the deep slurping sounds of the monster came closer and closer.
it was still totally dark.
rick grady couldn't see the monster and didn't know if it could see him.
he gripped his blaster in his right hand and the sword he had taken from the dead coravian in his left.
marlena's soft luscious body pressed tighter into his back.
her fingers gripped his upper arms. could he take a chance and whisper to her that he needed his arms free for his weapons?
could the monster hear the slightest sound?
but there was something strangely soothing about her grip. and the pressure of her full bosom on his back.
slurp, slurp, sluuuurrp. louder now.
had the monster turned the corner of the corridor?
the ash from al johnson's old gold fell on to the page. he picked the page up and dropped the ashes into the overflowing wastebasket beside his desk.
donna opened the office door.
"fred flynn is here, al."
"fred flynn. he says you told him he could by any time."
"oh, yeah, sure. let him in."
fred had already followed donna into al's office. there was hardly room in it for three people. donna squeezed back past fred and closed the door behind her.
fred sat down in the one chair in front of al's desk. he had a couple of manila envelopes in his hand and he placed them on top of the desk.
"you keep telling me to come by."
"that i did, fred. great to see you!" al straightened the pages of pirates of the green tide and pushed the manuscript to the side of his desk. "you look great."
al looked at fred a little closer. "well - a little pale maybe. you should get out more."
"that's why i'm here."
"right. but i mean on a regular basis."
"there's a bar right in the hotel. not much need to go out."
"ha ha, right. listen, it's close enough to lunch time we might as well get out of here."
fred pointed to the two envelopes he had put on the desk.
al looked at them. "oh yeah. you brought me something?"
fred picked up the thicker of the two envelopes. "this is a new space dog simms story. probably good for a three parter. or two, if you want to cut some of it."
"great, great. i knew you'd come through."
"and this - " fred hesitated, after picking up the thinner envelope. "this is something you might not want. something i might work up into a full length novel. like i say, it might not be up your alley, but i thought i'd give you first look at it - "
al didn't pick up either envelope. "sure, sure. i appreciate it. i'll look at them when we get back."
"what was that you were just looking at?"
"oh, just something from this guy in ypsilanti michigan i was telling you about - actually i think he's just a kid - i use the e r goldsworthy name for most of his stuff. the kid knows what i want but he's just an earner - he's not an artist like you, fred. ha ha! "
al stood up. "come on, let's go. i'll take to you to bernard's, he's got a pastrami sandwich your mother could only dream about . it'll put some color in your cheeks. then we'll grab a beer somewhere."
zgh-5326 woke up at her scheduled time.
it was 15-day. cornflakes and orange juice for breakfast.
zgh-5326 got up and made her bed, with perfect hospital corners.
she opened the little door in the wall beside the bed and the conflakes and orange juice were there, just as they should be.
she sat on the bed and began slowly consuming them. she liked to eat slowly, so that she would not be finished before the news arrived.
there were still some soggy flakes in her bowl and a third of the juice in her glass when the big screen on the wall in front of her flashed on.
it was news time. zgh-5326 was in no hurry.
she finished her cornflakes and put the empty bowl back in the wall. then she took the glass of orange juice and approached the wall.
a soft rubber chair unfolded up from the floor and a tray popped out from the wall beneath the screen. zgh-5326 sat down on the chair and put her orange juice on the tray.
both the tray and the section of the wall beneath the screen were filled with buttons and switches. zgh-5326 pressed a green button marked "go" on the wall and moving pictures appeared on the screen.
a rocket ship appeared in a bluish green sky. it dropped some bombs on a city filled with large round buildings.
white words flashed on the screen.
prime minister tyt-l-7895 of avildia announced today that the avildian army and navy had opened its spring offensive against baraldia.
angry mobs supporting barildian independence gathered outside buckingham palace. queen boadicea ii issued a short statement calling for calm.
prime minister barry-67 issued a shorter statement calling on both sides to return to the conference table.
the white words faded away and were replaced on the screen by red words:
3,567,890,933 citizens are beeping now.
zgh-5326 pressed a blue button on the wall marked "beeps" and the screen was filled with a jumble of blue words:
uhh-457: sammy here. the barildians are subhuman dogs who lost their right to exist long ago! wipe out every mother and child! they have been stinking up the planet for way too long!
lpd-78412 : more lies from the pathetic remnants of the imperialists.
gfe-99006 : it's all lies. anybody who believes any of this garbage should be ground into sausage and shipped to the prisons on pluto.
890-67: read your bible! read the book of daniel! it is all coming to pass!
frg-78 to trt-p-44: that's what they want you to believe, you moron!
ufe-7073: give it up, you pathetic slobs! we are all dead meat already!
gedw-55: queen boadicea should have her head chopped off and her fat flabby carcass dragged through the streets.
at this, zgh-5326 pressed a button on her tray marked "1 to 1" and all the statements except the last one disappeared from the screen.
there was a set of typewriter keys on the tray in front of her, and after taking a sip of her orange juice she began typing on them. a few seconds after she typed them, the words appeared on the screen:
zgh-5326 (anna the avenger) to gedw-55 (hammering hank): hank, you continue to disgust me. it is one thing to disparage the legitimate aspirations of the barildian people who have suffered decades of oppression at the bloody hands of the resurgent imperialists
the words she was typing on the screen began to slow down…
suddenly a message in bright yellow flashed on the screen:
zgh-5326 typed "sorry" then:
you stupid, hank, you stupid dummy. i can't waste my time on you.
then she pressed a white button marked "c" for clear and the words disappeared and the news came back on.
the pluto parrots defeated the hong kong hellcats 6-5 in ten innings in the second game of the new season.
zgh-5326 was not interested. she considered her next move.
zgh-5326 was a loyal member of the "a" team, one of the two main teams in the solar system. there were thousands of teams, and even a few hundred million solitary souls who were not even on a team, but most citizens were either on the "a" team or the "b" team.
each team supported a strict set of positions.
the "a" team supported, among other things:
the barildian rebels against the republic of avildia.
high taxes, especially on churches
more vitamin c in the daily meals, and less salt, and the complete abolition of meat, even on christmas and world peace day
no religious missionaries on interstellar explorations
more courtesy from the robots delivering meals and other necessities and more quiet in the corridors
the abolition of violent sports and games
the "b" team took the opposite side on all these and others, and was especially fervent on resuming universal military training, at least for males.
the next largest, but much smaller "c" team, advocated the return of "love" and "romance" and direct contact between humans.
zgh-5326 finished her orange juice. as she got up to put her glass back in the wall she heard a humming noise in the corridor even though meal time was over. a robot.
some whiner must have put in an "emergency" call for some little thing. couldn't she have any peace and quiet?
though she had of course never seen any of the other inhabitants of her building, she felt they were a bunch of uncultured lowlifes and she really wished she could move some place nicer.
"fred, what the fuck is this?"
"watch your mouth, al!"
"sorry, doris, i didn't hear you come back. fred, let me see if i've got this straight. in the future, people will sit in rooms by themselves and all they will do all day is argue and insult people they never even see?"
"yes, and the stuff they argue about doesn't really mean anything and might not even exist."
al laughed. "that's sick, fred. that's really sick. i mean, how could you even imagine such a thing? why not imagine heroes reaching for the stars, and beautiful dames waiting for their return?"
"um - it came to me in a dream."
"well, it doesn't exactly make for exciting two-fisted reading."
"or pack the wallop of a freight train."
"no. well, i wish you luck, old buddy, but this is not for smashing wonder tales ."
"i didn't think so, i just thought i'd let you see it."