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Returning Excerpt No. 4





Denver, Colorado

Standing a few yards from the park entrance, Sara Ellsworth wondered if she was doing the right thing. She’d kept secrets from her parents before. What teenaged girl didn’t? But never anything like this. Never anything so potentially life changing.

She glanced at her watch. It was 3:45. School had let out a quarter hour ago, but her parents didn’t expect her home until 5:30. She’d told them she was auditioning for the TheArts musical.

They wouldn’t have any trouble with that. The drama group really did have auditions scheduled for that afternoon, and she’d done school plays since first grade. The school was doing Two by Two. It was ancient, hence in the public domain and free to perform, which was considered a plus at the cash-strapped public school. It was also biblical, another plus. Their drama teacher had gone over the script, not changing much. Presumably the costumes would be a bit less revealing than they had been on Broadway, way back in the mid-20th century.

Her parents wouldn’t be concerned until she failed to return home at the expected time. She wasn’t even sure where she’d be by then. Maybe in a aeroplane. The Brits had said they’d fly her out of Denver.

A black car, with dark, tinted windows, pulled up and the front passenger’s window rolled down. The man inside held up a manila file folder with a huge letter “G” printed on it in marker. The “G” was the expected signal. Sara was a pretty girl. The signal was her assurance that this was the right car, and not some random predator.

Sara nodded and approached the car. The lock button popped up, she opened the door, and climbed in. As she closed the door the window was rising.

“Safety belt,” the man said, in a British accent.

She fastened her belt. “I’m John,” the man said. “For now, John Smith. And you are now Sara Smith. Your passport is in the glove box.”

Sara opened it and took out the passport. The cover was scuffed, and there were several pages of entry and exit stamps. “I’m from London now?”

“According to that. And that’s a real passport, by the way. Well, technically, it’s forged in that that’s obviously not your real name and all the information is false. But if anyone decided to run the passport number, they’d find it properly documented for the person described, and issued just over a year ago. A gift from his Majesty’s government, you see, as a courtesy to the Gehunites.”

Sara laughed involuntarily. “I can’t believe I’m going to actually get to meet people who live in space. To be in space.”

“I wish I could go with you. I’ll accompany you as far as Vancouver. After that, you’ll travel to London on your own.”

“What do we do now? My parents won’t miss me until around 5:30, but once they do they’ll call Mrs Montague and she’ll tell them I wasn’t at the audition.”

“We should be well on our way before then. They’ll no doubt call the police, but they’ll start looking in Denver, and we should be nearly in Seattle by then. If anyone there tries to stop you, show them your new passport. You’re Sara Smith, a resident of London, and any resemblance to this missing girl is obviously nothing more than a coincidence.”

“Will the police buy that?”

“Take a closer look at that passport. The great big letters on the bottom of the front cover. ‘Diplomatic Passport.’ They could question that, to be sure, but when they check with our embassy the information on your passport will be confirmed. Officially, you’re my daughter.”

Sara nodded.

“You’re not the first American we’ve slipped out of the country,” ‘Smith’ added.

“Good to know,” Sara said.

‘Smith’ touched the navigation display. “Cullison Field,” he said, “general aviation terminal.”

“Cullison Field, General Aviation Terminal,” the unit repeated. “Estimated travel time is 27 minutes. Enjoy the trip.”

“Start now,” ‘Smith’ ordered. He looked over at Sara as the car pulled away from the kerb. “Now, first stop is Cullison Field. I keep my personal aeroplane there. You’ll find British made clothing in your sizes aboard, so by the time we land in Seattle what you’re wearing will no longer match what your parents last saw you in.”

“I don’t sound very British.”

“Have you tried?”

“You mean something like this?”

‘Smith’ grimaced. “Good heavens, the ghost of Dick Van Dyke!”

“Who?”

“You’ve never seen Mary Poppins?”

“Sure. My high school did it last year.”

“No, Sara, I mean the original motion picture. The one with Julie Andrews singing beautifully, and speaking perfectly, and Dick Van Dyke doing the most gawdawful Cockney accent ever heard.”

“Mine sucks, huh?”

“Unfortunately.” He grinned. “No worries. According to your passport, and what the embassy will tell anyone who asks, you’ve been in this country since you were three, so it stands to reason you might have developed an American accent.”

*          *          *

Captain Corallia Maniah, of Her Imperial Majesty’s Corps of Marines, was relaxing in a little pub, not too far from the Imperial War Museum, where she had spent most of the afternoon. She was in uniform, but had left her sword aboard the ship. The British government had made that request, and no one from Warrior really objected. They didn’t wear the things that often, and generally considered them a damn nuisance under most circumstances.

“Number 92 was the best,” someone argued in a nearby booth.

“You’re bloody insane,” his companion retorted. Eighty-seven was definitely better. The best ever.”

“What, that old man? Could hold a candle to 92.”

“That’s because you’re a kid,” the other said. “I can remember all of them, as far back as 73 in first run. Even further in reruns.”

“One thing never made much sense, though,” the first said. “I mean, it’s 95 now, and they keep saying there can’t be more than a dozen. They’ve been saying that for, what, 160-odd years now.”

“Oh, you ignorant twat, they fixed that years ago. Think about it. If you’re essential to keeping the universe going, it just figures they’d keep giving you more turns, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not like he’s the only one. There’s a whole bloody planet full of them, isn’t there?”

Maniah decided this would be more interesting if she had any idea what the two men were talking about. Who in blazes was essential to keeping the universe going?

Excerpt No. 5

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