Saturday Storytime: Little Faces


Vonda McIntyre is one of the earliest women to be nominated for a Hugo. She’s been nominated several more times for several more awards since then. It will be unsurprising to anyone who reads this story that it was multiply nominated as well.

“Zorargul,” Yalnis whispered. She had never lost a companion. She chose them carefully, and cherished them, and Zorargul had been her first, the gift of her first lover. She looked up at Seyyan, confused and horrified, shocked by loss and pain.

“Come back.” Seyyan spoke with soft urgency. She stretched out her graceful hand. “Come back to bed.” Her voice intensified. “Come back to me.”

Yalnis shrank from her touch. Seyyan followed her, sliding over the fading bloodstain in the comfortable nest of ship silk. Her first companion extruded itself, just below her navel, staring intently at Zorargul’s body.

Seyyan stroked Yalnis’ shoulder. Yalnis pushed her away with her free hand, leaving bloody fingerprints on Seyyan’s golden skin.

Seyyan grabbed her wrist and held her, moved to face her squarely, touched her beneath her chin and raised her head to look her in the eyes. Yalnis tried to blink away her tears, baffled and dizzy, flooded with the molecular messages of anger and distress her remaining companions pumped into her blood.

“Come back to me,” Seyyan said again. “We’re ready for you.”

Her first companion, drawing back into her, pulsed and muttered. Seyyan caught her breath.

“I never asked for this!” Yalnis cried.

Seyyan sat back on her heels, as lithe as a girl, but a million years old.

“I thought you wanted me,” she said. “You welcomed me—invited me—took me to your bed—”

Yalnis shook her head, though it was true. “Not for this,” she whispered.

“It didn’t even fight,” Seyyan said, dismissing Zorargul’s remains with a quick gesture. “It wasn’t worthy of its place with you.”

“Who are you to decide that?”

“I didn’t,” Seyyan said. “It’s the way of companions.” She touched the reddening bulge of a son-spot just below the face of her first companion. “This one will be worthy of you.”

Yalnis stared at her, horrified and furious. Seyyan, the legend, had come to her, exotic, alluring, and exciting. All the amazement and attraction Yalnis felt washed away in Zorargul’s blood.

“I don’t want it,” she said. “I won’t accept it.”

Seyyan’s companion reacted to the refusal, blinking, snarling. For a moment Yalnis feared Seyyan too would snarl at her, assault her and force a new companion upon her.

Seyyan sat back, frowning in confusion. “But I thought—did you invite me, just to refuse me? Why—?”

“For pleasure,” Yalnis said. “For friendship. And maybe for love—maybe you would offer, and I would accept—”

“How is this different?” Seyyan asked.

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