The next day was an idyllic one for Steffie, and a relaxing one for Andrews. It was, he reflected, the first really relaxing day since he had joined the Ladybugs in New York. They ate breakfast as a group and then Steffie spent most of the morning playing with her son. Andrews talked with Jane Stanley and Monica Sin, and spent the remainder of his time finishing his book. After a light lunch, they played a game of football on the vast lawn behind the house, males against females. They enjoyed a dinner of chilidogs and sat together in the parlor as Lars watched Adventure Island on radio-vid. That night Steffie reprised her submissive role and added to it.
Lars, his aunt, and Agent Stanley were delivered to the train station the next morning, where they boarded a train that would take them to San Francisco, from which they would board their dirigible for the flight back to Switzerland. After a tearful farewell, Andrews and his Ladybug drove back to the house and their waiting airflivver, which took off for Los Angeles.
It was an almost eight hour flight to LA, necessitating a stop along the way both for fuel and to give the passengers and pilot a chance to stretch their legs. The pilot, a blonde in her thirties named Henrietta Palmer, set the vehicle down at the Sacramento airport. Sacramento was on a small outcropping of land that jutted into the San Joaquin Channel, the fourteen-mile wide strip of seawater that separated the island of California from the rest of North America. The San Joaquin Channel, which before the Science War had been known as the San Joaquin Valley was, like the almost twenty years of constant rain in the Oregon area, a result of that conflict.
Andrews inquired at the information counter and found that there was one of the many new fondue restaurants popular in the north only a short distance from the airport. Though he invited Miss Palmer to join them, she demurred and so he and Steffie took a cab to the dining establishment. Attractively dressed, Steffie was not wearing anything that would have marked her as a rock star. She had on a simple blue miniskirt with a matching short-sleeved top and a pair of platform sandals. She had worn her hair down ever since Andrews had indicated that he liked it that way. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to recognize her, and if they weren’t actively pointing, they were at least staring.
“I don’t know how you can live like this,” said Andrews as he held the chair for her to sit down.
“How do you mean?”
“With all these people staring at you all the time.”
“Maybe it’s not me they’re looking at. Maybe it’s you.”
Andrews smiled. “No. For all they know, I’m just another faux man escorting a famous woman to dinner.”
“That could be,” agreed Steffie. “Most women have been away from men so long they have forgotten what they are like. Women expect them to be big and brutish, and you John are very pretty. On the other hand I expect that our interview has been seen by about a billion people by now, so most people know we have a boyfriend.”
Andrews looked around sure enough; at least half of the looks in their direction seemed more focused on him than his dinner partner. Their food arrived just about the same time that the first women approached for autographs, and while he wasn’t asked to sign his name, more than one was suddenly struck by their reaction to him. He and Steffie ate, dipping bits of meat and vegetables into the small pot of boiling oil, and talked about how pleasant the previous days had been.
“That was really one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me,” said Steffie.
“I knew you wanted to see him and I knew you didn’t want him near the concerts, so this seemed like the perfect alternative. Fortunately I arranged for it before my superiors heard about the interview. I don’t know if I could get them to go along with anything I suggested now.”
“Are you sure that Lars will be safe on the way home?”
“Jane… that’s Agent Stanley, would lay down her life to protect either Lars or your sister. I would trust her with everything I have.”
“You and she were in the Science Police academy together?”
“Yes. We became best friends there.”
“Just friends? You never got together?”
“Oh, I would have in a second. I had quite the crush on her. But she wasn’t interested. She finds the idea of sex between people… what’s the word she used? Icky. She feels the same way about having a baby growing inside her. She’s planning on a vat baby.”
“And do you want to have children?”
“But do you want them?”
“Yes, I think so. I don’t know what kind of father I’d make.”
“You’d make a great father. I’d like to have more kids. I hated being pregnant when I was, but now I seem to only remember the good parts. Must be nature’s way.”
They finished dinner and had a chocolate fruit fondue for desert before taking another cab back to the airport. Miss Palmer the pilot was waiting for them and within minutes of climbing in the airflivver, it was buzzing south toward Los Angeles, crossing the San Joaquin Channel. They could see a large group of grey whales swimming south through the relatively narrow waterway. Once they landed, Andrews and Steffie were spirited away by private car to the Hollywood Bowl just in time to prepare for the show.
Steffie said goodbye to Andrews with a kiss and headed to the backstage area, while he made his way to the security headquarters. In addition to a dozen police and Agent Wright, there was another agent as well. She was a tall, thin woman with long blonde hair, and just as Agent Stanley had, she had chosen to wear a skirt with her black blazer.
“Welcome back,” said Wright. “This is Agent Patricia Ryan.”