Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's alive!

My latest book, a science fiction romance, Cynthia the invincible , is no longer on Kindle Scout. That said, it's available from kindle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


One of the things I was doing as I tried to write historically accurate novels was to read as much historically accurate documentation as I could. This includes at least scanning the fiction of the time, as well as reading about exactly how much the living at the parish that included the town of Rhossili made. ( £102.15.0)

There was one interesting, at least to me, side effect. My pacing slowed down to match that of the literature I was reading. Most of the fictional books of the time were written to be read out loud and are paced too slowly for modern tastes. Since there was little else to do in the evenings, reading out loud took the place of radio or TV today.  I wasn't necessarily more wordy, but I wrote slower action.

My latest, Cynthia the Invincible, which will be out in kindle scout on Thursday, has a much faster, more modern pace. Since it is science fiction, albeit largely set in Regency Brighton and thereabouts, I didn't have to try to be accurate.

I did my best to avoid real skiamorphs, like horses that were as easy to ride long distances as it is to drive a car or impossible timings. That said, some of the events (especially those involving the Prince Regent) are based on actual historical events. These include things like his annual August 12th birthday party, and one infamous night with an air-rifle. On the other hand, there's no evidence he ever tried to play 'strip piquet' with a marked deck.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mischief Night!

If you know what these are you'll understand why I'm excited. Cynthia the Invincible was accepted for Kindle Scout! It will be out October 30, which is "mischief night" in the USA. (The link won't start until the 30th).

(OK I'm off by two letters, but so what?)

The waterfall at the top of Kinder Scout.

Looking back along the path on the way to the scout.

What the top looks like. Lots of erosion.

Having been trained as an OWL webelos leader I'm spending the weekend away from the net. So more on Sunday (if I recover) or Monday (otherwise).

Draft first chapter of "the mysterious Mr. Willis"

The steam-punk book I'd put aside is showing signs of returning to life.

1. Distant Thunder.

Miss Marianne Milton busied herself around the rectory. Her brother, the Reverend Henry Milton and his new wife, Mrs. Ruth Milton ne Ascwith were expected to arrive on the morrow. He was starting his first preferment in the little Thames-side village of Pangbourne, just a few miles upstream from Reading. It was an excellent living and one that was unusually large for a young vicar. The wonder was that it was still unoccupied. Ruth insisted that her old friend and new sister-in-law stay with them at least until they were settled in. She explained that since Pangbourne was so close to Reading that they could visit the assemblies there together. If they failed to find her an eligible husband there, the hunting grounds at Newbury, Oxford and Bath were but a day's carriage ride away.
Their belongings and small furniture had arrived the day before. While the servants were able to unpack most of it, there was an unending stream of questions about where things should go. Getting to know the servants, especially the cook and the manservant, occupied most of the rest of her time. It would never do to greet the newlyweds with an ill-cooked meal and a domestic dispute underway. Finally, in the late afternoon, she was able to retire to the parlor, put up her feet and enjoy a spicy romantic novel with a cup of tea.
Unfortunately, it was just at this moment that the door knocker sounded. Her maid answered it, and after a few moment's discussion escorted the callers to her.
“Miss Milton, Mr. Willis and his man, Mr. Morgan, are here to see you.”
Mr. Willis entered, bowed, and then said, “Miss Milton, just a call of courtesy. Morgan and I were passing and noticed the rectory was now occupied.”
Marianne looked at the pair. Mr. Willis had a bright, almost burnt, red face. It was complemented by frizzled hair that shot back from his forehead in what could best be described as looking like a goose that had been pulled through a chimney to clean it. His valet had done his best to comb it into a stylish Brutus but with mixed results. Most striking of all he work large wire-rimmed dark glasses. It seemed that even the subdued light of the late afternoon irritated his eyes. He carried a cane, and unlike most dandy's he appeared to need its extra support, at least sometimes.
Mr. Morgan was unusual as well. Unlike most of the valet's she had seen, who tended to be slight well-dressed men with an elegant sense of style, Mr. Morgan was a large muscular man with the cauliflower ear and broken nose of a prizefighter. The combination of valet's uniform, quiet manner and sheer physical presence gave him a decidedly menacing air.
Marianne said, “I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Willis. My brother Reverend Milton and his new wife should arrive tomorrow.”
“I'm sorry to have missed him. In any case, may I be the first to welcome you to our pleasant little village.”
“You may.”
“I trust you are moved in. Is there any question I may answer or way that I can be of service?”
“No, not yet anyway. But thank you for asking.”
Since he knew that staying past a few minutes when making a courtesy visit was rude, Mr. Willis was about to excuse himself when the building shook. The windows rattled and her tea cup chattered. A few seconds later a distant rumble of thunder followed. He pulled an unusually large watch, a chronometer, from his pocket and counted the time as the house was buffeted four more times. Marianne asked him, “What was that?”
He ignored her and said to his valet. “Uniform twenty second intervals. Excellent. I think they are finally getting the timing under control.”
Mr. Morgan nodded, but only said, “Sir, remember that we are not inside the park.”
“Yes, I see. Sorry.”
Marianne again demanded, “What was that? Do you know?”
Mr. Willis shut the cover on his watch and carefully replaced it in his pocket before he said, “Nothing. Don't worry about it. It was nothing at all.”
Marianne was not convinced and was about to repeat the question when Mr. Willis rose and bowed to her. He said, “It has been pleasant to meet you. I hope we will see each other again, possibly at one of the assemblies. I dare not overstay my welcome on a first visit. Not if I'd like to have a second. Come Micheal, let us continue our walk.” With that he and his valet left.

After her guests left, Marianne resumed reading her novel, but somehow Mrs. Radcliffe's words seemed not to grip. She found her maid and told her that she was going for a walk, “I should like to explore towards Sulham. Could you tell the cook that I might be a little late?”
“Yes, miss. Did you want me to come with you?”
“Only if you wish. I need the air.”
Her maid said, “There's still much for me to do, so I'd rather stay.” Besides which, being London born, walking was not her favorite activity. Especially not walking as far or as fast as her mistress.
Marianne left the rectory and found her way to The Street1. She followed it away from the river and towards the wooded hills that defined the boundary between her brother's parish and the next. It did not take her long to reach the junction in Tidmarsh between The Street and Mill lane. She turned up Mill lane and was watching the Pang river from the bridge when she was accosted.
“I see, Miss Milton, that we meet again.” It was that Mr. Willis and his companion.
“Yes, I suppose we do.”
“Had I known you were interested in exploring the countryside, I would have offered our services as guides.”
“Do you know this countryside well?”
“Well enough, although not as well as I would like. I'm afraid my work keeps me occupied.”
“Does your work have anything to do with those explosions.”
Michael coughed, and Mr. Willis looked at him. Then he said, “I understand, Mr. Morgan.” Turning again to Marianne, he continued, “There isn't anything I can tell you about them.”
“Oh. I suppose you have your reasons.”
“I do, and it would be best if we don't continue discussing them.”
“Best for whom?”
“You mostly.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No. Not at all. It's just.” He paused, then said, “It's just there are some things best left alone, and those explosions are one of them.”
A loud continuous roar stopped Marianne from asking further questions. The ground shook for a full minute. When it was over Mr. Willis looked at his companion and said. “Michael, that's bad. It sounds like something has gone wrong. You need to get to the park.”
“Sir? What about your safety.”
“Miss Milton will see to that, won't you my dear?”
Marianne started, and said, “Me? Your safety? I'm just a young woman.”
Mr. Willis smiled, “Michael's job is to keep me out of trouble while I recover from,” he paused to carefully consider his words, “my latest accident. Surely you can do that. Unless, of course, you're a French agent?”
“No, I'm just a lady of quality. My brother's a vicar, so how could I be otherwise?”
“Then I think, Michael, I shall be safe. Please go, they will need you at the park. I promise I won't get into any trouble while you're away.”
Michael gave Marianne an unsettling inspection. It was cold, impersonal, but thorough. “I suppose she will do. Miss Milton, Mr. Willis is recovering from an unfortunate event. Please keep him from getting too excited.”
“I'll do my best.”
Michael said, “Thank you, Ma'am. Mr. Willis, I shall meet you back at the inn or perhaps,” and here he smiled at Miss Milton, “the rectory.” Then he started running towards the source of the noise.

Mr. Willis offered his arm to Marianne. “Miss Milton, would you care to continue?”
“What was that about?”
“The explosions or Michael's care?”
Mr. Willis took a deep breath, started to answer her, and then blithely ignored her question. He pointed to the birds circling in the distance, “I see the kites are out. Some poor farmer has lost another sheep.”
Marianne was not to be deterred so easily. While she accepted, indeed enjoyed, Mr. Willis's supporting arm, and suggested that they walk back up the hill towards the woods, she planned a careful set of questions to shuck the pearl of information from the oyster of his silence.
“Mr. Willis?” she asked, “Did your accident have anything to do with the explosions?”
“What explosions?”
“The ones just this afternoon?”
“Those, no. I was with you.” He paused, then said, “Would you mind if we rested here? I'm tired and this hedgerow is a good place to look for tit's.”
They sat in silence and watched the small birds play among the bushes. Finally, Marianne asked a question that Mr. Willis could directly answer, “Your accident, were you seriously hurt?”
A brief flicker of a smile passed over his face. It was followed by a wince and then his face returned to its wonted impassivity. “Seriously enough to be sent to pasture for a few weeks. That's why I'm here.”
“And Michael?”
“He's both my bodyguard and my valet.” He pulled out his unusual watch again, “I say, look at the time. We really must be getting back to Pangbourne.”
“Must we? There is nothing waiting for me at the rectory. Since my brother and his wife are not due until tomorrow, the cook has no plans.”
“If you would, I can offer you the hospitality of the Cross Keys. It's where I'm staying and the food has been more than passable.”
“Isn't that a common pub?”
“I'll hire a parlor, and arrange for a maid. For proprieties sake.”
The walk back to Pangborne, though a couple of miles, flew past in what seemed only a few minutes. Mr. Willis was soon in negotiation with the landlord, a Mr. Ellis.
“Mr. Ellis, I would like to hire a parlor this evening.”
“Mr. Willis, isn't the taproom still good enough for you?”
“The taproom is fine for me, but I have company, a Miss Milton, the new vicar's sister. It's not suitable for her.”
“Ah, I see, and I presume you would need a maid to keep Miss Milton company?”
“If you could.”
“My daughter, Millie, is active in the parish. Would she do?”
“I expect so. Now as to price?”
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Willis escorted Miss Milton upstairs to a private parlor. Given the likely chill of the evening a fire was burning in the grate and to ward off the incipient dusk the candles had been lit. Wax candles, not cheap tallow ones with their smoke and smell. Miss Milton noticed that her host had arranged for the inn to produce its finest. Even the tablecloth was clean. He introduced Millie to Miss Milton, and they were just sitting at the table, when there was a loud knock on the door.
It was Micheal, and he was accompanied by a tall, thin woman with her black hair pulled back. It gave her a severe and dour look reminiscent of the school mistress she once was. Several red-coated soldiers were behind them in the hall. Evidently Mr. Willis knew her. He rose and said, “Mrs. Hobbes, what brings you here?”
There was no answer, but Michael strode forward and handed Mr. Willis a note. He quickly scanned it. Then he nodded at Michael and said, “I see. I'll be ready momentarily.” After that he tore the note into strips and burned them in the fire. He used the poker to knock the ashes into tiny fragments. Finally, he bowed to Marianne and said, “Miss Milton, I'm truly sorry, but I must go. Mrs. Hobbes will look after you and see that you are safely returned to your home.”
Marianne watched as Mr. Willis and Micheal left. One soldier followed them, but the other two took up guard positions outside the room.
Marianne asked her companion, “Mrs. Hobbes, what is it? Is my friend in trouble.”
“No. The food will be here shortly. I've been informed that the Cross Keys does a good meal. Let's enjoy it.”
“Seriously, Mrs. Hobbes, what is going on?”
“Miss Milton, was it?” Marianne nodded, “I cannot tell you. It is best if we not discuss it. Are you looking forward to life at the vicarage?”
Marianne was not to be dissuaded that easily. “Is it an,” she paused and said in a low voice, “an asylum for lunatics or a prison?”
Mrs. Hobbes laughed, “You might call it an asylum. I'd say that's accurate.”
“And Mr. Willis, is he an inmate there?”
“One of the chief ones.” The waiter arrived with their meal, and Mrs. Hobbes called their attention to it. “I'm sure you're hungry after your walk. I certainly am. Shall we give a blessing and then eat?”
Having little in common, and given Mrs. Hobbes strong disinclination to answer questions, conversation lagged during the meal. Eventually it finished and Mrs. Hobbes rose. She said, “Miss Milton, may I escort you home?”
“It's not far, I can go by myself.”
“No miss, I will escort you. It is for your safety.”
“I shall be safe.”
“Yes you shall. I will see to that.” She opened the door, gestured for Miss Milton to leave first, then followed her with the two soldiers for company. The process reversed itself at the vicarage, where Mrs. Hobbes invited herself in and then rigidly sat upright on a chair in the parlor. Marianne accompanied her, unsure of how she should treat this unusual guest. They sat silently until the faint noise of a distant drum broke the air. It was followed by the sound of a professional musket volley. There was a second drum roll and volley. Mrs. Hobbes visibly relaxed and said, “I think they found them. Good.”
“Found who?”
“French agents.”
Mrs. Hobbes sat and looked sterner than she did before, as if that were possible. Then she looked at the watercolors that were hanging in the room and said, “Are these paintings yours, Miss Milton?”
“Yes. From happier times.”
“I see. You have a good hand and a fine eye. Much finer than most of my students ever were.”
“Your students?”
“I ran the Abbey school in Reading, until I was needed at the park.”
“I though you looked like a school-mistress.”
“Thank you. I'm glad I still do. That's what I hope to return to, eventually.”
There was a loud banging on the vicarage door, and Micheal strode in. He said, “Mrs. Hobbes, we were lucky. The all-clear has been sounded.”
“Good.” She rose and curtsied to Marianne. “Miss Milton, it has been a pleasure to share your company.”
“Has it? We've hardly conversed at all.”
“It has. I hope to see you again under more favorable circumstances, but now I must take my leave.” Followed by Michael, she swept out of the room. They only paused to pick up the two soldiers who had been standing guard and vanished into the night.
1'The Street' is both where she walked and the name of the street she walked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Another cover draft

Here's another, possibly better, cover. I'm trying to capture Cynthia's impatience and incongruity as well as a little bit of her spark.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cover Draft for Cynthia

It's getting to be that time again. Here's a draft cover.

Not completely sure about it, but the manuscript is over 56000 words and actively being edited.

Monday, October 20, 2014

So Close.

The Castle of Wolfenbach is an early Gothic romance by Eliza Parsons. It's one of the ones mentioned in Northranger Abbey. 

I needed a title for a book that Cynthia and Alice will read on the way to Brighton, and did a double-take. Alas it's not The Castle of Wolfenstein. My brothers would have been so pleased.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A little more from Cynthia

My latest is rapidly approaching completion. 56000 words or very close to.
Here's the draft chapter where Cynthia discovers what a typical English summer is like.  

There's Cold, There's Darn Cold, and Then There's the English Summer.

The early warm summer days reverted to the English norm of cool, cloudy and damp. Lord Wroxham and Freddy barely noticed the change. Alice found she needed to put on her stockings. Cynthia did as well but she still froze. The AR had never been like this. She had always been warm enough when she was playing in it.
When Cynthia woke in the morning, Hannah came in to her room and set out her water and dress as usual. Cynthia asked, “Hannah?”
Yes, miss?”
How do you keep warm in this weather?”
Miss? It is summer.”
I'm freezing.”
Shall I have a fire kindled in your room?”
Can't you just turn on the heat?”
Turn on the heat? Whatever do you mean by that?”
Doesn't the room have a heating unit?”
There's only a fire Miss Morris.”
If that's what it's called, can you start it up? It's cold.”
I'll have the housemaid start a fire for you. Would you like your chocolate here, Miss?”
As long as I don't have to get out of bed, yes please, Hannah.”
Hannah left to call the housemaid. Cynthia gave a longing glance at the chamber pot. It was so darned cold that she dare not use it. At least not until she was truly desperate. She touched her earring, “Chris?”
It's cold. I'm freezing. Is this normal?”
It is normal to freeze when you're cold, Ma'am.”
You know what I mean. What the h-, what am I to do?”
Enjoy the experience.”
Hannah said something about kindling a fire. What did she mean?”
Fire is an exothermic reaction between wood or coal and oxygen.”
In other words, heat?”
Yes. With flames and smoke as well. Just don't stand too close. Your dress could catch alight.”
Thanks for the warning.”
It's also not good manners to pull your dress up in front of the fire. It captures the heat better, but is unbecoming.”
I know that.”
The housemaid knocked at the door, “Miss Morris?”
Come in.”
A young woman in an old cotton dress came in. She curtsied to Cynthia then went to the small fire place in the room. She knelt by it and started a fire. Then she rose and turned to leave, but Cynthia stopped her. “Miss?”
Yes Miss Morris?”
Is this unusual weather?”
What do you mean Miss Morris?”
I'm so cold.”
Nay Miss, it's a lovely summer morning. Might rain this afternoon, but still it should be a nice day.” She curtsied in preparation to leave the room.
Cynthia paused for a moment. “Can you send Hannah to me?” She hopped out of bed and started to use the now-tepid water that Hannah had left.
Breakfast was an interesting meal. Lord Wroxham, having heard from his valet via the servant's grapevine about Cynthia's dislike of the cold, started to tease her.
So Miss Morris, warm enough for you?”
Lord Wroxham, I notice that the fire is burning here. I didn't ask for it.”
Your reputation preceded you.”
Freddy came in and warmed his hands over the fire before sitting down, “I say James, this is a little unseasonable. I thought summer had finally come.” It rather took the sting out of that line of commentary.
Lord Wroxham switched tacks, “How are your wounds, Miss Morris?”
If you are referring to my little tumble yesterday, that won't happen again. I know what to expect.”
Still sore?”
Not in the least,” Cynthia lied about her bruises. “I kept up with you for most of our race. I was even in front of you on one of the straights.”
Only because I took it easy on you.”
I'd have beaten you if my horse hadn't balked at the ford.”
In your dreams, Miss Morris, only in your dreams.”
Cynthia threw down her napkin and said, “All right, Lord Wroxham. I get your point, you think you're faster than I am. When would you like you to race again?”
Your horse, against mine. Is this morning soon enough or are you scared I might beat you?”
Alice was aghast, “Cynthia, you nearly killed yourself when you raced last time.”
No I didn't. I just fell off the horse. Which is not the same thing, at all. I'll race your brother, any time, any place.”
Lord Wroxham interjected, “What did you call it then? Going for a swim?”
If anyone is going swimming today, it is you Lord Wroxham.” Cynthia turned on her heels and strode out of the room. Alice followed her and tried to dissuade her from this recklessness.
Freddy turned to his friend and said, “James, old boy, she may be a headstrong young chit, but this is outside of enough.”
Obtuse as always, Freddy. What do you mean by that?”
She isn't ready to race you and you know it. It was bad form to twit her into another race.”
She seems game.”
I'm sure she is. She impresses me as a headstrong lass. Still, she's not ready to race you, and it will be on your head when she is hurt.”
Cynthia knew she wasn't ready. She shook off Alice at her room, by telling her, “Don't worry Alice. I won't do anything dangerous. I know I'm not a good enough rider to race your brother. Still, I can't be a coward, can I?”
Alice was about to reply, “It isn't cowardice to turn down an invitation to a foolish deed,” when Cynthia shut the door in her face. Realizing she had been rude, Cynthia quickly opened the door again and told Alice, “I'm sorry for that, it was so rude of me. Trust me, I'm not about do to anything foolish. If I can't keep up with your brother, I'll let him go on. It's just.”
Alice replied, “It's just you can't bear to be thought unwilling or scared.”
Exactly. I have my pride. Now, I do have to get ready, so if you'll excuse me.”
Alone at last, Cynthia touched her earring again, “All right Chris, I need something to slow down Lord Wroxham's horse.”
Chris was scandalized, “You'll cheat at a race?”
It wouldn't be a race if I don't. You know that. I just want to equalize our handicaps.”
Yes, Ma'am. Still, I wish to lodge an objection to this conduct.”
Your objection is noted, but ignored. You know me. I play to win.”
Ma'am, it would be best to play the demure young woman. That is how you attract most men.”
Chris,” Cynthia paused, “Have I ever been a demure young woman?”
No, you haven't. I suppose a small dose of a tranquilizer won't do his horse any harm. I'll instruct your med-kit to make one. It will look like a lump of sugar. Give it to the horse before you start.”
Thank you.”
Cynthia rang for Hannah. It was time to put on her borrowed riding habit.
Lord Wroxham was surprised to see Cynthia standing with the horses when he arrived at the stables. He noted her presence by saying, “Miss Morris, I see that unlike most of your gender, you are punctual. Are you prepared to race, or should we postpone our contest for another day?”
Cynthia smiled at him, looked him directly in the eyes and said, “I'm as ready as I'll ever be. What do you propose?”
To the village church in Carling, and back. It's a good six mile run.”
On the roads, no jumping?”
As you say, no jumping.”
Then I agree.”
Alice and Freddy arrived in time to see the end of the race. Lord Wroxham was ahead, but just barely. Cynthia was riding with a confidence and verve that he had not anticipated. They joined the small knot of grooms who were watching the last few yards and cheering on the competitors.
The two horses thundered into the yard, then pulled up. Lord Wroxham walked his horse over to Cynthia's. He extended his hand to her, “That was well run Miss Morris. I'm not used to anyone staying on my heels that long. I did not expect it to be so close.”
She returned his handshake. “I must say, that was fun. Maybe I'll win next time?”
A pair of grooms came forward and took the horses' reins while they dismounted. Lord Wroxham continued, “We can't race for at least a week, my horse will need to recover. I wouldn't expect to ride him for a few days.”
His head groom walked over and concurred. “Lord Wroxham, sir, these horses will need care if they aren't to be lamed.”
Cynthia agreed and said, “I must add that I'm tired. I shall need a short nap to recover myself.”
Lord Wroxham closely observed her. It was clear to him that she was barely, if at all, winded. So as she was leaving he asked, “Do you need to talk to your imaginary friend?”
She stopped short and replied, “What imaginary friend?”
The one who lives in the book.”
Cynthia turned and asked him point blank, “If he's imaginary, then how can I talk to him?”
Maybe he isn't imaginary?”
Cynthia had nothing about that to say to him, or any other native. Even if he was handsome and had a nice smile.
As soon as she shut the door to her room behind her, Cynthia called up Chris. “Alright Chris, what the f- f-, what have you been up to?”
Me? Ma'am?”
Don't play the innocent with me. What happened? That Lord Wroxham just directly asked me about you. Have you been talking with him since I told you not to?”
No Ma'am. Not at all.”
Good. Do not talk to him, understand?”
Except about your health?”
Only if I'm seriously ill, and only then to stop them from quacking me with some awful medicine.”
Yes, Ma'am.”
There was a question I needed to ask you, before I was distracted.”
Cynthia, muttered to herself, “What was it? I seem to be losing my focus lately, growing soft.”
Then she said to Chris, “That tranquilizer you made for me. It was just a lump of sugar, wasn't it? Wroxham shouldn't have been faster than me.”
Yes, Ma'am. It was just sugar.”
Cynthia considered his response, “Chris, it is so unlike you to give me false information or prevaricate like this. I wonder if that last Cataxi shot did more damage than you reported.”
Did you run a self-check on your processors?”
Yes Ma'am. They're fine, as are my memory units. The repairs on the ship are well underway, although I cannot fly at this moment. Why are you concerned?”
Why? You directly disobeyed my order. If you don't have an excellent reason, I will have to reset you.”
Chris paused, then chose his answer carefully, “I knew you would ride with increased confidence if you thought Lord Wroxham's horse was nobbled. That was the best thing I could do to ensure your safety.”
I see. You might be correct. Continue.”
If you beat him badly there was a 95% likelihood that he would be upset with you. There was a 25% likelihood that he would be angry enough to send you away, and in any case it was certain he would continue to be unpleasant. Whereas if you were a game loser the likelihood was nearly unity that he and the others would take it well.”
Cynthia considered his answer. Finally, she replied, “Chris. I do not like it that you keep secrets from me. I am the best judge of what I should do.”
Ma'am, may I be forthright with you?”
Yes, always Chris. Even if I don't like what you have to say.”
You are beginning to show the symptoms of withdrawal from the juice. Your judgment is already affected.”
It is not!”
I'm sorry Ma'am, but it is. You would never have allowed yourself to be teased into a dangerous race, would you?”
Cynthia was about to reply, “Of course I would,” when she realized that Chris was correct. She said, “Chris, I think you're right about that. I suppose I shall have to just trust you, won't I?”
Ma'am, I have faithfully served you for thirty years, haven't I?”
Yes Chris.”
I should hope that you would trust me by now.”
I do.”
Good, Ma'am.”
And you're right. James would have been hopping mad had I won. He would have known if his horse were nobbled, wouldn't he?”
Yes, Ma'am. He would have known, and you would be out on your ear in no time.”
The tiredness that Cynthia used as an excuse to withdraw to her room, came over her in reality. “Chris?” she said, “I'm feeling tired. Is that a symptom of the withdrawal?”
It could be. I would rest if I were you.”
Uncharacteristically, Cynthia stretched out on her bed and soon was fast asleep.
A couple of hours later, Alice knocked on Cynthia's door. “Cynthia?”
Did you want to read?”
What time is it?”
There was a bustling noise and Cynthia appeared at the door. She looked sleepy, and was still wearing her riding habit. She said “I must have been tired.”
Alice laughed, “It looks like it. Did you need me to ring for Hannah?”
I'll ring for her, but why don't you come in? We can start reading while she comes.”
Hannah entered the room and found the two young women alternating their way through one of Mrs. Radcliffe's romances. She coughed and said, “Miss Morris, did you need me?”
Yes Hannah, could you help me dress for the rest of the afternoon. This riding habit is hardly appropriate, is it?”
No it isn't. Miss, I think you have read enough Gothic romances.”
What do you mean by that?”
Nothing Miss.”
Hannah, I know I have an active imagination. It doesn't do any harm, does it?”
No Miss.” She paused, went over to the wardrobe to pull out a suitable gown, then said, “Miss, this may be a liberty, but.”
Cynthia looked over at her, “It is a liberty, but say what you need to say. I know you disapprove of my flights of fancy.”
Yes, Miss. I do think you are altogether too fanciful. Maybe it would help you be more serious minded if you read more serious literature. Not all the time, but Fordyce's sermons are proper.”
Alice interjected, “Hannah, even you couldn't stand them.”
Miss Wroxham, I'm not flighty like Miss Morris.”
Hannah, I'll try reading them, but not while I'm reading with Alice. We're reading together and it would never do to choose a book she loathed, would it?”
Yes, Miss.”
Hannah helped her remove the habit and don her muslins with her green Spencer. Then she looked at the habit and huffed, “This will need washing again, Miss.”
Thank you, could you see to it?'
Yes, Miss.” Then she left.
Cynthia turned to Alice, who had been silently reading ahead, “Hannah doesn't like me, does she?”
I have seen her acting less frosty. Should I have a talk with her?”
Please don't. You talking to her about whatever it is that she dislikes about me, would only make it worse.”
Downstairs, Hannah threw the habit at one of the laundry maids and let loose with her frustrations, “That scheming hussy. She's worked Miss Alice around her finger, and it's only a matter of time before she does the same to the master.”
The maid was shocked. An upper servant like Miss James, never addressed a lower servant like her in such a familiar manner. She spoke, “Miss James? Are you well?”
Hannah remembered her position and gave a quelling reply to the laundry maid. “I'm fine, now mind your manners, lest you be turned off without a character. Miss Morris needs this habit clean by tomorrow.”
Yes Ma'am.”
The master was having issues of his own. Freddy had let him know in no uncertain terms that it was not sporting to challenge a beginner like Cynthia to a race or for that matter to accept her challenge.
His objections, which were along the lines of “Freddy, she's damn good. The next time she might win,” were to no avail. It was hard for him to be convincing when he knew Freddy was right, and he should not have challenged a beginning rider to a race.
It wasn't until Cynthia and Alice came downstairs together that he had a respite. Cynthia immediately walked over to him, curtsied and said, “Lord Wroxham, I'm sorry that I let you tease me into accepting a race with you. Would you forgive my temper?”
Miss Morris, I should not have teased you into a race. Can I add that you rode remarkably well?”
Cynthia smiled at him, “I did, James, didn't I? You need to thank your sister who is an excellent teacher.”
Alice blushed at the compliment. Lord Wroxham replied, “Cynthia, next time let's have a friendly ride. It will be easier on the horses.”
I would enjoy that. Do you think there might be time for conversation while we're riding as well?”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pride and Extreme Prejudice

Pride and Extreme Prejudice

With apologizes to Jane Austen and Ian Fleming.

Something that has been slowly fermenting, or perhaps I should say spoiling, in the background.

1. Breaking the Bank at Almack's.

His studied elegance, from the top of his carefully coiffed Brutus, to the height of his carefully starched collar, the intricate folds of his mathematical tie, the elegance of his knee smalls, and the gloss of his boots, drew a collective sigh from the débutantes at Almack's as the man entered. Their companions noted with envy the simple grace and naturalness of his elegance, which was inbred and not aided by padding or extraneous jewelry and fobs. Pausing only to flick some dust from the Mechlin lace adorning his cuffs, he viewed the crowd with a jaundiced eye, for beneath its veneer of elegance raw passions were brewing. Princess Esterházy, the hostess this week approached him and demanded his voucher, “Who sir, are you?”
“The name is Darcy, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
He scanned the room, “Princess I'm looking for Mr. Wickham, a Mr. George Wickham.”
She nodded, “Third column on the right, knock five times.”
The band struck up 'The Scotsman' and the couples formed in the middle of the room. Darcy quietly moved down right side of the hall to the third column and knocked. A peephole opened, and a bloodshot eye gazed out.
“I'm here to see Mr. Wickham.”
The peephole slide back and a door opened behind the column. Darcy entered and disappeared into the room. The smoky depths of the room hid a dicing board in their dim recesses, and the shaking noise of the dice cups indicated an active game of hazard. In the far back of the room, a faro table held court.
“So Darcy,” Wickham began, “What brings you to London?”
“Oh George,” Lydia Bennett exclaimed, “It's that man again! What's he doing here?”
“Yes, Darcy, what brings you here?”
“I'm looking for someone.”
Wickham blanched, began to stammer his excuses.
“Not you. I'll deal with you and Lydia later. Who is that big punter over there.”
“The man with the eye patch?” A man was gambling over on the faro table, behind him stood a beautiful woman with a low cut dress in the filmy and clinging empire style. It was cut high enough to show her shapely ankles. She was wearing diamond earrings and an expensive broach that lay between her mounts of beauty. Darcy decided her acquaintance might be worth pursuit.
“Yes, him. Don't try to tell me it's Nelson.”
“That's D'Stang. Charles D'Stang the Count of le Mieux. He's an émigré, a refugee from the continent.”
“He's plunging deep isn't he?”
“He is supposed to have deep pockets. He's running the bank.”
“We'll see. Introduce me.”
Wickham nervously rose and escorted Darcy to the faro table. “Comte D'Stang, may I present Mr. Darcy.”
Without looking up the Comte growled, “If he's come to lose his money, have him sit. Otherwise, shut your mouth so we can get on with the game.”
“Sir.” Wickham nervously scraped and bowed.
Darcy joined the crowd at the table. Lydia walked over, “Can I bring you anything Mr. Darcy?”
“A glass of punch, rum, Demera sugar, a slice of lemon. Stirred, not shaken.”
“Place your bets, gentlemen.” D'Stang and Darcy along with the others at the table put their tokens on the table to indicate which card they were betting on. The dealer shuffled the deck and D'Stang cut the deck. The first card, the soda, was turned, then the losing card and finally the winning card for that turn. Neither Darcy's nor D'Stang's card were in the first turn, so they let their bets ride. The same result greeted the next turn. Darcy noted that the deck was an unusual pattern, and subtly marked. At the third turn he quietly put a copper on his bet. The first card of the turn was Darcy's choice. “Bad luck my friend,” D'Stang chortled as he prepared to take the money from the table. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I coppered my bet.” D'Stang stopped chortling and handed Darcy his winnings. “The night is young, I may yet lose.”
“You will, my friend, you will.”
Darcy thought about calling out D'Stang for playing faro with a marked deck. Although D'Stang was a noted swordsman Darcy was sure of his touch and had little to fear from a meeting on Doctors commons. D'Stang was, however, the point man for a criminal organization the F.S.C.K., or perhaps since he was French the S.F.C.P1. There was little use in killing him until Darcy had uncovered his contacts. The F.S.C.K. had its little greedy fingers in every pie worth the taking, from tainted 'bully beef' for the navy to running French Brandy from under Napoleon's nose. Selling the Crown's secrets to the French was just a small part of their business.
Glancing at the deck, Darcy placed counters on the ace, then coppered them.
“You play high, my friend. Are you sure?”
“Of course, it's the only thing that brings relief to this tedious game.”
The ace turned over at the next card. D'Stang growled as he passed Darcy more winnings, “One could swear you can read the cards.”
“Change the deck if you'd like. Can't be fairer than that. They're your cards, aren't they?.”
D'Stang quietly backed down, “No, we'll keep this deck.”
Darcy pocketed his winnings, they would make a useful supplement to help him carry on with the King's business. “Perhaps your companion would like something to drink?”
“A Madeira, straight.”
Darcy flagged one of the waiters, “For the lady, Miss?”
“Miss Morehouse, Sir.”
“For Miss Morehouse, a Madeira, straight.”
“It comes in a bottle, sir.”
“A bottle then.” Darcy negligently tossed him a counter. “I assume you can cash this.”
When the waiter returned with two glasses and a bottle, Darcy poured a glass for Miss Morehouse. “I prefer my punch, if you don't mind.”
They raised glasses, and saluted each other with a clink. She drained her glass, while Darcy sipped his. He poured another for her. Unfortunately, it would serve no purpose. Miss Morehouse sat in her seat. She was slumped and unconscious from the drugs in the wine. Darcy looked at her with disdain, and said, “I always thought Madeira was overrated.”
Darcy returned to the Faro table. D'stang gave him a quick doubletake, then asked if there were any more bets. Sardonically sipping his punch, Darcy let this one ride. The play confirmed that the marks on the cards were still there.
Reading the deck, Darcy put a large bet on seven then coppered it. D'stang blenched, but let it stand. The first card flipped was a seven, the seven of hearts. Darcy announced to the table as he swept up his winnings, “I guess I will be lucky in both cards and love.”
1Fraternal Society for Criminal Knowledge, in French, le Society Fraternelle de Connaissances Pénale.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Critter of the Night.

A Writeon work

It being the Halloween season, which for some reason is a big deal in the USA, I thought it fits. Back before kids, I did a bit of backpacking. Maybe I'll do more when they're old enough.

It happened last fall, at dusk. I was camped at Cooch Gap shelter on the AT, one of my favorite places. I'd finished dinner and was savoring the dinner-flavored tea that I used to disguise taste of the human-sump when there was a bump on the side of the shelter. I looked up and saw another hiker. He had the gaunt thin stringy look of the trough-hiker, complete with the scraggly beard and grimy worn clothes that distinguished the true hikers from amateurs.
He asked, “Mind if I share the shelter?”
I pointed inside, “The floor's free. My stuff's over there.”
“Thank you.” He took of his pack and set it in the shelter. Then he sat on the edge of the floor where he stretched his legs, and said, “Do you mind if we have a fire?”
“No.” I usually didn't have a fire when it was just me, but when there was company a fire was welcome. There is nothing like swapping stories over the flickering flames of a fire. Besides the smoke tended to cover the 'eau de backpacker' that we both smelled from each other. I said, “I'm about done, why don't you cook up while I gather some wood?”
He gave me a rangy smile, it was clear he hadn't been to a dentist recently, and said “Sure.”
By the time I returned with wood, he had set up his alcohol stove and started boiling water. He was watching for me the way a deer watches the woods in November; ready to bolt at the slightest untoward sign. He said, “Damn, I'm glad it's you.”
“Who else would it be?”
He took a swig on his fuel bottle, and saw my disbelief, “I always use everclear. Safer than denatured.”
I started the fire while he ate. Then we talked. He started, “She's coming for me you know, tonight.”
“You'll see, though I hope you don't. It's been a year.”
“What happened?”
He scanned the woods, there was nothing either of us could see in the clearing around the shelter. “It was a good deed gone bad.”
“A good deed gone bad?”
“You know these hills were full of people?”
“Before the blight.”
“I was at the Laurel Mountain shelter, near one of their graveyards. There was this woman. Beautiful young woman, long black hair, a white dress, blue from the cold.”
“A day-hiker with hypothermia?”
“So it seemed. I put her in my sleeping bag with a warm bottle. She was cold as ice, past shaking.”
“Did it work?”
“She warmed up. It was a cold night, so I ended up sharing the bag with her.”
“Sounds like you were lucky.”
He pointed to a scar on his neck. “I wasn't. She said she'd be back in a year.”
“A year ago?”
We talked a bit more, let the fire burn down, then turned in. He was gone in the morning. A woman's lace handkerchief lay on my bag.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Free Advertising

I noticed something rather neat, when I was googling myself. is taking reviews from goodreads. Some of my reviews were showing up. These were for classics that were probably under-reviewed, but none the less it felt nice. This suggests a stealth advertising strategy.

  1. list books you like on goodreads.
  2. review them. Be accurate and amusing. I suspect the amusing helps. For example when reviewing "uncle dynamite" or one of the "Uncle Fred" series of books by P.G. Wodehouse I pointed out that while I liked Uncle Fred, I was glad I wasn't married to him.
  3. Wait for them to be linked back to your goodreads account. 
It's a little bit karma intensive, but it is potentially a great side-effect of keeping your audience informed about what you like to read and why.

Traffic sanity in ATL, don't count on it.

Sort of off-topic, but sort of important, at least locally.

The same sort of variable speed limits that the M25 uses in the UK have come to Atlanta. They were installed on the north side of the  Atlanta ring road (I-285).

The idea is really great (having ridden in traffic from Gatwick to the M4 more than once). If the traffic velocity is lowered, the probability of a serious disruption is lowered and traffic queues don't grow because there is no longer more traffic coming into it than is going out. So you drive slower, but your trip is shorter.

Is it going to work here in lawless Georgia? No. Too many people already think the speed limit on 285 is 85.

The thing that is different in the UK is the widespread use of automated speed cameras. If you blow through the variable speed limit there you will get a ticket. If you do it here, you most likely won't. (At least as long as you're slower than the police.)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Traditional English Meat Pie

Not sure if this is technically regency food, and it certainly wouldn't grace the table of a nobleman, but the English have a thing for meat pies. Here's one I just did for the family (with an American twist for good reason).

The filling:
2 onions
3 carrots
2 parsnips
1/2 Swede (Rutabaga in the USA).
Saute, starting with the onions until they are at least partially done.

Mixed spice (Marjory, thyme, basil) add about 1/2-1 teaspoon to the veggies.

Cut about 1 lbs (1/2 kg) beefsteak into cubes, flour and brown. Add Bouillon and 1/2 bottle good beer. (not that watery American approximation for lager).

Mix the veggies and the browned meat in a large pyrex baking bowl (or similar). If there isn't enough liquid add some more beer.

Now here's were the UK and USA directions differ. My sister-in-law in the UK would bake the dish for about 1-2 hours in a moderate oven (150-180 C) then put a dumpling crust on it and bake at higher heat for about 15 minutes. The dumplings are suet, self-raising flour and water. About 1/4 kg suet, 1/2 kg flour rub together and add water to make a slightly sticky crust.

We can't get suet easily in the USA and vegetable suet (Crisco and that ilk) just doesn't work. So I used a biscuit mix (Southern flour, Type L) and made a crust with that.

Bake for 1-2 hours and enjoy.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Revised first chapter of Cynthia

I've been participating under an assumed name in Amazon's write on. It's a neat, nice and extremely supportive author's online community. Based on some exceedingly helpful advice I've changed the start of the first chapter.

The book is a science-fiction romance where the heroine finds herself stuck in Regency England. While she thinks this is going to be a breeze, since her favorite computer games are ones like "Jane Austen World", fate (and her ship's matchmaking, hopelessly romantic computer) has a surprise for her.


Take off.

Cynthia's stay on the small spaceport on New Eden in the disputed border-space between Terran, Cataxi and Xylub domains mixed in uneasy peace came to an end. New Eden was a cynically mis-named barren rock at the outside of the gamma-lyria solar system where the rule of law was, at best, tenuous. More often it was non-extant. The lawless environment suited Cynthia perfectly. She'd spent some credits on food and fuel for her single person scoutship, and rather more credits on entertainment at the local pub. The relative expense reflected the price of Wodka this far from the main reaches of the Terran domain, rather than the quality of the entertainment. Humans tended to be scarce out here. Somehow liaisons with aliens, even the ones that vaguely looked human, left her uninterested.
Bored with this interstellar backwater, she filed for permission to take off at the port office. Then she walked to her ship, and told Chris, her computer companion and friend, to take off when the clearance came through. In the meantime she poured herself a martini and settled back as he reviewed safety procedures with her for the ten-thousandth time.
Clearance finally came. Chris warned her with a conventional short count-down, “Miss Cynthia, We'll take off with on a count of ten, nine, what the hades, zero!”
The unexpected and extraordinarily rapid takeoff kicked Cynthia back into her seat so hard that she blacked out. When she recovered from the shock she shouted at her ship's computer, “Chris! What the hell1 was that about?” Under normal circumstances Chris would take the machine up smoothly. There would be little more than a flutter in the bottom of her stomach, and maybe a small ripple in her martini. Indeed, it was the height of bad manners to accelerate off planet too rapidly and disturb the stratosphere. This time her martini was dripping off the wall behind her while fragments of the glass littered the floor.
“Sorry Ma'am. It was an emergency.”
“An emergency?” Chris had led her through the normal pre-takeoff drill. Fasten seatbelts, what to pull if there was an emergency, where the oxygen mask would drop from and, finally, how to use the seat cushion as a flotation device in the unlikely event that you were still in one piece after crashing into the ocean. He was known for his sense of humor. That was part of why he had been voted the most personable control program of 2342. Cynthia considered the credits she spent upgrading to him well spent.
“Ma'am. If you feel up to it, would you look in the screens?” She didn't need to. The shock wave from the exploding planet behind them rocked the craft. “What happened?”
“The Cataxi.”
“They found me? What the fuck. How the hell did they do that?”
“I wouldn't know, Ma'am.”
“Did they just destroy an entire planet to try to take me out?”
“Damn. It's not as if I stole that many credits from them. It was just a pretty necklace.” She fingered the deep red stone that hung between her breasts.
“The Cataxi do not put a high value on Terran life. I did try to warn you, Ma'am. In their eyes you are barely worth a tenth credit.”
“Still Chris, it must be more than that. I expected that assassin in the bar. It's part of the normal give and take of interstellar commerce, but it's bad form to take out a planet. Do it too often and you can start a war.”
“Ma'am if you would, I am preparing for the jump.”
To say this was unusual was an understatement. Ships would cruise, sub-light, through the system. It gave the occupant’s time to say extended goodbyes and deal with any last minute formalities. Besides social reasons, performing a jump too close to a solar mass could distort the results and send the ship into uncharted space. Fortunately, most of space was empty, so as an emergency maneuver jumping blind was more or less safe. Safe, that is, if you emerged into normal space somewhere you could recognize.
“On the count of five, five, four, three, two, damn.”
The ship spun out of control as colors flashed through Cynthia's mind. She passed out again from the disorientation. Finally, the ship emerged into a small solar system.
Cynthia recovered consciousness. “Chris, where the hell are we now?”
Chris, for once, was silent. “Come on, computer, damn you. Where the fuck are we?”
“Ma'am. I'm checking. It may be a question of when we are as well as where we are.”
“I'm sorry but that Cataxi shot hit us just as we were jumping. That can do unusual things to jumps, as I'm sure you're aware. I'll have a damage report shortly.”
“You will have to wait while I recalibrate. I will be offline a short time while I reboot. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Cynthia had a few anxious minutes. If Chris did not reboot, she would be adrift, somewhere in the universe, in a dead ship. His blue screen of death would spell hers as well. Unless she was extraordinarily lucky, she'd be dead in a few days without her computer. If she were lucky the Cataxi might find her before she died. They'd make sure her death was quick. Not necessarily painless, but definitely quick.
Her anxiety was misplaced. Reliable as ever, Chris returned to life. “Ma'am, are you sitting down?”
“I'm not going to faint. What the hell is it?”
“We're home2, Sol, Earth.”
“Fuck. Earth? Why are the guidance screens empty? There are no beacons. Where the hell are the customs ships, the border guard?”
“I don't know. Sorry Ma'am. But that's where we are. A few days trip in normal space and then we can orbit the planet.”
“I suppose we could pay home a visit. I wonder if the warrants for my arrest in New York and London have expired by now.”
“Not to mention the ones from Perth, Tokyo, Beijing and Berlin. Unfortunately, we don't have a choice, Ma'am. The Cataxi shot took out the jump unit. Wherever we are, we're stuck. There are supplies and air for a few months, but that's all.”
“Damn. I suppose prison is better than starving to death. Let me know when you pick up the guidance beam. I'll be in the AR3 suite. I want to see if I can finally seduce Mr. Darcy. Take him away from that dreadful Elizabeth Bennett.”
“That Jane Austen game, again? Why don't you play something wholesome, like Battle for Mars or Kabul Shootout?”
“I like regency games. They're so relaxing.”
“If you say so. You know, you'd have better luck with Darcy if you played Elizabeth rather than one of the Bingley sisters.”
“What's the fun of that? They are supposed to get together. I much prefer a challenge.”
“Yes, I know Ma'am. Could I make a suggestion?”
“What, Chris?”
“Could we please have an uneventful trip for a change? Maybe something less exciting than fleeing from the police halfway around the galaxy. You have more than enough credits to pay for repairing me at the spaceport.”
“I suppose so. Anyway wake me up if anything interesting happens.”
Nothing interesting happened, only if you count the lack of signals, indeed the lack of artificial radio emissions of any kind as uninteresting. Cynthia's game was interrupted a week later.
“Damn it Chris, I finally had my hands on his trouser buttons. What now?”
“I am truly sorry to disturb you Ma'am, but there are some facts which I must, however hesitantly, bring to your notice.”
“What is it?”
“I've identified the year. It's 1810. We are currently parked on the reverse side of the moon, as the natives possess telescopes that could see us in orbit. I presume you don't want them drawing untoward conclusions.”
“1810. Fucking A. No one down there could even begin to repair you, could they?”
“I have prepared a list of supplies that would enable my automatics to fix me.” Chris flashed them through Cynthia's AR unit where they hovered in front of her instead of Darcy's face.
“I can almost certainly find the iron and copper. Might have to be a little light fingered for that much gold, but have they even discovered selenium and titanium yet?”
Chris continued, “That is a problem, Ma'am. I suppose you could refine the ores.”
“Maybe. What were you thinking of?”
“Ma'am, since you are enamored of regency games, it seemed to me that. No I can't suggest this.”
“You'd like to deposit me in England while you fly off and refit somewhere?”
“Precisely Ma'am. I thought that Iceland would be a good location. It's isolated. Few people live there and it has intense volcanic activity. Most of the materials I need should be available locally. I could use a thermocouple for power and the heat would disguise me. It should only take a few weeks to finish with a partial refit. It would make me spaceworthy for an intrasystem flight. We can still use the com-link so you won't be alone.”
“I doubt even the Cataxi can trace me here.”
“Still, it is better to be prepared, Ma'am.”
Cynthia thought for a few minutes, then said, “All right, Chris. I'll do it. The only alternative I can think of is setting up a farm on Mars and that would be supremely boring.”
“Very good ma'am. I'll switch the AR to conditioning mode so that your English and manners are correct for the period. It will take about two weeks. In the meantime, I'll work up the vaccines you'll need.”
“Can you let me finish with Mr. Darcy first?”
“Sorry Ma'am, no. It might take you a month to tire of him. I neglected to tell you that the damage reports were incomplete. We don't have that much time to spare.”
“We're fucked, aren't we?”
“Precisely Ma'am.”
“Get the hell on with it then.”
It took all of two weeks, but Chris finally woke Cynthia from the AR. She started to say, “What the fucking hell took you so long?”, but her conditioning cut in and she said, “What took so long?”
“I'm sorry Ma'am, but you exhibited severe resistance to the training.”
“F-, Indeed. What is going on?”
“Ladies of quality did not swear in the 19th century.”
“Oh, dear, that's cut my vocabulary in half.”
“I must say, Ma'am, it is an improvement.”
Cynthia was speechless, not thoughtless, but speechless. Eventually she found words she could use. “Chris, that isn't meant to be funny. Where do you think I should be dropped?”
“I checked the archives and then did a quick matter scan over southern England. There is a famous meteorite, 'Lord Wroxham's Stone'. High purity iron-iridium alloy. Just what I need. There is also a small Tahitian idol that is made of Black stone in his collection. Titanium ore. If you can lift a few guinea coins that will cover the gold.”
“I see, anything worthwhile for me?”
“There is a mention of family jewels. A tiara or necklace possibly both. Probably they have some value on the resale market.”
“In other words, a crib well worth cracking.” Cynthia paused, “Chris am I always going to use this darn slang?”
“I'll remove the conditioning once we're aloft again. Though I must add, Ma'am, that it is a marked improvement in both your diction and language.”
Cynthia ground her teeth. Chris merrily chirped along, “I've been having the most enjoyable time building your wardrobe.”
“Wardrobe?” While solo pilots could wear anything they wanted, or indeed nothing at all, Cynthia, like the majority, favored a light recyclable coverall. It kept the ship cleaner.
“You can't wear that. Not on this mission.”
“I thought, for just a quick snatch and grab.”
“It might take me several months to refit, and I don't trust my structural integrity. Can you fly?”
“I'm a dashed good pilot.”
“I mean with your arms.”
“I could wear a parachute.”
“There's no one who would fish you out of the ocean.”
“Oh. I see what you mean.”
“This also means that you're going to have to stop the anti-age hormones.”
“It's actually a good thing for you to go dry for a year or so. At 60 going on 16, you still can. Take a year off, enjoy human biology for a bit. Maybe fall in love, have some fun.”
“I suppose you're right. I don't want to have the sudden collapse that happened to Captain Black Jack Daniels. Remember, we found him drifting in his ship, barely able to move, and solely because he missed a shot. But I'm not sure about that falling in love thing.”
“I do feel I have to warn you that it will start your biological clock ticking again.”
“Oh cripes, Not that.”
“On the other hand Ma'am, maybe you will meet someone you like above half.”
“Chris, I know you're a romantic, but I've told you before. Humans are hard to find out on the frontiers of the empire. The closest looking aliens, the Gotha, aren't equipped either emotionally or physically for amatory activity with us, and you can't trust a Xylub in front of your eyes, let along behind your back. As for the Cataxi, let's just say Old One-eye Jones was a better alternative.”
“I suppose you're right.”
“Never met anyone who could stir a flutter in my maiden breast. I hope, Chris, you can remove this insipid slang. It is already driving me up the wall.”
“Yes, Ma'am, when the mission is over.”
“Good. Compared with their AR versions, all the real males I've met seem awfully flat.”
“There are many male humans on Earth. Some of them have to be acceptable. This Lord Wroxham is supposed to be a handsome fellow. There's no record of his marrying anyone.”
“He probably likes other men.”
“Maybe, but then maybe he never met the right woman.”
“Chris, stop the matchmaking. I'm not in the market to be leg-shackled. A man, any man would cramp my style.”
“I'm just warning you that the hormones inhibit your emotions, and you could be in for a shock when they wear off. You will feel more emotional than you are currently used to.”
“I understand that. Do you think I'm ignorant?”
“Just forgetful, Ma'am.”
Cynthia paused, digesting the alternatives in her thought. Finally, she said, “I suppose needs must. What have you put together for me?”
“First, give me your arm.” Cynthia put her arm into the medical unit and flinched as a whopping dose of serum was injected. “D-, F-, What the H-. I say, Chris. That stung. What all did you inject?”
“Vaccines for smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, TB, chicken pox, typhoid, yellow fever, staph, strep, influenza, polio and the red gum. Among others.”
“The red gum?”
“Help you to keep your teeth.”
“I hesitate to ask, but what else do you need me to do?”
“Your head please.”
She placed her head in to its holder in the medical unit and felt a small amount of panic as the machine, unusually, clamped it in place. Then she shouted when the unit pierced her earlobes. “Chris! I hate pierced ears. Last time I had them, it took a whole year for my lobes to heal after the earrings were ripped out in a bar fight.”
“Yes, I remember. You will just have to stay out of bar fights on this trip.”
“Chris, why?”
“Your earrings are the best place to conceal the main communications link. I knew if I asked you about it, you would say no.”
“Can't I just use a normal link?”
“I'll give you one of those too, but you'll probably lose it. Like last trip.”
“I didn't lose it. That d-. That assassin stole it. I blasted him and it into tiny little pieces. It left a beautiful red haze in the room, and improved its color scheme no end.”
“If you say so.”
“Why haven't you released me?”
“Follicular stimulation. Most women had very long hair. I'm afraid yours would look too much like a man's.”
“At least I can cut that off.”
“Please wait until you return.”
“Yes, I know.”
When the machine eventually released her, Cynthia put her hands to her ears. “Chris these earrings feel heavy, awkward. They bounce around when I move, and they hurt.”
He brought up a mirror for her, and said, “Take a look. I think you'll agree they are most becoming.”
She looked and then smiled at herself, “You're right, but this hair, what a bl- a mess.”
“Let me show you how to arrange it.” Instructions came up on the mirror and by following them with her hands, Cynthia reduced her mane to a manageable and fashionable arrangement. “I suppose they had lice and fleas.”
“Yes. You'll need to brush it carefully every day. Twice if you can.”
Cynthia took one last look at herself. With her hair arranged she didn't look half bad. “I suppose I'd best try on my gowns.”
“You'll have to take that coverall off. Ma'am.”
Cynthia felt surprisingly bashful. While Chris was conventionally a 'he', he was just a computer program and had seen it all before. They'd cruised the galaxy together for thirty years, causing mayhem while spreading the Terran sphere of influence and enriching themselves in the process. There wasn't much of her that he hadn't treated for some ailment or another. Even with real males at the academy, she'd never had a trouble during showers. Well, at least after they'd started on the anti-aging drug regime with its tendency to damp emotions. Still, she hesitated and said, “Is this the conditioning?”
“I think so. If you'd like I'll disable my visual.”
“No.” She took a deep breath, then she grabbed the suit at her neck and ripped. It came off cleanly, and she stuffed the remains into the recycling unit.
“All right. Show me how I dress.”
A few minutes later, properly corseted, covered with muslin, and adorned with a green Spencer, she examined herself in the mirror. The results took her breath away.
“I say Chris, you do have taste. I didn't think I could look like this. I almost look beautiful. Pity I didn't let you gown me in the AR. I'd have been in Darcy's pants in no time.”
“There's more to life than getting into a man's pants, Ma'am.”
“There's always stealing, murder and mayhem. Just the usual Saturday night at the docks.”
Chris's silence was deafening.
“I'm sorry Chris, I didn't mean to shock you, but you know me.”
“Unfortunately, I do.”
“Speaking of pants, you forgot something. It's windy down there.”
“It's supposed to be. You'll just have to be careful.”
“I will be. Trust me. I don't want to give any of the natives a show. It was hard enough getting undressed in front of you, old friend.”
“I thought, Ma’am that you could leave the Cataxi gem here and wear this string of pearls. It goes with the earrings.”
“Why not both?”
“I'm not sure that gem is safe for you to wear all the time.”
“You scanned it, didn't you?”
“I did, and I didn't find anything. It's just that things don't add up in what I found. I'd feel better if you didn't wear it.”
“Tough. I like it.”
“As you wish, Ma'am. The rest of your kit, other than a couple of changes of gown is normal issue. A false bottom in your bag. The communicator and scanner are disguised as a diary. Open it correctly and I'll be there. I've added a discrete solar charger. It is configured to look like a ladies' fan.”
“No blaster?”
“Ma'am, I only thought you could get in trouble with it.”
Cynthia fought down the urge to scream at her ship. Finally, she said, “You know I never ever ever go planet-side without a blaster. Might as well be naked.”
“Yes Ma'am. I'll supply one. It will be suitably disguised, but it will be a small limited power one.”
“Since I think they're still using flintlocks that will be fine. What is the rest of the plan?”
“I'll insert you near where Lord Wroxham will be driving in the morning. Then you can set up something like a wrecked carriage to attract his attention. I'll give you a letter of introduction, which he'll have difficulty refusing.”
“Clever. Is there a plan B?”
“You can always present yourself at his front door.”
“That's rather lame. Let's hope the first works.”
“It will. Now you will need some sleep before I drop you.”
Early morning local time, Chris silently glided the ship to a halt above a field of corn in Wiltshire. Cynthia clambered down carrying a large traveling bag. She waved and Chris silently retreated into hiding to await events. If all went well he would leave for a refit.
Cynthia sat beside the road and waited for Lord Wroxham. By mid-morning the sun was shining and the birds were chirping while the bees buzzed in the flowering hedge on the other side or the road. She found, that unlike the AR version, regency life was on the boring side. A brief buzzing in her left earing alerted her. It was Chris, “He's coming. Time to deploy the lure.” She tossed a small pebble to the side and pressed a button on her control box. The hologram of a broken carriage appeared beside her. It looked real enough, as long as you didn't try to sit in it. Chris continued, “Remember your cover story, and a few tears wouldn't hurt.”
“I'm almost bored to tears already.”
“I mean real tears.” A kindly wasp, diverted from its return to her nest by flying into Cynthia supplied a cause for tears.
A carriage, drawn by an elegant matched set of four horses, with a ducal crest on its side appeared, passed her, then stopped. The lure worked. She quietly told Chris, “Here goes.”
1Translator's note. Most of the more colorful spacer expressions lose their meanings in translating from modern English and the various Xeno-dialects used in the original manuscript into late Middle English. I have endeavored to preserve the flavor of the language, but there really are no idiomatic late Middle English equivalents for many of the colorful alien expressions that have made their way into common usage. For example the Cataxi expression 'da'thu yrse' which translates roughly as 'may your carapace overgrow your eye slits' really has no idiomatic equivalent in human language.
2Even spacers who were born, like Cynthia, on other planets referred to Earth as home. If they could, most managed a visit home sometime in their lives. Cynthia's visit had been eventful.
3Augmented Reality