THE SEARCH FOR ASTRA PALACE by Gregory KH Bryant
So these conversations with Illara opened up new worlds for Dimara. Illara, for her part, was surprised, and delighted, to find in Dimara an intelligent quasi-human, one with a dry wit that matched her own. Since Ward had decided to give Dimara the form of a human female, Dimara was, quite naturally, most interested in learning as much about human females as she could.
The files, programs, published articles and books she studied gave her vast amounts of information on this endlessly fascinating subject. But however detailed or vivid the archived data may have been, it was all two-dimensional. It lacked the `heart’—as Dimara once described it to Illara—that Dimara craved.
So Dimara sought from Illara the inner workings of the human female, the heart of what it is to be a woman. This gave Illara many opportunities to while away ab occasional hour or two in happy girl talk.
Lieutenant Hardy, for his part, used the opportunity to get better acquainted with Mud. The two men knew each other, but not particularly well. Mud had provided escort to the “Bellerophon”, along with Ward, on one of its journeys to Callisto. Despite his dissolute appearance, Mud made a good impression on Hardy and on Colonel Westland, commander of the mission.
Hardy had also fought at the Battle for Callisto some time later. And there, he witnessed the devastating fighting team Mud and Ward made together. This devastation was most especially apparent during those insane moments when the two men forced their ships down upon the landing bay of Turhan Mot’s ship, the “Grand Marquis”, destroying it, and nearly destroying the ship itself.
And much of that which Hardy had observed of Mud, Mud had come also to appreciate in Hardy. Their differences, it proved, were shallow. Matters of taste, and not much else. Otherwise, both men were skilled and dedicated fighters, both were intelligent and well educated—though the education might not be immediately apparent in Mud’s case, a clever piece of camouflage for him.
The man who called himself Rat was forced by the circumstances to keep very much to himself. By temperament a secretive and dishonest man, he had no more desire to keep company with Mud and the others than they had of him.
But Mud would not let Rat run around freely and alone on his ship. Nor would he take the trouble to make Rat a prisoner. So Mud showed Rat that every cabin, every walkway, and every compartment of his ship was closely surveilled with both video and audio tracking. Mud made it very clear that Rat had no hope of stirring up any mischief on the “Charon”.
And with that knowledge firmly implanted in Rat’s mind, Mud was willing to allow Rat to move freely around his ship. Rat used his time on board the “Charon” smoking freely from Mud’s stash, and drinking from the wide range of beers and wines offered by the menu on Mud’s replicator.
So it was that the pursuit of Turhan Mot was conducted in a manner most satisfactory to all.
“Emily? Emily? Are you with me? Can you hear? Everybody is waiting for you to wake up. And then we can all be together again. Won’t that be wonderful? Your father is at work now, he’s always in meetings with Colonel Bridgemont and Colonel Westland., when he’s not here, talking to you. And Jeffrey is at Callisto now. He’s helping to clean up the streets after that terrible, terrible battle.
“We all take our turns, cleaning up Callisto. And rebuilding it, too. Years and years. We’ll be at it for years and years. That’s maybe one good thing to come out of all this… there’s plenty of work. Jeffrey will never be out of a job here, as long as he lives… you know he comes here every time he’s not working… you must have heard him talking to you. Didn’t you? And your father…”
“Mrs. Talbot? Joyce? How are you doing this evening?”
“Oh, doctor. I’m doing as well as I can, under all the circumstances.”
“It’s always good to see you talking to Emily. Talking to patients such as Emily has proven to have a most efficacious effect.”
Joan gave Doctor Stanley a sad smile.
“I talk to her because I love her. If it heals her, too, then all the better.”
“Of course,” Doctor Stanley replied. A slender man in what would have been his early sixties, were he living on Earth, he had taken a special interest in Emily, and indeed the entire Talbot family. He had often shared Joyce’s vigil over her daughter.
“Have you noted any change in her, Joyce?” he asked.
“Sometimes I almost think I can see her eyelids flutter, but I can’t be sure.”
“Well, it’s just so very subtle when it does happen, I can’t be sure if I really saw what I saw, or if my eyes are playing tricks on me,” Joyce said.
“Mm,” was Doctor Stanley’s monosyllabic reply. He examined several of the instruments connected to Emily.
“And how is Story?” Stanley asked. “I haven’t seen him in some time.”
“Oh, he’s working closely with Colonel Bridgemont. They’re analysing the battle, you know. Trying understand how it happened. For that many ships to attack us must mean they have a base nearby, maybe two or three, that we don’t know about.”
“I see,” said Doctor Stanley. “And have they drawn any conclusions?”
“Only tentative so far. I don’t know much about it. Story doesn’t talk about it very much.”
Joyce touched Emily’s forehead with her fingertips, pushing a few strands of hair away from her eyes.
“No, of course not,” Doctor Stanley said. Then, changing the subject, he offered, “May I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Joyce looked up from the uncomfortable plastic chair from where she was holding her vigil for Emily. She smiled.
“Why, yes,” she answered. “I would like that.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
CONTINUES NEXT ISSUE