The grey-nosed Hani captain stomped down the dockward corridor in a filthy temper. The hallway was empty and she was alone, which meant that she could get away with stomping. And that thought just irritated her all the more. Time was that no one would think it odd that this proud Hani captain would be in a temper, but she was not that mere captain any long. No, she was the gods-damned Personage, the Mekt-Hakkikt, the President. Those gods-be-feathered types didn't stomp, didn't curse, didn't lose their tempers.
But here, now, in this fortuitously empty corridor, she was nothing but plain, simple Pyanfar Chanur, and she would curse, because she felt like it.
It didn't really help. Scheming stsho, conniving mahendo'sat, ravenously aggressive kif, and mysterious methane breathers were still what they were, and it was still her job to keep them all talking and not fighting. And the corridor was coming to an end, opening out onto Nsthern dock. Lights flashed where a ship was ready to undock, dock workers steered mechanized cargo pallets and pods to and from other ships' accessways, and merchant and station personnel came and went on their own business.
Pyanfar, uncharacteristically without an escort, passed unnoticed in the crowds, save for a young mahen female in a dark red kilt and several gold chains who gave her a surprised look and a deep bow. Pyanfar scowled and then rearranged her face into a more pleasant expression: it was not the kid's fault that the famous Chanur Personage was in a lousy mood. A youngster like that, probably bound for a recreational tour of the bars of the Row, didn't deserve a dirty look from someone so senior. "Health and fortune, mahe," Pyanfar said, and hurried off before she had to come up with any more pleasantries.
Here was the Pride's accessway at last, the ship's name and hers on the board in half a dozen scripts. She hit the speaker control. "Pyanfar, coming aboard."
"Welcome back," said a deep voice: her husband, Khym Mahn. The lock opened, and she hurried aboard the ship: her home now for many years, more so than the world that had given her life.
Everything was quiet in the downward corridors, save for the steady thump of the fuel pumps. On a whim, she poked her head into engineering. Her cousin Geran Anify was sorting small parts, apparently about to start on one of the myriad small repairs that occupied a ship's crew at dock. "H'lo," said Pyanfar.
Geran looked up. "Captain?"
"Back again," said Pyanfar.
"Errh, yes," agreed Geran, sounding a bit surprised.
Pyanfar was a little surprised herself. Why was she bothering Gery, who clearly had her hands full? She thumped her palm against the doorframe and nodded. "Going topside," she said, and ducked out before she could say something else equally pointless.
By the time the lift let her out by the control room, all she wanted to do was head to quarters, but her own habits and common sense both demanded that she check in with control. To her surprise, Khym was alone at the communications station. "Welcome back, wife," he said.
"Huh. Where's Tirun? Isn't this her shift?"
"She was feeling poorly in the gut. Something she ate on dockside, she thinks. She went to crew quarters."
And Khym was supposedly fully competent to handle the boards in dock at a friendly station. She vainly tried to keep her ears erect. "Well…."
He gestured to the screens, inviting her to find fault, she thought. She scowled and took a chair, scanning through the reports. Alerts: nothing significant. Ship status. Market news. Arrivals in station…. Abruptly, her eyes snapped back to the news screen. A little signal she'd not seen before was flashing in one corner. "Khym. What's that?"
He turned slowly and looked. "Hrrm. That's an alert on the price of information from Kif space. Now would be a good time to sell that packet we brought."
She blinked. "Just like that? It shows up on its own?"
"I had an idea. Ker Tirun showed me the basics of the data mining and news programs a few weeks back. I set this up. She checked it out and said it was ready to put into operation."
"Did she. Show me how it works."
He leaned over her console and tapped controls. Menus and stream of figures came and went. He spoke of how the queries were set up, his voice hesitant at first, then gaining speed and volume as she asked detailed questions and became absorbed in what he'd accomplished. She showed him how to put the data file into the market system; it was snapped up almost immediately, at the original price.
"Good job," she said at last, and sat back in her chair, easing her neck and shoulders. He looked at her sidewise.
"You could go off-shift," he suggested.
"No. I'd rather stay here. With you."
His ears flicked. "I'll get you some gfi."
"You do that," she said and decided not to give him any directions about the seasoning.
She watched the screens as he made his galley run, unable to settle her back despite the monotony of the routine advisories flowing by. He brought her the steaming cup: plain, hot, and simple, just the way she liked it. She looked up, fully expecting him to be watching her reaction, and he had his eyes on the screens. Of course. What did you expect, Pyanfar?
Maybe it was time to stop treating him like a novice. She sipped her drink in almost-comfortable silence, watching along with him.
So Haral Araun found them when she came on shift. "How'd the meeting go, Cap'n?"
"Gtst wouldn't tell me anything more. Dunno why I expected otherwise." She stood up, stretching. "It's all yours, Hal. C'mon. husband."
He trailed her down the corridor. By the time she reached their cabin, she had broken into a trot. She pulled him through the doorway and sealed and locked it. "What's the hurry, Py?" he said.
She grabbed him by the shoulders and nuzzled his chest. "Need you, you fool man."
"I'm not going anywhere," he growled, softly. His big hands wrapped around her back, fingertips digging in carefully, without extending his claws. "Your muscles are all knots."
She slid her hands down and pulled him against her, hard. "How'm I supposed to keep doing this, Khym? Why in a mahen hell do they listen to me?"
"They listen because you're not afraid to tell them sense, wife." He walked over to the bed, pulling her along with him. "Get in there. On your belly."
She let go of him reluctantly and lay down. He kneaded her back, patiently working out the knots and kinks. One set of tensions faded slowly only to be replaced with another. She felt hyperaware of her own body, his scent. She rolled over, reached for the light controls and turned them down to a comfortable dimness. "Leave off that," she said. "I want you. Now."
"I'm here." His weight settled on her, all warmth and muscle. They grabbed each other, wrestling and nipping, each body familiar to the other, known as intimately and surely as though they were one creature, and yet as exciting and ultimately as satisfying as that first day in the hills on Chanur, under their home star's light. In the bed there was no room between them for anything other than each other.
Pyanfar came back to herself with her husband's breath on her neck, his head cradled in the crook of her shoulder. "I should take a shower," she said. "I reek."
"No, you don't," he said softly. "You smell like my Py. My home."
"Good," she said. "Because I don't want to get up."
He shifted them so that their positions were reversed, her head pillowed on his broad chest, then reached over and turned the light out entirely. "Go to sleep, wife."
"You don't give me orders, man," she growled softly.
He stroked her mane. "Aye, cap'n," he said, in Haral's very tones.
She smiled and fell asleep.