• A view of Surebleak as a character
  • Character study of Villy / Villim
    • male prostitute / hetaera at Audrey's House of Joy, occasional math tutor for local children, and the sticks table host at the Emerald Casino
  • Published in Sleeping with the Enemy: Adventures in the Liaden Universe #22
  • see The Books (and other stories)


  • Villy
  • Quin yos'Phelium -- just before he boards his ship Galandasti (so this story takes place concurrent with Dragon in Exile)
  • Quin's flight instructor Pilot Lucien
  • Ms. Audrey
  • Cheever McFarland
  • Cassie - an employee at the Emerald Casino
  • Beny - an employee at the casino
  • Jade - receptionist at Audrey's House of Joy
  • Patsy - bouncer at Audrey's, a native Bleaker who retired from The Mercs and returned to Surebleak
  • Teddy - an older, rounder, motherly hetaera
  • Desa ven'Zel -- an agent for The Department of the Interior
  • Also at the scene: Hazenthull nor'Phelium and Tolly Jones


  • Villy is studying Liaden communication to prevent misunderstandings at the sticks table and at Audrey's House of Joy
  • Some scenes dovetail with the Surebleak Culture Study
  • An agent of the Department is hunting Quin. She learns that he is best friends with Villy...


"I am told that Terrans. . .like this," she said, holding his eyes with hers. "Is it so?" She stroked the back of her fingers very lightly down the side of his face.

Villy shuddered, he couldn't help it. He hoped she'd think it was desire, and managed not to pull away, and where was McFarland?

Desa ven'Zel smiled, and gripped him by the chin, fingers tightening.

"The Rules. . ." he whispered, and he thought for a moment that she was going to laugh, and if she did, the sound of it would kill him outright.

"Busy night?" Cassie asked him three days later, when they were again on the early shift together. Villy liked Cassie. She didn't mind about his other job, like some of the crew did; just treated it like. . .well. . .another job.

"Not busy at all," he said ruefully, "so I got the idea to study, and that turned into late."

"Didn't you remember you had the early shift here?"

"I remembered, all right! I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, Villim, cut it off, you gotta work early tomorrow! Didn't do a bit of good!"

Cassie laughed. "What're you studying that's so absorbing?"

"Communication," Villy said, oversimplifying wildly. "We're getting a lot of new clients who ain't --aren't --from Surebleak, just like we get here at the casino. I'm studying up on what's comfortable, and what's not, and bows --that's useful here, too. . ."

Cassie's smile had faded into something serious-looking. "That's pretty smart," she said...