Now Published — Practical Exercise
“Limited? Nonexistent? Publishable?”Eclipse burst into giggles, paled, and clutched her side. “Sorry. My joints still hurt if I move fast. No, that’s real kind of you, me not having insurance or anything. But you don’t need to. Besides, what could your people do? You can’t even X-ray me; I’m, like, totally opaque to x-rays. It’s not that I haven’t been banged up before. I found a quiet place. Spending a few days lying there, healing, fixed everything serious.”
“Did you have enough food with you? Are you hungry now?” Pickering asked.
“I had water and survival rations. I don’t have to eat, in a pinch, though that trick is really not good for a growing girl. But I hate to impose on you. I came here to apologize, not to mooch another meal,”she explained.
“I am entirely capable of directing unwelcome freeloaders to the door,”responded Pickering. “You, on the other hand, saved my world from great misfortune and are a welcome guest. You are surely welcome in almost any home in these United States, save for a few occupied by judges and congressmen. I fear that my references to hanging corrupt political officials frightened them. Would steak and salad do? I have a cous-cous, a bit hot with curry and ginger, and imam bialdi — eggplant and tomatoes and olive oil.” Her eyes lit up.
“It sounds great! But me? Welcome?”Eclipse was utterly astonished.
“Of course. You’re a hero. If you hadn’t done — what you did — the Star Demons would have killed us all.”
“Your people?” Eclipse wondered. “Yeah, the Tibetan Empire was just setting up its production lines. And force walls and antimatter bombs were a lot more effective against a single target — Comet and me – not that it did them any good — than against flocks of aircraft. So you would’ve won against the Tibetans, I guess, at least if they didn’t summon the Star Demons, but lots of your people would’ve died.”
“We know,” Pickering said. “My whole country knows, now. I said you would be a beloved heroine, welcome in any home in the land, except for the minor detail that we gave you a state funeral.”
“Me? Welcome?” Suddenly she produced a handkerchief from her cloak. Pickering turned his back, making busy with cooking, letting the steak grill until her tears subsided. She continued. “Sorry. It’s so different, having people who like me. It’s not that way at home. Not at all. No matter I saved a lot more people there, from something far worse, than I saved here. They don’t understand, so they all hate me.”
“I understand why you did what you did. And Comet and Aurora said they understood.” Pickering produced a cup of warm milk, slightly flavored with cocoa and cinnamon, from the microwave. “Cloud hoped you had died. His reaction was unforgivable. Unless your world is incomprehensibly different than mine.”