Meanwhile Jon, Ivan and Hap
were looking at the chart on the screen of the laptop. The pattern was all too obvious. The chance any civilization had of surviving
the next fifty years dropped to zero almost in a straight line. Only the
Jon said, “Speaking as an engineer, I would say that the simple straight line suggests a single simple mechanism. The gas laws that tell you how the pressure of a quantity of gas changes with volume and temperature give you a very simple relationship. But if you add a few more factors you get the weather, which nobody can predict.”
“It must have something to do with their culture,” said Ivan. “The ones with an adaptable attitude last longer.”
“They were usually wiped out by invaders,” said Hapgood.
“Again, as an engineer, I would expect that invasions or plagues or climate change would be unrelated to the age of the civilization. The line would be horizontal. It certainly isn’t.”
“So you think that the whole world is traveling down the same slope?” asked Ivan.
“Well it looks like
“People say that falling birth rates in the West are a matter of conscious choice,” said Hapgood.
“That’s not what this says. I mean yes, a fall in birth rate would do what we are looking at. There would come a time when there weren’t enough soldiers or administrators, and down the empire would come. But conscious choice? That should be a cultural thing. It should be an intrinsic factor like being adaptable or having an effective technology.”
“I wonder what
“Speaking of them, where are they?” countered Hapgood.
James was sitting in the van parked within sight of the front door of the Pegasus.
Then the door opened and the solid form of a bodyguard appeared. Abruptly she put the butterflies away. She was on stage.
As the bodyguard registered that he was looking at a strange carton, a woman’s hand pushed out passed the veil and handed him a note. “SURPRISE!”
“What in the world …,” the bodyguard blurted.
“What is it?” came a voice from behind him.
“Well bring it here.”
The guard stood aside and
“Well, boss. I guess it’s coming in by itself.”
Through the veil
He leaned forward to peer into the box, but the hand reached from under the edge of the box and undid one of his shoe laces. While he reacted, the box shot over to the entertainment center and turned on some music. Then it scooted to the bar and managed to pour a martini, which it handed to the boss.
Another note appeared. “Do you want me to dance for you?” Before he could answer, the box started rocking from side to side in time with the music. Then it spun around and backed up against his knees.
The boss said, “You ought to have painted an ass on the back side here.” The others all laughed a little too hard, but the boss’s laugh sounded real.
The box moved away and turned around. For a moment there was the sound of scribbling, and the box approached and held out a new note. As the note approached him, the knuckles of the hand touched his knee. The hand jerked away and then returned without the note and touched his knee carefully. Then it began to stroke his knee on the top and then on the inside.
The box turned so that one corner was between his knees and then nuzzled its way between his thighs. The box rose and dropped a few times; then the hand came out again holding the note. “Do you want me to stand up?”
“Sure,” said the boss. “Let’s see you stand up.”
The box hurried to the
curtains where it backed against them and then
She danced behind the curtain in time to the music, the thin silk caressing and hinting at the sweetly curved shape beneath. One arm came out and pulled the silk tighter against her. Then she put her arms behind her and pulled it around herself. Slowly she twisted herself up in the cloth. She slid one arm around in front and ran it over herself. Then she unwrapped and worked her way back under the box.
The box started back toward the boss. It stopped midway to do a spin and then came up to his knees. The hand came out with a note, “Go ahead. Lift the box.”
The seated man obligingly
reached out with both hands and lifted the box off
She slowly got up and continued dancing, moving between his legs until her thighs buffed him. She twisted around and smiled at the other three men. “Come on, boys. Check out the merchandise.”
They gathered around. She invited, “You can play with anything your boss isn’t using.” The three men began groping gently her thighs, her breasts and her buttocks. She seemed to revel in it.
Then the phone rang. The others edged away while their boss
answered, “Yes, what is it?” He
listened. “Sacred Indian ground? They wandered onto sacred Indian ground. I AM SUIRROUNDED BY IDIOTS!”
She smiled brightly and reached out to put her hand in the crotch of the most convenient man. “We aim to please. Be a doll and call room service. Ask if Adrian Jones has a few minutes he can come up.” While the man made the call she pulled the seated man by the hand and said, “Come over to the couch. It might get crowded.”
They moved to the couch where she curled up against him and beckoned to the others. While they renewed their caresses she said, “Mind telling me what this is all about? You can lie. I’ll believe you.”
“Those idiots …,” he began.
“No, not them. Me. I’m a woman, remember. It’s all about me. Why did they send me?”
“Well who sent you?”
“Two men. One was taller than the other.”
“Probably Fred and Mayon,” said one of the underlings.
“Right,” she said. “So what’s the big deal?”
“Well you won’t believe this,” he began.
“I believe it already,” she whispered, wiggling as she received a soft pinch.
“I am about to create the ultimate world empire. The last. The greatest. This will be the empire that reaches the stars, than unifies the world, that brings the future everyone dreams of. I’m going to do it.
“You see there is a secret,
the secret of why empires fail.
“And you have the secret.”
“I thought I had it. But I am missing some important details. And one man, only one man knows what they are. When I get the details from him I shall rule it all.”
“Congratulations. I feel so honored. And they sent me to celebrate with you. Of course I would feel more honored if you weren’t gay.” She put her hand in his crotch. “You don’t suppose you might weaken, just a little, just this once, just for me? … mmm? Don’t stop, boys, you’re doing great.”
There was a knock. “Be a doll,” she said placing another crotch
grope. “See if it’s
As the man approached the
door a clear voice rang, “
He flounced into the room eyeing the men up and down. “Bored, that’s how I want them. Bored. So I get all the attention. Well, it looks like a party or something.”
“Come over and sit on that
side of him, Adrian,” said
“Well, I guess I’ll just have
to settle for what I can get.” He
snuggled up next the man they called “Boss.”
She said, “O this is so exciting, Mr. Patterson.”
“Patterson, my names not Patterson. My name’s Hans Turelli.”
“It is?” she said freezing and putting her fingers to her lips. “It’s not Patterson? Wrong room. You must think I’m a … Oh I am so embarrassed.”
“Go way,” said
She snatched on her clothes and made for the door.
Hans called, “But it wasn’t a bad mistake. “I run the biggest online food delivery service in the world, and a lot of other things as well.”
She said, “But I am in such trouble. Oh dear.” And then she was gone. With luck her serious clothes would still be on the elevator.
Sure enough, when James arced the van around to pick her up, she was back in professional clothes and holding the graph. She had hastily put here hair up again. She piled in and stretched wearily in the seat.
“Thanks, James. Hope the wait wasn’t too long.”
“That’s no problem. The others probably have had enough to stay amused.”
The next morning they drove
“I’ve been wondering about that,” said James. “I think maybe old man Amos isn’t doing too well.”
“But I’ll bet he keeps secrets real well,” said Ivan.
But nothing can keep the water from percolating slowly through the soil and rocks below. Early on they realized that a body buried in a wooden casket would bob to the surface fairly soon. So the custom developed of burying people above ground. The wealthy were placed in mausoleums. The more frugal were placed in pigeon holes the size of lockers at the bus station. At each new inhumation in a cubby hole, the older contents were pushed back and the newly deceased inserted. The cemetery was a landscape of small marble buildings.
They fanned out and started to search. Presently there was a shout. Ivan had found a grave marked, “Amos Montgomery.”
“Morning, AM,” said James when they had gathered. The sign indicated that he had been buried there about forty years before.
“Looks like a dead end,” said
“Let me see,” said Jon. He cast an engineer’s eye on the door. The others were sealed in with mortar, but this one seemed to have a slight gap around it, as if it were mounted on hinges. “Can I see your knife, Ivan?”
Jon probed with the knife blade until he found a latch. After a couple tries he tripped it and then pried with the tip. The door swung outward. Inside were a well seasoned skeleton and a plastic envelope with a sheet of paper. Jon took the envelope and closed the door.
He said, “All right, James. What do they eat for breakfast around here?”
“I’ve got just the place.”
Soon they settled around a
table next a courtyard in the French Quarter and ordered some biniets, which turned out to be delectable little pastries
dipped in powdered sugar. While
“So they are after me,” said Ivan. “I thought it was just paranoia.”
“At least it sounds like we
don’t go to
“I thought we might,” said Hapgood. “It’s on that great circle we were looking at.”
“Well if we must, we must,” said Jon. Then they went about the business of inflicting horrible damage on breakfast.
Back at the hotel they spread out the paper and looked at it.
It was written mostly in groups of three lines:
i,hod’bhaifAi a seoueplieyHn t dse cnsan unH itbkbsten.a t eev f osMot
vneuR ittniln.tsb nnr uhdbEu.ewR prutiligo aeki h yv o tkedt ierzrpr n
a t lsr rE lg D’ad mbsbs T hol’smo fl.yc cctneooY ejes eha hgsoe ecu
ihw.Sur na rg rrbiht n nclanaset e bta,eesM ltea abOrT.srt oReeS reatt
ntEt tat eruhy eot a ic iito rprazrhr h utla ttnr e HtutantEnyao hc Ht
e s bcteysOlFoz rre.seovizih oed oi tetwtsfa lseyesfea bcah t rft ftah
esa op ehestas tctrb ree Nt pc eran d w o Fnhaapsslheabtx Rfr .yHe
obepehvefwbbesbrPoaTnmyasc hoesAclig hwdetnw hudtpcl huapnu iyasmnwo ao
duh pvTne A r
I o ,r aTllhwod
to irritate, to wear down.
Hap said mildly, “Well I don’t remember him being quite so irritating, but since he brings the subject up …”
Jon gazed at it. “There seem to be two messages here. Does anybody know about ‘Mother Shipton’?”
They all shook their heads.
“Well where do we find out about her?”
There was a modem in the
“Yes, I know,” he said and went to work again on the internet. “Right on the circle. Ready to go?”
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