This bit is out of sequence with the rest
Michael Poniatowski marched up the stairs for the playing field to Biochemistry Hall parking lot. He told himself he’d been really lucky to find a cheap apartment this close to campus, but it was still a bit of a hike. A woman he didn’t recognize – he told himself that was still most women at his new school – had parked a van at the low loading dock and was dragging a four-wheeler dolly out of the rear. There couldn’t he thought, be that many women on campus with platinum blond hair and a spectacular figure, especially not women more-or-less his height, but he didn’t recognize her. He should, he thought, introduce himself.
“Ma’am,” he called, “those are heavy. I’ll help you.” He ran toward her truck. Before he reached her, she lifted it one handed, flipped it top over bottom from wheels up to wheels down, and set it on the ground.
Then she turned, a bright smile on her face.
For a moment, Michael felt stark terror. Her hair and eye color were unmistakeable. Assuredly, he had just come face-to-face with the Silver General, albeit not in garb.
“Forgive me, great lady,” he babbled. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to question…”
“Don’t be silly,” she interrupted, her smile widening. “You were being a gentleman. Your offer was not different than offering to hold a door for a girl, or opening an umbrella for a girl if it rains.” Her hand stabbed out, tweaking Michael very gently on the nose. “Being a gentleman is always the right answer. And if it isn’t, you can be sure…she’s the wrong girl for you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he stammered.
“You’re Michael Poniatowski, right? Morgan’s research group?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. The Lafayette group.”
“Good photo of you on the department bulletin board. However, these boxes are a present for her.” She pointed at a dozen large flat-black cubes inside the van. “You’re welcome to help load them. Be gentle…they’re rose bushes. Easier to move them all at once with the cart. And teleporting them sets off too many alarms, me not being a faculty member here.”
“Happy to, ma’am.”
“The name is Astrid, not ma’am. I’m not in garb.” She smiled again. “The roses are TrueBlacks, potted, still in good health.”
“I’ll be very careful with them, ummh, Astrid,” he answered. TrueBlacks? he thought. I’m looking at a city’s ransom here.
“You recognized me…I’m getting absent-minded.” She tapped her hair, which turned raven black, blinked once, her eyes turning to watery blue, and slumped slightly.
She hadn’t done much, Michael thought, but now I hardly recognize her.
“I wasn’t sure there’d be anyone here, this early in the morning,” the Silver General said. “But I am on a very tight schedule, and still need breakfast. Is there someplace decent, near here?”
“That would be Bartleby’s, ma’am, err, Astrid,” Michael managed. “Three blocks south of campus, lots of parking in back. I was going there after I check in with Penelope”
“Penelope?” Her eyebrows rose.
“New senior post-doc, Astrid. Very English. Very conservative. Totally brilliant.” He paused to shift another box. “She was told that the boss had occasional interesting guests, but I’m not sure she believed it. Even after Comet showed up with a box of cookies.”
“The Comet? Flies across galaxies? Had the guts to divorce her parents?” Astrid asked.
“And, her brother talked, didn’t realize what he gave away, blackmailed Speaker Ming and the Wizard of Mars to get them to approve it.”
Astrid laughed. “I saw that. Nothing like having all the high cards. She’s a really nice person, more than a bit lonely at this point, should be encouraged to drop by here regularly to talk.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll try. A bit tricky, she being way too young to date even an undergrad.”
“There are ways,” Astrid said. “I could explain. If the new Dragon Lady does not object – I believe Morgan still uses that title for her senior post-doc – would you care to join me for breakfast? I’ll pay, you being a starving graduate student.”
I was a bit confused at first because the last reference to a Poniatowski was as President in book 3. Different person and world.
There may be an error in the last book. The President is supposed to be Paderewski consistently. After all, in this plane Greater Buffalo is a huge and wealthy city, still with an ample Polish population, so the tendency of upper New Yorkers to elect Presidents is significant.