A short snippet of Family Law #3

A long slow burn across their entry vector revealed nothing surprising behind the star during the off shift. The radar had time for them to get returns from two thirds of the system and they’d see most of the rest on their run to jump. Everyone had a chance for hot meals and restful sleep that you couldn’t do at higher acceleration. The second shift crew retired to enjoy their off time and Gordon and his bridge crew came back on duty.
“Do you have a target star picked for our next jump, Brownie?” Gordon asked.
“Yes, there were three good candidates close to our intended route. I picked this one because it has an unusual spectrum and I’d like to see if it has a different planetary system too.”
“Very good. Inform the other ships and send them your data set. You may alter our course and set acceleration to suit your planned jump when you please.”
“Our oversized friend apparently whizzed right through, Lee,” Thor said.
“Yes I noticed. I wonder if we couldn’t develop sensors that could read the drive residues a ship leaves behind and reconstruct the line it took to leave the system?”
“Ask engineering,” Gordon suggested. “I wouldn’t mind having such a thing.”
“You could buy back your bet with me if you’d rather not have it hanging over your head,” Thor suggested.
“I wasn’t thinking about it. I’m certainly not concerned,” Lee said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see them again. How much of a discount were you going to offer me to settle early?”
“Discount? Just the peace of having it settled.”
“In your dreams! I’ll offer you the same deal so you don’t have to keep thinking about it.”
“These Fargoers are a bad influence,” Gordon declared. “I never knew how crazy they are about gambling on anything.”
“You really think they could find us again after we transit this system?” Thor asked her. “I should ask you if you want to double down on the bet.”
“Thor, you were the one who said at first that we shouldn’t bet because I have so much more money than you it wouldn’t matter to me if I lost. I admit I suggested five percent of our worth as a equitable bet. But do you really want to lose ten percent of everything you own over a bet? I could lose half and still have more than I could ever spend. I don’t want to lose you as a friend over some stupid pointless bet.”
“The little one is wise beyond her years,” Ho-bob-bob-brie said from his seat. He positively gushed.
Thor looked like he was going to say something in anger, calmed himself and looked at the alien. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t suppose you want a piece of the action?”
“You do not want to bet with Hin,” Ho-bob-bob-brie warned Thor, waggling a single digit in a gesture he’d picked up from Humans. “In our society there has never been such a thing as what the Fargoers describe to me as a friendly bet. Before Humans came, long before there was even a world government on Hin, our regional rulers would bet each other extravagantly. The losing side might be a impoverished for a generation to pay it off – or simply decide going to war was cheaper. Betting has always been a form of aggression on Hin.”
“Yeah, that’s what we’d call a poor loser,” Thor said. “I’ll be sure to remember that story.”
“The Derf have no tradition of gambling?” Ho-bob-bob-brie inquired.
“We are a tribal society. It wasn’t common for individuals to use money until very recently. Money was exchanged between tribes. Copper was our most common money but often weighed and not coined. Trade was as often in other goods or food,” Thor said. “About the only bets I heard as a child were for covering somebody’s chores or ribald bets directed at somebody by a disgruntled suitor who still had a grudge. We did have a cub who would bet his desserts. He was skinny.”
“And keeping everyone broke kept them under the Mother’s thumbs,” Gordon added. “When I left the clan keep I had to walk to town and find work to get the first cash money I’d ever held, before I could go on to a bigger town.”
“The Hin also can be very controlling,” Ho-bob-bob-brie admitted. “but even as a young child I had coins almost as soon as I could name them. Our close family has more control over you than the tribe or trade groups. They, or at least the nest sitter, often have your whole life planned out while you are still in the egg. If you let them.”
“I never experienced that side of Human culture,” Lee said. “I see similar things in Human videos though. Domineering parents who want to relive their childhood to better effect through their children, and mothers who manipulate their children with guilt. But who knows how much is true and how much is dramatic license? When I lived briefly with my cousins on Earth it wasn’t anything like the videos. But then I’ve recently seen a few videos set on space ships, and they are so ridiculous I thought it was deliberate comedy when it wasn’t. We all seem similar in little ways, but the new folks in the big ships, I wonder if we will find any similarities? They seem so different.”
“Well, Captain Fenton assured me they saw rank displayed in their actions. The one who seemed junior was physically shorter too. Now whether that is a mark of age or being of a different sex or even a sub-species is open to question. But that individual had fewer segments in the body. It would be interesting to see if it will add one and how,” Gordon said.
“Entry burst!” Brownie interrupted, surprised. “A big one and deep in system.” He read the numbers and let the computer work, everyone waiting for the solutions, casual conversation forgotten.
“They are crossing our nose on the far side of the star before we’ll clear it. It doesn’t appear they are slowing so they will exit before us. Emissions indicate they are our Caterpillar escort. They had to change vector completely in this system and then double back, or make a loop to reenter on this heading. That would require even better acceleration than what we’ve seen them do.”
“Might this not be a different Caterpillar ship than the one who blew through ahead of us?” Thor asked.
“It could be,” Brownie agreed, “but besides doing a radar sweep they transmitted audio. Not that we have any idea what they are saying yet, but it was the exact same transmission sequence they sent when they accelerated ahead of us leaving the Badger world. And it wasn’t a general broadcast. Signal strength from our other ships indicates they guessed where we would be and their transmission was directed right at us.”
Ho-bob-bob-brie broke the silence. Lee had never heard him speak dead flat with no inflection at all. “Hmm… Is there still a piece of the action on the table if one wants it?” he asked, carefully not looking at Thor.
“I believe I’ll just stand pat on that, thank you,” Thor said.
Lee thought of a whole salvo of snarky things to say, but she was maturing and just treasured thinking them.

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Here is the promised $2.99 sale by all my weird friends.


A number of authors, including yours truly, have gotten together to offer some of their work for $2.99 or less over the Labor Day Weekend. You’ll find everything from science fiction to fantasy, mystery to romantic suspense, historical fiction to Musketeers Mysteries to even some non-fiction. Please take a few minutes to check out the titles and, if you see something of interest, support the author by buying a copy. Thanks!

Please note that the sale starts this Friday, although some of these titles are already listed at $2.99 or under. Will be adding Friday as I didn’t know that was their intent.

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Group sale over the holiday weekend

A group of writer friends I often chat with in the evening invited me to join them in a group sale. We are all offering some of our work for $2.99 over the holiday weekend. Sept 1 is Labor Day in the US for those of you in other countries. It will be Sat. / Sun. / Mon. I’m contributing “April” and my collection of shorts that is normally at $2.99 anyway. I will post an URL to it when I get it. These are science fiction and Fantasy. Not all are my cup of tea, but they are all set at $2.99 and you might find something you like. I’m not much on fantasy or horror. They are a fun bunch of people.

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On updates -

Apparently if you delete a book from your kindle device while your account is set to no updates it doesn’t restore the ability to update after you change it. Anything deleted while in that status is just – gone.
So be sure your updates aren’t turned off before deleting a book.
If anybody got caught by this send me a note and your e-mail and I’ll renew your copy without you needing to buy it again.

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New April cover


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Edited “April” is up in US Amazon store

Other countries may take a bit to update. They should all be up by tomorrow.
If you have an original edition you should be able to delete it and force a new download from your online kindle list of books purchased.
“Down to Earth” will be edited next.
This is the same manuscript that will be released in paper editions.

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Newly edited copy of April in my possession -

I’m busy painting but as soon as I can I will read through this copy and have it posted to Amazon. I know it had a lot of errors. I appreciate those who could enjoy the story without being too horrified at the mistakes and typos.
The rest will be done one by one also.

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New start to Family Law 3

The previous was pretty horrible. I trashed it and started over. This works better – more stuff happening now and less info dump.

Chapter 1
Lee was strapped in watching the big plot screen above the physical view ports. There wasn’t much to see through the ports unless they were near a planet or station. Just a few dots of the brighter stars even though the bridge had subdued lighting. Nevertheless they had yet to find a starfaring race who chose to be sealed up inside their hull with only a view screen or radar to look out. As good as electronic had gotten, and better every year, screens failed. Power failed. Cable shorted and cameras got destroyed. Nobody wanted to picture themselves in a hull turned blind coffin. They had just met a new race with kilometer long ships of unimaginable capability and on the front of their vessel they still had plain old viewports, despite their superior technology.
They were on run to first jump to go back home after a long voyage of discover that was very successful. They started out from Derfhome seven months back finding a water world and two major sources of metal along the way. Nobody was going home poor even on the smallest shares. They’d found one race barely past the point of lofting satellites and still confined to their star system. They hadn’t been agreeable to trade and were so disagreeable there was no point in landing. It could only be trouble so they’d left quickly.
Their next find of sentient species had gone much better. They found the frontier world of a whole group of races in cooperation and trading with each other. The world, Far Away, at which they stopped was dominated by the race they called Badgers. There was also a large number of a race they dubbed Bills and a few examples of other races, some of which didn’t have their own ships.
The only fly in the ointment was that this group of cooperative races was in crisis. They’d just come in contact with an aggressive race that disrupted their exploration and commerce. They called them Biters, and all their ships were armed because they preyed on each other as easily as strangers. None if the other local races had ever armed their ships.
Looking at the plot screen there were nine ships other than the High Hopes Lee was riding in. They came out from Derfhome with only five ships. In fact they had gotten named The Little Fleet before they left. If they added many more ships it wouldn’t be very little. The four new ships were Bill and Badger Deep Space Explorers a Badger fast courier and a merchant freighter coming along as a supply tender. None of them armed. Buying arms to defend against the Biters was a big reason they were coming back to the Human sphere of exploration.
Lee was sitting in a second tier couch. She’s grown up on the ship, but this wasn’t her old seat. The bridge had been reworked and extra consoles fitted in with bigger seats. She’s grown up with her parents and her Uncle Gordon the only others aboard. They’d explored for years together until they finally found a class A habitable world. The Holy Grail of every explorer’s dreams.
She was now two thirds owner of the High Hopes with Gordon because in surveying the planet her parents had been killed by an unexpected native life form. Gordon was now Dad. He adapted Lee as the Andersons had arranged. This wasn’t as simple as it might sound since he was Derf. An entirely different species with different culture, custom and law.
He certainly looked different. He was about the same mass as a mature Grizzly bear. With a bigger skull, blunted face, a wider mouth, and most noticeable, heavy middle arms with massive claws and lighter arms above with true hands. He looked just like he should to Lee. She’d been assured by a Derf doctor examining her that he was one good looking hunk of Derf. Said doctor being a smaller Cinnamon female.
The counter in the plot screen showed twenty seconds to jump. Lee couldn’t imagine not having a thrill at seeing one set of stars change to a different pattern. The technology was mature. There was very, very little chance they would jump and disappear like some of the early explorers. Lee never thought of it when they jumped. Gordon always did.
They were spread out because of the new ships. There was a tidal disturbance around a ship leaving local space. Gordon trusted his ships to jump within a couple kilometers of each other. These four new ones not so much. They appeared to have their vectors and velocity down pat. Now they would test their timing. They weren’t members of the Little Fleet, but Gordon made clear they would follow his orders if they wanted to travel with him under his protection.
The counter reached zero and the stars blinked into a new pattern and a star straight ahead shone bright displaying a small disc. The ports immediately darkened until it was comfortable to look unless you stared straight at it. The other ships showed the same distances and relationship on the plot, so they were in sync. Lee let out a little hum of delight and Gordon breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Clear sky, no artificial emissions, optics show a clear path ahead. Checking it wider with radar by your leave,” the navigator Brownie asked Gordon. Brownie was too busy to dwell on the fact they made it again.
“Check our path. Have the Retribution ping the whole system at full normal power.” The Heavy Cruiser Retribution carried military grade radar. It had a much bigger hull to mount many more elements in its array. If they cared to temporarily shut down most other power usage they could fry another ships electronics light minutes away.
“Take us on a lateral sufficient to see what’s behind the star, and you can pick a target star on pretty much the same heading for us to continue. I doubt we’ll be stopping here. Do you see our escort?” Gordon asked Brownie.
“No drive emissions ahead. Nothing on the radar frequencies he was using.” Gordon was speaking of a new species who came into contact with the Biters just before their departure. They built kilometer long spaceship of performance none of them could match. Of course the Biters fired on them at first contact. That was just what Biters do. The huge vessels came through the Far Away system, snatched a Biter ship there and one stayed behind to observe the Little Fleet. It took a Human ship away briefly and brought it back. It didn’t leave then however. They hung around and when the Little Fleet and four new vessels left it passed and jumped ahead of them. Now it wasn’t to be seen.
“We have radar return on a very thin asteroid belt ahead. I see enough of an arc I think it extends all the way around the star. Optic survey only sees one rocky planet close to the star and a rather small gas giant so far the other side of the star we can barely see a disc,” Brownie reported.
“Your buddy bugged out,” Thor the XO remarked to Lee. She’d predicted the huge ship would escort them all the way back home. It would be awkward if they did. They’d done some trading but made no progress at sharing language at all. The aliens spoke, but a wailing gibberish nobody saw any pattern to yet. They didn’t transmit images of themselves so that severely limited sharing words by pantomime. They showed themselves trading but not on video.
“You’re just hoping I’ll panic and start negotiating to buy my bet back,” Lee accused him. They’d each bet a tenth of a percent of their worth over the matter. Lee stood to lose a lot more than Thor.
“You can buy it back anytime you want,” he agreed. “But it will be sweeter the longer you hold out.”
“What discount are you offering to settle right now?” she demanded.
“Discount? Why should I discount it? I can just take your money now so it doesn’t eat at you all the way back and embarrass you. Do you think a Fargoer would discount a sure thing?” Some of the people in the fleet from Fargone were a little crazy about gambling. They had been betting with credit slips against each other to be paid out of their shares when they got back. At least Lee was betting money she already had.
“I’ll stand pat then,” Lee informed him. Nobody ever died of embarrassment.”
“Wise little one,” Ho-bob-bob-brie said. He wasn’t being sarcastic.
Ho-bob-bob-brie was one of her successes. She’d encouraged Gordon to advance him to the bridge crew. She didn’t often suggest anything touching on command. She tried to make sure she didn’t push anything that would get turned down, because she worried Gordon would keep a mental list and consider it all in the future when she wanted to advance to command.
Lee owned two thirds of the High Hopes. She also owned the Deep Space Explorer The Champion William and the Heavy Space Cruiser Retribution of their fleet outright. The Mothers of Gordon’s clan, Red Tree had sold them for cash and rights to establish a second clan-hold on the planet Gordon and she discovered. The clan retained a couple merchant ships and the much smaller destroyer Sharp Claws which accompanied them, but sold the other ships as inappropriate for a merchant clan. They were all war captures from the USNA by Gordon.
Since she was Gordon’s adapted daughter she was by their culture in an intermediate position between being a child, as if she was under Earth law, and being a full adult. She could make contracts and speak to what would be done with her property, but certain adult things such as being a clan Mother were still closed to her. Nobody in their right mind would suggest she could command a fleet of star ships. Gordon was commander. Lee might speak to what sort of business and trade she hoped the fleet could do, but not order it to turn or stop.
“I’ve been thinking… ” Lee said into the silence.
“Should I sound General Quarters?” Brownie asked, mock concern in his voice. Gordon didn’t reprove him for idle chatter on the bridge. Instead he stifled laughter, one snort of amusement betraying him, true hand covering his nose and mouth. It did seem like every time Lee committed thought something happened.
Lee glared at him and ignored it. “The Caterpillars sent video and still frame to us of all our races, when they included the Biters in the composite it was a clear accusation, they even repeated it. But they have never shown us a picture of themselves. But when they came out and traded with the crew of The Champion William they weren’t shy to let themselves be seen. They didn’t even have anything to cover up. They obviously can’t wear pants, but they could wear some sort of robe. It would be easy to wear a mask like the Hinth too. They wouldn’t even need a strap. They could just hold it from the back with a couple face tentacles.”
“Perhaps they have a cultural aversion to depicting images of themselves,” Thor the XO surmised. “The Hinth have a strong physical reaction to close proximity. Being bare faced to others all day exhausts them. They could never have had cities or cooperated on any scale without muting the fight or flight reaction.”
“Or a religious prohibition,” Lee tossed back at him.
“The Human Muslim religion prohibits artistic depiction of living things that might be taken as idols,” Alex Hillerman said on the command circuit. He was the Head back in Engineering and only one there on this circuit. “Not that pictures of people and animals are specifically prohibited in the Qur’an, but it has become a very rigid custom because they might be seen and used as idols. Especially any representation of their prophet.”
“What do they do for art then?” Lee asked.
“Oh they have plenty, but it is abstract, geometric and calligraphy mostly,” he replied.
“I wonder, now that we have video of them how they would react to us sending them images of themselves?” Lee wondered. “Or perhaps just a simplified cartoon sort of image like our stick figures?”
“I’m making this a standing fleet order,” Gordon said. “No images of the Caterpillars will be sent back to them. For that matter no images of real caterpillars. I refuse to experiment when the people in question obviously have much more advanced technology than us. They have better ships and Captain Fenton reports the missiles the Caterpillars fired were clearly nuclear when they self-destructed. They weren’t terribly big, and we have no idea if they can pump an X-head laser, but they could easily be variable yield and they just used the low setting to self-destruct. I’d rather not find out what they can do by pissing them off and getting a thorough demonstration.”
“Aye,” Lee agreed quickly, wishing she had added that it didn’t seem a good idea to actually do before Gordon.
“Was that humor?” the Captain Slick of the Bill ship Green asked the Badger, who the Humans called Talker, on the Badger Deep Space explorer Wonder. He used a private circuit, afraid his question might seem ignorant. Talker, or more accurately ‘His Excellency the Voice of Far Away’, was reputed to understand these aliens better than anyone else.
“The navigator asking if he should sound General Quarters was humor,” Talker explained. General Quarters is a ship-wide alert by means of a distinctively jolting, loud sound which warns there may be sudden maneuvers, imminent battle or even collision.”
“That is funny?”
“Indeed, I can assure you they found it a fine jest. I could hear somebody on their bridge stifling laughter.”
“And?” the Bill asked.
“And what?” Talker encouraged him to elaborate.
“And what else was humor in their conversation?” Captain Slick asked.
“Not a gods be blessed thing.”
The Bill was silence, staring out of the screen at a complete loss to understand it.
“I do understand it,” Talker said. “I can explain it, but have you ever heard a joke that became funny by deconstructing it for someone? I usually understand Bill humor too. I mean, I understand the mechanisms. I may not find Human or Bill humor personally funny to laugh out loud at it. I can predict with some certainty that I could not make Bill humor funny to Humans either.”
“Do analyze it for me then Badger. I agree it is lost to me for enjoyment, but perhaps I too can learn the nature of their humor to understand them better. I must add though… The navigator, Brownie, is a Derf and Lee is a Human but apparently his humor still works between them?”
“The races seem to think disturbingly alike. I can’t explain that. They have been in contact less than a generation. So there has been no time for the cultures to – he slid his spread fingers together to mesh them – blend. Yet it is for all I have no explanation. It just is. I know it makes you unhappy, the way you called me Badger! in the Human style. Like it was an accusation. But do not judge. Be happy they have any sense of humor.”
“Why should I care? It just seems to make them stranger and harder to understand to me.”
“They were poking light hearted fun at the girl for saying she had been thinking, because it would seem every time she starts thinking out loud it complicates their lives far more than the utterances of a little girl should. It was like – “Oh no, not again!”
“That is a complicated humor, depending on knowing their history,” Slick said. “Were she a Bill of influence she still might take offence at it.”
“Humans don’t think much of those who take their own dignity and importance too seriously.”
“A Bill might imply she had passed intestinal gas to label her remark as offensive. Such as, “There is that odor again!”
“Yes, Lee told me Humans, at least the males, pass through a phase of such humor,” Talker said.
“Are we all of arrested development then in their eyes?
“See, you value your dignity. They would mock you for that. But their humor can be surprisingly dark. Consider when the Biters attacked them at Far Away as soon as they saw them. The Biters were intent on killing them.”
“Well, yes. That’s sort of the nature of Biters,” Slick said.
“Have you ever heard a Biter crack a joke?” Talker asked him.
“That’ll be the day!”
“Indeed. Do you know what Gordon told me when I worried about the Biter’s reaction and the possible trouble it might precipitate?”
“Seeing how inferior the Biters’ weapons are I imagine he found them contemptible.”
“Yes, well I will reveal to you that we examined the Biter ship and the rear section was vaporized. Whatever beam took it off left an edge so sharp I had to be warned not to cut myself on it. However examining it closely there was an arc to the cut. From that we determined the beam was large enough to have vaporized the entire ship if it had been directed exactly at the middle.”
“Still accurate enough to stop them.” Slick said
“No, much more accurate than that. The shot was off to the rear, but exactly on the centerline of the ship,” Talker said. He watched the Bill’s face. There was a pause while he digested the information, a scornful look while he rejected the implication, and a look of stunned horror when he figured the odds of that happening by chance.
“The Human expression is that they were toying with them.”
“Dear sweet… ”
“There is a reason I went off on this tangent in discussing their humor. Again, do you know what Gordon said when I worried about how the Biters would take this?”
“I have no idea at all now.”
“He said, “To hell with them if they can’t take a joke.”
“Oh, the depth of the their disdain! They are but errant fools for whom you grease the path to watch them fall and wonder what happened!”
“See? You do understand it.”

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Comments from elsewhere -

So far am told this is too much to absorb and keep straight for somebody who hasn’t read the previous books.
Rereading it I think it is too dense. It’s easy for me to understand – because it is all in my head. I’m going to start writing again and try to generalize more and use this as an outline. I’ll drop things in among the current action over a longer spread.

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Snippet of April #6 -

I may put one more after this. Un-copyedited. Changed the ending twice perfecting it…

The Fox and Hare was busy. It had been so busy of late that April felt obligated to inquire what evenings were less solidly booked. The host hadn’t wanted to answer at first, firmly insisting he would accommodate her at any time. He’d been equally stubborn when she had earlier suggested she wasn’t poor and in fairness to the other owners she should pay for her service. He’d pointed out that he was one of the other owners and he’d see it paid out of his share before he’s present her a bill. He was an owner, but a minor one. Making him pay would be even less fair so she dropped it. April couldn’t figure out why he felt so obligated to her. She’d never done anything special for him personally as far as she knew.
April inquired of the accountant finally and found out that Wednesdays and Thursdays late in the month were the slowest days. That appeared to be accurate since there were three empty tables, something she hadn’t seen other days. She was certain there wouldn’t be any open on a weekend. She was alone, everybody she called to invite having a commitment. Gunny off doing some security work. She took a table for two against the wall. The wall side was a nice upholstered seat and the other side empty because they brought a folding chair if somebody sat on that side.
The Caprice salad was a light appetizer. It would leave her hungry enough for the seafood fettuccine she’d had before and knew to be ample even for her appetite. A reduced alcohol dry white wine went perfectly and left her clear of mind even if she started on it before the main course. Her waiter was Jesse Duval. She’d first met him and his wife Helen almost a year ago. They’d been visiting Home for life extension therapy, something not legally available at home in Spain. They had returned to Home recently but insisted they were now Jesse and Helen instead of James and Elena Alphonses. They never broke their cover identity with her or anyone else as far as she knew. She knew they couldn’t do that with their doctor, but that was an entirely different matter.
There had been confused news reports after their return to Earth about high Catholic officials infected with something and a hunt for terrorists wanted for spreading an infectious agent. Since some of the common life extension therapies were administered using a viral carrier she and Gunny suspected the couple had somehow broken quarantine. If so they were smart to flee. The crazy Earthies felt inflicting a longer healthier life on somebody to be a heinous crime.
Jesse had applied to the Fox and Hare and gotten a serving job with ease. Not even mentioning April as a reference. He was good looking and projected good humor without it seeming strained. The host had confided in her that Jesse had already turned down a couple job offers from customers impressed with his manner. If they only knew he’d been responsible on Earth for managing a major charity. He was way over qualified to be a server and would make more from the sort of tips that were quiet confidence and overheard conversations than cash on the table. April had the sudden thought she should tell Chen who was running Jeff’s intelligence efforts to recruit Jesse. His wife Helen had landed a job with a small firm that did PR and advertising on Earth for space based clients. It would surprise her if they both continued working for others long term.
It was getting near the start time for the entertainment this evening. On a quiet Thursday it would be a singer or a pianist, not a band or a series of acts. Two of the empty tables filled and with just a couple minutes until the lights dimmed the last empty table near her in Jesse’s section was claimed by a middle aged couple.
They were interesting, no doubt at all they were Earthies, but they had all the signs of life extension therapies. Their apparent age suggested that they’d been older than was usual when they got treatment. Tourists were often well dressed, if Earth style, it wasn’t cheap to lift to Home after all, but these two were better dressed than usual. His jacket was perfectly tailored and April knew the little purse she carried was about five thousand EuroMarks. He carried himself with authority. Not the self-conscious ramrod stiffness of a control freak but the real self assurance of someone who didn’t know what it was to feel intimidation.
The host held the lady’s chair for her after switching it around so they both faced the stage. She was obviously used to having that done for her by how smoothly it went. The host went away and Jesse was serving drinks to the next table. Once rid of them he tucked the small tray under his elbow and turned to the newcomers. His face went through shock then fear and despair. He looked over each shoulder in turn seeming to be surprised he didn’t find hands on him. April saw something very unusual was happening and triggered her spex early to record the encounter even before he looked over his shoulders.
When Jesse looked back at them the man made a small restraining gesture above the edge of the table, palm down. Jesse bent his knee and for a second April thought he was going to kneel before them, but the man made the outstretched hand flutter emphatically and frowned, which seemed to stop him. He was still frozen to the spot where he was standing, completely flustered and not responding normally.
The host getting the high sign from the bartender that something was amiss turned back. The woman saved any confrontation by getting up and hugging Jesse. She looked past him to the worried host and waved him away with a smile. She was a big woman, as tall as Jesse and held his elbows to his sides, leaned in close and spoke low to his ear smiling and visibly calming him. He finally gave a few nods of agreement though if he said anything it was too low for April to hear. When she sat back down he went off to the bar.
He must have gotten a drink order while the woman was close. He had just a few words with the host, looking embarrassed and leaving the host still looking dubious. By the time he returned and served the couple he seemed composed again.
April sent the video to Jeff’s man Chen, suggesting they should know the identity of this couple. She didn’t expect a quick answer. Sometimes it was several days before Chen responded to a message from her. This time he answered in a couple minutes, just as the lights started dimming.
“Jon’s people said they came in two days ago on the regular shuttle from ISSII. They are traveling as Ferdinando and Sancha Jimenez which seem to be false identities. A net search and Interpol inquiry shows no hits except similar names of historic persons.”
“Are the historic personages Spanish royalty?” April asked, having a sudden idea.
There was no immediate reply. A couple more minutes went by before Chen came back. “Yes, one of the kings in Spain before it was really one country, King of Leon and Count of Castile and his wife. The first of the kings of Spain to claim to be an emperor back in the early ten hundreds. Are you a big history buff or did you arrive at that by some other route? Sometimes you freak me out.”
“A different route entirely,” April admitted, but volunteered no more. “Would you please have one of your underlings find photos and brief biographies of the last two kings and queens of Spain and send them to my pad?”
“Sure. Any deadline on that?” Chen asked.
April looked at the couple. They seemed to be enjoying the lively pianist who was just starting, had some sort of wine and were sharing a small appetizer. They looked pretty firmly ensconced for a meal and the show.
“Within the hour if that is practical. If you need reimbursed for the research this is personal not mutual business with my partners,” April told him.
“That’s easy,” Chen said, ignoring her offer. “I’ll have it sent to your pad in a few minutes.”
Despite the misleading way he said it Chen didn’t hand it off to a research associate. He wanted to see this himself. When he looked he was surprised to find the Spanish succession was in dispute and some turmoil. There hadn’t been any big public stink about it, but apparently the current official head of state and his wife had retired. They didn’t say he had abdicated. It was much more mysterious than that and involved the ‘retirement’ of a number of other high government and Church officials.
Chen looked at the video April had sent him and the news service photos. It couldn’t be… They were far too young and the Crown and Church were death on Life Extension. But that nose! You could split logs with a nose like that. The sort plastic surgeons promise and could only approximate. Their children on the other hand were all accounted for in recent stories at very public activities.
He forwarded the files to April’s pad, appending information about the apparent chaotic state of the Spanish secession and hesitated to add anything. Finally he simply said – “Look at the nose.”
Indeed, it was a magnificent nose. Suitable for looking straight down if one chose to. The owner didn’t look to be minded that way. He was relaxed and eating a steak which was trying to hide beneath a pile of mushrooms. It amused April when she realized he was chewing in quarter time to the piano. She wondered if he realized it? The appetizer tray was gone and she noticed they only had a glass of wine not the whole bottle.
When Jesse check on her she didn’t need anything but she asked him, “What is the bartender’s name Jesse? Does he manage the wine too?”
“Yes, Mis Lewis. Festus has to wear the Sommelier’s hat too. We’re too small still to keep one busy full time, and their cellar here is rather small compared to many Earthside establishments.” He thought on it a moment… “In truth it’s small compared to some family collections.”
“Have him come speak with me when he has time,” April requested.
“Certainly, is everything satisfactory?” Jesse barely gave an eyebrow twitch of curiosity but didn’t ask why.
“Everything is lovely. I just need his expertise.”
It wasn’t long before April saw somebody else take over at the bar and Festus disappeared. She thought he’d gone on break or even off shift until he suddenly popped back up beside her table standing at attention like he was going to be presented a medal, or stood before a firing squad. Looking at him she realized he’d gone to the kitchen and removed his apron, cleaned up a bit, combed his hair and put on a fresh shirt. She’d never spoken to the man so why had he gone to all that trouble?
“Miss Lewis? Jesse said you’d like to speak with me.”
April scooted over a little and patted the seat beside her. “Just April is fine. You needn’t be so formal with me. This won’t take long but sit down a minute please. I’d rather not attract attention. With you standing there and the pianist between numbers we’re the most obvious thing happening in the whole room.”
“I think the help are invisible to most people,” he objected. He did sit however, but not too close. April moved closer because she intended to speak quietly. He was surprisingly thin close up. She hadn’t noticed from a distance. The long sleeves covered it a bit, and his face didn’t look thin, it just sort of long and hound-doggy. He seemed uncomfortable so she got to the point rather than torture the poor fellow.
“The middle-aged couple toward the stage and a bit to our right seem familiar to me. I think they are Spanish. I’d like to send them drinks and I thought it would be a nice surprise to send something Spanish. They had wine already with dinner.” April looked and the woman’s glass was gone and his had just a bit left. “Could you suggest something else to send to their table as a gift?”
He looked much more comfortable now that the conversation was on ground he knew. “Spanish liqueurs tend to be very strongly flavored and people usually love them or hate them. So that’s a risky thing to send to their table if you don’t know their tastes. We only have one that has a strong flavor of sloe berries. It will just kill your palate for anything subtle after. But we have a Spanish sparkling wine made by the same process as Champagne. It’s called Cava and we have both Freixenet and a few bottles of Codorníu. The ones we have are just slightly sweet and very appropriate for after dinner. People buy the Freixenet because it has a fancy bottle.” That appeared to amuse him. “However, I like the Codorníu. It’s served very cold and we have it chilled and ready if you like.”
“That would be perfect. Please send a bottle to their table and tell them it is from Dame April Lewis.” She discretely handed a folded hundred EuroMark bill to Festus below the table and he took it readily with nod of thanks.
The staff waited until the pianist finished the next number before wheeling a Champagne bucket to their table. It was a Magnum. She hadn’t thought to ask. That was a lot for two people. The man, Ferdinando or whatever his real name was looked surprised and then amused. After a few words with Jesse he looked at April and made a gesture and face to indicate the Magnum was huge. Then he waved her over to their table.
Jesse already had a chair and was putting it beside Ferdinando opposite his wife. By the time she got there and sat down Jesse had the cork out and presented it. Ferdinando waved it off and after a taste had Jesse pour for all of them. It was new to April and pretty good. The pianist returned then. Jesse stashed the bottle back in the ice under a serviette, and they put off any conversation until she did a few songs and had another break. She was pounding out some jazz that would have to be rude to shout over. Jesse returned to refill them and April leaned over and apologized.
“I didn’t think to ask them what size of the Codorníu they had. It might have looked like I sent the Magnum to pressure you to invite me over. I didn’t intend that.”
“My dear, you worry entirely too much about looking too forward. I’ve seen pushy in every form and magnitude. Some to dwarf this bottle. You radiate neither the self importance nor the devious smoothness of the obnoxious. You also sorely underestimate my capacity for Champagne when it is this good. I am however used to drinking it with little sweets to nibble. I wonder if they have something?”
“They have baklavas,” April offered. “Everything else is big or messy and needs to be eaten with a fork or spoon.”
“That will serve,” Ferdinando agreed
“They have the duel here, dear,” Sancha said from his other side. “Don’t let a Frenchman hear you call it Champaign or we’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn.”
“Is there any real rule that you can’t sleep in and try to kill each other at a decent hour?” Ferdinando asked.
“That’s a really interesting question,” April allowed, looking surprised. “I think it’s just tradition. I admit when I called a fellow out I just automatically told him he could apologize or meet me in the morning.”
Ferdinando looked at her closely to make sure he wasn’t being played… “And what terrible thing was this fellow doing to drive you to put your life on the line?”
“Well, it was more like putting his life on the line,” she insisted. “You had to be there to understand how we got to that point.” She could feel herself blushing and just hated that. It also didn’t satisfy Ferdinando, who wasn’t taking that as an answer, just silently giving her the old fish eye… “This fellows body guard jostled me but it escalated from an earlier disagreement.”
“As a matter of fact, he was littering,” she admitted. It sounded so stupid now.
“Well, I can see why the hallways are so spotless,” he said.
Jesse delivered a tray of various shapes of baklava. After Ferdinando selected April got one with pistachios.
“Corridors actually.”
“Call them anything she wants, dear,” Sancha counseled, laying her hand on his arm. He nodded a grave acknowledgement to her that it seemed a wise course.
“It’s not like that,” April objected. “I haven’t – shot anyone – in ages,” she temporalized.
“And I’m sure your restraint is appreciated,” he acknowledged. Which didn’t sound sincere somehow. “You called yourself Dame. We’d say Doña. Do you limit the use of the duel here to the upper class as the English did?”
“No, that question came up before the Assembly already. A woman from Central on the moon wanted to challenge a resident of Home to a duel. They considered the question and the overwhelming argument advanced was that the duel is a fundamental right not a privilege granted by the state. There were issues. This particular challenge seemed unjust to many, but they allowed it rather than lose or limit the custom.”
“That is interesting. Who eventually won, and how did people feel after the fact?”
“The lady called off the match. So far every duel called has resulted in a yield, an apology, or the person decided to accept exile rather than yield or fight. I don’t doubt we will see a duel eventually with an ending everybody sees as a bad. But it was generally agreed the duel addresses things the law doesn’t deal with well. The Assembly has made very little law so far, so custom has to address many things.” April stopped and was frowning.
“You have a thought?” Ferdinando prompted her.
“I’m trying to think how to explain. On Home I’m not Dame anything unless somebody calls me that as a courtesy. Or more likely is trying to get my goat, since I had a hard time accepting a title and my close friends used to tease me about it pretty hard. We have no royalty or peerage on Home, all that has to do with Central on the moon. My friend Heather is the Sovereign of Central and declared some of her close friends and subjects peers. That’s why they started calling me Dame Lewis, although Jon says I’m more like a Baronetess. I have no time or inclination to learn all the titles and differences, and Ja… uh, a friend, said they are all different in each country and changed over time anyway. What does it matter now anyway, if it isn’t attached to something real like the land?”
“Indeed, the study of titles of nobility, heraldry and your personal genealogy can be an empty exercise in self importance if it’s just a vain attempt to find some way to elevate yourself with no real personal accomplishment or merit. Does your status then attach to something real as you said? If you’ll forgive me please, what was happening off Earth wasn’t of much interest to me until quite recently.”
“Well, my land. I have land at Central and more importantly cubic. The surface is harsh and exposed to risks. It easier to dig deep than on Earth. It isn’t much benefit right now but it will be. Right now it’s more obligations. I support Heather and help any way I can. We were allies long before she decided to go grab land on the moon.”
“Allies?” he asked. “At what?”
“In business, and then when Home rebelled and in war with North America. I owned the armed merchant the Happy Lewis with my brother. The hostilities started when we had to fight our way back from ISSII on the Happy. We took out the Chinese ship the Pretty as Jade and the USNA James Kelly. Later I sent the Happy to support Heather. When the North Americans tried to enter her territory to arrest a bunch of her people and take them back to Armstrong she need it.”
“And, with your help, how did she resolve that?” Ferdinando asked, nibbling on a sweet.
April blinked at his question like she didn’t believe it. “You really don’t know what’s been going on up here do you? She killed them. All of them. And bombarded Armstrong tit for tat. Took out their field control with a ten kiloton weapon and a ship sitting there after they cluster-bombed her landing field and burned a hole straight through the Happy Lewis for us.”
“Oh my… I obviously have some catching up to do. If your Heather holds her nation by the sword I must respect that. It’s all that matters in the end. Your Heather, are you intimate with her? Do you speak without formality?” he corrected at her odd expression.
“Well sure. We go back too far for that to change. She is all formal when she holds a court, but not between us or with Jeff.”
He nodded. “Then you are not just Doña or Baronesa, you are Grandeza too.”
“Ha! If I run out of titles I have an old boy in Tonga who calls me Pilinsesi. Our boat captain said that means princess. I liked that better because the princess is always well regarded in fairy tales.”
Then the pianist returned so April felt she had to be quiet again, but her theme changed a bit and instead of the lively numbers of her first set she toned it down to quiet background music you could speak over discreetly.
Sancha leaned close to her husband and April leaned in close too as it was obvious she wished to speak across him. “Might I ask why you addressed James as Jesse when you asked for the baklava?”
“Ah – he must have been too shook-up to introduce himself to you. He’s now Jesse Duval and his wife is Elena. If you knew them… in a previous life, it would be a kindness to forget that. Surely you understand?” she said, pointedly.
“Oh dear. I didn’t think to introduce us when I spoke to him. I’ll correct that. He was acting so strangely.”
“What my wife isn’t saying is we are not under the same pressures as Jesse and… Elena? They are actively wanted as criminals and I can see why they might feel the need to start a new life. We on the other hand were invited to retire as unsuitable persons,” he said with some anger. “We will never be charged with anything. That would be most uncomfortable for both the secular and religious. But one of the conditions for fading graciously away and being generously pensioned was not to raise a fuss among our peers or in the media. So we would rather not be interviewed or even the subject of paparazzi photos and speculation.”
“I believe he was looking around after seeing you because he expected your security to snatch him away. I think they are both constantly looking over their shoulders a lot still, not sure if anyone will bother to pursue them this far. One of my uh, sources, an intelligence officer really, said things in Spain appear unsettled. It makes me ask. Did you not pick a successor?”
“Anyone I picked would have been tainted by that fact. They are still watching everybody closely, terrified that they will turn young. Such a terrible thing!” Neither would I give them the satisfaction. It would have been almost a blessing upon their actions. Just like your Queen Heather, let the one who can hold it snatch it. I doubt it will come to arms but it is still a contest.”
“I’m evil enough that it amuses me,” Sancha admitted.
“Well, you know all the characters and can appreciate the inside information. You should write it as a play after it all runs out.”
Sancha looked shocked, but Ferdinando laughed heartily. “They’d deserve it,” he agreed.
“Thank you for meeting me,” April said. “I need to head home. I’m in the public directory, if you need any help acclimating to Home give me a call. I grew up here after all.” She had a sudden urge and patted Ferdinando on the arm before standing. That was probably against some protocol with royalty, but it felt right.
“Well, it’s a refreshing change to have someone offer to help us instead of seeking favors,” Ferdinando observed.
“I think it was sincere. She is amusingly innocent to think princesses lead idyllic lives,” Sancha said wistfully.
Jesse returned and offered a refill.
“No thank you. James, We are informed you are Jesse and Elena now. Be aware We are Ferdinando and Sancha now. You’ve always been such a good youngster. You conducted Our business faithfully. We have no ill will towards you. Your ‘accident’ is perhaps the best thing that has happened to Us. You may expect to see a lot more of Us. We may settle down here.”
Jesse looked relieved. “Thank you for speaking plainly. It will be my pleasure to serve you. In any way I can,” he made clear.
“Why don’t you offer the Cava to the chef?” Sancha suggested. “It seems a shame to waste half of it and he can use it in sauces and such.”
“Yes, and we are done for the evening,” Ferdinando added, laying a bank card on the table edge.
Jesse made a small negating gesture. I already marked your tab paid when Miss Lewis sat with you. We never charge anyone who keeps company with one of the owners here.
Sancha sat shocked. The young girl being an owner here was so far outside her experience she revised the opinion she was about to express to her husband. “Do you know, I think the rest of it might be true too,” she told him after Jesse was out of earshot.
“My dear, I don’t think we’ve heard the half of it.”

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