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page thirteen

Smokey squirmed. 'Into the mountain, Doctor. We have a scale model universe inside, an old teaching tool for the kids.' He looked around, 'Really, it's more impressive than I make it sound, and perfectly safe. One could explore for millions of years and not see it all.'

Jack spoke to the three pilgrims, 'Sorry to say it, fellas, but our boys get the better deal. You pay Luuna's agents on Sto a fortune to wander around Earth for one to three days, then you go back to your nine to five, or whatever you call it. And you can't tell anyone because it's against the law? Too bad. Our boys pay a reasonable boarding fee, get a God's-eye view of the universe, and can blab all they want.'

'And you, Mister Kraft?' asked the black pilgrim, 'Have you seen this universe?'

'A good salesman never samples the product, my friend.'

'A commendable dictum. Tell me then, as our contact on Sto could not, how did this enterprise begin? I understand it commenced with a ground-transport accident?'

Jack whispered to Gladys and they conferred softly. He gave her an encouraging nod and she spoke to us.

'I hardly know what to say. Tell me, you three young men, you are really spacemen from another world? That's marvellous! And my doctor is a spaceman, too! You see, before I met dear Jack, I was in love with the idea that there were many worlds out there, full of wonderful people. I read all the magazine stories, you see, and all the books, everything. Not the sort of thing a young lady should devote all her time to, but I was enthralled. Then Mr. Arnold had his sighting, not far from here, and suddenly life from space wasn't scientifict any more! I'm afraid I drove poor Jack to distraction!'

'I married you anyway, Gladys.'

'It seems like yesterday. We'd been together, oh, five years or so, when the dreams began. At first they were mere glimpses that I struggled to remember. But I began to welcome then, those flights through the universe! Oh, they seemed more real than our life together. I'm sorry, Jack.'

'I told you last night, it's alright. It wasn't your fault. Tell them about the accident.'

'Oh! Well, suddenly one night I found myself driving toward Shasta! I was so startled, and the light was so bright, I immediately pulled off the road. But that young lady was standing there,' she pointed at Peace, 'so I turned the wheel and drove off the other side of the road. I got out of the car, and the bright light came down and, well...I was in a little room with a vacuum cleaner and a man in a robe. It seemed very important to clean, so I did, and the man rushed away and then I saw that girl, you there, and I helped her hide, and your daddy hugged me. Oh, it's so confusing. The next thing I remember was the doctor and nurse bandaging my head and leg. It's 1978. I've been asleep for twenty years, and I'm so old,' she whispered, 'and I think I may have done terrible things.'

'Oh, Gladys!' said the Professor. 'You are the only innocent person at this table. Your only crime is possessing a heart that is open to the wonders of the universe. And that, young lady, is no crime. Jack, I think Gladys may need to rest.'

Jack made Gladys comfortable on a reclining chair dragged from the living room. Sally returned with a tray laden with pies. 

'I'm up next.' She cut portions of pie and passed them as she spoke.  

'My past isn't important. Don't ask. I was on the road, going from nowhere to nowhere, when I saw three bright lights in a triangle, coming up fast. I saw it clearly. The bottom lights were Gladys' headlights, of course. The other, the one above, was flying. It was small, no bigger than your hand, but bright as the noon. Gladys told you about the accident, but she doesn't know what happened next. She got out of the car, walked into the trees and sat. The light dimmed and followed. I watched as it landed, silly as it sounds, on top of her head. Then the light went out. 

'I ran to the truck-stop a few miles up the road and told them there had been an accident, and the lady wasn't moving. They called for help, and I made myself scarce. I didn't want to explain to the police what an eighteen year-old with no identification was doing out there. It took a while, but they found her.

'I went to the hospital the next day. They let me sit with Gladys. That's when I met Jack, there. He was helpless without Gladys, and I had no home, and we liked each other very much. At first, he thought he owed me one, but by the time Gladys awoke, he and I had long since adopted each other.'

Now, this was interesting and all, but taking too long. I was about to speak when a tremulous voice floated from the recliner.

'Excuse me, but what about this Luuna? What happened after I woke up?'

Jack said, 'You asked for a pencil, Gladys, and some paper.'

Sally said, 'When I got back with the doctor you'd already written half the introduction to volume one.'

'And, you refused to be examined until you'd finished. I told Sally, right away, that something was different. That's when she told the truth about the accident.'

'That must have blown your mind, Uncle Jack,' Peace said.

'It still does, kiddo,' said Jack, 'but that was just the beginning. She was in bed for three months, you understand? But she walked out of the hospital that night. Walked! The doctors said it was impossible, but she said damn their eyes and did it.'

'Then what happened?' I asked.

'Well, me and Sally drove her home. You couldn't tell her no.'

'Ain't that the truth,' said Sally.

'It was a while before the mask really came off. I watched her close, after what Sally said. At first, she tried to be sly. She'd answer to 'Gladys', pretend to know her old folks and friends, stuff like that. But some things... she wouldn't compromise. She kicked me out of our room on the first night. Made it very clear it was permanent and suggested, honest to bejeezus, I take up with Sally.'

Peace said dryly, 'People in town...'

'...have over-active imaginations, dear,' said Sally, 'I meant it when I said we adopted each other.'

'Yeah, kid. That just ain't how I saw your momma. I ain't no family man, never wanted to be, but I got nothing but pride when I look at her. You, too. You're so much like her when we met, it about breaks my heart.'

Oh, God. This was turning into a Very Special Edition of Coronation Street. I was glad to see the Professor looked impatient, too.

'What about Luuna?' I asked. 'Yes,' he added, 'when did you find out the truth?'

Jack seemed unable to speak, so Sally told us.

'For about a month after she woke up, she'd had been typing non-stop, only taking breaks to pretend to be Gladys, eat, sleep a couple hours, or demand more paper or, once, a new typewriter. One night, the typing just stopped. It was startling. We ran upstairs to see if she was alright. She was surrounded by stacks of paper, looking very pleased with herself. It was volumes one to thirty-two. Over two and a half million words. I picked one up at random and saw the author credit. I showed Jack. And she sat there, oozing satisfaction. From that day on, she would only answer to Luuna.'

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