The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Yuah opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling for just a moment. It was the same gold pattern fresco that it had been for years, matching the intricate pattern of pink roses between gold bars on the wallpaper and the gold floral carpeting on the floor. It was high time for a change. Turning to the side, she came nose to nose with Gladys Highsmith, who was looking back. Without her glasses, her eyes looked larger and sadder than normal.

“How did you sleep?” asked Yuah.

“Not very well, I’m afraid.”

“Why not? I slept wonderfully.”

“What will you do now?

“What do you mean?” wondered Yuah.

“Are you going to throw me out or have me arrested?”

“Why would I do that?”

“That’s what they usually do,” said Gladys, sadly.

“Do you think I’m some little girl that you took advantage of?” asked Yuah with a laugh. “Maybe you think I was so overwhelmed with passion that I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“People do things in the heat of passion that they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

“No they don’t. That’s just an excuse. Or maybe it’s true for stupid people or those who are not particularly self-aware… my God, I sound just like Iolanthe.” She kissed Gladys on the forehead and then sat up. “You should go back to your room.”

“You don’t want anyone to see us together.”

“You have to get ready. We’re going to shrine. You do still want to go, don’t you?”

Twenty minutes later, Yuah entered the dining room and took her place. The others were present, though as yet, no one had been served. A line of lizzies arrived from the kitchen carrying enough food for twelve people, and began serving the four at the table. Yuah watched as her plate was filled with white pudding, sausages, bacon, fried potatoes, grilled tomatoes, beans, scrambled eggs topped with cheese, and toast.

“I am so hungry this morning,” she said.

“We can see that,” said Iolanthe, raising a brow.

“That’s good, Mother,” said Augie. “I think you’ve gotten a bit too thin of late. Better to keep up your strength. And how are you this morning, Miss Highsmith?”

“Very well, Your Lordship.”

“We’re friends now,” he said. “Please call me Augie. After all, you’re dining at my table and living in my house.”

“Yes,” said Iolanthe. “How long is that to be, exactly?”

“I have asked Gladys to live here permanently,” said Yuah. “She is my good friend and will be my companion.”

“Indeed,” said Iolanthe, with a smirk.

“Well, I think that’s wonderful,” said Augie, spearing a piece of sausage with his fork. “Mother can arrange an allowance for you. I sure you know by now that if you spend much time with mother it will include copious shopping.”

“Thank you, Your… Augie.”

Yuah had Walworth drive them to shrine. She wore her new dress—the black one with a small bustle and the high neck, along with her black top hat. Gladys wore a black over dress with white skirts. It was nice, but not the type of thing usually worn to shrine—a bit on the fancy side.

As Walworth helped them down from the car, Yuah stopped to take a look at the majestic building and the beauty that surrounded it. The sun was shining through the trees. The grounds around the shrine were newly mowed and the shrubs had been trimmed. Yuah didn’t even mind that the street sign had Iolanthe’s name on it.

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The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 21 Excerpt

Senta and Hero stood side-by-side on the steps of the Church of the Apostles. Hero held the fussy baby Senta. Her own Senta rode horsy back on her father across the lawn, while Benny Jr. rode his Uncle Hertzel. All four seemed heedless of the stay off the grass sign. The adult Senta cradled the sleeping Hannabeth Markham.

“It’s too much, really,” said Hero. “I don’t think Benny will allow it.”

“If he has a problem with it, he can tell me,” said the sorceress. “I don’t care if he approves or not. I’m paying for her college education. You said you wanted your Senta to be special. What’s more special that a proper college educated lady?”

“I don’t know. Do I know any proper educated ladies?”

“Mrs. Government.”

“Oh,” said Hero with a frown.

“Egeria Korlann.”

“Oh, well she’s okay.”

“Of course, if you don’t like that plan, we could always just trade. I’ll take your little Senta and you can take mine.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” said Hero, and then changing topics. “What did the police inquest decide?”

The sorceress shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t go.

“Um, aren’t you worried?”

“If they want to track me down, I won’t be hard to find.”

Benny Markham walked up, carrying his eldest child under one arm like a sack of potatoes. He kissed his wife on the cheek. Right behind him was his brother-in-law, now out of breath, with Benny Jr. on his shoulders.

“Look, you’ve both ruined the knees of your trousers,” said Hero.

“You’ve got to have fun while you have the chance,” said Benny.

Hertzel nodded.

Benny tickled the chin of the blond baby.

“Would you like to play horsey?”

“You don’t have time,” said his wife. “The ceremony is going to start in just a few minutes.”

“I don’t think anyone expected you to be here,” Benny whispered to the sorceress. “They just send the Drache Girl an invitation out of respect. It’s like sending one to the governor.”

Senta nodded her head in the direction of the street and the others turned to see a car driven by Governor Staff and containing her husband and her daughter pull up and park, two tires completely up on the sidewalk.

They turned and filed into the church, taking their places toward the back on the right hand side. It wasn’t a packed house by any means. Less than a hundred people, about equally divided between the groom’s and bride’s sides, filled the front third of the pews. As the Markham party was getting settled in, the governor’s family filed past toward an empty pew in the front. Iolana Staff waved as she passed. A mechanical music player began the first chords of Kafira’s Marriage. They all turned to watch Wenda Lanier walking down the aisle to where Father Galen and Walter Charmley awaited her.

“It’s nice that her mother could come,” whispered Hero, gesturing to where Melody Wardlaw, the mother of the bride, sat near the front, still wearing a metal brace outside of her dress.

“I just hope Wenda knows what she’s getting into,” whispered Benny.

“What do you mean?” asked Senta.

“Nothing. Never mind.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Lord Dechantagne sat across the desk from Father Galen. The Priest was into his sixties now and was starting to look it. His hair had long ago turned to grey, but he still had the kindly face that those of Augie’s generation had always known. For them, it was as much a symbol of the church as the crucifix.

“Thank you very much for the donation,” said Father Galen. “The purchase of land for a car park will allow more of our members to attend, and will probably improve safety as well.”

“Precisely why I don’t consider it a donation,” said Augie. “It’s more of an investment in the colony.”

“I am a little bit surprised. I know you’ve been attending church here with your family all your life, but I rather expected you to devote your attentions to the shrine.”

“I hope you won’t be insulted if I tell you I’ve given the shrine a similar donation, for a similar purpose,” said Augie. “While it’s true that my mother is Zaeri, the Dechantagne’s have always been strong supporters of the Church of Kafira, if not always notably devout.”

“Well, you know my mind on the matter,” said Father Galen. “Interfaith cooperation can only be good for the people of Birmisia Colony.”

“Then we are in agreement.”

There was a knock at the door, and one of the church acolytes stepped inside and presented the father with a note on a silver tray.

“It’s from Mr. Clipers, the Zaeri Imam.”

“Timely,” said Father Galen, picking up the note and reading. A frown crossed his face. “He asks me to come to the Tice home at Citizen Street. He says it’s an emergency.”

“I’ll drive you,” said Augie, jumping up. “That’s Ascan’s house.”

“Friend of yours?” asked the priest, grabbing his sick call kit and the Holy Scriptures.”

“I know him from shrine. His sister is Iolana’s best gal pal.”

Twenty minutes later, they were pulling up in front of the Tice home. It was a small cottage less than a quarter mile from the Zaeri Shrine. Hurrying inside, they found a dozen friends and family in the parlor, all looking pale and drawn. Ascan Tice met them and practically dragged the priest through a doorway to a back room.

“Willa, what’s going on?” the young lord asked Ascan’s sister, a beautiful twenty-eight year old woman with long flowing raven hair.

“Oh, Augie! It’s horrible! Noémi is so sick.”

“When did this happen? She looked fine on the Sabbath.”

“It just happened—hours ago, maybe. We were baking bread and she started to act nervous-like. Then suddenly, she broke out in cold shivers, and complained of a headache. I got her to bed and thought she could rest a bit, but when I went to check on her thirty minutes later, she was sweating buckets. And her sweat was blue.”

A frown on his face, Augie stepped back through the door the priest had gone through. In the bedroom beyond, he found the stricken woman in her bed, and just as described, she was covered in blue perspiration. Father Galen was bent over her, in the midst of casting a healing spell. Ascan knelt on the other side of the bed, weeping. Mr. Clipers looked on. Augie stepped up next to him and whispered in his ear.

“Does this blue color have something to do with her dark skin? I mean, because she’s Mirsannan?”

“No. It’s the disease. It’s called The Blue Sweat or just The Sweat.”

“How come I’ve never heard of it?”

“I don’t think anyone has seen it since the fifteenth century,” replied the Imam.

“Then how do you know about it?”

“We’re taught about it because it is the only disease known that is resistant to healing magic. I just hope Father Galen does better than I did. He is known for his healing abilities.”

At that moment, the priest finished his prayer and stood. He glanced at his Zaeri counterpart and shook his head ever so slightly.

Augie took the statuette from his pocket, clasped it tightly, and whispered “Senta.”

The sorceress appeared right in front of him, and right beside Mr. Clipers. Her pink hat just matched her pink day dress, and was tied onto her head with a wide strip of lace.

“Now?” she asked. “At tea time?”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Hsrandtuss watched the workers maneuver the two-ton square of stone up the hill. A few pushed while many others pulled with ropes wrapped around the block, and still others moved the logs used as rollers from the back to the front as needed. He flushed his dewlap in satisfaction. Things were looking good. The dam had been completed and the lake was filling up. Those workers freed from labor on the dam were now building walls—either the stone wall fortifying the hill or the wooden wall surrounding the entire town site. The bottom floor of the palace was under construction and there was even a single room with a ceiling in place.

“You are pleased, my husband?”

The king turned to look at Szakhandu, who ran her hand over the scar on his back. She had long since been allowed back into his hut and his good graces.

“It is good,” he said.

“Have you thought any more about Kendra’s plan?”

He narrowed his eyes. “What plan?”

“Her idea to raise her offspring from the time they hatch.”

“I was afraid that was the plan you were talking about. Have you been discussing it with her?”

“We all have.”

“All of you?”

“Yes.”

“And have you come to a consensus?”

“Sirris, Tokkenoht, and I like Kendra’s ideas. Sszaxxanna is against them. Ssu hasn’t expressed an opinion.”

“Ssu has no opinion,” said Hsrandtuss, “because Ssu has no thought in her head. That is why she is my favorite wife.”

“Ssu is not your favorite,” said Szakhandu. “Tokkenoht is.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Lately, she has held most of your confidences.”

“She has proven herself both valuable and reliable. That doesn’t mean she is my favorite. However the fact she, as well as you and Sirris, agrees with Kendra settles it for me. We will build a private nesting area for you to use. One of you will be the royal egg keeper and will watch over all of your nests.”

“This is well done, my husband.”

“It is an experiment,” he said. “We will try it for a season, but we don’t need to spread it around. I’m not sure how other people will take it. Talk with the others and decide who might make a good egg keeper. I’ll make the final decision after hearing your advice.”

At that moment a young male came running to the king. He stopped and quickly placed his hand in front of his dewlap, palm out, in a sign of respect.

“Great King,” he said. “Great Yessonar has been spotted in the sky.

He pointed off just above the distant horizon.

“Excellent!” boomed Hsrandtuss. “Tell Straatin to prepare a place for him, with something comfortable for the god to sit upon. And tell Chutturonoth to form an honor guard to accompany me.” He turned to Szakhandu. “Get all the wives. They must come too.”

A short time later, the king marched out from the partially constructed city, leading his six wives and a dozen warriors, all painted in their finest form. He could see Yessonar circling above the other side of the plain. He was mildly surprised that the dragon hadn’t simply landed by Yessonarah, but he wasn’t bothered too much about it. After all, a god could do whatever he wanted.

It wasn’t long before it became obvious what the dragon was doing. He was circling over a herd of sauroposeidon. The huge herbivores ranged in size from those only recently having reached adulthood and weighing not much over ten tons, to the old matriarch who was more than 150 feet long and weighed well over 60 tons. They skirted the edge of the pine forest. The dragon picked the one that he wanted and with a quick flip upward to gain speed, turned, and shot toward the ground like a missile. Hsrandtuss and the other lizzies were almost lifted from their feet by the force of the great reptile hitting his prey, a forty ton adult female. The sauroposeidon scattered before regrouping and hurrying away in a group.

By the time the lizardmen reached the site of the attack, the dragon had consumed a good portion of the dinosaur. He gave them a quick glance, but continued eating, raking off giant pieces of meat with his great clawed hands. The other reptilians stayed well away, outside the range of the constantly whipping barbed tail, but Hsrandtuss marched forward until he was actually standing in the dragon’s shadow.

“Great Yessonar,” he said. “I would gladly have had a fire made and cooked this for you. I know you like your meat the way the soft-skins serve it. Truth be told, I eat it that way myself sometimes.”

“Takes too long,” said the dragon, his mouth full. “You wouldn’t believe how hungry I get flying.”

“It doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?”

“What?” wondered Yessonar.

“I have noticed that pound for pound, a soft skin will eat two or three times as much as I do. For some reason, their bodies need a great deal of energy. I would imagine you eat two or three times as much as they do, pound for pound I mean. And here you are, as big as two tyrannosauruses. How many of these do you have to eat in a day?”

“Two or three, depending on how active I am.” He took another bite, blood dripping over the shiny steel scales of his chin. “You are a funny fellow, Hsrandtuss. You have a very inquisitive nature and you are always looking for ideas. You remind me of a human in that way. That’s why they need so much food, you know. It’s their brains. That and the hot blood. They are always thinking.”

“They think too much,” replied the king. “Who wants to think all the time? Clearly it is the quality of the thinking and not the quantity that’s important.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 15 Excerpt

The interior of Royal Tybalt Hall was brightly lit and three spotlights were directed forward. The stage had been decorated with red, white, and blue ribbon, and three large flags hung above it: the Accord Banner of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, and the flags of Freedonia and Mirsanna on either side of it. Just to the right of the stage, a large sign on a tripod easel proclaimed “Fashion tells the world who you are, before you speak!” On the left was a similar placard that announced “Ladies Auxiliary Fashion Show”.

The house was packed and most of the audience had been sitting for a good half an hour when trumpets directed them to stand and turn toward the royal box. Freedonian Princess Henrietta stepped out into the light, resplendent in a jewel-encrusted gown, and stopped in front of her chair. Prince Clitus followed, his bright red uniform covered with medals. He raised a white-gloved hand and waved. He took his spot two seats away from Henrietta. Somewhat timidly, Ester stepped around to stand between them. Clitus glanced down to see that her seat had been properly modified for her.

“Shall we sit?”

The three of them took their places, Esther placing her tail through the hole provided.

“I’ve never been to a fashion show before,” she said.

“I hope you enjoy it,” he replied. “I’m afraid the novelty has worn off for me.”

She turned to look at him.

“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy looking at pretty girls in pretty dresses as much as the next fellow. But then I see that everywhere, don’t I? They never just show up to meet me in a frock. And I honestly don’t much care if the dresses are this year’s or next year’s.”

“They want to look their best for you,” said Esther. “You are one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. Look at them down there. I’m sure most of them want to kill me right now.”

“Quite the contrary,” he said. “They are happy you’re here instead of one of them. That way, they still have hope to marry a prince, less than charming though he may be.”

“I think you’re very charming,” she said, somewhat dejectedly.

“You have to say that,” he returned. “You’re my best friend.”

“I feel the same way about you.”

“Das ist exciting. No?” asked Henrietta, leaning forward to look past Esther.

Clitus smiled and nodded.

The orchestra began tuning their instruments and the three sat listening to the discordant sound and their own thoughts for several minutes. The Prince’s man Bob, leaned over his shoulder and passed him a folded note.

“What is it?” asked Esther, after he had read it and folded it back up. “Do you have to leave? Is it an important matter of state?”

“Hardly,” said Clitus. “It’s from Sir Redry Moorn, telling me his step-daughters are going to be wearing some of the fashions on stage.”

“Do you like one of them? Both of them?”

“Please. I get enough of my brother’s leftovers as it is. I’m sorry I even came now.” He quickly glanced over at Henrietta, relieved to see that she hadn’t heard him.

“I know something that will cheer you up,” said Esther. “Iolana and Terra are going to be part of the show too.”

“Lady Iolana is here?” he asked, excitedly.

“And Terra.”

“Lady Iolana is just so… She’s the most beautiful, most intelligent, and most accomplished young lady in the entire Kingdom. I would give anything if she had some interest in me.”

“I’m afraid you’re out of luck,” said Esther. “Of course, so is every other young man. She has her mind set on living the life of an old maid. I think there is only one young man in whom she ever had any interest, and he’s married and in Birmisia.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me. Well at least she’s not interested in Tybalt.” He sniffed and then lowered his voice. “I don’t think I could bear to see them together. Still, it will be nice to see her on stage.”

“And Terra.”

“Yes, and Lady Terra.” He frowned. “Lady Terra.”

“Don’t fancy her?” asked Esther.

“Oh, I like her, a lot, and I admire her. She’s so brave, living among the lizzies and all that. I mean, she’s fierce. And well, the whole incident in Blackbottom…”

“What incident in Blackbottom?”

“Oh, nothing. My point is that she’s not the typical Brech woman. Lady Iolana says she eschews tea parties, book clubs, and other lady’s activities. She doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks.” He lowered his voice, “She’s really more like a boy, isn’t she?”

“She’s certainly different now,” agreed Esther.   “Back when we were in Birmisia, she was a timid little girl.”

“I like her,” said Clitus. “I just don’t see her as attractive.”

“I like her too,” said Henrietta.

Clitus smiled and nodded.

The orchestra began playing and the first young woman stepped out from behind the curtain and, somewhat nervously, began the walk across the stage. Her bright pink day dress was cut for a small bustle, but they were too far away to make out many details. Prince Clitus handed Esther an opera glass, but after trying it, she found that she could only look through one eye at a time.

“Oh look,” he said, glancing down at his watch. “It’s Lady Honoria.”

“She looks nice,” said Esther.

The young woman in question wore a lime green day dress trimmed with black lace. As she made her way across the stage, she glanced up toward the royal box and gave her bottom a little shake.

“Ssss,” hissed a shocked Esther.

“Oh my,” said Henrietta.

Clitus looked bored.

Seven or eight other young ladies took their journeys across the front of the theater to display the latest designs. Almost inevitably, they tried to at least make eye contact with the Prince. Lady Josephine Willington actually stopped amid stage and lifted her skirts to expose her shins.

The prince’s interests were only piqued when the next young woman stepped out.

“Look! It’s Lady Iolana!” he said, excitedly.

Iolana was wearing a black walking dress with white lace. A black top hat was balanced upon her cascading blond hair. She stepped primly across the stage, spun on a heel and returned.

“She is magnificent.”

“She did look very nice,” said Ester.

“Sie ist schön,” said Henrietta.

“Oh goody,” said Clitus, without enthusiasm. “Here comes Lady Honoria again.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow stirred a spoonful of sugar into his tea as he bent his head over the Birmisia Gazette. The paper was dated the previous day—Octuary 15th. The headline read Velociraptor Bounty Announced. Saba didn’t give a fig about velociraptors or any bounty on them. It had been fourteen days, two weeks, and nothing—no message, no invitation, no visit. He scooped another spoonful of sugar and stirred his cup.

“Isn’t that enough sugar, dear?” asked his wife from across the table.

He glanced up at her with his eyes, his head still bent over the table. She blanched.

“If you want something sweet, we have some strawberry jam in the froredor,” said his mother. “You could have some on your scones.”

“No thank you, Mother.”

He flipped the paper over. There was nothing that interested him—council meetings, a fire, traffic, crime, building projects. At the bottom of the second page were three advertisements, side by side—ladies’ hats, Major Frisbee’s chutney, and Café Etta. He pushed his chair back and stood up, walking away from the table without a word and having not touched his sugary tea. No one spoke as he left the dining room, but when he was halfway across the kitchen, he heard a small voice calling after him.

“Daddy?”

Stopping, he turned around and looked at his daughter. She wore a red and white striped dress that made her look like a miniature version of her mother.

“What is it, DeeDee?”

“Are you angry at Nan?”

“No dear, I’m not angry with your nan.”

“Are you angry at me?”

With a sigh, he knelt down so that he could look her in the face.

“No, I’m not angry with you. You’re my good girl.”

“Mummy’s a good girl too.”

“Yes, Mummy is a good girl too. Are you going to your lessons across the street today?”

“Uh-huh. I’m going to learn to read today. Iolana has a book about a pig that doesn’t like to get dirty.”

“Well, that sounds a lovely book. When you’ve learned to read, you can read it to me.”

“Tonight?”

“You think you’ll have learned how to read in one day?”

She nodded her head earnestly.

“All right, then one of us will read to the other tonight. Now, Daddy has to go to work.”

The little girl nodded once again and then turned back to the dining room. Saba stood up, crossed the kitchen, and was out the door. He climbed into the car, which the lizzies had already started up and a minute later he was cruising down First Avenue.

When he got to work, he went directly up to his office without stopping to talk to the constables at the desk. He buried himself in paperwork and didn’t look up until his stomach growled. Checking the clock, he saw that it was almost 1:00. As he stepped out his door, he ran into Justice of the Peace Lon Fonstan.

“Good afternoon, Chief Inspector.”

“Judge.”

“I wanted to speak to you.”

“What about?” wondered Saba with a frown.

“The benefit.”

“The what?”

“The benefit for the Police Constables Widows and Orphans Fund.”

“Yes, what about it?”

“I just wanted to let you know that we have Colonial Hall for Novuary sixth. It should be quite an event with you and your lovely wife hosting.”

“Yes, well.” Saba looked at the man for a moment. “All right then.”

Leaving the justice of the peace where he stood, Saba took the elevator downstairs. He started past the desk and just happened to look up into Eamon Shrubb’s face. Eamon paused amid filling out several forms in front of him. He wore his police sergeant’s uniform.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m filling out forms.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” said Eamon.

“Why are you in uniform? And it’s the wrong rank.”

“No. Dot and I decided that being an inspector wasn’t right for me.”

“What the hell does Dot have against it? It’s better money and better hours.”

“Actually, it’s not Dot. It’s me. I don’t think I care to be an inspector. There’s nothing wrong with it, mind. It’s just not for me.”

“Fine,” said Saba. “Stay here and fill out your paperwork then.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Lord Augustus Dechantagne sat in a chair at a conference table in The Office of Lizzie Affairs. Around him were seated Mr. Millard Tomley Esq., Mr. James Dawes Esq. and Amoz Croffut, the three of them, with the exception of two secretaries, the entire complement of the organization. The young lord flipped through the papers in front of him and blew air between his lips.

“I don’t think you gentlemen understood what I wanted.”

“You wanted to expand,” said Tomley. “We’re planning to more than double our staff.”

“Two more lawyers and four more secretaries.”

“Exactly,” said Dawes.

“Look,” said Augie. “Up until now, all you’ve done is help the lizzies here in Port Dechantagne when they’ve come afoul of our laws and customs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, you need more help in order to fulfill that mission. You should definitely hire these additional people. But I want this office to keep track of all the lizzies in and around Birmisia Colony.

He looked at Amoz Croffut.

“You’re a military man, Croffut. When I need intel on the lizzies, I want to be able to come to you and for you to have it.”

“You mean you want it available for Governor Staff, don’t you?” said Croffut.

“I mean both of us.”

He pulled a paper out of his breast pocket, unfolded it, and handed it across the table. Croffut read it over and then handed it back.

“All right. So you have the full authority of the Governor.”

“Yes, so when I tell you to hire the people you’ve found, you should do it. You should also get more secretaries, at least one statistician or accountant, a military liaison, a linguist, and at least one anthropologist… or would you call it a reptiologist?”

“The term would be cultural herpetologist,” said Croffut, “but I don’t think there is such a thing.”

“Well find someone. I’d recommend Tiber Stephenson as your liaison, but hire whoever you want.” He looked up through the glass wall that separated the conference room from the outer office, and a smile broke across his face. “You’ll excuse me, gentlemen. My other appointment is here.”

Zoantheria stood at the far side of the large room in a beautiful sleeveless sky blue day dress. It was decorated across the breast with white lace and trimmed down its length in blue bows. She had a smart white boater atop her curled blond hair. She grinned when she saw him hurry across the room to her. When they touched, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. Then she licked his chin, neck, and finally his ear.

“You are so yummy!” she said. “I could just eat you up.”

“Did you have an extra large breakfast this morning?” he asked, pulling back a bit.

“I did. I ate a two young iguanodons.” She cocked her head and raised a brow. “You don’t think I would really eat you. Do you?”

“Of course not, my love. Still, better to ask the question than to assume the answer.”

“Are you done with your meeting?” she asked, excitedly. “Are you done? Are you done? Are you?”

“It so happens that I am done for now. What is it that has tickled your enthusiasm?”

“I have to show you. It’s so wonderful.”

“Well then, let’s go,” he said. “I assume you’re driving.”

Grinning, she led him by the hand out of the office building to where her car sat steaming away. He climbed up into the passenger side, as she got behind the wheel. Seconds later, they were zipping up Bainbridge Clark Street, and through the gate in the Emergency Wall.

“Where are we going?” he asked, as the vehicle careened around the corner of Shadow Street.

“I met some new people,” she said. “They just bought a house at the west edge of town. They’re from Arbrax.”

“Arbrax? Are they polar bears?”

“No, silly. They’re perfectly nice people, and they said I could visit their house any time.”

She brought the car to a stop in front of a new home. It was constructed in the recently popular all wood style, with a high sloping roof. Zoey hopped out and ran around back to release the steam. By the time Augie stepped out of the car, she was there to take his hand and lead him down a walkway that led past the south side of the house and into the back. The property didn’t seem to have a proper garden, just a carefully placed path that led through pine trees as thick as anywhere in the colony.

“Are you sure we’re allowed here?”

“They said I was welcome anytime.”

The path came to an end before what appeared to be a tiny version of the house. It was constructed of pine and stood at full height with the same sloping roof, but was no more than twenty by twelve feet in dimension. Zoey opened the door and stepped inside, pulling Augie along with her. Inside was a small anteroom with hooks and cubbyholes presumably for the temporary storage of clothing. Beyond that, was an unadorned wooden wall, with a wood door that had a twelve by twelve inch window at face height.

“Take off your clothes and hang them up,” said Zoey.

“What is this?” he asked.

“I’ll explain it all when you’re naked.”

“Um, explain it to me now.”

“It’s a sauna!” she squealed. “It’s, well, it’s a hot room.”

“Yes, I think I’ve heard the term before.”

“Udo me,” she said, turning her back.

With a shrug, he began working the two dozen buttons on the back of her dress. As soon as he had most of them unfastened, she shimmied out of it and began to doff her undergarments. Augie pulled off his jacket and hung it on a peg, before taking off his trousers. He had one leg out, when the door burst open and a shotgun entered, followed by the middle-aged man who was carrying it.

“Who are you?” he growled.

“It’s me, Mr. Björgan. It’s Zoey.”

“Zoantheria?” he asked, squinting at her.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Oh. Well then, you go right ahead. Sorry about the gun.”

He stepped back out and closed the door. Zoey turned to Augie, revealing that her over-the-bust corset had slipped down, exposing one bosom.

“Hurry up.”