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'Listen, mister. I don't care if it is ten percent beryllium, it ain't legal tender!'

Peace Spenser, on the day we met, had already had a bad morning. She'd woke up  feeling disconnected and groggy, as usual. The spacious house was chilly, the breakfast her mother left on the counter was cold. The sky was gloomy as she walked to work. Her feet already ached when she arrived at the diner. Business was slow with the holidays. Small mercy.

And now this: Me, blushing a bit, and the Professor, irritated. Two customers who ate pie, drank coffee and tried to pay with an array of novelty coinage.

Poor Peace.

'Professor,' I said, 'what did I tell you about money? Is this going to happen every time we land?'

'The matter seldom arose before,' he said. 'Stay here, Ace. I'll be back.'

'You'd better!'

I smiled at the waitress. 'I'm sorry. He's absentminded, is all. Your name is Peace? That's brill! I'm Ace, and that was the Professor. I used to be a waitress, too, so I know how this looks. Don't worry, he'll be back with the right money. If he doesn't, I'll thump him.'

Peace smiled back. She was about eighteen, I guess. Sort of skinny, pale and blond-haired. Pretty, in a weary way.

'Sure, then. You can do it out back. I'll loan you a baseball bat,' she said.

She grinned then, and her eyes twinkled, and I saw that under the exhaustion she was actually quite beautiful. We laughed. I looked around – the diner was empty.

'Will you get in trouble if you sit down?' I asked, and she said no, Shirley was cool.

'So,' she said, 'are you in town for Thanksgiving? You guys have family here?'

'Oh, it's Thanksgiving! That's why you have turkeys and puritans everywhere!', I said, 'And I don't have a family. It's just the Professor and me.'

'Oh... you're his student?' 

Which is the diplomatic way of asking why a sixteen year old girl is travelling with an older man. People never seem to ask the Professor why he travels with a young girl. They just accept it and move on. Me, I get the third degree. At least Peace wasn't leering.

'Yeah, sort of, I guess, but not really. The Professor got me out of a tight spot. I'm his assistant, like. I watch his back. He's not funny or anything, if that's what you're asking. He's my best friend.' 

She sipped coffee. 'Those coins were cool. What are they, tokens or something?'

Don't tell people about travelling, the Professor said. But Peace was nice.

'Would you believe me if I said they're from outer space?' I said, expecting another laugh. 

'Of course not, silly. The Galactic Brotherhood banned all commerce eons ago. As the Immeasurable One has said, "All possessions and wealth are chains to the soul." The Space Brothers would deal harshly with an outbreak of forbidden Capitalism.'

What's that they say in screenplays? 


'Anyway, it's nice to sit down. My feet are killing me. Pass me the sugar, will you?'

As with all worthwhile endeavours, the foundation of the Social Empire of Galactic Brotherhood came at a painful cost. The galaxy at this time was troubled and unenlightened, and messages of peace and war were sent between the star planets.

On Mechavolcanus meetings were held between the Airless Brains and the Faction of Robot Hands, an unprecedented congress, wherein acceptance of the Terms of Wisdom paved the way for planetary unification. Thus, Mechavolcanus joined the Empire.

On Silinam Delta the ageless prophets of the Third Recursion were consulted, and the Unhinged Ultra confirmed their visions. All who resisted the Social Empire were doomed to soul extinction. Thus, Silinam Delta joined the Empire.

The dark ships of Zillotti Colony V resisted all attempts at peace until it became clear to the Ascended Commanders that total destruction was their only hope for spiritual awakening. And so, after the regretful termination of negotiations, the Space Brother fleet performed the Rite of Final Unction upon the heretics. Thus, Zillotti Colony V joined the Empire.

from, 'The Foundation of the Social Empire and What it Means to You!' (Illuminated Science Studies, Vol. 42. Published in 1963 by IDBSB Science Press, Mount Shasta City, CA)

It's an easy hike from Bunny Flat to Horse Camp; not climbing at all. But it's necessary if you want to avoid the accumulated centuries of scree and catch the route up Avalanche Gulch. That's where it starts, when you leave the gullies and trees and finally see the looming reality of the mountain above. I sit on a boulder for a moment, affixing my crampons. My helmet muffles the wind but, not for the last time, I hear it call my name.


'Ace! Pay attention!'

'Sorry, Professor. I thought I heard something.'

It was later in the day. We'd rented two rooms (after, naturally, initial naive assumptions on the Professor’s part) at the Shasta Motor Inn. The Professor paid cash, drawing bills from the huge roll of American twenties he'd used to buy breakfast. Now we were just walking around. The Professor was looking at people and buildings. I was distracted by the mountain.

'Good. Use your ears. Use your eyes, your nose, your skin. Let's see how observant you are.' He peered sideways at me. I was getting to know that look. It meant he was testing me. 'Pretend you are Sherlock Holmes,' he said, 'and tell me about Shasta.'

'Doctor... I hate this,' I said, 'You'll make me feel stupid.'

'Come on, Ace. We lead dangerous lives. We have to keep our wits about us. Remember Kane? Remember Sailor Jack and the brakeman on the Overland? Remember -'

'Okay, okay. Sorry, Professor.' I adjusted my backpack, taking care not to jostle the Nitro-9 I officially didn't have. 

'All right. It's 1978. The day before Thanksgiving.'

'Oh, really?' He seemed pleased. 'That explains the turkeys and puritans.'


'Sorry, Ace. Please continue.'

'We're in Shasta, California. Weather is nice. Not many people out. Don't Americans go on holiday at Thanksgiving? That could explain why it's so quiet.'

'Enough with the facts. Think! What have we seen? Look around! What do you see?'

'Um, we've seen the three weirdos? They were right off, like they were all tripping on something. Or maybe Americans on a bus tour.'

'Good,' the Professor murmured, 'What else?'

My spider-sense tingled. I knew there had to be a reason the he'd brought us here.

'Got it! When that one talked to you he was speaking English... but when the other told to him lay off it was that TARDIS translation thingie. We heard English, but it wasn't!'

He stopped strolling and smiled at me. He beeped my nose. 'There, not stupid at all, are you, Ace? Now, tell me about your waitress friend again.'

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