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CHAPTER THIRTY: THE ADVENTURES OF SAM O’VAR

Visitors from Earth often ask me why Pallatians have no flag. We have no flag for the same reason West America, the Moon, and Mars have no flag, for the same reason Ceres never will. Flags are the calling-card of plunderers, rapists, and murderers in funny hats and clown-suits, pretending to be benefactors, protectors, and healers. If history demonstrates anything more clearly than that, I don’t know what it is.

We would no more have a flag than we would have a king, a President, a Prime Minister, or any of the stuff that comes with them. If you ever hear that Pallas has adopted a flag, you will understand that Pallatians are no longer a free people.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

The whistle blew.

Outside the wet-streaked window, the empty miles lashed by, gray, bleak, rainy, and above all, cold. Springtime had come to the English countryside.

The two men sat opposite one another in a semiprivate compartment of the night train to Liverpool, one dressed in an enormous gray woolen greatcoat and matching deerstalker cap. He was both tall and broad, with the bearing and gait of a bear, and affected sideburns in the current “muttonchop” fashion. His hands appeared small and graceful, however, their long, slender fingers best suited to delicate tasks.

The other man was taller and thinner, with the manner of a natural aristocrat. He wore a stylish London tweed suit, brand new—over which he had thrown a vaguely military cape—and a felt hat with a broad brim. He had bushy red hair and eyes that were almost Asian. When he spoke, it was with the very voice and breath of the Russian Steppes.

Across his long lap, the man in gray carried an elegant stick with an elaborate silver handle and ferrule, and a subtly tapered ebony shaft that almost certainly concealed a sword. In the deep pocket of his coat, he carried the latest .45 caliber revolver from Webley & Scott.

At the same time, the distinctive “dog-bone”-shaped handle of a kindjal—that great curve-bladed knife or short sword of the Cossacks—thrust from under the cloak of the redheaded man, but the hand under his jacket lay upon the plowshare grip of a different sort of revolver, the Colt’s Peacemaker Model of 1873, its chambers cut for .44 Winchester Centerfire.

They had established that the man in gray was a physician, on his way to Liverpool at the moment, at the invitation of the constabulary there, to examine a dead body and look into a possible case of murder. The redheaded man had told the doctor that he would take ship in that port city for Ireland, in pursuit, he said, of something resembling justice.

“Heretofore,” said the man in gray, whose broad face was known far and wide, not only in the Kingdom of Great Britain, but in the world, “and despite my surname, I have endeavoured not to involve myself in the Irish Question, and I should strongly advise you to do likewise, Mr.—”

“O’Var, Dr. Doyle,” replied the redheaded man. “Colonel Sam O’Var, late of the Imperial Army of his Majesty the Czar. It is, I confess—and as I suspect that you suspect—merely a nom d’guerre. I left his Majesty’s service, my dear sir, because I could no longer bear to sweep down on horseback upon unarmed peasants in their fields, to deprive good women of their husbands and innocent children of their fathers.”

The man in gray sat up. “But what has that to do—”

“Nor, I find,” the redheaded man continued, “can I bear any longer to witness—even at a distance, through the newspapers—what is being done to your poor serfs in Ireland, in the name of the Czar’s cousin—”

“Serfs?” The gray man’s eyebrows rose, and his nostrils flared. His voice was enormous. “Have a care, sir, for you are speaking of my Queen!”

“No, no, Dr. Doyle, I am speaking of her victims, of the Irish people, who have been wrongfully deprived of their land and of their sovereignty, both national and personal, as the Scots and the Welsh and countless others before them. They have not yet been stripped of their great-hearted spirit. I go now to assist them in any way I can to achieve not only their lost independence, but their individual self-ownership.”

By now, the man in gray was purple in the face. “Why, nonsense! Balderdash!”

The redheaded man was placid. “We shall see, Dr. Doyle, we shall see.”

“Indeed we shall, Colonel O’Var.” Doyle refilled his short-stemmed Dutch clay pipe and lit it. O’Var lit a cigaret. Both men relaxed. “Self-ownership, you say? I confess I am somewhat intrigued at the concept.”

The redheaded man grinned. “Let me tell you, then, what I know of it.”

******

“Hey, that was pretty neat!” Wilson exclaimed.

The girl stepped from the shower, towelling her copper-colored hair.

Fallon (her name was so lovely he had never thought of trying to shorten it, even affectionately, as her coworkers did) was a slender and willowy creature, with a tiny waist, narrow hips, and breasts—delightfully enough—technically a couple of sizes too large for her little frame and shoulders. Over the past several weeks Wilson had more than satisfied himself that they were perfectly natural. They hung beautifully, though, and the gravity of the Moon is kind to females.

In the sallow bathroom light, Fallon’s skin looked as pale as ivory. She was also covered from head to toe with freckles, which he sometimes made a game of counting—although she preferred to call it tickling. She had hips like a boy, he thought, but Fallon’s bottom, although rather small, exactly like the rest of her, was utterly and charmingly female, a perfect valentine-shaped heart, arranged upside- down.

At the moment, Wilson was still lounging in her bed, half covered by a brightly-colored sheet, his attention divided between the wall- sized 3DTV screen across the room—which was presently occupied with a commercial message about surgically implanted telephones—and the far more lavish display in the bathroom as a beautiful female dried herself.

It was a spectacle that he’d enjoyed dozens of times before, of course, both here and aboard Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend (Fallon was at least a twelve on that scale, he calculated, maybe even a fifteen) but at this point, the bathroom was defeating the 3DTV handily. (She had the cutest little feet, he thought.) Wilson still felt slightly body-shy around her (although he didn’t like it and would rather have died than tell her so) but she seemed to have no modesty at all around him.

Which, Wilson thought, was extremely generous of her.

“What was pretty neat?” she asked, grinning at him from under the towel she’d wrapped around her head. There must be at least fifty ways to dry your hair these days, he mused, including gadgets with lasers and microwaves. But women—Wilson’s study of the topic included five laboratory subjects: his mother, his sister, her coach, Fallon, and Amorie.

Amorie.

For about the hundredth time this week he realized all over again that it no longer hurt to think about Amorie. He felt as if Fallon had somehow cured him of a deadly affliction. Maybe he even loved her. His sincerest wish was that she wouldn’t turn out to be his “rebound girl”.

In any case, they all seemed to prefer the ancient terrycloth turban, especially if it also happened to clash horribly with their bathrobes.

“What was pretty neat? You, of course,” he winked at her. “But I was also channel-surfing while you were in the shower just now, and I happened to catch the last part of the first episode of something called The Adventures of Sam O’Var. I wish you’d been able to see it with me. It’s all about this renegade Cossack, see, who runs away from the Czar and ends up fighting with the Irish Republican Army against the—”

Fallon’s grin became a great big smile. “How wonderful! I know that series, very well! That was a rerun. The handsome hero is played by Maurice Gallatin, who used to be in Tales of the Lost Fifth Force, and not-Sir-yet Arthur Conan Doyle—who eventually becomes Sam O’var’s reluctant companion and ally—is played by Phineas May. I have the first two seasons in my computer, if you’d like to have a copy.”

Wilson nodded enthusiastically. “I would, very much,” he said. “Thanks.” It wasn’t the first time they’d discovered they had similar tastes. They both liked all of the ancient action-adventure classics, Errol Flynn, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment.

“That’s settled, then,” she told him. “I’ll finish up right away here and then get dressed. Then we’ll go to lunch with your sister and her coach as we planned—I’ve really been looking forward to that—and then we’ll go see the Armstrong Municipal Zoo. They have a real elephant!”

“Oh, yeah,” Wilson said, “I forgot we were going to the zoo.”

“That’s a lot of ‘thens’, isn’t it? I hope you don’t mind that we have such a full schedule of ‘relaxing’ ahead today. We can only do this,” she nodded toward the rumpled bed, “so much until it starts hurting.”

He laughed, and she laughed with him. “No, I don’t mind at all, if afterward … ”

“Afterward is fine with me, whether it hurts or not. But after lunch, can we visit my dad at the spaceport? I haven’t seen him in, oh, weeks—I wonder why. He was a rock hunter once himself, you know, before he went and injured himself. If he likes you, well, I know he knows some special hunting tricks and maybe a secret lode or two.”

“Is that so?” He got up, losing the sheet as it trailed away, locked her in his arms, and kissed her, as long and deeply as he could. The feel of her flesh against his, her fresh, clean scent was heaven.

“Oh, my!” she gasped when they finally had to have some air. “It’s certainly wonderful to have an extra-long weekend now and again, isn’t it?”

Wilson laughed again. “If it can be had with someone like you,” he told her. He was more than a little nervous about meeting Fallon’s father, but that was something else he was determined not to let her know.

“Oh, good. That was just the compliment I was fishing for. Keep it up, sir, and I may eventually tell you my middle name, after all. My computer’s—”

We interrupt this program for an announcement from the asteroid Ceres.” The screen went blank, then the image of a woman he knew appeared.

“I’m Honey Graham, of the Interplanetary Interactive Information Service, reporting to you from Ceres, largest of the Belt asteroids, where, just in the past couple of hours, there’s been a terrible disaster.”

Wilson felt a chill and the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

Words crawled across the bottom of the screen: 42 MINUTE LIGHTLAG DELAY …

******

Adam stood almost alone, breathing bottled air in the middle of an impossibly barren landscape, grateful for his lightweight envirosuit, made of modern, “smart” materials. He’d worn a few of the older kind, and it had been like tryinmg to move around an old-time phone booth or refrigerator.

He had landed his gamera about a hundred yards from where he stood now, almost in the middle of an old, shallow crater perhaps fifty miles across. The rim-mountains that surrounded it were well over the horizon and couldn’t be seen from here, but the jagged peak of the crater’s central promontory was visible just over his left shoulder.

The sky, as always, was pitch black, the surrounding territory a mottled grayish-brown. Just as asteroids were always “potato-shaped”—and any unfamiliar meat always “tastes like chicken”, carbonaceous chondrites were traditionally described as being about the color and texture of a slightly overdone chocolate chip cookie. Ceres was no different.

By Earth standards, ambient light was somewhat scarce—rather like a heavily overcast day on Earth—although the human eye and brain adapt marvelously to such conditions. Photographic contrast, however, washed out all but the most luminous stars overhead. Shining directly at Adam’s faceplate, a single brilliant yellow star could be seen.

It was the Sun.

“Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Dr. Adam Ngu,” he told the pair of 3DTV lenses being pointed his way by Burt, Honey Graham’s camera operator and, apparently, Cere’s newest colonist. Adam couldn’t say “good evening” or “good morning” or even “good day”, because this announcement was meant for beamcast to the entire Solar System, where it was all of those times, and more, at once. “I’m the Director and Chief Engineer for the Curringer Corporation’s Ceres Terraformation Project.”

He paused for a moment, organizing his thoughts. His message was simple.

“As you may be aware by now, at roughly 15:45 GMT, our newly- completed atmospheric canopy—a product of two years of prodigious thought and labor on the part of more than a quarter of a million individuals—was deliberately set afire by saboteurs, and about a third of it is likely to be turned to fine gray ash before we can stop it.”

Adam began walking, slowly, and as Burt, suffering in a borrowed envirosuit that wasn’t quite as nice as Adam’s, swung his hand-held camera around to follow him, it began picking up extraneous images: little piles of charred debris on the ground, clusters of twisted, scattered junk for which nature could not be responsible, and scorch marks.

Adam stopped when he came to a piece of wreckage as tall as he was.

“We’re at the exact point where the fire first started. This is all that’s left of a Mercedes-Cessna 736-ED, a rather small but very powerful spacecraft, easily capable of travelling all the way from Earth, say, here to Ceres. It had registration markings, but they were scraped off before it got here. Apparently it was destroyed when it flew over this area at the exact moment of a cataclysmic explosion. There are, as far as we can determine, the remains of four bodies inside.”

Adam walked several yards away from the ruined ship and pointed to another, smaller object, lying on the ground. Burt tilted his camera downward.

“This is a glove,” Adam said, “from an envirosuit. There’s a hand still inside. The bulk of the body is missing. A cursory examination of the site indicates that someone was set down on the surface with whatever incendiary device was used to start this fire, and was about to be picked up again, when the device went off prematurely. The resulting blast killed the person on the surface and destroyed the spacecraft.”

Adam walked directly toward the camera. “Between this gloved hand and the ship’s wreckage, I believe that we can discover who committed this insanely destructive crime. The fact is, I think I already know who they are—and so do all of you, ladies and gentlemen—and if we’re right, then the customary scenario will be changing as of this moment.”

Acting as his own director, Burt brought his camera in another yard.

“Unlike a government somewhere, we will not attempt to capitalize on what might be perceived as an opportunity by declaring war on some other government, or making vague, impossible promises as an excuse to control our citizens more closely. This was an individual criminal act, no matter if it was committed at the behest of some government. We all have individual choices to make, each of us, individually. Each of those individuals responsible—and they know who they are—will be hunted down and made to pay for what they’ve been a part of. From now on it is they who will worry about odd noises coming in the night. It is they who will be glancing fearfully back over their shoulders.”

At a prearranged signal, Burt lifted his camera toward the sky, singling out one bright dot, and increasing magnification until it resolved itself as one of the hundred gigantic spacecraft orbiting Ceres.

“I speak directly now to those individuals. You began with petty crimes of destruction on Earth. Then you tried to blow up a factory spaceship crewed by twenty-five hundred people. Then you tried to blow up my construction dome, which would have killed hundreds more. You have spies everywhere, but now your spies are being spied on by my spies.”

Using special electronics, Burt’s camera continued sending an image of the factory ship Herschell, while he swung it back to eye level. He pushed a button and Adam’s helmeted face filled the visual field again. Adam walked back a few paces, stooped, and the camera followed.

“I can’t speak for the company that employs me—at least not until I confer with them—but speaking for the Ngu family, I tell you now: it is time for you to run and hide. Even if you do, I will find each and every one of you. It will be as if the organizations you work for never existed, because each and every member, each and every officer, each and every agent will be rendered as extinct as the Dodo bird.”

Suddenly the camera backed up to show Adam holding a sinister object.

“I’d cast down this gauntlet,” he said. “But as I said, there’s a hand still inside. We need the fingerprints and DNA. I will find out whose hand this was. I will find out who he or she worked for. Then I’ll come after you. So forget picketing developers and sabotaging construction sites. Use all your brains and energy to try to stay alive.”

He lowered his voice. “I promise you’ll need them.”

******

The traditionally-shaped Zamboni—beneath its skin nobody from a previous century would have recognized any part of the complex tangle of infrared lasers, high-pressure microplumbing, and field-generation electronics they found here—had just waddled clumsily off the ice toward its “barn”, leaving behind it a clean new surface on which to skate.

They were playing “rock music” on the public address system this morning. Not twentieth and twenty-first century rock’n'roll, but something else completely. Faint, complex, rhythmic signals had been heard—and recorded—among the asteroids for years. Nobody knew where they came from, although attempts had been made to find their source.

Lately someone had taken the signals, added some other instruments and a vocalist, to make “rock music”. It was strange, but somehow enjoyable.

As usual, Llyra was the first one through the gate. She was a bit stiff from this morning’s work already—taking a break was sometimes a bit less than useful in that regard—and skating slowly toward the corner opposite the lobby gate, luxuriating in the fresh ice, deeply intent on adding another turn to her Salchow, concentrating on it and nothing else. Eight measly turns was all she’d accomplished so far. She was grimly determined to make it nine today—ten tomorrow—reach up and touch the overhead net, and make a clean landing, all in the same jump. She was startled by the hiss of blades only a few inches behind her.

“Hey, Asteroid Bitch, you just cut me off!” Llyra’s concentration was suddenly shattered, and it was Janna Kolditz, the daughter of the Ambassador of all sixty-five United States of America (minus about thirty-six or thirty-seven, if Llyra recalled correctly), who had shattered it. “Or are you gonna tell me that’s the way that everybody skates out there on Bunghole Sixty-nine or whatever it is you call it?”

Llyra knew that what Janna claimed wasn’t true. She had long since developed that “sixth sense” that serious skaters must acquire sooner or later—like eyes in the back of one’s head—that kept them from colliding most of the time, even when they were skating backwards and their minds were occupied with details of the jump about to come. “I did not cut you off, Janna, and you know it perfectly well.”

In fact, from the scratches the girl had made on the otherwise flawless ice, it appeared to Llyra that she had been deliberately followed.

Llyra and Jasmeen had both been sitting on a bench in the Heinlein lobby, putting their skates back on after breakfast, when her father’s speech had been broadcast from Ceres. Adam had accidentally chosen a slow news day (or maybe the saboteurs had chosen a slow news day to suit their own purposes), and several other news channels had picked up Honey Graham’s feed to ISSS. There would be a great deal of trouble about it later on, and even a lawsuit or two. Meanwhile, nearly every individual in the Solar System had heard and seen what Adam had to say.

“You know that I don’t know anything of the kind, Liar Ayn Ngu!” the East American girl retorted. She seemed to be without her bosom pals this morning, Kelly Tran and Danita Lopez—Jasmeen referred privately to the three of them as “the Harpies”—maybe they’d finally grown sick and tired of Janna’s company. “I’ve got half a mind to report you to the management and get you kicked out of here for good!”

Llyra turned to face her antagonist squarely and look her in the eye. “You’re certainly welcome to try. The trouble is, those cameras—” she pointed to the ceiling, “—won’t back your story up. They installed them to make short work of liability lawsuits against the rink, but they’ll serve nicely to show you up for the prevaricator you are.”

Janna blinked dumbly, like a cow. Another product, Llyra thought, of a compulsory, tax-supported socialist education system, apparently the girl didn’t know what a prevaricator was. The uncomfortable truth, however, was that Llyra wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about all the surveillance cameras at the rink—or anywhere else for that matter. On Pallas and Mars—probably on Ceres, too, once things got better established—it was necessary to obtain an individual’s explicit, written permission before his or her photo could be taken, even as a part of a crowd. Things were rather different here in the Moon, although not as bad as in East America.

Janna said nothing, but skated away angrily, her ample backside making disgruntled little jerks from side to side with each stroke of her skates. Llyra often wondered why she wasted her time—not to mention her parent’s money—coming here. She suspected that it was her father’s—Adam’s—3DTV address that had set the girl off this morning.

To gullible East Americans of Janna Kolditz and her father’s kind, interplanetary colonists were all evil ingrates, while the so-called environmenalist activists Null Delta Em employed were dashing and heroic outlaws, in the style of Robin Hood, Ned Kelly, Jesse James, or Ernie Hancock. Anyone threatening to expose radical environmentalists for what they were—cold-blooded saboteurs and murderers—would get no thanks from Janna.

Ah, well, Llyra thought. There wasn’t anything she could do about the Jannas that skated through her life except ignore them when she could. She still had a couple of hours left to skate this “morning” and a competitive routine to work on for the upcoming Virginia Cup in two months. She began to head for the corner again. Because she needed all the room she could get, most of her jumps were done on the rink’s diagonal—

—when Jasmeen skated up, surprising her again.

“Are you planning to report me for cutting you off, too?” she asked.

“What?”

Llyra told Jasmeen of her encounter with Janna Kolditz.

“Is unimportant, my little,” Jasmeen told Llyra. “Very stupid, but unimportant. We have invitation to lunch. Your brother calls, to your phone. I answer in locker room. I am thinking he wants us to meet new girlfriend.”

“It must be serious, then.” Llyra laughed. The universe was never going to let her make this jump this morning, was it? She found she was looking forward to lunch, though. She was famished. But then, she was always famished. “And I am thinking that this one—Fallon was her name, wasn’t it?—can’t help being better than the last one, right?”

Jasmeen had a peculiar expression on her face, Llyra thought. “I do not offer opinion, my little. Is not my place. I am only conveying information.”

******

For some reason he felt mildly ashamed of now, Wilson had half expected Fallon’s father (a man, she’d told him, who had started out in life as an asteroid hunter, only to be seriously injured and forced to give it up) to be a janitor or some kind of maintenence man at the spaceport.

She’d driven them there in a little two-seater intended only for indoor use, and parked in front of the main entrance. From there, they’d taken a slidewalk through the crowded, noisy main concourse to the administrative section of the spaceport, and an elevator to the top floor, almost at the surface. The quiet, carpeted corridors had thick windows and skylights that looked out directly onto the Moon and sky.

Fallon stopped at a door with a plastic plaque that said, “Director”.

“Now he’s likely to be a little gruff with you at the beginning,” she told Wilson. “Since you’re dating his only daughter and all, I mean.”

“I hope he doesn’t know about the ‘and all’ part,” Wilson said.

She grinned. “He’ll suspect, after he sees us together, but I’m a big girl, and my life is my life.” She reached up, put her arms around Wilson’s neck, and kissed him lightly. “He’ll like it that you’re a hunter.”

Suddenly, the door swung open, and a severely-dressed woman in her early thirties, with a small computer and a thick sheaf of papers in her hand managed to avoid crashing into them. To her credit, Fallon took her time letting go of Wilson and standing back from him a little.

“I’m sorry, Michelle,” she said. “We were just coming to see Daddy. This is my friend Wilson Ngu. Wilson, my father’s assistant, Michelle.”

Wilson stuck a hand out. Michelle took it. “Pleased to meet you, Wilson,” she said in a French accent. “I have seen you on 3DTV, have I not?”

Wilson sighed and shook his head. “I’m afraid so.”

“You,” said Michelle, “are the—”

“He’s the one who nailed those would-be killers on Ceres last year,” said a male voice from within the office. “You’re Adam Ngu’s boy!”

“I must go, now,” Michelle told them. “It was good to see you again, Fallon, and a pleasure to meet you, Wilson. Just go right in, if you will.” With that, she hurried off down the corridor on some errand.

They entered the enormous office, closing the door behind them. One entire wall was windows, draped, but looking out onto a sunny, mountainous Moonscape. Standing behind a desk only slightly smaller than Wilson’s spaceship was a short, plump man with a cigar in his hand. His hair was short, and mostly white, but Wilson could see clearly, from his freckled and florid complexion, that it had been red.

“Falleen m’darlin’!”

The man seized his daughter around the shoulders and squeezed her until Wilson thought her eyes would bulge. She squeezed him just as hard and he was the first to squeak. Then he kissed her forehead, nose, and lips. Letting her go at last, but keeping her close, he stuck a plump, callused hand out. “I’m Terence Flaherty O’Driscoll, my boy, this lovely girl’s father! And who might you be when you’re at home?”

Wilson took it. “Er … I’m Wilson Ngu, no middle name, although you’ve got a good one. Fallon tells me that you’re all from Pallas, originally.”

“And will be again someday, no doubt. I just didn’t take to all that lumbering and milling and—tell me, did you ever smell a paper factory?”

Wilson shook his head. “I grew up on Pallas, too, in Curringer. I was a surveyor for my dad on Ceres. Now I’m an independent asteroid hunter.”

“Is that so? A hunter! Well, sit down, the both of you, sit down. Oh, my, the stories I could tell you about your father, my boy—and I will, if the skinflint refuses to pay up! In the meantime, would you care for a wee drop of the Bushmill’s—or should we make that a Coke? Coke it is, then. Tell me what you’ve been up to, young lady—but no more than an old man’s tender sensibilities can stand, mind you.”

She blushed. “Old man’s tender sensibilities my—”

“Now, now, let’s keep it clean, my dear, in memory of your sainted mother.”

She turned to Wilson. “Mom, Katie Evelyn O’Driscoll, is in perfect health, and almost certainly at home at this minute, fixing him his dinner.”

Terence shook his head. “No, dear, we’re going out tonight, to a new Vietnamese place—I swear you could put lemongrass and nuoc mam on a cinder block and I’d gulp it down with chopsticks. Most likely she’s picking out a nice, racy dress to distract me from those cute little Asian waitresses.”

“Oh, Daddy!”

“Aha, gotcha! I knew there was at least one more ‘Oh, Daddy!’ in there!”

“Oh, Da—” She stopped herself and they both laughed. Terence went to a bar in the corner, fixed Cokes and something in a glass for himself.

“Now,” he said, “would you rather have a First Class tour of the spaceport or listen to an old man ramble on about his asteroid hunting days?”

“I’d much rather hear about your asteroid hunting if you don’t mind.”

“Is that so, now?” Terence peered suspiciously at Wilson, then turned to Fallon. “You know, daughter, I actually believe the boy’s sincere. I think you’d better contemplate tellin’ him your middle name.”

Wilson gulped. Then Terence and Fallon burst out laughing. “He’s hardly a boy, Daddy. He fought that gunfight on Ceres, he’s been hunting for better than a year, and he even found a garnet the size of a—”

“A Buick. I know. I saw his mother on 3DTV. Quite a find, and a fine thing to do with it, give it to his mother. Next thing we’ll hear he’ll be finding the Diamond Rogue itself. Not a boy, then, Mr. Wilson Ngu?”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m not a sir—that’s for all the aristocrats and nomenklatura whom we wisely guillotined in the 18th and 21st centuries. Call me Terence, or Terry. I’ll call you Willy.”

“Wilson.”

“Wilson it is, then. Let’s go down to the Green Cheese Room. It’s a restaurant. I have a table reserved at the back. On the way there’s something I have to check in the main concourse, if you don’t mind a detour.”

Wilson shook his head. Fallon popped out of her chair and took his hand, pulling him from his. Wilson didn’t think he’d ever seen her happier.

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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