Before setting forth on her morning ride, Queen Cecilie of Ellendale and of the Elven Dominions beyond the Stars, swung by the nursery.
“Good morning, Maud,” the Queen smiled. “We’ll be going down to St Albans a week from tomorrow so have everything ready for that. Also, when we get there, Colin’s son will be joining us. When we return, Robbie will be moving into his nursery here in the palace and he and Winnie will be spending a lot of time together. Essentially, they’re going to be growing up together. The Chamberlain will contact you so let him know what else you might need to make this work well.” The Queen left.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Maud replied as she curtsied. The Queen had been going through the door as Maud replied, so she did not hear the: how put-upon-am-I pout in Maud’s reply.
The Queen was not being intentionally rude or dismissive of Maud. But she did want to get a pleasant horseback ride in before the mid-morning meeting of the military council which the King had wanted her to begin to attend as she took an increasingly active role in the country’s affairs. Justin had pointed out that she was very likely to be serving as regent from time to time so she needed to be abreast of all the issues confronting their home.
Still, she did have a new Thoroughbred mare that she was anxious to get to know. She was accompanied by one of the confidential grooms, Sionid Caernarfon, long in her service, trusted completely, and more friend and confidant than servant. The Queen enjoyed a very pleasant two hours on horseback. Bonnie was an eager and happy young horse. Well behaved and well mannered, although with a strong personality. At one point she stopped and alerted on something invisible to the Queen. In the normal way with a young horse, the Queen quieted her, gently urging her slowly forward, murmuring sweet nothings and reminding her what a good horse she was; in this way, she would realize that whatever had concerned her, most likely a lizard fart, or something comparable, was really of no consequence. She chatted with her and gentled her forward. When the time and distance was right, Bonnie reached down and grabbed a mouthful of alfalfa from a small patch that was growing wild along the fence, and then started walking off in the direction that they’d been going. The Queen smiled and was pleased with the handsome young mare who had just run a successful con job on her. She was getting to know her new friend.
They were gathering for a meeting of the military council. The familiars present were Surus, Bucephalus, Copenhagen, and Cameron. Colin, the Earl Martial and the King’s lover and strong right hand, was trying to review a file in front of him. James of Cooper, Magister of the Heavens was present with a preoccupied air about him; he was answering the Astronomer Royal monosyllabically when he heard him, which was just frequently enough for the Astronomer Royal to think there was a conversation in progress. Colonel DeLucca KT, KGD, was present and was chatting with the Earl Martial and Major Brownlees of the Space Grenadiers. Major Yelland, OM, of the Ancient and Honorable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers was present and was earnestly questioning Lieutenant Tavers, SSM, of the Space Corps about locating artillery on space ships and aiming the artillery once it was installed. Her Serene Highness the Princess Helene, Governor General of State was enjoying tea with the King’s Own Wizard Humphrey Abstruse. His Royal Highness Count Michael, KGCGD, the King’s adoptive father was present and deeply involved in a technical discussion with Professor Doormann, KM. The Dowager Princess Martial, the Earl Martial’s mother, was present should there be any questions concerning finance. She was a proctor of the Exchequer as well as a Personal Counselor. Christian Sanford, PC, and Principal Secretary to HM the King was, as always, alert and attentive. He’d write his notes immediately after the meeting. His memory was well trained after all these years with the King.
They were awaiting the King and Queen. The King had strolled down to the mews to meet his Queen after her ride, and the two of them started back to the palace conversing quietly and earnestly about the prospects of a second child. They thought it would be best for the children if they were reasonably close together in terms of age. Children grew quickly, even on Prime, and the Prince Royal and the Prince Military were enjoying school. They hoped that the low birth rate that was normal on Prime, would not affect the Royal Family.
“Good morning, all,” the King genially greeted everyone as they entered the conference room. “Please be seated,” he smiled as he and the Queen took their seats at either end of the conference table. “I thought it appropriate to display my father’s broadsword as we discuss our pending difficulties. Perhaps it will bring us some insight. Maybe even luck. Let’s begin with our heavenly magister.”
“Your Majesties,” James of Cooper began bowing to both in turn. “Succinctly stated, our adversary is approaching as predicted but is still distant. We would like to have the familiars take one of the shuttles and some sensor buoys well out into space and place them on the projected course so that we can pick up any short range signals they may make. This will give some additional information, if there are such transmissions; it will certainly assist us in determining time of arrival and their exact location and speed of approach.
“I feel that I should go on this mission. I’ll have a better sense of where to set the buoys and the transmitter if I’m closer to the target. By this time, we know where the enemy is and approximately when they’ll arrive. I’m not really needed here, but I feel I’d be very useful there.”
“Majesties,” the Astronomer Royal continued. “You may recall that we have obtained radio telescopes from our friends on Earth and we’ve established an observatory on Mars where we continue to track our visitors. We believe that they are communicating with one another and we’ve been amassing quantities of data. Some of our best linguists and philosophers are sorting through our recordings and are quite confident that we’re dealing with a language. We cannot yet translate anything but we’re examining it as both a language and a code and we feel guardedly optimistic about our ability to begin to understand them.
“I’ve tried to talk my friend James, here, out of going on this mission. But that’s just me and friendship. If I try and take a strategic view of the matter, James is quite right and he should go with this mission.”
“Tell me about these sensor buoys,” the King worried. “Surely we’re not going to scatter shiny baubles in the track of these aliens. We don’t know if they know about us or not, but I don’t think we want to advertise our existence pointlessly.”
Colin quickly spoke up, “My King, we’re using space debris from the asteroid belt to place the beacons inside and they will then transmit in a tight beam to a larger satellite, also disguised, that is well out of their path; that satellite will then transmit the information to us so that there is practically no chance of the tight beams being intercepted. I think it’s the best we can do. We don’t really know all that much about them. Clearly they’ve impressive technology or they’d not be on the way to visit us.” Colin smiled at his lover. “Your Dad has some very interesting information for us.”
“Yes I do. Professor Doormann and several of his associates, as well as Major Yelland here, have been working on a weapons system. We’ve some very promising early results. Prof?”
“Well, Your Majesty, here’s what. As you may know, I’ve been working on artificial gravity for the big ships and stations in space. Was what I was doing, you know, when young Glenn here, I mean Major Yelland, first came into my lab. He’s the boyo who designed the rifle for the Space Corps, as I’m sure you know. Anyway, we got to talking about space artillery and he mentioned that he had read about a particle accelerator in Switzerland. I remembered that too, and it occurred to me that there might be a possibility of combining my gravity work with the principles of acceleration. Of course, you know, we’re not trying to get anywhere near the speed of that Swiss accelerator, but I’m thinking we can get some pretty formidable velocity with this approach. The math is pretty fascinating, see, if we erp!”
It was at this point that Glenn Yelland managed to rap Professor Doormann on the ankle with the side of his regulation boot sole causing a tiny yip of surprise and a startled look in Glenn’s direction.
“Please, Prof! You’re starting to lecture on a truly arcane subject involving math, physics, and magic. I don’t think they want that just now.”
The King smiled gratitude at Glenn. “Yes, thank you professor, but we need to discuss the strategic here, not so much the technical. If it’s okay with you, however, I’d like to drop by the lab and you can bring me up to date on your progress. Cameron will touch bases with you.”
“Basically,” Glenn continued, “We’ve a prototype that is very promising and I think we’ll have some solid data for you next week.”
“You need to know some general information about our progress with the ships of the Royal Space Corps.” Colin entered the discussion. “It’s been mentioned that we’re going to disguise the early warning beacons as space junk. I’m doing the same thing with our major ships. We have recovered one large asteroid and we’re making a cruiser out of it, though it will always look like an asteroid.
“It’s a little early to try to be specific as to a battle plan, and I suppose there’s always a chance they’ll pass us by and go on to another system. But we can’t count on that. We’ll have a force of battle cruisers waiting hidden within the asteroid belt. These ships will all look like asteroids. In popular science fiction, space ships are equipped with all sorts of interesting devices: deflector shields, sensors, tractor beams, phasers, and so on. We feel that there is every sort of hope that most of these sorts of things are imaginary. Any weapons are probably akin to guided missiles and may be primarily designed to attack planets. We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but we’re thinking about it and attempting to find answers. I think we’ll soon have effective artillery as well as simulated gravity on our larger cruisers and the stations.
“In any event, it is my hope to ambush them. Ambush them with a blow so serious that their threat will be neutralized at best, or at least severely reduced. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas, please do not hesitate to forward them to headquarters, or wherever you think they should go.
“It is my hope that we will defeat them in space in a complete and total manner. But I must somehow allow for their ability in space and worry that they may get a force landed on Prime. To that end, we are working on a troop carrying zeppelin with troops trained to land by parachute. If the enemy does land some troops on our soil, we’ll be able to get to them quickly with a well-trained force.”
In an effort to obtain additional information that may very well be relevant, Bucephalus entered the discussion. James of Cooper and I have been discussing this, and we would like to propose a deep reconnaissance in the direction of the enemy. It just occurred to me that this can be part of the buoy mission. We’ll camouflage one of the shuttles to look like space junk. Then we’ll move in long jumps toward our enemy. We’ll be inconspicuous and will jump back as soon as we have some information. We’d like one of the newer shuttles that are fully crewed. We want to share experience whenever possible.
“That’s a great idea,” Colin observed, “but I want you to clear it with me before you do anything dramatic. I want it as safe as possible.”
“But remember,” Fortescue von Picard, the Astronomer Royal interjected, “they almost assuredly have some sort of faster-than-light-drive; you may not be able to see anything; be very careful. Watch for shadows. Watch for anything out of the ordinary. We should fit this shuttle with the latest radio detection equipment. You might be able to establish proximity because of the strength of the signals. We think they’re communicating with one another while moving toward us. We’ve identified a number of repeat transmissions. Almost as if they were making a routine report. Not sure of that, yet, but like I said, we’re working on this hard.”
“Wait a minute,” Count Michael interjected. “It sounds like you’re saying they are traveling faster than light, and communicating with each other while they’re doing it, plus we can hear them in real time. How can that even be possible? Do they have some kind of wizardry too?”
We only wish we knew, Cameron replied. I suspect we soon will.
“Perhaps a short break for refreshments,” the King smiled standing and gesturing to Daffyd his faultlessly efficient Under Butler.
“Come on, Ron, ya gotta help me talk ‘em into this car.” Donnie whispered. Donnie Tomkins and Ronnie Gunderson were admiring a Bentley convertible in the showroom of a luxury car dealership in Manhattan. Both were in tailor made suits, white shirts with French cuffs and understated cuff links; they wore restrained silk ties neatly knotted and sported handsome Le Coultre wrist watches. They had the latest smart phones pocketed in their jackets. But a Le Coultre was a statement as well as an elegant piece of jewelry. The same could not be said of a smart phone.
Even dressed as they were, they would not have made much of a splash in the showroom, but they had arrived in the gleaming Bentley that was Donnie’s pride. He had parked it adjacent to the showroom with a certain discreet arrogance that had guaranteed that they’d be treated appropriately by the staff. And they were. The salesman was professional and deferential. The commission on a Bentley convertible was a handsome one.
“Why do we hafta talk ‘em into anything? Just buy the car. You can do it, you know. Buy the car and then we’ll use it to surprise them. They’re goin’ up to Fire Island in a week. We’ll say that we knew they’d need a ‘go to hell’ car for that trip. You know: windblown hair - all neatly arranged to look casual of course, artfully relaxed, sweetly disposed before the hoi polloi, that sort of thing. They’ll love it. Assuming they even notice it.”
Donnie regarded his lover with pride. Ronnie had provided a solution to a problem the instant that it had been presented to him. A solution that was thoroughly workable. Anyway, he thought: it’s sometimes easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
Donnie smiled to the salesman, “We’ll take it. Have it detailed and prepped. I’ll write the check and we’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
Ronnie was very good with solutions. He had provided an important solution to Donnie’s life on their fourth night. Donnie had gone to bed in the normal manner and had barely settled into his bed when there was a gentle tapping at his door. The door opened and a shadowy figure stepped in. “I kept hoping you’d ask,” Ronnie whispered. “But I can see you’re the strong silent type. S’okay. I’ll do the askin’.”
Ronnie pulled back the duvet; the two shadows looked upon one another: Donnie could see the smooth curves of Ronnie in the faint light from the window; he could see that Ronnie was naked. So was he.
“Why didn’t you come for me?” Ronnie whispered. “You wanted to. We both know that, don’t we?”
“I was scared. Scared you’d think you had to say yes. Much better this way. You came for me and I’ll never say no to you.” He reached for Ronnie’s arm and pulled him down into a silkily sensual and loving embrace. An embrace that quickly grew intense.
The following weeks had been the most idyllic in Donnie’s life. He’d never been quite so content, quite so satisfied with his world, as he was now that Ronnie had entered.
It was a Sunday morning and their bubbly cook and her kitchen staff were off. So Don made coffee while Ron put together the necessities of several possible breakfasts, he then started frying bacon. Donnie took his coffee and sat at the kitchen table and admired Ron at work. Every kitchen convenience known to the modern world was available in the kitchen. But Ron was busy with a spoon and bowl mixing batter by hand.
“So, my man,” Ronnie smiled, “what’ll it be? Pancakes? Waffles? More of me? What’s your pleasure?”
Donnie looked at Ron with a happy grin and one of the bosses, Sir James Wolsey, Liegeman to the King, came swinging through the door in his pyjamas and a Pendleton robe. He stopped sharply and surveyed the scene: a smiling Donnie with coffee to hand, and an industrious Ronnie with an apron over his pajama shirt with a mixing bowl cradled in one arm while he deftly rearranged the bacon with a long fork he wielded with his free hand. The lowest portions of Ronnie’s bum, those lovely curves that permit the legs to commence, were just visible under the hem of his pajama shirt.
“Well that’s wonderful,” Sir James announced. Ronnie turned away from the stove putting down the bowl of batter while Sir James approached him and swiftly gave him a hug and a kiss on each cheek. “It’s always so great to see you two in the morning,” Sir James beamed. What’s for breakfast?” He kissed Donnie good morning, too.
It took Ronnie only minutes before James had a short stack of pancakes, two poached eggs with salsa, and an abundance of bacon in front of him. He went to work on it quickly and with great enthusiasm.
“Guess what?” Ronnie hazarded.
Chewing happily, James nodded a ‘what’ at Ronnie.
“We’ve a surprise for you and His Worship. You’ll be the lions of Fire Island when we arrive. Paragons of aristocratic virtue and style, you’ll be. Plus, I’ve spotted two nice galleries and several antique shops that you’re sure to enjoy and they’re only a short, but fashionable, drive from our cottage.
“Good morning Your Worship,” Ronnie changed gears smoothly as His Serene Highness the Prince Ashmore came into the kitchen. He wore an elegant silk dressing robe that was red with quilted black lapels. Glorious golden dragons, with the exaggerated claws of a noble’s dragon, frolicked across it. It was styled rather kimono-ish and was a striking robe in all respects, but the prince still had bed head, his luxuriant hair completely awry.
“You’ll need this Your Grandeur,” Ronnie provided a cup of freshly brewed Æthiopian coffee. “Then you’ll need to brush your hair while I, chained to a hot stove to make life better for Your Gloriousness, fix breakfast.”
“Thank you, Your Insolence.” The Prince accepted his coffee smiling gleefully. “Once again, of a morning, you’re a life saver.”
Ronnie smiled in gracious acceptance of the compliment. “And guess what else?” Without giving his boss time to even consider the question, much less an answer, “we’re going to Tiffany’s tomorrow. You’re due for a trip and I’ve a list of things that you need. And for the household, too.”
Gary smiled with genuine indulgence and affection. “Do you suppose we can keep the damage to under seven figures?”
“Don’t know for sure. You know how you get carried away with stuff. The necessaries won’t cost all that much. Course it doesn’t really matter, does it? Money ain’t exactly a problem is it?”
Ronnie placed Gary’s breakfast before him. “See, this plate is Caudon Kings Plate, one hundred bucks for a dinner plate. Course, if we do a complete setting, we get up around seven hundred bucks a setting. We got service for twelve and that’s just our daily use set. Then there’s the silver. It’s all sterling and antique. So I’m thinkin’, Your Worship, and Your Grandeur, as we should just enjoy Tiffany’s and Fire Island. Don’t cha think?”
“Can I have some more jam, please,” responded His Worship.
“Wood!” The Queen reconvened the meeting with emphasis. “There must be wood in these ships that are going to be in space for a long time. I do not mean construction; I mean there must be wood there to reinforce the humanity of the folks stationed on them. Wood for the wellbeing of our people: paneling, a balustrade, wooden cabinets, sturdy oak chairs to tilt back in, something of the like to remind them of home and who they are.
“Right now, as you know, if they spend one month in space, they must then spend one month on Prime in order to re-acclimatize themselves to fresh air and real gravity. But you’re going to get some kind of pseudo gravity figured out in the near future. I cannot help but wonder if you’ve asked anyone from the Wizard’s Guild to look at this problem.” She looked a cool look at the King’s Wizard.
The silence began to seem long. “Well, er, no. No one mentioned it to me.” Humphrey finally contributed into the silence. “I’ll ask around.”
“No, Your Majesty, I never thought of that,” Professor Doormann added.
“Well, enough said about that one aspect, but we still need wood. We need wood because it is a part of our very DNA. It is locked into us. It is part of the essential fabric of our being; it is so basic and so essential that we take it completely for granted. Wood has provided warmth, shelter, food, building material, all the basics since, in a very literal sense, the year one. Our first real adventures were in wooden ships. It is in our nature to have wood close to us. You coop our folks up in steel tubes for a long time. Out in space. With no real fresh air, nowhere to stroll. No real birds to sing for them.” She smiled at Cameron. “And you will surely have serious problems with mental stress and fatigue.
“I was in the palace conservatory yesterday and I was looking at the great stringed instruments that the master Cremonese luthiers completed and the familiars have saved over the centuries.
“From wood, the genius of men crafted these incredible instruments. Can’t do it with plastic. Aluminum. Glass.
“From wood. It is part of us. If J Pierpont Morgan could panel the engine room of his yachts for his engineers comfort, we can provide wood for the health and well-being of the crews of our cruisers and stations.
“There should be pictures on an available wall. And I don’t mean pictures of me or Justin; I mean landscapes, scenes of home, of everyday life, of the greatness of civilization, or even just of normality. They need to provide a touch of home. And, I think, a dog and a cat for each ship.” The Queen smiled at the familiars, “you guys are great but won’t have a lot of time to snuggle with someone who might be a little homesick.
“There’s more to war, than hardware and wizardry. We must try to ensure that our folks are as relaxed and thoughtful as it is possible for them to be.”
“Well. There you have it. We’ll do it. Thank you.” The King opined and looked the order to Colin. “Major Brownlees has a report for us on the level of training and readiness of the Space Grenadiers, as well as some observations on preparedness for other units. Then the Dowager Princess Martial will report on funding and finance.”
The meeting droned on.
Captain-Lieutenant St George Kilverstone Davids, SSM, got out of his cab and over-tipped the driver. He had a list and was on a mission; he was neatly dressed in mufti — a Norfolk jacket in a discreet tweed, dark slacks, an off white shirt with the Naval Air Force tie neatly knotted with a precise dimple. He checked his list, there, just two store fronts down, was the first shop on his list. He folded his list neatly and placed it in an inside pocket so that no one would know he was on a quest, or needed a list. He proceeded to briskly enter the shop.
It was impressive. To one side there were thousands of volumes that appeared to be used, some of them quite old, neatly arranged in shelves that ran from floor to ceiling. There was a ladder arrangement that slid along in front of the shelving what permitted access to the upper shelves. The other side of the store had new releases, best sellers, and other books that were currently in print. A large sign announced that they carried: “All the Latest from Earth and Prime.”
St George Kilverstone Davids, who like to be called ‘Stoney’ by his friends, was taken aback. His earliest memories were of the orphanage where he spent his first years; there was a library there that he had never used. Later, after he went to work for the Post Office, he delivered a telegram to a mansion, and the butler there was enchanted by his candescent beauty and he became a footman; then the Prince, who resided at the mansion when he wasn’t off collecting art, or touring his farms, was likewise enchanted by his beauty, and immediately approved his desire to attend the new Naval Academy. That mansion was still his official home of record. There was a library there, too; a library he had never visited save on his way from one place to another. He was not prepared to deal with this galaxy of books. Somehow he had assumed that a book shop would be like a naval store room: bins with the contents neatly labelled and instantly available. To be sure, there were signs here, but they covered shelves and shelves. There were even more rooms, toward the back, with more books. Clearly, it would take some time to even locate the “Love” section of this store. It was sure to be larger than a naval supply bin.
But there was a counter near the front window with a handsome young elve behind it. He was clearly in charge and would certainly know where the “Love” section was located.
‘So now what,’ wondered Stoney? ‘Surely I can’t just saunter up to him and ask where the books on love are. But wait, why can’t I? It’s his job to sell books, so he’d know where the book I need is.’ With a plan outlined, Stoney proceeded casually to the counter and stood looking at the clerk.
“How can I help you, admiral,” the clerk inquired with a certain cheek placing a pencil behind an attractive ear that managed to emerge from his enthusiastic mop of golden brown hair.
“Er, but, well, I’m not an admiral,” Stoney had been caught thoroughly off guard, rather liking this young man who, he now saw, was close to his own age.
“I know. There’s only one admiral in the Naval Air Force and you aren’t him. There’re two commodores, but you’re neither of them, but I’m guessing you want to be.”
“Er, well, I guess,” Stoney lumbered into awkward silence. He had no idea how to proceed; how to shift the conversation from his ambition to his desire to understand love. He wondered how the clerk knew he was Navy.
“Well, I can’t help you with that, but I’m thinking you didn’t really come in here with that in mind. Might there be something else I could help you with?”
Stoney regrouped quickly. He was, after all, a sailor and a flyer and a distinguished servant of his King. “Well, I’m looking for love.”
“So aren’t we all,” the clerk responded with a small grin. “But I’m assuming you want a book. I mean, after all, this is a book store. So maybe you can be just a little more specific. Love is a subject that has kept poets and philosophers and just about everybody else, when you think about it, busy for thousands of years. What kind of love are you looking for?”
“Well, you know, like the King. And the Earl Martial, they’re in love, and it seems to suit them just fine. I think.”
“Well yeah, but that just them, they’re born to it; and their sons will be lovers too. That’s the way it works. It’s Elven; it’s magic. It doesn’t work that way for folks like us. We have to work at it. Search it out. And even then, it doesn’t always work out.”
“Well, I was hopeful, you know, like maybe there’s a book of love I can read that’ll help.” Stoney was reluctant to abandon his plan. Successful commanders know that it’s sometimes necessary to change a plan, but they don’t give up at the first sign of resistance.
“But that’s just it. There’s zillions of books about love. There are the thoughts of philosophers from the earliest days of civilization both here and on Earth; there are novels by writers who were in love, had been in love, or wished to be in love; then there are poets in their limitless thousands; there are doctors and professors that try to approach love as if it were a science of some sort. There’re lots of books on your subject.
“And then there’s art: sculptors and painters have tried to capture love, too. Particularly on Earth where it’s even harder than it is here.
“So let’s start with you. Have you ever been in love?”
Stoney stared off into space. “Well. No, I don’t think so. I mean, there are a lot of people that I care about. Care about deeply. My pal Ted. We been best friends for years. And then there’s the Prince, and his lover, I think of them like they’re my Dads. And there’s Chipper, he’s super. But that’s not the same thing, I think.”
“But it’s rather more than that you’re looking for, isn’t it. Way more than friendship no matter how true that friendship might be:
“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”2
The two paused silently for a time. “Is that it?” wondered the bookseller, “someone with whom to share the small and the great things of life? A personal paradise? Is that the love you’re searching for?”
“Yes.” But then Stoney paused. He was a man of action. A commander of men and zeppelins, it was to be expected that he would make a decision quickly. But, having made the decision, “So now what?” He looked at the bookseller.
Stoney was answered with a broad smile. “Well, you just have to start. You’ve asked people out on a date, so look for someone you think you might like to get to know. More than just for a date, you know. And ask them out to dinner. Dinner is always a good start. But make sure it’s a nice place. If you can, pick a place that your date will enjoy. You want to put your best foot forward.”
A customer approached the counter with several books which she placed on the counter with a commanding thump. The bookseller went to attend to her and Stoney had a comfortable few minutes to attempt to collect his thoughts.
When he returned, he gave Stoney a long appraising look. “You have asked someone out, haven’t you?”
“Well, er, no.”
“Has anyone ever asked you out on a date?”
“Well, er, no. Does that happen?”
“Yes, actually, it happens rather a lot. Your problem is you’re too good looking. No boy would dare to ask you. They’d take one look and know that you were already taken. A girl might flirt seriously, but she’d be intimidated too. They’d want you to ask. But you never asked anyone, right?”
Stoney considered his social history for a long moment. “No. No, I never did.”
“Well, there you have it. Be attentive, when you see someone you think you might like to date, ask them out to dinner. A date is just the first chapter. Sometimes it’s only a short story; sometimes it’s a book. But you have to start with the first page. See?”
“Yeah. So what’s your favorite food?”
“I eat Chinese regularly, have you tried it?”
“Uh no. Is it anything like Mexican? I’ve tried that.” Stoney paused for breath. “Would you like to go out to dinner with me? We can go to a nice Chinese restaurant.” He smiled his most beautiful smile. He was glorious in his loveliness.
He was answered with a smile. “That would be nice.”
They quickly agreed upon the time and place and Stoney left elated with the success of his mission. Completed with only one stop from his list. He halted, reversed course and again approached the smiling bookseller.
“Um. You know, my name is ‘Stoney’ to my friends. Stoney Davids.”
He was greeted with a smile. “And I’m called Val. For Valentin Rudolph. Don’t be late.” He laughed. After a moment, Stoney had to laugh too.
Stoney never did buy a book of love.
Michel Cascone, Captain Royal Space Corps, was deeply involved in the completion of his new command. HMS Dreadnought would be the first of the battle cruisers being built to meet the interstellar invasion fleet that was approaching.
As a Captain-Lieutenant, Michel had been in command of the zeppelin HMS Prince Eugene of Savoy and he had loved the assignment; but his lover, Lieutenant Tavers, SSM, who had been serving with him in the Naval Air Force, had been whisked away for an assignment in space that had resulted in a most unexpected separation. But when Chipper returned to him, Chipper had been enthusiastic about the new Corps; Chipper had arranged for him to visit the space station where he could look down upon his birth planet swimming below him in the fastness of creation. He had been deeply moved and at Chipper’s urging, he had applied for transfer to the Space Corps.
To the degree that a bureaucracy could move instantly, it did. Michel was transferred to the Royal Space Corps. There, he found himself in the unusual position of being taught how to command a space ship by his lover.
First he had been taught how to fly a shuttle so that he would have a feel for the controls and the full scope of maneuver. Then he had to stand back and give orders to a bridge crew as though he were commanding a larger ship which, of course, was precisely what he would be doing. It was quite like commanding a zeppelin.
But progress was coming on the new battle cruiser, so soon he was spending additional time on, or involved with, the construction of that ship. She would be a capital ship and entitled to a full captain in command. She would be equipped with the anti-gravity drive system, as well as a full set of maneuvering thrusters and the standard ion inner-system drive.
Her purpose, though, was battle and she was equipped with two heavy accelerator cannon that would fire a one ton steel projectile at a maximum velocity of fifteen hundred meters per second. Each of the cannon could discharge a round once every twenty seconds and she carried one hundred rounds of ammunition in her magazine. She also carried four of the smaller eighteen pounder cannons that were being used to equip the shuttle fleet. These were for her own protection; they were thought to be unnecessary as it was planned that she would make combat jumps and operations with a familiar or wizard aboard; however, the Earl Martial had insisted that they attempt to err on the side of care and caution, so these cannon were installed. They were in turrets unlike the main guns which were fixed to fire forward. The big guns were aimed by aiming the ship in precisely the same manner as the fighter planes of Earth’s history.
Chipper and Michel had come to the inevitable understanding that, while they both served in the same branch of the King’s Arms, they would not be in the same assignment again and, if this was somehow bittersweet, they had considerable free time to spend with one another at home and they made some long range plans. They bought a farm and spent many satisfying hours disputing the details of the remodeling and redecorating of the house; and ever more satisfying hours relaxing intimately. Free to dream and to plan for a tomorrow they were sure would come. They knew it was their destiny to remain in the King’s service; but they were boundlessly confident that there would not always be a time of war.
“Do you like the wardroom picture?” Chipper inquired. “HMS Dreadnought. I selected it for you. Another great first of her kind and a great namesake.”
“Sweetie,” Michel replied. “Yes. It’s a great name. Do you think we should adopt some kids? We can afford it. We could hire a tutor and give some of those kids a home that I think would be better than that barracks at Kingstown.”
Chipper kissed him.
1 This example of genius is considered to be the only Stardivari in “as new” condition: quite an achievement having been made in 1716. It is seldom played and can be seen in the Ashmolean Museum.
2 The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Edward Fitzgerald (trans), Collins, London, 1947. 1st Edition of the verse, 11th stanza, p 60.
3 HMS Dreadnought was the first of the modern battleships. She more than doubled the main battery guns of her immediate predecessor carrying ten twelve inch guns in five turrets. Her immediate predecessors carried four twelve inch guns in two turrets. She was the first capital ship equipped with steam turbine engines. Revolutionary in all respects, she never fired a shot in anger, but is the only battleship that ever sank a submarine; she rammed and sank the U 29 in the Pentland Firth in 1915. She was the eighth ship of the name to serve in the Royal Navy and the name is carried still.