Cairo Shah was back where his journey had begun, at Safe Harbor Station, with Olivia and Billy Marshal. But this time he was in the restricted section with a few others. 

“Watch out how you’re handling that tank!” scolded diminutive Cdr. Dr. Susan to a towering telephone warrior. “There’s a living person inside that suspended animation tank, not a catch of sardines!” A squad of telephone warriors was loading the suspended animation sarcophagus containing a sleeping Agnes Gooch onto a freight space-elevator, and Dr. Susan wanted her comatose patient treated with more care. 

Cairo noted that the not-quite two meter tall Dr. Susan was David to the hulking telephone warrior’s ten meter tall Goliath. However, considering what he knew of the fierce doctor, the telephone warrior would probably suffer the same fate as his biblical counterpart if he didn’t come up to Dr. Susan’s standards.

“That’s the last container, Mr. Shah. We’ll be leaving orbit as soon as we secure it aboard ship,” boomed another Goliath named Lt. Nkrumah, who was tipping its giant armored head toward Cairo. Nkrumah was a charming, well-mannered berserker from the Sword of Orion who was serving as Cairo’s liaison until Siddhartha Li arrived in the flesh to assess the situation on Aquarius. During the meantime, Siddhartha had appointed Cairo Shah to be his temporary magistrate. 

“It’s been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Shah,” Nkrumah said, glancing at the gesticulating merwoman who was berating his lance corporal. “Unlike…some…people.”

The squad of telephone warriors finished their work, then the ambulatory battle machines, which could function equally well in space, on land, or under the sea, clamped their metallic bulks to the exterior of the space-elevator and signaled they were ready for lift. As the space-elevator cab and the planet Aquarius rotated about their axes like disengaging gears, the cab gradually ascended and Agnes Gooch began her long journey to a private hospital for afflicted psychics.

In the distance behind the aquaman and the Aquarians, the frost-green spires of Snafu City loomed over its rocky atoll and protected bay. Like an iceberg with nine tenths of its bulk underwater, the city’s frost-green spires reached up toward the sky while the remainder cascaded down beneath the surface of the bay. In the middle of the bay, the Hoosegow floated at anchor while its crew enjoyed shifts of well-earned furlough.

Dr. Susan announced she barely had time to make her appointment at a luxurious spa next to the bay. But before she went, she invited Cairo to have dinner that night with her family. “Dinner will be especially enjoyable,” she said. “Paul is paying.” Cairo started to falter, feeling a bit like an intruder, but Dr. Susan cut him off, saying, “Be there, 1930 hours; dress casual, but nice; no excuses.” Then she was gone.

Billy peeled off, announcing he was in search of an obscure but trending amusement store specializing in imported, classic, virtual reality games recorded on old-school, physical, data crystals; but assured Cairo and his sister that he’d be back for dinner. “Mom says Dad owes her a fancy dinner, so she picked the best restaurant in the city. And feel at home, Mr. Shah. You’re practically family anyway.” Then he was gone.

Cairo turned to Olivia, who had said nothing so far. “I suppose you have somewhere to go too?” Cairo said.

“No, not really,” Olivia replied, casually. “I thought I’d amble through the art galleries. Shop for a trinket for Joshua. Perhaps loiter in a patisserie; you really can’t make delicate bakery aboard a submarine. Then I thought I might swing by city hall to pick you up and make sure you get to dinner on time. You really don’t want Ma to get mad at you.”

Cairo stared into the merwoman’s eyes for a moment, reading her face instead of her mind, to discover her intent. 

Olivia looked concerned, then said, “You look tired, Cairo. You need a vacation.” 

Cairo harrumphed at the irony. “I was headed for a long-awaited vacation before this whole Sea-Devils thing began.” Shah sighed, and his chest fell. “You’re right, Olivia. I am tired.”

“Call me Liv. I don’t mind,” she said, feeling her shoulders want to sway. “And I know the perfect place for you to relax: Camano Island. It’s an isolated, adults-only, resort on a white-sand atoll in the southern hemisphere. I’ve got some rest-and-relaxation time accrued, and was going to vaca­tion there myself.”

“You mean Joshua won’t be with you?” Cairo said, warily.

“No,” Olivia replied, in one quick, decisive word. Then she feigned mild outrage and explained, “That would be totally inappropriate. I did mention Camano Island is adults-only, didn’t I? Those white sands are on a clothing optional beach.” Olivia regarded Cairo with a questioning eye. “That doesn’t shock you, does it? Or are you one of those New Puritan evangelicals?”

Cairo suppressed a grin, enjoying the joust. “No,” he said. “I suppose I lean toward the Church of Man and Machine, if anything. But more or less, I’m an agnostic.” 

“Good,” Olivia said, perking up and grinning a mischievous grin. “We’ll get along just fine.”

— The End —

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