Some of you may – or may not – be aware that Line and Orbit used to be quite a lot longer. Specifically, it was almost an entire book’s length longer. A great deal was cut, some of which we loved, and it seems a shame to think those bits might never see the light of day in any form.
So something that I and my co-author will be doing in the next month or so is pulling out some of the scenes that were cut from the final edit of Line and Orbit, dusting them off a bit, and posting them here for your reading pleasure.
The scene below is actually a huge chunk of what was chapter three, before chapter three became the segment that introduces us to Lochlan and Ixchel. It should be understood to take place directly after the scene in which Ixchel reads Lochlan’s future. It’s significant in that it’s actually the scene that was originally supposed to introduce readers to Kae and Leila, whereas in the final cut Kae and Leila are introduced only after Adam arrives on Ashwina.
It also features Lochlan being his cocky, promiscuous self. And Kae’s full, glorious name.
For those concerned: There are no major spoilers for the plot itself. If you haven’t read or haven’t finished reading, do not fear. Enjoy.
Dancing kept back the dark. It did more than that: it celebrated it, moved through and with it. Bideshi legends went back as far as the days of Terra, before the great self-imposed exile that had sent them out into that endless night. Back that far and even before it, there had been dancing. Life in motion and motion in life.
Kae leaned back against the bar and watched the dancers, who were washed with strobing lights of every color in a thousand nebulae as they spun. Once he had danced like that, leaping, turning, undulating a body that was still deciding what it was trying to be, winking at the pretty girls and playing the clown for the favor of a smile. He still danced now, but it was less common. He was older, stronger, settled within himself and settled in his life, married and thinking about the things that came with marriage. Tied down, Lochlan would have said with a grin and a jab of his elbow. She’s got you under her thumb, Kae, friend of my youth, Sucked you in and trapped you.
And Kae would laugh and jab him right back, because it was true.
So now he watched the dancers, the beautiful young Bideshi practicing their own brand of magic. A drink was sweating into his hand, a smile pulling at his lips, until a touch on his bare forearm made him turn.
A woman leaned in to press a slow kiss to his jaw and he turned his head and slid the kiss into fullness, until she smiled and pulled back again.
“You weren’t at our table.”
“Someone else took it.” He curled an arm around her waist and pulled her close. She was strong, built for grace and speed like the fighter she was, and the way she fit against him had been one of the first things that had pushed desire over into something much deeper. “Besides, it isn’t ours, Leila.”
Leila laughed, backstepping him towards the wall where there were rows of other free tables. “Sure it is, sweetness. You carved our names into it, remember?”
Kae caught up with her, something like chasing in the movement. “I remember.” Together they picked a table and settled. Here the music was softer, but they could still see the swirl of bodies underneath the lights. “I couldn’t believe you were with me.”
“All you flyboys.” Leila reached up and combed her fingers through Kae’s short-cropped hair, just a touch of mischief in her eyes. “You voel. Maybe I just wanted to see for myself that you hadn’t all gotten yourselves killed. What about our fine and feathered friend? Wing-brother Lochlan? Is he still alive and kicking and tormenting his elders?”
Kae chuckled. “He was missing today, you know. Ying said she was going to ping him to bring him in.”
The music crescendoed and the dance floor dissolved into hollers and whistles, clapping hands. The band was breaking down their set, instruments handed off as the next performers carried theirs to the low stage. Sweat-slicked dancers laughed and shoved themselves to the bar, vying for the barkeep’s attention.
“We should dance,” murmured Leila, looking out at the floor with that mischief still sparking in her eyes, something distant under it. “Let’s dance, habibti.”
“We can’t dance without music, habibi.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. She shot him a look and swiped at his hand.
“So in a minute, then,” she said, and just then the floor erupted with noise.
They both turned, and out of the corner of his eye Kae saw Leila’s hand flying to her hip where her jambia was concealed under layers of scarves. But it was happy noise, slightly ironic noise, clapping and cheering. As the crowd by the door parted, the object of the swell of attention moved forward, lifting tattooed arms and waving as though it were an honored guest, some triumphant hero back from battle, having completed daring deeds and won much fame.
Leila rolled her eyes. “Speak of the devil. I do believe I see his horns.”
“Be nice to my friends, habibi.” Kae‘s smile was edged with sympathy as he stood and waved. The figure appeared to spot them and hurried over.
“Kae Sasha Yokohama Kanesh Muhammad d’Bideshi,” Lochlan said, dipping his lean body into a bow. “Honored wing-brother. It’s good to see you looking well. Is your life still unbelievably boring?” He straightened up and grinned toothily. “And your lovely wife. Krasivaya.”
“You’re ridiculous,” said Leila, before Kae could speak. “Sit your ass down and be quiet. The grownups are talking.”
“You’ll find me quite grown if you’ll test me, lady.” Lochlan took a seat, still grinning. “Seriously, Kae, it feels like years since I was here. Never thought a ship so ugly could look so good.”
“You didn’t have to screw and steal your way through the entire western arm,” Kae said, eyebrows lifting. Across the room, the next band was tuning in a raucous noise that barely sounded like it could ever shape itself into music. “No one likes a show-off, Lock.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, wing-brother.” Lochlan nodded at a pretty waitress and held up his hand for a drink, a soft linen bandage covering his left index finger. “They love me.”
“I’ll bet,” Leila murmured. “I suppose Aidsa was keeping you busy this evening?”
“Looks like Ixchel got to him first.” Kae reached over their glasses, catching Lochlan’s hand and ghosting his fingers over the bandage. “Is that right? Did the ghost woman get you?”
Lochlan snatched his hand back, looking abruptly sullen. “Fuck off. You want some pointed attention from the old bat, you go ruffle her skirts for a while. I’m done being her plaything.”
Leila sighed, taking Lochlan’s hand in hers and inspecting the bandage. “You’ll be done when she is, I’m afraid. That’s usually how it works with her, Lock.”
“What did she say?” Kae asked, nodding at the fresh bandage.
Lochlan sighed, perking up only slightly when the waitress came back with three more frosty glasses of dark lovina. “Thank you. He kept eye contact until the young girl laughed and flushed.
“No problem,” she said, dark curls spilling over her shoulders. “You need anything else, come find me, yeah?”
Lochlan toasted her with the new pint. “I will. I will do that. Thank you very much.”
Leila cleared her throat. “Charming. You’ve been buying pheromones off the Sepiod merchants again, haven’t you?”
Lochlan lifted his shirt and sniffed at it delicately. “Water pump was broken on Volya.”
Kae laughed. “You could make easier repairs if you’d come home once in a star’s life. Where were you for so long this time, anyway?”
Lochlan shrugged, took a long swallow of his drink and glanced at the dancers, who had reassembled themselves and dived into the reeling with fresh fervor. “Nowhere in particular,” he said, and Kae fancied that the casualness in his voice was perhaps a little too pronounced. “There was a festival on Juno. That was worth a look.”
Kae arched an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me. A fertility festival?”
“Actually, yes,” Lochlan said with mock stiffness, drawing himself up in his chair and raising his glass. “An old and a noble custom, born of a rich culture. I had a wonderful time.” His face darkened slightly. “Until the riffraff showed up.”
“What do you mean?” Leila leaned forward, frowning and curious, and Kae didn’t blame her for being so. Since the beginning of their exile, the Bideshi had been the ones to take in those called ‘riffraff’ by all others, the unwanted and the strange. He could see where this was going, and he wondered with tired resignation whether he might have to break up an open argument. Leila and Lochlan didn’t often square off, but when they did it could be something to see.
“The landed lords showed up for a tour and a grope,” Lochlan said with fine scorn. “Protectorate shits. Raya.”
“Lochlan,” Leila pulled away and frowned even harder. “You know that’s an ugly word.”
Lochlan shrugged and took another swallow of lovina. “An ugly word for ugly people, lady.”
“You’re lucky we’re not near any children or I’d scrub your mouth out to show them what happens to brats.” Leila was actually getting angry now, her eyes bright. “You should know better, you–”
“Lock,” Kae said, laying a soft hand on his wife’s arm. “Why don’t you go get us some refills? Eh?” Again he was the mediator, but he’d had years of breaking up brawls between the escort fighters and it wasn’t as though it was anything new. Lochlan looked mutinous for a moment but at last he pushed back his chair and got up, giving the two of them a quick nod before he vanished into the crowd of people around the bar.
“Habibi–” Kae started, but Leila lifted a hand and silenced him.
“I know. I shouldn’t let him get under my skin. I try not to, Kae, I do, but when he rolls out that kind of language…” She sighed and raked a hand through her hair, letting it fall back over one shoulder in a dark tumble. “We can’t afford to think that way. He should know that.”
“He does,” Kae said softly. “He’s just angry.” He reached out and took her hand, lifting it to his mouth and kissing her knuckles. “So don’t you be, though you’re gorgeous when you are. Dance with me, habibi.”
She allowed herself a smile and rose. “I suppose I could stand it. If you make me tired enough…”
“I’ll do my very best,” he murmured, lips close to her ear as he led her onto the floor and took her in his arms.
* * *
It didn’t make sense to be so angry, so suddenly. He wasn’t even that drunk, not yet at that belligerent stage where fights tended to start, and he wasn’t usually the type to start them anyway.
Raya. They had come in and spoiled his fun, simply by being there. Tourists. Spoiled children, and so perfect it made you sick. I don’t know how the fuck you can stand there and defend them, he had once yelled, Leila staring him down with her arms crossed over her breasts, for this was only the latest round of a very old fight. After what you’ve seen. The way they treat people.
And then Kae had stepped in before things could carry themselves any further. Kae the peacemaker, always pulling him back from the edge of nasty things, demanding that he keep a cool head. Which was good, and he was grateful for it, but now his hand was throbbing and his temper was high. What he wanted was a dozen drinks and a pretty thing to take home, and to get away from the disgusted twist of Leila’s mouth. She didn’t understand, but she never had to. No one had ever showed her just what they were capable of, and stories didn’t do them justice.
His temper was still flaming and he was talking himself into a foul mood when he stopped, caught sight of a turning face thrown into sharp relief by the lights, beautiful and strange. He stepped forward, letting himself be distracted—wanting it, close to needing—and the face turned again, eyes locking with his, features delicate and straddling the line between clearly male and clearly female in a way that could only be described as delightful.
“I’m in need of a diversion,” Lochlan said, sliding up and against, close enough to touch though he wasn’t going that far, not quite yet. He smiled, half rueful and half cunning, making a joke out of it without any attempt to disguise the want in his gaze. “I’m after myself. I’ll never get away if I can’t distract me.”
The pretty creature tipped their head back and laughed—shoulder-length hair dyed a deep purple, eyes dark with khol, body swathed in flowing gauze and curving sweetly against his. The barest brush of full, darkly-stained lips against his jaw and Leila was forgotten, and it was as though there was no Protectorate and never had been.
“And you need my help, sweetheart?” his new companion murmured. “Tell you what: buy me a drink. And then we’ll see what kind of merry chase I can lead you on.”
* * *
Lochlan backed through the hatch with his hands still occupied, moving over angles and curves and edging under cloth so light it almost wasn’t there. He tripped, stumbled, managed not to fall as his back hit the bulkhead and he started to laugh.
His companion arched against him and leaned in to stop the laughter with another kiss, hands doing some of their own exploring. “So maybe you’re more focused than we thought.” The words were hot and soft against Lochlan’s ear. “I hear things about you. Let’s see.”
Lochlan grinned and reached between them, still pleasantly unsure of what he might or might not find—found hard flesh and palmed it roughly, and the person—the boy, at least in one sense—parted their lips and moaned.
You didn’t argue with a gift like this. Not when there wasn’t anything in the universe to argue about. He’d abandoned Leila and Kae in the bar, some distant and more responsible part of him knew. No guilt came with the realization, just distant acknowledgment and, if anything, satisfaction that they were used to it and would forgive him in the morning. If Leila wanted to call him a child, then he’d more than live up to her expectations.
“We gonna do this here?” asked the boy, one eyebrow arched wickedly. “Or are you gonna show me my other options?”
And Lochlan laughed again and pushed away from the wall, pushing and pulling his new friend with him as they stumbled through the narrow entryway and into the main room.
His berth on the homeship had never been large since he’d first left Ying’s home and claimed a stead of his own. Never large but he kept moving, stricken by an odd inability to stay in the same place for more than a few months at a time, a feature that was intrinsic to the Bideshi but which seemed unusually strong in him. But wherever he went, the berth was always small, always cluttered, a mirror image of Volya in many ways. The central room was dominated by an enormous plush sofa piled with cushions of all colors and patterns and strewn here and there with loose items of clothing. The steel flooring was covered by a threadbare rug, a complex design from the master weavers of Jantabar, spirals within spirals and lines that somehow never began and never ended but turned and turned until one grew dizzy with following them. A small and messy kitchenette lined one sloping wall. A broad table before the sofa was covered with glasses and bottles and old books, half burned candles, bundles of white sage and sandalwood. The lights were low and one or two flickered faintly.
“Fire your maid, sweetheart,” murmured Lochlan’s companion, and chuckled.
“I keep her too busy.” Lochlan was walking them backward again, back toward the low doorway that led to his tiny bedroom. “I can show you how. It’s really quite something.” He ducked his head for another kiss, slow and wet, and lips that parted against his tasted delightfully of alcohol and clove smoke. Long fingers slid over the coils of Lochlan’s hair.
Somehow they had turned and switched positions, rotating around and caught in each other’s spin, and the backs of Lochlan’s legs hit the bed, nothing more than a mattress on a low platform. He let himself drop down onto the bed in a controlled tumble, pulling the lithe body with him, kissing them again as they went. The bedroom glowed as they moved, sensing their presence, and the boy pushed up over him, straddling Lochlan’s hips as the rest of the cloth that wrapped him began to come unwound. Lochlan’s hands framed skin the rich color of old-growth wood from the Klashorg jungles.
“You’re beautiful,” he whispered.
The boy grinned, teeth gleaming in the dimness. “You’re all talk.” He reached up, closed a hand over Lochlan’s wrist and placed it back between them, rolling his hips down against it. “Let’s have some action now.”
So they had it, and it was hard and fast and very good. And afterward with the nameless boy damp and breathing deep at his side, Lochlan lifted his hand into the soft light and saw that the cut on his finger had opened up again, and the boy’s perfect shoulder was lightly smeared with blood.