It was a strange feeling to see the streets and alleys of her childhood through the window of Ann's brougham. Although her parents had been well off, and her father had of course used a coach to go to work, Zana couldn't remember when she had last traveled in one herself. Maybe when she was very little?
She smiled nervously at the matron opposite of her and tugged at the rolled up blanket under her robe that had transported her into the last month of pregnancy in the course of mere minutes. „I hope I'll be convincing - I've never been pregnant..."
„Well, there's a first time for everything." Ann's sharp gaze seemed to burn through her robe, and the blanket, and expose the secret beneath it. But she merely added, „Female instinct will tell you how to act. Remember, those goons at the hospital are all men. As soon as their wives went into labor, they fled to the nearest pub and let themselves pity and celebrate by their drinking buddies."
Zana smoothed the robe over the bulging cushion. „I hope I can do it. Is it like very bad stomach cramps?"
„No," Ann said dryly. „Not at all like stomach cramps. As you will find out soon enough." Her eyes shone with irony at Zana's shocked stare. „Now you may be able to fool my poor, hapless son, and my equally hapless husband, but I'm not so old that I have gotten blind or senile. I gather you haven't told Galen yet?" It wasn't really a question.
Zana absently rubbed her thumb over her knuckles. „No. He... he'd disapprove." She looked up and continued quickly, „And he'd be right - in our situation, it'd be suicidal to try and carry it to term. I'd endanger all of them... I already did." The guilt that had lodged itself in her chest since that terrible day climbed into her throat and made her voice thick and strangled. „I'm so tired all the time, and I slowed them down. Peet... Peet came back for me, to distract the patrol so I could hide, and they took him. It would've been me, otherwise. It would've been me."
„He seems to have been a very faithful human," Ann remarked, and Zana tried not to flinch at her use of past tense. „I understand that you want to have him back. I hope you are not disappointed at what you will get back."
„Peet is my friend," Zana said softly. „And I owe him my life. Whatever he needs to get well again, he'll get it. I'll see to it that he does."
„Yalu spoke the truth back at our house - you can stay with us, at least until the baby is born. You are always welcome here."
Zana smiled wanly. As intimidating as Ann was, she could almost picture herself living there... drinking tea, and sewing baby clothes. But she couldn't stomach Yalu, and the feeling was evidently mutual. Ann seemed to sense her misgivings.
„Yalu is a good man," she said. „Honest to the bone, not afraid of anything - or anyone. You would have nothing to fear from Urko."
„I don't think he likes me very much," Zana murmured.
„He has strong convictions," Ann conceded. „And so do you. It makes for lively conversation." She raised an eyebrow when Zana burst into laughter. „I wouldn't have married a wimp. And it seems we have the same taste in men."
Zana opened her mouth to protest - her Galen, soft-spoken, conciliatory, cautious Galen, was nothing like his father! Nothing at all!
But then she remembered the book that he refused to share with anyone, but was copying obsessively every night in the weak firelight, and the risks he had taken on the humans' behalf in his various, hilarious disguises - even walking into Urko's headquarters - his dogged loyalty to her as he defied his father, just now, and back when he had come after her, to her secret tree...
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When Burke gets caught by Urko's troops, he is subjected to a new, experimental form of interrogation developed by a young, ambitious scientist. Now he must withstand both physical and psychological torture while his friends race to his rescue - a f...