‘Pardon my raised eyebrows; I thought you had sworn off. Very well; bring him. '
‘Eric, don't you find it depressing to be so cynical? He's a satyr, not a goose. '
‘So much the better. With Fiesta starting at sundown, Zenobia will welcome any gallant indecency he offers her, as long as he does not break her bones. '
This silly chatter had told me one thing: I was not in New Liverpool. New Liverpool does not celebrate Fiesta - and this local festival sounded like Fasching in Munich combined with Carnival in Rio, with a Brixton riot thrown in. So, not New Liverpool. What city, what planet, what year, and what universe remained to be seen. Then I would have to see what could be done about my predicament. Clothes. Money. Status. Then, how to get home. But I was not worried. As long as the body is warm and the bowels move regularly no problem can be other than minor and temporary.
The two doctors were still sneering at each other when I suddenly realized that I had heard not one word of Galacta.
Not even Spanglish. They were speaking English, almost the harsh accent of my girlhood, with idiom and vocabulary close to that of my native Missouri.
Maureen, this is ridiculous. www.o-giftm.ru
While flunkies were getting ready to move the body (disguised as a nameless something draped in dust covers) the medical examiner (coroner? ) got a signed release from the house physician, and both started to leave. I stopped the latter.
‘Dr Ridpath! '
‘Yes? What is it, Miss? '
‘I'm Maureen Johnson Long. You are on the staff of the hotel, are you not? '
‘In a manner of speaking. I have my offices here and am available as house physician when needed. Do you wish to see me professionally? I'm in a hurry. '
‘Just one quick question, Doctor. How does one get the attention of a flesh and blood human being on the staff of this hotel? I can't seem to raise anyone but moronic robots - and I'm stranded here with no clothes and no money. '
He shrugged. ‘Someone is certain to show up before long, once I report that Judge Hardacres is dead. Are you worried about your fee? Why don't you call the talent agency that sent you to him? The judge probably had a running account with them. '
‘Oh! Doctor, I'm not a prostitute. Although I suppose it does look like it. '
He cocked his left brow so high that it disturbed the tilt of his toupee, and changed the subject. ‘You have a beautiful pussy. '
I assumed that he was speaking of my feline companion, who is a most beautiful pussy - a flame-coloured tomcat (just the colour of my hair) in a striking tiger pattern. He has been much admired in several universes.
‘Thank you, sir. His name is Pixel and he is a much traveled cat. Pixel, this is Dr Ridpath:
The doctor put out a finger close to the little pink nose. ‘Howdy, Pixel. '
Pixel was helpful. (Sometimes he is not - a cat of firm opinions. ) He sniffed the proffered finger, then licked it.
The doctor smiled indulgently, then withdrew his finger when Pixel decided that the ritual kiss had gone on long enough. ‘He's a fine boy, that one. Where did you find him? '
‘On Tertius. '
‘Where's Ontershus? Canada? Hmm, you say you have a money problem. What'll you take for Pixel, cash in hand? My little girl would love him:
(I didn't swindle him. I could have but I didn't. Pixel can't be sold - he can't stay sold - because he can't be locked up. For him, stone walls do not a prison make. )
‘Oh, I'm sorry! I can't sell him; he's not mine. He's a member of the family of my grandson - one of my grandsons - and his wife. But Colin and Hazel would never sell him. They can't sell him; they don't own him. No one owns him; Pixel is a free citizen:
‘So? Then perhaps I can bribe him. How about ir, Pixel? Lots of horse liver, fresh fish, cat nibbles, all you want. Plenty of friendly girl cats around and we'll leave your spark plugs right where they are. Well? '
Pixel gave the restless wiggle that means ‘Let me down, ' so I did. He sniffed the doctor's legs, then brushed against him. ‘Nnnow? ' he enquired.
Dr Ridpath said to me, ‘You should have accepted my offer. I seem to have acquired a cat. '
‘I wouldn't bet on it, Doctor. Pixel likes to travel but he always comes back to my grandson Colin. Colonel Colin Campbell. And his wife Hazel. '
For the first time Dr Ridpath really looked at me. ‘"Grandson. " "Colonel. " Miss, you're hallucinating. '
(I suddenly realized how it looked to him. Before I left Tertius, Ishtar had given me a booster treatment-it had been fifty-two years - and Galahad had given me a cosmetic refresher and had overdone it. Galahad likes ‘em young, especially redheads - he keeps my twin daughters permanent teenagers, and now we three look like triplets. Galahad cheats. Except for Theodore, Galahad is my favorite husband, but I shan't let anyone find out. )
‘Yes, I must be hallucinating, ' I agreed. ‘I don't know where I am, I don't know what day this is, I don't know what became of my clothes or my money or my purse, and I don't know how I got here. .. save that I was in an irrelevancy bus for New Liverpool and there was an accident of some sort. If Pixel were not still with me, I would wonder if I were me. '
Dr Ridpath reached down; Pixel allowed himself to be picked up. ‘What was that bus you mentioned? '
‘A Burroughs shifter. I was on Tellus Tertius at Boondock on time line two at Galactic year 2149, or Gregorian 4368 if you like that better. I was scheduled for New Liverpool in time line two, where I was to base for a field trip. But something went wrong. '
‘Ah, so. Hmm. And you have a grandson who is a colonel? '
‘Yes, sir. '
‘And how old are you? '
‘That depends on how you count it, Doctor. I was born on Earth in time line two of the Fourth of July, 1882. I lived there until 1982, one century minus two weeks, whereupon I moved to Tertius and was rejuvenated. That was fifty-two years ago by my personal calendar. I've had a booster just recently, which made me younger than I should be-I prefer to be mature rather than girlish. But I do have grandchildren, lots of them. '
‘Interesting. Will you come down to my office with me? '