a finger towards the seat Amanda had been occupying for most of the show. “She came to your show with me and my husband tonight, she was sitting here, and then she went up on the stage to dance with your band of ragtag misfits and now she’s disappeared! I want her found and returned to me at once! She is not well, and if she does herself a mischief while she is out of our custody, I will see to it that neither you nor any other member of this troupe of traveling clowns ever work again!”
The view from the camera tilted sl
“What?” Amanda said in confusion over her grandparents’ indignant gabbling. “How is that possible? My ticket was scanned at the entrance, it should have checked me in just like it did everyone else!”
“It did check you in, love.” Dai chuckled, the sound vibrating pleasantly through Amanda’s bones. “Under your legal name. Which is, in case you’ve forgotten, Amanda Evans.”
Amanda made a sound halfway between a groan and a laugh. “Of course. Of course. How could I forget? That’s how this all started! But I don’t know that this is going to work,” she added, worry overtaking her. “There were so many people there, someone has to have noticed I was sitting next to Grandmother and Grandfather, and they’ll probably speak up when they realize who Grandfather is…”
“I wouldn’t count on it.” Dai kept his eyes on the screen, where Deirdre seemed to have decided to wait until the Princes shouted themselves out. “Your grandfather’s very impressed with his own importance, and back on Liverpool he’s got reason to be, since there he’s a big frog in a fairly small pond. But I’ve been out in the greater galaxy a bit, and there are plenty of important people out here. Including one or two who are on our side in all this.” He made a soft sound of satisfaction. “Here comes one now.”
“Who—oh, it’s Responder Silver!” Amanda craned her neck to see the woman on the left side of the screen. “She was so kind to me, and the way she told me, without telling me right out, that she believed what I was saying about you, about me, about us…am I babbling? I think I’m babbling. I don’t want to be babbling.”
“You’ve just had a bit of a shocking experience, cariad.” Dai turned his head and kissed her on the cheek. “And I’ve been missing the sound of your voice. Babble all you want. Though maybe after this is done?” A wave of his hand indicated the screen, where the Princes were finally starting to wind down from their separate tirades. “I want to see it come out.”
“So do I.” Amanda closed her lips and basked silently in all the tiny details around her that whispered home, from the silky fur of the softsack to the rough calluses where Dai’s hand was wrapped around her fingers, from the soft humming of the California’s systems at standby to the warmth of her love’s body where it fit so perfectly against hers.
How could I ever have thought he was a dream?
“If I may step in, Mr. Prince, Mrs. Prince?” said Silver politely on the screen, slipping into the conversation during the single moment when both Princes had paused for breath at the same time. “I may be able to clear a few things up. You’re looking for your granddaughter, I think you said?”
“Yes, and you know perfectly well she was with us tonight.” George Prince pointed an accusatory finger. “She was there when you came by our quarters to drop off the tickets, you spoke to her yourself!”
“Did I?” Silver frowned, tapping a finger against her chin as though searching her memory. “But then I speak to so many people in the course of the day. It’s difficult to remember. And I’m afraid I can’t bring to mind any particular occasion when I had speech with Miss Amanda.”
Amanda had to stifle a fit of giggles in the side of the softsack. “Oh, very clever,” she gasped when she had enough breath. “She never talked to Miss Amanda, because I haven’t been a Miss for months!”
“And as for the person sitting next to you, who left her seat to go up on stage and dance—may I introduce my niece Amelia?” Silver gestured to a slender young woman beside her, who curtsied to the astounded Princes. “She’s a fine dancer, and has been hoping to get into one of these productions for a while, even just as an audience participant.”
“Except it wasn’t, was it?” Amanda eyed the slim figure, the gray gown, the fair skin and flowing dark hair. “She was the one dancing the Princess onstage, right up until the end.”
“And the one who took the bows for you, with her young man as her Ice Dragon, in my mask.” Dai nodded. “We were also able to isolate the function in the station’s computers that was sending you back inaccurate information any time you tried to look me up, or Evans Shipping or the California, or anything else related to us. It was just a little misinformation loop, entirely a local product, since it would have cost more than even your grandparents would be willing to pay to alter all the databases in all the greater galaxy. But now, since we had it, we thought it would be a shame not to put it to use…”
“Amanda Prince was never on Curie Alpha Mu Station at all, was she?” Amanda began to grin. “And that’s what Grandmother and Grandfather will find if they try to look me up.”
“Precisely. And since the California is docked with the Wild Rover and not with the station proper, we don’t have to declare ourselves unless we cross into station space. Which, I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any pressing business there.” Dai slashed his fingers in an X in the air, turning off the vid screen on a view of Julia Prince’s incredulous mouthings and George Prince’s red-faced threats. “And I can think of a number of things I would rather be doing right here.”
“Oh, so can I,” breathed Amanda, turning to her beloved husband and sliding her arms around him. “So can I…”
* * * * *
“I think that went rather well,” said Imogene Silver, watching George and Julia Prince walk sullenly out of the Wild Rover’s performance space, casting seething looks over their shoulders. “A beautiful job by your crew, as usual. How in the world did you put together a show of that scale in the amount of time we had?”
“At the risk of sounding conceited, we are professionals.” Deirdre chuckled. “Though I should admit we had most of the scenery in storage already, and the costumes were quite easy to make. As well, with our Nightsinger acting as narrator, no one had to learn any lines, and the blocking all flowed naturally from the progression of the story. How goes your side of the project?”
“Oh, we had that done hours ago.” Silver waved a dismissive hand. “Your Killdeer is a natural-born hacker, as you well know. She’d have been able to clear out those records all on her own if I hadn’t been around, and toss in that little misinformation loop to boot. My command codes just got her into the station computers with less effort.” She snickered. “I believe I overheard her complaining that it was too easy, in fact. Mind if I throw a scare into her the next time our paths cross?”
“If you had not volunteered, I would have asked you to do so.” Deirdre sighed. “There are times I feel that I have far more children than merely the three who are mine under the law.”
“But that ought to be a blessing, this time of year.” Silver smiled sweetly, watching the Palace of Winter fold in on itself like an empty tent. “Isn’t one of the best parts of Christmas watching the happy little faces of all the children gathered round the fire?”
Deirdre favored her friend with a decidedly old-fashioned look. “It is sometimes a wonder to me,” she said pointedly, “that no one has yet murdered you.”
“I dodge too fast.” Silver bowed. “A Merry Christmas to you, Lady Darkness.”
“And a Happy New Year to you, Lady Moon.” Deirdre returned the courtesy. “The Lord Sun wishes you the same, as do the Birds, the Peaceful One, the Star, and our little Shadow.”
Also by Anne B. Walsh
The saga continues…
Find out what Starsong and her family are planning for Christmas this year in “Carol of the Bells”, a brand-new short story set in the greater galaxy! “Carol of the Bells” will be published as part of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Anne B. Walsh’s fifth annual holiday collection, set to be released at all major e-book retailers on November 29, 2016. Reserve your copy today!
Go back to where it a
Elspeth only meant to search her starship’s computer for some new songs. Instead she found a new race of people called the Aelur, people who needed her help. Can she learn from them how to balance the future and the past, and fly free among the stars without forgetting the lessons she learned from a little bird called Killdeer? Now available at all major e-book retailers.
Or journey to another time and place altogether…
How did Alfred de Maine, the cruel Lord Farnton, meet his death on the backroads of 1780’s Ireland? Eleanor, his pretty countess, knows the truth, but she also knows the value of a secret. Can patience, love, and Eleanor’s long-hidden magic of moving win her the life she truly wants? Or is she doomed to live and die A Widow in Waiting? Now available at all major e-book retailers.
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