booksandstories.com

October 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

Despite life, the Universe and everything getting in the way, I have kept my promise and done this Review on time. Not that it probably matters to all you out there. As I said last month, more of you are visiting the site than ever before, and some of you actually delve far enough into the site to at least glance at the odd Review. Maybe some of you will actually read this Review. But enough of my whining. Checking the stats on visitors to the site is a tedious and yet interesting pass time. Some of you spend so little time on the site I can't understand how you can move your fingers over the keyboard so quickly. Others hang about and flit from page to page and back again. I hope some of you stay long enough to read some of the stories. Of course, you can down load them, or copy them with "save as", so I suppose the time you actually spend on the site might not be so important. But I'd like you to stay for longer.

I've read a lot about "sticky" sites, sites that entice you to stay for longer, or sites that try to get you to come back again and again. I don't really know how to do either. Being "sticky" sounds about right for me. I want you to visit and stay awhile. There's no strings attached, no adverts or banners that make me any money, no click throughs that pay me a few cents or whatever. I just want you to read and enjoy. And come back again. I know that the books are split into sections, one that's free and the other that you have to pay for. But the fee is small, it's your choice, and there are other things to read that are all free. There's all the Short Stories, the ongoing serial, and there will be more.

I never intended to write a serial, but I think what I did was write a novella. I enjoyed it because there was no pressure except for having to produce an episode a month. I think I will do some more, and I will amalgamate the Dreamer into one overall file. This will remain free as will all the others that I gradually produce. I might even revisit some of the Short Stories and characters and expand them. And I'll keep them free, so there will always be something to read when you visit.

If reading for free is what you really want, then I hope I will slowly fulfill that need. That might help you stay a little longer. As for getting you to visit in the first place, I must be doing something right. The tweaks I did to the key words may have had an effect, or maybe your visits are boosting my site's ratings. Whichever it is, I hope it continues.

Another slight change this month. I have had a go at splitting one of the Pay Chapters into frames and adding a chapter selection bar at the bottom. I wanted it to be the same as for the Free Chapters. I've done it for "An Affair Of The Heart" and it seems to work okay. One problem though is that it takes longer to reach the selected chapter because you can't cache the file. I hope it's not too annoying. Of course, if you've paid for it and copied it to your own computer, then it will be much quicker. If it works okay I will convert the remaining Pay Chapter files over the next couple of months.

Finally, I keep thinking about pictures. I don't want anything big that takes an age to load, or any fancy graphics. Just some pictures to break up some of the text. Maybe on the Trailer Pages, or on the List Page. But what kind of pictures? My stories are predominantly about women, so it seems natural that I should look for pictures of women. Not photos, but paintings. I've found a few sites that have them, but it takes ages looking through trying to find ones that fit. Most are far too erotic. Most warrior women I have seen would die of the cold before they ever went into battle. But I need contemporary images as well. I'll have to keep looking and see what I can find. If you know of any good sites, let me know.

See you.

Writing Progress

More like writing non-progress this month. I'm still on my break from "The Friendly Ambassador" but when I finish this month's Short Story I will get back to it. At last. I feel like I've been bunking off from school, not doing my homework when I should have done. It's funny how you feel like that, but I seem to be conscious of the passing of time. So much to write and re-write, but only a finite number of weekends to do it in. I shall have to give up work.

The Short Story Serial continues again this month, but for the last time! The eighth part of the story entitled "The Dreamer:Part VIII" has been added to the List Page. There'll be something different next time.

October's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part IX

Noise.

Lights.

Warmth.

Angela was sitting on a sofa in a large and sumptious room. There was a deep pale blue carpet, light pastel coloured walls, and furnishings in a light red wood. The many chairs and sofas had deep red cusioned seats, and in the middle of the room was an open fire with a canopy above it that took the smoke somewhere outside. And on the low tables and sideboards were statues and carvings that Angela recognised as being her own. The room was hers. Familiar, comfortable. In front of her on another sofa sat a young woman. She was very familiar. Very, very familiar.

Angela stood up and instantly felt the change. She grabbed her chest and looked down. It was the winning stick body!

No it wasn't.

In shock and dismay Angela realised that she was wearing different clothes, different clothes that someone else should have been wearing. She worriedly pulled at the waist band of her trousers and rumaged inside. She pulled her hand out very quickly.

"Oh, Jesus!" she exclaimed. "I'm a man!"

Humbolt appeared from behind her. He was smiling brightly. "Hello, Captain! Take journey today? Or play with Missy? Say word and arrange will I!"

Angela just stared at him with saucer like eyes, her mouth -his mouth- hanging open.

The familiar woman, Nac Tikmak, Angela, Missy, nodded sadly and said with understanding, "Now you're Captain."

Angela, Nac Tikmak, the man, looked from one face to the other. Her face, Humbolt's face. One sad and dismayed, the other bright and smiling. Her knees, his knees, gave way and she sank back onto the sofa.

"Oh no!" she wailed in an unfamiliar voice. "No! I can't! I won't! I give up! I give in! Put me back in the box! Switch me off!"

As she spoke, Angela, Nac Tikmak, the man, slowly drew herself up into a ball and slid off the sofa onto the floor. Nac Tikmak, Angela, the woman, hurriedly went to her and tried to pull her up. Angela just squeezed herself into a tighter ball and wailed louder.

"I've had enough! Switch me off! I want the dark! I want to go home! I want to die!"

Nac Tikmak, Angela, the woman, looked up at the very surprised Humbolt. "You've gone too far this time! You'll have to reverse it!"

Humbolt stared down at the compressed human ball, his whole Humpty-Dumpty body leaning over her, him. The ball wailed and sobbed but the words, if there were any, were now indistinct and muffled. He straightened up and looked at Nac Tikmak.

"Cope you can with change, Missy, why not Captain?"

The woman waved her hands in exasperation. "Because she isn't used to all this! Can't you see that?"

"Caused havoc she did for one not prepared I see! Peleonika almost broke with knives poking and bits chopping! Deposed you she would have or purged program and what then result? To Captain she wished and Captain she be! Why now protest?"

Nac Tikmak, Angela, the woman, put his hands on his hips. "She's going to be catatonic in a minute!"

"But she be Captain now!"

"She doesn't want to be Captain if it means she has to be me!"

"What difference be body in Peleonika?"

"All the difference if you're a woman and then you're suddenly a man!"

"Man, wo-man no difference between be. If comfortable corporal suit be red monster or alien android, then why gender change cause such fit?"

"There's a big difference! I'm always male, whatever I become! And I've been doing this for thousands of years! She's only been here a day!"

"But good player she be."

"Humbolt!"

The Peleonikian swayed, wrung his hands and finally nodded his whole body. "Humbolt submits. Your request I grant, though in appropriate it be. Back to beginning both you will go. But if fighting you emerge, then lights out permanent will be!"

"I'll explain it to her! But we need our memories! If she can't remember she'll make all the same mistakes! And give her her own body this time!"

"Too much you ask!"

The woman leaned closer to Humbolt. "Then lights out will be permanent and alone will you be! For ever!"

Humbolt obviously didn't like that idea. He nodded his body again. "This day very unusual! Glad I will be when over it be and memory quickly forgot! Bad mistake bring female with spongy bits. Peleonika she shake and Hotel Qualoon nearly fall down!"

"Humbolt!"

"Yes! Yes! Be gone!"

-o-

The twin suns were high in the sky. It was hot in the valley, but not too hot. Across the peaceful lake a city lay, glinting in the light from the suns. On this side of the lake, a group of small and elegant four-footed creatures grazed on the grass by the shore, their hides a delicate brown. On top of a flat mound of rocks, the upper section of two of the egg-shaped containers around the hexagonal central piller of the Hexogenic Intensifier hissed and slowly opened.

Angela raised her head from the cup and blinked. She looked around, completely dazed. She felt the breeze on her face and suddenly sat up, pulling her hands from the appertures. She was instantly awake, instantly alert. She grabbed herself all over, feeling every inch in rising joy.

"It's me!" she exclaimed tearfully. "It's really me! My stick body! How I've missed you!"

She stood up in the container, kissing her arms, hugging herself, and checking each leg as she stepped out of the container. There was a noise nearby, a familiar noise. Her head spun round and she saw Nac Tikmak sitting up in the next container. He instantly held out a hand to her.

"Truce?"

"Give me one good reason?" Angela said stubbornly.

"I asked Humbolt to give you back your own body. And I'm in the same boat as you are. We're both on probation."

"That's two reasons."

"Can I get out without being speared?"

"So long as you don't turn into a red monster."

"No red monsters, no tricks. I'm not Captain, and you aren't Missy. Not anymore."

Angela watched Nac Tikmak climb out of the container. As soon as he was out and turned to face her she stepped up to him. He was now a lot taller than her, but she didn't care. She had her stick winning body back and she had a bone to piick with him. Prodding him in the chest with her finger, she gave him both barrels.

"This was all your fault! You should have told me what you were up to on the derelict! You should have told me when we were together in my room in the Hotel! You lied to me! From the beginning, in the middle, and at the end! You never stopped lying to me! You tried to sedduce me! You wanted to make me into your little sex object! Missy with the spongy bits! But I was smarter than you thought! You didn't get away with it, did you? But you fought hard! You wanted to stick me back in the dark, wipe my memory clean and start again! It serves you right that you're not Captain! I hope Humbolt sinks your ship!"

As she told him off, poking him in the chest with her finger, Nac Tikmak backed away. She just followed him around the Hexogenic Intensifier, poking him until he finally tripped over one of the containers and fell over. He banged his head, and while he lay on the ground rubbing it, she stood over him.

"Did that hurt?"

"Yes."

"Good."

There was a brief pause. Nac Tikmak dragged himself up so that he was sitting on the ground with his back against one of the open containers. He sighed and finally spoke.

"You're absolutely right. In everything. And it is all my fault. I've been here too long. I've been used to this, to getting my own way, for a thousand years. A thousand years of just me. Humbolt has had it far worse. You are the first woman in Peleonika. Humbolt didn't understand the difference. And I was too besotted with you and then too angry with you. I made a mess of things. I'm sorry."

Angela folded her arms. It was so good to be able to do that again without anything being in the way. She looked at him sitting there. He looked quite sad, and very appealing. But he always looked that way, just as she wanted him to look. But she wasn't going to weaken. She wasn't going to let him off so lightly.

"You could have had Lucy," she taunted him.

He nodded. "Yes. But I have had Lucy, or someone like her, many times. There is a limitation to the program and the database. There are, or were, very few records of women. You and Lucy have more than quadroupled that number."

"But Lucy isn't here."

"She is in your mind. As are other women you have met and known. All those memories are absorbed into the program."

Angela sat down on the ground next to him. She beckoned to him with her fingers. "Come on, out with it. Explain."

He nodded. "Yes. You should know." He raised his arms and indicated the scenes around them. "This, all this, as you must know, is unreal. We are still aboard the Massen'Acra, all of us, in our chambers. You, me, and Humbolt."

Angela's eyes took on a far away look. "The third chamber. Of course. What was it he said? Yes...remember you must. Count can you, or inumerate you be? The answer is here and in memory it be. Look with your eyes did you but nothing to see? Or passed us by as uninteresting we be?"

Nac Tikmak smiled at her. It was a beautiful smile, very pleasant and warm. "Humbolt has a way with riddles. He's been here a long time."

"How long?"

"Since the beginning. The very beginning. He was the original Captain of the Massen'Acra. It was his ship. This was his world."

Angela's eyes widened. "That's a long time to be stuck in a game."

He smiled again. "It's not a game. The Massen'Acra left Peleonika nearly one hundred and fifty thousand years ago. She was on a fact finding tour. A research ship packed with scientists and sophisticated equipment. They expected to be away for a long time, and they were right. They spent years gathering information, years out of contact with home. But they had foreseen the loneliness this prolonged absence from home would bring. And to counter it they had brought the Hexogenic Intensifier.

"Not a game the way you think, but similar. The Intensifier is a link, a window or portal in and out of the ship's database. They stored everything about Peleonika in the database before they left, and any time a crewman felt lonely all he had to do was climb in a container and he would be home. Home with his family and friends. But the Intensifier had another purpose. Everything they discovered on their travels went into the database. And through the Intensifier, each world they visited, each new civilisation and alien race they found, all were accessable."

Angela was listening to him in awe, her previous anger all forgotten. Now at last she spoke. "It's like a hologram, no, more like virtual reality. And because you're encased in the container you get an all-body stimulation."

"Yes. You feel the heat on your skin when the sun shines, you see the sun and the brightness causes your eyes to squint. These sensations are real. Your body actually feels them. When you run, your muscles are exercised, they spasm and thrust, they are fatigued, your lungs bursting, your heart pumping. You live in the container. It feeds you and supports you. All the sensations, pain, ecstasy, it's all real. Real but artificial. If I touch you, we both see and feel the touch. But we are in separate containers."

Angela suddenly interrupted him with a question. "Why is Humbolt still here? What happened?"

He nodded. "They went home, excited with their success, the database filled with a galaxy of worlds and civilisations. But they came home to disaster. An asteroid hit had left Peleonika cracked, the magma spilling from it's core. It's atmosphere was gone, all life extinguished."

Angela put a hand to her mouth in genuine anguish. "Oh, God!"

"Many of the crew took to the lifeboats and went down to their world. They died before even reaching the surface. Others stayed on the Massen'Acra, clinging to their memories and loved ones through the Intensifier. But there were only so many containers. There had to be another solution. Humbolt persuaded many of the crew to disembark on planets they had visited, until one by one they slowly dwindled and only he remained. Then one day he was the last. He set the ship on auto-pilot, climbed into one of the containers, and never came out."

Angela looked at the scene around her, at the lake and the distant city. It was all so beautiful. There were tears in her eyes. "It's so sad," she whispered. "All this gone. And it's so peaceful here." She turned to him again. "How did you get here?"

"Like you. Curiosity. A lone derelict ship floating by. We had to look. We didn't know about the auxilary power coupling, the gizmo to you. Apparently the Massen'Acra's power cells aren't endless, and while he is in the Intensifier, Humbolt is fed with the ship's telemetry. At some point he began to shut down the redundant systems throughout the ship, even life support."

"Wasn't that dangerous?"

"It didn't matter: Humbolt was waiting to die. There was only so much he could do in the Intensifier, and for a hundred thousand years drifting between steller systems he did absoultely everything. He dreamed his life away, not even aware of it's passing. Then came the first visitor. Instantly their ship docked he was fed with the information. Imagine his joy. People! Real people! But too late he realised that he was trapped. He had spent too long in the Intensifier. He was still alive, his body still working, but he couldn't leave. If the container had opened the shock to his system would have killed him. And even if it didn't he would have had little strength. He was a hundred thousand years old. Before he knew it, the visitors had searched and stripped the ship, and left. They never even noticed him."

"That's even more horrible," Angela exclaimed. "After all that time, to be so close, and then...nothing. Oh, poor Humbolt!"

"Yes, poor Humbolt. But if visitors came once, they would come again. Next time he would be prepared. He activated the auxilary power coupling and went back to his dreams. Another ocean of blackness passed, another star and it's flock of planets beckoned. As before, visitors came. But this time they couldn't leave. This time they had to look into the ship's systems, searching for the reason for their capture. Like you, they found the Intensifier, but also like you their need to escape meant that they left it unexamined. Soon they had analysed the ships surviving power systems and identified the coupling. Within a short time they had left as before, with Humbolt still in the Intensifier. But this time they left someone behind."

"The first body," Angela guessed.

Nac Tikmak nodded. "Humbolt didn't care about the death. His whole world had gone. It had been a long time before, but he still regularly trod the same city streets of his past, seeing the ones he loved alive and well. It hurt him so."

"He should have stopped going there!" Angela interrupted. "It does no good! It just keeps the wounds open!"

"Yes. But he couldn't help himself. It was there, how could he deny it? Even when it happened again, even when a second body lay at the door of the engine room, he didn't care."

"He could have switched the gun off! He didn't have to kill them!"

"If the laser cannon was deactivated anyone could have gone into the engine room and tampered with the power cells that were feeding the Intensifier. That Humbolt couldn't allow. The laser and the time constraints forced the visitors to focus on the power coupling and their need for escape."

"I thought he wanted to die?"

"They were people. He wanted to be with them, to be with people again."

"He was killing them!"

"They were plundering his ship, stripping it of everything valuable, tearing and cutting everything out and hauling it away."

Angela suddenly felt very self-conscious. "Yes, well, he should have tried to contact them, talk to them, not kill them."

"He couldn't. So much of the ship's systems had been removed that there was no way to contact the outside world from within the Intensifier. He was trapped, bitter, angry, but he knew that at some point, his plan would work, and finally, it did."

"You."

He nodded. "I evaded the laser but couldn't reach my ship. It was docked further away than yours, the distance too great. I was left behind. The containers were the only option once my air supply began to fail. Like you I had thought the Intensifier was merely a cryogenic chamber for long journeys. Once I entered, I knew the truth. I met Humbolt. He was delirious with joy. There was someone else to share his micro-universe with, someone else he could talk with and not receive the same programmed reply. A real person, a real mind. He showed me everything.

"I have seen things that are beyond dreams. Worlds of unimaginable beauty, great civilisations, technology that would compare with the very Gods, and creatures of such magnitude and myth. And the people, oh, the people. Such intelligence, such power and arrogance, such humility and benevolence. I have met them all. Women to cry for, men to follow to the ends of the earth on any glorious quest. The database is a joy, a magnificent, tremendous, glorious magnitude of worlds, people and creatures. To try to describe it is to insult it."

He was in a reverie, his description conjuring up such a plethora of worlds and images. Angela's heart cried out to see them all. It was her greatest dream. All those people. Her heart ached. There was the sound of a distant motor. She turned and looked out at the lake. Humbolt was approaching in his James Bond motor launch. He would be here soon. She turned back to Nac Tikmak.

"Why me?" she blurted out.

He smiled. "A thousand years is a long time. And I am not Humbolt. For a time I wallowed in the fantastic array of female company available to me. But I soon came to learn and almost expect the programmed replies. Fantasies are not people, they cannot love you back. When you came, my panic and haste to bring you here almost killed you."

"But why me?" she pressed. "Why not Lucy?"

"I hardly spoke with Lucy, and the differences in your bodies meant nothing to me. Here you can be Lucy. Here, anything is possible."

The sound of a motor revving and then cutting out signalled the arrival of Humbolt. Angela turned and watched him jump down from the boat and wade ashore. Another Humpty-Dumpty figure remained on the boat, waiting. Angela and Nac Tikmak both got to their feet and waited for Humbolt. Even before he reached them, they could both see that he wasn't happy. In fact he looked quite cross when he finally stood before them.

"Tell truth to Missy."

"Call her Angela."

Humbolt bowed, his whole body tilting forward. Straightening up he said, "Angela deserve truth."

Angela turned from him to Nac Tikmak, a look of dismay and sadness on her face. "Have you lied to me again?"

Nac Tikmak raised his hand and held his thumb and forfinger close together. "Just a tiny lie," he admitted.

Humbolt moved closer to Angela and bowed. "To introduce myself allow me," he said straightening up again. I am Humbolt, the Hexogenic User Multilingual Bionetwork On Line Tutor. Guide for you I am, ask and I will tell, choose destination and go there we can."

Angela stared at him as if she didn't understand. It was a very heavy penny that dropped through her mind like a boulder through tissue paper. "H-U-M-B-O-L-T." She could hardly talk, she just mumbled the words. "You're a computer wizard, a help icon. Oh, God..."

Humbolt seemed pleased by her description of him. His cross expression disappeared and he was his usual beaming, bright-eyed self again. He just waffled on as if it all didn't matter.

"Alien android first to come adapt to the Intensifier well did not. Confused and angry he be, more than you. Too often experienced lights out and returned to the beginning did he. Once too many he made the trip, despite many warnings, not to return in the end did he. Unfortunate for him it be, but demise provided unexpected options."

Angela's eyes widened. She pointed at Nac Tikmak. "But how did you- "

"I borrowed his body," he replied quickly, interrupting her. "He was alive and perfectly fit, but his mind had gone. It couldn't face this environment. I don't know why. It took several years to happen, and it hurt me greatly. He was the first real person I had known for a very long time, and he just slipped away. I had the same problem in reverse. My mind is fine, but my body is a weak shadow of what it once was. So when you came along I borrowed his. For just a while. We're here now, having this talk, because I feared you were going the same way as him."

"But then, you're- "

He interrupted her again. "Yes. It was the one thing I have told you that was always the truth." He bowed before her. "I am Nac Tikmak, Captain of the Massen'Acra."

-o-

Luigi hated zero gravity. Nothing stayed were you put it. At home, in his large study, his desk and every shelf and work surface was littered with open books and scraps of paper with texts in different languages and scripts scrawled all over them. To him it was all beautifully organised so that he could cross reference every example of the text he was working on in all available languages and scripts. To anyone else it was just a mess. It was how he liked to work, how his brain worked. Here it was impossible. Everything floated away the moment he let go of it. He was forever loosing pens. Like now. He opened his locker and rumaged inside. His movements dislodged other things that instantly floated out in their attempts to escape. Books, papers, a stapler he had smuggled aboard, they all floated out. He grabbed at them all, pushing them back inside. A pen was among them. He grabbed it and then slammed the door on the rest. There was a crunch.

A shard of darkly stained glass drifted by. Luigi opened the door a touch and glanced inside.

"Damn," he whispered. He felt a breeze of air as someone came into the room behind him. He turned and saw a very familiar and shapely form glide in.

"What have you done now," Lucy said, handing him back an alien book that had escaped him.

Luigi sighed and snatched a roll of tape from nearby. "I broke something," he said as he used a length of tape to snag the broken glass.

Lucy stared closely at the glass. "Funny book."

"Not a book, this." He opened the door of his locker. Lucy saw the picture inside. The picture of the funny squat alien in front of the derlict. It was a bit clearer now that the stained glass was broken and had fell away. Luigi continued to catch each piece of broken glass on the tape. He kept pulling the tape out longer all the time, snagging piece after piece.

Lucy took the picture in her hands. "Carl's got a little vacuum cleaner for this kind of job," she told him without really thinking.

"I know. But I would have to tell him of my ineptitude to get it."

"Oh, glory!" Lucy suddenly exclaimed.

Luigi looked up. Lucy had taken the picture out of the frame and was now looking at the back. There was something written on it. Luigi instantly dropped his roll of tape with it's glinting long tail and snatched at the picture. He stared at the writing on the back. He couldn't believe it. It was unreal. Impossible. But it was there.

"Madre mia..."

-o-

Angela sat in the jungle surrounded by the children. They were all so tiny, with delicate features surmounted by big eyes. They had pale olive skin, and most of them wore only loin cloths. Some wore nothing at all. They were all well fed, well behaved, and as curious as hell. They were in a clearing, and in the distance the village with it's many huts and olive skinned people moving around could be seen. It was hot and sweat beaded on her brow. She held up the picture and pointed at the ship.

"What's this?"

"Massen'Acra!" all the children shouted in chorus.

She pointed at the funny figure. "And who's this?"

"Humbolt!"

Angela put down the picture and grabbed one of the children. "Very good!"

In a sudden scramble they all pounced on her, knocking her over until she was buried beneath them. They laughed and screamed, and she laughed and tickled any tiny body she could reach. Then someone came and spoiled it all.

One of the elders, tall and statuesque, stood above them leaning on his staff. He clapped his hands. His voice was deep and commanding.

"School finished today! Home with you!"

There were more shouts, mainly of desent. The elder delt with their stubbornness with gentle taps on delicate bottoms with his staff. Finally he had chased them all away. Angela looked up at him and squinted in the sun.

"How is it you keep such good time, Biolo?"

"The sun is easy to read if you take the time to learn how."

"You could be late for once."

"You are too soft, Missy Angela. The children will take advantage of you. They play far more than they learn. But there is reason today for my promptness." He reached down and pulled her to her feet. "Your husband returns."

Angela smiled. "Is he well?"

"He is unharmed."

She brushed herself off. "Show me."

Biolo led her through the trees. He skirted the village and went around to the far side. It soon became clear that the village was built on the very edge of the jungle. It hid between the trees but peeped out at the open plain that stretched out to a distant but wide river. On the plain between the river and the jungle village a large disc shaped spacecraft sat on it's undercarriage. But this wasn't where they were going. At the edge of the village several large four-footed animals stood. They had saddles and bridals, and one had a large pack. Beside the animals were several villagers. There was also someone else.

Angela smiled broadly and ran the last few yards. "Nack!"

Nac Tikmak turned and came forward to greet her. He smiled and grabbed her as Angela threw herself into his arms. They kissed and hugged, and Nac swung her around. "I missed you," he said as soon as they came up for air.

"And I missed you, too!"

Nac Tikmak laughed. "Oh, no you didn't! I bet you've been playing with the village children all day!" he turned and called over her shoulder. "Isn't that so, Biolo?"

Biolo came to lean on his staff next to them. "She calls it school but only laughter does she teach them. She is a child among smaller children."

"I thought so!" Nac Tikmak pulled her hair and tickled her ribs. Angela twisted out of his grasp.

"I have been teaching them!" she protested, backing away from him as he tried to grab her again. "They already know almost as many words as Biolo."

Biolo shook his head and walked slowly away. All the other villagers followed him, leading the animals along with them. In a few seconds they were alone.

Nac Tikmak finally caught Angela and they fell on the ground. He knelt across her, pinning her down, and grabbed her nose.

"Next time, you go on the long trek and I'll stay in the village!"

"Alright! Alright! I give in!"

He released her and then kissed her. When he sat up and was about to get off her, he suddenly noticed something sticking out of the pocket of her safari jacket. He snatched it. "What's this?"

Angela lay back on the ground looking up at him, marvelling at the way the sun had bleached his hair even more blonde. He looked so well, so beautiful. "It's the picture Humbolt gave me of the ship on Peleonika before we left," she told him.

Nac Tikmak remained kneeling across her. He seemed comfortable there. "Trust him to stand in front of it."

"I know! I'm going to frame it."

"Frame it?"

"Yes. I'm going to frame it and hang it on the wall in our cabin on the Massen'Acra."

"Why?"

She shrugged. "No reason."

He turned the picture over and laughed. In bold writing it said:

SURPRISE! I'M ALIVE AND WELL AND ENJOING EVERY MINUTE! IT WASN'T A CRYOGENIC CHAMBER AT ALL, BUT A GATEWAY TO NEW WORLDS! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT HERE AND NAC IS A GREAT LOVER! SEE YOU!

ANGIE BABE



The End. (Or is it?)

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