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Cythera -- Athain

I'm so pleased to discover from my poll the other day that so many of you are looking forward to Cythera! I'm terribly excited about it, and it's wonderful to hear that some of you are too.

Thus, I thought I'd share another piece of Cythera for you! This is from the beginning, right after the opening I posted earlier. In which we find out a bit more about our hero, Athain....

Perhaps Athain would have replied, but at that moment the misters turned on, a sudden drenching and soft rain falling over the stage, each droplet flashing in the lights, music rising beyond speech. The dancers turned in the falling water, faces upturned, bodies bending and swaying as the lights shifted to green and then pale gold, like plants turning up to the lifegiving sky. Music swelled and rose, then cut off suddenly in a piercing note, the lights dying and plunging the room into sudden dark.

Guests gave out calls of approbation, and the stage slowly lit again, a golden circle of light into which stepped a Senior Adept, raising her arms in thanks as she explained that the gardens and pavilions were at the disposal of guests while Full Night lasted, or they might remain here longer. In a few minutes the dancers would resume.

Athain looked at her, and Cythera stood, drawing him after by the hand. "Let us go to my pavilion," she said. She understood the selection now -- Calpurnian reserve that would take tact to render into comfort. Tact she had, gentleness to make the way smooth.

Hand in hand, like children who stray, they walked out into the gardens, all shadows and white paths between night blooming flowers, her silver blue gown like petals against the night. Above, the stars were very bright. Cythera paused, looking up. "They're beautiful." She glanced at him sideways. "We don't see them that way often on Menaechmi. One or other of the suns is always in the sky except at Full Night." She smiled. "Like spangles on velvet."

Athain stopped beside her, tall enough that her cheek was on a level with his shoulder, long white hair bright against his black shirt. "I see them that way all the time," he said.

"You are the first officer of a starship."

"I am." He didn't move. "And bred to that service."

She had guessed that from his features, skin that had never been touched by the sun of any world for long at a time, the white hair of a startraveler without any hint of color. Even his eyes were leached of color, the near albinism of those who had been born to space. "And your name?" she asked. "Kinslayer? Have you killed your kindred then?"

"No," he said without taking his eyes from the sky. "That was my great grandfather. I never knew any of the particular kin he killed since it was before my birth. No. I killed my wife."

A chill ran down her back, and Cythera took a quick breath.

Athain did look at her then, a strange half-smile playing at the corner of his mouth. "You don't believe me?"

"I do," she said, and willed herself to stillness. Did the Calpurnians practice honor killing like the Merrow? Or was this some crime forgiven for reasons of foreign law she did not understand? Had the Senior Adepts known? It was probably not in the profile, but they might have known yet. And still it sent a frisson of danger through her. "Why?" she asked calmly.

He tilted his head back, letting go of her hand, his face as bright against the sky as the images of the poised dancers in negative. "We were engaged against the Agni, three cruisers against four Agni scout ships, smaller but faster than we were by a good deal, with an Agni heavy cruiser at the edge of sensor range and closing. We took a solid hit midships."

Athain looked at her and Cythera spread her hands. "I know nothing of warships."

"You know they must remain airtight to contain life," Athain said. "Or all air will bleed away into vacuum. My wife…." He stopped a moment, but when he went on his voice was perfectly even. "My wife was an engineer. That's common enough, that you love those who share your service and ask to be assigned together. There was a hull breach and engineers were trying to contain it. Inner compartments had sealed, but sections were open to space and more depressurized. The captain was badly injured." He lifted his head again, as though he were reading his words in the sky. "The heavy cruiser was closing. One of our ships was destroyed. We had lost our maneuvering thrusters and most of our weapons. In a moment the heavy cruiser would be in range with their missiles." He stopped.

"What happened?" Cythera asked softly.

"I microjumped the ship with compartments open to space." He swallowed. "Seventeen lives against the entire ship's company. One of them was Felicia."

Cythera stood silent, stunned into quiet, the scent of night-blooming flowers washing over them, the soft whisper of music coming from the Theon.

"The navy upheld the command decision." She could not tell if his voice held irony or not. "That was a year ago and a bit. It's the crew that booked the Full Night for me by way of thanks for their lives, every one giving more than they could afford. I can hardly refuse, can I?" Athain turned, looking at her again. "I think they expect me to get over it."

"As if you could," Cythera said. She stretched out her hands and took his in hers. "Of course you will never be whole. Not in a year. Not in a decade. There is nothing I can do to heal you of this, nor would I try." And what were the Senior Adepts thinking to take this booking and to give it to her? All art paled before this. This was not within canon. But perhaps they had not known what the thanks were due for.

"A single night with one of the most expensive courtesans in the Nine Worlds," Athain said, shaking his head. "The legendary Adepts on Menaechmi. What could anyone desire more?"

"What that is within their power to give?" Cythera said gently. "They gave the best they could."

"I know that." Athain almost smiled. "And sent me off with a million pieces of advice!"

"To this." Cythera looked around the night garden. "What a terrible mistake!"

"Is it?"

"I could give you a thousand delicacies you do not want," she said. "And I fear I have nothing that you do."