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expected to use this wind once it slackened off enough to trust.
For now, though, it was a matter of keeping the damned boat afloat. He watched
wave after wave crash into the bow and engulf it and then felt that bizarre
sensation only those who had sailed into a large storm knew, that of the deck
shifting suddenly both horizontally and vertically at once as the bow came up
and broke free to await another wave.
There was a lashing post, and he considered tying him-self to the wheel
station, but he'd sailed worse-handling craft than this in even rougher
weather over thousands of years and countless endless seas.
Once he got his sea legs and the rhythm of the ship, he would feel fairly
comfortable with it. Still, it would be nice to sit down, strapped to a fixed
chair rather than having to stand through the storm for who knew how long.
Still, he dared to lock the wheel long enough to slip off the heavy coat he
was wearing and noted for the first time that he'd lost his hat somewhere
along the way.
Finding himself pretty well soaked anyway, he slipped off his shirt and was
just deciding if he could go any farther when the small boat gave a sudden,
violent lurch to one side, throwing him to the deck.
"What the ?" he asked himself, getting up and looking around. It was still
pretty rough, but it wasn't that rough.
Must have hit a reef or something, he decided, shaking his head and turning
back to the wheel.
He suddenly froze, a cold chill going through him to the bone even though it
was as hot as ever. He looked around for the girl but found her sitting just
behind the mainmast, cross-legged, looking forward at the huge swells exactly
as she'd been when he'd locked the wheel. And, yet, and yet . . .
Wet and crumpled, his hat now sat atop the topmost spoke of the ship's wheel.
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Itus
"I UNDERSTAND THAT WE HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON," ONE
of the twin centauresses said to Julian in heavily accented English as they
entered the hotel room.
"Yes?" was all Julian could manage, still startled both by the unexpectedly
diminutive appearance of
Mavra Chang and by the startling if imposing twins who seemed to have stepped
out of
Fantasia.
"You were a human male, were you not? And so was I. Not so Anne Marie, who was
my wife."
"I'm afraid Tony is having a very difficult time with this," Anne Marie put
in, her voice absolutely identical to the other's but with a definitely softer
and gentler, almost "sweet" tone, while Tony seemed much firmer, almost
aris-tocratic. There were clearly two different personalities in-side those
mirror-image heads, not to mention the fact that Anne Marie's accent was very
British.
"I will survive the shock," Tony commented, as if reas-suring herself as well
as Anne Marie. Tony was in fact looking at the very feminine, pastel-colored,
and four-breasted Julian and already seeing how much worse things might have
been.
Mavra walked over to Lori and stood looking at him. While she had always
projected the feeling of someone much larger, in fact she now barely came up
to the middle of his chest, heeled boots and all. She gave a low whistle.
"Man! The Well outdid itself on this batch! The two guys become girls, one of
the girls becomes a guy, and the other girl becomes the exact identical twin
of her husband. Boy! Talk about screwing around with people's psyches!"
Lori was as stunned by the twin centauresses as Julian had been. "I thought
you said two entries to the same spe-cies was just about unheard of," he said
to Mavra. He left unsaid that he was startled to be
"hearing" the centauresses in Erdomese in spite of the fact that since Julian
could un-derstand them, they were most likely speaking English. Was that, he
worried, a price of the translator? That it trans-lated even languages one
knew
! He wondered for a mo-ment why he hadn't noticed this with Julian, then
realized that they had uncharacteristically spoken only Erdomese to one
another since his return the previous afternoon.
Mavra nodded at Lori's comment about same-species con-versions being uncommon.
"They are. Sex changes no, they happen all the time. The reason generally is
to main-tain the balance in the hex, since you can't add territory.
Dillians that's what this pair is tend to mate only a couple of times a year
and have long gestation periods. I know the race well myself. The result is
that they often have periods when there are fewer births than normal, so
they're a natural to add to during one of those times, and newcomers are
al-most always females there because with that long gestation, they're not
necessarily going to increase the population be-fore the Well can balance
things out. It would also be most common to be female if you got put in Erdom,
as Julian was, since they have a lot more females than males. Lori, I think
you were the exception for reasons we discussed. On the other hand, if you had
come through first, you'd un-doubtedly have been female, and Julian wouldn't
even have wound up Erdomese. Hard to say. For my selfish purposes, anyway, I'm
glad it worked out the way it did. Happy to have you both aboard."
The twins, as it were, were stunning creatures on both the "human" and
nonhuman halves. Both stood about 215 centimeters tall, with thick, billowing
strawberry blond hair that cascaded from their heads and went down the back
like a mane, out of which stuck two very equine ears that seemed to be able to
pivot independently of one another, and big green eyes set in an exotically
beautiful face that contained elements of classical European but had other
in-fluences from many races. The complexion was a golden brown, although it
was difficult to determine if it was tanned or naturally that way. The breasts
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were rather large and seemed designed more to hang down when the torso leaned
forward, suggesting that centaur young nursed stand-ing on all fours;
otherwise, the figure was close to perfect, going down to a very small waist
at the point where the hu-manoid torso merged into the equine half just about
where a horse's neck would begin, so that the entire humanoid torso seemed to
be slightly forward of the main body. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]