the duc d'otrante, having himself moved from the outskirts of society to the inner circles of the universe, preferred to surround himself with those of similar background, who had no connection to his rivals and were. he thought, totally dependent on himself. so it was that olivia, on being dismissed for the day by the duc, after long hours of assisting him in his most intricate machinations, made her way to the edge of the slag heaps, where she hung out with her old mates when not on duty.
darkness came early to the narrow lanes and twisting paths of the slag heaps. olivia whistled a happy tune as she made her surefooted way to a low building almost hidden by piles of truck tires. the building had a single narrow door that hung loosely on its hinges and she entered it. the building had a single large room with cots and boxes scattered around it. it seemed to be an abandoned barracks or dormitory or jail.
there was no one else in the room. olivia walked over to a corner where she kept her most precious possession - a small but powerful refrigerator that the duc had given her as a reward after the successful conclusion of a particularly subtle and devious undertaking. "mrs roosevelt couldn't get a colder drink," he had told her when he gave it to her.
now olivia reached in and took out a can of papaya pomegranate and persimmon drink. it was nice and icy. a satisfied smile appeared on her face as her hand closed over it.
she went over to a cot under a dusty window and flopped down on it. olivia had no qualms about using her connections with the powerful to obtain some forbidden fruits and now she reached under the cot where she kept a cache of romance novels and took out "the wind and the rain" by jennifer broughton.
after a while nancy and beth came in. beth went over to her own cot but nancy came over and sat on the end of olivia's. olivia didn't take her face out of the wind and the rain.
"look who's here," nancy said.
"yeah, i'm here."
"so what's up, anything wrong or you just resting up? how's the dodger?"
olivia lowered the book. "he's ok. the first thing that happened today, he heard that big mouth lillian russell was on her way to jupiter so that made his day. the only problem was he didn't send her there himself.
so then he starts to thinking, maybe it's a plot, maybe she's not really going anywhere, it's all a plot against him. you know how he gets. other than that, it was just the same old stuff." she put the book in front of her face again.
"somebody got arrested at work today," nancy said.
"excuse me! i know you and the dodger are up in the topless towers sending three hundred people a day to jupiter, but to us working stiffs it kind of broke the monotony, you know."
"they called it a special arrest. think that means anything?"
"not likely." olivia kept reading the wind and the rain.
"me and beth are going over to level 19. they are having auditions for a new show, want to come with us?"
"no. i'm too tired. i'm just going to lie here and read about adelaide and the pirate."
"that reminds me, it's a long story but a woman at work is going to get me a pro makeup kit. i think she got it at an audition."
"cool. hey listen to this ." olivia started reading from the wind and the rain. "don't you understand richard, i'm a woman - i don't have a head, only a heart. ha, ha!"
"that's funny," nancy agreed. "is there a picture of her with no head?"
"there's no pictures, except the cover."
"i like a book with pictures."
"me too but they are hard to come by."
"you sure you don't want to come with us? we used to have fun."
olivia put the book down and sat up. "i really am tired. the dodger can wear you out, just listening to him."
olivia stood up. "come on, i'll get you a nice cold drink. the coldest in town."
"mrs roosevelt couldn't get a colder drink, right?"
little red and dave sat cooling their heels in a tiny anteroom off hopkins' office.
"this is the worst duty ever, " little red complained. " bring people here, bring them there - what are they going to do, escape? they are 90% to jupiter already."
"it's all for show," dave answered her. "at least we have a little dignity. not like that poor fellow casey, delivering drinks to the prisoners." sometimes little red thought dave was the most easy going robot in the universe. she knew being paired with a new gung ho robot could drive you crazy, but dave, with his complete lack of ambition, could get on her nerves too.
"i'd rather deliver drinks," she told him. "at least it would break the monotony."
"why don't you volunteer?"
she ignored this. "i'd rather be a guard on jupiter. at least somebody might try to escape."
dave shrugged. "they might try to escape here."
"but they never do."
"it doesn't mean they won't."
they lapsed into silence. "this isn't so bad," dave said after a while. "some important people come through. they must not think too badly of us, that they let us guard them."
little red leaned forward and lowered her voice. "you think that's good? did it ever occur to you that we see too much? we might both end up -"
the door opened and hopkins appeared. he looked at little red coldly. "bring prisoner lyndon to me," he told them. he turned so that they could see his monitor through the door. "him."
they both stood up. "and after you deliver him, don't wait in here, take a break, do whatever you want."
little red paled. "who will take him back?" she blurted out.
"that's no concern of yours."
the two guards hurried down the corridors to retrieve larry.
'"he heard us," little red whispered to dave. "he heard us talking! we're headed for the bins now, for sure."
"get a grip. he doesn't care about us, he just doesn't want to take a chance on us hearing him." they reached the holding area and saw larry sitting at the far end listening to lillian russell. "this guy is just more important than we thought, that's all. i've been here longer than you, i've seen this before."
"if you say so."
lillian stopped talking to larry when she saw the two guards. she stood up. "special delivery. you must want me."
the duc d'otrante rubbed his eyes. he put the voluminous papers on the fairweather poker game case back into their folder. "i need a break," he said aloud to himself. "something new. anything but this."
he pushed himself back from his desk, and lowered his board on to the floor. the duc was only half a human, a top half resting on a flat thin board with mechanized wheels. he wheeled himself over to the window.
nancy and beth started out the door. "so long," nancy called to olivia. "don't wait up for us."
"wait," olivia answered.
"i changed my mind. i'll go with you."
"great." nancy and beth looked at each other.