Chief Inspector Wolfram Hollweg sat staring. Staring out the window at the familiar cityscape he had seen from this vantage for years, since first he had been promoted inspector many years ago. The tram rolled by, delivery trucks and vans bustled, taxis squabbled, the sidewalks thronged with pedestrians, it was a lovely sunny day, cool with a light breeze. But he saw nothing. He was miles away.
He was reviewing the telephone call he had just received. He kept reviewing the conversation wondering if he had forgotten to ask an essential question or make a vital point. He could think of nothing along those lines; he would be receiving the written report later today or tomorrow through inter-office mail; but he could not think of anything left unasked during a most unhappy conversation.
The call was from Doctor Markiewicz from the lab, a long-time friend and associate. Doctor Markiewicz had congratulated him for a most excellent joke. The doctor wanted to know where he had gotten the hair samples that had been submitted for a DNA examination. He had insisted he had obtained them from the hat left at the scene of the school shooting in Louisiana, USA. The good doctor scoffed and kept repeating the question. The doctor wondered if he was going to have to run additional tests and identify the hair by the process of elimination.
Finally, the Chief Inspector had to tell him that the FBI lab in the US would be running tests on other hair from the same hat. So, “Please, there’s no joke here. What can you tell me about the hair?”
There was another long pause. “Well,” Doctor Markiewicz replied tersely, “The one thing I can tell you about the hair is that it’s not human. Close. But no cigar!” The doctor, clearly annoyed at having his time wasted in what he felt was some sort of elaborate inter-departmental prank, hung up with a bang.
And yet again, the Inspector sat staring. No matter how hard he worked; no matter how much evidence he amassed, the solution to this mystery just kept stepping further away. Plus, now he was going to have to buy the good Doctor lunch.
Ralph Cyffylog, Sub Lieutenant, Royal Space Corps, was on final approach to Moon Base Ptolemy. His vector had been monitored and approved by approach control and he was playing his controls with feeling, just as he had been taught by Lieutenant Tavers. His ship, HMS Kasumi, was his pride and joy and it was his intention to deliver his cargo of Space Grenadiers and equipment to the moon base without scraping his paint. He maneuvered into position where the rail guides on his ship and the station were in alignment to enable the air locks to mesh. Deftly he halted his ships motion and allowed the light gravity of the moon to settle him onto the airlock which latched him into union with moon base.
We need to get refueled as soon as possible, Simon commented. They’ve located another ice comet that they want us to bring back to base and we’re the closest.
Prior to the establishment of the moon base, Prince Ashmore, an earth magister, was brought to the moon where he surveyed the moon’s surface; he had located a deep crevasse that contained what amounted to a small glacier of ice. They had located moon base Ptolemy close to that glacier. Water is the basis of life. So in addition to the glacier, it was thought it would be prudent to add to the glacier whenever possible. Asteroids, and the odd bits and pieces of comets that were primarily composed of ice, water ice to be sure, were much sought after and brought to the moon base to be added to the glacier. Some of the other frozen gases could be turned into thruster propellant for the shuttles. Moving these about was considered excellent practice in ship handling.
The glacier had been examined microscopically for any sign of life: life down to the single cell level; past life or potential life. The possibility of contagion by an unknown germ was real and recognized. Disease had always destroyed more of humankind in the long pantheon of human history than ever had the weapons of man’s many wars, from club to atomic bomb. All additions were similarly examined before being added to the glacier. The water was again filtered and tested before being cleared for use.
The King wanted to actively encourage the exploration of the solar system, so in an effort to encourage prospecting, qualified pilots were permitted to take exploratory trips and the Corps would pay a bonus for any useable asteroids. There was a small amount paid for water, but frequently there were other rocks in these comet remnants and sometimes these ores were valuable. This made for a nice bonus when it was time for shore leave and shore duty.
The Corps felt that prolonged deployment in null or very light gravity, would be physically harmful to personnel so for every month a member spent in space, they then had to spend one month on Prime. Some in the Medical Service thought that it should be longer in regular gravity to counteract the effects of null or low gravity. The engineers in the research and development branch of the Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and etc, were working overtime in an effort to develop artificial gravity, they had some promising leads, but no solution as yet.
While the working party from the moon base unloaded his cargo, he paused for a long moment to look at the earth, visible just above the ridge behind Moon Base Ptolemy. He was awed by the majesty of creation. Then he went back to work.
Ralph paused for a longer moment and considered his world. He invoked the guardian angels of the 24th Regiment of Foot, the Regiment he had been born into. He wanted to ensure some good luck. For with the completion of this next mission, he would have completed his training period and would be certified a shuttle captain entitled to wear the small half-moon in a laurel wreath of a space command officer on his left sleeve above his rank. Always assuming he didn’t smash himself and the Kasumi into a cloud of interplanetary wreckage on the coming mission.
When he went back to meet the grenadiers who would be his crew on the coming mission he was pleased to note that both were non-commissioned officers, a corporal and a lance corporal. They were experienced, and then he noticed they both wore the ‘first’ commando badge and, even better, the regimental patch of the 24the Regiment of Foot.2
Taffy Owen and Dusty Jordan came to attention and saluted the young officer.
“At ease, gents,” Ralph replied returning the salutes, “I’m Captain here but I was born in the 24th and it’s great to see you guys. My Tad’s a Sergeant Major with the Commando now. Cyffylog’s the name.
“Do you know Sergeant Raglan?” Ralph continued excitedly. “He was Quartermaster Sergeant of the Depot Battalion when I was a kid. He lent me a sap to use when we went with the King that first time in Santer Diego. Course he was just the Prince Royal then but a great guy even then. Sergeant Raglan gave it me and I used it too. I’ve still got it somewhere.”
Taffy Owen smiled. “Sure, we knows ‘im. But he’s a Leftenant now. Regimental Quartermaster, he is. How about Leftenant Winn? Does yer know ‘im?” Taffy was a veteran soldier and was pleased with this young officer who appeared to be comfortable being on good terms with his men. This was a very good thing in Taffy’s opinion.
“I’m thinkin’ I knew yer Tad when first I jined. Him was colour sergeant in the 1st Battalion. Wasn’t he?” Dusty inquired.
“That’s him, all right. Say. Ain’t it great!”
Gents, there’ll be more time for the ‘good old days’ in a bit. You’re going to have an important visitor for the trip and they’re on the way.
“That’s Simon,” Ralph explained. “Have you worked with him before?”
“Don’t think so,” Dusty replied. “But we worked wiv Babycakes and Minnerver before. Best mates they be.”
Well I’m guessing I won’t be telling them how you brutalized their names. You gents better get your shit together cuz VIPs are coming.
Through the hatch came a man who was not accustomed to wasting time. Ralph and the Grenadiers snapped to attention and Ralph saluted.
HRH the Count Michael, KGCGD, the current commander of Moon Base Ptolemy came breezing in. He was followed by an Elve that no one had seen before. He was wearing the standard coveralls worn by the Space Corps, but wore more elaborate epaulettes on each shoulder. They were not regulation. He was a handsome man, olive complected, with gleaming black hair.
“Stand easy men,” the Count smiled. “Gents, this is Major Hidaka Takeshi of the Yamato Marines. He’ll be along on your next mission as an observer. The Chrysanthemum Empire is very interested in our work.
“Major, this is Captain Cyffylog of the Space Corps who is in command. Corporal Owen and Lance Corporal Jordan here are both veteran commandos so I’m confident you’ll be in capable hands on this trip.
“The King asked after you, Captain. Said he has lots of work for you on your next leave.”
The Count smiled and consulted his Patek Philippe.3 “Well, you need to be off in ten so I’ll leave you to it. See you soon, Major. Captain. Men.” And he was gone.
“We’re almost topped with soda so we’ll be leaving soon,” Ralph smiled at the Major.
“Soda,” wondered the Major?
“That’s what we call the pressurized gas we use in the thrusters. Simon takes us on our longer jumps.” They moved to their positions in the cabin.
Sub Lieutenant (Reserve) Her Serene Highness, the Lady Nancy Westover, Countess of the Marches, Naval Air Force, had the deck.
It was 0220 hours and the Leonardo da Vinci, known to the crew as Her Lenny, was over the Great Moghul Sea approximately half way between the Great Kraal of Isandlwana and the Nizam’s capital of Hyderabad.
The bridge was dark. Red lighting threw gentle illumination on the decks and some instruments. It was important that the night vision of the bridge crew not be contaminated by bright lights. So they attended their duties in a low red glow.
Sub Lieutenant Lady Nancy was very pleased. Everything was running smoothly. They were making an indicated fifty miles per hour; however, their speed over the ground was seventy-three. They would have to slow down in order to arrive at the landing field at a reasonable time. Too early was bad as the ground personnel might not be ready to assist with the landing. There was plenty of time, though, to make any necessary corrections and, one never knew, maybe there’d be a headwind.
‘Too fast’ she smiled to herself. Of all the problems that life might throw at one, to be ‘too early’ seemed unlikely to rate very high. In fact, it might not even be properly called a problem at all. She considered her life. Only a very few years ago, she and Cecilie had been happily in love living a rather relaxed and privileged life in the country. They rode horses for the joy of it; they made love, for the same reason; they visited friends, attended balls and fêtes which were richly enjoyable; they fended suitors off as a matter of necessity and attempted to do so in as kind a way as possible. They were in love and had no interest in a life with anyone else. And that was the ultimate joy of it. Then the King’s Own Familiar had appeared to Cecilie and their world changed about as dramatically as it was possible for a world to change.
Cameron, the King’s Own Familiar, had presented them with a proposal for marriage; or rather more specifically, ‘proposals’ of marriage. A proposition that was rather more than the normal marriage proposal. Even for people at the highest levels of society, this was different. It was a proposal for a new life that would involve marriage and children, to be sure, but that would also involve careers in the service of their Crown and Country. Neither Nancy nor Cecilie had ever considered such a possibility; if they were to agree, their entire world would change. They would quite literally be catapulted out of their comfortable rural world and into the nation’s capital and all of its affairs.
There was one immediate and very positive aspect of the proposal. She and Cecilie would basically be able to continue their lives together. There would never be any family pressure to marry another aristocrat to augment their estates, or for some other dynastic sort of reason. They would not be separated by some social force or societal demand. Instead, they would share a wing of the palace, in much the same way that the King and the Earl Martial did; they would have the additional duties that their new positions required; there would be children; they would have an entire wing of the Royal Mews if they required it; or, for that matter, whatever facilities they required for their horses. They had talked it over at length, and agreed.
The Lady Nancy stepped forward and scanned the horizon with her binoculars for any sign of weather or other possible concerns for Her Lenny. She glanced at the binnacle and noted that they were right on course. The trim indicators indicated a stable level flight and the altitude was correct. Gas pressure was excellent and fuel consumption was exactly normal. She checked again and believed that her calculations for drift were as good as dead reckoning would allow. She stepped back and leaned against the chart table. Softly, the bridge clock chimed five bells.
She remembered her early dates with Colin, the Earl Martial. She worried that he might be some sort of military hammerhead. One of those martinets who strove to regiment his garden; parade his pencil tray; inspect his dresser drawers for improperly folded underwear, delinquent socks, or any of a host of other idiosyncrasies a military man might contrive to display. Instead, it quickly dawned on her that Colin was a caring man. He fully understood that their courtship was carefully orchestrated by several familiars; but he had always treated her affectionately and the familiars had assured her that he insisted that their alliance be, in all respects, “fair” to her.
She found that she was coming to actually love him. This was a very good thing indeed made even better by her slow realization that she cared deeply for him, for their son, and was now actually looking forward to more children. She remembered their first dates. He had always been pleasant and cordial. They both fully realized that anything amorous would be solely in the line of duty. So their dates were pleasant and he had obviously gone to some lengths to find out what she enjoyed and what interested her. Everything followed in what appeared to be a normal path from there. The engagement and the celebratory ball that followed the announcement; then there was the marriage, grander by far than anything she had ever imagined and certainly something that she had never imagined would be a part of her life. She smiled thinking of the wedding night and how Cecilie had helped get her ready for the deed.
And then she became a parent and that seemed almost normal. She had requested of Colin that she be trained to fly in zeppelins and he had readily agreed and she had been sent to Naval Air Force training and, here she was, Officer of the Watch, high over the ocean; on the bridge, in charge of a zeppelin, and responsible for the crew, passengers and cargo of one of the newest achievements of Earth Prime. It was a sobering feeling. She stepped forward with her binoculars in response to this feeling, and heard the gentle buzz of the bridge telephone as she did so.
“Ma’am, number five engine reports an overheating bearing and requests permission to shut down.”
“Permission granted,” she responded almost instantly. “Tell them I want complete details ASAP.
“My compliments to, and notify the captain, and tell him we are adjusting our speed with the other four engines to compensate.”
“Advise engines one, two, three, and four to increase rpm by two-zero turns.”
“Two-zero turns, aye aye, Ma’am.”
She went to the chart table to check their location and make notations in the pencil log.
“Engines one, two, three, and four report rpm increase of two-zero turns,” the Lee helm reported.
The airspeed indicator reported a speed of forty-eight miles per hour. A slight increase of rpm on engines one and two brought the speed to fifty miles per hour. The messenger of the watch returned to say that the Captain understood and would not be coming to the bridge, but was to be advised of any further problems or developments.
She smiled and relaxed in the confidence of the Captain. She considered having the Lee Helm contact the number five engine, but then she decided to show him the same confidence the Captain had shown her and wait for a report.
All things considered, it was a beautiful night. She sometimes wished she could be a zeppelin officer full time, but that could not be; she could only serve as a zeppelin officer for four months of the year. She had other duties and there was her son. The bridge clock chimed six bells.
Minerva could hear a voice calling, but she could not identify it. It persisted faintly; gently but persistently calling for her.
It wasn’t like she did not have a great deal to do. One of the most capable soldiers in the North American command, and a great friend to boot, was in hospital recovering from gunshot wounds. She and Carlos needed to find someone to stand in temporarily for Corporal Young as they still had one arrest that had not been completed though they had rescued the victim of the abuse so at least she was safe. Then there was the high school coach who was past due for his lecture in manners and deportment. She didn’t want operations left undone.
But that was by no means all. There were only four familiars assigned to the North American Command. Copenhagen was usually busy with the Permanent Under Secretary for North American Affairs, Hyacinth des Rivières, OGD, and he was busy with the civil and commercial management of North America. Then there were the military and naval aspects of the command. Colonel Sir Rafael De Luca, KT, KGD, was officer commanding the North America Station. Lieutenant Colonel Lewys commanded the 108th Commando Regiment that was largely on the North American Station with only a depot still in Ellendale. Major Brownlees commanded the Space Grenadiers which were stationed at Camp Farragut and were involved with training, recruitment, and education. They were not yet activated. Then there was Captain-Lieutenant Byng of the Navy, senior officer commanding naval units in North America. All of these commanders were capable to the point of outstanding, but they also tended to act as if their command was the only one of note in all of North America and perhaps the others should show more deference. Minerva had become quite the military diplomatist.
There were feuds. Major Brownlees had drafted two young boys who had been rescued earlier and were working for Lieutenant Lord Winchelsee who was developing a stable of Tennessee Walking Horses that he planned on moving to Earth Prime. This would not normally be a serious issue, but Lieutenant Lord Winchelsee was the Queen’s older brother. So it would be best if the matter could be quickly resolved with a minimum of ruffled feathers. The boys had been returned to Lord Winchelsee. Then it developed that one of them thought it might be fun to be a grenadier. But his partner was having none of it, so military service was abandoned as an option and tranquility in the stables was resumed. And there was momentary quiet on Minerva’s fronts.
Then there were some very important personages that appeared from time to time and always caused commotion and concern. The Lady Nancy, Countess of the Marches, had paid them a visit. She was a delight. She was really only interested in zeppelins and the facilities at Camp Farragut for them. She suggested they should have a double hangar that could be adjusted for the wind. This would be preferable to having them moored in the open to the docking mast. Knowing that the same suggestion would be made to her husband, the Earl Martial, the engineers quietly began surveying for the best location for such a hangar. They obtained the plans for the hangar from headquarters in Kingstown. But otherwise, her visit had been a delight. She had paid all the necessary courtesy calls and was pleasant and agreeable to all.
Sir James Wolsey, KGD, PC, a liegeman of the King and his other half, HSH the Prince Ashmore, KCGD, PC, Earth Magister had been bustling about working on financing for the anti-gun movement; they had located some interesting and potentially profitable mineral sources on Earth Prime, but then had moved back to Earth to set-up the financing as it was easier to source and fund in the same dimension. This way, they avoided money transfer complexities; so the two of them moved to New York City. There they could work their financial wizardry with maximum ease. This allowed time to add to their art collection, dine out, and enjoy the night life. They bought a Bentley to get around. They were basically out of Minerva’s hair. And that was a very good thing, indeed.
Sir Claude Clanrobert, KOM, OH, the Director of Medical Services, had arrived with the Lady Nancy, and he was accompanied by two of his adopted children and three of their friends complete with dog. But he and his entourage did not depart with her on the Shenandoah. Sir Claude began investigating all aspects of medical care and service at the camp and began wondering about medical care for the Mississippians that lived near Camp Farragut. He required a considerable amount of Minerva’s time.
Sir Claude’s personal entourage was lounging on a sandbank of the Mississippi that had created a sort of lagoon where the water was clear and almost still. Monty was knee deep in the water tossing a stick to the indefatigable Turbo who returned the stick with much joyous bouncing and splashing. Rodger, his older brother, was dozing in the shade of a handsome elm and Andy Tolliver lay beside him. Bobby and Tommy Seward were investigating the inhabitants under the rocks and driftwood just down from Monty where they were out of range of Turbo’s splashing. All of the boys were nude, as this was their normal and unselfconscious attire when swimming, sunbathing, and all manner of general frolicking. There were no tan lines.
Monty had that feeling on the back of his neck that meant someone was watching him. He also noticed that Turbo was swimming mightily back to him but did not have the stick in his mouth. Monty turned to see a handsome youth regarding him with a slight smile. Monty was impressed. The youth was quite beautiful. His complexion was an even golden-tan that complimented his lustrous black hair and his shining dark eyes. He was an Elve with beautifully sculpted ears emerging from his hair. His hair was stunning. It was gathered around his head by a headband of crimson with some complicated embroidery and then hung down almost to his bum. Monty was startled by the realization that he would like to run his hands through that hair, and perhaps nuzzle and smell of it. Like all the rest of the boys, their visitor was nude, and was very handsome about it, too. He was very nicely equipped and Monty felt himself begin to thicken in response to the beauty that confronted him. The boy smiled and waved his hand in a charming and friendly manner.
“Hi.” Monty waved back.
“Hi,” the visitor replied. “I’m named Mountain Breeze. What your name?” His Elven was seriously accented.
By this time, Turbo had gained the shore and came to stand beside Monty where he shook the water out of his coat with the usual vigor. Bobby and Tommy Seward had lost interest in the teeming life beneath the rocks and had stood and were looking at Monty and his visitor.
“Hi,” Monty repeated. “I’m Monty Conroy. My brother and his pal are asleep under that tree. This is Turbo.” He petted Turbo who was alert but quiet. “And that’s Bobby and his brother Tommy. We’re all pals. Glad to meet’cha.”
Mountain Breeze continued to smile. “I want to meet someone for long time, but you the only ones not busy. Why that is?”
“Well,” Monty didn’t want to just say that they didn’t have to work and weren’t soldiers, but by the same token, he didn’t want to seem like an arrogant pinhead. “Our Dad is just visiting. Cuz of his job. So we get to ‘splore and swim and stuff.”
“Do you from elders learn of life?” Mountain Breeze wondered.
“Ya mean school? Yeah. But we always get summer vacation.”
“Summer vacated?” Mountain Breeze looked confused.
“No. Vay, Kay, Shun. No school for two months.” Monty elaborated, but he didn’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of school. “It’s lunch time. Time to eat. Will you come with us? We will eat together.” This was accompanied with an assortment of gestures that made it clear he was inviting Mountain Breeze to eat.
Mountain Breeze had no problem quickly agreeing to food, but he remained somewhat unsure as to what, precisely, a “vaycayshun” might be. Monty had said the word more loudly than necessary but even that hadn’t helped.
Bobby and Tommy went to retrieve their shorts from where they’d been flung as the boys discarded them.
“Wait one, guys,” Monty called. Turning to Mountain Breeze, “Do you have some shorts, or clothes of some kind?”
“Now? Here? But why, this is the warm time. Don’t need clothes.” Mountain Breeze smiled his questions.
Monty pondered the situation. “Guys,” he called. “I think we gotta go naked. Breezy here got no clothes.
“Do you wanna borrow some shorts or a towel or something for when we go home?” Monty inquired.
“Well. Should I do it I guess if you think.”
“So here’s what, guys.” Monty suggested. “We’ll all go naked until we get to our place where we can get something for Breezy to wear, and then we’ll eat.”
Naked was pretty much the norm for the boys while they’d been on the Mississippi so with complete unconcern six boys and their dog trooped up the bluffs through the willows to the VIP quarters they shared with Sir Claude. They improvised a sarong for Breezy from the linen closet. But Breezy just wore it as a sort of half cape which did nothing for notional concepts of modesty. So they said the ‘hell’ with it and went looking for Sir Claude and lunch naked.
And it was just then that Minerva recognized the call. It was Jacob calling from Brooklyn.
Donnie Tomkins was wiping down the Bentley’s grill. He was proud of this car and he had campaigned long and hard to get it. They had the Hispano-Suiza but that was in the garage back at the town house in Kingstown. The Cadillac and the Jaguar were at the country estate; there were also two station wagons and two Ferraris at various other residences. But all of them were useless to them here in Earth’s New York. Plus, the Hisso was an absolute classic and apt to catch eyes, so it was perhaps better to get about in an inconspicuous Bentley. This had been the argument that had led to her purchase: inconspicuous. Donnie had to wonder sometimes about Sir James Wolsey and his partner Prince Gary Ashmore. The Bentley was anything but inconspicuous: she was a lovely dove gray color with green leather upholstery and a rich and glorious walnut dash and trim. And of course, as a Bentley, she was many things; she was elegant and, unlike a Rolls, not pompous about it; she made a statement wherever she might be and was anything but inconspicuous to doormen, bell hops, valet parking attendants, and other important folks. But if it pleased James and Gary to believe their Bentley was inconspicuous, well: whatever, after all, Donnie had a Bentley at last.
It was a Tuesday/Monday. It was a Tuesday on the calendar, but it was a Monday of the work week for the Prince Ashmore, KCGD. Donnie had pulled-up to the front of the office building and the doorman had held the Bentley’s door for the Prince to descend. Donnie had then pulled around to the garage where two parking slots were reserved for the Prince’s Bentley.
The Prince came to work on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He would be delivered at 10:00 AM and go to his office. At approximately 12:30 PM the Prince would go to lunch. Sometimes he would be driven, but more often he would walk with whomever he was taking to lunch. Stimulating exercise he would later aver. At 2:30 PM Donnie would pull up to the front of the building, the doorman, would hold the door for the Prince and they would head home. Donnie would invariably make some comments about ‘a hard day’s work, slaving over a hot desk, fending off Caesar salad on the rampage’, or something along those lines. Donnie had begun his working life as a private in the 8th Regiment of Foot and had a sense of what hard work was. He had been involved digging a well where there was no water when first he met Gary Ashmore.
Peripherally, Donnie had observed the approach of a young teenager. He was being cautiously approached by the youngster and Donnie, a young Bwca who looked to be around twenty, though he was in fact older than that, suspected that he was going to be asked for money. Donnie shifted a bit in front of the grill so that he could see the young man better while appearing to be busy on the grill. The boys clothing was an odd assortment that spoke of necessity and not of style. Even allowing for the passing fad for baggy clothes, these clothes did not fit nor did they match.
“Oh, sir,” the young teen spoke from just back from the front fender where there was room for him to get a jump on it if he felt threatened. Donnie looked up, but remained crouching in front of the radiator where he would not seem threatening. Donnie was startled to see that the boy had been badly beaten, sporting a pair of freshly blackened eyes and a large bruise on his jaw.
Donnie regarded the young man for a quiet moment. “Well, you’re up and about, so I guess you must have won that fight. Right?”
The boy rewarded him with a hint of a smile and a subtle relaxation of his body. “Well, I’ll be able to fight another day, anyway. I wonder if you could spare a few bucks for a milk shake?”
“Liquid diet, is it?” Donnie stood slowly and took care not to seem intimidating. It would have been hard for him to seem intimidating, slim and youthful as he was; but of course, that thought never occurred to Donnie who was supremely confident and sure of his abilities. “Well,” Donnie continued, “I’m not sure about sparing anything, but I might have something if you’re prepared to work for it. See I’m not quite finished with the grill, and then we have to wipe down the car with a special cloth. You up for that?”
“So what’s your name? That’ll make it ever so much easier. My name is Don Tomkins but everyone calls me ‘Donnie’ and I’m the chauffeur, among other things.”
“I’m Ron. Ronnie Gunderson actually. And yes. I’ll work. Or play, or whatever you want.”
Donnie handed him the spray bottle and the cloth. “This here’s a special spray to removed dead bugs. I did this part, so you gotta finish that part.”
Ronnie went to work on his part of the grill.
“So. You’re on your own? Or what?” Donnie inquired carefully.
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
Donnie handed him a special dusting cloth. “Okay, so now we wipe down the rest of the old girl. She’s a looker don’cha think? Took me four years to convince the bosses that we needed this car.”
“Yeah. They do finance and politics.”
“Oh. Are they Democrats or Republicans?”
“Well. I don’t think they ever said. At least not that I heard.” Donnie considered, “They’re supporting the anti-gun campaign and I know they’re big on the environment. Global warming and all that stuff. Help at all?”
“Yeah. Actually it does.” Ronnie stopped wiping and looked Donnie in the eye. “Sounds like they’re bigger than party and that’s a good thing.”
“They’re good guys. I know that for a fact and I been with ‘em since the war.”
“War?” Ronnie looked perplexed.
“Yeah. So, look. I’m not tryin’ to pry. And here’s a coupla bucks for your effort today. But you didn’t grow up on the streets, did you? You been to school and stuff, yes? I’m guessin’ you ain’t been on the streets that long. Am I right? Bet I am. Come on. Let me buy you lunch.”
Ronnie considered this for a moment. Donnie got behind the wheel and gestured for Ronnie to get in. Lunch and a ride in a Bentley did it and Ronnie jumped in beside Donnie. It only took a few inconspicuous moments to get to another parking garage for a major downtown mall. They went to the food pavilion and Donnie was impressed as Ronnie ate two slices of pizza, a cheeseburger and fries, and an order of shrimp chow mein.
“I thought you were on a liquid diet,” Donnie smiled shaking his head in feigned amazement as the food disappeared. “Dessert?”
Ronnie shook his head no and burped demurely. “My jaw’s still a little sore. Gotta take it easy.”
“So look,” Donnie continued. “Let’s run down and get you some new clothes and stuff. I’d like to introduce you to Gary. He’s a prince. He’ll like you. I think we can maybe get you a job if you want. It’ll get you off the street. No strings attached. The Bentley is only one of our cars. You can check it out. If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you back wherever you wanna be. What do ya say?”
Ronnie shook his head yes and burped authoritatively.
They went down a floor to Macy’s.
Sub Lieutenant Ralph Cyffylog, Captain of HMS Kasumi, had brought his ship close to their target comet and had subjected it to a series of tests, by radar, spectroscopic analysis, and various lasers to determine the approximate composition of the comet’s head. This was called the ‘assay’ because that’s what the miners used to call the test of their ores and the Bwca had long worked with miners. It was tradition. Ralph was rather pleased with his preliminary reports. The comet was 48% ± 4% water; it appeared to be about 7% ± 4% gold which would naturally contain some silver; it appeared to be about 20% ± 4% rock or stone of some kind, and the remainder was frozen methane and carbon dioxide.
Of course every part of the comet would be carefully tested in an effort to determine what mysteries the comet might contain; as well as any answers to other questions that the comet might shed some light on. It would probably be at least a year before his bonus was paid for any value the comet might have. The water, of course, would provide a bonus, but the gold and silver might be nice if it was as much as his instruments indicated. Maybe the rock contained diamonds or emeralds. ‘Who knows?’ Ralph asked himself as he daydreamed about untold wealth; he carefully maneuvered his ship nearer to the head of the comet.
You had to approach from the front in order to avoid anything solid and dangerous that might have broken off and was in the tail. Essentially, he would be landing on the side of the comet. But he would be doing this as if he were a tugboat moving a ship in harbor. He would be landing on the nose of his ship which was braced and reinforced in much the same way as the bow of a tugboat was strengthened and cushioned. Then he would deploy various thrust directions and amounts to change the trajectory of the comet so that it would move toward and eventually come under the gravitational spell of the moon. It would then be slowed and allowed to land near the crevasse containing the glacier. Then Royal Engineers with Lunar heavy equipment would take over and move the frozen ex-comet into the crevasse for processing.
If that entire 7% was gold and silver and it might even be more than just 7%, then Ralph thought he might look good in a sports car. He’d much rather have a horse, but it would not be fair to the horse with him assigned in space half of the time. To really get to know and love a horse, you had to spend time with them; there was no ‘on-off’ switch for the horse as there was for the car. He wondered about the car’s color. It would have to go well with his deep blue Space Corps uniform. The gold braid of his rank would look well beneath the wreath and moon of a space command officer. White? Cream? Gray? ‘Yes.’ He decided. It would be gray. Not a heavy dark or charcoal gray either, but a nice light cheerful gray. Or maybe cream would be just the thing.
While he had been spending his bonus imaginatively, he had been carefully and methodically altering the course of the comet so that it would be in close conjunction with the moon when the time was right. He then pulled back from the comet and moved around and landed on the actual front of the comet so that he could apply braking thrust. He computed and applied the correct amount of thrust. Now there was nothing to do for an hour and 51 minutes as they slowed.
That maneuver completed, he turned to the drink dispenser behind his console and ordered a cup of tea, English breakfast with milk. He had been weaned on this tea. It was the favored tea of his old Regiment and there was no reason to change.
“Might I ask how many times you have done this,” Major Hidaka inquired.
“I’m sorry sir, will you have tea? Milk? Lemon?” This courtesy belatedly attended to, Ralph continued. “Five altogether. Two as trainee pilot and then three as command pilot. There were eleven training exercises in the simulator before my first flight. I don’t know what the schedule is now; I was one of the first to go through. Everyone was learning then.
“Hey Taffy, Dusty, relax. Brew up,” Ralph used the intercom. He should have done that before he brewed himself a cup so he mentally kicked his own butt.
“How were you selected for this assignment?” A perfectly reasonable question that Ralph was not going to answer; he was not going to explain to this entirely unknown quantity that he was a long-time friend of the King and that he had pouted a thunderstorm to get this assignment. “Leftenant Tavers says you need to find folks as can ‘feel’ their craft, whatever it may be. And he can fly anything. He says horsemen tend to have good balance and make good pilots.”
Ralph and the Major sipped their tea appreciatively. Ralph missed the planet side rituals with cups and saucers, spoons, pitchers and a friendly teapot. But without gravity, none of that would work. You had to punch in your order to the dispenser which would then provide you with your beverage of choice in a closed cup with a straw.
“Yessir. You should ask Leftenant Tavers. He’s up on all those sorts of things. Care for a game of chess? Cribbage? Gin rummy?”
They slowed steadily toward the moon.
Minerva found Jacob Silverberg sitting on a park bench in one of those little green spots that so valiantly strive to advocate for life in the cityscape. She fluttered down and joined the local pigeons in search of a handout.
Well. Look at you! What a handsome young man you’ve become.
Jacob’s eyes immediately fixed on Minerva, recognizing her from the cadge of pigeons on the sidewalk before him. He sighed for dramatic effect.
“Oh my God. I was afraid you couldn’t hear me.” He muttered quietly as if talking on his phone.
It’s been years since I brought you back and you never called to chat or anything. This kind of link is stronger if it’s worked. How’s David doing?
“He’s fine. We still got our glengarries. We want to come to Ellendale.”
What, like for a visit. That’s easy. Now that we got our link up and working again, we can set that up almost anytime. If I’ve an op on we may have to reschedule, but that’s no problemo.
“Yes. For a visit. But I know that I want to move there for permanent. I think David does too. How’s Drummer Young doing?”
Well Frank’s in hospital just now. He was on a rescue at a school when a killer showed-up with a machine gun and wanted to shoot-up the school. Frank, well he wasn’t having any of that, so he confronted this scumbag. Frank had his pistol and the killer had a machine gun. Frank’s in hospital getting well and the scumbag died on the front steps. You may have read about it. Happened in Louisiana. Never got in, thanks to Frank. If you’d like, I can take you to visit him.
“That’d be great. David’s gonna meet me here in a few minutes. Maybe we can go then?”
Sure. But tell me, why do you think you’d like to move to Ellendale permanent.
“Well, for me, it’s gantse megillah. The whole mess. I’m living a lie.” He fingered his gabardine coat and looked into inner space. “I spend my days studying a law that hardly anyone cares about and that I don’t believe. I study an ancient language and am fluent in it. I’ve even learned several other languages. So what? I know that there’s a universe wider than anything imagined in the books that I study. I want to be a part of that. I want to ask more questions; I want to seek more answers. I can never resolve these questions here.
“You know a good friend of mine and his brothers and sisters died in a house fire. The fire was caused by Shabbat. You know what that is?”
It’s a day of rest, isn’t it? A house fire?
“Well it may have been that once. But it was turned into a day to worship God for his creation of our universe in six days. The old priests, and then the rebbes, went to work on that concept, as they like to do, and now we have books on the subject. There are things we can and can’t do on Shabbat. And then there are exceptions to those things and corollaries to the exceptions. It’s quite an epic to do. Particularly given that it’s in celebration of an event that never happened. Yes! A verdammt house fire. Killed my wonderful friend. And his brothers and sisters.
“See, one of the thirty-nine things we cannot do on Shabbat is ‘kindle’ a fire; neither can we put one out. So that pretty much does it for cooking. Can’t light a gas stove, and the rebbes have decided that if you throw an electric switch you make a spark which is ‘to kindle’ and so you can’t do that. However, some have decided that if you have a fire “kindled”, like a hot plate, and it’s on when Shabbat begins, then you can’t ‘extinguish’ that during Shabbat. So in order to put one over on God, you keep this hot plate turned on to keep food warm during Shabbat. But, your basic hot plate was never designed for this kind of use. So in the dark of night it shorts out and starts a fire that engulfs the first floor of the house while everyone upstairs sleeps until it’s too late.
“Now I could go on, and on. But that’s why I want to leave. And I’d like to leave and not come back. I’m not interested in the diamond business either.”
Jacob stood up as David approached. “Here’s David!”
Hi David. It’s great to see you again. You’re looking good. Jacob here says you guys want to pay a visit to Ellendale, and maybe move there down the line. Do you want to go?
“Oh yes, please. Can we talk there. Have a pizza? Let’s go now. We’ve done this trip before.”
Ten-four. And with the usual snap flash they disappeared. The pigeons were momentarily flustered. An old man witnessed the disappearance, but he no longer trusted his eyes, so he went back to gently dozing.
1 NASA: picsaboutspace.com.
2 As the 108th Commando Regiment was formed from a number of different regiments, the new commando uniform provided for a patch on the right shoulder for the insignia of the wearers previous, or first, regiment. As old soldiers will, men who had been commandos before the regiment was formed continued to wear the old commando badge as a mark of seniority. It was not authorized, was certainly noticed, but went wisely unremarked upon by higher authority.
3 Patek-Phillipe is a long time maker of quality watches. They are still in business and are of the first quality. They are not inexpensive and do not use batteries. Nothing from Apple can compare. You deserve one.