I mingled and chatted, trying to listen more than I spoke, which doesn't come all that naturally. Seemed to a mingling of faiths. even a few sort-of Deist agnostics, all of 'em convinced Mr. Welles' take on being a Glover confirmed their own beliefs. For all I know, they're right; I was interested that he kept it low-key and didn't look to be setting up his own ElRonnange. Drifted back to where he and his were holding court. The blonde was checking his pulse in a professional manner and Vill was looking bored.
"Hey, Villem Braun, right?" I asked, "I think we've got an acquaintance in common."
He perked up a bit. I mentioned T and he momentarily looked annoyed, then decided to brazen it out, "The young lady and I have met, yess."
For some reason, this earned both of us a short, poisonous look from the blonde. Done with Welles -- he was already listening to another eager acolyte -- she turned, shifted closer to Vill and asked a bit too sweetly, "Who's your new friend, Villy?"
"Um. You are?" Still trying to figure out just what I might be up to, he looked beseechingly at me, a cue not even I could miss.
I smiled and stepped up, "Bobbi--" uh-oh, I need an alias, "Bobbi Feynman." Oh, yeah, that'll fly.
She blinked but accepted it. Edgers. Probably thinks I changed it to honor a personal hero or something.
"I'm Irene. George is my brother, my older brother; and I'm his nurse, too. Though some days my Vill takes more looking after." She patted his arm. He essayed something of a smile.
Oh. Like that, is it? Still, she seemed harmless enough. Maybe a bit cloying but you'd think a career bureaucrat'd like that, wouldn't you?
I smiled back and said something inconsequential about men needing looked after -- truth to tell, if they can't take care of themselves, I don't want 'em around -- and she asked after my travels. I passed myself off as a Starship Company tech deadheading back to The Homeworld, a turn of phrase common among USSF and ex-Space Forcers; it's a common practice with outfits flying more and smaller ships and covered my late appearance, since I would have been staying in crew accommodations. (In fact, the Starship Company doesn't allow deadheading; you sign the Articles and you work, or you don't fly. Highhanded? Probably. The overhead on a really big starship, even the two fastest cargo haulers this side of the Far Edge, is staggering. Me, I'd rather have something to do than get a free ride anyhow). Eventually, the conversation wound down and I made my escape.
Sure enough, not five minutes later, Vill found me on the far side of the decorative (fake) rockpile that conceals the park's public facilities. He greeted me with, "That woman!" Not much of a hiya.
I gave him a quizzical look.
"She thinks herself my Mother! But you-- You work for the police?"
"Hey!' I glanced around. I'm subtle like that. "Not so loud. It's Security and I'm just helping out. Also, what's-her-name--"
"Yeah. She sounds more like your wife."
He shuddered. "I'm single, thank you," and gave me the checking for rings once-over (nice try, pal, but I don't wear jewelry; there are enough nine-fingered 'Drive techs already. And my eyes are up here). "But why are you here?"
Geesh, man gets arrested, spends the night in jail, or the last half of it, and simultaneously bein' henpecked and hunting comes first? Bureaucrats! But I smiled, he's no worse than most, give anyone a pack of troubles and they are most likely to worry about the one immediately at hand.
"Mike wanted someone to get a look at your Mister Welles in his natural element and as you so wisely observe, I don't look like Security. 'Cos I'm not."
"George--? You people do not think he...?"
"I don't think anything. I'm out of idea and I've been reminded this isn't what I get paid to think about anyhow. Aren't you gonna be missed?"
It startled him. "Only by her. Mr. Welles is -- You do understand, he is the most gentle of men -- he doesn't keep track of me; it's my job to keep track of him. Appointments, travel arrangements, ansible interviews. He's a good man, you know, a very good man."
"So I'm told. But," I spoke more quietly, "not actually why you're here, hey?"
I hope I have a chance to play cards against him (I do okay at euchre); you could see the wheels spin. "I told your boss. You already know...?"
"I know enough. What'd they do, bump off his original guy?"
He looked offended. "Please. He fell ill. Coincidence. And my government took advantage of it, no more. They offered my services in his stead, a convenient coincidence."
Methinks he protestesth overmuch but, "Whatever, okay. 'Government' of Lyndon. Shouldn't you be better at this?"
I'm so diplomatic. He got a little bit purple, started to speak, thought better of it and started over, "No real thanks to you people! We do have a government, you know, and I. Am. Not. A. Spy." He hissed out that last. Better than shouting; I'd already noticed a few glances our way, despite the almost-crowded anonymity. Still, they had to recognize Vill, confidant of the Mr.Welles. One face looked familiar, but the figure turned away before I got a good look.
"Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to--"
He was ticked. "There has been quite enough not-meaning-to already. Katrina is still dead and all you, you people can do is further harass me? Tell your Mister Mathis I am- - Tell him whatever you wish! Where can I run? What does he think I might do? Good Day!" He turned and stomped off, or as well as anyone can manage in 75% g. It's a little bouncy.
Yeah, that went well. Or not. I felt someone staring, or caught it out of the corner of my eye, anyway, and turned in time to find motherly (smotherly!) Irene looking daggers. She faded back into the crowd again and I decided it was time to get out of the park.
*On the other hand, in most cases the people who stayed on those worlds have made them into nice places to be, or at least no worse than most places. Which just goes to show, though exactly what I'll leave for you to figure out.
[TO BE CONTINUED]