ADVANCED READERS COPY All rights reserved; copyright © Robin D. Owens. The text contained within MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED OR DISTRIBUTED IN ANY FORM whatsoever OR SOLD without first obtaining permission from the author.
EXCERPT FROM Heart and Sword, the first story in Hearts and Swords, the collection out December, 2011.
Kelse Bountry has been awakened from a cryonics tube (his wife is still sleeping), on the starship Nuada’s Sword — he’s found threat and murder.
Leaning on the desk he studied the main space with enough room for visitors. There was a small bathroom. His shoulders were tense and he rolled them. Then he realized his legs were trembling, so he shook them out. He turned toward the bed. And stared at a large marmalade cat who sat on the mattress. The cat tilted its head and was scrutinizing him with light green eyes.
Greetyou. You are the new Captain, once a sleeper.
Kelse heard the words in his head and fell against the desk, propped himself up. Not many of their community could use telepathy. He’d never heard such a strong projection, and something in the tonal quality was odd.
There was no one around to speak with him. Was he overhearing someone? But where? Who?
He glanced at the cat. It had lifted its white forepaw and was grooming it. Before he could quite turn his head back, he heard another sentence.
You look like a tough man.
Kelse froze, stared at the cat. Are you talking to me?
Who else would I be talking to, Kelse Bountry? You have the psi power, the magic, the Flair to hear Me.
The cat twitched his white-tipped tail. Psi power. Is too long to always say. Some call it magic, most call it Flair.
“Flair,” Kelse said aloud.
A ripple rolled down the cat’s body. We Cats have Flair, always have, but now We can talk to humans. We have changed in that way. You, who lived in the then, are stronger than many who live in the now.
This had to be the strangest thing that had ever happened to Kelse. He didn’t know how much the cat knew, how intelligent it was, but figured he’d need every ally he could get.
Though many humans in the now are getting stronger in Flair.
“One of the best qualifications for crew members for the journey was psi power, or genetic indicators of psi power. Why are you here and what can you tell me about the conspiracy?”
I just wanted to see you. To see if you would talk to Me. Maybe We will talk again when I know you better.
“Yeah?” Kelse said. He was supposed to be flexible, able to think on his feet, even after being blindsided by fate or circumstances or a stick to the temple. But a telepathic cat?
We are Fam animals.
Familiar Companions to humans.
Kelse still grappled with the telepathic part. “I see.” A good, common answer.
You don’t, but you may, said the cat. It sauntered toward the door.
Kelse noticed it was a male.
The cat looked back. Yes. I am as male as you. My name is Peaches.
Kelse nodded. Right.
At the entrance, Peaches’ ears flicked and rotated. You may open the door for me. Quickly, there is no one in the hall now. I don’t want to be seen with you!
Kelse hesitated, needing more data. But when did a cat ever do anything a human wanted? He leaned over the desk, propping a shaking arm on the glassy surface and swiping the door control.
The cat shot from the room and was out of sight before Kelse thought to ask who Peaches was a companion to. Kelse’s gut told him it was important.
He staggered to bed, leaving the cape in his wake, flopped onto a different surface than he’d experienced for two and a half centuries.
He didn’t want to sleep, struggled to marshal the facts of his new situation, but finally sleep sucked him into a hole of darkness and threatening dreams. Worse than the cryogenics tube.
He awoke to a shrieking alarm.