I announced that I wasn't going to post any more chapters from MWFB (I remind you I'm revising it for publication), but I decided to extract this piece from Chapter 38 because it would be possible to reduce what is said here to one or two paragraphs of summation. But I just can't do it because the scene is lively and revelatory not only in advancing the plot but in displaying character, and moreover it has a lot of humor. At the end I'll put a summation. Tell me which one you enjoy reading more. (And if you say, the summation, I probably still won't change it!) Don't worry -- this doesn't spoil any of the essential story. To set the scene, Capt. Robbin Nikalishin (now 30 years old and a genuine hero of Earth) has just taken a jaunt to view the Great Koloredo Canyon in Aridzone. His life-long friend Kolm MaGilligoody (now Robbie's Engineer on the interstellar ship the Darter) has been visiting his home in Eira. The spacefarers meet in the lunch bar at the Herinen Space Port where they are stationed.
Chapter 38 ...
Two days later Robbie was emerging from the lunch bar at the Research Facility when he bumped into Kolm.
“Oh, there ye be!” exclaimed the Eirishman. “Greetin’s, lad!”
“Well, when did you get back? I wasn’t expecting you till at least the end of June!”
“I finished me essential business, and I figured ye must be dyin’ without me company, so I returned. No, actually, I got off the flyer 30 minutes ago. I was famished, so I just dropped off me gear, banged on the door of yer empty room, and then hot-footed it over here to get lunch.”
“I just ate, but I’ll have some coffee and sit with you, if you’ll have me."
Kolm picked up some crusty fried farm catfish, a big bowl of potato and chive soup, a couple of rolls with soy spread, and a slice of blueberry tart, and headed for a table with Robbie trailing after him.
“Holy grief, Kolm, how can you eat all that heavy stuff and stay so fit?”
“Well, I had me breakfast in Lunden and no lunch, so seein’ as how the flight left at 1100h and lasted some eight hours, me stomach says it’s near 2100 and past the hour of dinner. Blame it on the spinnin’ of the planet.”
Amused, Robbie watched his friend wolfing down his meal. “So, how were the Islands and the girls that live in ’em?”
“Green. The Islands, not the girls, although one special lass does have the greenest eyes. But I got somethin’ else to tell ye first. When I first landed at Old Heathero, I went up to Oxkam before I headed to Eira. Actually, I stopped off to see Wilda, too. She sends ye her love. She was a bit miffed, though. ‘Ye mean,’ she said, ‘Capt. Robbie prefers to look at big rocks and holes in the ground over me?’”
“So – how did you excuse me?”
“I told her I was sure yer conscience was bothering ye every minute ye spent in that infernal land, and that ye’d call her up and make yer apologies the very minute ye got back.”
“Well, if you wanted to make me feel guilty, you’re doing it.” In fact Robbie had thought about Wilda early in his trek, but since he had met Fedaylia High Feather, his first love had departed from his mind. And while it had been a relief to escape visiting his mother this go ’round, that shirking of duty had bothered him enough that he hadn’t even called to tell her he would be away from Herinen.
Kolm was observing him reflectively. Then he said, “Wilda’s gone back to work.”
“Really? May is only a year old. She waited until the boys were three.”
“She said with another mouth to feed, money’s tight. Besides, she said, how could she become a legend at Sloe if she isn’t workin’? They had agreed to use temps and hold the job for her and she felt she couldn’t ask ’em to hold it much longer.”
“So what does she do with May?” said Robbie.
“Her Mum and Da have moved to Watferd. Mr. Mull’s retired from the concrete crew now and they thought they’d like to live nearer to their daughter. So Ms. Mull comes over and watches the little ’un home or takes her home with her. Works real well, Wilda says.”
Robbie pondered this glimpse of how families cope; it seemed alien to him.
“So what was I talkin’ about afore I got onto Wilda?” said Kolm, with his mouth full. ”Oh, yeh – I went to see Prf. Flournoi. I don’t think we’ll ever get him back this time, Robbie. He thinks we have enough trained people in the program now and he can make a more valuable contribution teachin’ at Oxkam.”
“He’s probably right.”
“I told him about this creeping-jump fixation of the Board and I showed him Prf. Eiginsh’s new mathematical models and some of the virtual engine designs based on ’em. He seemed a bit bemused by it all. He thinks some of those anomalies in Eiginsh’s formulas are more significant than any of us thought. He even pointed out some flaws that none of us noticed. I don’t think even Lara noticed ’em.”
“Really? I’d like to review that. Lara will want to, too.”
“Yeh, but I don’t want to get Eiginsh in trouble.”
“How can it get him in trouble? If there are problems with his models that would translate into fatal errors in the designs, it would benefit everybody to expose them. This is difficult stuff. Even the best of us can make mistakes.”
“Well, ’course. It’s just that I never knew Karl Eiginsh to make serious mistakes.”
The two spacefarers sat in silent thought for a moment, and then Kolm said, “What’s been goin’ on here, regardin’ the Board and all?”
“Actually, nothing. I could have stayed away longer. Adm. Hurtline’s gone home to the Chemical Capital of the Plains, and Prf. Lara’s in Moska and Yang is in Edmunten and Glencrosse is up in Mitchican and so on and so on. Only Eiginsh is here. I was sort of surprised when he told me he wasn’t going home this year.”
“Huh. Maybe he knows somethin’ is wrong with his formulas and he wants some time to work on ’em without bein’ hassled.”
“So how was the western world?”
“Wonderful. You’ve never seen anything like those mountains, Kolm. And the Big Canyon – goddam, it’s humbling! I finally saw a condor on my last afternoon. And I saw hummingbirds! I even shot some vids of them, although the images aren’t very good. I never can hold the damn cam steady, and I get blurry pictures even with autofocus.”
Kolm was chuckling. “It’s yer mother’s plumbin’ all over again, Robbie.”
“Yeah, I deserve to be laughed at, brother! But, Kolm, I have to tell you this! Right at the end there, I met this girl.”
“Uh, oh. Why am I not surprised? So what’s her name?”
Robbie told Kolm all about Fedaylia. “Honest to god, Goody, she’s the most unusual girl I’ve ever met. She’s tall – maybe a couple of centimeters taller than I am … ”
“I thought ye didn’t care for tall girls.”
“What gave you that idea?”
“Well, I was just jumpin’ to a conclusion … Wilda and Sushmita were both short and I can’t recall ye ever involvin’ yeself with a tall girl.”
“You’ll just have to unjump your conclusion, then, because I felt very involved with this one. She’s amazingly beautiful, in this unusual sort of way. It’s just – the way she moves … the timber of her voice … her hair … Kolm, her perfume … well, I just can’t describe it! And her eyes – she’s got eyes like amber … no, like smoky quartz … no, that just doesn’t do them justice … ”
“Jaysus, it sounds like her arrow hit ye square on.”
“Oh, it did. But I’ll never see her again, probably. We didn’t arrange to stay in touch.”
“Where’s she from?”
“She was born up north of New Washinten, in a precinct called Daymoin. Her parents split when she was about six, she said, and she grew up with her father. But he was a rail inspector and was gone a lot, so she kept getting shuffled around among relatives, on both sides of her family. Must have been hard for her. But she seems to have turned out perfect. Kolm, she’s a Prov-En at Castle Bluff Flight Academy. She’s going to be a Com Officer. Isn’t that strange? I seem to have this thing for Com Officers.”
“Huh. Yeh, a bit.”
“You know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking, maybe I can pull some strings – get her assigned to Herinen after she gets her commission. Maybe I can even get her on the Darter …”
“Now, Robbie, don’t mess up yer professional standards. Pilar is a fine Com Officer – what excuse would ye use to transfer her? And ye don’t really even know this girl. Ye spent, ye say, one day together? Did the two of ye go to bed?”
“No, she refused. Said she didn’t know me well enough yet. That didn’t make me very happy at the time, but I kind of admire her for it – women are always itching to jump in bed with me just because of who I am. But she seemed really pleased to have met me, and she laid a very heavy kiss on me as we were saying good night.”
“Really? Ye say she kissed you?”
“Yes,she initiated it. And … well, it was different from any kiss I’ve ever experienced.” He touched his finger to his lip, which still had a welt on the inside three days later.
“So you think she’s sweet, do ye?”
Robbie laughed. “Sweet? Well, I don’t think I would describe her quite that way. Sushmita was sweet. Fedaylia is more – volcanic … ”
“Volcanic! Holy cry, Robbie, the last thing ye need in yer life right now is a volcano in yer bed! Maybe it’s a good thing she’s not to hand! Give ye a chance to cool down a bit!”
Robbie was laughing more heartily, his eyes crinkling. “Goody, you may be right! I think it’s too late, though. I think Fedaylia High Feather may just be the woman I’ve looked for all my life.”
“Aliluya … I guess.” Kolm was scratching his nose, in a gesture that meant he was concerned. Then he said, “Do ye think ye can simmer down for a minute and listen whilst I say somethin’ about me and Dana?”
“We set the date, Robbie me boy. I convinced Dana we ought to get married and we’re gonna do it. Holy cry, man, don’t drop yer jaw like that – a bug’ll fly in yer mouth. Why should that be so unexpected?”
“Well … well … it isn’t really … So … when … ?”
Now Kolm was laughing. “Ye really should see yeself. But the date is the 20th of August. I knew it had to be during this unexpected extra-long break we’re gettin’, because who knows when they’ll let us go again? But me Mum nearly had a coronary – ‘Mairin, Mairin save us! Only two months to get ready!’ she’s a-wailin’. ‘And meself it is that has to do the work alone, for the bride as well as the groom, seein’s how Dana has no family alive … !’ And me Da’s goin’ on as to how, what did she mean, alone – wasn’t he still part of the family? Did she think he was just gonna sit on his duff the whole time and do nothin’? And me sisters shriekin’ and going berserk … That’s why I said me essential business was finished – I thought I’d best go away and leave the women to work. Honestly, Robbie, be glad ye don’t come from an Eirish family!”
Robbie was laughing again, but he felt a little shaky inside. “So … so … where will you live after … after … ?”
“She’s gonna stay on her farm and I’m gonna stay in SkyPiercer, like I told ye, until we’ve gone to a star and come back. It’s not right for me to jeopardize the program by droppin’ out sudden-like. So don’t be feelin’ bad, Robbie. It’ll all work out fine.”
“I hope so. So – what happens in an Eirish wedding?”
“Well, there’s this kind of old Romish ceremony, see? We have somethin’ called Praysts, ye know. There’s a family of ’em lives over in Wicklo – claim to be descendants of Praysts that were still practicin’ in Eira when the Romishers fell apart in the 24th century and the last Headman over in Roma was assassinated. It’s one of them as must urge along the words of joinin’ … ” Kolm broke off. “Don’t look so mazed, lad. It’s quite a bash, really, and not all pious mouthin’s – you’ll enjoy it! There’ll be a monster feast afterward – apple-raisin cake with sour cream frostin’ and plenty of lamb stew, and the good Eirish stout flowin’.”
“So … so … you want me to be there?”
“Be there! Robbie, ye’re gonna be me Best Man.”
“Best Man! Every groom has a friend who stands up with him at his weddin’ – kind of holds the groom up and keeps him from collapsin’, and makes sure he gets there on time with his shirt buttoned up proper and all – but in this case it may be the groom who’s havin’ to hold his Best Man up!” Kolm was laughing so hard at Robbie’s reactions that he nearly choked on his tart.
“Kolm, I’m not – remnant Romish. I don’t know anything about it.”
“Kolm, I’m not – remnant Romish. I don’t know anything about it.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s the feelin’s that count, man. And what man in the world could I have nearer feelin’s for, Robbie, than you? And it’s flatterin’ meself I am that you would say the same about me.”
SO HERE'S THE SUMMATION (IT'S JUST NOT ME!)
Kolm returned from his vacation only two days after Robbie got back. The Engineer was full of news. He had seen Wilda, who had returned to work even though May was only a year old (the extra mouth to feed made money tight). Kolm had also visited Prf. Flournoi and discussed the problems with Eiginsh's new models. Flournoi pointed out flaws that even Lara had missed and he agreed that the situation regarding the creeping jumps was concerning. After some additional debate, Robbie couldn't resist telling Kolm all about his meeting with Fedaylia High Feather, but then Kolm responded with personal news of his own. He and Dana had set a wedding date and he wanted Robbie to be his Best Man. Robbie was overwhelmed -- he knew nothing about Romisher weddings. But it seemed he was going to get a crash course -- the pair arrived at the MaGilligoody farm on 15 August.
IF YOU THINK THAT'S MORE FUN TO READ THAN THE LONGER PASSAGE, THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU! LOL However, I'm not ruling out some additional surgery -- just not a complete excision.