Nina Osier: Matushka

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Nina Osier Matushka
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Matushka: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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by Nina M. Osier


The morning sky over Narsai’s northern continent was streaked with pink and gold dawn. It was unlike Catherine Romanova to wake this early on a day when she didn’t have to, on a morning when she could have stayed beside her husband’s warmth until he was ready to rise; but here she was on the terrace overlooking her garden, and she was as alert as if it were already mid-day.

She reached for Linc’s mind, and felt nothing but rest and contentment. That was good. When the two of them had finally come back here to live, in this comfortable little house on the home-world to whose citizenship Romanova had clung so stubbornly through more than forty years as a Star Service officer, he had been exhausted in every way that a sentient being could become weary. She had wondered for a time whether he would ever be himself again—but he was fine now, the same Linc she had met one day when they were both eighteen years old and had stood at a passenger liner’s lounge viewport and had looked out in wonder at their first sight of Terra’s blue-green globe.

Two kids from the colonies, Catherine Romanova a human girl from prosperous Narsai and Lincoln Casey a part human, part Morthan boy who had grown up on the far less hospitable world of Sestus 3. Two adolescents who had journeyed to Earth for their plebe year at the Star Service Academy, discovering each other’s presence in that liner during their last few hours aboard and regretting that they had both endured weeks of loneliness when they might have been preparing together for the gauntlet they were about to enter.

She had been amazed to meet a male Morthan hybrid who wasn’t planning to become a healer. He had been just as surprised to encounter a land heiress from Narsai who was preparing herself for an off-world career. They had talked excitedly about the new lives both were just beginning, they had commiserated about the difficulty each had faced in choosing a pathway that had seldom (if ever) been chosen before by persons from their respective backgrounds; and then the “prepare for arrival” announcement had been made.

She hadn’t seen Casey again until she was a cadet second class, the equivalent of a junior at a traditional Terran university, and she had been put in charge of a company that was headed out for a field exercise. Her first command! Although she knew some of those for whom she had just become responsible, most she did not. In a class of five hundred it wasn’t possible to know everybody, for these exercises the cadets were deliberately juggled to place them among as many strangers as possible—and she had looked into the young Morthan man’s calm golden eyes, had remembered the day they arrived together on Earth, and had chosen him as her co-leader.

That had been their real beginning together. It occurred to Romanova now, as she sipped the hot chocolate that was her one dietary vice, that if one went by standard dating and ignored all other calendars it had been precisely forty years from that day to this one.

The garden was fragrant at this early hour. She had made a point of filling it with plants that had discernible perfumes, and the heavy dew from last night’s autumn coolness was bringing those perfumes out in a way that she seldom experienced them because she was usually out here at the day’s end instead of at its beginning.

A single-family house with a private garden, created for pleasure’s sake alone. On Narsai that was almost the definition of material success, but that was not why Catherine Romanova had insisted on having space for a garden when she had been shopping for this house as a place of refuge from her rocky first marriage. She had simply wanted to put her hands into soil that she could call her own, and Linc had laughingly told her that her ancestors’ genes were asserting themselves at last.

Which might have been true; she had certainly been coming home sore and bruised and in need of healing at that time in her own life, and acquiring this haven had been part of the process by which she’d sought to mend herself.

He was stirring now, in the bedroom that was separated by a few meters of distance and by several bulkheads (no, Katy, they’re walls!) from the terrace where she was sitting. She could feel him starting to think in his usual controlled fashion, realizing she was not beside him physically and wondering where she had gone and why….

And then, of course, his mind touched hers and he relaxed again. She felt morning desire rising in him, stronger in the Morthan male than in the human male; and she smiled as she finished her chocolate, and drew her robe tighter around her in a shiver that was partly from the morning’s autumn chill and partly anticipation of what would happen to her when she returned to the bedroom and took that robe off and lay down to be held in her husband’s arms.

It was a mutual gratification that would have to be delayed, because the front door opened while she was padding through the living room to dispose of her empty cup in the kitchen. Two people entered.

One was a red-haired but swiftly balding man, large and broad-shouldered and human. The other was a tall woman, her body shrouded in a cloak and her face obscured by a scarf that was beaded with Narsai’s morning mist.

“Dan!” Romanova said, and let her thoughts touch her mate’s mind with a mixture of apology that their intimacy couldn’t happen as usual this morning—and of pleasure that someone they both loved was here, unexpected but always welcome.

“Hello, Matushka,” the man said, and gave his informally adopted foster mother a tired grin. “Are you and Linc ready for some trouble? Because I’m afraid I’m bringing you plenty of it.”

“This is Rachel Kane,” Daniel Archer said, as he sat beside the woman who when she removed her cloak proved to be wearing a Star Service uniform that was tight in the front to a ludicrous degree. That had to be uncomfortable. Yet the woman’s face was expressionless, which matched the way she moved—mechanically, and as if every use of muscle required a conscious effort. “You remember me talking about her, don’t you, Matushka?”

The kitchen was warm, and it was fragrant now with coffee and chocolate and sweet hot cereals. Yet the tall woman with the fair hair and the green eyes was shivering, and she continued doing so even after Lincoln Casey went back to the bedroom and got an afghan and deftly wrapped it around her shoulders.

Unlike most Morthan hybrids, he could not sense the feelings of just any other sentient being who happened to be near him. There was only one other person whose emotions he could sense, and that connection had taken him years of constant and close association to develop. Nevertheless he had learned his Morthan mother’s habit of taking care of the people who surrounded him, so he was the one who saw to it that the new arrivals were fed and that the room was made warmer when he realized that Rachel Kane was still shivering even after he brought her the afghan.

Catherine Romanova was nodding and answering her foster son, and relying on her mate to do the things he always did. “I remember,” she said, and reached out to take the younger woman’s hands between both of hers. The flesh she touched was cold. “You were the first officer on the Archangel, when Dan was posted to her as chief engineer.”

“Yes. That was me.” Kane spoke at last, in a raspy voice and so softly that if Romanova hadn’t been leaning toward her already she doubted that she could have made out the words. “I’m sorry, I was alone for so long that I’m having trouble communicating now that I’m with people again. And it was so cold….” Her shivering turned into a shudder.

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