larry and tania were almost back to the office. larry dropped the two-seater down one level and as he did a larger vehicle that had been just ahead of them ejected something and it splattered on larry and tania's windshield, almost completely covering it.
"what did we do to deserve this?" asked larry. "what is that - a lemon pie?"
"no, i think it's a lettuce sandwich with extra mayonnaise:"
larry looked out the back window. there was nothing behind him so he slowed down.
"where are we? i'm going to have to land."
"no, don't do that. just turn around and go back in reverse - we're close enough. and it will still be quicker than landing."
"yes, but then people will laugh at us." larry dropped the small craft, looking down through the floor for a roof to land on.
"oh, we can't have that."
"where are we, anyway?"
tania looked at some coordinates on the dashboard. "darwin country, i think."
"erasmus or charles?"
"i don't know?"
the two-seater landed on a roof with a slight thump. they got out. it was dark. the roof looked empty. tania stared into the shadows.
"was it a lemon pie or lettuce with extra mayo?"
"neither, boss," came a voice from the dark edge of the roof.
a tow-headed ragamuffin emerged from the shadows, accompanied by two small clumsy-looking robots.
"that's no sandwich, boss, that's the concentrated essence of the foul and false dogmas of the erasmists - we sent those suckers packing just now."
the ragamuffin came closer and they saw it was female, and wearing a ragged blue jumpsuit with a decal "charles rules" on the breast pocket. one of the robots looked hotwired and the other was obviously homemade.
the decal and the reference to the "erasmists" made it clear that they were in darwin country, where a fierce rivalry between two factions prevented the darwinists from being the largest religion in the universe certified as redeemable. the leaders of the darwin party had successfully argued that they were not a political party, and thus had escaped the fate of such organizations. but the implicit admission that it was a religion had caused a violent schism, with the followers of erasmus accepting the designation of "religion", and the followers of charles attempting to downplay or dismiss it.
neither tania nor larry had any interest in these wranglings, but knew that both sides were reputed troublemakers and disturbers of the peace.
larry had been looking in the two seater for something to clean the windshield with.
now he came over to the little ragamuffin, who was trying to stare tania down.
"hey kid, you got a rag or something that we can clean up with here? if you do, we will just be on our way - we will forget we ever saw you."
"what!" tania was shocked. "what are you talking about? we have to report everything - we have to get their names and numbers, and what they are doing at this time of night - of the morning."
"we don't have time for that. they are just darwinists, doing what they do. don't they even have their own police assigned?"
tania ignored him and pulled out her pad. "name and number - yours and theirs," she addressed the small girl.
"olivia. olivia twist," the girl answered. "number 2H-870ht-74963j-549dw34."
"2H?" tania raised her eyebrows.
"that's right." she kept up her stare.
"what about them? can they talk?"
"when i'm not talking for them. this is fagin," she jerked her head toward the slightly taller of the two, an old gray model that wobbled on its old round feet. his number is 1R-8865-9hgrek- 539yrk."
"that's a pretty old number," said tania. "is he hotwired? he sure looks it"
"take him in and check him out - if you can."
"if we can? you have some mouth on you, little 2H."
the girl pointed to the smaller robot, an almost faceless brute. "this is bill. he doesn't have a number. i made him myself."
"i suppose you have a permit to make robots."
this was too much for larry. he stepped in front of tania. "what is this maybe? i was ready to give you a break but now i'm glad i didn't. we are the police, after all. so what's maybe?"
"maybe is maybe we don't care so much for the police down here," the girl answered.
"what!!" tania was so shocked she almost fainted. larry took a step back.
suddenly dark forms rushed at them from the four corners of the rooftop. larry was knocked on his face at the feet of little olivia. the last thing he remembered was the picture on her left boot, which showed the emperor tilgath-pileser iv of assyria playing chess with king nebuchadnezzar ix of babylon on the great wall of china. charles aznavour and bobby darin, in white dinner jackets, were crooning a tune behind them. they were backed by lavrenty beria playing bongos, yagoda the dwarf shaking castanets, and harold macmillan thumping a bass. lassie sat at the feet of tilgath-pileser, the little rca dog at the feet of nebuchadnezzar.
a message flashed across jeanne d'arc's screen:
we have detective kelly, 80H-49y52-4086fs-39672p -(signed) siblinghood 78
but she didn't see it. she had fallen asleep at her desk, with her face in the open laura poll file.
larry woke up. his head hurt. it was starting to get light. the rooftop was deserted. he saw at a glance that the two-seater had been smashed up and probably wouldn't fly. the windshield had been cleaned off.
in her dream, jeanne d'arc was walking with laura poll up a steep dirt trail in a thick woods. they reached the top of the rise and looked down at a clearing where mr alfred russel wallace was wringing his hands impatiently as a soldier in the uniform of king frederick william ii's royal guard, and with the head of a basset hound, was reading aloud from a thick green book. two other members of the guard, with the heads of a warthog and a flamingo, stood at rigid attention behind their fellow.
as jeanne and laura descended the hill and came around a corner they saw sally, bessie, ida and charlotte corday sitting on a hollow log from which streamed endless thousands of ants and beetles of every color.
ida looked up as jeanne and laura approached. she pointed at jeanne,
"i know you. you used to sell chili dogs outside sportsmans park in st louis."
"chili dogs?" jeanne answered. "it was cracker jack."