Dec 06

Children with Adult Minds

Here in the early part of December, this year’s National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo to participants, is fresh in my mind. I wrote Ik. Ik first saw the light of the real universe as a character in a role-playing game my brother-in-law invented. My first character, the one before her, was a rather non-original sword-and-sorcery type barbarian whose name I don’t remember, but mundaneness is what happens when you have to create a character in a matter of minutes.

Ik, Iznik the Destroyer, Kolaika Jinnlexa Kälienen came later, after I had time for my imagination to ruminate: something truly bizarre: an unassuming, frail-looking little girl who could be your worst nightmare, with the power to inflict ultimate agony with a mere thought. She possessed some unusual magic, too, but that didn’t make it into a science fiction novel. There, instead, she flies a stolen enemy starship.

I never actually played Ik in the game, but it dawned on me at some point that her story could make a cool novel. I had a very rough outline for years, but as I’m a productive pantser (those who write by the seat of their pants with minimal plotting ahead of time) the story came together quite well as November progressed.

One of Ik’s prominent features is that her mother had been a Golden Aura telepath. She would have been one, too, very usual in the next generation. Thus, her mind developed in constant awareness of adult consciousness, and so was born with an adult cognitive ability. She’s 11 years old, but able to talk and reason like a college professor. She was born with knowledge of space travel, weapons, sex, and exactly who the enemy was that she needed to destroy. And she was acutely aware of why she needs to fear puberty.

Now suppose that the next child you meet has such a mind.  Let’s say a six-year-old, who understands advanced mathematics, military strategy, social psychology, electronics and other technology, and has the clear understanding why she has to keep her true nature secret.

How could you know? Might she, like Ik, possess telepathic powers that allow her to manipulate your mind? If you were a child molester, would she deal with you as ruthlessly as Ik does? Could she manage to play the role of an innocent child? Would she have to ability to cope with adolescent emotions? What if she can’t?  If she’s evil, of course, you have a problem, and generally, evil children make for more thrilling movies.

If she’s basically good, you probably don’t have a problem, or do you? Ik’s prime directive is justice, but she’s messed up, with a demon inside you can’t imagine. She’s not entirely stable, prone to fits of rage and perverting justice into vengeance. She doesn’t hide her power, so even after saving Tockmulle on multiple occasions, the townsfolk remain terrified of her.

So there’s that little girl you just met. Six years old. Your mental equal or perhaps your superior, playing with dolls and erector sets just to throw you off. She’s manipulating your life, controlling your thoughts and actions, and you don’t have a clue. You might be reading this blog because she sent you here for some cryptic purpose.

Is she good or evil?

Ik is not completely original, it turns out. I didn’t copy her from any particular character, nor did I think of any others as I was writing, but I suspect writers retain a lot in their subconscious minds that influence their writing. After the fact, I thought of other such characters in science fiction.

Alia Atreides, from the Dune series by Frank Herbert. She got to be the way she was from effects of the spice, not telepathic linkage, but she’s nearly as dangerous as Ik. Alia, like most of Herbert’s characters, ends up psycho.

Jimmy Holden, from The Fourth R (a.k.a. The Brain Machine) by George. O. Smith. He got his adult mind through an education machine his parents invented, and has to use that ability to hide from his godfather, who’s trying to get the plans from him before murdering him.

Village of the Damned Children

Ik might fit right in here, though she wears white and is completely human and scarier. It could be these children were a subconscious inspiration for her.

The half-alien children in Village of the Damned. I cite the 1960 original because it’s vastly superior to the 1995 knock-off. They’re not exactly evil (or are they?) but they’re absolutely ruthless and unforgiving when it comes to protecting the project, whatever it is. Of all these, they’re probably the most like Ik in temperament, though individually much weaker in power.

I’m sitting here trying to think of other examples. I’m sure they’re there, but they’re not coming to mind. I’m not counting ordinary evil kids like Rhoda and Damien or mere geniuses like Peewee. Can you help me out? What others are there?

Will you ever look at your own kids the same way? The next child you see might be that one you need to fear….

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Oct 06

Beware of Ik!

Must be half demon if only half. She’s got a soul darker than the devil himself, and more fire and power, too. Notice how folks are scared to sit too close? … Pretty as an angel and quiet as smoke.  But I can guarantee that you don’t want to find out what’s on the inside.

That’s how Kilmor first describes Kolaika Jinnlexa Kälienen of Torprällin to the warrior Gurk. Of course, no one calls her that; they call her “Ik”, a contraction of “Iznik, the Destroyer.”  And you most emphatically do not want to fuck with her.


My first rendering of the ghost-like Ik in a random environment. I can’t seem to give her a scary enough look.

You should run from her into the arms of Freddy Kreuger.  Ask Pinhead for protection. Go on a date with Jason or Michael Myers in hopes she won’t know where you are. That’s if you’re a person who hurts others. If not, well breathe easy, she might even save your life. Either way, you do not want to try to hurt her. You. Will. Regret. It.

Ik is one of my many strong girl characters, but one much more frightening than most. She can inflict pain so brutal that it lies beyond the bounds of human imagination. Terror so penetrating it drives out all sanity. Despair so dismal that Azkaban’s dementors can only aspire to her level. And other dark emotions to which mankind has never even given a name as they are not natural to humans. She does this with a thought, and you can be 100 miles away. Gurk only experienced her wrath for a second, but during that time, if she had allowed him, he would have gladly cast himself into hell to find relief.

She uses this hellish power with enthusiasm against the cruel Blorzong. It is her goal to track down every last one and torture them to death. She is fully human, except that one foreign essence inside, and 11 years old.  She speaks several galactic languages fluently, handles exotic weapons from multiple worlds, and flies a Blorzong playship.

How she came to possess such a faculty is left a mystery through most of the book, but it does have to do with the Blorzong themselves and why she hates them so much. To avoid giving it away, I’ve included the explanation in a spoiler block for those who have to know right away.

Spoiler Inside: How Kolaika became Ik SelectShow

Gurk, as a fearsome warrior, is dismayed that she is mentally tougher than he. He is horrified that she has killed more than he.  He cannot touch her with his sword, as she anticipates his every move before he moves. He watches her hold a broken arm in the fire until her hand is blackened and cracked without crying out, without wincing, with no expression whatsoever.

When she asks him to go with her to help her punish Blorzong, he agrees. He knows she has a terrible power and is undefeatable in battle. Those skills he hopes to learn for himself, but he has no concept of what he is getting into.

This is what I want to write for NaNoWriMo this year. If I have time. I’m spending a lot of time in classrooms now. Wish me luck.

It occurs to me that Ik looks quite a bit like Ashley in The Emperor’s Daughter. Ashley has more golden blond hair, shorter, somewhat wavy, and blue eyes not nearly as startling. She is a few months older. But she has a power of a different sort.  Maybe that’s why I sometimes get those two confused.

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Feb 24

Would You Recognize Your Characters?

I mean, if you were walking down the street after leaving the bank, and one of your characters was walking the other way, would you recognize him?

Three Girls

Cindy Williams, a lucky shot of Kristy McNichol where she looks surprisingly like Kristy Zeigenfeld, and Sally Field

I got thinking about that because American Graffiti was just on. I get most into the stories of Steve and Laurie and John and Carol, if you want to know, but that’s really just an aside to this post. The significant part is that while it was playing, I was proofing The White Shamitz. I happened to look up at a time when the lighting and camera struck Cindy Williams (Laurie) just right, and I thought, “You know, she looks a little like Kristy Zeigenfeld”. Kristy, you see, is the protagonist of The White Shamitz.

So I wasted some time on Google looking up pictures of Cindy Williams when she was young. No, none of them were exactly right. I tried others. Kristy McNichol comes really close in some of her pictures. In fact, the one here is really close, but Kristy Z’s features are less angular than Kristy M’s (the name match is coincidental). Maybe if you morphed Cindy Williams and Kristy McNichol together? I don’t know; that would be a fair amount of work to satisfy a mere curiosity. I checked Sally Field, and she could work into the mix, too. But then, if you’re free to morph together an infinite number of real people, you can always get the look you want.


The boy who came to represent the soon-to-be world-famous Lesley Kellerman

In the end, I couldn’t find anyone who looks just like Kristy Zeigenfeld. I thought of Jennifer Love Hewitt as a teenager while I was washing dishes, but she looks more like Wendy Miller, a character in Korvoros. Speaking of Korvoros, I totally failed to get a good image of Risha Dyrrya. And I didn’t try to come up with images of some of the aliens. If you found someone who looks like a Shiiskituuki it would probably be because he has a rare, horrific disease.


The twin sisters who came to represent Nekalee (left) and Ritee (right)

What about my other characters? Well, you can’t always come as close as you want. The picture I licensed to represent Lesley Kellerman in A Hierarchy of Gods looks only a little like him, but he was as close as I could find in time for that post. Now, the two twins (yes, they’re really both girls), several pictures of whom I licensed to represent Nekalee and Ritee, are actually amazingly close. One of them ended up on the cover, and in that image is almost perfect. Better, one sister was made up more boyish than the other, and she made a good Ritee. Even more fantastic are the pink flowers in “Nekalee’s” hair; a romantic tradition on Trarsa. Sometimes you can luck out like that.


Jaxidreshny, the wildest ride Erik has ever experienced

Now, this image of Jaxidreshny (The Humanity Experiment) is almost exact because, you see, I went to the effort to actually model her in 3D, so I had the power to tweak all her facial features until I got them right. That takes some work and knowledge of modeling software (Daz Studio in this case) but it was the only way I could get her eyes the way they are supposed to be. If they look a little big, it’s because they are. Kyattoni eyes are relatively larger than human eyes, but not enough to stand out as bizarre on the street. Although I did a good job with her, I’m less satisfied with my renderings of her sister Triknikanthy.


Mellia, who is so adorable, but more fearsome than she looks

If you want big eyes, there’s always Mellia. She’s a Telosian also in The White Shamitz. Astorans have big eyes like that, too, but I don’t need a picture of Kambrik Zimz right now. For Mellia, I licensed a picture of a human girl and PhotoPainted (not Photoshopped!) the big eyes. She’s close, but only I would notice the difference.

Timothy Saugers looks sort of like Toby McGuire in Spiderman and Bradley McKenna looks a lot like Marshall Williams in How to Build a Better Boy.

The point of all this rambling is that I have a really good idea what my characters look like. I remember reading an article, or a post, or something, maybe a tweet, maybe a Facebook status, that the writer didn’t have a good idea how his/her characters looked. They are just rather  nondescript figures even if their personalities are sharply defined.

So I was wondering why some writers visualize their characters so accurately, and others don’t. I know when I write, my imagination is intensely visual; I see detail down to the grain density in rock. Maybe it’s connected to what type of learner you are, whether you’re left or right brained, whether or not your mother dropped you on your head when you were a baby (I don’t believe mine did).

So in the end, I don’t know why some writers do and some writers don’t. I’d be interested to hear what your visual imagination is like and if you have any suggestions about why we’re all so different.


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Feb 23

Coming Soon – 2016

Yes, I know The White Shamitz was supposed to be out in 2015. It would have been had certain things not happened, most of which you probably don’t want to hear about. The one that might interest you is that a writer friend talked me into participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so I spent most of November writing a novel. It’s the first in the Invisible War series, and now it’s something else in the queue to revise and publish.

But not to worry. The White Shamitz is coming along fine, and I expect it to be out in March. Close behind it should be Nemesis, and I might succeed in getting The Humanity Experiment out this year. If so, that’ll be a record for me. Either way, these three are next in the pipeline.

The White Shamitz

The White ShamitzBook Three in The Saga of Banak-Zuur

Following a freak catastrophe aboard Jupiter Station, a pair of young people accidentally invoke the Red Shamitz and find themselves on a world at least millions of light-years from Earth. There, they discover the entire Shamitz system, technology left by a vanished race, technology so advanced that humans can’t begin to comprehend it. There are six Shamitzen on Shraka, but a seventh, the enigmatic White Shamitz, a primary control system for the other six, is on its way, and once it achieves cohesion, it will have virtually unlimited power to create and destroy. Unfortunately, it seems to have something against them and is making their lives miserable. Telepathy, artificial consciousness, an interstellar empire, and a non-human little girl with no voice but monumental courage. Brad and Kristy explore hundreds of worlds — and romance — before they finally discover the dazzling secret of the White Shamitz.


NemesisWhat? Duane write a police drama? Truthfully, though, you have to know it’s something weird. There is a good argument for calling this story social fantasy.

Someone is executing child molesters, and leaving behind no forensic evidence other than a hand-lettered calling card reading, “Nemesis”. Almost none of the victims are even on the police radar, so how is the perp locating them with such deadly efficiency, and how is he or she persuading them to decrypt the child pornography on their computers before they die? Completely stumped, the Philadelphia police department calls in an ex-CIA operative, now a highly-sought police consultant with the reputation for solving the impossible. When at last she makes a shocking suggestion that fits the facts, none of them can guess her idea doesn’t even come close to the truth. And the police are not the only ones seeking the executioner; the child molesters still alive are starting to fight back.

The Humanity Experiment

The Humanity ExperimentBook Four in The Saga of Banak-Zuur

Erik Sørensen is a science nerd, and naturally something of a loner, but curious about everything. When an odd little girl shows up at his door one winter morning asking him about a mysterious crystal box she has found that is bigger on the inside than the outside, he can’t resist. That decision leads him to another world, another life, another reality. He encounters Jaxidreshny, the weirdest, geekiest, but somehow sexiest girl he has ever met. He doesn’t know at the time they both are part of an experiment to learn the role of the human species in the universe, but when a mysterious force wrenches the experiment away from the experimenters for another purpose, they realize there is something grand in the works. The unknown force leads them to a parallel universe and a galaxy nearly taken over by an authoritarian empire. At the galaxy’s core: a “Spirit of War” that they can feel from thousands of light-years away. Before they can hope to solve the riddle of the Guuludin Galaxy or find a way home, they must decipher the purpose of the new experimenters.

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Jan 30

Have Spaceship — Will Travel 1: Peewee in Centerville

If  you’ve read any of this blog at all, you know that Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit — Will Travel is probably my all-time favorite science fiction book. Those who understand its virtues are uniquely blessed. In the comments following an earlier post about “Peewee” Reisfeld, another HSWT fan and I speculated on what happened later.  He was looking forward to when Peewee and Kip get married (they have to or the universe is mathematically inconsistent), and I was looking forward to what happened immediately after Heinlein’s book.  I took my extended ending and made it the start of another whole story.  There were so many loose ends remaining at the end of HSWT, one can only think that Heinlein had a sequel in mind. If so, he never wrote it.  And that forced me to.  This adventure takes them farther from Earth than they have ever been before.  The saga of Kip and Peewee continues.  I’m releasing it as a serial in this blog, and here is chapter 1. So again, starting with the last sentence Heinlein wrote….

I threw it in his face.

Ace Quiggle sat there for a moment, more in astonishment than anger, then began muttering something that sounded like, “Blub, blub, blub….”  After what I’d been through on the far side of the atmosphere, a thing like Ace Quiggle didn’t have the power to intimidate me.  The fact that pacifist Clifford Russell would cause him to wear a malt like that might have actually intimidated him.  The “blub, blub, blub” was infinitely more euphonic than his trademark “yuk-yuk-yukity-yuk” laugh.

To understand the social dynamics at Charton’s soda bar, you have to understand Ace Quiggle.  He is what happens when evolution goes awry.  Dad says that’s a common problem among our species and is frequently observed in Washington.  Mr. Charton backs him up on that.  Ace used to come in a lot with a gaggle of mindless girls.  Girls seemed to like him for some reason I could never fathom — until they got to known him, that is.  Even my ex-experimental girlfriend Elaine McMurty once dated him for about seven hours.  His girl supply seemed to be drying up as more of them had survived the experience, so he spent more time at the soda bar.  More hours there than he had ever worked at a job; I don’t know how he afforded malts.  The girls’ gain; my loss.  Even Peewee didn’t like him, and she had never met him.

Peewee.  Funny how you can get so attached to a kid, even a sassy, genius, 11-year-old brat built like a stack of soda straws, when the two of you almost spent your last hours together freezing to death on Pluto.

All that went through my mind in a split second while Ace was finishing his “blub, blub, blub,” oratory, but he finally found his tongue.  “Mr. Charton!” Ace was technically an adult, but he still called my boss “Mr. Charton.” “Did you see that?”

“I certainly did.”  For a second, I thought I might be in trouble, but it would be worth it.  To my surprise, Mr. Charton added, “Clumsiest bit of drinking I’ve ever seen, Ace.  A five-year-old can handle a malt better than that.”  He tossed Ace a towel.  “Here.  Clean up your mess.  That’ll be 35 cents.”

“But, but, but….”

I tried to be a professional soda jerk and suppress the snicker that was forming on my lips, but my efforts and Ace’s protests were swallowed by a sudden wave of commotion outside.  People were pointing, shouting and running, but not pointing in the direction they were running. They were pointing toward the sky, and it wasn’t the Fourth of July.  Inside, Mrs. Jenkins dropped her purse.

“What the….” Mr. Charton got out of his mouth.

Then I saw it, and my stomach turned inside out.  I never thought I’d see one of those things again.  It was a wormface ship, coming down smack dab in the middle of the intersection, bringing traffic to a halt.  All those horrible times I’d faced those monsters rushed through my brain like a movie running too fast, and the idea of staring into those hideous eyes again just about numbed me.  I supposed there had to be a few of the things still running around the galaxy, but the ship didn’t act like a wormface was at the controls.  It wavered clumsily, its pilot apparently trying to avoid bringing down either the telephone lines or the big sign in front of Centerville Cinema, neither of which a genuine wormface would have given a pea for.

But when the landing ramp finally extended and that spindly figure ran down it in her ubiquitous wardrobe of shorts, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, with her dolly Madame Pompadour dangling from her hand, a grin spread across my face like a Skyway Soap rainbow.  Sure, we had telephones, but not having the runt around had made the last few weeks sadly barren.

She exploded through the door.  “Kip!  Kip!”

“Peewee!  What’s wrong?” I  could tell from her face that something was; I think I know all 340 of her expressions.

Her hair might have grown a fraction of an inch since I’d seen her last, but she still looked remarkably boyish and remarkably like a fourth-grader.  Legally Patricia Wynant Reisfeld, she wasn’t anything like she looked.  As soon as she reached me, she threw her arms around me in the best bear hug she could muster, and when she had it out of her system, grabbed my arm and tugged.

“Come on!  I stopped at your house on the way and they told me where to find you.  I picked up Oscar, since I know how much you love that old rag.”

“Old rag!”  I was aghast.  “That old rag saved both our skins on the moon and on Pluto, I’ll have you remember.  I don’t talk about Madame Pompadour that way.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Kip!  I know.  Oscar’s great!  But come on.”

“And what are you doing in a wormface ship, anyway?”

“The Mother Thing gave it to me, because, you know, I already know how to fly them.  Come on!  She needs us!”

Ace was staring stupidly, which was probably the only way he knew to stare.

“You’re piloting alien spaceships again?” I asked her, not sure where to go with my questions.  Peewee could do that to a person.  “The Mother Thing is here?”

“No, not anymore.  Somewhere on the other side of the galaxy by now.  But we have to meet her on Ganymede, and it’ll take us … oh … days to get there.  I haven’t calculated the trajectory yet.  We’ve got loads of real food packed, not like last time.  And a Parcheesi game so we’ll have something to do.  Do you like Parcheesi?”

“What on earth is all this about, Peewee?”

“It’s not on Earth, silly.  There’s some trouble on Jupiter’s moons and out around Arcturus.  I’m not sure what it’s about yet, but it involves us somehow.  The Mother Thing says it’s really important!”


“Don’t worry.  Daddy has M.I.T. covered for you in case this takes longer than we think.”

“So your parents are willing you let you run off into the depths of space with me again?  After thinking you were dead the last time?”

Mrs. Jenkins, having recovered her purse and having been listening in, finally asked Peewee, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

An outraged girl glared at her and dangled Madame Pompadour threateningly in her face.  But she turned right back to me to answer the question as if she hadn’t been disturbed.

“Oh, mom’s fit to be tied, but dad says that if the galaxy needs us, the galaxy needs us, and could we please get some clarification on antigravity?  And he said he couldn’t think of anyone he’d rather have me running around space with.  Your dad said the same thing.  They talk all the time, you know, like they’re plotting something.  So are you coming?”

Nothing thrilled me more than the idea of going off with her on an adventure again, though Peewee was an adventure enough all by herself.

“I, uh….”  I wasn’t sure what to do, so I glanced at Mr. Charton.

He nodded toward the door.  “Go ahead, kid.  Your job will be here when you’re finished saving the world.  Or the universe, whichever it is.”

“Gee, thanks, Mr. Charton!  I won’t forget it!”

I’d had a hunch all along that he had a hunch what sort of things had really happened while I had been gone.  It was tough to pull anything over on Mr. Charton.

I left my apron on the counter, and as I let Peewee lead me away by the hand, I heard him say, “Close your mouth, Ace!  And clean up your mess!”

Outside was still a scene out of Day of the Triffids.  After that stupid news program that made me out to be a fool chasing after space pirates, people around town had stared at me and deluded themselves into thinking their jokes were clever.  There had only been three jokes among them, and I heard the same ones over and over.  Now, they were staring, but in a completely different way.  None of them spewed forth a joke this time.

Peewee might have experience flying these ships, be she still had to wander around Centerville a while before she found Doc. Charton's.

Peewee might have experience flying these ships, but she still had to wander around Centerville a while before she found Doc. Charton’s.

As we sprinted toward the ramp, Peewee started jabbering.

“I’m thinking about our trip,” she said.  “The distance to Jupiter now is 572 million miles.  Let’s see….  Half that’s 286 million, times 5280 is about one and a half trillion feet, divided by 16…. Let’s call it 95 billion — just an estimate — square root … 300-some thousand seconds … a little over 5000 minutes … 85 or so hours … about three and half days to turn-around at one g — I don’t want to do eight g’s again.  A week overall to Jupiter.  Check?”

“Check.”  I hadn’t really checked it.  I can enjoy the intellectual exercise, but I was a bit disoriented at the moment, and you were pretty much wasting your time checking Peewee’s calculations, anyway.

She closed the lock, and the first thing I noticed about the ship was that it smelled OK.  A wormface doesn’t really stink so much, at least as much as a nose-full of dimethyl sulfide, but it’s a smell that takes a long time to get out of your mind.  As soon as I was through, she led us up the ramp to the main level and turned us left down the corridor.  She stopped.

“Look here.”

I examined the buttons on the wall by a suspiciously familiar door.

“The The Mother Thing had some engineering things replace all those stupid holes with real buttons for beings who don’t have worm fingers.”

“Isn’t this the room Wormface had us locked up in?”

“It would be if it was — sorry, if it were; shame on me for making a fundamental grammatical error, as that is obviously in the subjunctive mood — the same ship.  But there are no prisoners in it now.”

She pushed one of the buttons and the door slid open to show the room full of polymer crates.

“Food.  All we’ll ever need.  And they put in a human kitchen.  I don’t think there are many humans left who still eat people soup.”

It was a mountain.

“That could last for years!” I protested, thinking about M.I.T. waiting for me.  “How long is this trip supposed to take?”

“Mother Thing thinks a few weeks, but … I mean … it could be longer.  But listen.  There’s another storeroom full of things like toilet paper — there’s a human bathroom on board now, too — and extra clothes.  Just in case it does take longer.”

“Just how long is she allowing for?”

Peewee grinned kind of shyly, and when that happens, you have to watch out.  “Why, Kip!  Are you saying you couldn’t put up with me for a year or two?  Dad said it’s a miracle you can put up with me at all, let alone actually like me.”

“A year or two!  Well, you, yeah.  I do like you.  But running around space and missing school?”

“Relax.  Daddy said he had M.I.T. covered for you.  I told you.”

“I thought you were talking about a week or two, not a year or two.”

“One cannot reliably predict the future, Kip.  Now let’s get this crate off the ground before the army shows up.  The outer hull’s pretty tough, but I’m not sure it’s that tough.”

She beat me to the control room, but she had been more familiar with those ships to begin with.  Someone had ripped out that wormface pedestal and put in an Earth-style seat that would swing around between the various consoles.  But right away, I noticed one confounded, antagonizing piece of hardware was missing: that walnut-shaped doodad the lack of which had left us stranded on the moon.

“Where’s the brain?”

“Oh, the engineering things fixed that stupid design, too.  The brain logic is now built in, and the ship knows who’s allowed to fly it.  The only people in the whole universe who can operate this sky buggy are you and me, and you haven’t learned yet.”

“Not even The Mother Thing?”

“Why would she?  Besides, she isn’t anatomically equipped for these controls.”

“So they figured out how everything worked.”

“Oh, in like a microsecond.  Compared with the Vegans, humans and wormfaces are both cave dwellers.  You know that.”

Peewee dropped into the seat and touched some controls that made the circle of holographic panels come on.  The wormface display dome that surrounded the control console and made it look like you were outside flashed on next.  It was spectacular on the moon, but comical in the middle of Centerville.  We could see that the townsfolk had already backed away half a block, and when Peewee started up the drive, they made it a full block.  No one was joking now.  They had all seen me leave Doc Charton’s before quitting time and walk hand-in-hand with a skinny little girl into a flying saucer — OK, an oblate spheroid, if you insist on being geometrically correct.  I didn’t give a hoot what they thought about Peewee — she was above any of them like cirrus clouds, anyway — but they’d be as nosy as a pack of wart hogs about it.  Doc’s business would be booming as they filled the place trying to get a head start on the other gossips.

A second later, as we left the ground, the crowd of rubberneckers backed even farther away.  What had they been thinking?  That we’d block that intersection forever?  Peewee was just as careful not to destroy the town on lift-off as she had been on landing, and it was only seconds later that we were on the express elevator to the sky.

It was probably about five or six minutes — though it seemed like less with all the new sensory input — before the sky turned to black and the stars came out.

“OK,” Peewee said as if she did it every day.  “I have that trajectory programmed.  We were close enough.  A little over a week to the Jupiter area.  I guess we’re done here until turn-around.”

“That easy?”

“When you have a wormface ship, yeah.  OK, let me show you around.”

The ship was organized like a donut on two levels, but I remembered that much from the last time I was on one.  All the most cool things were on the upper level.  All we would probably ever need on the lower level was the airlock and the all-terrain vehicle Peewee had mentioned that sounded like the same thing Tim and Jock had captured us in just before we would have made it to Tombaugh Station.

She opened one door rather proudly. “This is our room.”

There were two twin beds and a table clamped to the floor, and shelves clamped to the wall. Peewee already had most of the ones on her side filled with books, safely secured behind a strap to keep them in place.

“We’re supposed to share a room?” Something seemed a little unconventional about that.

She put on her indignant face.  “Are you suggesting it would be improper?”


“Wake up, Kip!  It’s you and me we’re talking about.  We survived Pluto together.  And it’s not like I’m going to slay you in your sleep.  Besides…”  She reddened a little around the eyes.  “… I told them I’d probably have trouble sleeping with just me and Madame Pompadour by ourselves.”

I gawked.  “You?  Scared?  You attacked a wormface with your bare hands!”

She shrugged.  “That doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared.  I would tell you just how scared, but I’m not allowed to talk that way.”

I could tell the moment we had walked in which bed was supposed to be mine, because it looked just like my bed at home.  But when I tested it, I found it was a lot more comfortable.  I could want to fall asleep just sitting on it.  Peewee’s looked rather like hers at home, too, but I had only been in her room once and hadn’t checked it all that closely.

Peewee sat next to me.  “Well, here we go again, Kip.”

“Do you know what this emergency is all about, Peewee?”

“Only a little.  But I know it’s something big.  Something that has the Three Galaxies so worried their gills are turning green.”

I couldn’t imagine anything worrying the Three Galaxies, not after what they did to the wormfaces’ planet.  Not after what they almost did to Earth.  That was enough to worry me even more.  Some of the Three Galaxies representatives actually did have gills, and some of those are already green.

“Anyway,” she added, quite seriously, “I’m glad we’re back together again.”

“I know.  Even on the phone all the time, it was weird not seeing your face every day.”

We stared at each other for a moment before we blurted out in near-perfect synchronization, “I missed you!”

She hugged me, and naturally, I hugged her back.  I just can’t help it when she does that.

I sat there reminiscing about our last adventure, the one that had almost killed us several times and seen us 160,000 light-years from home.  Questions I had about the way the Three Galaxies were handling things.  About what this adventure might be about.  I didn’t even notice that Peewee’s replies were getting softer and less frequent until they stopped coming altogether.

She was fast asleep against my side.

I grunted and chuckled at the same time.  It’s not hard to do.

But what the heck?  Peewee was only eleven despite her college professor intellect, she’d had a really exciting day, and she was from Princeton, where it was two hours later than in Centerville.  No wonder she’d be tired.  So I just grabbed the covers with one hand while I lowered her to the pillow beside me using the other.  She squirmed just a little to get her dolly comfortable.

So with her arm around Madame Pompadour and my arm around them both, I blew her hair out of my nose and let myself drift off toward sleep as well.  But before it overcame me, I had the curious thought that in all the universe, there was no life more precious than Peewee’s.

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