sally followed charlotte into the white building. neither of them spoke. they got on an elevator and charlotte dialed the136th floor.
the 136th floor was quiet and bright. the corridors were empty. there were no guards or robots in evidence. charlotte motioned to sally to sit on a bench outside a windowless and unmarked door. charlotte went through the door without knocking or unlocking it.
there was a small viewing screen on one arm of the bench. after a few minutes of waiting, sally turned it on.
imelda and doctor varney reached the end of the corridor. doctor varney turned the knob of his office door but it didn't open.
"that's strange," he said. "i didn't think i had locked it." he put his hand in his pocket. "that's even stranger. i seem to have lost my key." he looked down at imelda. "you wouldn't happen to have it, would you, imelda?"
"i , doctor? why would i have your key?"
doctor varney looked into imelda's eyes. "but i think you do have another key, don't you, imelda."
"the key to my heart."
"oh, doctor!" imelda's left hand flew to her face. "i - i might have your key." she reached into her pocket with her right hand.
"it's not there, is it?" doctor varney smiled.
"no." she fumbled in her pocket. "but - but there is something else i don't have."
"a coin - a coin my aunt gave me. i must have dropped it back in the ward."
"that seems rather unlikely. are you afraid of me, imelda?"
"it was a coin to ward off the evil eye. my aunt was a wise woman in the village."
"but you aren't in your village. and there is no evil eye here."
imelda turned and ran back down the corridor to the ward containing the thruway disaster victims. she turned to look back once but doctor varney was not following her. he was standing outside the door, smiling.
doctor gogol looked up at imelda as she entered. doctor benway, on the other side of the room, looked over at her but turned away unconcernedly. there was no sign of the two doctors' earlier altercation.
"did you forget something?" doctor gogol asked politely.
"i think i must have dropped something. a coin."
"oh? can you describe this coin?"
"yes. one side depicts the creation of the sea and the sky by the goddess na, as sir francis drake, ferdinand magellan, lady murasaki and the emperor babar look on and applaud. na banishes snakes to the sea to become submarines and dinosaurs to the sky to become dirigibles.
victor hugo and joseph joubert huddle together in the background.
in the foreground teresa of avila flings herself into the sea.
the other side shows the god baalu attempting to hold up the sky with lighting bolts as the world ends. a dwarf, a nun, two sailors, three ballerinas and the original twelve apostles including judas mock his efforts.
a narwhal emerges from the sea attempting to rescue baalu, but he is replulsed by wallenstein and ferdinand barbarossa, wielding cutlasses." imelda paused, slightly out of breath.
"which side is heads and which side is tails?" doctor gogol asked.
"there is no heads or tails. the coin is the coin,"
"sounds like a lot of superstitious nonsense. where do you think you lost it? "
"i was attending to that group of patients over there."
doctor gogol shrugged. "go ahead and look. just don't upset the patients."
once upon a time - the writing on the little man's bandage still began - there was a beautiful young princess. she lived in a faraway castle at the edge of a faraway sea.
everybody in the kingdom loved her, because she was so good and beautiful, and they hoped that she would become queen some day. the reigning queen, her stepmother, was totally wicked and had been in a deep sleep for many years. one morning the princess went for a walk along the seawall. dark clouds were gathering in the sky. she was accompanied by her two most faithful servants, a troll and a witch.
"if she is so good, why are a troll and a witch her most faithful servants?" asked imelda.
the little man looked at her. "didn't i ask you to get me a pill half an hour ago? i never got it!" he screamed.
doctor gogol looked over. "i told you not to upset the patients." she didn't sound too upset.
"i'm sorry," imelda said. "i think i might dropped it by that window over there. i'll just look there." she walked over to the window. the patients beside it were asleep or dozing. as casually as she could, she opened the window.
it was a cool night. it was only three stories to the grounds below. in a single motion she was out the window and dropped to the ground.
a woman was standing under a tree in the shadows. she stepped forward. it was the goddess na. she put the coin in imelda's hand.
"don't lose it again."
"what about baluu?" imelda asked her.
"don't worry about him. go with them"
a troll and a witch stepped out from behind the tree.
a few drops of rain began to fall. as they did, a dot appeared on the horizon.
"at last," murmured the princess.
the troll and the witch, walking a few paces behind her, exchanged slightly raised eyebrows.
the princess walked along the shore every day hoping for news of her twin brother, prince carlo, who had been on a quest to recover the golden bullfrog, which had been stolen from the royal zoo many years before, by rebels against the kingdom who called themselves nesyites, after their leader, fesyop nesy.
ships routinely came to port, sometimes to trade, more often because they had lost their way. the princess, on seeing them on the horizon, always thought them to be bringing news of prince carlo, but on finding otherwise, was invariably gracious and helpful to those actually arriving.
the princess watched the latest ship approach as the rain fell a little harder. the troll produced a large red umbrella and held it over her. the troll himself and the witch seemed indifferent to the wind and rain.
the ship, by no means the largest the princess had ever seen, came within hailing distance and a boat was lowered and approached the sea wall.
a man in a simple naval uniform but the bearing of a captain stood in the front of the boat. a pair of elegantly dressed and coiffed ladies sat behind him, their heads covered by umbrellas held by a pair of sturdy jack tars. three other seaman and a gorilla propelled the boat with perfectly coordinated strokes of the oars.
"good morning, sir," the princess shouted into the wind. "do you bring news of prince carlo?"