The Defector

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

With inspiration and assistance from Sharon Best


Sha’Kira was an enemy alien.

Not to the natives of this world. She was no more threat to them than they were to her. But to those who coveted the world, and those who sought to defend it, she was the worst of all possible enemies – one who had betrayed those who bred her, yet who because of her origin could never be trusted by their hereditary foes.

She had been trained for infiltration, and she had put that training to work. Only not on Velor. Aria had succeeded too well in making her a perfect mimic; what was intended as a lie became truth. She could never carry out the mission she had been born for, and she could never return to the only world she had ever known. That left but one option.

Changing course was risky, but the rest was part of the original plan. Send her spacecraft into the sun, hitch a ride on a meteor, and send it plunging into the atmosphere. Nobody was going to tally all the fragments of a fireball as they fell to Earth, nobody was going to notice that one of those glowing fragments was anything other than a chunk of rock.

She came down in Afghanistan, as it happened, slowing just in time to avoid a hard landing and calling unwanted attention to herself. Basic Terran history and geography had been part if her studies, and she had done further study on her own. Thanks to a virtually photographic memory, she knew where she was and what kind of a country it was. But she wasn’t quite up to date. She knew nothing of the current war there, yet she soon found herself in the middle of it.

When a Taliban party spotted a naked blonde in their path, they must have thought at first that she was an houri, about to welcome them to Paradise. But there was a slight problem with that, in that they weren’t dead yet. And when the landscape before them failed to change from desert to garden, they began to have their doubts, especially since she couldn’t seem to understand Pashto – or even Arabic, as any houri worthy of the name should.

After arguing among themselves for a few minutes, they apparently decided that she was merely a wanton infidel. First they tried to rape her. That didn’t go too well. Then they tried to shoot her. That didn’t go too well, either. In fact, it was a mistake on two counts, because the sound of their gunfire drew the attention of fighters from a rival faction across a nearby ridge. She stood in the crossfire as the mujahadeen managed to wipe each other out.

The firefight accomplished two things: eliminating any witnesses, and giving her a good come. She’d been horny anyway from the heat of re-entry, and as rounds of sundry calibers bounced off her invulnerable body she was turned on even more. She went into what the Taliban must have thought was a dervish-like dance, to ensure that as many bullets as possible struck her breasts and then her swollen clit to bring her to a shattering climax.

That done, she took further advantage of the situation by appropriating some of the fallen warriors’ clothes. They stank, but got her undetected to the nearest village, where she swiped a burqa – with a bit of dirt around her eyes, it was the perfect disguise. It wouldn’t do to have other natives telling tales about her, even if those tales were taken for the ravings of lunatics by most listeners.

Flying low by night to stay off radar screens and avoid sightings, she put as much distance between her and Afghanistan as possible, heading for the United States. There she put her tradecraft to work, securing a false ID and fraudulent source of income. She had gone to ground, and into hiding. She was safe here, as long as no one suspected who or what she was. Should either the Velorians or the Arions ever learn her whereabouts, she could expect quick death – from ambush, with a military-issue layer sword.

"Here" was the University of Winnemac in Mohalis, 15 miles south of Zenith. It was large, with 25,000 students, but far from prestigious. Even among other Midwestern state universities, it was considered a cow college. That was just how she liked it; it was a good place to hide. Winnemac’s only current claim to fame was the new genetic research facility at Martin Arrowsmith Medical Center. That would be useful to her later…..

The campus was ugly, its architecture ranging from the horrid Victorian and Greek revival of the original academic buildings to the anonymous buff brick of the later classroom blocks and residence halls. She did her best to match that ugliness, with frumpy clothing to hide the wonder of her body, a mousy brown wig, tinted contact lenses to hide her blue eyes and Mission Impossible make-up that more or less succeeded in disguising her flawless skin.

Because she couldn’t afford to become too close to anyone here, she rented an apartment in a nondescript building off campus. Had she lived on campus, she would have had to share a room and use a communal shower. She could never have kept her secrets there. It was fortunate that physical education was no longer compulsory; that too would have created problems.

It might seem like a miserable existence, but it wasn’t. Because she had fallen in love – with Earth: the beginning place, manhome original, with all its treasures of history and culture that could be matched nowhere else. She doubted that even the Velorians could appreciate the heritage of Earth. That heritage was in danger now, if those who had created her had their way. She was determined that they would not.

There were the Velorian Protectors, of course, but their Prime Directive – even if honored more in the breach than in the observance – played into the hands of their enemies. She had her own idea of how to save this world. But first she wanted to immerse herself in it, to experience it as a Terran might. She was stubborn – the Arions had designed her for that. But she was also patient.


"Ragheads! Camel humpers!"

Reddick Mallard heard the shouts before he saw who was doing the shouting. Not that there was any mystery to it: some self-appointed campus patriots who would never have dreamed of joining the Army were showing their courage by harassing foreign students.

Mallard didn’t consider himself particularly courageous. He was 50 years old, and certainly didn’t look the part. With his vintage horn rim glasses, and hair and neatly trimmed beard beginning to go to gray, he looked like a throwback to the college professor look of the thirties – which didn’t impress anyone today. He was irritable and out of sorts, and people seemed to be lighting his fuse a lot.

The lighters in this case were a dozen guys in Pi Gamma jackets yelling at half a dozen men of Middle Eastern appearance outside the College of Agriculture building. They made no response, and said nothing among themselves above exchanges of whispers, but tried to sidestep away from the Gammas.

Other students on their way to class looked briefly at the confrontation and hurried on with embarrassed looks. The frat boys weren’t exactly menacing the foreign students in a manner that could justify their arrest. There were no weapons, not even raised fists. But they had their victims half-surrounded, and when they tried to slip away the Gammas shifted their line to cut them off.

"Go back to Iraq!" one of them shouted. And then they started chanting "Sad Damns! Sad Damns" – an insult they had apparently concocted themselves and felt especially proud of.

Mallard looked one way and the other, to see if anyone else appeared to be on the verge of intervening. No one was. Oh, well….

"Excuse me. Haven’t you got some place to be?" he asked the apparent leader of the Gammas.

"What’s it to you, old dork?"

"That’s Professor Dork to you. And the dean of students is a friend of mine."

Actually, he barely knew the dean of students. But the Gammas weren’t likely to be aware of that. Fortunately, before the bully could think of a comeback, or perhaps even get physical with a middle-aged professor, a campus cop arrived to take things in hand and send the Gammas on their way – after checking IDs.

The foreign students looked at Mallard as if they couldn’t quite figure him out. He felt he had to say something, so he ventured: "I just want to know that, even in times like these, not all Americans are prejudiced against Muslims because of the acts of a few misguided…."

The students broke into laughter. Mallard didn’t get the joke. Did they think he was being pretentious or insincere?

"Actually, we are Coptic Christians," one of them explained. "From Egypt. And in Egypt too, there is prejudice. Directed, unfortunately, at us. But those who hate us there at least know who we are."

Mallard was distracted for a moment. Egypt…. Never mind that, he thought to himself. "Yes, I…. should have realized," he told the Egyptian. "I’m sorry."

"There is no need to be sorry. It’s not as if we are wearing our faith on our sleeves, as you say."

The Egyptian extended his hand.

"Aziz Bishoi Atiya."

"Reddick Mallard. Everyone calls me Duck."

"Why should that be?"

"Mallard. It’s a kind of duck here… water bird."

"Oh, you make a funny."

"I make a funny. But I’ve got to get to one of my classes now."

"Perhaps we shall meet again."


Mallard didn’t actually think so as he headed off, leaving the campus cop to take statements from the Egyptians. But he was wrong.


Her adopted name was Catherine Elkins Smith, which was at once common enough and distinct enough to avoid attracting attention. It also matched the name, as did her Social Security number, of a real girl who had run away from home at 13 and whose parents had died in a fire shortly afterwards. That might be enough to confuse investigators for a while. In case...

Usually, she had no trouble passing. But sometimes she had problems. Like true Velorians – and nearly all her gene-sets were Velorian – she had a powerful libido. She dealt with that as much as she could through masturbation, but only in the privacy of her apartment could she indulge herself in ways that would be a dead giveaway to anyone familiar with Velorian habits.

It was worst during long afternoon classes. She had to take basic history and science and the like to keep up appearances, although she knew virtually all the material. If the teaching were uninspired, she’d be bored out of her gourd. So there she’d sit, surrounded by strangers, as her mind inevitably turned to other things. Her closest call had come in Modern American History.

As Dr. Karsch droned on, her eyes turned to the freshman next to her – really nice-looking, the Chris Isaak type. Of course, he could never survive a close encounter with her, but she could imagine…. She found herself becoming wet between the legs, and a faint scent of honey and wildflowers began to fill the air. Even more disturbing, her breasts began to swell – threatening to become too noticeable, even through her baggy clothes.

"Isaak" had never paid any attention to her before, but now he began to glance her way with a puzzled expression. Since he knew nothing of pheromones, he couldn’t possibly understand why he was suddenly feeling attracted to such a seeming plain jane. She looked away, but out of the corner of her eye she could see that he was still looking at her, even squirming in his seat. She could tell that he had an erection.

And, God, she was dripping.

Embarrassment turned to inspiration. Abruptly, she got up and – as if it were any of his business – explained: "Call of nature. In case Karsch up there asks." Whereupon she headed for the ladies room to relieve herself, although not in the manner "Isaak" assumed. Let him think she had a bladder control problem and he’d probably never look her way again!

She avoided sitting near him again, nevertheless. Just to be on the safe side, she also began to wear sanitary pads under plastic panties to confine her juices and pheromones as best she could. She tried to keep her mind more on class, and even began taking part occasionally in question-and-answer sessions.


Sinclair Lewis once compared the University of Winnemac to a Ford Motors plant – "a mill to turn out men and women who will lead moral lives, play bridge, drive good cars, be enterprising in business, and occasionally mention books, though they are not expected to have time to read them."

Mallard wasn’t sure that anything had changed in 75 years. Among the faculty, the radicals who tried to set the agenda these days considered themselves the antithesis of the reactionaries who once dominated the department; but they shared one thing in common: an utterly utilitarian approach to literature.

He suspected that a lot of them, at least those who wrote for the PMLA and other journals, spent hardly any more time reading than the students. There was a paint-by-numbers approach to their essays – he could swear that some of the feminists, for example, were simply recycling old Marxist critiques and hitting "find and replace" on their computers to substitute "gender" for "class."

It was futile to argue with them about the merits of Fantasy Classics – Tolkien and Adams and Donaldson were white males, after all, dead or otherwise. Nor did it seem to help that his Contemporary American Novel class included the work of Joyce Carol Oates – either he had no business teaching women’s fiction or somehow she wasn’t "really" a woman writer.

As for his students, most weren’t interested in the culture wars. They were just trying to get up and out, and have some fun along the way. He knew that some had signed up for Fantasy Classics because they thought they could just coast through from having seen the movies – the cartoons or the current Peter Jackson epic. He couldn’t exactly blame them – without the movies, the department would never have approved the course; it wanted to fill seats with warm bodies.

So here he was, going over student papers, most of which might as well have been paraphrases of Cliff’s Notes. Some members or the class, already familiar with Tolkien, had delved into matters like the Elvish language but had nothing to say about them that wasn’t already familiar. And then there were those with the hobby horses to ride, which with few exceptions were as dull as the Cliff’s Notes rehashes.

It was if none of their reading had done anything to or for them. Did most of them even think about reading outside of class? He doubted it. His inner world was a kaleidoscope of words and images from books. Just now, for example, lines like. "The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown and yet on no head visible was it set." What did their inner world consist of? Did they even have one?

IV (mostly by Sharon Best)

When Sha’Kira first arrived on Earth, she had been filled with expectations, even though she must have sensed that her existence here would be a study in contradiction. She had wanted to embrace Earth in all its wonder and diversity, and at the same time known that she must shun any intimate contact that might inadvertently betray her to the watchful agents of Aria and Velor.

It wasn’t working. She could attend classes, and commit to memory whatever she didn’t already know. She could ace her tests – although she chose to make a few deliberate mistakes to avoid standing out too much – and write essays that read as if they’d been written by a reasonably intelligent young woman from the Middle West. But her human contacts were still limited to class, and essentials like shopping. She remained a stranger here.

Worse, she was beginning to feel estranged. She had arrived at the beginning of September, having spent the summer carefully establishing her credentials. Hardly a week later had come the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and, following that, the war on Afghanistan and the outburst of flag-waving – the sort of thing she already knew from history, could easily cross the line between patriotism and mere jingoism.

Now it was November, and not only the weather seemed colder. She watched in despair as the angry hunger for revenge for the attack in New York slowly turned to a war-lust that was all too familiar from her upbringing on Aria. Americans and Arions seemed to share the same response to being attacked -- arrogance coupled with a fierce pride that was underlain by the angry disbelief that anyone would dare strike at them in the sanctuary of their homeland. Seemingly in the eyes of Arions and Americans, wars were to be fought in foreign lands or on distant worlds.

Yet in the midst of the anger and the growing call to war, she witnessed the joyous differences between Earth and her home planet. She was fascinated by the families she’d seen on TV – not just in the soap operas and prime time dramas, but in the news: often victims of this great and terrible tragedy, who managed to cope and even to triumph through their loving interactions. She saw in their love a warmth that she’d never known. She wished she could know their like in person, but her apartment building was inhabited mainly by singles and short-term couples.

Lying in her bed each night, her eyes sparkling like blue gems, she thought of how those families lived and loved, how they fought and then made up, how their personalities were slowly formed from their emotions. Most importantly, how they were bound by their love. It was all so foreign. She’d been raised in a crèche along with a dozen siblings, all of whom had ultimately been terminated due to one genetic defect or another, she being the only perfect one. The Chosen. She had never known love, only discipline.

One day the morning newspaper brought back other memories. She studied the development of nationally orchestrated anger, the American indignation over 9-11 having no bounds. The latest talk was of removing restrictions on nuclear weapons. It was all a chilly reminder of her origin. She’d been told many times that a similar emotion had been wired into her carefully engineered genetics. She was the impassioned Arion response to the stinging defeat the Velorians had dealt on the Arion moon of Klas’ten in 1024VD.

The Velorians had changed the course of the war by daring to bring it to the Arion system, and the resulting frenzied anger and wounded Arion pride had turned into inspiration. Seeking a way to fight back against the greater physical strength of the Enlightenment, the Empire had hatched a daring plan. They had created an agent who could pass for Velorian, one who would go to the golden planet and live among them, and finally destroy them from inside out.

Sha’Kira closed her eyes and remembered her initial pride and then her horror at realizing that she was that agent. Her genetics were unique among all Supremis, and she’d been trained since her earliest memory to infiltrate and infect the genetic matrix of the Maternity Engine with a modified retrovirus she carried within herself – a virus that mimicked the usual mutagenic bug that circulated in the bloodstream of all Homo Supremis.

She lay in her bed and buried her face beneath a pillow, struggling to push back the unwanted memories. She hadn’t even known what the virus would do to Velorians when they sent out her outward from Aria, she still didn’t, she only knew how to deploy it and where – on Velor, among those chosen to become Protectors. Trained to infiltrate their ranks, passing for P1, easily capable of being chosen an acolyte for the Rites, she was to be the cancer that ate away at the core of the Enlightenment.

She shivered from the cold realization of how close she’d come to destroying that golden world. Her ship had already exited the next to last wormhole and was but a single jump from the Velorian system when she finally had finally cast the die, overpowered the crew and changed the course of her starship. She put her forbidden study of astronomy to use by directing it toward the sacred sector that contained a yellow star named Sol which was orbited by an M-class planet named Earth.

Sha’Kira squirmed deeper into her bed, her fists tightening with immeasurable power as she concentrated on bringing her thoughts back to the here and now. She knew she was now hunted by both sides. A defector to the Arions, and a dangerous weapon to the Velorians, marked for death by both sides. Yet here on Earth, living among innocents, she was but a student, an unknown. Far from being a goddess who held the futures of entire planets in her hands, she was but a simple Terran now, and living an ordinary Terran life.

Unfortunately, a very lonely life. Hiding her magnificent genetics beneath makeup and clothing, she blended into the background, just one more unattractive girl in a world of plain Janes. Her indulgence, indeed her favorite pastime, was people watching on campus or in the parks or even along the street by her apartment – watching ordinary humans doing ordinary things. Her lips moved as she said a little prayer, wishing on a star, praying that she might someday be truly one of them.


The coffeemaker was a museum piece, and the furniture looked as if it had been picked up at a yard sale, but nobody at the Arts and Science faculty lounge really minded. Not when the state was talking budget cuts.

"So what’s up, Duck?" Ed Stanek asked, as he plunked himself down next to Reddick Mallard with a cup of vile coffee and some something called a Choc-o-Saurus that looked like a Hostess Twinkie on an acid trip.

Stanek was a cheery, balding physics professor a few years older than Mallard himself. They seemed an odd pair, coming from opposite sides of the supposed Two Cultures. But they somehow saw eye to eye on a lot of things.

They’d met 10 years earlier, when both had turned out to take part in a protest against a move by the Board of Regents, supported by a certain Rev. Garner Ted Baxter, to introduce creationism into the science curriculum.

Somehow they’d come up independently with the same idea for the occasion: crude hand-made badges reading "Secular Humanist Defense League." They’d won that battle, or at least their side had, and they’d amused themselves by handing out more badges over the next few weeks. But there was always some new folly…..

"Could have been worse," said Mallard. "This one guy came in with an essay applying queer theory, and he actually had the germ of an idea. The part about Frodo and Samwise made a certain amount of sense. But of course he had to overdo it and see the same sort of relationship between Gimli and Legolas and Gandalf and Saruman and—

"Why not Saruman and Sauron?"

"You know, he missed that one entirely. Although he did touch on a triangle between Gandalf and Saruman and Wormtongue. But at least the guy showed a little imagination – not like the people rehashing Shelob as proof of Tolkien’s misogyny (never mind Eowyn or Arwen or Galadriel). And there was even one idiot who figured nobody remembered Edmund Wilson and plagiarized from ‘Ooh, those awful orcs.’ …. So how was your day?

Stanek had to pause a moment to finish his Choc-o-saurus. "You want to hear the good news or the bad news first?"

"Do I really have a choice?"

"Well, first off, I caught some static from this Objectivist – you know, an Ayn Rand acolyte -- who not only refuses to accept quantum theory but thinks it all comes out of Kant instead of theoretical physics. And all the while he’s taking notes on his laptop, blissfully unaware that the thing wouldn’t work if quantum effects weren’t valid."

"Bad news, maybe, but not very bad news."

"Oh, but that was the good news. The bad news was Vera Voinovich, who started haranguing me about how the laws of physics are nothing but a social construct of the patriarchy and that there isn’t any objective reality."

"What’s she doing in a physics class?"

"God only knows. But the bitch wouldn’t shut up, and I finally lost it. Told her, ‘Here’s a thought experiment in objective reality. Let’s say I’m holding a gun to your head. Only I sincerely believe it’s just a water pistol, and you also sincerely believe it’s a water pistol. What happens when I pull the trigger?’"

"I take it that didn’t shut her up."

"Only for a few seconds. Then she said, ‘What happens is, I report you for sexual harassment.’"

"It’ll never stick, Ed. The Faculty Senate—"

"Haven’t you noticed the crazies have them in their pocket? Where have you been living the past few years, Duck? Tibet?"

When Stanek saw Mallard’s face fall, he realized his mistake, but it was too late.

"I’m sorry," he said anyway, because it was the only thing to do.

Where Mallard had been living was in despair, even since Myra had been run down by a drunk driver – who happened to be an off-duty Mohalis cop and managed to escape serious punishment. He could function, he could get through the day, and sometimes even enjoy his work. As long as nobody reminded him.

"It’s all right," he insisted. "Other people get over these things. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I’d have seen a therapist already, I suppose, if I had any faith in them. Or if I could afford it."

Stanek nodded. It must be harder to keep up the mortgage payments on one income, and the faculty health insurance program was as threadbare as the faculty lounge. And likely to become more so with State of Winnemac trying to cope with a recession. Still, he was sure that Mallard could have swung it – if he’d really wanted to.

"You ought to—" he ventured.

"Get out more? Yeah, I ought to. But I can’t think of anyone I ought to get out with. Present company excepted."

"Queer theory strikes again!"

"Or quantum entanglement."


The nightmares began, strangely enough, after Sha’Kira had gone to see The Lord of the Rings just before Christmas break. Whereas Terrans had found the movie inspiring, she had found it disturbing. She had waking visions of Mount Doom, of Sauron and his all-seeing eye, of the One Ring and its baneful power.

There were Arions here on Earth, she knew. Were they watching her, perhaps controlling her, even as Sauron had controlled Saruman through the palantir? Saruman had thought himself the master, contending with the Dark Lord of Mordor to save Middle Earth after his own fashion; but he was only a pawn. What, then, was she?

She dreamed that she was one of the Nazgul, swooping down on her flying steed to quickly dispatch Frodo and bear the One Ring back to her master. Then that she was Sauron himself, turning Middle Earth into a vast gulag. But ruling such as men and hobbits soon palled on her, and she used the Ring to make Mount Doom and other mountains explode in fury and drown the land in ash and lava, even to the uttermost West.

That might have been the worst, but it wasn’t. Sha’Kira really got the shakes when she began dreaming undisguised about herself – and her own intentions. Her plan had been to save this world, by making it like her own. Perhaps she could develop an airborne version of the retrovirus, if she could carry on her masquerade long enough to enter medical school and gain access to the genetics lab. If not, there was always the old-fashioned way: find a lover, infect him, and the rest would take care of itself. Slowly but surely.

It had been her dream, ever since she had begun to turn against Arion. It was a dream of liberation, the dream of a future Earth that could stand up for itself against Aria – or for that matter, Velor. But in her nightmares, it always went wrong. She was the destroyer, not the liberator. Like Sauron’s ring, her dream corrupted her. She dreaded going to sleep and night, and she dreaded waking the next day. Was there some flaw in her design, triggered by the movie? Or had this been the design all along, even the mission to Velor only a cover story?

She had already registered for her second semester classes, but then noticed that a new course called Fantasy Classics covering Tolkien had been added to the schedule. Somewhat sheepishly, because she knew what the looks on the faces of the registrars signified, she withdrew from English Literature 111: the Victorian Novel in favor of the pop lit course.

She couldn’t tell them why. She couldn’t even tell herself. She only hoped that she might pick up some clue in her studies, something about archetypes and how they related to her. There was one side-effect of the nightmares that would help her concentrate, at least: they had just about killed her libido. She could dispense with the pads and the plastic panties. But the toys in her apartment would go unused. Sigh… So be it.


It was just a local science fiction convention in Zenith. Nothing like Worldcon, nothing to rival any of the major regionals like Boskone or Disclave. But Mallard was feeling restless that spring weekend in 1988, so he decided to give it a try – even though none of the pros on hand were favorites of his.

The Saturday afternoon programs seemed uninspired, so he wandered into the art show. Most of the art was rather amateurish; you couldn’t expect Zenith to attract the likes of Michael Whelan or Don Maitz. Then he saw a painting that made his jaw drop.

"Alpha Ralpha Boulevard!" he said out loud.

"How did you know?" asked a voice beside him. "I don’t think you can read the tag from here, even with those glasses."

"It’s as I always imagined it," he said, and turned towards her.

She was tall and willowy. Not a raving beauty, at least not in contemporary terms. But nice. Her hair was brown, as were her eyes.

"It’s always good to meet another Cordwainer Smith fan," she said. "There aren’t enough of us." She extended her hand. "Myra Escott."

"Reddick Mallard. I don’t think I’ll bother telling you what people call me."

"‘Shig—shag—shuggery, shuck shuck shuck! What all of us need is an all-around duck.’"

"I guess I walked into that one."

And with that, they walked into each other’s lives.

She lived right there in Zenith, it turned out. Her father and grandfather had both worked fir the Advocate-Times, but her interests had taken a different turn. At 28, she had a budding career as a commercial artist, mostly for magazine and newspaper ads. On the side, she pursued her true calling.

He’d never had much luck with women. Either they considered him too bookish, or they resented his obvious desperation. He was determined to be careful this time, to play it slow. But she didn’t seem to have any such reserve.

"I was wondering when you were going to find those," she said one night, as he tentatively touched her breasts.

"How can anything be so soft and yet so firm?" he rhapsodized, his attentions now far from tentative.

"Soft on the outside, firm on the inside," she said matter of factly – then began making delightful gasping sounds as he sucked on them. Exploring further to the south, he encountered…. tissue paper?

"That isn’t me," she explained, as if any explanation were necessary. "But I think you know what I want there instead."

He removed the sodden tissue, and did as she directed. When she came, she was like Molly Bloom: "Oh, yes, yes, yes!" He’d kid her about that later, but not then. He knew pure joy for the first time in his life. From being unlucky in love, he had gone to being the luckiest man in the world.

Over the next few years, her career continued to blossom. She began selling sf illustrations as well as mainstream commercial art: a kzin warrior with a variable sword, William Gibson’s slamhound on the trail of Turner (hardly described at all in Count Zero, but somehow she got it just right), Piers Anthony’s mantas for a new edition of Omnivore…..

He loved to sit behind her and watch her work, the movements of her hands creating magic on her sketch pad. By this time, they were living together, and he was attuned to her enough to sense when she was ready to take a break. Then he’d cup her breasts, and she’d place her hands on his, encouraging him to rub them more vigorously.

Then Myra might say, "Shig—shag—shuggery, shuck shuck shuck! What the two of us need is an all-around fuck." And they would.

She had just finished a painting one night. Not a commission; just for him. It was titled "That Golden Shape on the Golden Steps," and it was inspired by the Interworld Dance Festival scene in Cordwainer Smith’s "No, No, Not Rogov." The dancer who "shook and fluttered like a bird gone mad" was caught frozen in a moment of terror and ecstasy as she performed The Glory and Affirmation of Man before a thousand worlds.

Mallard noticed they were out of milk and eggs for the next morning, so she volunteered to head out to the Village Pantry down the road. She never came back. One moment alive, one moment dead.


It was doubtless a waste of time, but Mallard decided to go to bat for Stanek. He sought an appointment with the chancellor and, to his astonishment, actually got one.

Walter Bliss prided himself on neatness. He boasted that he had the cleanest desk in the administration building, and that this showed that he had an orderly mind. Mallard thought it signified only that he didn’t have any real work to do, leaving such tiresome detail to his staff. As for the orderly mind, he hadn’t seen any sign of it thus far.

"Well, in the first place, umm….," Bliss said, losing his train of thought. "And in the second place, you don’t have any business here; the case doesn’t involve your department. And in the third place, as I think you’ll agree, an accusation of rape has to be taken seriously. Extremely seriously."

Mallard was dumbfounded. "Rape? When did this become a rape case? It doesn’t even qualify as sexual harassment."

"It’s my understanding that Dr. Stanek held a gun to the head of Ms. Voinovich and –"

"What gun? He’s never owned a gun in his life. He’s even been active in the gun control movement. Ask anyone! Have you even talked to anyone in his class about what actually happened?"

"You have to understand that we are only in the preliminary stages of our investigation. And we are not yet at liberty to comment on the testimony of any witnesses. But as I said, we take this accusation extremely seriously, and you can be assured we will treat the investigation just as seriously."

"Has this Voinovich woman been to the police with her accusations?"

"I have not been informed. But it’s irrelevant in any case. As you surely know, the burden of proof in criminal court is unfairly placed upon the victim. That is why we are assuming primary jurisdiction. That is what we have told the press, and that is what I am telling you."

"The press? You went to the Advocate-Times with this?"

"Of course not. The Winnemac Daily."

"The student paper? You’re having Ed indicted, tried and convicted by the student paper?"

"I wouldn’t put it that way."

"Well, I’m putting it that way. And I’ll tell you what else I’m doing. If you won’t go to the Advocate, I will. I’ll take Ed and a dozen witnesses from his class. And if the Advocate won’t listen, I’ll call Rush Limbaugh."

"That fascist? If you’re one of his fans, it would seem that further argument is futile."

"Limbaugh’s an asshole, but so is Voinovich. The way I figure it, they deserve each other."

"You can’t do this. Going outside university channels in this matter would be a serious mistake on your part."

"Not half as big as the one you’ve just made with me."

Without even a parting courtesy, Mallard got up and stamped out of the office. He’d probably accomplished nothing but to get himself in more trouble. Trouble indeed came, but not from Bliss


When Mallard arrived at his office after his last class, two suits were waiting for him. He wasn’t expecting anyone, but he was expecting trouble. The nature of that trouble became clear when his visitors flashed FBI badges.

"Dalton Pugh," announced the first. "Ron Pettus," chimed in the second. Pugh seemed to be the one in charge; at least he did most of the talking. At first he thought that Bliss might be behind their visit, although he couldn’t imagine how anything he said about the Voinovich matter could merit FBI attention.

Pugh soon disabused him. It seemed that somebody had accused him of being in league with Arab terrorists. He and Pettus had been assigned to investigate. Just the facts, man, and they’d be out of there.

"Do you mean those frat boys?" Mallard asked. "Is this what my tax dollars go for? You fuck up on the Hannsen case and try to make up for it chasing down chicken shit stuff like this?"

He’d expected to blow Pugh’s fuse. Maybe he just had a death wish. He didn’t seem to care any more. But instead of exploding, the agent smiled.

"We already know it’s chicken shit," Pugh said. "We know a bunch of Pi Gammas were harassing Egyptians. We read the campus police report. But the thing is, one of the Gammas called his uncle, who’s a Gamma alum himself and happens to be our local bureau chief."

"And for this, I get on a terrorist suspect list?"

"No way," Pugh assured him. "We just give Litton his chicken shit back. Tell him we gave you a warning and that you said you’d be a good little boy. We show him the report, then erase it a few days later. He’ll probably never notice."

"Seems like you wasted a trip."

Pettus spoke up for the first time. "Not a total waste. I know a girl in town. Been meaning to visit her anyway; I think she might be interested. But now I can see her while Dalton here puts his field report on his laptop, and the mileage gets charged to the Bureau."

Hey, thought Mallard as the FBI men left. Maybe things were going his way, after all. He’d have to talk to Ed about going to the Advocate about the Voinovich thing…..


Stanek had already gone home by the time the FBI men left, so Mallard did likewise. Amid the distractions of the past couple of days, he still hadn’t finished going over all the Tolkien papers, and they were due back tomorrow,

He called Stanek from his study.

"Ed, I went to see the chancellor yesterday…. Right, ‘Ignorance is Bliss,’ but you wouldn’t believe how ignorant….. Oh, you did hear – total insanity…. Well I wouldn’t stand for it, and neither should you….. I’ve got an idea how to do just that. Let’s do lunch …. Well, in that case, meet me after the fantasy class. We’ll have the place to ourselves after the thundering herd leaves…."

He turned to the remaining papers on his desk, glancing up once in a while to look at "That Golden Shape on the Golden Steps." It still hung there. Don’t think about that, he told himself. But he thought about it anyway, His home had, by omission, turned into a shrine. He still had everything of hers – other paintings, drawings, souvenirs. He hadn’t even gotten rid of her clothes, which filled one of the bedroom closets.

Back to the papers….. One routine piece, and another, and another, leaving at last – God, what was this?

"Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker," Gandalf tells Frodo. "I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought."

Encouraging to Gandalf, perhaps, but not to us. Elves and hobbits and dwarves may be things of fantasy, but the greatest fantasy in The Lord of the Rings is not the fantastic creatures, or even the magic, but the belief that there is some design to the universe that assures the triumph of Good.

In the Manichaean conflict of Tolkien, as in that of apocalyptic Christianity, there can be only one outcome. But on close analysis, it has nothing to do with good or evil. It is simply a matter of "My God is stronger – or smarter – than your God." Sauron is defeated only because the One is able to outwit him by working through the frail vessels of Frodo and Gollum.

It may seem harsh to make light of Frodo, who after all shows considerable courage and resourcefulness, even if it fails him at the end. But that failure, compensated only by the "fated" intervention of Gollum, is the only truth to be told in the entire trilogy. Sauron, alas, is no fantasy, as Hitler and Stalin proved, and neither was defeated by the likes of Frodo and the rustic hobbits. Nazi Germany succumbed only to the technological and economic superiority of the West – the same forces which, eventually, brought down the bankrupt system of Stalin’s heirs.

It went on in that vein, becoming more and more despairing. Mallard looked at the name: Catherine E. Smith. It didn’t mean anything to him. She must be a very troubled young woman. He would have to talk to her, although he knew that it might appear to be overstepping his bounds. It wasn’t any of his business, after all. Any more than Vera Voinovich or those Egyptians. But still….

And so to bed: another shrine. On the nightstand there was still the gold collar that Myra had picked up once during their trip to Egypt, along with a set of belly dancer’s bangles. He hadn’t approved at first, especially of the slave collar – hardly the thing for a modern woman. Then wear it half the time yourself, and you can be my sex slave, she’d said. He couldn’t argue with that.

He could argue with the universe, however, even if he didn’t believe in arguing with the universe.


It was Friday afternoon, Reddick Mallard’s last class of the day, and week.

"And so we bid farewell to Middle Earth. Your papers have all been graded, and you will find them on the front table, arranged in alphabetical order. Some of you will be pleased. Others will not. Those in the latter category still have time to bring their grades up, but it will not be easy.

"On Monday we take up Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. As you have doubtless noticed, there isn’t a movie version to refer to, nor will you find any Cliff’s Notes at the university book store. Your only choice is to read the trilogy, read it thoroughly, and hopefully gain something from it.

"I have a confession to make. I too was prejudiced against this series when I first heard of it. A three-volume fantasy epic about a leper? Why would anyone want to read that? Prospective publishers must have agreed; it was rejected by 17 of them – and that at a time when fantasy fiction generally was growing by leaps and bounds, although not necessarily in quality as opposed to quantity.

"I first read the Covenant books only because I trusted the editor, the late great Lester del Rey. I ask you to trust me now: read them and you will never escape them. They will be burned into your brain. That’s all for today. Go in peace."

The herd began heading for the stage, stopping long enough to pick up graded papers before fleeing through the side exits. Then he remembered.

"Is Catherine Smith present? I’d like to see her down here for a moment."

From the back of the room, a head turned towards him.

"Miss Smith?"

She nodded.

"Come on down. It’s all right. I won’t bite."

She was obviously reluctant, but started down the steps anyway. She didn’t seem to take care of herself much. Her black hair looked unwashed as well as unstyled, and she appeared to have a severe case of acne. Her clothes might have come out of a Salvation Army bin.

Mallard wasn’t a fool. He knew what a curse it was for a young woman to be unattractive, even in an age of supposed women’s liberation. He was already sorry to have singled her out like this, but it was too late now. And even if the despair in her essay was merely a projection of her feelings of inadequacy, he ought to try to help.

At last, she stood before him.

Without thinking, he quoted Donaldson: "So young – and already so bitter."

"So you actually read it. The bitter truth."

"I’m not convinced that it’s the truth. But it’s well argued. Could we talk about it a few minutes?"

"I don’t think so. I don’t want to. Really."

Mallard was about to respond when, from behind him came, "Hey, Duck!"

He’d forgotten all about Stanek.

"Can you hold on a minute. I was just—"

"That’s all right," Smith said. "I was just leaving."

"Without your paper?" Mallard asked, reaching for the coat pocket where he had stashed it.

Mallard, Smith and Stanek were the only people left in the lecture hall when the doors at the back burst open. A squad of Pi Gammas marched in. Mallard knew them from the other day.

"Talk about the barbarians at the gate," Mallard told Stanek, not paying any attention to Smith for the moment. For some reason she stayed put – oh yes, she was still waiting for her paper.

"We heard that, old dork," complained the leader. "We aren’t barbarians, we’re Greeks. And you owe us an apology."

"I don’t owe you anything. You owe the world an apology for tormenting it with your existence."

"Uncle Jerry said you’d promised to be a good dork."

"Uncle Jerry is an idiot, and so are you."

Stanek grabbed at his shoulder. "What’s with you, Duck, running their hots? Let’s just go to the office."

That attracted the Gammas’ attention to Stanek, and even to the girl next to them.

"Hey, we got a meeting of the Old Dorks Club! Which one of you’s humping the roach queen?"

"Shut the hell up," Mallard shouted with pointless gallantry. He was about to say more when the rear door burst open again. This time, it was Vera Voinovich. She looked like a hockey player; indeed she played for the college field hockey team.

"One little, two little, three little piggies, and an honor guard of piglets," she said. Then she noticed one of the pigs was a sow. Without apologizing, she went on, "Are these pigs bothering you? Because you don’t have to put up with it."

Smith ignored her. She seemed to be ignoring the whole situation, as if she were in some sort of fugue state. But the Gammas chimed in, raising the ante. "Hey, want to play hide the sausage with some real men," one jeered. The rest of them cheered.

If looks could kill, Voinovich was ready for a massacre, but there were too many of the Gammas; she’d be on the receiving end. Only she’d come prepared, as it turned out: from her bag, she suddenly drew an automatic pistol. She had forgotten, for the moment, about Mallard and Stanek and Smith.

"Get the cops," Mallard whispered to Stanek. But Voinovich caught him out of the corner of her eye.

"Where do you think you’re going?" she said, swinging the gun towards him. "I ought to shoot you what you did to me."

Swinging it back the other way, she said, "Then again, I ought to shoot these junior Rambos. But," she concluded, now aiming straight at Mallard, "I think I’ll go for the Ringleader."

Ringleader? he thought. Then came a blast and a sudden pain in his left arm. As he fell to the floor, he could see Stanek diving behind the podium and the Gammas fleeing in panic. But Catherine Smith had stepped between him and Voinovich, right into the line of fire.


Vera Voinovich had always hated that Helen Reddy song. Women were not invincible. Weak, sniveling creatures, the lot of them. She hated them even worse than she hated men.

Her teachers in high school had tried to tempt her with literary heroines. Becky Sharp, Scarlet O’Hara, Dagny Taggart. These were supposed to be her role models? Fools, all of them – fools for men, or fools, period.

She had read feminist eco-utopias, in which men were somehow destroyed and women turned the world into a garden. As if they had any idea about raising food – she’d grown up on a farm and knew. It was the same farm where her father had abused her in the barn. Her mother knew, she was certain, and did nothing.

The only literary character she had ever identified with was Conrad’s Perfect Anarchist in The Secret Agent. "Exterminate, exterminate," was his motto. She wished she could exterminate on a grand scale. She dreamed about stealing an atomic bomb, and setting it off in New York. Better yet, right here on campus. But her dreams, she knew, were beyond her reach.

Oh, she’d won a few victories, no thanks to the weak sisters who passed for feminists these days. She’d had to goad and prod them every step of the way to get them to support the Sexual Conduct Code – only to see it turned into a joke for lack of enforcement. And when she’d fought to bring back segregation of the sexes in the dorms, even her supposed followers had abandoned her.

She had somehow always sensed that her life would end in some futile gesture. Well, let it. At least she’d take someone with her before the cops came and blew her away. That stuffy, arrogant professor would do. He was hardly worth it, but Stanek and the Gammas were worth even less. He seemed to be running things here, anyway.

She’d hadn’t really gotten in that much practice with her automatic. But she hit Mallard in the arm with her first shot. Good! But what was this girl doing getting in the way? Such a pathetic creature! Take her out, and then finish off Mallard and, hopefully, Stanek. But the girl would not go down. She must have hit her in the chest at least six times; she could see the holes in her baggy sweater. And at least once in the face, she thought.

The girl just stood there, knocked back slightly by the impacts but otherwise unmoved. On her face was the trace of a smirk, which turned into what seemed to be a mask of sad resignation. What could that signify? As her clip ran out, the truth dawned on her: she had finally found an invincible woman. But she was on the side of the enemy.

With that realization, Vera Voinovich knew that all hope was lost.


Mallard’s ears were ringing as he propped himself up against the podium. Voinovich was standing a few feet away, holding her empty gun with a blank expression on her face. Smith, too, was standing in place, saying nothing.

He couldn’t see very well, having lost his glasses when he fell, but he could take in that much. It had all happened very quickly. "Get down, for Christ’s sake," he remembered shouting at Catherine. He even tried grabbing one of her legs with his right arm to pull her down, but he couldn’t seem to budge her.

Voinovich must have been a terrible shot, because she didn’t seem to have hit anything after getting him in the arm. Ah, there were his glasses. He put them back on, but nothing further registered, at first.

Stanek emerged from behind the podium, approached Voinovich cautiously, and took the gun from her hand. She didn’t resist. Then he turned towards face Smith, and Mallard could see the alarm on his face.

"She’s been shot, Duck. We’ve got to get the paramedics."

Catherine Smith spoke for the first time. "I’m all right," she said. "But it’s all over anyway. They’ll find me now."

"She must be in shock," Stanek said. And to her: "We’re going to get help lady, you’ll be all right."

"I’m all right," she said again. "But you can’t help me."

Stanek tried to at least get her to sit down in one of the front row seats, but she wouldn’t cooperate.

Mallard managed to brace himself and struggle to his feet. "Here, let me help."

"You need help yourself," Stanek protested.

Ignoring him, Mallard joined Stanek. As he looked at Smith, he realized that something was seriously wrong here. Her sweater was full of bullet holes, but there was no sign of blood. On her face was a smudgy gray streak, but the skin beneath it seemed smooth and unblemished.

"Ed, we’ve got to get out of here," he said. "And we’ve got to get her out of here, too. What’s going on here is not something we’re going to want to explain to the authorities."

"It’s all right," Catherine said, addressing Mallard for the first time. "You can leave me."

"It’s not all right," he said. "For one thing…. I still have your paper. I gave you an A, and I still want to talk with you about it."

"You’re hurt, You’re bleeding," she said, as if she’d only just noticed.

"Well, that’s what gunshots do," he responded.

"I can help," she said.

Mallard wasn’t sure how, but he decided to humor her, now that he had her attention, at least.

"You help me, I help you, all right. But not here. Let’s go."

"But where?" asked Stanek. "And why?"

"Karsch’s office. They won’t look there. At least not right away. As to why, think The X-Files. Think super soldiers."

They made it out just in time; no sooner had they left by one exit than the campus cops came in through another. All they found was a dazed and confused Vera Voinovich with her empty pistol and a bunch of spent rounds on the floor in front of the podium.


Karsch was long gone, as they expected. But his office was locked. Mallard and Stanek felt a moment of panic, but then Catherine twisted hard and the lock broke. They didn’t even ask for an explanation, but hustled inside and closed the door behind them.

"No lights," said Mallard, as Stanek was about to hit the switch. "Over by the window. There’s still sunlight."

He was suddenly weary as he sank into a chair near the window. Stanek took off his jacket, then ripped off the sleeve of his shirt. The wound wasn’t as bad as it might have been, Voinovich hadn’t hit an artery, and while there’d been enough blood to soak his sleeves, it apparently hadn’t dripped.

Stanek glanced back towards the door. No sign of bloodstains. Good. But he needed a first aid kit, and there wasn’t likely to be one here.

"Duck, I’ve got to go to the Osco. Bandages. Antiseptics."

"The place is probably crawling with cops by now. They’ll see you."

"Let me," said Catherine.

"Go to the drug store?" said Mallard. "You’re the one they’ll be looking for."

"No, here," she said. "I can help you. But it will hurt."

Mallard nodded. He had no idea what she meant, but somehow her trusted that she knew what she was doing.

Catherine turned to Stanek. "You’ll have to hold him down," she said.

Stanek looked doubtful. "Go ahead," Mallard reassured him.

After Stanek got his friend in something vaguely resembling a hammerlock, the girl popped out her contacts to reveal the eerie blueness of her eyes, unlike any that she or his friend had ever seen.

Catherine stared at Mallard’s arm, and her eyes took on a peculiar glow. In a moment felt a wave of heat, which grew in intensity until it became a torment. He grimaced and moaned softly, but did not cry out. But when the heat began to singe his flesh, Stanek panicked and released his hold.

"It’s all right," Catherine said as Mallard jerked back and forth in pain, but still refused to cry out. "It’s cauterized. No danger of infection."

"I can’t believe what I’m seeing," Stanek ventured.

Mallard was still in pain, but managed to stammer an answer. "Told you…. before…. Think X-Files…. Now have to think…. Moscow rules."

"You suddenly into James Bond? I never thought you went in for that."

"Le Carré …. Smiley’s People. We have to…. buy a legend…. for a lady."

Catherine looked at them, a puzzled expression on her face. She didn’t know exactly what they were saying, but these strangers were trying to help her. Her thoughts were interrupted by a commotion in the hall.

"Uh, oh," said Stanek. "Sounds like the cavalry’s arrived. Hey, where’s she…."

Catherine had stolen silently towards the door. She used her heat vision to seal the bolt. One of the cops tried the door a few minutes later, found it apparently still locked, and went away satisfied. If he hadn’t been wearing his winter gloves, he would have noticed the heat. They were in luck.

But, for the moment, trapped.


"He’s so boring," Catherine said, seemingly apropos of nothing.

"Who?" asked Mallard. It was an hour later, and the pain in his arm had gone down.


"You won’t get any argument there," Stanek chimed in. "His students have passed down the same ditty about him for 20 years: ‘Rustle, rustle go the papers, proctors watching for small capers. Karsch on stage and talks a lot. Who wants to listen? I do not.’"

Catherine smiled faintly. It was the first time she’d shown any real animation.

"I haven’t heard anything for a while," Mallard said. "They’re probably through searching. But I imagine they’re still posting the doors and making the rounds. We’ve got to figure a way out of here, and we’ve got to get organized."

"I can—" Catherine began.

"I know you can," he said. "But we’re likely to run into somebody in the hall. And certainly at the door."

"The window," she explained.

"Two stories up," Stanek reminded her.

"I don’t think that will bother her. Might bother us. But she has to have a place to go."

A thought came to him. "Ed, see if there’s a student directory here. And a map of the campus."

The light was dim. The sun had set, and the only illumination was from a lamp outside for one of the walkways. But handy references were usually kept in plain sight. Stanek had little trouble finding the directory, or the map.

Mallard held the directory and looked for the name. He hoped he’d guessed the spelling right, and he had. Atiya, Aziz. 216 McDavid Hall. There was a listed phone. Luck was still running with them If only it held out.

He dialed the number. There was an answer. Success!

"Mr. Atiya? Reddick Mallard here…. Well don’t thank me too much, they’re still making trouble. And now I have to make trouble….. It’s a favor. There’s this girl in my American Novel class. Broke up with her boyfriend and now he’s stalking her…. Well, she doesn’t really have any friends she can turn to except me….. Yes, but he knows who I am. I don’t want to get in the line of fire. She needs a place to hide out, just for tonight….. I know it doesn’t look right…. Well, her ex is one of the Gammas….. I thought you’d see it that way….. She’ll be out of there tomorrow, I guarantee it. Just don’t say a word to anyone, and don’t ask any questions. I’ll explain everything later. Salaam."

Mallard hung up the phone. "So far, so good," he said, "Now here’s how we’re going to play this.

"Catherine, we’re going to need your address, and your key. Maybe we can get you a change of clothes, at least, if the cops haven’t shown up there yet. You’ll have to unseal the door for us; then out the window with you, drop to the ground and sneak as stealthily as you can to McDavid Hall. I’m marking it on the map. I’m assuming that super soldiers know stealth and can follow maps. Room 216. Aziz Atiya. He’s a Coptic Christian, from Egypt. They aren’t treated very well, there or here. Anyway, he’s doing a favor. By the way, your name is now, ah, Marianne Mulvaney. Remember it

"Ed, you and I are going out to face the music. We hid out here, just the two of us, and fell asleep. They’ll be wondering about my arm, so we’ll bandage it up with what’s left of my shirt and hope nobody looks too close. First chance you get, find a cut-out – graduate assistant will do. Have him rent a motel room in his name. Tell him you want a love nest and can’t afford your name on the credit card. He’ll go for it. If he doesn’t, find someone who will. Or a motel manager who’ll take cash and won’t ask any questions. Then stop by Catherine’s place for some clothes. If it’s too hot there… well, we’ll see. And remember: Marianne Mulvaney, because we’re not going to talk about Catherine Smith."

Stanek was tempted to bail out of the caper. Mallard was getting too hyper about this secret agent stuff. Moscow rules? Cut-outs, for God’s sake?! And he still hadn’t explained the super soldier thing: did he think the girl was a fugitive from some military project, like Max on Dark Angel? But you could never argue with Duck…..

Sha’Kira couldn’t understand why these men wanted to help her. Until a few hours ago, she’d never met Stanek in her life, while Mallard had been only a distant presence on the stage with a peculiar enthusiasm for literature that she couldn’t quite grasp. Could he actually help her? Against the local authorities, perhaps. It might buy her time. But he knew nothing of—

"Address. Keys," Mallard was saying. She handed him her keys and jotted the address on a pad. It was probably a fool’s errand, but she’d do her part to try to make this work. She owed him that much, at least. For caring.

No point in mentioning that she’d be flying at treetop level, instead of trying to slink to McDavid Hall by ground. Yes, she did know about stealth.


The Riverview Motel had a view of the Chaloosa River, all right, but nobody ever went there for the view. Located off the last exit on I-71 North before it hit the I-492 loop around Zenith, it was a magnet for truckers, traveling salesmen and prostitutes.

It helped that right next door to the motel was a tavern called the Rusty Hinge. Locals called it the Lusty Binge. It served pretty much the same function as the parlors in New Orleans bordellos of old, except that there was nothing fancy or glamorous about it. Call it a Kmart for hookers.

College students avoided the place like the plague, and so did the adulterously inclined middle class citizens of Zenith. As Mallard pulled into the parking lot of the Rusty Hinge, he had to admit that Stanek or whoever he’d used as a cut-out had found the perfect place. There probably wasn’t anyone within miles who’d recognize him.

This was just a scouting trip. Mallard wanted to make sure the key worked, and that the room was at least reasonably secure. It was in back, the opposite side of the building from the highway. That was a plus. As for the rest –. shabby, but it had the basic amenities: a TV and a phone that actually worked, a bath with hot water, ditto.

Satisfied, Mallard walked back to his car and headed home. Things had gone reasonably well with the police, he thought. Instead of suspecting anything, they had thought he and Stanek were a couple of idiots, and cowardly idiots at that. Cops liked to think that way of civilians, especially college types. Town versus gown – praise the Lord for prejudice.

No, they didn’t have any idea what happened to the girl.

"She just ran away," Mallard had told them. "Any sane person would."

So why hadn’t he and Stanek done the same?

Stanek had chimed in here.

"We thought she might have another clip," he explained. "We figured she’d look for us outside, and we’d have made great targets there. So we decided to hide inside."

One of the cops was concerned enough to wonder about Mallard’s wound. Mallard told him he thought it was all right; he’d held his arm against the office radiator to stop the bleeding.

"Christ," said the cop. "Get the hell over to the medical center and have that treated."

So he got. And as far as the cop knew, that was where he got to. Stanek was left to explain how they’d dozed off in Karsch’s office and woken up a couple of hours later. After that, Stanek later told him, the cops had had about enough. Of course, there was still that incoherent story Vera Voinovich had apparently told about the missing girl that bullets couldn’t kill.

"She’s obviously delusional," Stanek had told them. "I have her on one of my classes, and I should know. I never knew she was such a lousy shot, but then I never knew she went in for guns."

When he caught up with Stanek, he was relieved to hear about that, and also impressed by his colleague’s energy. Yes, he’d checked out Catherine’s place but, as they’d feared, the police were there. Yes, he’d had one of his assistants, Ross Trump, head up the road to get the motel room. And he’d even dug into his trunk and found an old Winnemac Wolverines sweat suit. He hadn’t done any running in years, but there it was, none the worse for lack of wear. One size fits all, or so he hoped.

Mallard had never done any running, although he walked as much as he could. But he thought what he was feeling right now might be the equivalent of what those who did called a "runner’s high." Every man, he supposed, must fantasize about being a man of action, even if the only action he ever saw was pushing a pencil and all his ideas about action came out of thriller novels. He’d have to try not to make any mistakes – because if anything went wrong, he knew, the whole thing could come crashing down.


The first thing Sha’Kira heard when she woke up the next morning was the sound of somebody outside yelling "Squeak! Squeak!"

The blinds were drawn, and it was a second floor room in any case. Not a very roomy room. Maybe 12 by 16 feet. The students had made the most of it by installing double-decker beds, which left enough room for a couple of decent-sized desks with laptop computers and personal phones. Shelves were bolted to the walls above the desks, and there was a TV in the corner.

She had slept on the lower bed, which was conveniently vacant because Aziz’ American roommate had gone home to Elk Mills for the weekend. Aziz himself could have kept the upper, but he wasn’t comfortable sleeping in the same room with a woman. Something about his religion. So he’d doubled up with someone else down the hall

There was an icon of St. Mark above his desk – the founder of his church, he’d explained. Another of Father Marcos Khalil, a martyr killed by the Muslims, he’d said. There were books and magazines in Arabic, along with the usual college textbooks.

There was a knock at the door. "Is the lady presentable?"

It was Aziz. Sha’Kira had slept in her clothes, which she considered far from presentable. But she knew what he meant. Even so, she said, "Just a minute." She had to refresh her theatrical makeup. Fortunately, there was a mirror near at hand.

"The lady is presentable," she said, after finishing.

"I bring breakfast," said Aziz, offering a brown paper bag. "Everything bagel with cream cheese. And orange juice."

"Thank you," she said.

Somebody was squeaking again outside.

"What’s that?"

"Oh, the neighbors make a funny. This is Marmaduke House, and they call us the mice. From some comic book. Long long ago. I have never seen it, but they persist."

She didn’t see any point in persisting herself. She had just finished breakfast when another knock came at the door.

"Are you decent?" It was Mallard.

"Come on in," she said.

Stanek was with him, carrying a change of clothes. "Change of clothes," he said redundantly.

It was something big and gray with the college mascot on it. A sweatsuit. People wore them to exercise. Back home they exercised naked. Even in the winter. Oh well.

Stanek handed it to her, along with – incongruously – some high-fashion underwear.

"Let’s give her a few minutes," Mallard added redundantly. Aziz and Mallard were already headed for the door.

When she was changed, Mallard returned with the others.

"Take her to the car, Ed" he told Stanek. "I need to speak with Mr. Atiya."

When they ‘d left, Mallard got down to cases.

"I know that this has been an inconvenience to you," he said.

"Is nothing."

"Nevertheless, I think you need to know. That poor girl’s ex boy friend took took her out to a field, stripped her naked, then shot her clothes full of holes – all the while saying he would shoot her if she didn’t come back to him."

"He did not rape her?"

"She says not. But who knows? Anyway, Ed and I are making arrangements to take her out of town. To her family. She is afraid they won’t understand – they are very strict. But we said we’d make them understand. And I want you to understand, too, So please don’t say anything about this."

"I understand, I will be silent. Like a mouse."

They shook hands, and Mallard left to join the others in Ed’s Dodge Neon. He was mildly curious about a sign someone had taped to the front door of the house: "Marmaduke Mice Live Here."


Mallard insisted that Stanek return home after dropping off Catherine and himself at the motel. He took Stanek aside for a moment to explain why.

"It won’t do to have someone spot your car here," he said. "Who knows, the vice squad might pick this weekend to come out of hibernation. And I need an outside man."

"What if you run into trouble?"

"The kind of trouble I’m afraid of, you wouldn’t be any help with. You know that Catherine has some extraordinary…. abilities. Yet she appears to have gone into hiding here. Now who or what do you suppose she could be hiding from."

"Hey Cisco, let’s went," Stanek said.

"You went, Pancho. Hasta la vista"

As Mallard led Catherine to the motel room, some low-life trucker glanced their way, then stared, then shouted at him.

"Hey, man, you must be really hard up."

Mallard ignored him. Catherine looked backed at him.

"What does he mean?"

"It’s nothing. Forget about it."

Once they were settled inside, Mallard got to the point.

"You’re seriously afraid of something, young lady, and I don’t see how it can be anyone or anything here."

"You don’t know who or what I am, or the danger you face."

"I can make a pretty good guess," Mallard said. "You’re not from this Earth, and yet you’re somehow of this Earth. Convergent evolution couldn’t possibly account for your appearance. Therefore, you must be of Earth ancestry, yet born elsewhere."

"Anyone could guess that."

"Since mankind has yet to visit any worlds beyond the Moon, your ancestors must have been taken by aliens. They could have just put them in a zoo, but they obviously had something else in mind, or you wouldn’t be here. That something else can only have been genetic engineering, its purpose to create a new race of super-soldiers to serve as janissaries in their wars. Am I right so far?"

"Close. But not close enough. Not that it matters, but you seem readier than most to accept that kind of idea."

"Young lady, I am a rational empiricist, which I’m afraid is a dying intellectual tradition among us Earth humans. A rational empiricist must always see the universe as it is, not as he’d like it to be. If new facts are not in accord with his conceptions, then he must change his conceptions. You’re a new fact. It’s as simple as that."

"‘As simple as that…..’"

"Of course, Philip José Farmer helped me out in this instance."

"Is he a friend of yours?"

"I know him, but not that closely. It’s been some years since I’ve seen him – he’s pretty old now."

"So how?"

"From Dare. One of his science fiction novels. It’s set on a world shared by descendants of two groups of kidnapped humans. One group is made up of just ordinary people. The other is an altered race, with more body hair and tails like horses. The first group won’t even recognize the second as human."

"What’s the point of giving people tails?’

"Just some whim of the aliens. They aren’t around at the time of the story, so nobody can ask them. But it didn’t take me long to think of Dare, after what happened in the lecture hall. Only you don’t have a tail."

"No tail."

"Neither do the people who are looking for you. More super soldiers, right? I don’t imagine that desertion is treated any less seriously on your world than it is on mine. But you must have your reasons. And I have a feeling that whatever you’ve been hiding has something to do your despairing essay on Tolkien – and a lot more."

"It is a lot more. And I don’t think you’re ready for it."

"Young lady, after all I’ve been through in the last few days, I think I’m ready for anything. Do your worst."

"They’re worse than you can possibly imagine," she said. "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

XIX (mostly by Sharon Best)

"It begins with a lover," Sha’Kira told him. "Strong, demanding, and insatiable. Where I come from, we take many lovers. Here I can take none. Unless I choose to transform him into one of us."

"Another super soldier?" Mallard asked. "I don’t think the military here could offer that kind on enlistment bonus."

"You’ve got it all wrong," she protested. "There aren’t any super soldiers. Or if you choose to call them so, then we all are. And we are more powerful than you can possibly imagine – like superheroes in your comic books, only not always benevolent. Some of us are like Zod and the other renegade Kryptonians in one of your Superman movies."

"They’re here, is that what you’re trying to tell me?"

"They’re called Arions. And yes, they are here. So are their hereditary enemies the Velorians. Nobody is supposed to know about them, but sometimes there are… sightings. It is in the interest of both sides to discredit them. And they have their ways. So the sightings of people like us become like sightings of UFOs, or abominable snowmen, and the tabloids move on to something else."

Mallard was still feeling a bit skeptical about this, although he had to admit that it wasn’t that great a leap from super soldiers to super races. But Catherine hadn’t really explained herself yet.

"So where do you fit into this galactic conflict? Where do you come from?"

"From Aria. But I am not one of the Arions. At least, I never thought so. Until the nightmares. I wanted to help, you see. And I had a plan. It was my plan. Or at least I thought it was my plan. So simple. Just turn the retrovirus into the Great Equalizer."


"The one that turns people like you into people like us. If only you were like us, I thought, you wouldn’t have to fear the Arions any longer. You wouldn’t need the Velorians as Protectors."


"That’s what they call themselves. But they don’t really seem to do very much. Keep an eye on the Arions. In case. Whatever the Arions are planning, they’re supposed to prevent it. Otherwise they leave things alone. The Prime Directive, they call it."

"Like on Star Trek?"

"Like on Star Trek. And like on Star Trek, they often do things they shouldn’t. Personal favors. Attachments. Even good deeds. That’s what gets them into the tabloids. But nothing to stop the Arions. Not really. And they don’t really know what the Arions’ plan is. Simple conquest, they assume. But what if it’s worse than that? Something out of pure spite. What if I’m the real plan?"

"This has to do with the retrovirus, correct?"

"Correct. But in my nightmares, it doesn’t work. Not the way I planned it, not the way I wanted it to. But the only way it could. I think I realize that now. And I can never stop it. It always happens the same way, because I can never stop myself from starting it, even though I know what’s going to happen. I see it again and again, every night."

She closed her eyes and began to speak as if in a trance. "As I told you, it begins with my lover and his transformation. In my dream, the news is soon full of accounts of other men like him. Women too, their powers of seduction irresistible. A sick obsession with sex sweeps across the land, leading to public immorality and infidelity. It spreads like a disease."

"A disease of mono-maniacal obsession with sex?" Mallard asked, suddenly very worried about Catherine’s enforced isolation on Earth. Clearly she’d been denied something her body needed, and her dreams had overcompensated.

"More. An epidemic. Then a pandemic. It spreads across America, and then beyond. Obsession soon turns to rape, to forced seductions, a stronger more vital race of men and women emerges to prey on those less powerful. Parents ignore children, everyone ignores work, the world begins to go hungry, starting in Asia and Africa and spreading. The social fabric dissolves into naked passion. No restraint, just complete infatuation with finding one’s next lover, and in so doing, passing the disease on."

"It’s only a dream, Catherine," Mallard said reassuringly. "A hungry stomach and crying children are hardly conducive to passion. The situation would stabilize soon enough."

She shook her head vigorously. "You don’t understand the power of the disease, Mallard. It’s not a natural virus. It affects the mind, and in so doing, it washes away such cares. The virus I carry was designed for a single purpose. To infect our enemy and destroy them. Yet in my dream, I unleash it on Earth."

She closed her eyes for a long moment. Mallard grew uncomfortable when she didn’t take a breath for several minutes. Finally she filled her lungs.

"Naturally, I try to stop it. I learn that high concentrations of CO2 can destroy the virus. Yet by now it’s spread most of the way around the globe. I know I have to flood the atmosphere with high amounts of CO2, enough to kill the virus but not people."

"I presume this means something more drastic than repealing smokestack emission limits."

She nodded. "Forest fires. I use my heat vision to ignite forests all across the planet. Yet it’s not enough, and the smoke kills many with weakened lungs, not to mention destroying precious habitat. But the future of the planet is at stake. In my dream, I feel a sense of growing panic, a determination to fix what I’ve unleashed. I’m not going to let your planet die."

She shivered and hugged herself. "And then it occurs to me. There is a vast amount of carbon dioxide trapped underground. I fly far up into space, halfway to the sun, and then turn back toward your blue planet. Tightening every muscle in my body, I accelerate back toward it, flying as fast as a meteor, then faster, flashing into the atmosphere, my body heating far past the temperature of the sun.

"Yet unlike a meteor which ablates and slows, I continue to accelerate, finally striking the ground with fists in front of me. Megatons of kinetic energy vaporize the glaciers of the Antarctic, the most desolate place on Earth. The explosion of my impact creates a crater several miles wide. I don’t slow, instead penetrating though a mile of ice to strike the compressed rock beneath. Still not slowing."

Mallard’s jaw dropped. "You can do that?"

"Any of us can. Don’t you understand? Far more. Instead of being annihilated in a burst of energy like a meteor, I lance deep into the Earth like a needle pricking the thin skin of the planet, trailing a thousand meter wide tunnel of fused rock behind me, diving deeper and deeper, barely slowing as I tear through massive layers of gasses. Methane first, then carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide. It rushes to the surface in great plumes. Yet instead of stopping as I’d planned, I’m so impressed with my power that I keep going, finding new pockets of gases to release. Then it goes all wrong. I pierce great lakes of magma. Thrusting myself through them, I penetrate all the way to the nickel core. Unable to turn, still moving supersonically, I continue toward the other side, finally blasting back up through the crust to exit somewhere near the North Pole."

"My Lord…" Mallard gasped.

"Slowing and turning back just past the Moon, I look down to see two massive volcanoes exploding on opposite sides of the world, my pathway through the core turning the planet inside out. Realizing with horror what I’ve just done, I fly back down, but I have no powers to stop what I’ve started. First the icecaps melt, raising the ocean levels by a hundred meters, inundating coastlines. Then the escaping gasses spread across the planet, killing all life. The lava flows extend for a thousand miles from each volcano, the air filling with sulfurous fumes, the Earth quickly returning to its primal state."

Sobbing, Catherine stopped talking to bury her face in her hands. "First because of my stupidity and passion, I unleash that hellish virus. Then in my ignorance and pride while trying to stop it, I destroy manhome itself."

Mallard’s mouth opened and closed several times before he finally spoke. "But surely this is only possible in your dreams?" Mallard asked, desperately praying he was right.

Catherine dashed his hope. "I could do all that, Mallard. I fear I will yet. No one can stop me. Not even me. Certainly not you." She turned to reach into her book bag to pull out a folder, quickly handing it to Mallard. "Here is an image I drew on my computer. This is what I always see when I wake up. This is the first sun I see each morning."

Mallard opened the folder to see a very photorealistic image of a woman standing in a barren landscape, the air filled with poisonous gasses, staring into an alien sunrise. Odd that the woman didn’t really look like her, but--

"That is my vision of the future of Earth."


"We could do it to ourselves, you know," Mallard said after a long pause. "Not as easily as you, perhaps. But we could do it. Perhaps we already are. I’m sure you’ve read about the greenhouse effect, global warming. Pessimists among us say we’re on the road to turning Earth into another Venus."

"But you could stop it, if you tried. You couldn’t stop me."

"And how would we stop ourselves? By changing our minds, by changing our behavior. It’s been known to happen."

"But not often enough, to judge from your own history."

"‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’ James Joyce wrote that in 1917. Long before the Holocaust, or the atomic bomb. I wonder what he’d have written if he’d lived to see those. I take it you’re up to speed on all that."

"I studied Earth history on Aria. In secret."

"And now you’re living it first hand. Scary isn’t it? Disillusioning, perhaps. It’s not like reading it in books, or jacking into computer files, or whatever you do on – Aria, is it? We were just a bunch of exotic primitives, and you took us on for a cause, as young idealists are wont to do. Only we didn’t quite live up to your expectations. Bummer. We all deserve to be destroyed."

"It’s not like that at all. If I thought you deserved it, it wouldn’t frighten me."

"Touché. Now we’re getting to the real point. You have this idea that you’re part of some master plan by the Arions to destroy the Earth. But you’ve said the Arions are already here. Why don’t they do the job themselves? What do they need you for? And if they’ve programmed you to do this, for some arcane reason known only to themselves, why program you to hate doing it?"

"The Velorians don’t know I’m here. They know about the Arions, and so the Arions need—"

"A sleeper? Time to wake up, girl! Sleepers are needed only where it would be too dangerous to work in the open. What kind danger could the Arions be in? So the Protectors watch them. But they can’t watch all of them all the time. And if some fine day, one of them wants to take a swan dive through the center of the Earth, as you do in your dream, who’s to stop him?"

They argued through the day, and into the night, alike in their stubbornness. No matter how absurd Mallard thought Catherine’s ideas were, she could not shake loose of them. Finally, he gave up – or seemed to.

"All right," he said. "You’re programmed as a destroyer. It’s in your genes. Or they used deepteach – or whatever it’s called on Arion. You don’t even know whether your memories are real, or just implants like they give the replicants in Blade Runner. And, alas, I can’t run a Voight-Kampf test to prove that you’re human, after all; because in the real world it hasn’t been invented yet. I concede everything – and tell you that you’re still wrong."

"How can that be?" she asked wearily.

"Remember I talked in my opening lecture about how we can find ourselves in literature?"

"I was finding myself only in Sauron."

"So you imagined. But you didn’t have the right key. You always need the right key, and I guess that Tolkien’s world didn’t provide it. But I think that the world of C.J. Cherryh might. There’s a novel of hers called Downbelow Station. Set in the future, of course, and a better one than you imagine for us. Though far from perfect."

"But what can this possibly have to do with me?"

"Cherryh tells several interconnected stories. One of them is about a man very much like you. Joshua Talley. He has nightmares, too. Of a war he’s been caught up in. Massacres. Horrible things. So horrible that he has himself mindwiped to escape them. Do they have mindwipe where you come from? I hope not."

Catherine said nothing.

"The war is between Earth and its rebellious colonies, which have banded together as Union. There’s a station called Pell. It’s caught in the middle. Wants to remain neutral. Can’t. Anyway, Talley fetches up there, takes his mindwipe, settles in with a local family. Tries to find a new life.

"And then he encounters a Union agent. A fellow agent, who tells him he never had a past. He was born in the Union birth labs, raised in a crèche, programmed to be a saboteur. Sent from one station to the next, as Union’s advance man. To blow those stations, one after the other, kill all the stationers, so that Union’s military can just move in and take over what’s left. Between missions, given false memories of an idyllic childhood before the war. Perfect cover. And now he’s got to do it all over again at Pell. That’s what the other agent tells him. No choice.

"But he has a choice, after all. He begins to realize this, not by reason, but by the emotions that well up in him, as Cherry describes it:

"‘He killed. That was what he was created to do….. Carefully insulated from humanity. Tape-taught … given lies to tell—about being human.

"‘Only there was a flaw in the lies … that they were fed into human flesh, with human instincts, and he had loved the lies.’

"You do have the right instincts, Catherine. You could have left that lecture hall yesterday, let that crazy woman kill us. Nobody would have blamed you. Nobody would have been the wiser. And yet you stayed. You risked your cover, you risked your supposed mission, for people you hardly knew. Because you have a good heart.

"It doesn’t matter what they did to you on Aria. It doesn’t matter if your very memories are false, and everything you want to believe about yourself is a lie. Love the lies, Catherine. Live the lies, and the lies will set you free."

"Sha’Kira," she said. "My name is Sha’Kira."


It was a typical Saturday night at the Pi Gamma house, which meant that the brothers were pretty much wasted. So were the Tri Phi girls. Officially, it was an exchange social. Unofficially, it was a debauch.

Ben Litton was pissed. He’d looked forward to fucking one of the Tri Phis. But she’d gotten so drunk herself it was practically like screwing a corpse. And when he’d finally gotten some response out of her by slapping her around, the bitch threw up on him. He’d had to change his shirt, and it was an expensive shirt. Shit!

He was so sloshed that he couldn’t quite remember her name, but everybody called her Boom Boom. That was it; he’d wanted to bang-bang Boom Boom. Hah hah! He wished he had a gun so he could bang bang somebody for real. Like that old fart of a professor who’d dissed the Gammas..

Ben hadn’t been able to make any sense of the local TV news. That dyke cunt Voinovich couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Well, what could you expect of a cuntlapping dyke anyway? But what about that other dyke cunt who hung out with the old fart? Nobody was mentioning her on the news, but there was talk that she’d skipped town.

Hey, maybe she was really hiding out with the old fart. That would violate all kinds of campus regulations, and maybe several statutes as well. He should get the cops on that old fart’s case. Or better yet, Uncle Jerry. That was the great thing about having an uncle in the FBI. You knew how to get him, even on the weekend.

One of the brothers saw him sitting there in his room, with a wasted sorority girl on his bed but nothing in his hand, and figured that what he must need was another brew – which he proceeded to supply.

"Heineken? Fuck that shit!" he shouted. Yeah, just like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. There was a real man! He wouldn’t take any shit from Boom Boom! Ben looked at the drunken girl on his bed. Hell, she didn’t even look that good. A pig, if you were honest about it. Great pair of tits, but she should put a bag over her head.

Now what the hell had he been thinking about before Joe came in with the beer?

He remembered the next day.


Sha’Kira awoke to the sounds of fucking next door. Mallard had explained it to her. People came here to fuck. Men paid women to fuck. How could this be? She had heard about prostitution, of course, but she couldn’t understand it. Didn’t women here want to fuck? Or were the men so unskilled that no woman would have them otherwise?

She realized now that she herself needed a fuck. Her libido was back. It had to have something to do with her long talk with Mallard. Something had happened to her, she thought. She had thought she knew everything about power, but she had never imagined there could be such power in words.

Sha’Kira wished that she could reward this man, after the manner of her kind. But she couldn’t. Not unless she transformed him. And he could never survive that. Not at his age. She thought again of her abandoned plan. Even if it could worked without destroying human society, would it have been worth it? At the cost of hundreds of millions of lives – all condemned because they were too old, or the wrong race, or suffered from unguessed at genetic quirks?

No, of course not. She understood that now. He had helped her understand, even if he himself hadn’t quite understood how. And now there was nothing she could do in return. Nothing.

Of course, there was gold. She hadn’t told him about the gold. It didn’t matter, because she didn’t have any.

Mallard was still asleep in the other bed as she rose to go to the bathroom and take a shower. And maybe relieve herself. She didn’t have any of her toys here, but perhaps she could improvise. The towel rack. Something.

Perhaps she could even improvise with Mallard. Give him a blowjob – very carefully, of course. Let him come on her breasts. It wouldn’t be much, not what she really wanted. Or what he would, if only he saw her in her full glory. Poor man; he still thought she was a grunt, a plain G.I. Jane. What the hell, at least give him a thrill.

Was it the sound of the shower than had awakened him? Or was it just his biological clock? He glanced at his watch: 7 a.m. It sounded now as if there were a woman coming next door. They really started early, didn’t they? Well, truckers had to hit the road early. If he hadn’t known better, he could have sworn the sex sounds came from behind the bathroom door. Damn these thin motel walls!

He lay there for a few moments. The sounds had ceased. The door opened. And out stepped…. a naked goddess. A goddess with golden hair and golden skin and breasts like golden hemispheres that she caressed enticingly and…. Oh God, it couldn’t be. It just could not be. He sat bolt upright.

"That golden shape on the golden steps!"

And then he collapsed. He fell onto the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.


She didn’t know his friend’s phone number, but it was in the book.

"Mr. Stanek, it’s…. Marianne. It’s about your friend…. He’s – I don’t know what’s the matter with him. He’s just lying on the floor and crying and talking about milk and eggs…. I know he said not to, but you’ve got to come now."

She thought of restoring her disguise, but what would be the point? Mallard had seen her now. Stanek might as well too. As long as she had the sweatsuit and the contacts, maybe the other transients would simply take her for another hooker. Not that any of the others were wearing sweatsuits…..

Sha’Kira stood by the window, waiting. She kept glancing back at Mallard. He seemed to be oblivious to her and to anything else but his inner pain. Never had she encountered anything like this, or even heard of the like. It frightened her, that she could have somehow triggered it: was this more Arion programming? What could be its purpose?

Half an hour later, she saw the Dodge Neon pull around the corner, fighting to find a space amid the pickup trucks and SUVs. He finally settled for the muddy stretch between the parking lot and the river.

When she opened the door for him, his jaw dropped.

"It can’t be," he said.

"It is. I’m Catherine. I can explain. I have to trust you in this."

"I don’t mean just that. It’s – no, you wouldn’t believe. I’d have to show you. But I know what must have happened to Duck. It’s happened before. Different triggers, but all related to Myra. We’ve got to get him home. I know what to do. I’ve done it before."

Sha’Kira could have easily carried Mallard herself, but she made a show of merely helping Stanek get him to the car. The johns and the hookers were up and about, and Stanek himself wouldn’t understand – yet There were a lot of things she’d have to explain later. To those she had come to trust.

Mallard was moaning softly now. He didn’t seem to know where he was or where he was going – or care.

Who was Myra?


"Well, I got him into bed, forced a sedative into him," Stanek told Sha’Kira. "He’ll sleep it off. And if he isn’t any better when he wakes up, he’s still got one of the prescription drugs in his medicine cabinet."

They were in the kitchen at Mallard’s house. He’d urged her to get something to eat while he attended to his friend, then come back for a bite himself. She knew who Myra was now. He’d told her. This thing they called love – they didn’t have it on Aria. Or if anyone did, it was considered a sign of insanity. Insanity was a serious defect. If it were serious enough, it called for liquidation.

Stanek finished a bran muffin, washed it down with orange juice, then looked up.

"I’m just about the only one who can help him," he said..

"Doesn’t he have any family?"

"His parents are dead, and he was an only child. He has some cousins somewhere in Oregon, I think."

"What about Myra’s people?"

"They won’t even speak to him."

"But why?"

"You see, when she died, he was in such a state that he couldn’t bear to make the arrangements. So the in-laws took over, and turned the funeral into this big spectacle at Chatham Road Presbyterian Church. A sermon full of homilies, even a choir. It wasn’t anything Myra would have wanted, and Duck knew it. So he just stayed away."

"That’s really sad."

"And she’s buried at Tonawanda Memorial Park, along with the other Escotts and their Babbitt cousins. They like it because it’s right next to the Tonawanda Country Club. They can play golf and visit the family plot as a package tour. Of course, there’s no room for Duck in the family plot when his time comes. They really know how to rub it in."

Sha’Kira said nothing to that. None of this meant anything to her. But there was something that did.

"You said you know why…. what happened to him."

"It’s something you’ll have to see for yourself. I can’t explain it, except as the wildest coincidence. But you didn’t do it to him. It was just happenstance. You’ll see. I don’t think you’ll understand. I don’t.

Stanek led her through the dining room, into the hall and up the stairs to Mallard’s study.

"Just go in," he said.

She saw nothing unusual at first. A wall of books to the left. A desk, facing the door, with an iMac and a jumbled pile of papers. More books, plus a collection of audio and music CDs. She stepped inside, to look around more closely. Still nothing. Then she turned around to face the remaining wall, next to the door, and saw—



Sha’Kira gasped as she stared at the painting, her blue eyes dissecting it with more than human acuity. It wasn’t simply a painting of someone like herself, it was her. Every strand of hair along the edge of her scalp, the shape and tint of her eyes, the lilt of her lips, cheekbones, the shape of her chin, the flawlessly tanned skin of a Velorian. Her hair. Every multi-colored strand. It looked more photographic than artistic. She scanned downward, finding that it was signed simply: "M.E." There was a legend at the bottom of the painting, in elegant calligraphy.

That golden shape on the golden steps shook and fluttered like a bird gone mad—like a bird imbued with an intellect and a soul, and, nevertheless, driven mad by terrors and ecstasies beyond human understanding—ecstasies drawn momentarily down into reality by the consummation of superlative art. A thousand worlds watched. Had the ancient calendar continued this would have been A.D. 13,582. After defeat and disappointment, after ruin and reconstruction, mankind had leapt among the stars.

Sha’Kira moved closer, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she leaned down to study the calligraphy. She instantly recognized the style from her long training on Aria. It was a style that was taught only on the Velorian world of Daxxan. To Scribes.

"I told you you’d have to see for yourself," Stanek said from the door.

"What is it?"

"She painted it. Myra. It’s from a story they both loved. The dancer who looks like you is interpreting The Glory and Affirmation of Man at the Inter-World Dance Festival."

"Was Myra a dancer?"

"No. Are you?"

Sha’Kira laughed. "I have thousands of times your strength. I can fly, Of course I can dance."

"Then you would have been perfect for the Inter-World Dance Festival."

"Was the dancer like me, in the original story?"

"No. She was a great dancer, the greatest of her time. But she was an ordinary woman. At least, as far as anyone could tell from the story. But Cordwainer Smith was filled with secrets. He wrote a whole cycle of stories about a future ruled by a benign and terrible elite called the Instrumentality of Mankind. There were all kinds of strange characters like scanners and pinlighters and go-captains and underpeople. There were all kinds of epochal events like the Rediscovery of Man and—"

"Did Myra know this Cordwainer Smith?" Sha-Kira interrupted.

"No, he died in 1966, leaving his epic of the future unfinished."

"So this painting – it’s her interpretation."

"Which seems to make her as much a woman of mystery as Smith was a man of mystery. I can’t explain the painting, Perhaps Myra had a prophetic dream. I’ve never believed in that kind of thing myself, but I can’t think of anything else."

"Who put on the dance Festival? This Instrumentality?"

"The story doesn’t say," Ed replied. "But Duck always thought it must have been the Bright. There’s a reference to a Bright Empire in one of his stores, and a draft of another that was never published mentions a sort of dynasty called the Bright that "did things with music and dance, with picture and word, which had never been done before."

"The Bright," Sha’Kira said, as much to herself as to him. She didn’t mention the calligraphy. Or the fact that The Glory and Affirmation of Man was a favorite theme of Velorian scribes. Perhaps this Cordwainer Smith had also had a prophetic dream. Or perhaps it was coincidence. But the painting – that could never be coincidence.

"Perhaps you are of the Bright, or meant to be," Stanek said half seriously.

"She painted it for him, but it was also meant for me. It’s a message, whether she knew it or not."

"But what kind of a message?"

"I don’t know. Perhaps it will reveal itself before long.."



About midday, the sound of music came suddenly from Mallard’s bedroom. It was harsh, driving, restless, tormented.

"Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements," Stanek explained. "His angry music. That’s his sign that he’s back to normal. As normal as he gets."

"It is normal for him to be angry?" Sha’Kira asked.

"He was practically catatonic this morning. What do you want?"

"I want him to be happy. He deserves to be happy."

"Maybe he doesn’t want to be. He certainly never acts like it. I’ve tried to tell him it’s well past time to move on, but it’s no use. But I like the guy. He’s really a good man, if you can put up with his rarcus-farcussing."


"That’s what he calls his temper tantrums. I guess you haven’t really seen him explode yet. Maybe you will. He’s been on the edge lately. Really on the edge."

"You seem to be his only real friend."

"Well, he has other friends, other places. Just not around here."

"How long have you been friends?"

Stanek told her. About the creationist thing, and Garner Ted Baxter and the Secular Humanist Defense League.

"Talk about running people’s hots," he said. "He was on the steps with me at the main science building one day, facing down Baxter and his yahoos. This preacher’s screaming at us that we’re damned, that we can never be saved unless we find Jesus. And you know what Duck says? ‘I didn’t know Jesus was lost.’"

"So what happened?"

"The campus cops and the TV news crews saved us, that’s what." And, after a pause: "Do you really come from…. Out there?"

"Of course."

"Not some secret military lab here? Duck was talking about super soldiers the other night."

"He didn’t know what he was talking about then. He does now."

"Then you must know… all the answers. Quantum gravity. Extra dimensions. Grand unification."

"I can’t talk about that."

"You can’t?"

"No, I can’t."

"Just a hint."

"Don’t you think your world is in enough trouble with what it knows now?"

"We’re finding out. We’ll find out anyway,"

"But at least it won’t be on us. When I came here…. I wanted to do something for Earth. I don’t want to tell you about that. Mallard knows, but I don’t think he’d tell. Not even you. But it was wrong. It was terrible. He helped me see that."

"So there’s nothing you can tell me about physics."

She looked at him. He somehow reminded her of a dog. Loyal as a dog, that was for sure. And she was feeling frisky. She’d give him a treat. Without a word, she pulled up the top of her sweatsuit.

"Here, let me give you a real physics lesson," she said.

"Catherine, really."

"Feel my breasts," she offered.

"Are you trying to get me fired, for God’s sake? Don’t you know there are rules against students and—"

"I don’t think I’m going to be a student here any more."

"I’m a married man."

"Terrans and their so-called virtue. But don’t worry. You won’t have go that far. Just like a doctor. Doing an exam."

"But what’s the point?"

"You’ll see. Feel them."

Still he held back, so she grabbed his hands and placed them on her breasts. He was too flustered to protest. Probably didn’t want to.

"Soft, yes. But also firm. Very firm. More firm than you can imagine."

Stanek had turned as red as a beet. His hands were sweating. She let them go. Perhaps he thought the demonstration was over, wondered what the point was. She could have asked him to bring a kitchen knife, but she didn’t want to slow things up. She got one herself from a rack above the counter, returned to her chair.

"Stab me with it," she told Stanek.

Stanek shrank back in alarm. He started to get up. She wouldn’t let him. Again she grabbed his hands, forced him to press the knife against her breast. The golden flesh dimpled, but was unharmed. Them she forced him to stab her really hard. The knife snapped against her invulnerable breast.

Stanek’s face had gone from red to white. He looked ill.

"See," she said. "Soft on the outside, firm on the inside."

"What the hell’s going on here?" came a shout from the dining room.

Neither Stanek nor Sha’Kira had noticed that the Stravinsky symphony had run its course, and that Mallard was up and about again. They were frozen in place as he entered the kitchen and took it what was going on.

"Pervert!" Mallard shouted at Stanek. But he wasn’t really looking at him He couldn’t take his eyes off Sha’Kira’s breasts. His friend was holding a broken knife to them -- it must have broken against them --and he was somehow…. jealous.

"It’s not…. what you think," Stanek stammered.

Still wracked by a jealousy that he could not acknowledge, Mallard abruptly changed the subject.

"You’re not following Moscow rules," he accused. "You shouldn’t even be here. You should at least be trying to help find this young lady a new identity. We’ve promised her, remember. We have promised, and we must perform.".

Stanek had had enough.

"Fuck you!" he said. "Fuck your Moscow rules. Fuck your playing at secret agentry and carrying the world on your shoulders. Fuck this shit."

"Fuck you, Ed. You don’t have a fucking idea what’s going on here. There are things you don’t know, and in your present state, at least, I’m not prepared to share them. I think you’d better leave."

"I think I’d better," Stanek agreed. "Give you a chance to come off your high horse."

He stormed past Mallard, through the living room, into the hall, out the door. But he was back in a few minutes.

"Catherine forgot her bag," he explained, handing it to Mallard.

"Yes, her makeup. She’ll be needing that. Now go."

"I don’t think she’ll want that particular disguise again," Stanek advised him. "Better catch the news."

Then left again.


There was a TV in the living room, but for some reason, he’d gone to his bedroom instead.

"Cover yourself," he’d told her. She did. But she’d followed him upstairs just the same. He didn’t accede. He didn’t object. He didn’t even acknowledge her. But he still carried her bag, which he set down next to the bed and then ignored.

When he turned on the TV, it was running some commercial about liquid fertilizer, then another about a drug for pigs. "All that little piglet’s got is you, his mammy and terramycin," a man in a cowboy hat was saying. "And remember, terramycin stops scours."

But she wasn’t paying any attention to the man in the cowboy hat, or even wondering what "scours" were. Her eyes were riveted to the nightstand, and the gold collar that rested there. But when the local station cut to a news break, the TV suddenly drew her attention.

Her face was on the screen: Catherine’s face, that is. It was the picture from her student ID. They’d found her apartment… and her toys. Various lengths of metal, some partially melted. The police thought they must have something to do with bomb-making. The FBI had been called in. It was a disaster for her, and for Mallard.

"Well," he said, as if noticing her for the first time. "We seem to have our work cut out for us. Only I don’t know what to do now. I really don’t. I guess I never did. But it was fun to pretend. To be George Smiley for a while. The thing about Smiley was, he was a really good spymaster. But he was a failure in everything else. So you could both admire him and pity him."

She didn’t know who George Smiley was. She had a sense of what Mallard meant by "Moscow rules" and "buying a legend for a lady" meant, but only because there were parallels where she came from. The Arions had bought her a legend, after all – one she no longer wanted.

She looked at the gold collar again, then at Mallard.

"Talk to me," she said. "Please talk to me."


Sha’Kira sat on the floor by Mallard’s bed, listening to his litany of woe. In the Winnemac Wolverines sweat suit – still the only thing she had to wear – it was as if he had forgotten who and what she was, and was speaking to some fellow Terran. A psychologist, perhaps.

Maybe you’ve heard of "Publish or Perish." If you want to keep your job, until you get tenure, you’ve got to be published in the academic journals. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you take up space. But if you say the right things, everyone will think you’re a really clever fellow.

Well, I played the game. I was duly published, and I finally got tenure. But I couldn’t say the right things, only the things I cared about. I didn’t pepper my work with references to semiotics and "post-modern capitalism:" and "cognitive estrangement" and I wrote about Jack Vance and Algis Budrys instead of Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem.

And nobody thought I was a clever fellow. If I’d launched into an impassioned defense of, say, Heinlein against whatever the latest wave was, I’d have at least aroused some ire. But as it was, everything I wrote, everything I cared about, seemed to vanish into a black hole.

She knew what a black hole was, but she couldn’t quite grasp what it had to do with semiotics or cognitive estrangement, whatever those were. "Are these the things people fight about here on Earth?" she asked.

So you do know about the culture wars. And the political ones for that matter. Ignorant armies clashing by night. And so smug in their ignorance! Every time I hear a knee-jerk conservative sounding off, I feel like a liberal. And every time I hear a knee-jerk liberal sounding back, I feel like a conservative. At heart I’m a libertarian, but in this world that’s about as practical as being a pacifist.

I had this idea once of how to force students to think for themselves. Have a history course, say, taught alternate days by a Marxist and an Objectivist, with the essays graded by a third instructor known to neither – or to the class. A lot of students still like to suck up to their instructors, no matter how rebellious they pretend to be. But in my system, they couldn’t. They’d get hit with all these diametrically opposed ideas, and somehow have to reach their own conclusions.

I think you can imagine how the chancellor and the faculty senate reacted to that! They didn’t think much of my next idea, either: Have a requirement that all students take courses in arts and histories and cultures other than their own. Whites would have to learn all about African-American music or Latin American literature, but blacks would have to get down and boogie with classical music or Victorian novels – or the history of China, if they couldn’t stand the white stuff. And the Latinos and the Asians… Well, you get the idea. But nobody here did.

It was still strange to her. Gibberish. But she wanted to say something in his support. "You tried," she ventured. "You did your best. What more could anyone ask of you? What are you saying here?"

What I’m saying is that I’m a failure. Maybe even a fraud. It didn’t matter when Myra was alive. I believed in her, and I could believe in myself because she believed in me. But now I can’t believe any more. It’s all a pose. I don’t know what I’m doing; I don’t even know why I’m living.

How could he do this to himself? How could this man of words, who had used words to heal her, use them only to wound himself? She wished she had the words to heal him, but she did not.

She did, however, have herself. All through Mallard’s sad monologue, she had glanced now and again at the gold collar on his nightstand. She didn’t know why it was there, or what it was there for. But she knew that it was her one hope of helping this man.

It wouldn’t do to just reach out and grab it, she sensed. Yet she couldn’t ask him. If she tried to explain, he might refuse her gift. And refusal, for her, was not an option. But she was in luck. Mallard excused himself to visit the bathroom.

Off with the sweatsuit! She stood there in her underwear, admiring herself in the mirror. The she stripped naked. On with the gold!


When Mallard returned to his room, Sha’Kira was standing by the bed. She was wearing nothing but the golden collar. Myra’s collar. It was more than he could bear.

"How dare you?" he shouted, between anger and anguish. "How dare you?"

"I dare to honor you, by wearing the gold. So that I can give you my greatest gift."

She smiled at him, ignoring his anger.

"Don’t you understand?" he wailed. "That was hers. It was private. It was precious."

"You mean Myra’s?" Her expression became more serious.

"Are you a fool? Do you take me for one?"

"Ed told me about her. What she meant to you. Why do you dishonor her so?"

"Dishonor? Me? How can you say that when you…. appropriate her things, when you try to steal her memory?"

"Do you really think she would want to see you like this? Living in misery? Turning her home into a tomb? She would want you to be happy. You deserve to be happy. "

"I can’t be happy. Not as long as I can remember."

"She would want you to remember. But she would want you to get beyond the pain. You healed my pain; now it is time for me to heal yours."

"So now you’re a psychiatrist."

"No, But I’m a terrific fuck. And you’re going to fuck me. Tonight. Right now."

"Never! I… couldn’t. Are you insane?"

"You can lie. But your cock can’t. You want to fuck me. You’re aching to fuck me. And I want to fuck you. Gold does that to us. And makes it safe for you."

"Shut up!" he cried. "Shut up."

But she would not shut up. Intoxicated by the gold, but also in calculation, she began taunting him.

"Look at these breasts. Have you ever seen breasts like them before? See how they’re swelling. They’re swelling for you. See how my nipples are growing? They’re growing for you. Look at my pussy. It’s dripping. Dripping for you."

Mallard tried to look away, but he was mesmerized, like a deer caught in the headlights. He could not take his eyes away from her golden skin, her golden hair, her golden breasts. She was masturbating herself, massaging her breasts, fingering the engorged clit that stuck out from her cunt. The overpowering scent of honey and wildflowers assaulted his nostrils.

"Myra," he croaked helplessly.

"Myra would want you to fuck me!" she shouted.

Mallard stepped forward and slapped her in the face, as hard as he could. His hand stung from the impact. Sha’Kira ignored him.

"She’d want you to maul these magnificent breasts, to suck these steel-hard nipples!"

Mallard balled his hands into fists and began beating on her breasts. It was like hitting some impossible alloy of steel and rubber – his fists rebounded from them in pain. She continued to taunt him.

"She’d want you to plunge your cock into the fiery furnace of my cunt!"

Mallard grabbed her down there, tried to scratch her clit with his fingernails. He might as well have tried to scratch a titanium rod. His hand came up soaked with her juices, those intoxicating juices.

He hated her for what she was doing to him. He hated himself. He hated the universe. He couldn’t take it any longer. He grabbed her, threw her onto the bed, too filled with anger to wonder how he could manage that when she had been unmoved by his previous assaults. He threw himself onto her, into her.

He was vaguely aware that this was rape, or at least would have been with any other woman. He didn’t care any longer.

Yet she continued to taunt him.

"Yes, fuck me! Fuck me hard! Exalt me with your cock!"

He wanted to hurt her, and he couldn’t. But he tried anyway. He wished his cock were a gun, so that he could shoot it inside her. No, even that wouldn’t hurt her. Nothing could hurt her. Yet he tried. His fury with himself and with the world had found a center.

Her cunt was the center of the universe. Nothing else mattered. And he was at that center, in that center. He tried to pour all his hatred into it. But then her divine fire began to consume everything: first his hatred, then his anger, then his sorrow, last of all his regret. Only the frenzy of pure lust remained, a lust akin to worship. Yet he was not conscious of that. His only awareness was of his cock in her cunt; the only words in his mind: "I’m fucking a goddess! I’m fucking a goddess!"

Without him knowing it, they had approached the edge of the bed. Then they fell over. He landed on his back, hitting his head on the floor, Momentarily, he was disoriented. But Sha’Kira didn’t miss a beat, and she wouldn’t let him go. Her cunt gripped him like a vise as she assumed top position.

Sha’Kira loomed above him, a divine vision of erotic loveliness. Her incredible blue eyes blazed like tiny fires. She smiled at him, shaking her head so that he could watch her cloud of golden hair swaying. She swung her torso, so that he could see her golden breasts jiggle ever so slightly. She leaned down to tease him with those breasts.

"Feel them. Suck them. Bite them," she cooed.

He obeyed. Only after he had taken his fill of them did she relax her hold. Now she was fucking him. He thrilled to the sight of her divine cunt moving up and down on his cock until he couldn’t stand it any more. And she couldn’t stand it any more; she was actually screaming with delight…..

"Goddess!" he shouted as he came. "Goddess!"

And that was just the beginning. They made love again and again, more times than he could have imagined doing at half his age, until he finally succumbed to exhaustion.


Aggression began far away.

Vice-Admiral Sloko’van read the report on his desk a second time, and then looked up at the elegantly dressed Prime who sat in front of his desk. He tossed the report back to him. "So you found her. On Earth of all places. Under Velorian protection, thinking she is one of them?"

"She is not known to the Protectors. We could still take her. Surgically."

The Admiral managed a small smile. "I trained her myself, Captain. You won’t find her extraction an easy matter. And the last thing I need is a visible battle on Earth."

"The origin world is ripe for the taking, Admiral. The mutant could be coerced into destroying its infrastructure. The Galen could not trace her to us."

"’The mutant’? That’s what you call her? I spent the last ten years of my life preparing her for the greatest mission ever attempted. Her name is Sha’Kira."

"My apologies, sir. I only used the name the Directorate uses in its reports."

"No. We can’t have a problem there. On Earth. The Galen sent a message to the Emperor only last month. Earth is to have no further contacts from the Empire. "

"And the Emperor accepts the legitimacy of that message? The Galen are but a myth, propagated by old men who live in a world of half-truths and visions."

"He dares not question it. The Galen said that a certain star would go nova last month, and to get all our troops out of the Acer’tis system. We didn’t. It did. We lost two capital ships and ten thousand men."

"A coincidence."

"The odds are one-hundred billion to one that this was a random event, especially since the star was in mid-life. No, the Galen are still among us, Captain. You are simply to arrogant to see the truth."

The Captain looked unfazed, arrogant in his belief in his own supreme power. "Then I go in covert. Alone. I can handle her, I assure you. She was trained for infiltration more than combat. If it had come to combat on Velor, her mission would have been a failure in any case. I can kill her if need be."

"Can we not capture her and salvage the original mission?"

"Do you really imagine that Velor remains ignorant in this matter?"

"Very well. Kill her. Kill anyone who sees you. We have no idea how the Galen get their information, probably those damn Scribes, but they may have other spies. This is covert, dark-ops, all the way."

"Yes sir," he saluted. "I won’t fail."

"If you do, don’t come back. There might not be an Aria to return to. If there is, it won’t be your home."

Aggression also began nearby.

"Uncle Jerry, this is Ben. I’m about to make your day. You seen in the paper about that roach queen terrorist…… Yeah, I know it’s not your case, but it’s going to be – you’re going to be a national hero…… That’s what I’m getting at. Ms. Ugly Terrorist is in tight with that prick Mallard, the Ay-rab lover…… Don’t have to draw you a road map, huh? Well, he lives out of town on County Road 666. Yellow house set back about a hundred feet…… Why bring them in on it? Just take a couple of guys you can trust….. So who’s going to care if the warrant turns out to be defective? Nobody. National hero, remember? See you in the papers!"

Back in Zenith, Special Agent in Charge Jerry Litton considered his options. He didn’t trust Ron or Dalton. Keep them out of the loop for sure. But he knew a couple of agents at the Monarch bureau, Brian and Roger. They’d been exiled there, actually. Got a little overzealous on a kiddie porn case that turned out to be trumped up by the ex-boyfriend of the accused. But what the hell, here was their chance to redeem themselves. And be grateful to him for it. One hand washes the other.


When he awakened the next morning, Reddick Mallard was at peace with himself for the first time in years. Strange thought to be having while lying next to a naked goddess – especially after what he’d just been through with her. War and peace. Wonder what Tolstoy would have made of it?

He rose for a moment, just to get a full length view of her, stretched out on his bed. Sha'kira was totally naked now. She had apparently left the bedroom some time during the night to take off the collar; he didn't yet understand what that was all about. But he didn't care about that. All he cared about was her -- and the freedom she had given him.

Returning to her side, he his hands lazily up and down her body. Her golden skin was flawless, and smooth as satin. She was built and muscled like a lioness. She was lying on her back at the moment, but her breasts stood proudly, yielding not a millimeter to the force of gravity. She smiled up at him as he caressed them.

"I must be dreaming," he said still feeling afterglow of their lovemaking the night before.

"It’s real," she assured him. "The only real thing. It was meant to be."


"The painting. Myra’s painting."

"’Superstition and accident manifest the will of God,’" Mallard quoted Carl Jung.

"It was fate, and you know it. But you professional skeptics are so stubborn. I knew I’d have to break you down."

"But I—"

Sha’Kira reached out and tousled his hair.

"Silly Terran. Did you really think you could take me? I was taking you, and you loved every minute of it. You just didn’t want to admit it. But now you know. And you know what else? I loved every minute of it too."

"But how?" he wondered. "Not that I’m complaining. But how could you come? How can you even feel me now? Aren’t you…. invulnerable?"

"Completely." she assured him. "But only to pain and harm, never to pleasure." She gave him the shortest possible short course on supremis biology and physiology. And on the use of gold, which made it possible for her to take him as a lover, even to take him inside her safely without having to restrain herself, while still leaving her invulnerable.

"Without the gold, you couldn’t have entered me at all. And if you could have…"

Mallard gave a brief start.

"Something else about gold. It makes us really, really horny. I wanted you to begin with, but once I put on that necklace it was all I could do the keep my hands off you. It isn't easy pretending to be raped, you know."

All the while, his hands and mouth were busy, sucking on her breasts, caressing her swollen clit. Her juices were flowing; even without gold, she was dripping like a faucet, soaking the sheets with her heady scent.

Mallard was hard as a rock again.

"Myra and I…. used to play games." He realized that he was no longer uncomfortable speaking of her. "Fictional characters. You probably wouldn’t know them: Nick and Nora Charles, Steed and Mrs. Peel?"

"Man and Superwoman? Remember, you can do with me what you could never dare do with any other."

"Such as?"

"Oh, you could play a blowtorch over my pussy and listen to my juices sizzle."

"And set the bed on fire?"

"Or you could use a power drill and see the tip break off in my cunt. Or the motor short out."

"Power tools are worth good money."

"You don't have a jackhammer, by any chance?"

"What would I be doing with--"

Sha'kira interrupted him by bursting into hysterical laughter.

"Did I say something funny?"

"The look on your face," she said, coming out of her fit. "Thinking of practicalities instead of fantasies."

"Not exactly my kind of fantasies. I hope not, at least."

"But we really do enjoy showing off our invulnerability, and we really do get off on it. If I hadn't been so depressed that day in the lecture hall, I'd have been going crazy from the feel of the bullets that crazy woman was firing."

"That wasn't the reason…."

"Of course not. You were right about that. That's what brought me out of it, brought me back to myself. And I knew then that I'd have to bring you back to yourself."

"And you have, Oh God, Sha'kira, you have."

"But tell me the truth. You weren't the least bit turned on when you saw me do that bit with the knife for Ed?"

Ed, he thought. I've got to make things right with Ed.

But his cock had other thoughts. His cock was pleading with him.

"It’s so red," she giggled. "Is that why you’re called Reddick."

Mallard giggled. It was just the right kind of humor for the occasion.

"I think it's time for the collar again," Sha'Kira cooed.


Jerry Litton had spent all night looking for Brian Baxter. He and Roger Lavery finally found him at the Do Drop Inn in Monarch, stewed to the gills. Apparently he’d gone there hoping to pick up a broad, but none would have him, so he’d just kept drinking.

Considering Baxter’s state of sloshitude, and the fact that Mohalis was a 100-mile drive away, it was obvious that they were going to have to postpone the operation until the morning. Well, first thing in the morning was a great time to catch perps, anyway; they were usually too groggy to put up much resistance.

Anyway, it didn’t look as if the local cops or the county mounties had gotten wind of anything. The only news on the radio out of Mohalis was some sort of UFO sighting. Bright light in the sky, at any rate. They said it had been visible 100 miles away. He wouldn’t know; he and Lavery had been indoors trying to turn Baxter’s lights back on, No luck there. He’d just have to sleep it off. Now was there a motel nearby?


Zhat was furious. A sub-space message had alerted him that a deserter from Active Measures had been traced to Earth. But would they let him handle it? Nooooo! Instead, they’d dispatched one of their assassins. The agency took care of its own, they explained, even – and especially – when that meant really taking care of them.

Well, if that was the way Active Measures wanted to play it, he’d play it the same way. He’d tell their hit man about the sudden manifestation of orgone energy near Zenith. Right. After he’d reported in, and been kept cooling his heels for a while. And if the trail had gone cold by the time he got to the scene? Well, fuck him. Fuck the agency.


Evana was also furious. She’d been hard at work on the disinformation project to end all disinformation projects. The thing about disinformation was that it could never look like what it was. You couldn’t just invite one of the tabloids to cover a close encounter of the third kind. You had to make them think they’d just stumbled onto it.

They had everything set up. Big outdoor rock concert on in Roswell, with no less than Britney Spears as the headliner. The shapeshifters were trained and in place, ready to morph into Grays and suddenly appear on the stage as alien fans of hers. What a photo op! No crude drawings or men in rubber suits this time! They’d look like Grays, they’d actually be Grays – until they morphed back to human and vanished into the crowd. And John Q. Public would forget about her kind of aliens for a while.

She’d been interrupted a couple of days ago by a Messenger who’d wanted her to go on some wild goose chase to assist – assist? – a renegade Arion? All right, she’d gone there, left her a weapon. Wasn’t that enough? Only now this, a CNN report on what she realized had to be an orgone explosion in the same place. Did the renegade have a death wish? And now the concert had been postponed. Some sort of bomb scare. Now who could have called that in, she wondered. Well, the directive had been clear, in any case. She had her marching orders. Flying orders, to tell the truth.


Mallard ached all over. It didn’t matter: he loved every ache. The bed was a wreck. He didn’t care. The sheets were still drenched with her fragrant juices: how could he ever part with them?

Sha’Kira had left the bedroom. Maybe she was downstairs getting something to eat. Velorians did eat, didn’t they?

Feeling a call of nature, he swung off the bed to head for the bathroom. But his legs were stiff, and he stumbled against her book bag, knocking it over. Out tumbled her textbooks, papers, wig, theatrical makeup kit – and a small box. It was of some dark plastic material, featureless except for the words: In Case.

Mallard had never seen it before, and Sha’Kira had never mentioned it. Was it additional makeup? Curiosity overcame him, and he opened the box. Inside was something that looked like a sword hilt, except that there was no sword attached to it. Nothing but a short stub of some crystalline material..

It had to be a weapon, he realized.

He slipped his right hand around it. It fit perfectly. There were two buttons within easy reach of his fingers. A weapon must be simple to use, he knew, or it was no use in an emergency. It might be hard to use skillfully, but the mechanics had to be simple. The trigger on a gun had to be in just the right place, as these buttons were in just the right place.

Better be careful, very careful.

He looked around the room, then at the window. There. He put down the weapon, stepped over to the window, raised it. He picked up the weapon again, aimed it out the window. Aim upwards, he thought. Don’t risk any accidents.

He pushed one of the buttons. Nothing happened. He tried the other. A thin, barely visible line appeared, ending in a red dot about a meter away. He tried the first button again. The line lengthened. He found that if he held the button down, it could reach a maximum length of about five meters. Like Niven’s variable sword, only with a longer range. Versatile, he thought: good for close-in fighting or an ambush.

The parallel with Niven’s imaginary weapon notwithstanding, he wasn’t sure how to use it properly. Did you stab with it? Slash? The answer, or at least one answer, came quickly: his hand had wavered, enough for the weapon to cut a small hole in the screen. He tried it on a small dead branch on a tree near the window. The branch was sliced neatly and fell to the ground.

This is too dangerous.

And one other thing:

It wasn’t meant for us. It must be for…..

That was too frightening to think about. He shut off the weapon, was about to return it to its box, when he heard a commotion downstairs. Shouting. A loud male voice that sounded to him like a bad imitation of a Klingon. Then the very house began to shake. There were sounds of furniture and even walls smashing.

XXXIV (mostly by Sharon Best)

Sha’Kira reacted too slowly to the sudden appearance of a Prime in the kitchen, a male. Her first impulse was to look upward through the ceiling to make sure Mallard was safe. He was standing at the bedroom window, holding something.

By the time she blinked her focus back to the kitchen, the Prime grabbed a handful of blonde hair and bent her head backward, tearing her fragile clothing from her chest with a brush of his heavily tendoned hand. She did not fight back. How could she? He was an Arion warrior. She was Arion.

Yet her thoughts grew frantic as he held her tighter, his hand closing painfully over one breast in a grip that was more exploitive than effective. He was trying to hurt her. He was here to retrieve her, possibly even to kill her. He was no different than the Velorians. He was the enemy. Her body suddenly flexed like naked, living steel, and she jerked free of his grip, shoved him backward. Hard.

He flew the length of the country kitchen to crash back into the old chimney that made up the far wall. Pots and pans flew in all directions as the chimney partially collapsed, burying him under a shower of basketball-sized rocks. But only for a moment; he sprang back, smashed his fist into Sha’Kira’s stomach, doubling her over as his knee slashed upward at supersonic speed. A blaze of sparks from igniting skin oils marked the contact of knee and forehead.

The Prime took advantage of Sha’Kira’s daze to dig his powerful fingers into Sha’Kira’s mane to slam her head down on her knee a second time. Sha’Kira saw stars, and staggered backward, half-blinded and fell to all fours, only to be driven elbow-deep into the concrete floor as the Arion delivered a powerful blow between her shoulder blades. A second blow smashed her face inches deep into that same concrete. The bright stars in her eyes turned dimmer.

Both angry and terrified now, Sha’Kira focused her remaining consciousness into fighting back. She jerked her arms from the floor, shattered concrete flying, and lashed out with her legs to upend the Prime. She threw herself at him, impacting like a runaway locomotive, wood counters splintering. But he came right back, turning into a blur of steel muscle and harder-than-steel fists. Sha’Kira was on the defensive, resorting to crossing her arms over her face as the Prime tore at her, tackling her, grabbing for her arms and legs and hair, taking her down.

He was going to fuck her, that much was clear. It was a predictable tactic, one used to subdue Velorians, the goal to force their opponent into Ples’tathy, that continuously libidinous state that would ensure that she was unable to fight back. Sha’Kira lashed out with heat vision and spittle as the Prime loomed hugely over her, his grin undiminished by the fireworks of his burning face oils, his superhuman organ dwarfing even a power drill. He threw himself into his deadly rape.

Captain Aper’tos drove himself into the Mutant. A force best measured in double digits of tons coursed through the Mutant’s body and into Sha’Kira’s pelvis, smashing her buttocks deep into the poured concrete floor. She gasped as the wild animalistic thrusts slammed her again and again into the floor. She felt a wild heat filling her.

Yes, the captain was doing his job well, pushing past her resistance, penetrating her, evoking the primitive response of a Supremis woman. Reflexes that were triggered by the invulnerable nature of his organ, not to mention his energy.. It was a most unusual reaction to rape, but one that the Galen had inserted deeply into the DNA of every Supremis. A gift or a curse, it could be used as either.

Sha’Kira’s curses, they were clearly that despite the unknown language, came in time with the wild shaking of the house. Mallard was thrown off his feet a dozen times as the foundation creaked and groaned, yet he made his way downstairs and toward the kitchen, toward the source of the commotion.

He used thw doorframe to steady himself as he peered through the door. Sha’Kira was spreadeagled on her back. A huge man, more bear than human, was lying on top, his frantic thrusts making it clear that he was fucking Sha’Kira.

She had told him that the Arions were out to kill her. Was this their idea of killing? He couldn’t bear her screams of pleasure – even louder, if that were possible, than those she had given him just yesterday. She was oblivious to anything and everything but her new lover – a lover of her own kind, as he could never be.

The Arion, facing away from him as he fucked her missionary fashion, seemed just as oblivious. Did he know that Mallard was standing just ten feet away? Did he even care? At that moment, Sha’Kira made brief eye contact with him. Could her expression be – pleading?

Don’t think. Just act. He switched on his weapon, extended it to maximum range, brought it down slowly and deliberately. The layer sword touched the Arion’s back, cut into it. Screaming in pain, the Prime did exactly the wrong thing, springing upward right into and through the monomolecular blade. He was sliced neatly in two, his blood pouring onto Sha’Kira as the separate parts fell astride her.

Mallard felt numb. It could have been her was all he could think.

Sha’Kira seemed numb, too. She just lay there for several moments. Finally she got to her feet.

"Have I done amiss?" Mallard asked, fearing that he might have.

"No," she said. "He would have killed me."

"But why…. why were you?"

"Instinct. Our only weakness. I’m sorry you had to see it. Really."

"I don’t think I could have borne it if he’d killed you. To have that happen…. again. To have failed you."

"But you didn’t fail."

"Only by chance. Only by a miracle."

"Perhaps some miracles are meant to happen."

"But never to be repeated. I could never do this again. Never."


The shower was still working. Mallard and Sha’Kira had cleaned up, after concealing what was left of the assassin under a tarp in the basement. They had put the variable sword in the safe in his study. They weren’t sure what to do next. The decision was made for them when the FBI men announced themselves at the front door.

Only humans, Mallard thought. They could deal with humans. They went back downstairs to let them in.

There were three of them, guns drawn, immediately taking classic G-man poses: one in the center looking forward; the others angled slightly to the left and right to make a visual sweep of the room.

"You’re fucked," said the leader.

"Larry, Curly and Moe, I presume," said Mallard. He didn’t care what they thought of him, or even what they did to him. "Or should that be Jerry, Curly and Moe?"

"You think this is funny, fuckface? Hands behind your head! Her too."

Mallard complied, but Sha’Kira ignored Litton.

"I said hands behind your head!" Litton barked at her.

Sha’Kira finally complied, but used the occasion to thrust her breasts at the agents. Curly and Moe were obviously entranced. Litton tried to ignore her, looking around and past her to survey the surroundings – the wreckage.

"Either you got hit by a tornado, or you must have had a really wild party," he said. "Are indoor demolition derbies the in-thing these days? And what’s a prime piece of tail like her doing with you, anyway?"

"No accounting for taste," Mallard observed, his sprits somehow lifting.

"Well, she’s underage nookie, that’s for sure. And you’re both naked. Like I said, you’re fucked."

Mallard was actually beginning to feel his best self. Next to an Arion Prime, these bozos were a joke. He decided to treat them accordingly.

"She’s a friend," he ventured. "In times like these, it’s always good to have friends you can count on, wouldn’t you agree?"

"Yeah, well when this gets out, you won’t be able to count on any others. And I don’t think she’ll be much use to you. So let’s cut the crap. You are under arrest. You have the right to—"

"She has her uses," Mallard said. "Sha’Kira, I think it’s time to collect their weapons."

He was sure she’d play this like a true Velorian, and he wasn’t disappointed. Sha’Kira, still holding her arms behind her head, began to step forward. The FBI men hesitated for a second or two, then opened up. Mallard, knowing what was coming, had hit the floor.

A hail of bullets struck the blonde goddess, who reacted only by striking a series of erotic poses as they bounced off her invulnerable body. Those that hit her torso rebounded in fairly simple trajectories, but the rounds that struck her breasts flew off in an enchantingly complex pattern – some to the left and right, some to the floor and ceiling, or in various combinations of vectors, depending on the angle of impact.

Sha’Kira teased the agents further by masturbating herself, thrusting her pelvis forward in obvious invitation as she did so. Then she stepped forward and grabbed Litton’s automatic right out of his hand. The other agents froze in terror.

"Can’t you even shoot straight?" she purred as she thrust the barrel against her engorged clit and began firing. "Mmmm, that’s more like it. Oh yes, yes, yes." The rest was a series of gasps and moans, until the gun was empty and she was fulfilled.

Mallard surveyed the scene. Curly had wet his pants. Moe had fainted. And Litton was just standing there speechless as Sha’Kira collected the other guns, then proceeded to crush all three weapons between her breasts before letting them tumble to the floor.

Mallard got to his feet, his eyes wide. He felt as proud as if he'd done it all himself.

"Like I said, it’s always good to have friends in times like these. And she’s my friend. Aren’t you, Sha’Kira?"

"Very good friends," she said sexily.

Litton tried to say something, but only a croaking sound came out.

"And the thing is, she has other friends," Mallard continued. "People like her. People who aren’t going to like you. And you don’t have anyone to turn to. No X-Files. No Fox Mulder. Not in this continuum. Do you understand that?"

Litton could still only croak, but nodded his head after a fashion.

"So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to collect Curly and Moe. You’re going to go through the front door and down the walk. You’re going to get into your car. You’re going to drive back to your office. You will report to no one. Kapish?"

Litton nodded again.

"Furthermore, you won’t discuss what happened here – even among yourselves. Did I mention that Sha’Kira’s people also have super hearing? Well, I’m mentioning it now. And they’re all over the place. Isn’t that right, Sha’Kira."

"Where you least expect it," she agreed.

"And what she did with the guns, they can do with your heads. So you’d better put those heads together and come up with something else to account for the time you’ve spent coming out here today. It’s 20 miles back to Zenith. Maybe that will be enough to think of something tellable…. Bye, bye."

Somehow Litton managed to rouse Curly and Moe and they managed to find their way out. Mallard never heard from them again. But their job performance was so poor that the FBI invited, nay encouraged them to take early retirement. Litton ended up as a rent-a-cop at Monstro Mart. He was able to make it through the day there. But for some reason, he got nervous every time a statuesque blonde walked into the store.


Mallard wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but suddenly there was another blonde goddess in the room. Only this one was dressed is a silly red and blue uniform out of a comic book. She looked vaguely familiar, but he had no idea who she was or what she was doing here. One thing for sure: she didn’t look like a happy camper.

"Well, here’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into," the newcomer said "The usual thing. I suppose you’ve got some hare-brained scheme to save the world. Don’t tell me. I can guess."

"He talked me out of it," Sha’Kira said. "Or I talked myself out of it, with his help."

"What’s going on here?" Mallard interjected.

"Earthling, you’re hardly on the need-to-know list," the newcomer said. "It’s bad enough you even know about us. But I suppose little Sha’Kira here would have to go slumming among the natives."

"Are you going to kill me now?" Sha’Kira asked, as if there were no other option.

"Skietra! If we were going to do that, we’d have done it already. No, we’re just going to have to clean up things as best we can, and figure out what to do with you."

"How did you find me?"

"With difficulty. You’ve caused us no end of trouble. We had to pull a whole squad of Kecklavians off the Gray Project, and just when we had things all set to get a really good spread about the Grays into the Weekly World News."

The newcomer surveyed the damage.

"What happened here?"

"A Prime happened."

"Where is he?"


"Well, at least you found the weapon one of our agents left for you."

"I never found it," Sha’Kira confessed. "I was…. busy."

The newcomer looked at her, then at Mallard, then back at Sha’Kira.

"Frankly, he doesn’t look like that much of a distraction," she opined. "But if you really didn’t find it, then how….?"

"He used the weapon," Sha’Kira said. "He saved me."

"How can this be?" asked the newcomer.

For the most part, the newcomer had been ignoring Mallard. But the mention of the Weekly World News had triggered a memory. He thought he knew who she was.

"Sometimes we Terrans can be resourceful," he interrupted. "Isn’t that true… Evana?"

Startled, the newcomer turned toward him. "How could you—"

"It seems that you were doing a little slumming yourself a few years ago. At least, that’s what the slummee told the Weekly World News."

"Lies, all lies!" Evana protested. "And why would a college professor be reading—"

"A tabloid? I wouldn’t, usually. But every once in a while they come up with a real zinger. Like the time they had a story about the Grays wanting Newt Gingrich to run for president, only when one of them showed up at his door, Gingrich tried to kick him out at first and then said, ‘Oh, sorry; I thought you were Sally Jessy Raphael.’"

"But that was one of our stories."

"You really need better writers," he suggested. "I take it your Dutch treat wasn’t one of them?"

"He wasn’t Dutch. He….."

The cat was definitely out of the bag, and Evana knew it.

"And after all I did for him," she sighed. "Well, you’re a writer… among other things. I suppose I know what to expect from you."

"Nothing of the sort. But I do have a request. And I want you to take it seriously. It’s for Sha’Kira. But I need to talk with her first. Will you give me leave?

"Until my friends arrive. It won’t be long."

Friends? That could be good or bad, depending…. Evana didn’t elaborate, but left the house for the time being. Mallard took Sha’Kira to his study.

"Whatever happens, this has to be the end," he told her. "You almost died today. I meant what I said before: I could never bear to see a woman I cared for die again. And I could never hope to stop it."

"Reddick –"

"No, hear me out. There is another reason, even more compelling. Perhaps we were meant to happen. I don’t know. But we were never meant to last. You could become an addiction for me, I know. But I could never become one for you. You need your own kind. I don’t know which would happen first, your growing bored or my becoming pathetic. But it would happen. Inevitably. It has to end here, cleanly, without reproach or regret."

"The man of words again. But you speak truly, just the same."

"You don’t belong here. But the Arions will be looking for you here. And they won’t all be as stupid as the one today. You can never be safe here. But there are other worlds. Worlds where you could lose yourself. And perhaps find yourself. You believed that the Velorians would show you no more mercy than the Arions. But that hasn’t happened. I don’t think it’s going to. I think Evana will listen to reason."

He left unsaid the bitterest secret of his heart. The Arion Prime had shattered beyond repair the fantasy he had shared with her. In the heat of passion, he had been able to forget what he had known from the start, when he had thought she was just some soldier gone AWOL in a galactic war.

Sha’Kira’s physical invulnerability had become his emotional invulnerability. As long as nothing could hurt her, it was if nothing could hurt him. But she could be hurt, after all. Even killed.

Still, he had saved her, for now, as he had been unable to save Myra. There was some comfort in that. Evana might yet grant her safe passage offworld; that would be a greater comfort. But there was no ultimate comfort, no ultimate security, on Earth or in the heavens. As Walter Skinner had once told Mulder on The X-Files, "Every life, every day, is in danger. That’s just life." He could live with that now. He could go on.


When Evana returned, she was not alone. With her were several nondescript men.

"As you can see, I have brought some friends, who can handle this situation more satisfactorily," she explained.

"Handle what?" Mallard asked, still nervous about Evana’s intentions for Sha’Kira.

"The damage, for one thing," Evana said.

She snapped her fingers. The nondescript men suddenly took on the appearance of Ben Litton and a few of his Pi Gamma buddies.

"Shapeshifters," Mallard observed. "Just like the hybrid clones on—"

"Only they don’t have green blood."

"I think I see your plan."

"They’ll dispose of the body, of course. And the blood. They have the right tools for the job. In fact, they’ll dispose of the entire incident. Sha’Kira was never here last night. Neither were you. Some enemies of yours took advantage of your absence to vandalize your home. They’re still here. Nobody saw them come, of course, but plenty of people will see them leave. I’ll leave it to you to ensure that you were seen elsewhere."

Have to call Ed, Mallard thought. I owe him a call anyway. They’d work it out. They’d agree that he’d stayed at Ed’s place over the weekend. His wife Helen was back East visiting relatives. Nobody would be the wiser.

"You’ve been more than accommodating," he told Evana. "But there is still one thing left unresolved. Something I have to say, even if I have no right to."

"What do you have to say?" Evana asked.

"Only this: I do not know you. I do not know your world. But I know this woman. She is good. She is true. She has told me that she cannot live safely among you. She cannot live safely here. I cannot help her. Do for her what I cannot. Find a new life for her, or let her find one. Somewhere. Anywhere but here. Buy a legend for a lady."

"This was what I already had in mind," Evana said. "You are an exceptional man, for a Terran. And you have done the right thing for Sha’Kira, only for the sake of doing the right thing. Few do that, on this world on any other."

"You can do this?"

"It’s done," Evana said. "Protectors are granted a certain amount of latitude. And where it isn’t granted, we….. improvise. You need not worry for Sha’Kira."

"You’ll be wanting this," said Mallard. While he was in the study, he had retrieved the variable sword.

"Indeed," Evana agreed, accepting the weapon. "Is there anything else?"

"Nothing," he said. "I think our business here is done."

"You ask nothing. Nevertheless, virtue should not have to go unrewarded."

Mallard felt a sense of dislocation. Just fatigue, he supposed.

"That is entirely unnecessary," he said.

"It has already been done."

"What has already been done?"

"You will know when it happens. But for now, the hour is at hand."

Sha’Kira stepped forward.

"Goodbye," she said. "I will always remember you."

"Live long and prosper. You have given me back my life, in more ways than one."

"As have you mine."

"One last thing," he Mallard said. "I kept forgetting,"

He handed her "Catherine’s" Tolkien essay, graded A.

Evana and Sha’Kira let him follow them out back. They took off together, vanished into the sky. He never saw them again. It was only later that he noticed the missing time. By then, he had gotten some clothes on, and set off across country to avoid being seen from the road. He still had to square things with Ed, and set up his end of the cover story.

As for Sha’Kira, the Velorians bought her a legend, and she became a legend. But that is another story.


In the weeks and months afterwards, Reddick Mallard had been busy, and not just with classes. He’d started writing again and, as usual, on neglected writers. His latest piece was on the thrillers of Robert L. Duncan and Ralph Peters, who were poles apart politically yet somehow shared the same sense of world-weary heroism.

He’d also bombarded various journals with letters outlining his curriculum ideas. A couple had actually printed them. And of course, the response had been mostly negative – "an academic witch doctor peddling quack remedies to the world" was one of the kinder epithets.

"Quack remedies?" Was that coincidence, or…. What the hell, he didn’t mind. He’d received some kind letters from old friends like Tom Roberts at UConn. That made up even for the mealy-mouthed missive he’d gotten from one of his critics who’d confessed that he might actually have something, but of course "things being as they are," he could never say so in print.

And then, from out of the blue, had come the letter from the trustees of Port Charles University. They wanted to meet with him to discuss his ideas. Mallard had never even heard of Port Charles University, and when he looked it up he could see why: compared to PCU, even Winnemac was like Berkeley as far as fame and prestige went.

The meeting had gone well. They’d actually offered him a contract as dean of their school of arts and sciences to implement his program. Could he still teach on the side? Of course, they told him. That pleased him, too. Upstate New York was Joyce Carol Oates country, and yet as far as he could determine, she had never been mentioned in their literature classes.

Mallard had nothing to regret leaving behind in Mohalis. He had made up with Ed; they’d stay in touch. They’d talk about things. Only not about Sha’Kira. They had a kind of silent understanding about that. They had stuck to their story, and the police had tired of asking them about Catherine Smith. Nobody was crediting the rantings of Vera Voinovich, who was now in an asylum.

He sold what was left of his house as a fixer-upper. He left the furniture, such as it was, bringing only Myra’s paintings and other personal effects like books and CDs. There was room for them in a furnished apartment he’d rented near Bannister’s Wharf. He’d see about a house later.

So here he was, six months after that bolt from the blue, at this big party to celebrate the kick-off of an experimental program that would, as board chairman Ron Wenneker said with great enthusiasm but no great eloquence, "really put Port Charles University on the map."

For some reason, they were holding the party at a night club owned by the ex-wife of a reputed mobster. Maybe it had something to do with what Wenneker called the "money people," who were evidently expected to help swell the endowment on this occasion.

Mallard had met the money men. One of them, Nik Cassadine, looked as if he were hardly old enough to have made it through college himself; and where others were attired in coats and ties, he’d shown up in a leather jacket. But he was some sort of a prince and ruler of a global industrial empire, he was told. The other, Edward Quartermaine, was an 80-year old grouch whose family holding company ELQ did…. nobody seemed to know exactly what it did.

He’d greeted the money men with proper respect and enthusiasm. He could play the game. But now the game was over with, for the moment, and he was cast adrift. He was circulating around the room with no particular aim in mind when he caught a whiff of – honey and wildflowers?

No blondes in sight, except for that obnoxious Carly woman who owned the club. Surely no Velorian goddesses. Just – could it be Joyce Carol Oates herself? No, of course not; she taught at Princeton. But definitely her type. Mousy but nice. And perhaps more than she seemed.

Mallard had always been amazed that such a seemingly demure woman as Oates could write with such passion in her upstate New York novels like We Were the Mulvaneys, or What I Lived For – where her feeling for male sexuality was uncanny. It wasn’t any of his business of course, but he imagined that she was a volcano between the sheets.

The sensory hallucination centered on this woman before him; that much was clear. She glanced his way, saw his name badge. He supposed she’d want to talk about the curriculum, but….

"Reddick Mallard? I loved that piece you wrote about Rogue Moon and Roadside Picnic."

And hardly anyone had read it, he thought.

"Budrys himself had already made the connection," he said modestly. "I only followed it."

"I hadn’t known that. But you followed it all the way. It’s always interesting to read about how ideas can take off in unexpected directions."

"And I’d never have known. Nobody here would have, I expect. Except for the Macmillan translations. Score one for the Cold War. These days you couldn’t get anyone to translate Russian sf at gunpoint. There was this whole school that came after the Strugatskys, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Something called turbo-realism. I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s about."

"Well, I might be able to help with that."

"You’re a translator?"

"Not exactly. Actually, I’m in computer sciences. We have some really good geeks here, and we’re working on a new program."

"Like Babel Fish?"

"Oh, much better than Babel Fish. No lost words, hardly any lost syntax. Just scan in the original text, feed it into the program and…. Well, not as good as Mirra Ginsburg, but good enough for research. And if you’re having a problem with a particular passage, there’s always human backup."

"Fascinating," he said. It was. She seemed to be fascinating, too.

"I’m open to suggestions," she said. "For some demonstration texts. If I can borrow half your brain. By the way, I’m—"

"Sharon Zulawski. I can read name badges, too. And of course you can borrow half my brain."

He’d want to borrow her own brain, he knew. He glanced at her body. Not bad! He’d want to borrow that, too…..