"Vicki?" Pat asked.
"Are you asleep?"
Vicki, who had been nearly asleep, said, "Oh, no, I'm not asleep."
"I've been wondering. You keep saying how this is so much better than where you were before. I was just wondering, Where are you from? Are you from . . . I don't know. Another planet or something?" Vicki started to speak, but Pat went on. "I promise I won't tell anybody anything. Ever."
Vicki had to force herself not to laugh. "I guess that's a reasonable question. I'll tell you, but you do have to promise not to tell anybody. Hold out your hand." She heard the cot squeak and then they both waved their hands between the beds in the dark until they connected. Vicki's tiny hand grabbed Pat's and held it as she said, "You have to promise."
"I do. I promise," Pat said with incredible solemnity.
"Okay," Vicki said, taking her hand back. She rolled over so she was lying on her back, her hands clasped behind her head.
"I appeared in the Ladies Room at that bar, Duffy's," she began. "Two nights ago, I guess it was. It's hard to remember what day it is. Anyway, that's where I met Jan." She paused. "Well, this is the part I haven't told anybody. I have no idea about anything else, how I got to be so small, or so strong, or with these big ears."
"Where did you grow up?"
"You mean on what planet, or in what town? On this planet, in a little beach town called Ross. Ross, Massachusetts. A real tourist town, so it was dead most of the year." She paused for a moment. "But that wasn't the bad part. The bad part was my family. I mean, the family I was staying with." She paused again, hoping that Pat would sense her reluctance and let her off the hook, but there was silence from the other side of the room.
"My mother is crazy. She's always moving around, a real loser. I don't know who my father was. Anyway, it was agreed, I don't know by who, that she couldn't take care of me, so I went to live with my Uncle Waldo.
"Waldo and Wanda, they're okay, but their two daughters don't like me. SarahAnn's the older one, she's about sixteen or seventeen. The other one is SarahBeth. She's my age. They're completely different. SarahAnn's a real prig, a goody two-shoes. She's a fink. SarahBeth's a slut, but she's Daddy's little girl, so nobody says anything. They used to joke that they never agreed on anything until they met me. They're both blond, like Wanda, so they used to call me the darkie when their parents weren't around."
"That why you left?"
Vicki laughed. "I didn't leave. I went to sleep on my bed and I woke up in the Ladies Room at that bar."
"Maybe we're all a dream."
"I don't think so. I did have a dream, though. I was lying on my back, and I tried to move my hand to scratch my nose, and I realized my wrists and ankles were tied to the four corners of the bed. Four-point restraints, they call it.
"I remember that from one time when my mom freaked out and they had to lock her up for a while. They shot her with all the drugs they could think of, but they couldn't quiet her down, so they had to tie her to the bed. I was ten or eleven, I guess. I sat with her all night. She was fine the next morning. I remember we said we'd get through everything like we'd got through that. But then she dumped me with the plastic people.
"Let me tell you about them. Waldo and Wanda smoke pot, but I guess they didn't want to be a bad influence on us. So, a lot of times after dinner they'd go to their room and smoke a joint. And my sisters would go to their rooms, and I would go to mine. And then, when we were all really ripped, we'd all come down and sit in the living room and watch TV together. All of us trying to pretend we weren't stoned, but we all knew we were. Jesus, it was awful. My mother may have been crazy, but we talked about what we felt, even if it made no sense." Suddenly, she felt tears well up and pressed her lips together, squeezing her eyes closed and waiting for the feeling to pass.
"Sometimes we stayed up until all hours, talking and drinking coffee. We'd be in some rotten motel, or some diner, drinking coffee, talking about everything in the world. We just said anything, even if it was that my head was about to explode, or she had bugs running around under her clothes. Sometimes we even made a joke about it afterwards.
"But at Waldo's it was all different. Nobody talked about themselves, everybody just talked about other people. Whoever wasn't in the room, they used to say. When SarahBeth got her abortion, they even tried to keep that from me. The only abortion I know about, anyway."
"You said your sisters," Pat said.
"AAAAH!" Vicki bellowed, punching the wall next to her bed. "I hate it when I call them that! I was . . . Oh, shit," she said more quietly. "I'm going to be in trouble now. I think I just made a big hole in the wall."
Pat fumbled for a match as Vicki felt around on the wall, half expecting to find somebody's face looking angrily back from the next room. As Pat got the candle lit somebody knocked on the door and started to open it.
"Vicki?" came Ray's voice. "Are you okay. That yell–"
"Don't come in here," Vicki called. "I haven't got any clothes on." The door closed quickly. "I'm fine," she continued. "Just had a bad dream."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm fine. Go back to bed."
"Or back to the bar," Pat muttered as she carried the candle across the room to Vicki's bed. Vicki was feeling around the hole she had made. Pat laughed and tugged the sleeve of Vicki's T-shirt. "You told him you were naked."
She laughed. "I knew he wouldn't come in if I said that. God, look at this." She pulled her hand out and Pat held up the candle so they could see in.
"It's like plaster or something, and then there's a few inches of air, and then a brick wall. When I felt my hand go through, I tried to pull back. That's why I didn't go through the wall."
"Doesn't your hand hurt?"
Vicki looked at her fist in some surprise. "No, not really," she said. "I guess it's a good thing I didn't punch a hole in the brick part. That probably would have hurt."
Pat grinned. "It didn't hurt? Maybe this is all a dream after all."
"Oh, shut up. I–"
"Hey, you never finished telling me about your dream." She blew out the candle and scrambled back under the covers of the cot.
Vicki lay back again, wondering how late it was. "Okay. I was lying there, in four-point restraints, looking at the ceiling. And suddenly I felt a weird kind of itch at the back of my neck. I reached back and rubbed it–"
"I thought your hands were tied."
"It was a dream. It's not supposed to make sense. Anyway, I felt this little crease that wasn't there before. I pressed into it and it opened up. The next thing I knew, I was climbing in."
In the morning, the sun came out.
Vicki came downstairs, but the hotel seemed silent. She wondered where everybody was until she turned the corner and saw they were all in the bar, silent, listening to a small portable radio. There were about thirty people sitting around the room. Doc, Jack and Ray were on stools at the bar.
When she focused her attention on the announcer's voice, however, the sports report was starting. "What's up?" she asked, jumping up onto the bar.
"Uncle Mike has resigned," Ray said slowly, lighting a cigarette. "For his health, they say, and from a desire to spend more time with his daughter after the death of his wife."
Vicki rested her tiny chin in her tiny palm. "Did he actually say that?"
"No," said Jan Sleet, taking a cigarette from the pack Ray was holding out for her. "It was just a bland public statement, from a voice we've never heard before."
"He's been removed, or made to step down," Doc said. "Probably because of how he's mishandled us. This city used to be a model of civilized, controlled life. No snoring, no loud music, no drinking at inappropriate times, no shopping on Sunday, and so on. But yesterday we made a mess out of all that."
"But are they going to crack down, or are they going to ease up?" Jack asked.
"I'll bet they ease up," Vicki said, "at least for now. Are there more protests today?"
Jack nodded. "There's been a vigil on the other side of the bridge since yesterday, blocking it completely."
Vicki nodded. "Uncle Mike went too far, they'll say, and they'll show how he was out of line. They'll–"
"They'll do more than that," said a well-dressed woman from the doorway. People in the room were surprised. When Doc and her friends were talking, people usually tended to keep quiet.
But this woman walked forward and stood in front of Doc. She was quite beautiful, with long, full, dark hair.
"Ms. Tumolo," Jan Sleet said, levering herself to her feet, "perhaps we should talk in private."
Once the six were alone in the conference room, the woman said, "Ms. Sleet has recognized me, but for the rest of you, I'm Susan Tumolo. I was Mike Sheldon's secretary, when he was the mayor."
"Are you bringing us a message from him?" Jack asked. "We understood from the radio that he had resigned."
"Bullshit," Susan said evenly. "From anything you've ever seen or heard about Mike Sheldon, would he ever quit? Anything?"
Susan looked them over. Doc Morse was almost nondescript. Short dark hair, rumpled clothes, wire-rimmed glasses. If you didn't look that carefully, you might think she was really young, but there was a firmness around her mouth which made Susan think she might be quite a bit older than she appeared at first glance.
Jack Longstreet was handsome and appeared to be uncomplicated.
Ray Stone slouched in his chair, smoking. It had been a while since Susan had been indoors with somebody who was smoking and she tried not to cough. She became aware that he was watching her, waiting for her to protest this illegal behavior.
She turned her attention to Jan Sleet, who was also lighting a cigarette. The reporter crossed her legs, wincing. Susan had read a few of her articles, but hadn't formed a really clear impression of the writer.
Susan turned finally to Vicki, aware that she had been avoiding looking in this direction. Vicki sat cross-legged on the table, her green eyes locked on Susan. She looked relaxed, but poised to move quickly if necessary. Her hands were tiny, though not out of proportion to the rest of her. Her small high-top sneakers looked like they were sized for a child, but she was not a child. Just a miniature adolescent with high, pointed elf ears.
"The government is going to kill you," she said to Doc Morse, "or they're going to try. They'll make it look like an accident, or probably a crime. If they succeed, they will move to kill the two of you as soon as they can." She indicated Jack and Ray.
"I feel left out," Jan Sleet said.
Susan nodded. "They're not decided about you yet. You're fairly well known, and you've been the public face of all this, with your appearance on the radio and your writing about Bellona. That cuts both ways for them. You're dangerous to keep alive and talking, but you're very public for them to kill."
She forced herself to look at Vicki. "There hasn't been any mention of you. I think their position is that you don't exist."
"How do you know all this?" Jack asked. "And, more importantly, why are you telling us?"
"I know because this is the plan they laid out for Mike Sheldon. He wouldn't do it, so they moved him aside and put the city under direct federal control. With the mayor out of the way, I'm sure they'll carry through on the plan." She sighed. "I'm here because I think this is wrong. I think what they did to Mike was wrong. I think what they're going to do to you is wrong." She smiled sadly. "To make a long story short, I think everybody is wrong."
"What do you think of what we're doing?" Doc asked. "What do you think of u-town?"
Susan laughed. "I haven't been sure you're entirely serious. I mean, one area of one city can't secede from the United States. That's silly. That's what Mike Sheldon thought, and that's what I think, too. It's just adolescent foolishness. Let it play itself out, let people get tired and hungry, and let them get robbed a few times, with no police to call, and it'll all be over. But kill you, and it will get messy and out of control, and for no reason. You'll all become martyrs, here and in other countries."
"Where is Mike Sheldon?" Jan Sleet asked. "Did he send you?"
"I don't know where he is," Susan said. "He called me last night, after the announcement, and said he had to come over and talk. I said it was fine, but then he never showed up. I waited until this morning, thinking maybe he'd stopped off for a few drinks on the way, but he never called and he never came."
"So," Jan Sleet said, flipping open her notebook and laying it on the bar, "why do they call you Doc? You keep saying you're not a doctor, but you've obviously had some medical training."
"I got thrown out of medical school," Doc said, smiling slightly. "Trying to follow in my father's footsteps, I suppose. He raised me, and he's a small-town doctor. Even makes house calls."
"Why were you thrown out of medical school?" she asked.
Doc leaned back. "I was sharing an apartment with a girl who was a grad student in education. She got pregnant. In that state, at that time, an abortion required parental notification if you were under twenty-one. Not even consent, just notification, but she couldn't face that. I told her I'd take her to my father, which was some distance away, but she freaked out and tried to commit suicide." Doc's voice was flat as she told the story, as if she was making an effort to keep the whole thing at arm's length.
"I did the abortion," she said. "It's a simple operation. It went fine, but the next time she went home to visit her folks they pressured her to tell them why she was so moody, and she told them. And that was that." She paused. "The girl ended up committing suicide anyway, so it was obviously more than just her family being really religious."
"Are you sorry? Would you rather be a doctor than doing what you're doing now?"
She shook her head. "Not really. It was more for my dad than anything else, and I didn't have any other ideas of what to do with my life."
"And how did you get from there to here?"
"Ray was going to come here, so I thought I'd tag along and see what was happening." She smiled. "This is the kind of place here you can live pretty cheaply if you don't mind squalor. I had an idea I'd write a book about what had happened to me. Maybe a novel, maybe just the story as it happened."
"So, you and Ray are . . ." Jan Sleet began. She was smiling, since she had been wondering about Doc and Jack Longstreet.
Doc smiled also, well aware of the reason for the reporter's sudden smile. "No," she said, "we're just friends. He was my roommate's boyfriend, the guy who got her pregnant. He's still pretty torn up about the whole thing." She looked up as Jan Sleet started to re-light her pipe. "That part about Ray is off the record, by the way. That's his story, not mine, and he'll tell it to you if he chooses. And, no, I'm not involved with anybody right now." She laughed. "When I see a bed, the only fantasies I have are about a full night's sleep."
Ray stood at the edge of the roof and looked out over utown as the sky slowly grew dark. It couldn't last, he knew. Nothing could make this work, nothing was going to help. Nothing was going to bring Holly back. And he punished himself every day for her death, by spending as much time as possible with Doc Morse, who had killed her.
Of course, that wasn't fair. Doc hadn't killed her. He had. He–
"Don't do it, Ray," came a voice from behind him. He turned slowly and saw Jan Sleet. She stood a few feet away from him, pipe in her mouth, her hands on her cane in front of her. The wind whipped at her hair and her open trench coat.
He regarded her for a moment.
"And please don't ask, 'don't do what?'" she added more quietly.
He nodded slowly. "Okay. Why should I stop?"
She gestured at a small ledge a few feet away. "Can we sit down? My leg hurts if I stand for too long."
"Of course." He surprised both of them by coming forward and offering her his arm. She took it as they walked, and he helped her sit on the ledge. She was careful to get her trench coat under her so the dust and soot didn't get on her suit. He sat next to her.
"You think," she began, "that this is as good as this is going to get." She drew on her pipe, the tobacco glowing in the dusk. "This project can't actually work, so this moment is all we're going to have. You're wrong, but only if all three of you survive. You and Doc and Jack. That's what's going to make it possible."
He almost spoke, but then he just shook his head.
"I know about Holly," she said. "You've been beating yourself up about that for so long that you've decided you deserve it, but you don't. And you can stop."
Ordinarily, Ray refused to discuss Holly with anybody, even Doc. He felt himself try to stand up and walk away, but her huge brown eyes stayed on his and he couldn't move.
"You don't deserve blame. Nobody does, not for another person's illness. That doesn't mean that what happened didn't have a reason, but there's a big difference between reasons and blame."
"Do you expect me to feel better now?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, I hope you will work to feel better. And I'll help, however I can. And it does take work, I know that. There's . . . a certain amount of insanity in my family, so I've done quite a bit of reading. And the hospital has a very complete library."
He smiled for the first time. "Do you think we're going to have a lot of time for reading in the near future?"
She puffed on her pipe. "I think we're going to have to make time."
The famous novelist stayed at the best hotel in U-town. He was traveling with a girl. She was around fifteen, quite attractive, with long, curly blonde hair.
He was succcessful and she was beautiful, but neither of them seemed particularly happy about being there, or about being together. They shared a room, but not a bed.
On the first day, the famous novelist went out to explore the area, but every place he went he drew a crowd and he couldn't learn very much.
After that, he stayed in the hotel room and the girl went out to gather information for him. Every evening, she returned to the hotel room and reported what she'd seen and learned. After three days of this, they left.
When they got home, the famous novelist wrote the first of several scathing articles about U-town.
Vicki looked thoughtfully at Jan Sleet.
"So," she asked, "is this the boring part of the story?"
Jan Sleet, who had been thinking about something else, looked up. "Excuse me?"
"The part where everything goes smoothly. When you write about all this, are you going to have to figure out how to spice up this part?"
Jan Sleet chuckled. "Maybe I'll write myself a hot romance with Jack Longstreet."
"Well, that isn't exactly what I was thinking of." She paused for a moment. "Do you think this is going to work out? All of this?"
Jan Sleet nodded without hesitation. "Yes, I think it will. If all five of us survive long enough."
"I beg your pardon? Five of who?"
She paused to light another cigarette. "Doc, Ray and Jack," she said slowly. "You and me."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well," she said with some hesitation, "I think each of us provides something the others don't have, and if we're all here, for long enough, we can get this thing into orbit."
"Some people don't like the tourists," Ray said.
He and Vicki were sitting on one of the huge pilings which blocked the bridge. Every few minutes, a car or a cab or a limo came down the bridge, discharged its passengers, made a u-turn and drove away. The visitors would them climb carefully over the barricade, look at Ray and (especially) Vicki, look quickly away again, and then walk off, starting their evening in the new country.
"Usually somebody says the tourists suck," Vicki said, "then somebody else mentions the money they bring in. Usually it just gets left there."
Ray raised an eyebrow, inviting her to continue. Ray had noticed that she didn't usually speak much in larger groups, or if she did it was something brief. When she did talk, though, it was usually very intelligent, so he liked to draw her out when they were alone together.
She shrugged. "The more people who come here, who maybe like it and decide to visit from time to time, the harder it would be to drop a bomb on us. And the more people who decide to stay, making up for the ones who are leaving, they give us a population that more and more is here because they want to be here, rather than because they happened to be here."
She looked around.
There was a roar of engines from the other side of the bridge, accompanied by a strange, eerie wail. Both Ray and Vicki turned, but they weren't going to be able to see anything until the vehicles came over the top of the bridge and started to descend toward them.
"It doesn't sound like trucks or tanks," Ray said, "but get ready to sound the alarm if this is an attack."
Vicki nodded. "No problem. But I have a hunch they're friendly."
The first motorcycles topped the rise and started to come downhill toward them. Row upon row upon row they came, moving slowly in formation.
As the first two motorcycles reached the barrier, one of the riders held up his hand and the riders behind him slowed and stopped.
The first two riders dismounted. The man was tall and blond, the woman was small and dark. The roar of all the engines filled the area, but the man made a gesture with his upraised arm and the riders started to shut off their motors.
The tall man and the small woman walked up to Ray and Vicki as the sound of the engines and the strange howling faded away.
"We're the Jinx," the woman said. "We'd like to see whoever's in charge." Ray started to speak, but she continued, "The two of us, I mean. The rest will wait here."
Vicki nodded. "That's fine. I'm Vicki and this is Ray. I'll move this so you can get your bikes past. Then you can give us a ride to see Doc Morse. She's in charge."
Ray stood up quickly as Vicki squatted by the end of the piling. She stuck her hands under it and slowly stood up, lifting it from the pavement. She shuffled sideways until there was enough room for the two motorcycles to get through.
The man and the woman managed not to stare at this display, but it took a few moments for them to get back on their motorcycles and start them up.
After they were past the barrier, Vicki moved it back into place, and then Ray got on behind the man, and Vicki got on behind the woman. Ray had half expected the motorcycles to sputter and die when they were past the barrier, as the trucks had a week before, but they didn't.
As they rode to the hotel, the strange howling accompanying them through the streets, Ray remembered how he had been admiring Vicki's intelligence. He was wondering why she was willing to admit any part of this motorcycle army. He didn't understand her thinking, but he was pretty sure she knew something he didn't.
Doc regarded the man and woman across the table in the conference room.
"We were on our way here before you declared your independence," the woman said. "But that makes it even more attractive for us. We don't always get along well with the police."
Doc leaned back. "I'm not sure what you're doing here. You don't need permission to live here."
"We realize that, but because we are many in number and strangers here, I thought it best to speak to you first." She nodded. "This will be a good place for us to live. We mind our own business."
Doc leaned forward. "Well, it will be a better place to live if you do more than mind your own business. Better for you, and for everybody else."
The blond man smiled. "You're thinking of how useful we'd be as your police force? Or maybe as your army?"
Doc shook her head. "No, I'm not thinking anything that rational. I'm hoping you'll sit down with us, with all of us, and help us figure out what needs to be done, everything that needs to get done, and then help us figure out how it can all get done. I'm not trying to draft an army, I'm speaking to the two of you as I'd speak to anybody who showed up here and seemed interested. I can go out and say the same things to all of your friends on the bridge." She smiled. "Well, I'd probably ask Jack to do that part. He has a louder voice."
The woman spoke after a moment. "No need to speak to all of them, I'll do that, once a decision is made." She stood up, and the blond man stood also. "We've traveled a long way, and we need a rest. Is there someplace near here where we can camp?"
Doc stood up as well. "There are two parks around here." She gestured. "The big one is over that way . . . Hang on, I'll draw you a map."
She drew them a rough map of the area, and then they left.
Ray shrugged. "I'm not criticizing anything you did or didn't do, but that wasn't really a rousing success."
Doc chuckled. "And I was just thinking how well it had gone." Ray raised an eyebrow. "It looks like she makes decisions for all those people," Doc continued. "If I had that responsibility, I wouldn't rush into making up my mind."
"And," Vicki said, "if she makes a few wrong decisions, maybe they won't let her make the decisions anymore."
Doc nodded. "True."
They were silent for a moment, then Ray said, "You realize that your situation is not all that different from hers."
He expected a joke or a protest, but Doc just nodded. "I know. It's very different. I have to convince everybody of every single thing I think of, but it's similar enough to be scary."
"We hardly ever see you," Jan Sleet said as she sipped her coffee. "Are you keeping busy?"
Doc laughed and sat down. "I have spent the last week meeting with one group or another, or with individuals, or sometimes I'm not sure who I'm meeting with. Jack's been making speeches, and I've been in meetings. Poor Ray shuttles back and forth between us, plus he says he's working on a special project for you here at the hospital." She raised an eyebrow, but Jan Sleet just smiled.
"I called the hotel for my messages," Jan Sleet said. "The radio station called, and they want me on again this weekend. I'd like to sit down sometime today or tomorrow and get a lot more details on how things are right now. It's–"
"Doc!" Pat said as she ran in. "There's this guy outside in a suit. He says he wants to meet with you. He's from France. The government, the French government, they want to talk about diplomatically recognizing us. What should I tell him?"
"Veuillez bien informer l'ambassadeur que nous déssireront avoir l'honneur de le rencontrer, afin de négocier l'établissement de relations diplomatiques," Jan Sleet responded.
Pat stood motionless for a moment, then she said, "Huh?"
Doc turned slowly to Jan Sleet. "Would you like to handle this?"
The tall reporter smiled and adjusted her tie. "With pleasure."
Samuel Little and Alexandra Ross were watching the news. Doc Morse was making a speech, flanked by Ray Stone and Jack Longstreet.
"You're sure you don't want to go?" Sam asked. "Just for a visit? It could be interesting."
Alex didn't respond. Then the camera switched to a long shot, showing the figures on either side of the trio on the stage. One was very tall, the other was very short. The camera panned across their faces.
"Hey, look," Sam said, pointing. "Isn't that–"
"Shit!" Alexandra yelled. "Shut up," she added, though he had already stopped speaking. She leaned forward, peering at the screen. Sam looked also, wondering what the fuss was about. It was obviously Jan Sleet standing next to Jack Longstreet, but that was no news. She had been on the radio several times, talking about what was going on in u-town. Why–
"I've got to make a phone call," she said, standing up and moving toward the bedroom.
"I don't think the phones work," Sam said dubiously.
"What? Oh, I'm not calling utown, I'm calling Italy. I'll reverse the charges."
"You don't have to–" he began, but he was cut off by the slam of the bedroom door.
"You never ask me about Bellona," Jan Sleet said. "I keep expecting you to."
Doc paused before replying. "I'm often tempted to, but I decided not to. I'd start thinking that we should solve our problems the way they solved theirs, follow their example, and I think that would be a big mistake. The situations are so different.
"They've suffered so much, much more than we ever have. And yet they seem so much more . . . liberated. So much happier. Probably those two things are connected. Or maybe I'm looking too much at just us, the five of us. We're so anhedonic that we've done something amazing and wonderful, and we're not even excited about it." She took another toke and handed the joint to her friend. "Or maybe it's just that none of us is getting laid. It could be that simple."
She looked at Jan Sleet. "How about you?"
Jan Sleet smiled, smoke curling around her narrow face. "If that's a proposition, it seems a little abrupt."
Doc shook her head. "No, I'm asking about you and your assistant. He's quite handsome, and he seems devoted, in a rather grumpy way. You two an item?"
"No, we're not. Not in that way."
"You ever suggested it? Or has he?"
"No, neither of us ever has."
"Why not?" She waved the joint she was smoking. "I'm totally shameless. So, why not?"
"You'd have to ask him why he hasn't suggested it. I think he has the idea that I'm dangerously insane. And I believe he prefers his women a bit more buxom. Until recently, he was carrying on shamelessly with a red-head from a motorcycle gang." She sketched an hourglass figure with her hands.
"We had to leave. To come here."
Doc laughed. "You dragged him away to break it off?"
Jan Sleet smiled. "No. Not this time, anyway."
"And what about you?"
"I've thought of it. But the problem is that, in romantic relationships, the ideal is usually equality, or as close to it as you can get. But I can't work that way. I need to go where I want, when I want, without anybody else having any say in the decision. Even Marshall. I listen to his advice, though I don't usually follow it. But I need to make the decisions, and sometimes fairly quickly. That's not the way I'd ever want to run a relationship. The only time you have the right to expect that kind of inequality is if you're paying somebody. So, I pay him.
"I don't always know why I have to go somewhere, but I know when I have to, and I can't always explain why, especially in advance." She smiled. "You start sleeping with someone, suddenly they start thinking they have rights."
Doc nodded. "True, I'm afraid. So, why aren't we enjoying this more?"
"The problem is that you're looking for a uniform response from five very different people. And, in the absence of that uniform response, you're looking for a single reason. Neither expectation is really reasonable.
"It's mostly you and Ray who aren't enjoying it, though to different extents and for different reasons. Jack seems to be having a great time, and I'm fairly happy. This is a pretty incredible thing to be a part of. As for Vicki, I'm not really sure. She's hard to read, I admit. All she's said to me is that it's better than being with her family, which I gather isn't saying much, and that it's better to be strong than to be weak."
"I'm afraid to ask this, but what do you think of her? I mean, not her personality–"
"I know what you mean. I think this:
"And radios didn't work either," Doc added.
"Exactly. And I think this is not accidental. I think someone or something is helping us. We're not being handed anything on a silver platter. But we're being given a possibility. It's up to us what we do with it.
"And, in case you're wondering, I don't believe in god. I'm a good Italian girl, but I'm afraid my father is a bit of a free thinker, so I wasn't raised Catholic. Thank god."
"Without God, what you're describing sounds impossible."
Jan Sleet nodded, puffing happily on her pipe. "It does, doesn't it? So does Vicki. So does what happened on the Founding Day. Those impossible things we have to believe in, because we saw them. Is it such a problem to believe in a couple more?"
Doc squinted, the joint dangling forgotten between her fingers. "How much are you not telling me?"
"Quite a bit, to be honest. I am guided, in this and every decision, by my best estimate of what will most help this whole project succeed. For which I would give anything I possess."
Doc laughed. "Marshall's right, you have lost your journalistic objectivity."
Jan Sleet laughed as well. "Can't lose what you never had. I've never been objective, and I've never pretended to be. That's not what I do. I try to be honest, including about my biases. That's the best I can offer.
"Looking at Bellona, you see the excitement, the exhilaration, the possibilities, you don't see the hard work. Here, you see a lot more of the hard work, because you're doing it."
"Well, that's very logical, I'm afraid. So, what are you not telling me?"
"Things you shouldn't know. And if I did tell you, you'd only think I was crazy."
"Like that guy who sits in Duffy's all the time, talking to his invisible friend?"
"Yes," she said, smiling. "Very much like that."
Doc yawned. "I'm off to bed, party animal that I am." She stood up. Then she turned, smiling. "Jan, are you going to stay?"
The tall reporter looked surprised as she got unsteadily to her feet. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Are you going to stay in U-town?"
"Of course I am. I thought you knew that. I'm here until they drag me away. Why?"
"Well, I thought that was the case, but if that's true, then that means the things you said before, about why you can't get involved with Marshall, because you have to be able to move around when you need to, that doesn't seem to apply any more, does it?" She smiled. "Good night."
As she wandered thoughtfully back to her room, Jan Sleet ran into Vicki.
"I have to ask you," Jan Sleet said, looking around to see if anybody was listening. "Do you remember, or don't you?" she whispered urgently.
Vicki noticed that Jan Sleet's customary cigarette smell was somewhat different than usual, and she smiled. "I was wondering how long it would take you to ask. Of course I do."
"You remember . . . T.C. and Pete and–"
"And starling, and the death of Jenny Owens, and the funeral, and everything. Yes."
The tall woman whacked her on the arm. "Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded, laughing.
Vicki grinned back. "I wanted to see how long it would take you to ask." She laughed and threw her arms around her friend. "I'm sorry, I couldn't resist fucking with you a little."
Jan Sleet reached way down to hug the small figure as best as she could. "It's okay," she said. "I should have been able to ask without having to get stoned with Doc to get up my nerve."
"Does Marshall remember?" Vicki asked, stepping back a little.
Jan Sleet shook her head, grinning. "No, he doesn't. I don't think he could handle it anyway." She grinned even wider. "Speaking of Marshall, you know, that Doc is pretty smart . . ." she began, as they walked down the hall together.