The man was grey-haired and bearded, though wearing a look that said he wasn’t much slowed down by it. He had come from the staff area behind the sleek counter, so he wasn’t just a visitor like she was. Lorelea nodded cautiously, making it a brief movement. She wasn’t too surprised he had recognised her. Her long face with its high cheekbones would always give her heritage away to other Clans.
“My grandpa was too. On my father’s side, you understand,” he said.
She did. It meant the connection between them was very loose, not like he was related on his heritage side, the maternal side.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, her tone rising into a question.
“You here alone?”
Never let them think you’ve not got back up. She could almost hear Jaz’s voice in her head.
“Uh—no. Well right now, yes, but I have family in the ‘City.”
The eyes as grey as the hair and beard widened very slightly.
“Strange. I think I’d have heard if any Lastas hit town. Stranger still, I heard you’d parked a ship on your own.
How could he know that?
Lorelea met his gaze with a slight shrug. Suddenly she wasn’t sure what she should share and what she should keep secret. He was Clan, but not her own, and clan feuds and politics could be complex and dangerous. She couldn’t afford to make a mistake.
It’s not something you can do there, Lea, in the ‘City a mistake gets you dead.
“Does it matter?”
“Not really,” he said, his expression caught between amusement and something else—something Lorelea didn’t recognise. “Let me get you a drink on the house and you can tell me what you need. A place to stay? Work?”
All those things seemed to reek of permanence, of staying here indefinitely and something deep inside her revolted at the thought.
“Information,” she said. “I was trying to find someone.”
Lienz leant back and looked appraising as if her admission had changed something very fundamental in their relationship.
“Well, you’ve come to the right person for that. I know just about everyone worth knowing in the ‘City. But you need to be careful who you go asking about, Lorelea Lastas, and who you ask. This isn’t a good place to be asking questions about some people, if you get my meaning.”
She finished eating and pushed the empty away. Avoiding his gaze because his words reminded her of how vulnerable she really was in this place. “Thanks. I’ll have that drink.”
Lienz made a gesture and a young man came running from behind the counter, a tattoo clear on his forearm. A Clan tattoo. Mendive. Lorelea felt her heart pick up a little and wished she knew more about current clan politics. She had no idea if Lastas and Mendive were on good terms or not. There had been a feud, she knew, but that was when she was a child. A lot could have changed since then.
She let Lienz order the drinks and wondered if she had been as clever to come here as she had believed. The older man might have read her thoughts, or perhaps he had seen her react to the clan mark on the youngster who served them.
“In the ‘City we have enough other problems than to go fretting around over Clan history, you know. We’re all blood if we go back far enough and here, well, that counts for a bit more than any daft family arguments.”
His smile was reassuring, but she still wondered if he was just saying the words or if he really meant them.
“Even if so—I…”
“We’re cousins, Lorelea. I’ve Lastas blood in my veins.” He smiled at her and raised his drink in a silent toast. Outsider style. She felt a release of tension she hadn’t realised she held. He had claimed her as kin—family. Clan. Despite herself, she returned his smile.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Welcome. Now, what are you doing here on your own? I had heard your people had pretty much settled in the same place the last thirty odd years or more. ”
“Like I said. I need to find someone.”
The steady gaze seemed to harden slightly, but not at her—more on her account.
“Someone hurt you?”
She shook her head quickly, annoyed he could see.
“No. This is a friend. He may be in trouble.”
Again, she felt the weighing judgement of Lienz’s eyes. It was as if for every word she spoke he was reading another half-hundred behind.
“This isn’t a good place to be in trouble,” he said, after a few moments. “I think you don’t want to get this friend of yours into any more so won’t tell me his name until you trust me some. Which is a shame as trouble often moves fast in the ‘City.”
“I don’t even know for sure he is here.” Lorelea could hear the defensive protest in her own voice. Lienz was right though. Both that she didn’t fully trust him and that she probably needed to. Needed to be able to trust him, at least.
Lienz sighed and offered a wan smile.
“Some people make life hard for themselves,” he said. “Alright, You need a place to stay, and I have an apartment needs someone to live in it. No charge. I can get you work too if you want. Decent pay. Or if you’re willing to hire out your ship, you can sit back and count the credits.”
“It’s Clan property,” she lied. “If it flies, I’m aboard.”
“Fair enough,” Lienz conceded easily, “but what about the rest?”
Lorelea hesitated. She knew he was right. She would have to face up to the fact that this was going to take time, and she needed to plan for that. He had already claimed her as both Clan and kin which meant a lot as it placed on him—on them both—duties of tradition. His offer was generous, and if the search took longer than she originally thought, she would be glad of any work he could put her way. With a strange sense of reluctance, even though it made solid sense, she gave a nod.
“Alright. That’s kind.”
Lienz smiled again.
“You’re Clan. And you can owe me a favour for it.”