Nephi Swartz was hovering on the brink of tears. Usually, he could keep the tears back until he achieved some kind of privacy. He could hide in the darkness of the basement after his stepfather beat him; or, there was a huge culvert just down the hillside from his house where he could be alone. There were several alleys with dark nooks into which he could flee. Sometimes he would go to one of his private places and consider his life. That would usually bring him to tears.
It was considering his life that brought him to the brink of tears this time. He had not been beaten, humiliated, or assaulted in what he would have called the normal way. His stepfather had not called him a “scumbag” or a “fat useless faggot” or subjected him to the usual thunder of abuse; he had not been required to strip and submit to the belt across his bare flesh; his stepfather had not masturbated on him or forced him to perform other sexual acts.
But he had been beaten.
A boy his age in an immaculate uniform had twisted him into a pretzel in the boysroom and then kicked him flat to the floor. Other kids had witnessed this beating. He was toast. What hurt the most was the casual attitude of the kid that had beat him. He was all relaxed, all like: ‘no problem’.
Then he was jerked from the boysroom into a bare sort of office. A young man with remarkable ears, wearing the same kind of uniform as the first boy pointed to a simple chair and told him to sit down and shut up. He did. An instant later, there was a flash and a snap and he found himself looking at a handsome German Shepherd. He didn’t much like dogs, but this one just looked at him alertly with his ears poised attentively. After what seemed a long time, there was another snap flash and the dog was gone. A young man told him to come along. He was stripped and had to take a shower, then he was given new clothes, bed linen and basic toiletries. He was shown to a small dormitory and given a bunk. He was to be the only occupant. A few hours later, he was brought out and was permitted to select a bottle of water, some tacos and a burrito from a young boy with a taco cart pulled by a small horse. At least the food was good.
Yes, he was well and truly beaten. He was in defeat. He used to find his only relief from the misery of his life by bringing grief to others, but he knew that was no longer an option and it had never really worked anyway.
Then he was humiliated. He was brought back into the office the next day where a somewhat rumpled young man in a suit and tie, again with extreme Vulcan ears, told him he was his lawyer.
“You’ve been found guilty of assault and battery on minor children; of destruction of property, of lewd and lascivious conduct, and theft. Allowance was made for the fact that you are, yourself, a minor child and that your home life was horrific. Accordingly, you are sentenced to only five years at hard labor. You will go to the Royal Mews to serve your sentence. Good day.”
He never felt so low. He had been better treated many times in the vice principal’s office at school. There he was at least a person. They knew his name; they knew who he was. He had been given directions to the Royal Mews and told to go there. He wasn’t even under guard. He wasn’t even a serious prisoner.
A tear started down his cheek as he trudged toward the Royal Mews. He was thoroughly humiliated. But then there was a germ of hope; he’d not been beaten or raped. So there was that. He shed only the one tear.
He found the Mews and was brusquely welcomed, given a room in a stable block and assigned to clean ten stalls and to care for the occupants. His final instructions were. “Just do what they tells yer to.”
The stall he was standing in was spacious and was ankle deep in clean, sweet smelling straw. It was open to the outside where there was a large paddock. A small horse with long ears came into the stall and stood looking at him for a long time. He returned the look and felt relaxed and hopeful. This must be the Miss Judith whose name was on the door. He had a sense, now of what to do and how to do it, so he went to the assigned stalls and cleaned them and put down fresh straw. None of them were particularly dirty. He put down lots of straw as it seemed the thing to do.
At length, the little horse, which he suddenly knew was not a horse, but a donkey, came and nudged him with her nose. He scratched her head and ears. He knew she was a lady. He looked deeply into her eyes and felt affection. Deep affection. A feeling he did not know well.
One of the ostlers yelled for him to, “Come along if yer wants yer dinner.” He almost didn’t go he was so enchanted by Miss Judith; but he came from a world of chaos and uncertainty. He had learned to never miss a meal.
When he got back from dinner he knew he had to feed his charges, so he went from stall to stall putting down hay and grain. Then he brushed the donkey he had first met. He returned to his new room and lay there attempting to sleep; but despair and defeat, humiliation and loneliness, conspired to batter and betray his attempt at sleep. He got up, took his blanket and pillow, and went to his donkey’s stall where he made a little nest for himself in the straw. His new friend came over and whuffled him with warm moist breath. She smelled of clean, good things; of oats and hay and straw and of herself. Natural. Right. Then she lay down beside him. He slept.
“Edwardes,” Ensign Gustav called for his batman. “Edwardes, where have you got to you brigand?” He called again. “Damn and blast Edwardes! Where are you?”
“Coming, Sir, coming,” the effervescent young Bwca responded, positively bouncing into his officer’s room smiling on his officer; smiling, indeed, upon all his world as he invariably did. Nothing was wrong or out of place in his world. He checked to insure that the tea was still hot.
“Look you here! What’s this?” Ensign Gustav pointed an accusatory finger at his uniform blouse upon which the single ribbon of the Trollian War medal rested centered precisely above his left uniform pocket in the regulation manner.
“Why tis yer medal ribbon a course, what else? Let me help yer into yer shorts. Put yer stockin’s on first, if you will. Yer always has trouble with the regimental flashes, don’cha know?”
“But that medal’s for the King’s forces. I was in the Trollian Army. Surely you know that.”
“Oh but sir. You never pay any attention, do you then? Like to your mail unless it’s from home; or from Mr Brownlees or one of yer other pals. So I have to do that, as well as everything else around here. If you’d a read yer mail yer’d know that the King has awarded this medal to all veterans of the war no matter what. Yer all King’s men the now.
“See there. That’s the box with the actual medal in it.” He pointed triumphantly to the ‘In’ tray on Gustav’s writing desk and the small brown medal box in it. He moved to the desk, opened the box and brandished the medal. “See an it’s got yer name on the rim just as it’s sposed to. And here. Here’s the envelope the letter came in. I already had the letter placed in yer personnel file in the Regimental Office. Shall I get a copy of it?”
“No. No, but thank you anyway.” It was a morning for marvels. Ensign Gustav marveled at the generous nature of his King whose action would certainly impress and unify the veterans of the army. He marveled at the mystical insight of the lance corporal who had met them at the dock here and had somehow divined that Private Edwardes would be an excellent batman. He made a mental note to thank him when next he saw him. He marveled at Private Edwardes who seemed to believe that the care and welfare of his officer was of paramount importance.
“Thank you. You’d better help me with those damnable flashes. And will you type up a letter to our colonel. It’ll be from me asking for a first class noncom for our detachment. Tell him we need an experienced senior noncom; I think you’re still a little junior for that assignment.” He smiled at Edwardes.
They went to work on his flashes.
Captain-Lieutenant Cascone had gone to the upper bridge of the Genie as she purred south over the ocean on her first passenger carrying trip. She was on the first leg of the trip between Kingstown and Oporto. She had a full load of passengers, mail, and some express freight.
There was no one on the upper bridge, in the middle of the mid-watch. Just himself and the lookout; he looked up into the night sky and picked out the Big Dipper; a friend of his since childhood. He wondered if Chipper, the light of his life, might be looking at it too. Chipper was in space on the new station; he had been whisked off the Genie by Royal Command and by the King’s Own Familiar. They had been making final preparations for this trip, and then Chipper was gone. There was hardly time for a hug and a kiss.
And now what? Somehow he had not even considered a life without Chipper; he’d thought they’d remain with the zeppelins, rise in rank and repute, buy a small house somewhere close to the zeppelin park. Maybe adopt a kid or two, who knew? And then this. And it wasn’t just a temporary reassignment. Well it was, but not the usual sort. He wasn’t filling-in on another zeppelin, or attending a training course. Chipper was off in space God alone knew how many thousands of miles away. It was dangerous. And Michel asked himself questions: ‘would Chipper be killed? Injured? How would this assignment change him? Would he still be happy? And worst of all, could he want to leave me?’
Michel was distraught, but he maintained the façade of gallant zeppelin captain. He said good night to the lookout. He went down to the control cabin and looked in. He noted that the elevatorman was doing a credible job, not a flawless job as Chipper would have, but credible.
“I’ll be in my cabin,” he informed the Officer of the Deck. “Call me if there are any changes,” and he retired.
It was eleven on Saturday morning. Glenn Yelland, together with Ed Carpenter and Robert Radziwill were sitting on the grass by the cannon on the courthouse lawn. They were early.
“I wonder what happened to that shithead Kerlew,” Glenn wondered idly.
“Yeah. Well he never was the worst,” Rob observed. “He never started it. But I’m way more worried about what’s gonna happen to us.”
Glenn frowned at Ed. “I wonder why he didn’t take you, too. Now I think about it.”
“Please, Nephi’s my cousin. He kicked my ass so many times I’d lost count years ago. I never started nuthin’ neither and you know it.” Ed was oddly content. He was out of his normal element, but he felt good about that. He had always feared Nephi and Nephi’s stepdad, but he had been well clear of the both of them for three days and that felt good.
And then, almost as if by magic, the boy who’d given them their orders was standing just there. A falcon was perched on his shoulder. Steve Kerlew stood just behind him and was dressed like him, in starched khakis.
“Good lads,” he smiled.
They had a moment of disconnect and then they were standing outside a low building on a wide ground.
“Welcome to Earth Prime and welcome to Camp Farragut, headquarters of His Majesty’s Commando in the Americas.
“I am Corporal Young, in case you forgot. Trooper Kerlew, here is gonna help you fer the next few minutes. Do as he tells yer. I’ll be back in a bit.” He turned around with military precision and left.
All eyes turned to Steve.
“You guys aren’t gonna believe it.”
The next few moments were a whirl of activity and visual shock. They were assigned a wing in a barracks building, then given individual rooms and told to hang their street clothes in the spacious lockers each room possessed. They showered in a spacious and thoroughly modern facility. A young man in a white lab coat with long pointed ears gave them each two shots. And it was back to the barracks bay where they were issued uniforms and told to try them on. When everyone was fitted out, they returned to their barracks lounge and had a seat. Seconds later, Corporal Young strolled into the room with his falcon.
In the silence of the moment, the peregrine spoke. Hi. I’m Carlos and I’m what’s called a familiar. You are now on Earth Prime. In many respects, this will be the same as your Earth; in many respects it will be completely different. It is in a parallel universe, adjacent to your Earth. I want to assure you of one thing. You are not being kidnapped. You will return to Earth after two days, when we get you settled here. When you return to Earth, it will be at the same time as when you left; you will then have your full weekend. You need to know this is not time travel or anything like that, you will continue to grow in the normal way in either universe, but you have to be in that universe to move with it. You cannot go back or forward in time. Time is movement, as Leonardo da Vinci observed. Feel free to ask questions of anyone. We’re going to set-up a training course for you and you will have plenty of time to decide in which universe you wish to live primarily.
For the rest of the day, your friend, will show you around the base and explain its workings. You’ll have your first class tomorrow.
And with a snap and a flash the peregrine was gone. Corporal Young smiled at them. “Trooper Kerlew will take you around the station. Then you’ll have dinner. I have an office in the central block of the building. I keep office hours there and I’m available to help you when I can. Take the rest of the day and get settled in.
“Kerlew, I leave you to it.” He strode off.
Colonel Sir Rafael DeLucca, Knight of Tizona, Knight of the Golden Dragon, combat veteran of the Trollian War, and of the Vietnam War on Earth, stood on his veranda in his silk bath robe. He looked out over the swimming pool of his veranda onto the vista provided by the Mediterranean Sea. He could live here on Earth Prime where the coast was practically undeveloped, only a few small villages and farms; but he’d never have been able to afford it on Earth. He was a wealthy man there, but not nearly rich enough for that; here he was the trusted friend of the King and a Knight of Tizona, a knighthood named for the sword of El Cid, and that was more than enough.
Two of his foster sons, Ted and Kyle, and their friend Stoney, were in and around the pool. It was a beautiful scene to behold. The boys were in the prime of early adulthood; they were beautifully tanned; slimly muscled, wet and tousled; they were relaxed and nude.
He savored life, the beauty of the scene, and then he returned to the table where a stack of file folders awaited him. He had a regiment to organize. From the ground up; he had to decide who was going to be the commander; he had to design the uniform; he had to organize the regiment in terms of function. He would have to provide all this to the Earl Martial, and later to the King for final review.
There were two outstanding candidates for command of the regiment and promotion to lieutenant colonel. One was Captain Lewys of the 24the Regiment. He had been involved right from the beginning; he’d been wounded in the San Diego operation and was currently in command of the North American operations. The other was Lieutenant Miles-Pemberton of the Guards Hussars, he had been running the Restoration Commando from the appearance of Wizard Knox and they had almost finished their task. The last two pieces of artwork would be impossible to restore to an owner because of a mass of complexities. It would be recommended to the King that he keep them and hang them in the palace, but no decision had yet been made.
He put aside regimental considerations to worry about his second foster son, William. William had wanted to attend the Naval Academy like his older brother, but now there was all this talk of the space patrol. So he wanted that instead. Thinking in terms of NASA and other space programs on Earth, Colonel DeLucca was worried about William. He thought of the years of training that may lead to nothing but a desk job as most astronauts did not get into space in the Earth programs. He wanted to save William from disappointment and frustration. Then he had a happy thought. He’d recommend to William that he go to the Naval Academy after all. He’d point out how many of Earth’s astronauts had been naval officers. That way, he’d suggest, they could work out a transfer to the space patrol once things settled down a bit. That should give him an advantage. After all, the space patrol wasn’t much more than a daydream at the moment. And William had been all set on the Navy until the space patrol came along. Yes, that would be best for William. Now, if only he could finagle it so William would realize that and, even better, think of it as his own idea. He had to promote it as a step toward the space patrol, not as an end in itself.
The Colonel smiled to himself and returned his attention to his new regiment.
The Royal Train rumbled smoothly along the rails on the way to Trollia. There was no royalty aboard however, only an able servant of the King who was going about the King’s business.
Sir Claude Clanrobert, Knight of the Order of Merit, Officer of Hermes Wand, Director of Royal Medical Services, was feeling rather like Saint Jerome of whom he had only recently heard. He had, in any event, only heard of him in his capacity as Patron Saint of Abandoned Children. He was enjoying the feeling of being a protector of abandoned children so he felt some kinship with Saint Jerome.
Sir Claude had drifted into this role. As a leading nurse in an emergency room he had frequently been involved in the art of caring for others. Then there was the night when a familiar deposited three children who had been terribly abused in his ER and was gone without a word leaving a frightened and abused nine year old to attempt to explain what had happened. As soon as the children were stabilized and receiving proper medical care, he was on the phone to his pal, the Physician Royal to complain about the familiars conduct. Because of his repeated demonstrations of caring professionalism he had been steadily advanced and was now on his way to Trollia. He was trusted to report on the medical situation and the requirements for expanding the national clinic structure throughout Trollia to provide better medical care for all Trollians.
But he wasn’t thinking about that at all. Instead he was relaxing with thoughts of his children and what more could be done for them. This was a very paternal sentiment for a man who had never married, never planned to; yet into whose household children were drawn as if by an elemental force of nature.
The three Seward children had been first. Mary, the girl who had been repeatedly raped by her alleged father, was staying with Tamara and the Dodger while he and her brothers were away. Their daughter, Susan Rose, had become close friends with Mary and this was very good for her recovery. She was finding peace while tending to the young girl they all called “Angelique.” Angelique appeared to be about three years old, wasn’t speaking, and had been badly burned in a tenement fire. Rescue Commando lads had been drawn to the fire and had rescued the tot. That, after all, is what Rescue Commando lads do; but no one had as yet been able to locate the child’s parents or next of kin so she was welcomed into his household.
It was quiet in this posh car of the Royal Train just now. The boy’s dog, Turbo, was asleep on the thick carpet of the car. He seemed to be dreaming of a chase for every once in a while, his paws twitched as if he was running. His two foster sons, Bobby and Tommy, and their new pals, Rodger and Monty, were all in the engine cab learning how to drive a locomotive. And very happy they were about it too.
Sir Claude was content. Once he got these Trollian clinics sorted, he’d drop in on the North American Command and make sure the rescued children there were well cared for. Yes and he’d take a zeppelin on the trip. The boys would like that. And that other boy, the one they went truant with, he should come too, if possible. He smiled in his contentment.
The Bentley whispered down the road. Bentleys do that and it’s very good they are at it too. But inside the car the silence was ominous and oppressive. The clock ticked loudly. Ralph Cyffylog, First Chauffeur and longtime attendant to the King was driving faultlessly.
“Please, Ralph,” Justin III of Glorious Repute ap Henry VII Indomitable, the King of Ellendale and of the Elven Dominions beyond the Stars, Second Magister of the Heavens, Grand Cordon, Colonel Commandant and Admiral of the Fleet, implored of his chauffeur, “I’m sorry.”
It seemed the clock was louder, though that was not possible.
Then the dam collapsed.
“I was the first one to talk to you about the space patrol. I was the first one to greet you at the palace when first you got here; I taught you rugby!
“I’ve tooken care of you every day since you came here; I outfoxed Donnie Tomkins and got you this car when he’d been scamming on it for weeks. And! Who was it that first saluted you here on Prime? Was me an me brothers is who it was! Remember?
“An what about the fookin’ Rajah, was it me on the streets fer you or was it some matlo gob?
“And so what thanks do I get? None is what. I ask for one little thing. To be in the space patrol and what happens? You goes and sends some fookin’ swabbie to space ‘stead of me. You never even seen him an he gets inter the space patrol before me.
“How would you like it were it you who was me, I don’t wonder?”
The clock ticked.
“Please Ralph, it wasn’t like that. The Magister wanted his orderly along and there were only so many spots. There could only be two of each of the folk. Please. I know you. You know me. I’d never hurt you intentionally. You know that.”
The clock did not sound quite so loud.
“When we actually form the Space Corps, you’ll be number one. And you’ll be on the next trip to the space station. Okay?”
“Okay. Thanks. Yer a great royal bauchle, yes you are.” Ralph laughed his twinkling laugh.
No one listened for the clock.
There had been an astounding racket in the morning. Somehow he wasn’t worried or alarmed; he knew it to be natural and proper. He got up and actually felt good. He fed and watered his friends, there were twenty-five of them all told, and then went for his breakfast.
After breakfast he cleaned the stalls and put down plenty of fresh straw. Then he raked the paddock so that all the manure was in one convenient pile. He’d have to find out where to take that, couldn’t leave it in the paddock. That much was certain.
“Hey, buddy. Come here a minute.”
He looked up to see a young man, dressed as he was, standing just outside the stall. He walked over. “Hey,” he offered.
“Lookit. You’re usin’ way too fuckin’ much straw. We hafta haul it in here and stack it fuckin’ up an you’re just making fuck all more work for us. Just a sprinkle of it’s enuf.”
Nephi considered the source of this complaint. He wasn’t wearing starched khakis; he wasn’t wearing a suit and tie, rumpled or otherwise. He was complaining about work so he was really just like Nephi and he was dressed as Nephi was; Nephi also knew that he was wrong. He knew what Miss Judith wanted.
“Who the fuck are you?” Nephi wondered truculently.
“I work here just like you. An yer makin’ it harder for all of us. An we don’t like it, see?”
“Mebbe you’ll wanna come in here. I’m thinkin’ you’ll like this fuckin’ straw when I kick your fuckin’ ass all around the stable.”
They glowered across the stall door. Nephi was younger, not by a great deal. Still, there was something to be said for age and experience; but then Nephi was heavier and that had been useful in the past. Nephi’s old world had caused him to run quite a lot, mostly to avoid his home; he’d not really been smoking long enough to damage his wind, so that was good. His opponent was several years older and was striving to grow a beard; he was several inches taller, but he was slender almost to emaciation. Nephi didn’t know it, but his opponent had been a drug addict and he was serving time for selling hard drugs to school children. He had run afoul of the Rescue Commando. The Rescue Commando had not been gentle with him. He had sought to bluff and bluster Nephi, the new guy, but he had no real intention of fighting.
Miss Judith now trotted up and stood beside Nephi. Her ears were pointed at the strawman and she started that raucous bawling. Her attention was focused on the strawman. This was too much, he knew he was defeated and started backing away. Nephi’s confidence increased.
“Wait a sec,” Nephi called, opening the stall and stepping into the center aisle. “I’m gonna get a coupla bales of straw. Ya wanna try an stop me, fuckface?”
Miss Judith joined him and brayed several more times. The strawman turned and ran.
It took Nephi a moment to realize that he had won. He and Miss Judith. There hadn’t even been any violence.
Chipper looked down on his planet. It was an experience so far beyond the daily practicality of his life that he was out of his real world as well as being off his real world. He was so moved by this vista that he had no foundation in normal. It was normal for him to think of Michel, his love, on a regular basis throughout the day. It was not normal for him to be seized with an intense realization that Michel must view this scene with him. It was normal for him to go about his daily life with a sense of joy and enthusiasm which he had never before equated to spiritual peace and rightness; currently he was gripped by a spiritual certainty he could scarcely fathom and hardly describe.
“Brings you home, doesn’t it?” The King’s Dad commented quietly.
“Yeah. Yes. It does.” Normally, Chipper would have been far too punctilious to address a Royal Highness so casually. But it wasn’t normal and it wasn’t casual either. It was their world. Their world seen at a level so basic that it was spiritual and inspirational; they were seeing their world in a profoundly basic way. Now they began to understand the meaning of ‘heavenly’.
“My son will ask me a million questions about this and I won’t know what to say.”
Chipper considered the vista, “I know. Somehow Michel must see this. It’s way more than just a view. Way.”
They continued to watch their world move below them. They saw clouds, and oceans, and land in a way that moved them with the breathless beauty of creation.
“The government won’t let my son come here until he has an heir. If there’s one person on Earth Prime who should see this at once, it’s him. The government means well, I guess, but sometimes they’re in too big a hurry to say ‘wait!’ or, even worse, an automatic ‘no!’ But I’ll get your Michel here to see this as soon as I can.”
They continued to watch in silence. Then Chipper remembered the transient world of people. “Thanks,” he said.