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FLEDGLING-ARC

Liaden Universe 10

By

Sharon Lee And Steve Miller

FLEDGLING-ARC

Sharon Lee &

Steve Miller

Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2009 by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

"The Liaden Universe®" is a registered trademark.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471 www.baen.com

ISBN 10: 1-4391-3287-9

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-3287-6

Cover art by Alan Pollock

First printing, September 2009

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Pages by Joy Freeman:

www.pagesbyjoy.com

Printed in the USA

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Afterword

The authors would like to extend special thanks to the following people, all of whom made Fledgling richer, and without whom you might be reading some other book

Mike Barker, for his unflappable good nature, and deft touch with a wiki

Sam Chupp, the voice and the will behind the Fledgling podcast

Shaennon K. Garrity, who was kind enough to lend us the Antonio Smith Method

Donna Gaudet, for naming Melchiza

Robert Parks, for taking it to the street

Shawna Camara and Angela Gradillas, for their promotion work in Second Life

Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books, our patient editor

Jennifer Jackson of the Maass Agency, our marvelous agent

The many, many supporters of the Fledgling on-line project, and especially the denizens of the Theo_Waitley Live Journal Community, who made it all happen, and happen well

Chapter One

Number Twelve Leafydale Place

Greensward-by-Efraim

Delgado

"Why do I have to go with her?" Theo demanded, and winced at the quaver in her voice. She'd meant to sound cool and remote and adult. Instead, she just sounded like a kid on the edge of a tantrum.

Housefather Kiladi looked up from his work screen and regarded her just a shade too seriously. Theo bit her lip.

"Because," he said in his deep, calm voice, "in the culture predominant upon Delgado, children – by which I mean those persons who have not attained what that same culture deems as their majority – are understood to be submissive to, and the responsibility of, their biological mother." He raised a strong eyebrow. "Surely you are aware of these things, Theo."

Well, she was. But that didn't mean she had to like them. Or live with them.

"You're the one who taught me that accepting cultural mores is a choice," she said, pleased that her voice was steady now, if still more heated than she would have liked. "I don't choose to accept these particular conditions."

"Ah." He leaned back in his chair, hands folded on the edge of his desk, considering her out of thoughtful black eyes. "But a decision to rebel against predominant standards is only half a decision. What will you do instead?"

"I'll stay here. With you." There. She'd said it.

Both eyebrows rose, and he tipped his head to one side, consideringly. Theo felt a brush against her knee, and a moment later black-and-white Mandrin leapt to the top of the desk and sat down primly next to the keyboard.

"A bold and straightforward plan," Father said eventually. "My congratulations." He reached out to scratch Mandrin's ears. "I must ask, however, if you have considered all the ramifications of this choice."

Theo eyed him. "What do you mean?"

"Decisions have consequences," he murmured, his attention seemingly centered on the cat, though she knew better. Jen Sar Kiladi had been her mother's onagrata for as long as Theo could remember. She knew him every bit as well as she knew her mother – and I like him better, too, she thought rebelliously.

"For instance," he told Mandrin. "Your mother will certainly be both shocked and saddened by this decision. She may exert her influence. Ethics and law are, as you know, on her side. How will you respond? To what extent are you willing to fund this choice? How much sorrow are you willing to cause? How much disdain are you willing to bear? Surely, your friends must recoil as you step beyond that which they feel and know to be proper. Your mentor may consider it incumbent upon her to alert the Safety Office, and the Safeties deem it their duty to intervene."

Mandrin shook her head vigorously, as if these possibilities were too awful to contemplate. Professor Kiladi smiled slightly and refolded his hands, gaze settling on the untidy stack of hard copy on the desk-side table.

"In fact," he told the papers gravely, "such deviance from the norm might come to the attention of the Chapelia, who would perhaps feel Moved to send a Simple to you, to ascertain if your rebellion might Teach."

He glanced up and pinned her in a sharp glance.

"If you were to ask me – which I note that you have not – I would say the price seems excessive for what may be at most a few months' inconvenience." He inclined his head. "You must, of course, please yourself."

Theo swallowed. "You don't know that it's only for a few months," she said, her voice unsteady again.

"Do I not?" he murmured in that over-polite voice he used when he thought you were being especially stupid. "How inept of me."

Theo looked down at the floor and the blaze of galaxies dancing there. Father's study floor usually projected the star fields; he said they helped to put his work into perspective. Theo's mother said they made her dizzy.

"Do you," she said, raising her head and meeting his eyes. "Do you know forcertain that it's only going to be a couple months?"

"Child... " He came out of his chair in one of his boneless, catlike moves, flowing toward her across the pirouetting stars, silent in his soft, embroidered slippers. "Nothing in life is certain. Your mother tells me that she requires a few months to concentrate on her own affairs. She is, I believe, at a delicate point with regard to her career, and wishes to do all that she may to advance herself."

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