Five days before her world died, Zarel Kerant, the ‘eccentric’ older sister of one of Klaros’ wealthiest and most influential commercial barons, returned from a pleasure jaunt in her private yacht, the Star Song. The ship docked at Pykalt Interstellar, along the arm reserved for the cream of the private shipping trade, and she sent her crew—except her personal maid—on leave. Most of them left for the surface of Reveille C, where two sprawling rings of expensively engineered habitat complexes circled the planet just a few degrees from each pole, providing homes for nearly half a billion people.
Zarel’s home was there, too—the vast estate of Kelarant, in the exclusive Vardry Cluster. She had no plans to return there immediately, which was fortunate, as she discovered. Almost as soon as the Star Song had completed docking procedures, her personal comlink chimed.
She accepted the incoming transmission and, just as she expected, the head of the family, The Kerant, who was also her brother Harlis, appeared on the screen.
“Well, the stray lamb returns.” His smile reminded her irresistibly of someone trying to ignore gas pains.
“As you see, Brother,” she agreed amiably.
She shrugged. “So-so. Gems, foodstuffs, a few artifacts.”
His brow wrinkled. “Artifacts? Nothing…uh…controversial…?”
Zarel was amused. “Nothing that will raise a Censor’s eyebrows, dear Brother. Gharren weavings, some antique Galanian ceremonial weapons, fountain crystals from Liralt-K, that sort of thing. Barely enough to cover the trip expenses, if the truth be told. But I enjoyed myself.” Did he really think she was fool enough to try and smuggle forbidden artifacts past the Censors? Or stupid enough not to know what was on the current interdict list?
His smile relaxed a little. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you, Zarel. Ranlis was disappointed you weren’t back for the Yearturn holidays.”
“I got a relay from him when we stopped off at Kitran. Is the wedding scheduled yet? I haven’t updated my family calendar.”
“No, well, you’ve hardly had time, have you? That’s partly why I called… but no, the wedding isn’t scheduled yet. Still three months to run on the girl’s Presentation Year, you know. Bad luck to schedule a wedding before that.”
Something about his manner piqued Zarel’s curiosity, so she connected to the Family network and asked for a calendar update as she replied. “It seems like Ranlis’ Drone Year just ended, too, but it’s been, what… three years? I’ve lost a few hundred hours in the time-dilation lag.”
“Three and a half. You’ll see when you check your calendar.”
And she did, as the current family calendar opened in a window on her comscreen. She also saw a clue as to why Harlis, a man who rarely spared time for family chit-chat, had called her so promptly.
“I see you’re entertaining this Tenday. A reception for the newly-installed Prelate of Five Avatars. Impressive!”
“Ah. Yes.” Harlis cleared his throat, hesitated.
It was tempting to let him squirm, but she tried never to annoy The Kerant needlessly. Especially since there were so many occasions upon which he needed annoying.
“What a shame I won’t be able to make it. I’m planning on staying at Moonstation for a few days. There’s a dealer in Ruv Denal I want to see about these fountain crystals. And I’d like to discuss some refitting for the Song with Three Stars Chandlery. This and that. I notice the Kos Centrum Ancient Music Ensemble is playing at Pykalt Conservatory, too.”
Harlis didn’t let his relief show, she noted. But then, he’d learned a stoneface from their father, who had been one of the best in that line. “Well, I’d convey your greetings, but…” he said with unexpected humor.
She chuckled. “Why spoil what the Kelarant kitchens and wine cellars will effect? Insincerity is a minor sin, but one ill-suited to the presence of a Prelate… unless it’s the Prelate doing the sinning, of course.”
His smile froze again, momentarily, but he let it go with a snort. “Enjoy your stay upside. And if you run across Jarvin, try not to make too much trouble for him.”
“Jarvin? What’s he doing here?” Zarel had never had much of an opinion of the youngest member of the Family’s senior branch.
“He’s got the Protectorate Affairs Seat on the CivAdmin Council now. He’s upside for some kind of meeting. Gotta go now…I’m supposed to be at a senior staff conference. Creator bless you, Sister.”
“Warrior guide you, Brother. Love to Sirlet and the kids,” she broke the connection.
Well, she’d better get busy finding something to occupy herself with upside for a few days. The presence of the only Kerant ever to be tried for heresy would hardly be appreciated downside just now.