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The Quiet Place, Page 2

Peter David

  “Yes, honey. Of course.” She let out a sigh, put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, and as they began the slow walk back home, Malia asked, “The dreams? Did they …” There was no need to complete the sentence.

  Riella considered the question a moment, and then, slowly, she shook her head. “No,” she said.


  “No. I had no disturbing dreams at all. Slept rather peacefully as a matter of fact. It was … quite pleasant.”

  She wasn’t practiced at lying to her mother, and she couldn’t be sure if she had been particularly successful this time. But Malia simply nodded, patted her daughter on the shoulder, and together they set off for home.

  NOW …


  MORGAN LEFLER TOOK ONE LOOK at her daughter and knew that something was wrong.

  Robin had returned to the quarters they shared looking rather quiet. The fact that she was back at their quarters was not unusual; she had just gone off shift. It was the quiet part that caught Morgan’s attention. Customarily, when Robin came off duty, she would tend to burble to her mother excitedly about everything that had gone on that day, whether big or small, important or not-so-important. So, the silence that marked Robin’s return this particular evening was more than enough to snag Morgan’s attention.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked, in the tone of voice that mothers had been using in interacting with their daughters for centuries without count.

  To which Robin gave the customary response in such situations, “Nothing.”

  Morgan considered that rather useless reply for a moment and then decided to take another angle. At that time, Morgan was engaged in studying some recent research published on the subject of wormholes, so rather than press the issue overtly by turning away from her work, she continued to scan the information on the computer screen while chatting with Robin in a fairly offhand manner. “That’s nice. So … how was your day?”

  “It was fine.”

  “And your meeting with Si Cwan?”

  That clearly surprised Robin. She looked up at her mother, her eyebrows knit together in confusion. “How did you know I had a meeting with Si Cwan today?”

  “I didn’t. It was just an educated guess. Whenever you work with him on something lately, you come back here just a little more thoughtful than usual. Tonight you seem extremely thoughtful, so I reasoned that you had an extremely important meeting.”

  “Oh, well … no. No, I mean, it wasn’t all that important. Just planning a diplomatic mission, that’s all.”

  “Really. Where to?”

  “It doesn’t matter,” Robin said. She slapped her thighs briskly and rose to her feet, clearly ready to change the subject. “So … how was your day?”

  “Well… since you asked, this article on worm—”

  “Here’s the thing,” Robin said, crossing the room quickly and leaning on the edge of the desk. “Lately, Si Cwan seems to be keeping me at a distance.”

  “I see. At a distance you say.”

  “Yes, that’s right.”



  “And what about not lately? That is to say, how has he been towards you in previous weeks. Or months.”

  “Oh, he’s been polite. Respectful. Attentive to my opinions.”

  “And how has that changed? Recently, I mean.”

  “He …” Her voice trailed off as if she were losing steam. She frowned, apparently trying to consider a reply that sounded reasonable, and she couldn’t quite come up with one. “Okay, maybe that hasn’t changed.”

  “Then what are you complaining about? Oh. Of course,” she said with a smile. “You’re complaining because it hasn’t changed. There’s something going on between you and our esteemed Thallonian nobleman, isn’t there? Or at least, you’d like there to be.”

  “The latter. Much more the latter,” admitted Robin.

  “Honesty with your mother. I’m impressed. There was a time not so long ago when such a thing would have been unthinkable.”

  “Oh, don’t be silly, Mother.”

  “I’m not being silly. You have a tendency to draw inwards at crucial emotional times, Robin.” She turned the computer screen completely away from her now and focused her full attention on her daughter. “You do a superb job putting forward the attitude and behavior of a very social animal, but you also have a real tendency to withdraw into your … your ‘den,’ as it were. Particularly when something that makes you uncomfortable is being presented to you.”

  “That’s absurd, Mother. I don’t withdraw anywhere. Excuse me.”

  “Where are you going?”

  “To the bathroom.”

  “We’re in the middle of a discussion, Robin.”

  “No, we’re not. You’re in the middle of treating me as if I’m a child, telling me that I run away and withdraw. Me, I’m just going to take a very quick shower and attend to other calls of nature.”

  “You’re withdrawing.”

  “And you’re ridiculous. I’ll be out in ten minutes and we’ll continue right where we left off, if you insist.”

  She went into the bathroom and emerged some time later, clad in off-duty attire. “There. How long did that take me? Ten minutes, like I said? Fifteen?”

  “An hour and nineteen,” said Morgan.

  “No, it didn’t. That’s”—then she looked at the chronometer and saw that, sure enough, an hour and nineteen minutes had passed—“absurd.” The word rolled unconvincingly off her tongue.

  “So let’s see,” Morgan said coolly, engrossed once more in her work and this time not even bothering to look in her daughter’s direction. “Let’s see if I’ve got this figured out. Si Cwan is about to embark on some diplomatic mission. The truth is, you’d like to accompany him. It doesn’t matter to you overmuch if you’re actually needed on the mission, but you want to go anyway. It’s a desire not particularly spawned from any mission imperative, but instead because you’d really like to have the opportunity to spend some time with him away from the ship. You figure that, if he suggested you accompany him, it might be an indicator that he shares some of the still-nebulous feelings you have for him. But he doesn’t suggest it, indicating to you that he sees you only in terms of your function as his shipboard liaison rather than as someone he’d actually like to spend time with. This leaves you lost in thought as you try to determine whether you’re being unprofessional, or unreasonable, or just simply too much the coward to tell Cwan exactly how it is that you do feel; presuming you’ve worked out your own emotions on the matter sufficiently to be able to articulate them. There. Does that more-or-less summarize the situation as it now stands?”

  Robin slowly nodded and then, as if catching herself, she quickly shook her head. “No, that’s not it at all … that’s … the truth is, I … you see …”

  “Robin,” and Morgan reached over and took her hand gently. “Robin, I bear some degree of responsibility over this. If I had been there for you when you were a teenager, and you were first dealing with these kinds of heartbreaks and difficulties, I could have guided you, helped you through. Instead, you seem a bit adrift.”

  “Oh, Mother,” and Robin patted her shoulder. “It’s not really your fault.”

  “I know. I just thought saying that would make you feel better.”

  Robin rolled her eyes. Then she fixed a gaze on her mother and said, “All right, but you’re here now. What would you suggest I say or do?”

  “That’s obvious. You’re not a teenager any more, Robin. You’re a Starfleet officer, for God’s sake. You should have enough confidence to say what’s really on your mind. I mean, hell, if you make a mistake at Ops, you have to worry about ramifications for the whole ship, and you do that job perfectly well. Here the only consequences are personal, and certainly they’re not life-threatening or even remotely catastrophic. Do the job and stop nattering about like a teenager with a crush on the boy across the schoolyard.”

  “You’re right. By God, Mot
her, you’re right.” Robin squared her shoulder. “If I have feelings for Si Cwan, then I should tell him. I owe it to myself, and in a way I owe it to him.”

  “That’s right.”

  “Because, damn … I’m a good catch.”

  “You certainly are,” smiled Morgan.

  “And he should have the right to know that someone as high quality as me is interested in him.”

  “Exactly the attitude to have.”

  “And I can do this without withdrawing. Wish me luck, Mother.”

  “Good luck, Robin.”

  Robin strode forward. Morgan watched her go, watched the door slide shut behind her. She hesitated a moment, as if reluctant to speak, and then sighed as she called, “Robin. You do realize that’s the bathroom.”

  “I know. I’m just composing myself. I’ll be ten minutes.”

  “Now, Robin.”

  “Mother, I assure you—”

  “Now, Robin!”

  The door slid open again and Robin emerged with a tread that could best be described as stomping. “You don’t have to talk to me as if I were a child, Mother,” she said stiffly.

  “Well, then try not to act like one.”

  Robin blew air impatiently through her lips and then, with that same stompish tread, walked out of their quarters. Morgan just shook her head and went back to her reading.

  * * *

  With each stride that she took down the corridor, Robin felt confidence seeping into her. The truth was, she had no reason to doubt herself. She had proven herself as a competent and dedicated officer on the Excalibur. She had served on away teams. She knew the ropes. Indeed, there wasn’t a single good reason that she should not be part of the mission. The only type of reason was a bad one—Si Cwan had gotten to her.

  When she’d first been assigned to be his liaison in his duties as the official “unofficial” ambassador of goodwill aboard the Excalibur, granted she’d found him intriguing. No reason she shouldn’t, really. This was a Thallonian noble, after all. Scion and possible last survivor of a royal family, he tried to use goodwill and his considerable personal charisma to stitch together the tattered remains of Thallonian influence. The star-spanning Thallonian Empire, of which he had been a part, was gone. It was obvious after five minutes of conversation with him that he was more than aware of that. What made Si Cwan different from the others of his royal ilk is that he cared, truly cared, about the people who had been affected by the collapse of the Empire. He really, genuinely wanted to make things better, safer. He wanted to make certain that the assorted worlds that had once comprised the Empire, now left to their own devices, would not spiral downward into chaos and anarchy. He did not seem interested in leading so much as guiding.

  Yes, first she had been intrigued by him. And then she was impressed by him. Then she admired him. Then she thought about him more often than not. And then … then …

  “Then what?” she asked herself as she entered the turbolift and ordered it to bring her to deck 12, where Si Cwan’s quarters were.

  Si Cwan was not the type to be effusive in his sentiments. It seemed undignified somehow. Beneath him. Even though his titles and rank in the extinct Empire had no relevance in his status quo on the Excalibur, he still maintained a sort of regalness that demanded a reserved, restrained attitude. Consequently, Robin was unable to get any sort of read off him at all as to just how he might feel about her. That was quite frustrating because Robin had always prided herself on her ability to intuit what other people were thinking. Unfortunately, she was getting no such sense from Si Cwan at all. That didn’t necessarily mean that he cared nothing for her, but it wasn’t a strong indicator that he felt something.

  The problem was that the more time she spent with Si Cwan, the more confident she should have become in her dealings with him. Instead, although she had maintained an outward air of poise, inwardly she was a conflicted mess. She was reasonably sure that her quandaries and internal discontent hadn’t spilled over into her interaction with him; certainly no one else had commented to her that anything seemed remotely off. Still, there was that niggling, damnable uncertainty.

  So, when she and Si Cwan had been discussing the impending diplomatic mission to the planet Montos, they had talked in cool, dispassionate terms about who would be the best people to accompany him. What she had wanted to say was that, as his liaison, it would be best if she attended with him. But she didn’t trust her judgment. She wasn’t sure how much of that sentiment was being generated by genuine belief that she was relevant to the mission or how much came just from her desire to spend an extended amount of time with him. Rather than err on the side of misjudgment prompted by inappropriate or irrelevant concerns, she had kept her silence and been willing to discuss just about anyone except herself.

  That had been a foolish error, and one she would not repeat. Because, dammit, she should go along. That’s all there was to it.

  No. That’s not all there was to it. Si Cwan deserved to know the reason—all the reasons—that she wanted to accompany him. There was simply no way for any sort of progress on their relationship (whatever that might be) to occur if he didn’t know what was what. Matters might still be nebulous, in a state of flux, but she had to tell him just what the flux was going on.

  She walked up to his quarters feeling newly emboldened and rang the chime. She heard a voice from within say, “Come,” but she barely paid attention to it as her thoughts swirled within her head. Her fists clenched tightly from building tension, she strode in, her eyes closed tightly (as she occasionally did when she was faced with a situation that was emotionally stressful) and blurted out, “Look, I’ve been keeping this to myself for a while, and I’m not even sure I know what I’m feeling because it needs to get out there so we can talk about it and see what’s what, but I have to tell you that I think I’m attracted to you and developing very strong feelings for you that extend beyond our duty-related relationship.”

  She opened her eyes.

  Seated quite comfortably on Si Cwan’s couch was Captain Mackenzie Calhoun. He was holding what appeared to be one of Si Cwan’s Thallonian texts in his hands, and he was staring at Robin Lefler with a carefully neutral expression.

  Then he sighed heavily.

  “It’s all right,” he said. “I hear that all the time.”

  All the blood drained from Robin’s face and poured down into her feet; consequently, she thought she was going to pass out, but she wasn’t able to move as her boots were firmly anchored. “Captain, I … I …”

  He raised an eyebrow and waited expectantly.

  “Captain, I’m … I’m not attracted to you at all, sir.”

  “Oh.” A small flicker of what appeared to be disappointment—or possibly amusement, although Robin wouldn’t have been able to discern it at that moment—danced in his purple-hued eyes. “Well, I hear that all the time, too.”

  “That is to say … I’m not… I mean, I …” She cleared her throat, but didn’t succeed overmuch for there was still a deep raspiness in there. “Is Si Cwan here?”

  “No. He’s not. As you know, we have a diplomatic mission on its way to Montos. Si Cwan felt that, since they were ready to go, there was no point in delaying the departure. So he, and Lieutenants Kebron and Soleta, departed an hour ago on the runabout, Marquand II. However he had some historical texts here in his quarters that he invited me to read. He simply asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble if I read them here, however. He didn’t want them circulating around the ship; they’re quite old and sacred and, well.. .” He shrugged. “We all have our quirks, I suppose.”

  She nodded, still feeling so mortified that she was having trouble composing anything resembling a coherent sentence, or even a coherent thought.

  Calhoun paused and then said, maintaining that careful deadpan, “Would I be correct in assuming that the sentiments you were expressing were intended for him?”

  “Captain, I…” She took a very deep breath. “I would be most appreciati
ve if you could … maybe … well, forget everything I said. Or ever said. Or will say.”

  “That might be a bit of overkill, Ensign. But I understand your chagrin. I think you needn’t worry.”

  “Thank you, Captain. And I … I didn’t mean to insult you, sir. I wouldn’t want you to think you aren’t attractive because, you know, I’m sure that someone other than me would—”

  “Robin …” He raised a hand as if to ward off the barrage of verbiage. “It might not be a bad idea if you stopped talking now.”

  She bobbed her head. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” She turned on her heel and bolted from Si Cwan’s quarters … leaving Calhoun shaking his head and chuckling slightly to himself.


  XYON HAD NEVER ACTUALLY ATTENDED an execution before. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t want to start now. The reason it was unsurprising was that it was his own execution in question.

  For all of its space-going facilities, Barspens was still a relatively barbaric world when it came to its customs and amusements. Holovids, television, even printed matter had never really caught on as a means of entertainment. Public executions, on the other hand, were still a very popular pastime, a prediliction that Xyon would have been more than happy to observe from a distance. Being the star player was definitely not what he had had in mind when he had accepted the commission that had led him to this damnable backwater planet.

  For what seemed the umpteenth time, Xyon prowled the entirety of his cell. The young man moved with a calm and easy stride that belied the stress of the situation he found himself in. His movements were smooth, like wind on glass, and even though he was taking his time (for indeed, what need was there to rush?) any observer would have been able to tell that there was speed and strength contained in his limber body. He was clothed in deep red and purple, and his long hair hung loosely in his face. Normally he tied it back, but he wasn’t feeling particularly in the mood to care about such niceties. In contrast to the lightness of his hair, his eyebrows were quite dark, as were his eyes that roiled with the intensity of a raging sea. His thin lips were pursed in thought, and his slightly elongated jaw gave him the look of a bird of prey in flight. He had no weapons, for they had all been taken from him. He did, however, have a self-sustaining determination, a confidence that he would triumph over his enemies and whatever obstacles that happened to be thrown in his way. This usually managed to see him through whatever dire situations he was in.