Sobel Wiki

For All Nails #81B: A Visitor from Outer Space, or, The Duke of Annapolis' Beard

by M. G. Alderman and Johnny Pez

New York City, New York, Northern Confederation, CNA
16 May 1974

His Grace Roger, Duke of Annapolis, FN1 was a man in need of a date. And since it was a social rather than a personal date, a woman was definitely called for. He was called on to help represent the Confederation of North America at the coronation of the new King of New Granada, of all things, and a bird was required as an accessory for his image.

Roger searched his mind for some woman who would (a) be socially suitable at such an occasion, (b) not be an impossibly boring companion, and (c) had no designs on either his person or his title. The space pilot, what was her name, Evie Gilmore! He'd talked to her twice, once at the officer's mess at Pax River and once at that state dinner in Burgoyne. Daughter of old Horace who died back in '62. Not so bad looking in a masculine sort of way, not that he had a problem with that. FN2 Certainly able to find the right fork and so forth. And able to draw some unwelcome attention away from her escort -- after all, how many women had been in free fall around the earth -- four so far?

Smiling to himself, Roger began writing a note for his secretary to make the necessary arrangements with that Abramowitz fellow in Burgoyne. As an afterthought, he added a postscript asking where exactly New Granada was.

Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
15 June 1974

With every passing moment, the genteel, blandly pretty smile across Captain the Honorable Evangeline Adrienne Gilmore's discretely made-up face grew increasingly wooden, though an undercurrent of amusement might be glimpsed warming the glacial cerulean of her eyes. She had no intention of giving the gaudily braided Cisplatine colonel at her elbow in the receiving line the pleasure of finding out that she found the festivities a farce that improved with every passing scene. They were all the butt of the joke, and she the sole member of the audience.

She had felt that sensation before, when she looked down at the sapphirine sphere of the earth, threaded with clouds, from the star-lit depths of Outer Space. She and her fellow space pilot had been alone in the capsule, at once cut off from the world they came from and intimately sizing it up. Only five others in the CNA had ever seen what she had seen, and she knew now the reason that everyone around her seemed so filled with folly and pettiness. She had seen everything in one great blue curve beneath the black of oblivion, and knew the measure of the world. The sweep had been grand, but in the end it was a small place, and the people that inhabited it were small and short-sighted.

It had seemed so beautiful beneath her feet, a single shard of emotion she had hoarded to herself when she returned to terra firma. The earth was the most beautiful object she had ever seen, as if the eons of creation had formed it for that one single view, for her own pleasure, yet she knew quite well it was a ship of fools.

She had to admit, her visit to Bogotá was far more amusing, in a twisted sort of way, than she could have ever expected.

Of course, she had accepted the invitation of the Duke of Annapolis, now standing to her left, in the hopes that it might provide some comic relief. The man was queer as a four-pound note, and while he wouldn't be a threat to her, if she played her cards right, she might be able to play fast and loose with his mind without much risk to her own dignity. This was some of the logic behind the cut of the new dress she had ordered -- the latest from Buenos Aires -- before she left New York.

She looked positively regal sheathed in gleaming high-waisted taffeta; ice-blue, her best color. It showed the best attributes of her tall, supple frame while leaving enough to the imagination to leave voyeurs unsatisfied. Unlike the slit-up monstrosities of the Mexicans -- some of which were actually going bare-legged at a public function, shocking -- or that show-off getup La Premiere, she of the spiked hair, was wearing. She was too old for that dress. Ev knew she herself had the figure to pull off something like that, but certainly had no intention of doing so. She gave them a taste, a glance, and nothing more. It drove men insane, at once fascinated and terrified and insecure, and she had no intention of releasing any one of them from that state.

She knew how to play her part, to be the unapproachable-and, from Roger's perspective, safe-ice queen, but add just enough innuendo, whether through an impeccably-raised eyebrow or an odd, piercing, almost fearsome glance, to throw his bent little mind into a tumult.

But the coronation ball was simply too much to ask for. The whole place looked like the set of some W.S. Arthur comic opera, and Colonel Elbittar, his breast swelling beneath a gold-embroidered scarlet plastron, looked like the Almighty on one of the less tasteful days of Creation. It was a combination of a bad copy of the worst of the latest military fashion imposed by the pompous NRP of London on the British army and the usual excesses of the dictators of Brazil and the Andes. Walking just behind the newly-minted monarch, His Most Catholic Majesty King Ferdinand III of New Granada, he was soaking in the glory of the receiving line, pompously dignified, one white-gloved hand grasping the garish yellow and blue sash encircling his trim waist, the other thrust out with ridiculous ceremony to each international guest.

He had the build of a soldier, and the worry-lines in his face were not those of the man who dressed like a Spanish-American stage generalissimo out of choice. There was something entirely too serious in those hard, dark eyes for the sort of charade he was putting on here. A cautionary voice murmured in the back of her mind, What's his game? She ignored it.

And, now, passing on to Ferdie the Bull. For he was old Ferdie, from that visit to Sir Francis Burdett Prep. She still remembered the visit to her uncle, the headmaster. The little spotty-faced cretins had worshipped her like a goddess, and she knew they didn't know why. And she never gave them the satisfaction.

Now, King Ferdinand was impeccably attired in the uniform of a field-marshal of the New Granadan army, probably specially over-decorated for the occasion. He was also (how to put this without sounding crass?) higher than a kite at the moment. FN3 He was far too relaxed, too at ease with himself; Ferdie was one of those sorts who can't imagine that there's another serious soul on earth and it's their job to save the world. Usually, they were rather bad at small talk. Maybe it would be good for him, this once.

She knew the signs. She'd seen sweet -- hardly -- little Cadet Nell Phillips get thoroughly nailed by a cigarillo of the disgusting stuff and act a complete fool at a party back in Marlborough City. One of the weirder strains of those Turnerite perverts cultivated the stuff, God knew how or why.

Ev thought it was disgusting, but at the same time, she didn't mind having fools around her as long as they gave her something to laugh at.

Ferdie and Elbittar were accompanied by an equally ornately uniformed flunky whose job it was to announce to the becannabissed monarch the identity of the stranger whose hand he was shaking. The trio had just reached Ev's place in the line and the flunky had begun to recite, "Vuestra Merced el Duque de Annapolis y--"

"Miss-Captain Gilmore!" Ferdie interrupted. "Top hole! What on earth are you doing here?" The language was English, the accent -- and vocabulary -- unmistakably that of Burdett Prep. Evidently, the sight of her, in combination with his narcotized state of mind, perhaps, had caused him to revert back to his squeaky-clean and highly irritating 14-year-old self.

"I'm here as the guest of His Grace," Ev explained serenely with a slight flick of the eyes towards her companion.

"Absolutely smashing!" His Most Catholic Majesty exclaimed, in a voice somewhere between dreamy and enthusiastic. "It's a shame we can't chat now like old times, but I've got all these terribly important people to meet. See you later!" Ev was a little unsure of whether they had chatted like old times the one time she, as a 17-year-old, had visited the monstrous little monkeys of Burdett Prep, but neither laughed nor decided to correct him. Giving her a farewell wink, Ferdie turned back to the flunky and continued in Spanish, "And who is this next gentleman standing beside Capitan Gilmore?"

After a moment's pause, the flunky -- who had to forcibly shut his mouth -- announced, "Eh--Colonel Roberto Loeb y Señora Loeb..."

The Duke murmured, "Such a lovely young man, don't you agree? My dear Captain, your circle of acquaintances is simply astonishing. I'd no idea you were on such intimate terms with King Ferdinand."

"Neither did I, your Grace, neither did I," she responded, without turning a hair.

Forward to FAN #81C (15 June 1974): Ball and Chain.

Return to For All Nails.