One hundred twenty-one

One hundred twenty-one

It was only after she made her confident announcement that Jeanette noticed the air swarming with little dandelion fluffs. Even though nobody else seemed to be minding them, it was clear to her that every word she’d said since coming out of the Library was being broadcast all over Storisende. So maybe she should keep her yap shut until they got back to the hospital?

Her father and her friends were examining the books of poetry she’d taken out of the Library. O Tse seemed particularly fascinated by the CHORUS SONGS volume, and none of them seemed particularly irritated by the dandelion drones. Maybe something had happened while she was inside?

Lieutenant Quintus Octavian came hurrying up, accompanied by a short balding stocky man dressed in a uniform that resembled his. He was carrying something that looked like a fire extinguisher. “I’d like to introduce you to Primus Inter Pares Decemvir, my superior at the Ecbatenophore Trade Delegation.”

“Pleased to meet you all,” he said in a hearty voice, and raised the extinguisher at the cloud of drones, covering them all in smoke. In a moment they emerged from the cloud, seemingly unchanged.

“What I did was spray them with an aerosol of concentrated copyright and trademark licenses. All proven to stand up in Storisende civil courts. There is, naturally, no way to avoid the recordings going out, but now at least you will make money on every airing. Add a little time distortion, and we go back to the young lady’s first appearance. We call it our Prior Restraint Applicator. It’s just one of Ecbatenophore’s unique products.”

“It does a good job of curbing the press’s enthusiasm,” the Lieutenant added.

“We’re hoping you will take your first convenient opportunity to have a formal meeting with the delegation so we can give you a sense of the full array of Ecbatenophore products and services,” Primus rattled un like a high speed sales train. “We have few equals and no superiors in the field of legal molecular biological products.”

“I, for one, am utterly fascinated by this demonstration,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara, and Jeanette knew he was sincere. “And may I add that Lieutenant Octavian has been doing a magnificent job of making our visit a success.”

“Of course, of course,” Primus said.

“But now, my daughter especially has had quite a full day, and I think we’ll be heading back to the hospital,” Dr. Ransom said.

“Of course, of course,” Primus said.

When the floating platform arrived at the hospital, the travelers were met with a pair of figures. They were a little shorter than Dr. Ransom, and their faces resembled Scotch terriers. They wore simple robes, and were bent over just a bit, but Jeanette wondered, after seeing them move, whether that was a species thing or just old age.

“May we come in? This won’t take long.”

Lord Elphinstone made himself very conspicuous, because none of this eliminated the possibility that this was an armed attack, but they entered the hospital. The scanners (standard equipment in a residence like this) passed them, and they were soon standing in the entrance hall.

“We hate to say this, but we, and the group we represent, are very unhappy about your actions today, and we would like you to leave as soon as possible,” one said.

“Or convenient, but still quickly,” the other said.

The Queen of Hearts came forward. “We’re sorry you feel this way, but I do think you ought to explain yourselves.”

In answer, the two of them pulled out small shining keys from under their robes. “Your escapade--highly publicized escapade--will cause an orgy of fascination with the library, including minute round the clock surveillance, entertainment specials, and numerous attempts to duplicate your feat, ending either in abject failure or disintegration.”

The other continued. “In the meantime, several long-standing and ambitious legitimate research projects will be forced to lie fallow, with our ability to use the Library discreetly blocked. It will be years if not decades, even with assiduous efforts to discredit and otherwise bad-mouth you as fakers and publicity seekers.”

The first returned. “We realize what’s done is done, and we don’t feel ourselves in a position cast judgment on your own intents and purposes, but we had to let you know of the mischief you’ve caused by your grandstanding, and ask that you not compound your offense.”

Their voices, even allowing for different throat structures, were old and trembling, and it was hard to be angry with them. The Queen nodded, and said, “We can let you know that it’s not our intent to stay here beyond a few days.” The Scotties nodded, clearly uncomfortable with the unpleasantness of the situation.

“But I do have to ask you this:” the Queen said in a slightly sterner voice. “Did you know of the activities of the representative of Tshen Loess?”

They bowed their heads low, “We did.”

“Then you should know that his actions nearly killed me, and our appearance here is a direct result of that--and therefore an indirect result of your neglect to take actions there.”

Their heads stayed bowed, and they said nothing.

“It’s a bad deal all around,” said the Queen, “and it’s best we all put it behind us.”

“Excuse me,” said Jeanette, hoping to break the gloom, “but could I ask what your research project is about?” (Dada had said that that question, asked of an academic, is the equivalent of a belly-rub of a cat.)

“It’s rather esoteric, my dear,” the Scotty said with more than a bit of condescension. “It has to do with various aspects of Variant Space.”

“Variant Space!” Exclaimed the capybara. “What do you know of the Sprezzatura and Bravura Empires?”

The Scotties looked at each other. “That’s a very distant alternate universe--but yes, there are some records of one stealing Variant Space samples, but it’s not clear who from whom.”

“How about the Court of Miracles?” Jeanette asked.

“That is a veritable mine of information. Some of the best monographs are associated with that organization--for all its very odd name.”

“Well, I can assure you that the Variant Space sample the Court had was from those empires--one of them.” Jeanette said. They would not believe that she had done it, and why spoil their good mood?

“That would explain a number of things,” one Scotty said.

So the confrontation ended pleasantly, after all.

Jeanette awoke the next morning to the sound of banging and shouting from outside. Making sure she was in her proper battle garb, she hurried downstairs. O Tse and Lord Elphinstone were standing, weapons in hand, before a floating image.

The image was the area between the front door of the hospital and the street. There was s black vehicle parked diagonally across the space. Closer to the front door  Lieutenant Quintus Octavian was in a sword fight with a hulking figure half again his size. There were glows around each of them that probably meant shields.

Jeanette looked on in horror as the other ran a thick saber blade through the Lieutenant’s chest and out his back.


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