“What’s a twenty-two-letter word for a relativistic quantum field theory?” the Washing-Up wanted to know.
It was a sleepy Gormsday off the western coast of Andromeda. The Washing-Up asked his question because he was doing the Times crossword puzzle.
There were three Rude Mechanicals. With the brains of the Six Million Dollar Mannequin, the astonishing strength of Buns of Steel, and whatever the pile of cookware called the Washing-Up was good for, they could accomplish any task, solve any problem. But today, the Mechanicals had nothing to do. When boredom sank in, you could expect more than a resulting funk. You could anticipate a depression with the gravitational heft of a minor black hole. The emanating gloom would make nearby asteroids weep.
The other Mechanicals had to do something, and fast.
I had warned him: If he followed me, I would be his only wife.
Arkkh! he said.
But he followed me.
And, when he followed me, he left all of his wives, his vast harem of elephant seal females, behind on the rocks.
On his body there was a proud network of marks: a record of his entanglements with rival (but lesser) males; a bloody price paid--and paid again--for the acquisition of so many consorts.
But he left them.
Because I was worth it.
I squeezed into the circle to peer at the open box in Neb’s hand. It contained white tissue paper and a flat brown square. Its sweet smell was unfamiliar to me.
I gasped as I realized what the square must be. “Is that—”
“Chocolate!” Neb squealed. “Saros got it from some guy at school!”
Chocolate was contraband, of course. It had been illegal on Calyptra ever since scientists learned of its toxic effect on the local flora. Medicinal plants were Calyptra’s principal exports, and our government wasn’t about to jeopardize that cash cow. Its effects on the native fauna were not well studied, but apparently there had been some disturbing results there, too.
Rose traced a finger around the rim of her wine glass. In a town like Dunk, there was little to do but entertain her thoughts about the Man in the Hood. He was an outsider. Nobody had seen his face or even knew his name. For the past two nights, Rose had shadowed his every move, only to discover that he rarely left his private chambers at the Cockalorum Inn. That's why she was stuck at the bar, drinking away her youth with a bottle of red.
"I'll tell you about the Man in the Hood," said Alfred, the town’s oldest barfly. “He’s plotting to kill Mayor Dadi.”
“And you know this, how?” said Rose.
“Because he wears the hood. Don’t you know? The warmer the head, the darker the scheme.” Alfred swigged his beer, then added, “It’s the perfect day for it too."
Witches rub me in the Magic Pool. My muscles fight each other—some yearn for the touch and some recoil. A witch about my age, thirty-one, rushes her hands back and forth over my chest and back. A stout-bearded warlock kneads my shoulders. A crone does something like reiki over my forehead.
The witches have lived at this hallowed mountain grotto since the 1950s, the days of Aldous Huxley and Robert Graves. Now I have come to this place from between worlds, to put myself back together and decide what to do with the rest of my life.