Vivien hurried through the station. She’d found where the ship was to dock earlier but now that it was docked, she couldn’t find it again. “Stupid,” she said softly. “I should have just stayed there. Why did I have to find something to eat? Why couldn’t I just stay there?”

“Gwyon, hurry up,” she heard ahead of her. “She could be there any minute if she isn’t there already. I can’t believe you had to stop and get supplies. Couldn’t you have done that earlier?”

“Tal, I wanted to but the captain said that we weren’t allowed to leave the ship until all the normals had a turn for shore-leave,” came a reply. The voice was soft, almost child-like. The speaker sounded hesitant or shy, even as he used familiar terms with his companion.

“Norms, always getting special privileges. I can’t see how that’s right,” the first voice said. Vivien smiled. The term ‘normals’ could only mean one thing. These were mages. The first voice sounded courser and sharper than the latter one. She hoped that Tal wasn’t as mean as his voice made him sound.

“Hello,” she said, peering around the corner at the men. One held a pile of packages, the other held a single traveling bag. There could be no doubt that they were mages. “I’m Vivien Martin. Could you tell me where the Lady Mara is?”

“We’re headed there,” one of the men said. His eyes widened and he grinned brightly. “You’re the new mage that’s been assigned to us. I’m Gwyon Murphy and this is Tal Brightman.”

“Talesin Brightman,” he said. Now his voice sounded less course, more cultured. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mistress Vivien.” He smiled and waved a hand toward a corridor that she hadn’t noticed in her searching and said, “Right this way.”

“Talesin, Gwyon,” a man called from down the corridor. He continued to speak as he rounded the corner, interrupting himself as he saw her. “The captain wants – ah, Mistress Vivien, I presume? Merlian Jones, Head of Magical Research on the Lady Mara,” he said, placing a hand on his chest.

“Pleased to meet you, Master Merlian,” Vivien returned. “Is this our entire department?”

“Unless the captain sees fit to increase our funding, yes,” Merlian replied. “Did they tell you why you’re being transferred to a ship?” When Vivien bit her lip and shook her head, he sighed. “When I tell you not to try anything sketchy with the local fauna, don’t.”

“Math was killed by Teymarians,” Gwyon said softly. “Merlian told him that they were sentient, even though they were tiny but he didn’t believe Merlian and tried to take a sample of them.”

“They saw it as an attack and moved to defend themselves,” Talesin said. “You can’t blame them really. They’re the size of dust compared to us. We could kill them so easily.”

“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Gwyon said sagely.

“Right,” Vivien said softly. This was going to be an interesting assignment.

continued here