"i think it's so exciting working here in the tower," snuffy told olivia.
at the moment they were the only two humans in the cafeteria. the lights had been turned down and a single robot was on duty behind the counter.
two other robots, including clancy, the duty sergeant, could be seen just outside the cafeteria door, looking out the front door into the night.
"but in some ways, it's so different from what i expected."
"how is that?" asked olivia politely. she took a sip of her coffee.
"well there is just so much detail work. i mean, i know the universe is big and we have a big responsibility, but i would have thought we could delegate more than we do - me and margot, i mean."
olivia thought for a moment. "you should delegate as little as possible. that's the secret. or a secret. "
"yes, that's what margot says."
"i don't suppose you sleep much," olivia said. "you wouldn't be here if you did."
"no." snuffy sipped her coffee.
"i guess that's one reason margot picked me for the job. diana de la rouchefacauld thought she could get the job but she sleeps like a hippopotamus. i think she could fall asleep in the middle of a badminton match."
"so much for her," olivia agreed.
snuffy lowered her voice. "i think the real reason i got the job is that i am totally dependent on margot - she knows i have no other contacts."
"well of course that's why - why do think i have my job or any of the assistants do?"
"yes - that is kind of what i thought. "
"but you wanted to hear someone say it."
"yes, i suppose i did." snuffy hesitated and took another sip of coffee. "you know, of all the things i can't talk about back in the neighborhood this might be number one. if people knew how easy we can get coffee!"
"well, we are supposed to be careful with it," olivia said.
"oh of course - " snuffy was a little flustered.
"but who is? not me."
snuffy smiled gratefully at olivia's response.
olivia continued. "we deserve some consideration for running the universe, don't you think?"
"absolutely." snuffy laughed out loud. the robot behind the counter looked up for a second. snuffy lowered her voice again.
"diana de la rouchefacauld and lorelei de lafayette were both pretty upset when i got the job. and before that we did a lot together - we were such - um - we were -"
"you are in the tower now," olivia laughed. "you can say the word friend."
snuffy flushed a little. "you must think what everybody thinks - that i'm just a silly schoolgirl."
"no," said olivia, looking right at snuffy, " that's not what i think at all. you see, here in the tower you are what you are. maybe yesterday you were a silly schoolgirl. maybe tomorrow you will have to go back to being a schoolgirl.
but right now, as we sit here on in the cafeteria of the tower drinking coffee, you are the assistant director of religious containment for the universe , and that - , " olivia shook her head - "especially the way things are going, is a pretty good thing to be."
"yes, of course. i didn't mean to sound like i was complaining."
"what's this?" olivia looked over at the door. "what's going on out there?"
"pull over," country girl told leslie after they passed the racetrack. "i'll take over from here."
"all right." leslie didn't argue and immediately glided to a stop. "remember, we have to stop at my sib's to drop off the stuff i picked up."
"how could i forget? not a problem."
country girl started to get out of the cab, then opened the little partition to the back of the van. "nothing to worry about, folks, we're just changing drivers." no one answered.
"they are awfully quiet." said leslie.
"we're fine,' came a voice. "no problems or concerns."
"good," country girl answered. she looked at leslie and shrugged, then got out of the van.
annabelle was on her way back to the conference room with her drink when she felt charlotte walking behind her.
"yes?" annabelle forced herself to turn around.
"i'm sorry i was a little abrupt with you. on second thought it might not be a bad idea if you interviewed miss laura.
got it and her out of the way."
"of course." annabelle kept her voice steady.
jeanne heard their voices and came out into the corridor.
"can i make a suggestion?" charlotte smiled at annabelle.
"please do," jeanne answered for her. she glanced back at laura, sitting just inside the door of the waiting room.
"why not just let her go?" asked charlotte. "nobody cares about this stuff any more. she told me she was looking for a job. why not just find her one and forget about her? ha, ha, ha!" she looked at annabelle. "do you know of any jobs she could get?
"the doughnut shop across the street had a sign up last week." said annabelle.
"but i think i saw a new person behind the counter yesterday." she thought for a few seconds. "there is a drinks and sandwich shop near my apartment that is always getting new people - maybe i could ask there."
"the doughnut shop across the street - that would be perfect," said charlotte. "ha,ha,ha!"
"if i can," annabelle answered. "i'll ask."
"get right on it."
"this is all very well, charlotte," said jeanne, "but i think we'll ask her a few questions just for the record. i take it you changed your mind about interviewing her yourself?"
"yes, something else has come up. just let me know what you finally do." she turned and went back to her own office again.
jeanne looked at annabelle. "we will interview her together. get a pad of paper and a recorder."
"and get her a job? was she serious?'
"let's do the interview first let's get it over with."
sergeant clancy held the door to the cafeteria open and jerry entered with an inert human form slung over his shoulder. barras and bates were right behind him. they looked a little embarrassed.
olivia and snuffy and the robot behind the counter watched as they all crossed the cafeteria toward the far corner.
"excuse me for a minute," olivia said to snuffy. "i'll be right back." she got up and followed bates and barras behind jerry.
"is that who i think it is?" she asked bates when jerry let his burden down in a chair behind a corner table.
"if you thought it was captain dave deadman, yes it is."
barras explained his views on hospitality.
olivia listened expressionlessly. "well, if he was your guest..." she looked captain dave over. "hard to believe he's still around. i would have said he was a good candidate for the first shipment ever to jupiter."
"well, you see him before you," bates answered. "maybe someone is protecting him."
"that seems awfully unlikely." warming to her theme, olivia continued. "if he's never been picked up, maybe the whole system needs to be reconsidered."
"all right, you've made your point."
"just joshing, old bean. no need to be so sensitive."
"if you'll excuse us now," said bates, "we have to get upstairs."
"been out for a while?"
"we delegate authority. we just came in to check on things."
"no comment." olivia stood aside to let bates pass.
"when he wakes up," barras told clancy. "just have him sent on his way. do not answer any questions he might have, not even where he is or who he is."
"right sir. should i get him a coffee - when he wakes up?'
"why not? we may as well drain the cup of hospitality to the last drop."
"very good sir."
barras nodded to olivia and he and jerry followed bates out of the cafeteria to the elevators. clancy made sure captain dave was secure in his seat, and returned to the front door.
olivia returned to her seat.
"what was that all about?" snuffy asked.
"nothing much. just a ghost - a very minor ghost - from the distant past."
"maybe we should be getting back upstairs too."
"those two looked like they've been out all night. we can sit here a little longer."
snuffy took another sip of coffee. "have you known mr bates long?"
"i knew him a long time ago. i knew him when he had two arms. now we see each other again, in here. it's a small universe."
"you probably think i'm terribly nosy. but i'm just naturally an inquisitive person."
"that's good. it's what we're here for. we aren't here to mind our own business. we're here to mind everybody else's business."