Thursday, September 18, 2008


"Confusticate and drat it all!" I slammed back from the computer, taut with frustration, and sat for a moment, staring at the monitor screen. It seemed to stare back with its enlarged print and enhanced, brightly colored cursor. Then, I sank my head into my hands. "I can't," I moaned. "I can't, can't, can't write!"

"What's the pur-roblem?" my cat, Snowball, inquired languorously. She sounded so relaxed!

I dug my fingers through my hair and groaned. "The problem is that there's nothing I can write about." Snowball made a low, rumbly sort of inquiring sound. I sat up and swiveled to look at her where she lay on the windowsill, ears perked, large, round, green eyes trained on me attentively. I sighed. "You're supposed to write what you know, right?"


"Well, everything I know - my real or everyday life, my dream life, my fantasy life," I choked on a sob and returned my head to my hands. "Even and especially my pain and despair and emptiness life -" Snowball growled. I ignored her and my ungrammatical construction. "Everything I know is Kit." Snowball sneezed.

She had never liked Kit, and had made no bones that she was satisfied that he and I had broken up. But, I was devastated by the breakup. I hadn't eaten, hadn't showered, hadn't gotten dressed for days. The only thing that kept me going was needing to take care of Snowball. Then, I had woken up this morning, well, actually, it had been almost 12:30, and looked listlessly at the large display digital clock which showed not only the time, but also the date and room temperature. With a shock, I realized that the deadline for the NFB Writers' Division contests was only four days away. I had to enter something, and fast! After washing and filling Snowball's food and water dishes and cleaning her litter box, I sat down listlessly at the computer. But, everything I started seemed too personal, too intense, too Kit.
Now I tried to explain this to Snowball. She rumbled thoughtfully. "Don't humans write about their most intimate ex-purr-iences in autobiographies, and memoirs, and those novels with the Fur-rench name?"

"Roman à clef? Yes. And, most first novels are largely autobiographical as well."

She sat up and began washing her paws. "So," she inquired again with a delicate redirection of emphasis, "what's the pur-roblem?"

"I find that sort of stuff distasteful enough to read, let alone to write."

"Writing about one's life and everyday ex-purr-ience, you mean?"


She began washing her face. I loved it when Snowball washed her face, and the top of her head. She was absorbed in this important business for several minutes. When she finished, she blinked. "Is everything in your life distasteful?"

It was my turn to blink. "Well, no, I suppose not. But..."

"Is everything in your life too intensely purr-sonal to talk about?" she pursued, stretching her front paws.

"Well, no; but..." I stared at her. She stared back, sublimely unconcerned. She yawned.

"Is there anything, or purr-haps anybody in your life that is noteworthy?" she asked with a fine show of indifference.

I began to grin. And, as the grin grew broader, I felt the despondency and writer's block disperse, like a thick fog stirred by a breeze. I still missed Kit something awful but, for now at least, I had something to do. Of course! It was so simple. "I'll write about you," I said, leaning forward to rub Snowball's head. "I'll be sure to win First Prize in the Fiction division."

I laughed, the first time in days, in weeks, I'd laughed as she reared up, the image of a lion rampant. "What do you mean the Fiction division?" she demanded in a low growl.

I smoothed the ruffled fur on her back. "Well, after all," I said. "No one would accept a story about a talking cat as nonfiction."

Snowball growled. Ignoring her, I stood up. "Man, I'm hungry! I'm going to have a nice, big breakfast, or brunch, or whatever and then, thanks to you, Snowball, I can get to work."

Jumping down, she followed me into the kitchen. I poured her a saucer of milk as a special treat, and then bustled about distractedly. I only just avoided putting the Canadian bacon in the toaster and the frozen French toast in the microwave in my excitement.

"What should I call the story?" I mused while setting the table. "Something snappy. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof? Na, that's been used. Hmm. The Cat Who Came In From The Cold? Long Cat's Journey Into Night?"

Snowball jumped onto my chair and sniffed at my plate as I set it down. "Are you going to drown that in maple surr-up?" she asked disapprovingly, pointing at the Canadian bacon with her nose.

"Yep." Picking her up, I moved her to the other chair. Then, I sat down and began extravagantly buttering the French toast. "How about All'sS Cat That Ends Cat?" Snowball sneezed. I looked up in concern. "Are you getting a cold, Kitty?"

"No," she said testily. Climbing up, she sat on the far edge of the table and glared at me. I could tell she was glaring because her eyes had changed from green to yellow. I watched her warily. If they turned orange, I was really in trouble.

"I think," she said, "and since I'm the subject of this so-called 'story' my opinion ought to be taken into consideration - I think you should call it Snowball The Wonder Cat."

I choked on a bite of French toast. "W-wonder cat?"

She crossed her paws in front of her chest and glared still more intensely, orange eyes glowing. "Wonder Cat," she repeated grimly. "After all, how many talking cats do you know?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Asimov's Three Laws Of Robotics

Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics," Jenna said breathlessly."

"Whose three laws of what?" demanded Rick. "That doesn't sound familiar." He leant back and rubbed his eyes and then his forehead wearily. "And, what's it got to do with babies anyhow? We're s'posed to be doing a project on the history of prenatal education. What's robo-whatsitz got to do with that?"

"Robotics," Jenna explained patiently. She pushed vaguely at her chair and resumed her seat at the kitchen table, putting her wavy pale pink hair back over one shoulder. Opening his eyes again, Rick looked across at her and wondered, not for the first time, with affectionate amusement why she had to do weird things to her hair. Last week, briefly, it had been violently purple. For himself, he liked it the original brownish blonde. But then, he thought without resentment, he wasn't clever and imaginative like Jenna. She went on. "Asimov was one of those ancient writers. You know, like Rowling and Shakespeare and Chaucer, one of those guys who only had one name."

"Oh yeah," Rick said, perking up. "I like Chaucer, especially the story about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Whose tale is that, I can never remember."

"The Tolkien's Tale," Jenna said promptly. "Remember, we know - well, the scholars know - what all the other people are: the Knight, and the Cook and the Franklin, and the religious people like the abbess and the Clerk. Even Piers the Ploughman who tells that weird story about Will Langland's dream and the Pearl. All of them except the Tolkien. Nobody can figure out what a tolkien was."

Rick grinned and reached for his protein energy drink. "Of course. You always remember stuff like that. I think you remember everything you've ever read." Jenna was spared the embarrassment of agreeing that this was pretty much true by Rick's sudden, indignant splutterings. He put the plasticoid tumbler down with a bang and wiped his mouth emphatically on his sleeve. "Brussellsprouts!" he growled, pronouncing the hateful phrase as if it were one word. He looked accusingly at Jenna. "How can you drink it?"

Trying very hard not to laugh, Jenna cradled her own tumbler in her hands. "I'm not. Mine's tropical fruit. I did warn you that the one you had was gross."

Rick subsided into gloom. "So, what's this ancient Asimoo--"

"Asimov," Jenna repeated, still patient but also amused now. "I'm trying to tell you. A long time ago, in the ancient times when they thought digital cameras were a pretty neat idea, this Asimov person - Professor Calvin thinks it must have been a woman, since what is known of the males of that period makes it unlikely in Professor Calvin's opinion that a man could have formulated such advanced ideas --"

Rick muttered, "Good old Suzy," but not loud enough for Jenna to hear. Prof. Calvin might be stiff and dour, but she knew her paleo-anthropology. Jenna was going on happily. She loved explaining, especially things that nobody else had ever heard of.

"Anyway, sometime around the middle of the Twentieth Century, she formulated what have been known ever after as 'Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.' She even predicted that they would outlive all her other work. Nothing else is known about her. It is thought that she was very prolific, but only two fragments remain: a sentimental fantasy story called 'Robbie" and a fragment which is thought to have been an introduction to a collection of stories and essays. That fragment is usually referred to as 'the Three Laws Fragment,' and it is in this that she predicts the survival of the Laws formulation beyond all her other work."

Rick sighed and reached for his tumbler. It would not have occurred to him to throw away food or drink simply because he disliked it. He took a cautious sip. "So," he said, making a face at the tumbler, "what are these three laws anyhow?"

Jenna took a pull at her tumbler as though to fortify herself, while Rick eyed it gloomily. He liked tropical fruit. The next time he invaded Jenna's parents' fridge, he must remember to take a pink tumbler instead of a green one. Jenna set down her drink and recited:

Asimov's First Law of Robotics: A robot must not injure a human or by inaction allow a human to be harmed.
Asimov's Second Law of Robotics: A robot must obey any order given it by any human, except where such obedience would conflict with The First Law.
Asimov's Third Law of Robotics: A robot must protect its own existence except where this conflicts with The First or Second Law.

She sighed. "I'd like to recite them in the original Old Inglish, it's so sonorous! But, I cant remember."

Rick was staring at her, open mouthed and slightly green. "But," he managed after a moment, "those are..."

"I know," Jenna said quietly.

"Well, the first and third are anyhow."

"I know," Jenna said again.

There was a pause.

"But," Rick said desperately, "that was over three thousand years ago. Centuries before anyone thought to program babies in eutero with the fundamental Laws of Humanity." Jenna just looked at him. "Criky, Jenna," he went on weakly. "It was centuries before they even tried to inculcate the Laws into babies and small children."

"Yes," Jenna said, and her eyes were shining. "Isn't it amazing to think that a person so primitive, totally lacking and unable even to imagine all our tools and, and advantages, could formulate our most fundamental Laws of Humanics?

"Of course, she obviously thought of them simply as fantasy, or maybe the socio-political climate - or even the intellectual climate - made It necessary for her to frame them as fantasy. I mean, she applies them to robots, whatever those are. She didn't think, or she wasn't free, to apply the Laws properly, to humans." Jenna paused, looking thoughtful. "I wonder which it was. Oh well. We'll probably never know."

Rick hardly heard his friend's philosophical ruminations, but then he seldom did. "Yeah," he said fervently. "Totally awesome!" Then he shook himself as if waking from a pleasant doze. "But, how does that help us with our project?"

Jenna clicked her tongue, the only indication she was willing to give of impatience. "Really, Rick," she said, "I would have thought it was obvious. This is just the beginning, the hook we've been searching for. Of course everybody knows the history of prenatal education. That's why I was so annoyed when Professor Montessori assigned it to us. But, don't you see? We can use the history of prenatal education as a jumping off point. We can turn our project into..."

"Into a paleo-anthropological and paleo-literary study," Rick almost shouted, waving his tumbler over his head.

Jenna beamed. "It'll take a lot of work. There isn't much in the scholarly literature about prehistoric adumbration of modern attitudes and customs and that; but, I think we can do it."

"Sure we can do it!" Rick was on his feet, gray eyes flashing, hands (and the forgotten tumbler flailing in his excitement. "With your proficiency in the ancient languages and your understanding of the ancient texts, and my analytical abilities, we ought to be able to pull off a Science Fair project that'll knock their sandals off!"

This story recieved Fourth Prize in the NFB Writers Division Fiction Contest for 2002.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island: Chapters X & XI

Chapter 10
Brontë saw the girl in the foam green dress, hunched in her wheelchair, sitting all by herself near the open doors to the terrace almost as soon as he entered the hall with his parents. He felt sorry for her. The noise and light levels were not oppressive, but even he already had slight sensory overload. There were sort of a lot of people, and a sensitive person or one not used to crowds might feel more comfortable watching from the side. Still, it was no fun sitting all alone. He'd go speak to her; not to bother her if she didn't want company, but to let her know she didn't have to sit by herself. Excusing himself mumblingly to his parents, who had already spotted familiar faces and were moving towards the adult bar at the far end of the room, he sauntered towards her.

He lost sight of her as he went. The music was in full swing and a few couples drifted or gyrated around the dance floor. He passed among knots and bigger, looser groups of youngsters whispering conspiratorially or talking animatedly with much laughter, hand clapping and gesticulation. But always he spotted her again, still and hunched, her head down. It was further to the terrace doors than it had look, as though the hall grew as he crossed it. But, finally he was through the press, within a few steps of her, and he could see her clearly. She looked to be around thirteen, just about a year younger than himself. Her face was pale; not merely faire skinned but unnaturally pale as with illness or nervousness. Her hair, which was cut short, was the color of sunshine early on a summer morning and very curly. Her eyes were the same sea green as her dress. Indeed, the fabric must have been selected specifically for the color, or even dyed specially. Though he was generally aware of prettiness only in flowers and birds, Brontë thought the effect a becoming one.

And now he could see that she was either totally blind or very close to it. She looked like a nice person and intelligent. You couldn't say her eyes were vacant - there was definitely somebody home behind them - but there was some indefinable something about her, some way in which she was just slightly less aware or just slightly more closed in than the sighted and partially sighted. Anger flared in him and his fists clenched. Whoever had brought her, probably her parents, had just parked her here without so much as a PCR or a service animal to talk to. He wondered if she even had a PCR or a service animal (chimpanzees were most common for the very severely disabled). Probably not. People like that wouldn't want her to be able to do anything without them.

He stepped back and then advanced towards her, making his tread firmer, heavier than usual so she could tell someone was coming towards her. It worked. She started and raised her head, straightening her shoulders just a bit. She looked a little alarmed but not frightened. "Hi," he said cheerfully, stopping right in front of her. "I'm Brontë." After a moment's thought he knelt down to be more on a level with her. "What's your name?" he prompted.


"That's a pretty name."

A faint color rose in her cheeks, making her look healthier. "Thanks."

"Sure thing." He glanced around, casting about for something else to say. He wasn't good at chitchat. He liked talking about real things, sailboats and horses and maybe garden design (He got that from his mother.) But you couldn't start out with stuff like that. You had to start out general. And, he wasn't good at general. Then his gaze rested on the glass door, twice - three times - the width of an ordinary door, folded back against the wall in front of which Emma's chair had been parked.

"It's nice over here," he remarked, feeling a little silly. " Not quite so hot and noisy, and you get some breeze." As he spoke he felt the faint wind on his face and saw it ruffle her unruly curls. She nodded and murmured some vague assent. Taking a deep breath, Brontë decided to cut to the point. "But, you know," he said gently, "I can't help wondering how come you're sitting all by yourself."

In the instant after the words were out, he wondered if she'd be angry and send him away. But she seemed only resigned and a little sad as she replied, "Mama left me here. She said she'd come right back, but she didn't."

Fury blazed through Brontë's whole body, tightening his chest and his throat; blanking out his sight and hearing; freezing his very thoughts for a moment. Then the worst past, like a storm front that leaves rain after it, rain that isn't scary, that you can cope with. He could cope with this anger, think through it. And he thought, "Lousy, rotten people! They don't deserve to have a little girl. Just walking off and abandoning her like that!" But he forced his eyes to focus on Emma, forced his voice to be calm as he asked, "How long ago was that?"

Emma shrugged. One of her shoulders rose higher than the other, and it looked as though the gesture hurt her. "I donno. I don't have a watch."

Suddenly Brontë jumped up. He had to dump his energy somehow. "D'ya wanna dance?"

"I'm in a wheelchair." She didn't sound scornful or defiant, just as though she were stating a fact that he might not have noticed.

"I know. But, that doesn't mean we can't dance. C'mon. I'll show you." He stepped behind her chair. "Brakes off?"

She leant forward stiffly, and it took longer than he expected before she sat back and said, "Yes."

"OK. Hang on. I'm not real good at driving these things."

She giggled. "Neither's Mama. She runs me into things all the time."

He only just managed not to speak aloud his thought, "And here I imagined my opinion of her couldn't get any lower." He was actually a good driver, steady and firm. They wove through the shifting crowd and soon reached the dance floor, where another wheelchair occupant and his partner were already doing their thing among the ambulatory dancers. Brontë wheeled Emma onto the floor, turned her ninety degrees and stepped in front of her. "OK," he said a little breathlessly. He'd never done this before and wasn't altogether sure it would work. "Hang on tight. Here we go." There were two sets of handgrips at the front of the chair arms, one vertical and one horizontal. Emma was holding the horizontal ones. Brontë gripped the verticles and began stepping backwards and forwards. Then he tried arcs and spirals across the floor. When the music crescendoed, he spun her in a tight circle, squealing wheels barely audible. By the end of the dance, they were both flushed and laughing. And somehow Emma didn't look so little and frail and ill. "That was fun," she exclaimed.

"Yeah." Brontë pretended to slump against the handles of her chair. "But I gotta sit down. Let's go get something to drink and maybe sit on the terrace."

All the life went out of Emma like air out of a balloon. "I'd better go right back to where Mama left me," she said in a small, scared voice. "She told me not to stir from that spot. She'll be mad…"

Because his adrenalin was already flowing, Brontë barely noticed the rush of anger. When he spoke his voice was strong, almost authoritative. "If she's gonna be mad at anybody, she can be mad at me. This is s'posed to be a party. Yu can dance if you want to."

"They need to know where I am." Her voice had become so small and constricted that he had to lean over the back of the chair to hear her.

He sighed. "All right. We'll find them and tell them you're with me. And then we'll get our drinks and go outside. It's too hot and noisy in here anyhow. He slewed her chair in a wide arc. The dance floor lay between them and where the grownups were congregated at the upper end of the hall and in rooms beyond. "Where are your parents? Do you know?"

"They said something about sitting with the mayor."

"With the mayor. Important people then. But, obviously, important people weren't .always smart people. Feigning a calm he didn't feel he said, "We'll be able to find the mayor easily enough. My own parents have probably drifted towards him too."

Slowly they made their way forward. It was awkward pushing the chair and leaning over the back to talk, but that was the only way he could hear her now that they were in the thick of the crowd, and he managed. "Your parents know the mayor too?" she asked.

"Yep. How come yours do?"

"Papa's a grain merchant. Anyhow, he says he has the mayor's ear. I'm not really sure what that means, but I think he's kind'a important."

Brontë chuckled. "Yeah, grain merchants are kind'a important. I wouldn't be surprised if your papa has the mayor's ear. What's his name?"

"Tom Morrow."

Brontë stopped walking. Morrow? Tom Morrow? Yes, he was important. The youngest president of the Corn exchange in a century and a half. He wasn't strictly speaking a politician, but he was every bit as important as Brontë's own father, who was a world senator, and very possibly more powerful. He looked down at the pretty, frail, sweet little girl in the wheelchair and thought savagely that Morrow was also a stupid, thoughtless idiot who deserved…

"How come your parents know the mayor?" Emma asked again.

Just as he began to answer, he was distracted by a shout. "Hey, Brontë!"

Straightening, he turned to see his friend Steve waving. "Hey, Steve," he called back. Where's Arrabella?"

Steve made a face. He'd drawn closer. "Powdering her nose. Saw you and your girlfriend on the dance floor. Quasar!"

"Thanks. Come and meet her." Emma shifted uncomfortably but Steve pushed past the last couple people between them and thumped Brontë on the back. "Emma," Brontë said, this is Steve. Steve, Emma."

"Hi, Emma," Steve said. Rising on tiptoe, he turned a circle in place. "Ah, there she is. Catch you cats later." And he plunged off into the crowd.

"Doesn't stay in one place long, does he?" Emma observed as they started again.

"Not he. I think he must have been a butterfly in a previous life."

"Brontë! There's no such thing as previous lives."

"Sorry," he said, surprised. "It's just a figure of speech."

"A who?"

"A - a saying."

"Well, don't say it. Our Lord is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There isn't any other. And reincarnation is an evil superstition. "

He sighed. Just his luck to befriend a Christian Fundamentalist. Of course what she said was true. He believed that. He knew that. But it didn't stop him using common turns of phrase. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I won't say it any more if it upsets you."

"Thank you," she said primly, and he smiled.

They were almost to the corner where the mayor was holding court. Brontë's heart skipped. There was Morrow. He'd never met the grain merchant, but all Nova Britannia knew him by sight. He faltered. But then he spotted his mother talking animatedly to the prima ballerina of the City Ballet. He couldn't remember ever being so glad to see her. Morrow hadn't seen them yet, Heaven be praised. Turning aside, he headed for his mother.

She looked up with her usual impeccable timing and wonderful lack of surprise. "Oh, hello, dear," she said. "Found someone to talk to then?"

"Yeah, umm. Hi Mme Fontaine."

The ballerina kissed her slender fingers and waved them at him. "Bonsoir, my 'andsome boy," she said, tactfully stepping back. "I speak more with you tomorrow, Marjorie, yes?"

"Yes. I'll call you around lunchtime, Yvette. Glad I ran into you. Good night." Turning her attention to the children, Mrs. Sinclair leant down to look into Emma's face, and gently took her hand. "And, who have we here?"

The words tumbled out of Brontë before Emma could do more than draw breath. "She's Emma Morrow, Mom, Tom Morrow's daughter, and they left her all by herself over by the terrace doors and told her not to go anywhere, and I went to talk to her and we danced, but now she's scared that her parents'll be mad 'cause she didn't stay where they put her like a bloody statue, and her father's over there talking to the new prime minister of Nova Italia, and…" He swallowed. He couldn't say what he thought of the Morrows' treatment of their daughter in front of her. So, he looked appealingly at his mother.

She returned his look gravely. "Is all this true, Emma?" she asked kindly.

Emma nodded and sniffed.

Mrs. Sinclair produced a disposable handkerchief from somewhere - she was marvelous about that sort of thing - and gently wiped Emma's face. "And what are you going to do now?" she asked.

Brontë shuffled and looked down. Their plan sounded pretty flat when you came to tell it to a grown up. But Emma said, "We're gonna find my parents and let them know I'm with Brontë. And then," She turned her head. She couldn't look right over her shoulder at him, but he understood that was what she meant. "Brontë said we could get drinks and go out to the terrace."

"Sounds like a plan," Mrs. Sinclair said, smiling. "It is a bit warm and noisy in here. "So, first we've got to find your dad and let him know where you'll be, right?" Both children nodded. "Well, that's easy enough. As Brontë says, he's not far away, talking with Prime Minister Grimaldi. I'll go over with you, shall I?"

Brontë heaved a mighty sigh of relief and Emma said, "Yes please, Mrs. - I don't know your name." She sounded surprised. Brontë to was startled till he remembered that he had been interrupted before telling Emma who his parents were. He groaned.

But his mother said merely, "Sinclair. I'm Mrs. Sinclair, dear. And Brontë's father is Sen. Sinclair."

A little shiver passed over Emma. "Yes, Please, Mrs. Sinclair," she said. She hesitated. The back of her neck turned pink. That will help."

"What will help?" Mrs. Sinclair asked, mystified.

"That you're important." Emma sounded embarrassed. "It's silly and it's not right, not what Our Lord taught us; but Papa and Mama - especially Mama, though they both are - they're really impressed with important people." Brontë rolled his eyes. Really stupid people. But Mrs. Sinclair was paying attention to Emma and missed it. "So," Emma went on, "They won't be mad when they find out that I've made a new friend as soon as they find out he's a senator's son." For the first time her voice grew hard, not with anger Brontë realized, but with contempt. "'Cause they'll think a friend like that'll be useful." She almost spat the last word.

Mrs. Sinclair straightened slowly and looked at Brontë. He'd never seen quite such a terrible look on her face before. To relieve his seething feelings he made a rude gesture and, rather than rebuking him, she nodded. There was a pause.

When Emma spoke again, her words brought tears to their eyes. "So maybe they'll let me and him be friends," she said.

Chapter 11
Morrow was annoyed at having his tete-a-tete with the Italian PM interrupted. He was far more annoyed at the manner of the interruption. "Mi scusi, Tony," Mrs Sinclair said, tapping Grimaldi on the shoulder.

Looking every inch the former soccer star he was, Grimaldi turned, beaming as though Mrs. Sinclair was his long lost sister. "Marjorie, cara mia!" he cried, enfolding her in a bone crushing hug and kissing her on each cheek. Morrow frowned. They spoke for a moment in low, breakneck Italian that obviously left Morrow just as much in the dust as Brontë. Another reason to despise the pudgy little man. Though he was fluent in the native Nova Britannian language, the Aboriginal language as it was officially known, Brontë's own Italian, like his French, was barely sufficient to order cocoa and pastry. But he wasn't a magnate, an interplanetary economic power. He was just a kid. Tom Morrow, he'd once heard his dad explode in exasperation, had the power to say whether whole planets and moons ate or starved. But he couldn't speak one of the most important Nova European languages?

Then the prime minister spoke to the grain merchant in British that was tinged by only the faintest accent. Seniore Morrow, do you know Marjorie Brainerd Sinclair, landscape architect and wife of Nova Britannia world senator Whitman Sinclair?"

Morrow started. Brontë couldn't see much of his face, but his body language was loud and clear. Brontë thought resignedly that if he and Emma were going to be friends, he'd have to stop thinking about how much he despised her father every time he took a breath. "Marjorie Brainerd," Morrow said with unctuous enthusiasm as he shook her hand. "I've never had the pleasure. My wife's a great fan of yours, Miss Brainerd, Mrs. Sinclair I should say. She has all your books and vids." He gave a false little self-deprecating chuckle. "I'm not good with plants and such things myself; so, I leave all that to Muriel. She'll be very excited when she hears I've met you."

Mrs. Sinclair smiled and murmured as though the flattery pleased her and the prime minister said, "I think, Seniore, it will be best for you to speak with my minister of Agriculture, and perhaps also the minister of Internal Affairs and Welfare. They have the expertise you need." He made a pretense of peering out into the crowd. "I think I see my wife. Please excuse me. Buona notte, Marjorie." He kissed her again and hurried off. Brontë was amused to see that he looked relieved. Morrow shifted uneasily. It was clear that he did not share his wife's high opinion of Marjorie Brainerd and felt that talking to her would be a waste of his valuable time. But, since she was a celebrity in her own right as well as the wife of a powerful member of government, he couldn't give her the bum's rush. Emma had pinned her father accurately, however babyish she might seem in other ways.

Brontë snapped back to attention. For, as Morrow moved, his glance fell on Emma and Brontë himself. For an instant what he was seeing didn't register with the grain merchant. Then a look of such anger contorted his face that Brontë took a long step backwards, his knuckles white and his hands almost numb from gripping the chair handles. It wasn't the frightened anger his parents and grandmother had shown when he was little and they caught him doing something dangerous. That had been scary but comforting too, because he knew they loved him and that was the real reason they were mad. To Brontë who had been brought up by loving parents whose lives, for all their worldly success, centered on him Morrow's rage resembled nothing his parents had ever directed against him. It looked like a bully or petty tyrant who'd been disobeyed and was out to get the person who'd disobeyed him. Brontë was glad to have the wheelchair to lean on. He'd only seen that look in vids, on ruthless, evil villains. He'd never seen it in real life, and his knees were trembling. He was glad Emma couldn't see it, though she'd probably recognize it if she did.

"Mr. Morrow?" Mrs. Sinclair's voice seemed to come from a long way away. Brontë shook himself just a little. It felt as though he'd been staring at that murderous face for eons. But it must only have been a few seconds. Slowly Morrow smoothed his features into a mask of geniality. "This is my son, Brontë," Mrs. Sinclair said.

Unwillingly but knowing what his mother expected of him, Brontë stepped to the side of Emma's chair and offered his hand." Brontë," Morrow acknowledged as they shook with that bluff heartiness so many grownups adopted when addressing youngsters.

He met the grain merchant's gaze calmly, steadily. At fourteen, he was already as tall as many grownups. It pleased him that he was taller than Morrow. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Morrow," he said correctly and a little stiffly. He took refuge behind the wheelchair.

"Please, Papa," Emma burst out. "We want to go outside…onto the terrace… Is that OK?"

Brontë knew he should keep his mouth shut, but prudence had never been one of his strong points. So he said pointedly, "Emma wanted to let you know, Sir, so you wouldn't worry." He held Morrow's eye till the man shifted and looked away. Had he known it, Brontë looked at that moment very much like his father, before whom braver and far wickeder men than the president of the Nova Britannia Corn Exchange had been known to wilt.

Morrow cleared his throat and addressed his daughter. "Of course you may, Emmikins. But you didn't need to come ask me. You could have asked Mama. She was right there with you."

Brontë opened his mouth to retort and closed it again without seeing Mrs. Sinclair's warning gesture. This was Emma's dad. She had to talk to him, to explain the situation. And she did so quite creditably. As Brontë watched Morrow's face throughout the brief narration, he began to wonder if he'd been mistaken, had somehow misinterpreted the man's initial reaction to seeing him and Emma. Now at any rate, his reaction seemed right: surprise, alarm, disappointment, disgust and anger chased each other across his unguarded face until he smiled faintly when Emma spoke of Brontë, whom she clearly regarded as the hero of the little drama.

Morrow returned his attention to Brontë. "Thank you for taking an interest in Emmie," he said. A lot of children, and a lot of adults as well I'm sorry to say, wouldn't take the trouble to speak to someone sitting alone. If I may say so," here he glanced at Mrs. Sinclair, "it was not only the kind thing to do, but the right thing to do." Brontë squirmed. But he said thank you with as much firmness and assurance as he could manage. "Run away now," Morrow said with an assumed heartiness that didn't entirely disguise his uneasiness. Grateful to escape, they fled.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island: Chapter IX

Chapter 9
We engaged in some Smalltalk during which Sinclair expressed admiration for the garden and invited Jocelyn to call him by his first name, and Jocelyn did a good deal of blushing and stammering. Soon, though, being a person of good sense and fundamentally sound nerves, she calmed down to her normal self. It was at that point that we were able to get down to brass tacks.

"As I told you, love," I said, "Brontë has a problem."

She turned to Sinclair. "Charlie has given me the summary," she said gently. "If you want to tell me a bit more, to talk about Emma that might help you feel better; and it might help us understand the situation more thoroughly and think what to do. But, if you don't, that's all right too. We have enough information to be going on with."

She paused. Since he didn't answer she went on, looking thoughtful. "You know," she said slowly, "Emma came to stay with me once, two or three years ago. Her parents weren't thrilled with the idea, but of course both Percy and her PCR were here, and they were staying on the other side of Falibana, so in the end they allowed it. We had a good time. Poor Emma. I hated to send her back to the gilded cage her parents keep her in. I wonder if she could come and stay again."

"That's all very well," I began, wondering at the irrelevance of the remark. That was unlike Jocelyn.

"Yes," she interrupted impatiently. "But, don't you see? That way, the two of them could have time together. I know how important it is for me to have you around and just have time together to talk, or not talk, or whatever without knowing you've got to leave in half an hour, or whatever." I felt the same way and said so, a little awkwardly.

There was pain in Sinclair's face as well as doubt. "I don't know," he said. "It's worth a try." He shrugged hopelessly. "It's better than anything we've been able to come up with." He turned slightly away, his shadowed face wistful. "Maybe we could even take her to Marooner's Haven for a little while. I… I designed it for Emma and she's never seen or set foot on it."

I thought about the old fashioned, comfortable but, yes, totally accessible house, and the gardens, and the shore skimmer. "You fitted up that shore skimmer for Emma, didn't you?" I asked in sudden comprehension.

"Yes. She never had one. Her parents thought it was too dangerous. And, of course, when she was little it was. But even now she's not allowed to go on the water. I think myself it's more because Mrs. Morrow can't swim and is afraid of the water than because of Emma's disabilities, but those do offer a convenient explanation. I'm amazed they let her ride."

"Me too," I nodded." Thank the Trinity they do, though."

"Oh, yes. She'd go mad otherwise."

Jocelyn, who had been thinking, broke in. "Is it you the Morrows disapprove of, Brontë, or the general idea of Emma having a beau? If it's only you they object to, there's a chance we can change their minds. If they don't want her to have a gentleman friend," she paused. "Well, I'm afraid you're sunk.
To be continued

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island: Chapter VIII

Chapter 8
Sinclair arrived some twenty minutes later. Since Jocelyn still hadn't appeared, I took him through to the terrace. He admired it enthusiastically. Once we were settled I said, "When I told her you wanted to come by and see her, well… You'd have thought I'd said Harry Shreve would be dropping by."


"You're not an SF reader, I see. Harry Shreve is the grand old man of Nova Britannia Science Fiction. In certain circles he's as big as…" I searched for a comparable figure in another field. "As big as Mama Moomoo Miggie."

Sinclair laughed. "Her I know. Oof! Not even on Marooner's Haven have I been able to avoid knowing her. Not exactly my kind of music, but to each his own."

We were interrupted by Percy's measured tones from indoors. "Charlie is on the terrace. He is speaking with someone."

The squeak that answered him was almost unrecognizable as Jocelyn's voice. "He's here! Charlie let him in! Charlie's talking to him, here! On the terrace!"

Sinclair and I had risen. Jocelyn might be my sweetheart, but I liked to observe the niceties. Sinclair now shifted and looked uncomfortable.

"Who is here?" Percy asked. "Why are you agitated?"

"Charlie's friend. The person he's talking to."

"I do not sense a threat."

Her voice rose again. "It's Brontë Sinclair!"

There was a pause while Percy processed this information. After a moment we heard his calm voice. "I do not find that Brontë Sinclair is a threat, a danger or a peril. It is safe for you to enter."

We laughed. "Most reassuring," Sinclair observed in an undertone.

Even in her nervous excitement, Jocelyn couldn't help laughing as well. "I never said he was a threat," she said, her voice almost back to normal, "I merely said I'm apprehensive about meeting him because he's, uh, an important person and I'm not."

Percy must have been practically standing in the doorway by now, though from where we stood we could see neither him nor Jocelyn. But, we could hear him distinctly. "Mr. Sinclair is the son of World Senator Whitman Sinclair. He is a philanthropist and prizewinning sailor. You are an award winning author and the proprietress of this house. I think, Jocelyn, you are on a level of importance with MR. Sinclair. Please enter. I need to finish preparing lunch.

I imagined her drawing a deep breath and squaring her slender shoulders. "All right," she said resolutely. "Take me out to the terrace, please."

She seemed unusually fragile as she entered, leaning on the big, many-armed silver robot. She wore a simple pink dress whose vivid color set off her creamy white skin and jet-black hair, which was piled in some complicated and very becoming arrangement on the top of her head. She'd even put on lipstick. She didn't do that for me very often.

Sinclair advanced a step and I went to put my arm around my love. "It's OK Percy. I'll look after her."

It could only have been my imagination, but I could have sworn there was a note of relief in his voice as he replied, "Thank you, Charlie."

As Percy trundled off, I led Jocelyn to our visitor. "Love," I said very formally, "allow me to present Mr. Brontë Sinclair." Her hand only trembled a little as she extended it. "Brontë, Miss Jocelyn Falconer." He gripped her hand firmly but gently.

"I -" she had to swallow hard and try again. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Sinclair."

"And I, you, Miss Falconer."

I watched this exchange critically, vaguely surprised at the wave of protectiveness, almost jealousy that swept over me as their hands met. But Sinclair held the contact just long enough, not too long and stepped back. Relieved, reassured, I said more lightly, "Let's all sit down."

Jocelyn gave a little start. I glanced at her in amusement. She still looked slightly dazed, but she was sufficiently together to say, "I'm sorry. Yes, please do have a seat, Mr. Sinclair.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island; Chapters V through VII

Here's where things start getting rough. It also occurs to me that Chapter 6, with its discussion of Christian theology, may not appeal to all readers. However, in Chapter 7, we finally meet Jocelyn.

Chapter 5
I stared from where Sinclair had been to the locket in my hand. A plain golden oval with the name "Emma" engraved on the front In fancy lettering. Curiously I opened it. Rather than a lock of hair it contained a minute com device. I stared, then snapped the locket closed and slipped it into my inside breast pocket. Then I headed inland, calling Sinclair as I went.

Old Man Morrow's daughter Emma, like Jocelyn, was one of the cohort of children who had been born with disabling neurological injury. And, she was the Emma Sinclair had spoken of. She was the sweetheart he was separated from. Compassion filled my heart, overwhelming other emotions. That romance was hopeless, be he a senator's son or whatever.

With an entire age cohort, a sizable minority of a generation visually or physically disabled to one degree or another, most both, a fundamental societal shift had to take place. No longer were equal access and equal rights laws merely feel-good window-dressing applying to a tiny and thus politically insignificant minority of the population. Everyone who didn't have a disabled child himself had a cousin or a friend with a disabled child. Rich, poor, city-dweller or countryman, private citizen or public figure, this sudden, inexplicable tragedy was an equal opportunity scourge.

So now that the youngest of these children were in their early twenties, Nova Britannia was a fully integrated, fully accessible society, and it seemed that no one could remember a time when it had been anything else. Stairs were a rarity; ramps and elevators the norm. All printed materials were routinely produced in large and jumbo print and in Braille as well as standard print. Most were also recorded, and pocket-book sized "Ready Speak" consoles were already common for best sellers. Wheelchairs, scooters, personal care robots, and adaptive reading devices were mass produced to the highest quality standard, and were exempted from all anti-tech legislation. High visual and tactile contrast control consoles were standard on all devices and equipment except those unsafe to be operated by persons with visual or motor deficits. Even these were better designed for ergonomics and safety. Great advances had been made in a remarkably short time in voice recognition and artificial intelligence generally. A personal care robot was as responsive and reliable as a human, or more so. The whole society had benefited from the scientific and technological advances and corresponding rise in quality of life. And those like myself and Sinclair who had been children when the first disabled were born had simply accepted them as children like ourselves, children we had to look out for a little more, and sometimes adapt our games for, but no different than anybody else.

But some parents were over protective. Morrow and his wife, a quiet, intense woman, fell into this category. Emma was vivacious, intelligent, possessed of a zest for life that her spasticity and almost total blindness couldn't quash. I'd known her almost as long as I'd known her father, and had gotten into the habit of bringing her interesting news and tales from the distant lands where I traded. She wanted to know about everything, and already had an encyclopedic knowledge of the planet. She was a fine horsewoman, and it was to purchase a new horse for her birthday that her father had engaged me this summer. He and his wife loved her very much. But, they cosseted and petted her like a fragile child. I couldn't imagine they would countenance her having a suitor. So, carefully pocketing the com-locket, I strode towards the house calling Sinclair.

I found him in the study, calmer but still showing the signs of a great strain having suddenly snapped. I spoke quietly, trying not to distress him further. But he started all the same, though he did not turn to face me. "Brontë," I said. "Forgive my outburst. I didn't know how things were between you and Miss Emma. I, well, I'm sorry."

He made a muffled, indistinct reply.

I went on. "I know her pretty well. Known her for several years. I'll do anything I can to help…" Here he sprang to his feet, radiant with relief and gratitude.

I held up a hand. "The thing is, I won't be seeing her for some months." He slumped back. "Her father wants me to pick out her new horse for her birthday, so I won't see her again till then."


I know her pretty well," I continued. "And I know that her parents cherish and pet her as if she were a helpless invalid. If I hadn't seen her on a horse, I'd probably think she was a helpless invalid. But, she's a fine horsewoman." Sinclair nodded enthusiastically and swiveled his chair to face me, apparently mollified by my praise of his beloved. I grinned. "And easy on the eyes, too, if you go in for the blonde persuasion."

I was pleased to see the ghost of a grin flicker across Sinclair's troubled face. "Ah, so Miss Jocelyn's not blonde?"

"Nope. But, we were discussing Papa Morrow and his charming daughter."

His expression grew somber again. "Yes, well. As you've observed, they treat her like a lap dog more than like an intelligent young woman. They don't approve of me, I can tell you. And with her being confined to a wheelchair, the proverbial midnight elopement from her window is not practical.


I paused in thought and, crossing to the chair where I'd been sitting earlier, picked up my glass. "I wonder," I said and Sinclair raised his head, looking at me hopefully. "Jocelyn went to school with her," I said, smiling at his sudden, alert attention. "I'm not sure, but I think one of their mutual friends is very close friends with Miss Emma. More so than with Jocelyn, if you see what I mean. It might be possible for her, this mutual friend I mean, to send or smuggle the locket in."

Sinclair looked dubious. I don't want to involve too many people," he said unhappily.

"I know." I drank again to gain thinking time. "The best thing would be to talk it over with Jocelyn," I said at last.

He perked up noticeably at that. "I'd really appreciate it," he said almost humbly. "There's more to it than just the com unit…" He trailed off and put his head in his hands. "It all sounds so juvenile, so Eighth Grade cloak and dagger now that I try actually to put it into words," he groaned.

I took one last pull at my ginger ale. More to the job than merely delivering a piece of jewelry. Well, juvenile or not, this business certainly seemed complicated and, frankly, far more intriguing and challenging than selecting a Namoranian. I liked Emma Morrow very much. And I found, though on a far briefer acquaintance, that I liked Brontë Sinclair very much as well. I wanted to help them. At the same time, I saw no reason why I couldn't help from Fairport.

I cleared my throat. "So, what were you trying to tell me about taking your craft and mine being safe here in your harbor?"

Sinclair mopped his face with what looked like a real linen handkerchief and smiled. It was a wan, rather shaky smile, but a smile nonetheless. "More of my hocus pocus I'm afraid," he said cheerfully. "But, you know how you came upon this island at a longitude and latitude where as an experienced sailor you know no island is In the Blue-green Sea?" I nodded, eyes narrowing. "Well," he grinned outright. "There isn't an island there any more." He laughed at my attempt to look and sound unsurprised.

"So, where is it, uh, are we?"

He didn't answer at once. Instead, he rose and crossed to the wall of bookcases and drew out a large atlas. Carrying it to the desk, he waved me over. Curious, I moved to stand beside his chair. He searched for a moment and then opened to the Falibars, a long, roughly lizard shaped archipelago. The native name, which the settlers from Earth had only slightly mangled, meant "Sea Dragon." Sinclair planted the ball of his right forefinger squarely in the sea between the last, widely spaced islands of the dragon's tail. "Right here," he said firmly.

I shook my head. "If you say so."

"Which means," Sinclair went on, "we're about twelve hours sailing west of Fairport." He traced the route.

I looked at him in amusement. "Your craft, the Black Moon, is nonpowered? Strictly sail?"


Straightening, I assumed an air of command. "Right. The Silver Star is a beautiful sailing craft, but also has the most up-to-date electronics and an engine the match of any craft her size I've seen. We'll take her and be in Fairport harbor in four hours."

Sinclair blinked. "Then why couldn't you contact Jocelyn?"

"Because she doesn't have modern telecom. Just one of those telephone thingies."

Chuckling, Sinclair rose and started tidying the room. "Sensible person, your Miss Jocelyn. It's nice being under the RADAR, so to speak."

In a few minutes we were back at the boats. "Will The Moon really be safe here, Brontë?" I asked anxiously.

"Oh, I think so."

I shrugged. "If you say so."

Sinclair set the shore skimmer, and a few moments later he nosed in, six inches from the Star's port side. "There's a grap ladder in the seat where you're sitting," he said. "Would you get it out?" Standing up carefully, I opened the compartment and removed a coiled ladder. I squinted, then threw it straight up. The soft gripper hooks caught on the rail and the ladder uncoiled to the waterline in a moment.

On board, I hauled in the grap pass, somewhat more difficult than casting it, but still only the work of about three minutes. Having hauled up and coiled the grap ladder, Sinclair moved about the deck, looking at everything. Once the grap pass was rebundled, I told him where to open so I could stow it and the grap ladder. Then he followed me down to the cabin.

Settling himself comfortably, he looked about with evident enjoyment. "She's a beautiful sloop," he said, watching me run tests on the electronics. "I'll reel in the anchor, or is that all electronically controlled too?"

"Nope, that's the old fashioned way, by windless. I'd appreciate the help." Sitting back, I smiled at him. "I've been one man crew so long, I've almost forgotten what it's like to have someone to share the work with."

Rising, he saluted smartly. "Aye aye, Captain. Is there anything you want me to do before bringing in the anchor?"

"No," I said, grinning. "Just let me know, uh, sing out when it's in, and we can, uh, get under way."

"Aye, aye," he said again, cheerful and serious, and he hurried up the companionway.

Chapter 6
Once we were under way, there wasn't much to do but to enjoy the sparkling day and to talk. So, with Sinclair at the tiller and myself leaning comfortably with my shoulders against the binnacle box, talk we did.


Sinclair stared past me at the expanse of ocean for a moment. When he spoke, it was in a thoughtful, almost musing tone. "I'm not a - what's that word? That one that was ancient before Humankind thought of traveling in let alone colonizing Space? I'm not a necromancer." He shuddered. "I have no powers drawn from commerce with dark spirits, or anything like that. I'm a sincere Christian, to use an old fashioned term, though not really what you might call devout."

He laid his hand on his breast and, at my look of curiosity and concern, drew out a silver crucifix on a fine chain. I was taken aback. I was Catholic myself - many people on Nova Britannia were - but wearing a crucifix, even a small, simple one, was unusual among the laity. He must indeed be devout, or come from a family where such possessions were cherished, or both. Then I smiled. Raising my left arm and pushing back the jacket sleeve, I showed him my wrist. I had my pet archaeisms too.

Sinclair nodded at the windup analogue wristwatch and its cloth band from which hung a St Christopher medal and a St Martin medal. "A traveler and a pacifist," he said with sympathetic understanding. Since I don't wear a watch, I pin mine to the inside of my shirt cuff."

"That's an odd place to put them."

He looked mildly surprised. "Is it? I've always done it that way. It keeps them safe and out of the way."

I thought about this. "It is sometimes sort of awkward having them on my watchband." I regarded the small, silver discs. "But it's less likely I'll lose them or forget to put them on."

"Oh well," Sinclair said lightly. "To each his own. Emma suggested I do it this way; and, really, it seems like the best arrangement for me."

Smiling, I looked again at the St Christopher medal, a gift from Jocelyn. "My grandmother used to say, 'The best way to do something is the way that works best for you.'" Sinclair nodded and let the crucifix fall to his gray sweatered chest. I went on, looking at him with mounting interest. "So, we've established that you're a loyal son of The Church. How, then, can you do the marvels you do?

"Marvels? Well." He sighed. "My family is very old. We have a tradition, or a legend, that we can trace our ancestry all the way back to Earth. Oh, I know it's silly, and I'm not really sure I believe it, but there it is. Some ideas and abilities were lost over time as people settled into this new world; and among those abilities were the allied arts of telepathy and telekinesis. It's a pity, because they surely would have been useful on a new world. But now there are very few people who can practice them. I'm one of those people. It's in the family, you might say. Have you ever had a hunch or a premonition, a funny feeling you know, especially one that has seemed to be accurate?"

"Sure," I said doubtfully. Everyone has. That's common enough."

"Yes. And that's the vestige, or the germ perhaps, of all tele-psychic ability. The human mind is capable of so much more than we have ever fully made use of, more than we've ever even fully documented. Well, telepathy and such things aren't necromancy or sorcery or nonsense of that sort. They're merely a development of that germ that all humans have. And, it can be nurtured and encouraged to develop. You know, it can't be evil. Jesus read minds."

"Yes," I said, aghast, "But Jesus was God!"

"He was true God and true Man, Perfect Man, Man as he should have been and was before the Fall."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he was psychic," I said hotly. "All that sort of thing is evil, corruption that came with the acceptance of the Devil's lies."

"Why?" he said and looked at me.

"Why?" I almost shouted, jerking upright. "Because it's twisted and unnatural, that's why. How can it be natural for a man to be able to read another man's thoughts, or to move himself about just by thinking? It's, it's of the Devil!"

Sinclair looked at me sadly. "Think, Charlie," he said. "Is what you're saying logical? Satan tempted our Parents by the promise that they would not surely die but become as gods. And look at the texts. God created humanity in His image. 'In the image of God created he him. Male and female created he them.' So, they were already as like to God as a creature could be. And, when they ate the fruit, did they gain anything?"

"They gained," I began, and stopped.

"They gained the understanding that they were naked, you were about to say. But, is that a positive or a negative?"

I thought about it. "A Negative, I guess," I said reluctantly.

"A negative. The realization of their nudity was a realization that they were no longer one with the garden on the one hand and God on the other. They lacked nothing before. Afterwards they became divorced from Nature, you might say, from the natural order as God made it; that which God saw on the sixth day and said was good.

"Now, if Man walked with God on the one hand and named and loved the animals on the other before, and if he became afraid of God and was expelled from the garden afterward, then he lost something, a great deal of his native being, wouldn't you say?"

I nodded. I wasn't sure I bought it, but he was interesting to listen to.

"We lost our empathy with, our connection to the other creatures; to a certain extent we lost our connection with one another. We acquired pain and unhappiness, which are antithetical to God's attributes, and we gained so much more, so much that is dark and the reverse of all that is God and is thus the natural state for ourselves, misery and ignorance and hatred. Our minds are closed even to God. But in our natural prelapsarian state we were like God. We had many of his powers and attributes. He can do and make simply by speaking, simply by thinking. We can still make things in our minds. But now it takes sweat of our brows to bring these mind makings into reality. And that may be one of the distinctions between the Creator and the created. But surely as we were originally constituted we must have had more of the divine power than we do now. And it's still there, lying dormant in our minds, just as all the other gifts of God lie dormant there, and each individual realizes them more or less. This is no different. Only people have grown to fear it. And, what we fear, we hate and condemn."

That was true enough, Lord new. Could he be right about this? "It seems to me I remember hearing that before the settlers came from Earth, Jesus himself spoke directly to the people, the natives. They knew who he was, knew him far better than the settlers did," I mused.

That's right. Eventually it was decided not to try to convert them to Christianity, since they already had a faith which understood Our Lord's mission to Earth, and the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, better than Earth's Christians did."


He seemed to understand that I was beginning to waver.


Chapter 7
We decided to enter Fairport harbor under sail, so it took a little more than the four hours I'd reckoned on. Still, we came into the busy and picturesque little harbor just after noon. The clerk who'd pulled the lunch shift was an old buddy of mine, as many harbor clerks in many harbors were. So, much of the half hour we spent with him in the small, coolly leaf dappled office was spent in chat. Then Brontë stopped at a café, where he said he'd wait wile I went on to Jocelyn's. I squeezed his shoulder and passed on, along the harbor front boulevard. I turned up a steep transverse street, and then into Sea View Gardens.

Jocelyn's house was on the upper side of the terraced street. I paused, my hand on the gate latch, and surveyed the glorious riot of the garden and the neat bungalow beyond. Then, I stepped in. After several steps, the street sounds faded. I looked up, breathing deeply. Nowhere else is the sky so blue as in the Falibars, enclosing them in wholesome, homey magic. The breeze from the sea blew softly, rustling the baramana tree near the door. The scent of the big, white flowers drifted, riding the breeze like a wave, blending with the salt tang. I always felt content walking this path. I felt content now. Strolling, breathing, looking, I approached the door. But, when the door opened, everything vanished. My Jocelyn stood there. "Charlie," she cried, clinging to me. It was a long, long moment before either of us said anything else.

Finally, she drew back, letting the front door close behind us. The foyer was dim and cool, filled with the scent of tropical flowers, or maybe that was Jocelyn's hair. "You said you wouldn't be home till the day after tomorrow," she said almost accusingly. "And here you are, big as life and twice as real; and, my hair's wet - I was just brushing it when Percy said you were opening the gate - and lunch isn't ready yet." I stood there, totally flummoxed, until she laughed and, flinging her arms around my neck again she cried, "And, oh, you big lug, I'm so, so glad to see you!"

I laughed too then, with sheer happiness and love. And, I squeezed her, not very hard, for she wasn't terribly sturdy, but hard enough. "You got my note then?" I asked, allowing myself to be led through to the back terrace.

A pergola covered with Falibar passion flower vines shaded the terrace and filled it with a sweet, wistful scent. Several of the flowers, some the size of Jocelyn's little palm and some the size of my big one, were gathered in a vase on a side table. A towel with a large hairbrush on it lay on the glider (an outdoor couch that could slide back and forth on its base rather than being suspended like a swing). An almost empty glass of lemonade stood on the coffee table beside the current issue of Galaxy, a popular Science Fiction magazine in which Jocelyn's poetry and more lighthearted SF appeared with some regularity. The jumbo print edition to which she subscribed was produced in two thickish volumes. A bookmark protruded from the uppermost volume, but I didn't see Jocelyn's name on the cover. "Give Them An Inch And They'll Take A Parsec" must have been in the other. Beyond the terrace, the back garden was filled with sunlight and pink flowers of various hews and species.

She sat me down on the glider and herself on my lap, her head against my shoulder, before she answered my question. "Your note? Yes, it was hand delivered this morning." She twisted slightly to peer up at me. "What's going on, Charlie? Clearly, you're not in any sort of trouble. But, just as clearly, you've gotten yourself involved in some sort of mystery or adventure." She pushed her fist into my chest. "Give! What are you up to?"

Since I had no idea how to explain the situation, I took a deep breath and plunged in. "You know Emma Morrow?"

Jocelyn's eyes narrowed. Yes…"

"Well, I've met a fellow who… In short, love, he and Emma need our help."

Jocelyn's manner changed from suspicious to sympathetic. "Emma has a beau?" I nodded. "Poor girl. Who is he? How did you meet him?"

"Ah," I said. Well, the first question I can answer easily enough. As to the second, that's not as simple as it seems."

She gave me a quizzical look but said only, "So, who is he?"

I paused a beat for effect. "Brontë Sinclair."

Jocelyn didn't scream or swoon or even seem all that surprised. She merely looked thoughtful. "Poor Emma," she repeated. "It would be bad enough if he were some solid business type that her parents would otherwise approve of. But, Brontë Sinclair, well, I don't know as they'd let her marry him even if she were sighted and able-bodied."

I nodded. "He told me they don't approve of him."

Jocelyn laughed. "Would you approve?"

"Sure. He's a really engaging fellow. I'm certain you'll like him." I paused, squirming inwardly just a bit. "Which reminds me…"

Her eyes narrowed again. "Which reminds you of what? I know that 'casual' tone, Charlie Shepherd. What haven't you told me?"

"Uh, well, uh…" She glared at me. I thought she was really cute when she glared, but I always pretended to be alarmed. "He's at Macklin's, and he'd really like to see you…."


I barely managed to keep a straight face. "Now."

She bolted into the house, moving at a rate I would not have believed possible if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes shouting, "Percy, Percy! A visitor for lunch. You have to do my hair. I don't have ANYTHING decent to wear! Oh my God! Brontë Sinclair!!"

I sat back and laughed for what must have been a full minute. Then I called Macklin's to Let Sinclair know he'd better wait another few minutes before turning up.

Brontë Sinclair's Island: Chapters III & IV

Chapter 3
There was a little red and white half tent set up a few feet above the tide line, and under it a folding table with two chairs and a large picnic cooler. When I entered, Sinclair was standing at one side, pouring what at first I took to be coffee. As I took the seat he indicated, however, and looked more closely at the small pot and the liquid in my cup, I realized it was cocoa. Setting the chocolate pot down, Sinclair gestured vaguely. "Milk and sugar," he said, turning back to the cooler. "Don't know how you like it, or if you like it. I don't drink coffee myself, and don't usually keep it unless I'm expecting someone." He set a plate before me and removed the cover. "Hope you like scrambled eggs and crisp bacon."

"I do," I said, finding it impossible to keep from grinning. "And, oddly enough, I prefer chocolate to coffee myself. You're only the second grown person I've ever met who shares my peculiar tastes." The other was Jocelyn, of course. Looking around at the neat breakfast, the pale yellow sand and sparkling water, and the carefully tended but simple garden inland, I thought that she would like this place. Sighing, I returned my attention to the table before me, which now also bore a bowl of oatmeal.

Sinclair watched me over the rim of his cup. "Do you like my home, Charlie?" he asked as if the answer really mattered to him.

"Yes, what I can see of it," I replied, smiling. "It's a lovely place, and you set a generous table, especially for trespassers." I stopped, surprised by his earnest regard.

"Not trespassers. You're not a trespasser, you're my guest, though this time yesterday neither of us expected you to be." He leant forward. "Eat," he said. "I don't want to detain you, I know you're a busy man. But, I need to talk to you. So, you eat, and listen, and I'll talk a bit, all right?"

Only then I noticed that he had no eggs or oatmeal, just a cup of chocolate. I put down my fork to face him. "Listen, Sinclair, I don't understand what this is all about, why you're being so hospitable to me, and what on Nova Britannia you could possibly want to talk to me about. But."

His lip curled. "What I, romantic brigand, could have to discuss with you, mundane sailor, trader, and man of affairs?"

I stared at him, taken aback. Then I grinned and took up my fork. "Something like that."

He relaxed. Waving at the food he said, "Tuck in. Listen for a moment, and all will become clear, as my grandmother used to say. Need more cocoa?"

"Not yet," I said. "But, before you begin what you want to tell me, answer a question." He nodded. "How did I get here?"

Sinclair chuckled, settling back comfortably in his chair. "Not up to your usual standard, Charlie. But then, it is only ten past seven, and you haven't had breakfast yet. The question's not how you got here. You're more or less where you should be if you're on the way to Falibana. The question is, how did this island get here, as you know very well it shouldn't be." He paused. At the moment all I could do was nod. He waited for me to swallow and said, "Do you want the long answer or the short answer?"

"Uh, if you don't mind, I think the short answer will do."

He grinned mischievously. "You're not going to like it."

"Try me," I said, spearing some egg.

His grin broadened. "Magic!"

I glared at him, or tried to. "You're right. I don't like it. However, as the guest of the most celebrated gentleman buccaneer and philanthropist in the Nova Europa System, I probably shouldn't complain; especially since his chocolate is the best I've ever had." I returned sternly to my eggs.

"Emma told me I'd like you," he said.

I inclined my head gravely. "My thanks to Miss Emma, whoever she may be." It was obvious that she was someone dear to him, a sister or a sweetheart. But, being private about such things myself, I'd never think to pry.

He nodded. "I'll pass your thanks along." He paused, looking down and playing with his spoon, turning it delicately in his fingers. "I'd like to give you the long answer," he said. "Really, I can't explain my, my problem without giving you the long answer. It's quite a story, though. It will take some time to tell." Breaking off, he looked up and met my eyes. "By the way," he said, "I'd like to ask you a question if I may."

I hastened to swallow a mouthful of egg. "Certainly."

"Why are you going to Falibana? I thought old man Morrow was sending you to Splangliborn. No," he held up his hand. "I haven't been spying on you, but, uh, on Morrow. I know he has business in Splangliborn, and it's pretty common knowledge that you're his most trusted agent. I, uh, my sources felt you would be employed on this particular business. That's why I wasn't expecting you. I had thought to meet you in Splangliborn to discuss my," he hesitated, his open, finely made face darkening for a moment as with doubt or worry. "My problem," he went on after a moment, "and to ask your help."

I could feel my jaw drop. "My help?" He looked at me with those dark, steady eyes, and I faltered. "But, your father is a member of the World Senate. You come from a wealthy, powerful family, and --" his face hardened. "And you have considerable charm and, so I hear, influence in your own right. Why should a gentleman of your accomplishments need help from the likes of me?"

He still looked discontented, but the frankness of my puzzlement and curiosity got through to him. All the same, he answered my question with another question. I'm curious why you persist in thinking it remarkable that I might seek out your council and help. You have a reputation too, you know, Charlie."

I raised my eyebrows over the excellent oatmeal. "You're known to be a hard bargainer and a fair trader," Sinclair continued. "You always keep your word, and execute your work with judgment and dispatch. If it takes you longer to do something than it might take another fellow, it's because you're taking the time to do it right."

He laughed as I stared at this characterization of myself. "You're highly thought of, Charlie," he said. "You're the best. And my father taught me always to get the best, in friends and allies, and in advice, as in anything else. So, I've been wanting to talk with you for some time. But, now I'm uncertain what's going forward. Did you decide not to take Morrow's job? If so, that will make things awkward."

"No," I said, feeling a need to reassure him. He seemed almost like the younger sibling I had never had; unsure, trusting, looking to me for the answers. The feeling was so strong that I was perhaps fifteen and he twelve, leaning on my greater experience to guide him, that I had to blink. And there was the earnest, trusting young man, his gaze troubled, sitting across from me in a little pavilion tent on the beach of a hidden island. And I found myself speaking gently, reassuringly, as to a troubled child.

"I didn't turn Morrow down. I'm just going to Falibana for a bit of a rest. I'll be off to Splangliborn in about three weeks."

He grinned. "Oh, well, I don't want to delay your holiday, no more than I can help anyway. The Falibars are lovely this time of year." I nodded, but would not be drawn into discussing my vacation plans. I hoped he would hurry, though. The morning was slipping by, and I wanted to get on my way. Something of my feelings must have shown in my face because he said, "Is there anyone you'd like to send a message to?"

"No," I said quickly. Then at his quizzical look, "Well, yes. But I can't." I pushed away the empty oatmeal bowl. "No personal telecom gear." I looked him straight in the eye. "I'm running a few hours late, and she'll be worrying, without hearing, being able to hear, from me. So Sinclair -"

"Brontë," he said, smiling.

"Brontë, then. If you don't mind, I'd like to be on my way as soon as may be." I glanced at the remains of my breakfast. "I don't mean to seem ungrateful; but, well, we don't get to have much time together, and…" I stopped, furious with myself. I never spoke of Jocelyn, however obliquely. She was the only thing I had that was mine, entirely mine, that no one could co-opt for his own purposes. And here this stranger had lulled me into revealing her existence. Anger flashed through me.

Looking at him, I saw sympathy; sympathy tinged with sadness. "I understand," he said quietly. "My parents are on Calimar just now. They could get a message to her…"

I shook my head, my anger fading as quickly as it had flared. "I don't know. Her PCR usually answers the telephone, and it doesn't handle unfamiliar voices well." I put my head in my hands. "Jocelyn, Jocelyn, forgive me, love."

Sinclair seemed almost to hear my thoughts. "Charlie," he said gently, touching my arm. "I'm sorry to have distressed you. I think, though, I can work something out. Can she, forgive me, is she able to read handwritten material?"

I sighed. "Yes, but…"

"I was four when my brother Martin was born," Sinclair said in a constrained voice. "Old enough to be excited about a new baby of my very own. You know how little kids are." I raised my head and looked at him in puzzlement. He seemed on the verge of tears. "He had an unusual form of The Plague," he went on. "The nervous system damage was so severe, or maybe just so placed, that breathing was very hard for him."

I couldn't think of anything to say. Everyone, every single person on Nova Britannia had a friend, a sibling, a child who had been affected by The Plague. The first few children born with nervous system damage were a worrisome medical curiosity. When it became clear that all babies, throughout the planet were being born with varying degrees of central nervous system damage, the press resurrected the all but forgotten word "plague," and it stuck. The first victims had passed their third birthdays before the cause was identified, and a further two and a half years went by before a safe and effective means of preventing it was perfected.

And through it all, people continued to have babies, each couple hoping desperately and fruitlessly that their child would be spared; that their prayers or herbal concoctions or incantations would protect their baby. So, there was an entire cohort of disabled Nova Britannians. And, to those of us who had been children and adolescents when The Plague struck, these people seemed as unremarkable as anyone else. But, very few of the victims had died. The Sinclairs' son must have been one of the most severely ill. What could I possibly say?

"My mother let me hold him twice, for a few minutes," Sinclair said. "It didn't take long for them to realize they couldn't save him, so they let her keep him."

"Poor lady," I murmured.

"He was so little." Sinclair swallowed. "He died on the seventh day." He drew a long, unsteady breath. We were silent for a few moments, the soft rustling of the breeze the only sound.

Sinclair looked up. "So, you see," he said, "you can trust me. I, my family has had experience with The Plague. And, well, there's another reason too. I, uh. But we'll get to that. He smiled again, wistfully I thought. "All right." He rose. "Just give me a hand with these things. We're going up to the house." I got to my feet and silently helped him pack the cooler and fold the chairs. "Now, I must warn you not to be alarmed at anything you see or experience in the next few minutes." He paused, looking at me thoughtfully. "Well, time is of the essence, as my Grandmother used to say. So, here goes."

He looked steadily at the cooler, concentrating on it. And, it wasn't there. Before I had grasped this he was looking at the chairs, stacked together, and they weren't there. Finally, the table vanished and he turned to me, fun once more in his eyes. "Excuse me, but I must presume on our brief acquaintance." He grasped me in a firm hug. And, looking over his shoulder, I found that we were standing in a book-lined study.

Chapter 4
I clutched at Sinclair involuntarily. He chuckled, patting my back reassuringly.

"It's all right," he said, detaching himself and leading me, still unsteady, to a roomy, deep cushioned armchair by an open window. "Have a seat and get your breath back while I find something to write with."

I sank into the armchair. Glancing about, I saw him go to a big, old fashioned roll top desk, from which he took writing paper and a pen. Coming to me, he moved a small table to my elbow, where he laid the writing things. He looked at me with concern and I thought again that he was really a handsome fellow, and quite engaging. "I don't keep alcohol in the house, or I'd offer you some brandy," he said. "This seems like the archetypal situation to apply it. But, I can give you some lemonade, or ginger ale."

I laughed a bit shakily. "A teetotaler too? You and I might be brothers to judge by our tastes."

His smile broadened. "That would be nice," he said a little wistfully.

I studied him for a moment and decided that it would be nice. "Yeah," I said, meeting his gaze. "It would. Ginger ale."

He turned away briskly. "Coming right up."

"Uh, is it simply going to appear, or are you going to go get it?"

"I'm going to get it, and you can watch me do it." As he spoke, he touched an unremarkable spot on the paneled wall and a section of the paneling slid aside, revealing a fridge door.

I laughed. "Don't like to go far when you're thirsty, eh?"

"That's right." He produced a bottle and, from a nearby cabinet, two tall tumblers.

When he handed me mine, I examined it curiously, turning it in my fingers and tracing the pattern of leaves graven in the pale green glass. "Beautiful," I observed and raised the drink. "To my generous host."

He smiled and leant forward to touch his glass to mine from where he perched on the broad windowsill. "To newfound friendship," he said and I nodded. We drank.

I set my glass down on the old fashioned wood and cork coaster, like the ones my parents had always used (So many things here were old fashioned, comfortable, familiar.), and looked at Sinclair. There were so many questions in my mind that I couldn't decide which one to ask first.

"I teleported us and all the stuff up from the beach," he said. "Write a note to, uh, your young lady and I'll teleport that to my parents, who will be able to get it to her within the hour."

I stared for a moment, then shrugged. The important thing was to let Jocelyn know I'd be late. I took up the pen and paper and wrote:

Hello love,
I'm sending this note, by very odd means, to let you know I've been delayed. Don't worry. I'm safe, and will see you as soon as I can, probably the day after tomorrow, at which time I'll do my best to explain.


I read this missive over and picked it up. Then I looked at Sinclair. "Do I fold it, or roll it into a scroll, or what?"

"Fold it up and write her name and address on it." I swallowed, but complied.

Miss Jocelyn Falconer
15 Sea View Gardens
Fairport, Falibana

With some trepidation, I handed it to him. He accepted it, but he had a far away look. He held the note for a moment, and then it was gone. He seemed distant for another moment or two and then, smiling fondly, his eyes focused again on me.

"All right," he said, and sipped his drink. "Mother's taken charge of it now. She'll see that Miss Jocelyn receives it. She said it's a lovely name, Jocelyn. When did you tell her you'd be back, if I may ask?"

"Day after tomorrow, if not sooner."

He seemed surprised. "Oh, it won't take anywhere near that long.

I smiled a little tightly. "Not if I can get off today, that's true."

"But," he began. Then comprehension came into his face. "I'm sorry," he said. "Let's walk down to the beach." Mystified, I followed him through the cool, comfortably old fashioned house and back down the lawn to the beach. "Come on," he said, heading for the shore skimmer. I've played games and delayed you long enough. I'll tell you all you need to know for the moment while we get back to Falibana. Would you rather take The Moon or The Star?" He turned to face me on the peer. "If you choose to take my craft," he said, his expression earnest, "I give you my word as a gentleman that your craft will be safe here in Marooner's Haven. I'd prefer to go in mine, since that way I can sail and talk at the same time, and all you'll have to do is listen."

Confusion and unease once more rose, congealing into anger in my chest. "I don't understand," I shouted. "I don't understand where I am, or what you want, or anything. What right do you have to Shanghai me like this? I just want to go home, to have a couple of weeks with my sweetheart. What's wrong with that? Why can't you let me out of this funhouse so I can go home?"

He had turned away, shoulders hunched, head down like a child fighting not to cry. And, it took him a moment to be able to speak. "I'm sorry, Charlie," he said dully. "You're right. Go home." He fumbled with something inside his shirt. Coming to me, he held it out without looking at me. His hand was trembling. "Please give this to Emma Morrow when you see her, whenever you see her," he said. I reached out automatically and took the locket on its fine chain. I drew breath but, before I could speak, he had started to walk to the house. In mid-stride, he vanished.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island: Chapters I & II

Chapter 1
I first saw the island at sunset. It had been a fair day, cloudless and blue with a light but steady wind. Now and then sea birds wheeled over the mast or darted into the waves: gulls and terns, kestrels and petrels, sometimes in small flocks but more often alone, their high, wild cries running in my blood like the sweep of the wind and the whispering lap of the bluegreen water. Once, shortly after dawn, I thought I saw an albatross far aloft in the fathomless, pearl-lustered sky. That brought me comfort, though I hadn't known till then that I needed it, for an albatross ahead is an omen of fair winds and following seas. And, that bodes only well for any enterprise.

Now the sun was setting astern and some fifteen degrees to starboard, for I meant to make for the largest of the Falibar islands, not to go to Splangliborn as I'd told Morrow. Not yet, at least. I had business on Falibana, more pressing business than Morrow's, and a good deal prettier. I'd told him I'd be leaving on the Twenty-second, which was true; but, I hadn't bothered to tell him I'd be leaving from Falibana. That was none of his concern.

"The Twenty-second," Morrow had exclaimed, his round, fat face growing red. "But, that's not for three weeks!"

I shrugged, masking my amusement with polite blandness. "If you can't wait, of course…" I made as if to rise from the over soft, red plush armchair in front of the grain merchant's unnecessarily broad and highly polished mahogany desk.

His face grew redder and his pudgy hands twisted together nervously, but not so that I couldn't see them trembling. "Now, Shepherd, you're the best man I know, the - the best man."

"The best sailor, and the best judge of horseflesh, you mean; other than that, quite beneath your exalted notice," I thought wryly. But, I relaxed and pretended to pay attention to his querulous floundering. He wasn't evil, merely silly and a little pathetic, and I'd never more than half considered cheating him in all the years I'd known him. But, it didn't bother me at all to make him wait till I'd seen Jocelyn. We didn't get to see each other very often, and Splangliborn would be there when I got there.

Morrow was still spluttering. "So, I mean, Shepherd, my dear fellow, if you say you can't leave for three weeks, Well, of course I'll wait. I'll just have too, won't I?"

There seemed to be something desperate in his babbling, and I looked hard at him with a sudden stirring of concern. Was the genial fool really worried that I wouldn't do his job? Really worried, after all these years? So, unwillingly and yet wanting to calm him I said, careful to keep my tone indifferent, "I have a little job in the Falibars, man, that's all." I permitted myself a slight, reassuring smile. "It won't interfere with your business; it just means that I can't start for Splangliborn at once."

Morrow's face cleared like clouds lifting to reveal an untroubled sky. "Ah," he sighed, relief and satisfaction in the long syllable. "Well then, if that's all it is, that's all right." He rose and extended his hand.

Rising as well, I gripped it. "Do you have a bottle of brandy in your desk, Morrow?"

He started slightly and gave me a quizzical look. "Yes. Why?"

"I think you'd better have a nip. You look as if you could use it." Then, I'd turned and walked out.

So, I'd started. And now, the evening of my second day out from Raklebad, I was within thirty-six hours or so of Falibana. And that's when I saw the island that I knew wasn't there.

I was standing at the tiller, letting my mind wander forward to Jocelyn's welcome, for the Silver Star (Jocelyn had named her - graceful, fanciful, bright-eyed Jocelyn) was as light to the hand as a Namoranian, and she sped over the bluegreen sea as surely as one of those spirits of speed and power in horse form sped across the yellow-green planes, seeming to know her way instinctively to port as they knew theirs to paddock. After a time, I came out of my musings, still smiling wistfully. All around me was the whispering copper and bronze evening. I sighed and, pulling myself together, looked ahead. And as I looked, across the rippling, softly sighing expanse of copper and bronze to where, beyond all eyes but those of love and hope my Jocelyn waited, I saw a star.

I stepped back, blinded for a moment and bewildered for I knew the charts better than I knew anything, even Jocelyn's loving smile. Nor was this the first time, or the fiftieth, I'd made the Raklebad-Falibana run. And I knew there was nothing between Raklebad and Falibana in a straight line but sea. And yet, directly in front of me, no more than five miles away, the blue-gray bulk of a rocky island rose between me and the horizon. The suddenly freshening breeze bellying the sail above me, the Silver Star swept onward toward the golden star twinkling and flashing ahead like a beacon, drawing me towards itself and what lay beyond on that unknown island.

Dizzy and nauseous, with disorientation, I fumbled for the telescope. The Trinity be praised, the Star was as modern and well-equipped a craft as plied the seas. My telescope would tell me something about this mirage, if mirage it was. Then I'd go below and set all my sensors to work on it. Focusing the telescope I could see clearly that this western coast rose out of the sea like a great wall, cliffs and crags dark against the darkening eastern sky, with no harbor for any living thing but birds. And, now I saw them, and heard their chorusing cries as they swooped and wheeled, returning to their resting places amid the rocks and whatever rough plants could cling to them. And, that glinting, glittering golden star that had shone out for a time and then faded was a waterfall; a rushing, foaming cataract that fell fully two hundred fathoms to the sea.

As I leant on the bow rail, trying to fit the evidence of my eyes into my knowledge and fighting the sick, empty feeling the mismatch caused, the wind shifted. Automatically I started moving about the Star, tacking, adjusting the sail, accommodating the craft to the wind. The tasks being automated, it was a short time before I returned to the bow. And then I heard, faint but awesome across the distance, the great roaring and booming of the falls. And I thought of the tales I had heard, deliciously shivering in the nursery firelight, of the mermen who call with their echoing, mournful horns, and the living things, great as castles, that live in the depths beyond all soundings and call to one another in the lonely nights. Listening to that strange, rushing roar, never changing beneath the cries of the sea birds, I felt a sudden strange loneliness I had never known before on the wide, wild, silent sea but only in the impersonal press and bustle of city streets.

I had to tack while still far out from the shore, or the maelstrom at the foot of the falls would have finished me. With a sigh, I took in the sail and started the engine. It was a pity to spoil the romance of the summer evening with such a modern, impersonal sound.; but, I didn't want to take any chances. Cruising along northward, I gazed up at the scoured stone, rising like a fortress wall sheer out of the sea, save only for that mighty river rushing down forever through nothingness to crash and echo as its clear, crystalline waters found their turbulent rest. I knew the golden evening light would linger for two or three hours, so I was not troubled but curious as the Star approached the place where the rock began curving eastward. The island lay about one hundred miles south to north (port to starboard as I approached it), with the waterfall some thirty miles south from the northern coast.

Once I was sure of having put sufficient space between the Star and the infall of the cataract, I put In cautiously until I was skimming along right under that towering wall, taking soundings every few minutes. Those mountains of rock might well have outliers, shoals and reefs where the Star would founder, so my sea sense told me. And yet, somehow it felt right to keep under those looming, sheltering cliffs. Though I stayed about half a mile offshore, my short, ten fathom line never cane close to touching the sandy, seemingly level bottom, several hundred feet below me over which the Star's shadow skimmed amid dancing golden lights. I could see that through the gilded waves, now almost as clear as window glass as the water of this sea always is just offshore., yet my sea sense revolted. So close to shore, how could the bottom be as distant as a hundred miles from anywhere?

After rounding the gentle curve of the island where the rock began running eastward, I cut the engine and hoisted sail once more. The all but silent motion of a sail driven craft seemed more fitting than the sputter and hum of an engine that the vast wall of rock reflected like a megaphone out past the Star into the empty ocean. With a brisk breeze once more at my back, I ran along the coast in the gradually paling golden evening, until the cliffs had diminished to gentle hills, sliced shear down with a great knife, and I could glimpse now and then a dim green interior. I measured eighty-seven and a half miles till, now softly rolling and wooded, the land turned again. On this eastern coast, the land and water were shadowed, the last of the sunset light blocked by the western heights. The eastern sky was already dark enough for the first stars to appear. I felt my way along this gentler coast looking for a creek or inlet.

Full dark had fallen, and I had reluctantly lit my lamps and was beginning to despair of finding any way into this strange island when, at last, within about ten miles of the southeastern extremity of the land I found what I was looking for. With a suddenness that made me exclaim in surprise and relief, a harbor mouth opened off the port bow. Being close in, I wondered at not having felt the crosscurrents, but turning the searchlight into the harbor, I saw the water as still and glassy as a pond, and decided to trust once more to that strange sense that had led me to steer close to the cliffs.

I brought the Star around, starlight shimmering in her arcing wake, and with the engine purring, for the wind had dropped, I entered that Godsend of a harbor. I trained the searchlight on the nearer shore, off the port bow, and about a hundred yards in saw a creek, the water black under overhanging willows. "Trust to luck one more time," I murmured, and pulling perhaps seventy-five feet up the little watercourse, dropped anchor in no more than two and a half fathom. After securing the tiller and prowling about the Star to be sure all was in order, I stood in the sternsheets and looked back towards the starsheened water of the harbor, breathing in the calm land air, and wondering mightily where I was. Then, with one last glance around, I went below to eat a long delayed meal, and then I climbed into my bunk, promising myself sleepily that in the morning I would explore this strange and wonderful island.

Chapter 2
In the morning, however, I regretfully decided to forego exploration. I really did need to get to Falibana, and Jocelyn. I had no means of communicating with her. The Falibars were a designated techno-free zone, one of the few desirable living places on Nova Britannia to have that mixed blessing thanks to a far-sighted and strong-willed governor of the last century. So, like the rest of the inhabitants of her island paradise, Jocelyn had no telecom equipment other than the primitive telephone whose clumsy wiring was already familiar, and which the governor aforesaid considered adequate for her people's needs. They also had an ancient audio-video broadcast system; but, of course, that was only for inter-island contact. It was totally inadequate to handle modern ship-to-shore communications.

I looked at the compact satellite array next to the Star's nav console, and wished not for the first time that Jocelyn would let me give her a sata-mini-ceiver. But, she wouldn't. Personal telecom equipment was not absolutely banned in the Falibars, but Jocelyn didn't like bending too many rules or stretching too many points. Her PCR (Personal Care Robot) already pushed up against the outer limit of the acceptable Use Clause; though, the very next clause defined and made exceptions for medical need. No one had ever or would ever dispute that her medical need was real. Still, she was sensitive about it and strove all the more to observe the anti-tecno laws and regulations.

So, I couldn't call her on the sata-mini-ceiver. And, I thought as I prepared to pull out of the creek, what would I tell her if I could? "Hi love, it's me. I'm running a few hours late. Spent last night on an island that isn't there. But don't worry. Everything's shipshape. I'll see you tomorrow night at the latest." Sure! And she'd ask me how much of Morrow's brandy I'd liberated. No, it was probably just as well. But, I had to get out of here, away from this impossible and enchanted island, and on my way.

I chugged quietly out of the creek into the early sunlight of the harbor. And, my heart sank. There, waiting for me, was a lovely little sloop. The semaphores rippling in the soft breeze read, "Welcome and heave to." I brought the Star along side -- what else could I do? -- and read the name painted in neat white lettering around her bow, The Black Moon. She was black herself, and as trim a vessel as I ever saw''''; And, I'd seen a fair number of sailing craft in my time.

The man who leant over the side, hand held out in token of peace, and called, "Come, my friend. Follow me. We can have some breakfast and a yarn on the beach before you go," was as trim and dashing as his craft. Bemused, I signed my understanding and acquiescence, and twenty minutes later was mooring the Star alongside The Black Moon. "Have you a dinghy or anything of that sort?" the stranger, my host I supposed he was, called to me cheerfully.

"No," I called back. In truth, I had been eyeing the shallows with little relish. An early morning swim was a fine thing, in its right time and place. But, I didn't care to appear before this man, gallant gentleman though he might be, on whose land and water I was trespassing, in close imitation of a water rat. He seemed to understand. "Come across to the Moon, then," he said, throwing me the end of a very modern looking grap-pass, "And we can go ashore together in my little bathtub of a motor shuttle."

Shrugging, I secured my end of the seemingly gossamer light grap-pass, jerked the tabs to inflate the tubing and erect the small support stanchions, and walked across ten feet or more of open water to the other boat.

"Greetings," my host said, extending his hand as I stepped from the suspended passage. "Welcome to Marooner's Haven. I am Brontë Sinclair, proprietor of this little bit of Heaven here on Nova Britannia."

I shook hands, feeling his grip firm and assured but not overbearing. And, I looked into the dark eyes that had been the stuff of young girls' dreams of adventure, and boys' too, for more than fifteen years. Yes, I had heard of Brontë Sinclair, and now I knew why this island didn't show on my charts. What I didn't know was how I had gotten here, or why.

"Charlie Shepherd," I said, smiling in my turn. "En route from Raklebad to Falibana. If I'd been much later, I'd have crashed right into that western wall of yours, or gone down in the infall of the cataract."

The outlaw's grin became mischievous, sparkling in his intelligent eyes and making him look far younger than his thirty-five years. "Now, Charlie," he said easily, leading me across the deck to where a rope ladder hung down the side to a compact little shore skimmer, "I wouldn't have let that happen. Do you want to get in first, or second. She's much more stable than she looks. She's never capsized on me yet, no matter how rough the seas."

I eyed the little boat. Close though not uncomfortable quarters for two men. Shore skimmers were designed for children; so, they were small and light, but the closest thing to indestructible and unsinkable that Man had ever devised. Their seats were well padded with springy, not squishy, water-repellant foam. These were cobalt blue. They had large, simple, brightly colored controls, and a large display screen that could be set to show, individually or in combination, various readouts. The nav console of this shore skimmer was larger and more complex than was usual on these tiny craft, and I suspected she had a lot of specialized and very interesting features.

"Had one of those when I was a kid," I said slowly, remembering that the seats opened to provide storage space. Inevitably, pets and even the occasional younger sibling got stowed away in these compartments. The design even took this into consideration. The front of each seat, rather than being a solid piece, was a fine grillwork through which air passed freely. And tiny fans and low power lights came on when, the lid being closed, sensors detected a warm, breathing creature inside.

I remembered checking out with my friend Tommy what we thought was a miraculous safety feature. We were pouring over my manual, Tommy had lost his, when we came across something we'd never noticed before. "If the Shore Skimmer begins to experience difficulty or if the 'passengers' in these compartments become distressed, the front will open allowing them to be removed safely." We fought all the way down to the river over which of us would be the distressed passenger. Finally, reluctantly, I agreed that as the boat's owner, I was the captain and so could not also be a passenger. In the boat, I started up and set the engine to idle. Then, I helped Tommy into the rear compartment and closed him in. "OK?" I asked. "Lights on and everything?" In the daylight, I couldn't see the dim glow of the compartment lights.

"Yep! Everything's ship shape, Skipper," Tommy's muffled voice replied. I scrambled forward and eased the skimmer out into the slow current of the broad, brown river. "I'm gonna be distressed now," Tommy called. I answered and, tapping the autopilot button, turned around to watch. After a moment's silence, Tommy began to cough and thrash around. I knew it was a fake cough, but the sensors in the compartment didn't. I watched, bug eyed and gaping, as the front of the compartment slid down into the deck and a goggling Tommy crawled out and onto the seat. We stared at each other. "Wow!!!" we both said at last.

I hadn't thought of that in thirty years. Tommy was a bank manager now, with a kind if slightly boisterous wife who had been a nude dancer in her youth, and two loving, high-spirited children, a girl and a smaller boy. I never got up the nerve to ask how he, Mr. Straight Laced Propriety, had met an ex nude dancer. He couldn't have found a warmer, more sensible wife, though, or a better, more loving mother for his children.


I started, and realized that Sinclair was watching me with quiet amusement. "Sorry," I said, feeling foolish. "I was just thinking of something a friend and I did when we were eight or nine."

"What did you do?" Sinclair asked, looking interested.

I was taken aback. "Well, we found out by experiment that the front of the compartments under the seats," I pointed, "really do open if the, uh, passenger becomes distressed. He pretended to have a coughing fit, and the front slid away into the floor. Scared the shit out of both of us, really, I think. But we acquired a new respect for our shore skimmers, I can tell you."

Sinclair laughed. "Marvelous little boats, shore skimmers. So, you had one too?"

I looked at him in puzzlement. "Didn't everybody?"

"You'd be surprised," he said in a tone that might have been sardonic or even angry. I only thought of that later, though. At the moment, my habitual observantness was not in the best of trim.

"Yes," I said, looking down again at the boat, scarcely more than a toy, lying on the smooth blue water. "I had one; though she didn't have nearly so much electronics gear as this one looks to be carrying. Good steady boats for kids, shore skimmers. Sure, I'll get in first."

Sinclair watched me to my seat, then followed. The idling, almost inaudible engine surged. "Anyway, Charlie, as I was saying," Sinclair continued, turning comfortably in his seat as the boat moved in a leisurely way towards a small wooden pier. "I wouldn't have let you go down." That boyish grin was back, and it seemed totally unselfconscious. He wasn't putting on an act; he really meant what he said. Or else he was the greatest actor of our time. "I don't get many visitors, as you can perhaps understand." His lips twisted in what looked to me like regret. "I certainly wouldn't want to lose a man of your caliber."

The spell snapped. I snorted. He was having me on for some purpose of his own.

Sinclair laid a hand on my knee. "No," he said, the fun gone from his manner. "I'm not making fun of you." An alarm chime sounded, and he turned his attention back to the boat. Leaping to the pier, he tied up and called to me. "Just shut her down for me, would you, Charlie?" Then he turned his back and walked away towards the beach.

I sat still. Everything he had done signaled that he trusted me. Maybe I ought to trust him. At least hear what he had to say. I found the large, half green, half red toggle switch, just the same as on my shore skimmer, and flicked it to off. I knew even without looking at the display, that he'd performed the simple, pre-switch-off routine. Then I followed him along the dock and onto the soft, warm sand.