Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing HoverbikeThey went up a hill and the bicycle built for two shot ahead. Austin caught up with Astrid and rode beside her.

“My grandma told me this story all about how your dad built a motorcycle and rode all over the country on it,” he said.

“Really? I wonder why he said I wasn’t allowed to have one then?”

“Maybe you could invent something even better, like a flying bicycle.”

“That’s a really good idea, Austin.”

Astrid’s mind was spinning ideas the rest of the ride, and when everyone was done, Astrid had Austin bring the bike he had been riding up to her lab. Then she got on the phone.

“Mrs. Purcell?”

“Yes, Astrid.”

“Do you have any idea how many hoverdisks my dad has?”

“He had at least fifteen made up,” she replied, “though a few of them were broken in testing.”

“Could you have someone send a couple up to my lab please?”

“I’ll get them right over, Astrid. Bye.”

By the time a lab technician arrived with a rolling cart holding two of Dr. Maxxim’s hoverdisks, Astrid had the bicycle up on her workbench, had removed both wheels and had built a pair of simple brackets in their place. The hoverdisks were two and a half feet in diameter and six inches thick. She attached one hoverdisk to each bracket. Finally she connected one of her large test batteries to the two levitation devices, securing it to the bike frame with duck tape.

“Alright Austin,” said Astrid, with Robot Valerie’s help, setting the bike on the lab floor. “Would you like to be the first person to ride on a flying bike?”

“You bet!” he shouted, climbing into the seat. “What do I have to do?”

“Just try to keep your balance,” said Astrid. Then she turned on the hoverdisks.

The bicycle immediately rose from the floor, at first just a few inches, then a foot, and then it continued upward.   The girls shouted excitedly, but no more than Austin, who looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself. The hoverdisks were humming quietly, slowly pushing the boy higher and higher. Then suddenly he was at the ceiling and he had to tilt his head to the side. Immediately the bike flipped over. Austin flailed his arms, as the now inverted hoverdisks drove him into the floor.

Astrid quickly jumped forward and disconnected the battery.

“Are you alright?” she asked the boy.

“Did you see me? I was flying!”

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing HoverbikeAll nine members of the Maxxim Board of Directors were seated around a very large oval table. Astrid’s mother left her to take a seat at the far end, leaving Astrid to face the entire group, and she was feeling very small. The girl inventor knew how it worked. Those at the table didn’t own all the shares of Maxxim Industries. In fact, she herself had quite a large block inherited from her grandmother. But these nine had been chosen by the shareholders to oversee the operations of the company, so they had tremendous power.

“These will be the new line of Maxxim Supercell Batteries,” Astrid started, lifting the cover off of the cart full of mock-ups. Mr. Brown had outdone himself. There were more than 30 different battery sizes represented—everything from tiny button batteries to large, square lantern batteries.

“Aren’t there already lots of battery manufacturers?” asked Astrid’s aunt Lauren, usually her harshest critic on the board. “Why would we want to get into a such a crowded business.”

“Our batteries will change the marketplace,” replied Astrid. “They will change the world. First of all, since they are made with our own, patented Astricite, their charge will last much longer than any other batteries. Secondly, again because of the Astricite, they can be made for far less. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they will be far less toxic than batteries made with lead, mercury, or cadmium.

“Every year Americans alone dump 180,000 tons of batteries into landfills where toxic contaminants leach out into the soil and water. Every year dozens of children are hospitalized because of ingesting tiny batteries, from which corrosive or poisonous chemicals are released.”

“Our batteries would be safe to swallow?” asked former Senator Charles Bentlemore.

“No,” Astrid replied. “There is still the problem of liquefaction necrosis, which occurs because sodium hydroxide is generated by the current produced by the battery.”

“But our batteries won’t leach into landfills?” asked board member Saul Smith.

“Correct. Astricite has a relatively short life, on the order thirty to forty years depending on the sample size. After that, it degrades into its component compounds, all of which are non-toxic.”

“How much money can we make on this?” asked Astrid’s uncle Carl, her father’s brother and Aunt Lauren’s husband.

“As my mother can confirm,” said Astrid, “batteries are a $64 billion dollar business.”

“How soon can we get these to market?” asked Mr. Roy Dillanson.

“I’ve talked to Mr. Gortner in production, and he says we can have a factory in place in fourteen months.”

“Why don’t we just use an existing factory in China or Mexico?” asked Aunt Lauren.

“We will discuss that after Astrid has gone,” said her mother. “You are finished, aren’t you Astrid?”

“Yes, Mom.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim CoverThey arrived in the lab and Astrid examined the readings on her experiment.

“I think this might make it till the week-end.”

“What’s in this box?” asked Toby, from across the room. “What’s Project RG-7, and why is it top secret?”

“I was going to show you guys next week,” said Astrid, leading the others to where Toby was standing beside the crate. “I guess you can go ahead and take a look now.”

Reaching up, she flipped open a latch and opened the side of the crate. Inside, packed with straw, was a metallic girl. She had bright silver skin, but was otherwise quite human looking. Her hair was the same metallic material as the rest of her, a solid hair-shaped mass rather than individual fibers, but she was wearing regular clothing. She had on a pink jacket over a blue t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

“Oh my gosh!” squealed Valerie. “She looks like me!”

“Yes, she does,” agreed Denise.

“That’s because I patterned her after you,” said Astrid. “She’s a Robot Girl 7.”

“What’s she… I mean it, for?” asked Austin.

“Well, who wouldn’t want a robot?” wondered Astrid. “She could be anything: friend, babysitter, maid.”

“Why did you make her look like me?” asked Valerie.

“She’s just a prototype. I thought you would be a good model for her.” Astrid stepped over to a table and pulled back a sheet. “What we’re going to do is hook you up to her and we’ll copy all the information from your brain into the robot. It will be much faster than trying to program it with a computer.”

“I don’t know…” Valerie took a step back.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Astrid assured her.

“What if it sends my brain into her body? What if I wake up and you’ve turned me into a robot?”

“That can’t happen,” said Astrid.

“That would be way cool!” exclaimed Austin. “Make a boy robot and copy my brain!”

The rest of the week went by quickly. Astrid spent most of her time after school polishing up the two papers that were due that Friday: one on The Count of Monte Cristo for her Independent Study class, and one on fungus for Biology. She did have one opportunity for fun with her friends in the evening. On Wednesday night her father had a barbecue and invited the Bundersmiths, the Browns, The Diaz’s, and the Harris’s, and two other families. Everyone ate heaps of ribs, chicken, and brisket and the kids spent hours in the pool.

Saturday morning, Astrid was back in her lab looking over the results of her battery experiment. It had gone far better than expected. She gave a quick call to Mr. Brown, Denise’s father, who was in charge of model-making at Maxxim Industries, and asked him to create a line of mock-up batteries in all the popular sizes for her presentation the next week. No sooner had she hung up the phone than Denise walked in the door, followed by Valerie.

Toby and Christopher weren’t with them, but Astrid knew right where they were. They were two of only a four freshmen at school who had their pilot’s licenses, so they spent every other Saturday at the Maxxim Industries airfield, trying to get enough hours to qualify on the newest aircraft models.

“Hey Guys,” said Astrid. “Right on time.”

“I’m still not sure about this,” said Valerie.

“Don’t worry. We’re just programming the robot to be able to follow some basic input. We want to be able to tell it to go here, or pick that up, or bring me that test tube. Programming it by hand would take weeks. This way, we can map out the entire command structure by copying the way your brain works. I thought you would enjoy this, being a part of history.”

“I guess it’s alright,” said Valerie. “You’re not going to fry my brain or anything?”

“Of course not.”

“Don’t worry,” said Denise. “I won’t let her do any mad science stuff to you.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Just sit down here on the table by Robot Girl 7,” Astrid instructed. “I’ll just put these sensors on your temples.”

She stuck a white circular sticky pad with a wire extending from it onto each side of Valerie’s head.

“Now I just throw the switch.” She flipped a switch on a nearby panel. “Feel anything?”

“No,” answered Valerie, a little shakily.

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing HoverbikeEven though they spent a great deal of time away from each other during the day, the whole gang always got together in the Quad at 12:00 for lunch. Astrid had been looking forward to lunch since she read the menu that morning just after the Pledge of Allegiance—Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower pasta with pine nuts, whole grain garlic bread, tossed salad, and yogurt parfait. Toby, Denise, and Valerie were already sitting at their usual table when she and Christopher sat down.

“So, how’s it going?” asked Toby.

“Fine,” said Christopher and everyone agreed.

“I heard Mr. Kramer is sick,” said Valerie. “I guess we’ll have a substitute today.”

“I don’t like substitutes,” said Denise. “We always end up behind. Then we have to work all that much harder the rest of the week.”

“You won’t get behind today,” said Toby. “My dad is your sub today, so count on extra homework.” He laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have Geometry.”

“You just wait,” said Valerie. “When my dad subs, he’ll have you swimming extra laps.”

At Rachel Carson High School, all parents were required to serve six days a year as faculty or staff members. For Toby’s father, who was a structural engineer, that usually meant teaching Math. Valerie’s father, head of security for Maxxim Industries, usually either taught a Physical Education class or served as a school safety officer.

“Hey, what’s going on over there?” wondered Denise, indicating a table across the Quad from where they sat.

“It looks like Mark McGovern is picking on that kid,” said Christopher. “He picked on me last year because I have dark skin.”

“He picked on me because my mother is from Mexico,” said Valerie.

“He picked on me because I have two dads,” said Denise.

“He calls me a nerd all the time,” said Astrid.

“Well, he never picked on me, because I’d sock him in the teeth,” said Toby. “Do any of you know that kid? He was in my Swimming class last hour.”

“He’s new,” said Valerie. “He was in our Art History Class.”

“I’m sick of Mark McGovern,” said Toby, and picking up his tray, he started across the common area. The others quickly grabbed their food and followed.

“Excuse me,” Toby told Mark.

“What?”

“You’re in my way.”

When the boy stepped back, Toby sat down next to the new kid. The new kid was a little on the chunky side and had a buzz cut. Christopher, Valerie, Denise, and Astrid filled in the rest of the spaces.

“I didn’t know this was the loser table,” said Mark.

“It was,” said Toby. “But then you left and it wasn’t again.”

The boy balled up his fist and stared at Toby for a moment, but Toby just stared back. Finally, Mark turned and walked away and the gang all turned their attention to their new table mate.

“Hello,” said Astrid. “What did Mark the mook want?”

“He’s in my Algebra class and he’s been teasing me all day about my name.”

“What’s your name?”

“Austin Tretower.”

“Austin’s not a funny name,” she said.

“Tretower is a bit funny, you have to admit,” said Toby. “That doesn’t mean people should tease you about it though.”

“It’s not any funnier than Bundersmith,” said Christopher.

“Bundersmith isn’t funny,” countered Toby.

“No, it isn’t,” said Astrid, who had spent more than a few hours pondering the possibility of being Astrid Bundersmith someday.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike“Help! Help! We’re all going to die!”

“Stop it, Dad,” said Astrid Maxxim as she steered her father’s car.

“Somebody save me! For the love of Mergatroid, save me!”

“Stop it, Dad.”

“Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity!”

“I’ve already stopped, Dad. The car is parked. It’s right between the yellow lines.”

“It’s really over?” asked Dr. Roger Maxxim, peering out the car windshield at the massive Research and Development Department building in front of them. “I’m still alive?”

“You are so very funny,” said Astrid. “You should have been a comedian instead of a mad scientist.”

“I’m an inventor,” said her father, as they both climbed out of the car. “I am an inventor just like your grandfather and your great-grandfather and your great-great-grandfather. And you will be too.”

“I already am.”

“Yes you are.”

They were parked in Dr. Maxxim’s personal parking space next to the R&D building, a half-mile wide, fourteen story structure that dominated the northwest corner of the Maxxim Industries campus. The campus, sprawling across 180,000 acres of the American southwest, featured machine shops, office buildings, factories, power plants, and its own airport. It was here, where for the past forty-two years, thousands of Maxxim products had been developed and produced, making the Maxxim family very wealthy and making the world a better place in which to live.

Dr. Roger Maxxim was a tall man whose brown hair was only just beginning to show a touch of grey at his temples. He wore a pair of sturdy glasses, behind which were creases that could more honestly be called laugh lines than wrinkles.

Dr. Maxxim’s daughter Astrid was startlingly cute, with shoulder length strawberry blonde hair and very large blue eyes. At five foot five, she was exactly in the middle of her class when they arranged themselves by height for their class picture, which still made her four inches shorter than her mother. Like her father, she wore a white lab coat over her street clothes.

“You see,” said Astrid. “Look at that parking job. That’s just about as good as a person could get.”

“It’s pretty good,” her father agreed.

“It’s good enough that I should be able to drive all the time.”

“I let you drive as much as possible, Astrid.”

“I could drive a lot more, if I had my own car.”

“Astrid, the minimum driving age in this state is eighteen,” replied her father. “You know this. You also know that you have only just turned fourteen.”

“But Dad, I could just drive here at Maxxim Industries. It takes forever to get around here. I wouldn’t drive anywhere else. Honest.”

“No,” her father said. “In the first place, Astrid, it’s against the rules. In the second place, what would I say to all the other people who work here and are parents of fourteen year-olds? And in the third place, your mother would kill me, so that’s really all the places that I need.”

For King and Country – Chapter 22 Excerpt

Saba entered his home through the front door.

He peeled off his fall coat and looked at it.  It was pretty scorched.  It probably wasn’t worth keeping.  As he hung it on the coat hook, DeeDee stepped into the foyer from the parlor.  She had a worried look on her face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.

“Are you all right?”

“Well enough.  Do we have a healing draft?”

“I think there is one in the parlor hutch,” she said.

“Get it.  I’m going to need you to pour some on my back.  Give me about ten minutes to clean up and then bring it upstairs.”

He climbed up the stairs and entered his room.  It was cold and empty, though the maid had straightened up and made his bed.  Stepping into the closet, he quickly changed into fresh underwear and a clean set of trousers, though he stayed shirtless.  DeeDee hadn’t arrived, so he washed up and brushed his teeth.  He was just finishing as she timidly entered.

“Pour some of that on anyplace that looks burned or red,” he said turning around.

“That’s your whole back.”

He grabbed the hand towel that he had used to dry his face.

“Pour it on this and then rub it all over.”

She did as he directed.

“Where is your Gran?” he asked.

“She’s gone visiting.  I think she just wanted to get out of the house.”

“And what have you been up to?”

“No much, honestly.”  Her eyes began to fill with tears.  “It feels like our family is falling apart.”

“Families are like any other living thing,” said Saba, stepping across the room to retrieve a clean shirt.  “They’re born with the combining of male and female.  They grow.  They reproduce.  Then they die.”

He put on his shirt, buttoned it, and tucked it in.

“You’re our little seed.  You’ll be off to start your own family soon enough, but sixteen is too young to be married.”

“I know,” she said.  “I told Julius I wouldn’t marry until I was eighteen.  He’s fine with that.  Our engagement will be just a little over a year long.  We could get married in Restuary or Festuary of 1926.”

“Hmm.  That actually sounds sensible.”

“Will you talk to Julius, please?  I can send a lizzie to fetch him here.”

“All right DeeDee.  As I’ve noted many times, you do eventually always get what you want.”

 

* * * * *

 

Senta opened her eyes and looked at the daylight streaming into the window.  She found a quick glance at the clock, which read 10:00, confusing.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’ve been asleep for almost seventeen hours,” said Karl’s voice from across the room.  He was sitting in a hardbacked chair across the room from her.  “I would have called for a doctor, but you seemed fine.”

“I was just very tired.”  She rolled out of bed and looked at him.  “How are you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Get undressed,” she said, noting that he was wearing only his underwear.  “We’ll take a bath, and both feel much better.”

By the time he entered the bathroom, she already had the water flowing and scented bath salts in the tub.  With a wave, she encouraged him to climb in, and once he had done so, she joined him.  She leaned back on him and gently tickled his thighs with her fingers.

“How many men have you had in this tub with you?” he asked.

“Surprisingly few.”

“I was planning on asking you something—taking you to dinner, and… Well, I don’t know if you care for all the ceremony…”

“Oh, I do.  We will have dinner this evening at Café Idella, and you can ask me then… whatever it is.”

“I think I love you,” he said, kissing her neck.

“That is good to know,” she said.

For King and Country – Chapter 21 Excerpt

Saba signed the letter, dated it the tenth of Magnius, and then placed it, unfolded, in the large official-looking envelope.  And so officially ended his term as chief of police.  Twenty-two years with the Port Dechantagne Police Department.  That was a lifetime.  Maybe it was time to let that lifetime go.  He had time for another one.

Hearing footsteps, he looked to see his daughter enter from the kitchen.  She was wearing a white day dress trimmed with black that made her look older than her sixteen years.  Almost seventeen years, he thought.

“Where have you been, DeeDee?”

“I’ve been staying with the Stephensons.”

“You what?”

“It’s all fine.  Gran has been my chaperone the whole time.”  She crossed her arms and gave him a look that he had seen from her mother on many occasions.  “You know, you haven’t even asked where Mummy is.”

“I know she’s not where she’s supposed to be,” he said.  “She’s not right here supporting me.”

“You know how she is, Dad.  You have to be the strong one.  I know you’re having a terrible time.  I do.  But you’re able to see yourself through.  Mummy’s never been strong, but she is your wife.  It’s your duty to take care of her.”

“When did you get so bloody inciteful, little girl?” he growled.  “Is this wisdom a product of your vast sixteen year’s experience in life?”

He licked the envelope, placed it on the table, and then sealed it shut by slamming his fist down on it with only slightly less force than it would have taken to splinter the sturdy pine.

“I’m going to my room,” said DeeDee, turning and starting up the stairs.  “Julius will be by to speak to you later.  He wants to ask you something.”

“Perhaps he should come another day,” said Saba, pointedly.  “I’m not in a very agreeable frame of mind.”

She didn’t answer or look back, just continued up the stairs.

 

* * * * *

 

“What else can I get you?” Bryony Baxter asked her husband, as she hovered around the breakfast table.

“More beans would be ace,” he said.

She hurried into the kitchen and returned with the pot, hot off the stove, ladling more of the sweet, smoky beans onto his plate.

“I could do with a few more beans,” said Sen.

“Of course, dear.  How about my big boy?”

Kerry shook his head, though his attention was on a tiny wooden replica of a battleship, parked just to the left of his plate.

“I believe the future navy man is full,” said Baxter.

Bryony returned the beans to the kitchen and then took her seat next to her husband.  Just as he was reaching out for his teacup, she snatched his hand in hers, and pulled it to her breast.

“When do you think you’ll be leaving?” she asked.

“Leaving where?”

“Leaving here… for Yessonarah.”

“Oh, not for weeks.”

He looked at Sen, who swirled her finger next to her head, forming a crazy gesture.

“You need to stop fixating on my trip,” he said.  “It’s not a big deal.  I won’t be leaving until the princess goes home, and by then, the train line will have covered a great deal of the distance.  It will be no more exciting than taking the train from Brech City to Booth.”

“Then you won’t mind if Kerry, Addy, and I come along?”

“Don’t be silly.  Being safe enough for a man and safe enough for a little girl are two very different things.”

“Well, at least you’re taking Sen with you.”

“That hasn’t been decided,” said Baxter.

“Oh, it has,” said Sen, taking a bite of bacon.  “We all voted, and you lost, so you have to take me.”

“Getting to spend time with you is not something that I consider a loss, but I do think I should be informed ahead of time when these so-called votes are taken.”

“We’ll be sure to let you know in the future,” said the thirteen-year-old with a smirk.

For King and Country – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Iolana woke with her head resting on Ascan’s bare chest.  She didn’t move, though she could tell by his breathing that he was awake.

“Pfennig for your thoughts,” he said.

“I was just thinking what a horrible hypocrite I am.”

He chuckled.

“No, really.”

“Oh, I’m not arguing,” he said.  “What brought on this amazing realization?”

“My mother became pregnant with me before she was married, and over the years, I’ve called her so many horrible names because of that fact.  Now here I am, like a pampered animal that rages in savage sensuality.  I am as intemperate in my blood as she was in hers.”

“Iolana, things look different when you have a different perspective.”

“Kafira,” she said.  “My father said almost those exact words to me.  Have I always been such a fool?”

“You’re not a fool,” he said.  “You were naïve.  There are worse things to be.”

“Like what?”

“Unforgiving.”

She lifted her head up and looked into his eyes.

“I should forgive my mother?”

“Yes,” he said, “right after you forgive yourself.”

“How did you become so wise?” she smiled.  “Perhaps you should become the professor and I’ll be the merchant.”

“I’m a banker, and a successful one at that.  Now get up and fix your fiancé something delicious to eat.”

Iolana’s large eyes grew even larger and her cheeks blushed.

“I can make eggs and toast, but… I’m… not a very accomplished cook.”

“The marriage is off then,” he said, grabbing her and pulling her up to him.

She struggled for just a minute before surrendering and letting him kiss her mouth.

 

* * * * *

 

Governor Iolanthe Dechantagne Staff carefully examined herself in the mirror.  She had long ago faced the fact that her days of great beauty were behind her, but she still looked strong.  She looked ready to face down any threat to her family or her colony, be it man, dragon, or act of God.  The day she looked in the mirror and saw a feeble old woman, she decided, she would eat the barrel of her revolver.

Leaving her rooms, she walked past the elevator and briskly navigated the stairs to the first floor.  It was still before seven and Maria scheduled breakfast for eight each morning, so Iolanthe marched to the kitchen for a crumpet and tea.  It was with some surprise that she saw Yuah and Gladys sitting in the south sunroom as she passed by.  She stopped and stepped through the doorway.

“You two are up unusually early,” she observed.

“We have a great deal to do today,” said Yuah.

“Well, you don’t have on your swimming costumes, so I take it you don’t intend to spend the entire day pearl diving.”

Yuah gasped.

“You’re disgusting,” growled Gladys.

“You shut up or I’ll slap you into next Festuary, you little deviant!”  Iolanthe turned to Yuah.  “Keep a muzzle on your pet.  You, I have to put up with.  Her, I don’t.”

“What’s going on here?” demanded Augustus, appearing in the hallway behind Iolanthe.  “Mother.  Gladys. Auntie.”

“Just Iolanthe being her usual cow of a self,” said Yuah.

“I built this house as large as it is primarily so that the two of you would not randomly run into one another.”

“You’re up early too,” Iolanthe observed.

“I wanted to catch a ride with you to the office,” he replied, still frowning.

“Then let us be on our way.”

 

* * * * *

 

“I really wish you and mother could get along,” said Augustus, as he steered his aunt’s car down First Avenue.

He was the only one she suffered to drive her.  He was the only one she had ever suffered to drive her—he or his father.

“I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle this morning,” she said.  “I said something that hurt her feelings.”

“What did you say?”

“I made a comment about what she was wearing.”

“Well, it seems innocuous enough,” he said, “but you know how sensitive Mother is.  You should know it if anyone does.  The two of you have been together longer than most married couples.”

“That is true,” she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a fingertip.

“We certainly don’t need any blowups at the wedding,” he said.

“Oh, there won’t be.  In any case, I’m glad you’ve come in early.  I want you to consult with Colonel Mortimer.  You will be commanding the Colonial Guard in the upcoming action against the dragons.”

“Auntie, I’ve never commanded men in battle.  I’ve never even been in a battle myself.”

“You’ve studied military science.”

“It’s not the same thing,” he said.  “I’ve read about military strategy and tactics, but you can’t learn everything you need to know from a book.”

“That’s not what my daughter says.”

“I’m surprised to be the one to tell you this, Auntie, but Iolana does not know everything.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that.”

He laughed.

“The two of you are exactly alike.”

“She’s nothing like me,” said Iolanthe, sticking her chin into the air.

For King and Country – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Augie leaned back and sipped his tea.

“It’s been a very nice week,” he said.  “You know, it’s been several very nice weeks.  Things are looking good.  God is in his heaven, the king’s on his throne, and all is right with the world.”

“Nothing to worry about but the impending doom sure to destroy us all,” said Zoey, from the other side of the breakfast nook.

“You need to stop worrying, dear.  After all, you’re a dragon.”  He laughed.  “If the rest of us get burned to ashes, you can still fly away.”

“How can you say that?” she gasped.  “Don’t you know that anyone or anything that means you harm has to go through me?  Even if it kills me.”

“Don’t be upset, my love.  Senta assures me that she has everything in hand.  Furthermore, she tells me that no attack will occur before Treuary 22nd of next year.”

“What if she’s wrong?  What if she made that date up?”

“She wouldn’t do that.  Would she?  I mean, to what end?”

“Does she really need a reason to do any of the things she does?” wondered Zoey.

“Yes.  Well, maybe not a good reason.  Now you’ve gone and made me depressed.”

“I’ve just given you something to think about—the same thing I’ll be having nightmares about for the next few days.”  She stood up, bent over, and kissed him deeply.  “See yourself out.”

Then she was gone.

Sitting until he finished his tea, Augie finally got up and made his way out of the huge house he had built for his dragon paramour, and crossed the gardens, now bare and grey, to the side entrance of the Dechantagne mansion.

At the top of the steps, Hsturrn opened the door for him.

Does my wife have people here for breakfast?” he asked in the reptilian’s tongue.

Breakfast is over.”

Nodding in acknowledgement, he entered and made his way to the elevator.

Walking down the hallway, he slowed to examine some of the photographs mixed among the paintings on the wall.

One in particular caught his attention.  It must have been taken in late Magnius or early Kafirius, almost exactly twenty-two years before.  The photograph was a family portrait taken in front of the original Dechantagne house in Birmisia.  It was a large house with two stories and gabled roof, though nowhere near the size of their current home.  From left to right were Auntie Iolanthe and Uncle Radley.  He was holding Iolana tucked in one arm.  She would have been about two and a half.  Then there was Mrs. Godwin, whom Augie had heard of but didn’t remember, then Augie’s mother, holding him, still a newborn, in her arms.  He wondered for a moment where his father was, but then remembered that he would have been in Brechalon at that time.  Finally, on the right, was Mrs. Colbshallow and her son Saba, in his blue constable’s uniform.

Saba had been having a rough time lately, Augie mused.  Lost his job and charged with manslaughter.  Augie didn’t hold with wife-beaters.  Still, beating the man to death was a bit much.  Saba was a family friend though, and such things had to be seen to.

Augie was so lost in thought that he scarcely noticed when he entered the elevator, or for that matter exited it.  He caught himself as he passed his wife’s door.  He wondered for a moment if he should stop in and see how she was feeling, but he didn’t.  He continued to his own door and entered his suite.

The room was a warm, comfortable space that still featured many of the items that had been in his room when he was a boy.  Stuffed dinosaur heads were hung on the wall.  A hutch filled with carefully painted tin soldiers was directly across the room from the fireplace.  Between them was a sofa and chair.  He stepped over to the sofa and plopped down.

“I didn’t know you were home.”  The voice of his wife, as she stepped out of his bedroom, startled him.

“What are you doing here?” he wondered.

“I was organizing your shoes, and once I got started organizing, I couldn’t stop.  I’ve gotten your suits organized now.”

“That was very thoughtful.”

He stood up and crossed the room, kissing her on the cheek, before continuing through his bedroom and into his closet.

“Well done,” he said.  “A place for everything and everything in its place.  I need to get rid of some of these suits.  I don’t wear them anymore.”

“If you’ll point them out to me,” said Maria, “we can donate them to shrine members.  I’m sure there are many young men among them who would appreciate a fine suit.”

“That’s fine.  Say, what are you about today?  Do you plan on organizing the kitchen or the gardener’s shed, or did you have something else planned?”

“As a matter of fact, I decided that I would do a little site-seeing today.  There are still many places in the colony that I haven’t seen after nearly two years here.  I haven’t been out to any of the dinosaur ranches.  For that matter, I haven’t been out of the city limits at all.”

“Are you going with some of the ladies from Shrine, or perhaps Mother and Gladys?” he asked, still flipping through his suits.

“No.  Just me, and of course, Maxwell.”

“Well, we can’t have that,” he said, turning around.  “I’ll take you around.”

“You’re not too busy?”

“No.  I do have to stop by the Gurrman Building and pick up some paperwork, if you don’t mind, but that won’t take but a moment.”

“That would be lovely,” said Maria.

“Shall we meet downstairs then?”

For King and Country – Chapter 18 Excerpt

Senta sighed and opened her eyes.  She had been dreaming a very nice dream.  She and Baxter had been making love on the beach under the warming rays of the sun.  Bryony had been there too, sitting on a blanket nearby, having a picnic.  The sorceress rolled over and saw Willie Watson lying on his back next to her.  His mouth was open, and drool was running down his chin.  He let out a deep snore.  She lifted her leg and kicked him hard in the side.

“Get out!” she yelled.

“What?  What are you going on about?”

“Get out!  Get out of my house!”  She kicked him again, knocking him completely out of bed.  “I don’t want to see you anymore!”

The sorcerer climbed to his feet.

“What’s the matter?”

The sorceress went from the bed to standing beside it in one fluid motion.

“I’m tired of you.  Get out.”

“Fine,” he grumbled, looking around for his clothes.

“Now.”

“I have to get dressed!”

“Now!”

She reached up and plucked an immaterial glamour from around her head and threw it at him.  He blinked out of her presence.  His clothes were still on the chair near the door.

Waving toward the bathroom, she used magic to turn on the spigot to the bathtub.

“He might need these clothes.”

Senta glanced at her daughter, standing in the doorway.

“Nobody needs clothes in the middle of the forest.”

She started toward the bathroom but stopped and looked back at Sen.  Realization hit her like a punch in the face just how much her daughter resembled her when she was thirteen years old.

“By Kafira, you know you are such a beautiful girl.”

“Who are you and where is my mother?” snarked the girl.

“Don’t brass me off.  I’m in such a good mood.”

“You didn’t sound like it when you were yelling at that ratbag.”

“I mean since he left,” explained Senta.  “Come into the bathroom and talk to me while I have a soak.”

The tub was still only half filled, so Senta left the faucet running as she climbed in.  Her daughter followed her into the room, picked up a box of Mrs. Pilfer’s Carbonated Bath Salts, and poured them in under the running water.

“This way I don’t have to stare at your crinkum-crankum the entire time.”

“If you didn’t come to look at my best bits, why are you here?”

“Magic,” said the girl.

“Excellent.  I shall give you your new spell after I get out of the bath.  What else has been going on in your life?”

“My birthday is coming up.”

“I am aware.  Was there something special you wanted?”

“Not really.”

“How is your father?”

“You should know.  Haven’t you been shagging him?”

“What?  No!  Oh, I mean your other father.”

“My dad is fine.  I’m probably going to go to Yessonarah with him.”

“Absolutely not!” said the sorceress, sitting bolt upright and sloshing out some of the water.  “That trip is way too dangerous for him!”

“So, I can go but he can’t?”

“Well, you can take care of yourself,” she said, sliding back down into the warm water.  “What time is it getting to be?”

“It’s past lunch.”

“Do you want to stay for tea?  I have a special guest coming.”

“Bessemer?”

“Yes.  How did you know?”

“I can feel him.”

“Then why don’t you go down and tell Cook to prepare an extra-large tea.”