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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON

People never seem to understand that there’s no such thing as “safety”. There never was, and there never will be. It’s no safer now than it was a thousand years ago, or ten thousand. It won’t be any safer a thousand, or ten thousand years from now. Each period of history simply offers different dangers. The world—the universe—is an inherently perilous place.

Ironically, the worst danger we face today comes from those who would sacrifice anything, including their freedom—not to mention yours and mine—for the mere appearance of safety. And yet nobody can make it safe, not government, not religion, not the Wizard of Oz, not even your insurance company. All we can do is make the best preparations we can and then ride out whatever disasters may befall us from time to time.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

“I’ll just be a minute,” said Fallon’s father. “I have to drop these datachips off at the routing desk, then we’ll go back up to lunch.”

Now arriving,” said the PA system, “City of Newark, from Mars.”

Fallon and her escort agreed to stay put, more or less, until Terence returned. It was a good place to wait, Wilson decided. The concourse was beautiful, colorful, noisy, and absolutely bustling with cheerful travellers. The ceiling a hundred feet overhead was obscured by a multitude of overlapping sinuous balconies and hanging plants. Pools of water stood everywhere, and waterfalls, and giant, continuous windows wrapped around the area, stretching from the floor up into the rafters.

Beyond the great windows, the sun, unabated by an atmosphere, beat down mercilessly on the southwest quarter of the Sea of Tranquility, where the city of Armstrong and its spaceport were located. The site of mankind’s first landing on the Moon had been preserved here, and was a frequent destination for school children and tourists. Visitors could purchase anything from miniature 50-star American flags with wire stiffeners, to plastic holographic replicas of Neil Armstrong’s footprints, each of which had been carefully recorded and given a numbered label.

Blue Earth, aswirl in white clouds, hung in a sky as black as velvet.

Inside, across a vast expanse of highly polished native granite, the place was filled almost shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals headed to any of a hundred spaceports on Earth, or just arrived from there to stay in the Moon, or to continue to one of the five Lagrange points. Some were outward bound to Mars or Pallas or even the huge O’Neill habitat being built near Jupiter. Wilson tried to imagine what things would be like in here once Ceres had been terraformed and settled.

Or when they finally built the space elevators.

First call for Nikola Tesla, bound for Venus Observatory Station, now boarding next to the Orange Julius stand.

Just now, they waited in traditionally uncomfortable seats, dozing fitfully where they sat, talking on their phones, answering e-mail, reading, doing other things with their computers, visiting with their temporary neighbors, reloading personal weapons with ammunition guaranteed to be ship-safe, buying their kids sticky things to eat and drink, cleaning up after them.

The great chamber was bursting with all the excitement of travel to new places and old, let out into the sunshine for everyone to see, although the place was actually seven hundred feet below ground level, and the sunlight and the view from outside were “piped in” from the surface.

Fallon asked, “When you got here, did anyone ever explain to you why this area is buried so deeply? I know the ports on Pallas are very different.”

“From this? They certainly are. But I’ve never seen this place before, Fallon,” Wilson told her. “When we got here, in a Curringer Corporation ship, my sister Llyra and her coach both had severe cases of gravity sickness, and we rushed them from the ship to see some doctors.”

Now arriving from Lagrange Point Two, Curringer Corporation survey vessel Rosalie Frazier.” Wilson always enjoyed hearing or reading about the scientific exploration vessel named after his famous great grandmother, although East America and the United Nations had noisily condemned the undertaking as a waste of precious resources. Constructed at L-Two, once the Rosalie Frazier left the Moon, where she would be taking on more crew and supplies, she’d be gone for five long years, on an ambitious mission to catalog every asteroid in the Belt.

“Gosh, I’d forgotten about your sister’s illness,” Fallon told him. “Not forgetting Jasmeen. But with so much of the local traffic filled to the brim with various violent and poisonous chemical fuels, and incoming traffic running on fumes ten times as destructive, plus ships from further out, Earth, Mars, Pallas, using several different kinds of nuclear powerplant, and every one of them running at several thousands of miles per second, with our little spaceport as their bullseye … ”

“Digging in starts to make a lot of sense,” Wilson agreed. “It’s so bright, in here, you’d never know you were actually underground, though. I think even my dad would regard this place as a marvel of engineering.”

“And showmanship,” she nodded. “They spent a lot of money on those windows, believe me. A very lot. And on a bank of a dozen high-speed superconducting magnetic elevators to zip you from the airlock of your ship, directly to this room, or back the other way, in only a couple of seconds. With computer-controlled acceleration, some people never even notice that they’re underground, instead of still outside on the surface.”

Wilson shook his head slowly. “Some people never even notice their own—”

“Gee,” Fallon interrupted him, making Wilson laugh. “I wonder how much longer Daddy’s going to be in there. I’m really starting to get hungry.”

******

Adam caught up with Lindsay when the firebreak around the burning circle was nearly three quarters complete. Both men stood in their envirosuits just outside the rear airlock of the gamera Lindsay was using.

They had a problem.

“What the hell do you suppose that is?” Lindsay asked his brother rhetorically. He didn’t have to point or even nod in the direction he wanted Adam to look. Standing before them was a bizarre pinnacle, two hundred feet tall, placed directly in the path of the firefighting effort.

Adam said, “I don’t have any idea. The geologists will have a field day with this—provided we survive the fire. Look at that slope!”

On the fire side, the peak sloped downward at an angle that would prevent the gamera from cutting the firebreak around the base of the peak. The machines were basically hovercraft, with a maximum altitide of fifty feet unless fitted with special booster packs. To get around the long slope, it would be necessary to cross the existing line of fire.

“We’ve got all the boosters we could ever wish for,” Lindsay observed, knowing what his brother was thinking. “But they’re back at the dome, neatly stored in stacks.” He indicated a glow visible at the horizon. “There isn’t time to go get them. The fire will be here by then.”

Adam thought about it. “The gamera I left there could bring them out.”

Lindsay moved his shoulders in a customary envirosuit gesture intended to convey that he was shaking his head. “I ran the numbers already, Ad. No good. We can’t go around the back, either, because of that.”

Inside his suit mask, Adam’s expression was grim. Behind the peak lay a chasm several hundred feet deep. Something had struck Ceres a billion years ago, plowed the chasm and piled material up into this strange little mountain. Some of it had spilled forward to create the barrier slope. Whatever they did, by the time they finished doing it, the fire would be upon them, and then past them, uncontained and uncontrolled.

“I know what to do.” Lindsay said at last. “I’ll finish the slice, right up to the roots of this thing, then get out and start a new one by hand, burning as I climb. It doesn’t look that steep for a man afoot.”

Adam was skeptical, but nodded. “I’ll go around on the fireside as fast as I can, ask whatever factory ship is nearest locate you, and then climb and cut my way toward you. I don’t think there’s any other way.”

“Let’s do it! When we meet at the top of the promontory, we’ll drive in a golden spike.” Lindsay finished the sentence with his back to Adam, running to his gamera‘s airlock. Adam ran to his own and climbed aboard. Lindsay informed Ingrid of the plan. Under her hands, the machine rose to a working altitude and resumed cutting with its lasers.

Adam saw nothing of any of that. Obtaining the maximum altitude and forward speed his machine was capable of, he drove toward the fire and across it until he found a place on the mountain slope low enough for his vehicle to handle. He crossed over the almost bladelike feature, and headed back toward the theoretical line of the firebreak, controlling the gamera with one hand, while the other was occupied with punching up communications with the nearest factory ship in orbit.

Eugene Shoemaker here. What can we do for —oh, it’s you, Dr. Ngu.”

“I was aware of that,” Adam replied. It had taken him a moment to realize that the man he was speaking to was not a Eugene Shoemaker, but was speaking for his factory vessel, named after the twentieth century astronomer who had proved that craters on the Earth, Mars, and the Moon were not volcanic in origin, but had been made by meteorites. It seemed so simple and obvious now, but it hadn’t been in Shoemaker’s day.

“I’m going to need you to locate a man in an envirosuit, climbing up the west side of that odd little mountain directly to my north. You should be able to see him and my gamera fairly easily from where you are.”

Adam knew that the factory ship crews all kept telescopes aboard, usually equipped with 3DTV cameras. In their leisure hours, they would minutely examine the surface below, submitting names for previously unnoticed features. Most of the time, Adam’s staff accepted these recommendations.

Most of the time .. except for that guy who’d wanted to give all the features in this area Latin names for erogenous zones on the human body.

“We can do that,” said the man on the ship. “Anything else, Dr. Ngu?”

“Yes, there is. I’m going to get out and start climbing toward him, cutting plastic with a hand laser. You can make sure my cuts are aligned with his.” By this time, Adam was around on the other side of the peak. “I guess you could start by telling me where to park this thing.”

“Sure thing, sir. You need to go another … let me switch to the calibrated monitor … another eight hundred eighty yards to the north.”

******

At the opposite quarter of the gigantic spaceport concourse, one of the high-speed elevators Fallon had just mentioned arrived from the Lunar surface, where, according to rows of monitor screens mounted everywhere one looked, shuttlecraft from the East American commercial spaceliner City of Newark, so-called “Queen of the Mars route”, had just landed on the vast Tranquility runway. The stainless doors hissed aside.

Among the first to step out were Krystal Sweet and Brian Downs.

” … except that we were never really on that miserable yellow dustball!” Brian was continuing the tirade he had begun in this very place, even before they had left for what had once been called the Red Planet, a tirade that he had kept up, at frequent intervals, ever since.

After winning its independence, and before it had managed to become the technological center of the Known Universe, cash-poor Mars had first made itself famous, Systemwide, and prosperous, by offering certain fleshly and other delights, every one of which was illegal in East America, guaranteeing themselves a constant stream of wealthy tourists. “Instead of taking the shuttle down from Phobos to Mariner Canyon, say, we just stayed where we were for two days, totally rockbound while they serviced their damn cattle ship, and then came right back here!”

Krystal was tired of it. She’d been tired of it the day it had started.

“Now, honey,” she began in a saccharine tone worthy of her name—one that struck terror in the hearts of everyone who really knew her. “I’ve told you at least a thousand times that neither our employers nor their sponsors are rich enough to pay for vacations on Mars for their employees. I’d like to have a vacation, myself, but I’ll bet you’d just have gotten yourself in trouble anyway, between the whores and the drugs and the gambling. We were there to case the space liner, anyway, don’t you see? Nothing less and nothing more. Understand?”

“I understand,” Brian muttered, “that all of the fourflushers and fatcats in the Solar System—including the suits and ties who run our own chickenshit movement—get to do anything the hell they want, any time the hell they want, and do it on a goddamn company expense account!”

“Brian, I—” She looked around to see if they were being overheard. Invisibility was a major asset in this business, and Brian was—

“I also understand that it’s the working stiffs like you and me, Krystal, the people who do all of the grunt work and take all of the risks, who always end up paying for their good times, one way or another!”

“Keep it down, will you?” Krystal replied in a stage whisper. She nodded toward the carousel baggage conveyor that had suddenly started moving. “There’s my bag, and there’s yours. Grab ‘em quick, please, Brian. I don’t want to wait for this thing to go around again. I want to report in, take a long, hot shower, and sleep the clock around in a bed that isn’t being vibrated by a dozen constant-boost fusion engines being operated out of synch by an incompetant Chief Engineer. Geez, I never thought I’d live to see Affirmative Action applied to refugee Californians.”

Still grumbling, Krystal’s associate retrieved their bags, taking them to one of several small, waist-height tables scattered around the concourse. He and Krystal each opened their luggage the minimum amount possible, and quickly extracted their personal weapons. His, a large, old-fashioned automatic pistol chambered for nine millimeter Mauser, disappeared under his short jacket. He was originally from Ontario, and still believed, at some level, that firearms were the work of the Devil and should be kept out of sight of children and the general public.

Krystal strapped a gunbelt and holster diagonally across her hips and, checking the power supply, dropped a big Westinghouse laser into it.

“When in Luna,” she quipped, “do like the Loon—”

Brian screamed, “There he is, that sonofabitch! This is all his fault!”

“What—?” Krystal looked in the direction Brian was pointing. Sure enough, diametrically across the concourse from them, over the heads of about five thousand unsuspecting travellers, she saw young Wilson Ngu with a pretty, slender, redheaded girl. Before she realized it was happening, Brian had drawn his weapon from under his jacket and was pulling the trigger, over and over again. She knew she should have been deafened, but, suddenly full of adrenaline, she didn’t hear the shots.

All around them, people made noises and dived for the floor.

She grabbed his arm. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” But it was too late. Ignoring the hailstorm of bullets singing all around him, Wilson Ngu, pistol drawn, was headed their way at a dead run.

******

By the time Adam had labored his way to the tip of the pinnacle, a little platform about the size of a card table (even at one tenth of a gee it had been hard work, climbing and carrying the big, falsely- named “hand laser”) his brother Lindsay was already there, waiting for him.

“Absolutely exhilirating, my dear old Sherpa!” Lindsay told his brother in a bad upper class English accent, his labored breathing belying every word he spoke. “I only wish I had a little flag to plahnt.”

“Sure you do, Hillary old bean.” Adam sat down, resting the laser across his envirosuited thighs. Briefly, he considered adjusting his oxygen upward, but thought better of it. It was a bad habit to get into, and he might need that oxygen later. “We could plahnt it in the pointy top of your head—or someplace better. So what do we do now?”

Lindsay indicated his gamera. It was a long way down. From here they could also see the fire advancing at them slowly but inexorably. “So I cut across this swath,” he pointed to the plastic under his booted feet. They’d each made a pair of parallel cuttings in it with their lasers, which had more or less met here at the summit. “And Ingrid pulls it down and out of the way. Then we take the same route that you did, around the Matterhorn, here, and resume cutting and hauling. I understand that we’re pretty close to finished with the firebreak.”

“Ingrid?” Adam looked up at his brother, surprised.

“Sure,” said Lindsay, perplexed. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what? What is there to know?” The idea of Lindsay and Ingrid together—

“That she’s been ship-handing for me all day while I was outside doing the handcutting and hooking up. She’s really good at it, Ad, an absolute natural. The construction crews have all been letting her practice with the gamera—on her own time, of course—for six months.”

Adam said, “A secretary who also drives a truck. Well I’ll be damned.”

“You probably will be. All of the good stuff always happens to you, Ad. You’re the boss here. You’ve got Ardith and the kids. The Andersson girl’s hopelessly in love with you, and you’ve never even noticed.”

Adam shrugged. “It’s not the kind of thing it’s good to notice, Lindsay.”

“Hmmph,” said his brother. “I’d notice.”

Using his laser, Lindsay cut across the canopy plastic at the peak. Without warning, both ends began sliding down the opposite sides of the pinnacle. Adam dived toward the bare ground now exposed at the top. Lindsay tried to do the same, but, burdened by his laser, fell off to his right and began tumbling down the long fire-side of the slope.

Adam watched in helpless horror.

Once or twice, it appeared that Lindsay might actually be able to stop himself, but the plastic-covered slope was far too steep and slippery. As he rolled, over and over, his grunts and curses filled the electronic “air” around him and were probably heard all the way back at the construction dome, if not on Pallas or Earth. Somehow his laser got activated, and Adam had to duck the slashing lethal beam a couple of times before it realized that it was falling and shut itself off.

Still carrying his own laser, Adam hurried downhill, trying to move quickly, following the path of the sloughed-off plastic, which was now piled in a disorderly heap at the bottom. Signalling the pilot inside, he seized a handhold beside the rear airlock door and stayed on the outside of the gamera‘s hull as it slewed around, headed for Lindsay.

By the time they arrived—Ingrid got there at about the same time Adam did and had immediately begun putting on her envirosuit—Lindsay lay on his back near the creeping fireline, one booted foot intersecting it. An anklet of slow, catalytic fire now crept up the man’s lower right leg, consuming both suit and flesh exactly as it had consumed the plastic of the atmospheric canopy. The bones persisted for a moment and then they, too dissolved into a gray powder and disappeared.

Lindsay writhed on the ground, panting into his suit mike. “You’ve got to stop it, Ad! It hurts like the blazes and I think I’m losing pressure!”

Ingrid threw a big emergency blanket she’d brought over it, but the blanket, too, made of synthetic organic materials, began to burn. Adam grabbed a corner and flipped the blanket over the fireline where it was gradually consumed. He then scooped up a heaping double handful of loose soil and piled it atop Lindsay’s smoldering leg, but as the fire manufactured its own oxygen, that had no more effect than the blanket.

The line of fire was now above Lindsay’s knee. Adam reached a decision. Unfastening the carrying sling of his laser, he fastened it around Lindsay’s thigh, pulled it through the ladder buckle as hard as he could, and then fastened it firmly. He stood and motioned Ingrid away.

“Hold still, Lindsay. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to do this.” And without another word, he triggered the laser and cut his brother’s leg off. That, too, went over the firebreak and into the area already burnt.

The break was complete in another hour; two thirds of the canopy survived.

Lindsay had died of shock and decompression on the way to the dome.

******

Ardith regarded the new sample in the tightly-sealed glass bottle she held up to the light before her eyes. Her laboratory magnifiers had slipped down off her forehead again, as they always seemed to do. She pushed them back in place without being completely conscious of it.

This was only one of several samples she had taken herself this morning from the gigantic Drake-Tealy Object now standing in orbit above Pallas, apparently of its own accord. The individual who usually did that kind of work for her, the pilot R.G. Edd, had flatly refused to go, or to have anything at all to do with the damnable Object ever again.

The man’s feelings in that regard were more than understandable—the thing had whisked him a hundred million miles in a couple of hours—although since then, it had demonstrated nothing but exactly the same physical properties as any other Drake-Tealy Object she was aware of.

Except, of course, for its size and terrifying mobility. Every other Drake-Tealy object known was inert and little larger than a human fist.

The air here, in her personal facility, at the Asteroid Materials Laboratory, was highly filtered and kept as clean as humanly possible. Its pressure was a little higher so contaminants would blow out, not in.

At the moment, consistent with standing “clean room” protocols, Ardith wore a ridiculous plastic shower cap over her hair, a pair of disposable plastic booties over her shoes, a light filter mask, and rubber gloves. She also wore a tie-dyed laboratory jacket her daughter had given her for her birthday. It was very silly, but it helped her feel closer to Llyra, whom she hadn’t seen in person for more than a year.

Now she must be especially careful. It had been more than a little arduous collecting these samples, beginning at the break of dawn with a hurried ionopter ride to Port Peary, another ride, this time aboard a high-speed individualized capsule that took her through the polar ring mountains, then a leaky, rattletrap maintenance jumpbuggy out to the orbiting Drake Tealy Object, and finally a couple of uncomfortably claustrophobic hours trapped within an old-fashioned suit of space armor, the previous owner of which had been overly fond of garlic and cigars.

Six hours going, two hours there, six hours back.

No, she didn’t want these samples spoiled.

The simple taking of them, cutting into the substance of the thing with her little palm-sized laser, had been something of an emotional workout, since she couldn’t know, from moment to moment, if the Object would stay in the place it had chosen, blow up, take off for the Oort Cloud—prudently, she had not attached herself to it in any way—or simply start singing “Hello My Baby! Hello My Honey! Hello My Ragtime Gal!”

At the end of the day, however—such a particularly long, hard day, during which, with Llyra no longer around to remind her, Ardith was unable to remember whether she had eaten anything or not—she wasn’t entirely certain how much good all this sample-taking was going to do. She suspected that the active source of the Object’s alarming behavior would ultimately prove to be buried somewhere deep inside it, beyond her present reach, or possibly even somewhere else, on the outside.

Now she unscrewed the bottle top, but left it in place until the bottle was over the collecting nozzle of the pulverizer on the bench before her. Quickly flipping it over, she let the sample fall into the machine, screwing the now-empty bottle into place at the mouth of the intake.

Next, she punched instructions into the pulverizer for granule size desired and sample divisions. She called for six small plastic packets of the stuff, finer than powdered sugar, but probably not as sweet. Her assistants often threatened to use the pulverizer to make espresso.

The machine did make lots of unpleasant noise, and would take at least an hour to reduce her thumb-sized sample to rock flour. She decided to go to the trouble of desuiting and have a nice cup of hot tea. She had recently taken up smoking again and looked forward to a cigarette.

As she turned toward the airlock door, Marla, the latest company receptionist, practically flew into the corridor outside the lab and started banging on the glass. She was colorfully dressed and Ardith thought briefly that she looked like some kind of frightened tropical bird.

“Dr. Ngu! Dr. Ngu!” The girl’s voice was muffled by the air space between two layers of glass. “You’d better have a look at what’s on 3DTV!”

Ardith shrugged. Her theine and nicotine could easily wait another minute. There was a set here in the lab, tucked up into a corner near the ceiling. She used the remote that was dangling from it by a bit of string.

” … is KCUF, the eyes, ears, nose, and throat of Pallas. We’re repeating a story that we’ve just recieved. There has been some kind of sabotage of the Terraformation Project on Ceres, and a fire. We now have an unconfirmed report that one of the three Ngu brothers has been killed.”

“Dr. Ngu! Dr. Ngu!” The receptionist was frantic by now, and still banging on the laboratory window. Ardith had apparently heard the news and collapsed to the floor. Now she lay on it in a small, crumpled heap.

******

Krystal’s associate stood like an automated thing, firing shot after shot across the crowded concourse. The screaming all around them was deafening. Everywhere Brian’s pistol pointed, he blew huge gouges out of the polished stone pillars. The big floor-to-ceiling windows he hit shattered—showering bystanders with fragments—and ceased to work, their residual ugly grayish white reminding Krystal of a blinded eye.

Without a second thought or a moment’s hesitation, she seized both of their bags and made her way as swiftly as she could without drawing attention to herself, to the nearest exit, the same high-speed elevator they’d arrived in. A time eventually comes, she thought, to cut one’s losses, and if this isn’t one of them, then what the hell is?

Meanwhile, Brian’s pistol had run out of ammunition and its slide had locked back. A thin twist of smoke arose from the open ejection port and muzzle. Very bad tactical form, he realized from his training days. Then again, this wasn’t some Null Delta Em camp in the Georgian Caucuses, this was the real world, where he couldn’t always count his shots.

Reflexively, he thumbed the magazine release, allowing the emptied magazine to fall free from the pistol to a seat in front of him and bounce, unheeded, to the floor. He inserted a fresh magazine, holding eighteen rounds of the long, powerful nine millimeter variant, and slapped it home with the heel of his hand. In those scant two silent seconds, people around him had begun to get ahold of themselves. One daring individual, just a few feet in front of the shooter, noticed his weapon had gone dry and …

As the man rose and crouched to leap at him, Brian released the slide, chambering a round, and fired, almost in single motion. The jumper’s face exploded in crimson ruin and he fell lifeless at Brian’s feet. He could smell the iron tang of blood in the air. It was like perfume.

Somebody nearby vomited, and that was like music.

Several seat-rows further away, another individual, a tourist from West America, drew the pistol she travelled with and began to align her sights on him. Even full of adrenalin and the exultation of the open kill, Brian barely managed to fire first, killing the woman with another shot to the head. Her little gun flew into the air and she vanished behind the seats. He felt pain in his side; when he looked down, there was blood, rather a lot, soaking through his clothing. Why, that complete and total bitch, he thought. She’s probably killed me.

And where the hell had Ngu disappeared to?

I’m right here, you asshole!

Wilson stood a little behind him, not six feet away, his enormous automatic pistol pointed straight at Brian’s face. Brian had heard all about that gun. It had belonged to the devil himself, Emerson Ngu. Brian began to turn and raise his own weapon again, but the wound in his side hampered his movement, and everything was happening much too slowly.

He was too late. In the capable hands of his great-grandson Wilson, Emerson’s mighty Grizzly roared and a 260-grain .45 caliber magnum hollowpoint took the Null Delta Em field agent through both lungs.

The last thing Brian saw was Wilson stepping forward, standing over him where he’d fallen, aiming the huge Grizzly so Brian could actually see the hollowpoint bullet up in the chamber, and pulling the trigger.

Brian never heard or saw the shot.

Blackness became nothingness.

Without a second glance, Wilson turned on his heel and made his way back to where he’d left Fallon. Oddly, he couldn’t see her now. Instead, he saw Fallon’s father, kneeling on the floor, cursing and crying.

When Wilson finally arrived at his side, Fallon lay on the granite floor, her head and shoulders resting in her father’s lap, motionless and silent, with a nine millimeter bullet hole neatly through her heart.

Before he was consciously aware of it, there were also individuals in uniforms, bearing medical equipment. Holding some kind of scanner in his hand, the paramedic kneeling at Fallon’s side looked across at Wilson and Terence. “I’m afraid there isn’t any hope. She was gone before we got here. She was also pregnant—about three weeks—probably didn’t even know it herself. Do you want us to try and save it?”

His chest filling with anger, grief, and … he didn’t know what else, Wilson looked across Fallon’s lifeless body and caught her father’s eye. In that instant, there was suddenly an understanding and committment between the two of them. “Yes, do it,” both men told the paramedic.

“Tieve,” Terence said abruptly, tears streaking his face.

So much was happening. Wilson didn’t understand. “What did you say?”

“Tieve,” Terence repeated the word, making two syllables of it, “tee-EV”. “I know she’d have wanted me to tell you. Fallon’s middle name was Tieve.”

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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