The Value of Silence
Atlantis is Laura Cadman’s home but even there among the busy chattering of thousands of people she feels alone. It is social decorum to own a slave and she has no choice but to follow the actions of her neighbours. When she musters the courage to find a dealer, she finds she cannot look at the slaves for too long.
But there is one, with his penetrating blue gaze, that draws her to him. The dealer assures her that he has the Ancients’ ability in his blood and, as she is devoid of that ability, it is a good investment. Laura asks the slave his name, but he remains silent.
The dealer tells her that he has never spoken, but somehow a name is known. Laura is sure that her attention is solely on business even if her eyes find their way back to her purchase. The dealer tells her smoothly, “He doesn’t say anything, but he’s worth good money. His name is Carson Beckett.”
“Is he mute?” she asks.
The answer is ‘who knows?’ The dealer has had a doctor examine the slave and found no physical problem. The only other information the dealer knows is that this slave fell into becoming property due to poverty. Laura buys the slave and takes him back to her quarters.
True to the dealer’s words, Carson never makes a sound even when he scalds himself preparing a meal. She tries to school her reaction to finding someone else in her quarters, but it continues to surprise her. He makes a good listener and soon Laura chatters to him about anything she thinks of.
She tells him she was once in the army and her regrets of those experiences. In a moment of weakness, she admits that her former lover abused her. It is at that moment that Laura sees anger flare in her slave’s brilliant blue eyes. She hopes it will not be the last time his expression betrays his thoughts.
The first few months pass in one sided conversations and just when she thinks she knows all there is to know about her silent companion, he comes to her aid when she is involved in a fight. Carson tenderly washes her bloody knuckles and almost clinically tends to her wounds.
“You were a doctor,” she guesses and wonders how he became so poor as to be forced into slavery.
He nods to her statement and his steady hands work perfectly. Their companionship continues and Laura tells him something she’s never told someone else. She figures his silence will remain so. She sighs. “My last mission was to track down some run away slaves. I found them all in once place…and I was ordered to detonate the building.”
Carson’s gaze is a question and, sobbing, she admits to him that she had followed orders but then resigned. She cries and he holds her. From that day, Laura begins to watch his eyes more. They tell her everything she ever needs to know. She imagines that each shift in those blue depths is a response to her words.
Their first kiss is an accident when Laura has too much wine and she tries to avoid looking into his eyes for days, frightened of what she might see there. But his silence masks his resolve. Carson approaches her while she reads and shyly kisses her, half on her cheek, half on her lips.
She discovers she likes his kisses and makes no move to discourage him. In the weeks that follow, his silence becomes comforting rather than unsettling. She soon knows when he feels a certain emotion and this discovery startles her. She has never been too good at reading body language, but then, she reflects with a smile, she has never had such a fine body to study.
One night as Laura lies in bed thinking about him, he enters her room and sits beside her. She shies from his touch, memories of her former lover haunting her mind. But she can only delay the intimacy, not prevent it.
The following week, she leaves her door open and waits for him, shivering in the cold of the night. Carson reads her unspoken acceptance. He is an experienced lover but he is gentle as he makes love to her. She hopes that he will at last say something, perhaps her name, but he still makes no sound. His hands are the hands of a healer, this she definitely knows now as he brings her to pleasure.
When they finish, lying together, his fingers trail along her back with the gentle attention he gives everything, until he reaches her hair. As the strands slide over his tender hand, he allows one small whisper against her neck, “I love you, Laura.”
Keeping all surprise from her features, she lets him continue his ministrations. His voice is husky from disuse but also lazy in his content. It is a very strange accent, warming her from nape to navel just as one of his kisses can. Laura feels privileged to hear it, even though a wave of unease travels through her.
She wants to return the words, but she can’t. That blue gaze is on fixed on her, she knows, and oh God how she wishes she could thaw her lips. She hesitates, murmurs apologetically, “Carson…”
“Shh, love,” he soothes. “You sleep now.”
Laura wants to keep him talking, to hear that pleasant brogue again, but her eyes betray her. Her last conscious thought is of him pressing a soft kiss against her neck. When she is safely asleep, Carson leaves her bed for his room. He is silent, as he has been for these past months, but there is a smile stealing its way onto his face.
She wakes alone and regrets not having his warmth against her back. Already a plan is hatching in her mind to escape this place with him. There are thousands of worlds in the universe and she only needs one.
Laura finds him cooking her favourite breakfast, the picture of a submissive slave but the love mark on his neck exposes his position for what it really is. She has never felt closer to another person as she does now and does not hesitate to wrap her arms around his waist. His muscles stiffen for the briefest of moments before he turns to kiss her.
“I love your accent,” she says, but those words are not enough.
Carson nods and he smiles for her. He again gifts her with his voice – quietly, as though someone else might hear, “I’m glad you like it, lass.”
Laura tells him what she plans to do. He doesn’t point out the flaws and, when questioned, insists that there are none. It seems everything is moving too fast and, before she can gather her thoughts, they are stealing a Gateship and disappearing into the stars.
They find friends and protection among nomadic peoples on the planet of Athos. He begins to say her name when they make love and it is this that gives away the measure of his trust. It is only then, when away from the calculating unfeeling smiles of their culture, that Laura manages to say one morning when he wakes up beside her, “I love you.”
Carson has become the healer for the Athosian people and there is much celebration when he announces his intentions to marry her in their custom. Laura has no regrets when they do marry and finds that he talks more and more with each passing day.
It is shortly after their marriage that he reveals his secret. He copies out notes flawlessly from the dimmest recesses of his mind and shows them to her. He explains excitedly that he has isolated the gene in human DNA that controls the Ancients’ technology.
“The Ancient Technology Activation Gene,” he christens it proudly.
Only she knows at that moment that she is married to the universe’s greatest treasure. She has no doubt that one day he will cure cancer. She is the first to be inoculated when he discovers how and Laura cannot remember how many gifts like this he has given her. The day she tries to tell him how much he means to her, words fail her. Her husband wraps her in his embrace and murmurs, “I know, love.”
Both of them have their moments of silence, but there is never any communication lost in those times.
When word of the slave revolt reaches them, Laura is the one to insist he shares his research with the universe. Word of him spreads like wildfire and suddenly everyone wants to hear him speak. Endless conferences and visits to Earth allow him to hone his speaking well.
Laura jokingly says he speaks too much now and yet she is the only one who can read his brief silences. When she brings this up, Carson laughs and says it is because they’ve been together so long. But she knows better as she lies in his arms, listening to his gentle snores.
She realises she knows the true value of silence.