While the government ground ponderously through its motions, Juan Yoshü and Laurinda Brozik were as trapped on Wunderland as their friends. Released, they could not get early passage to We Made It; as yet, few ships plied that route. When a sudden opportunity came by, they grabbed. The others took no offense. Laurinda’s parents were eager to get her home and legally married. Her father had already promised his prospective son-in-law an excellent job, no sinecure but still one that would allow him to pursue his literary interests on the side. You don’t dawdle over such things. However, the situation gave scant notice or time for a sendoff. Preoccupied as they were with the Nordbo business, skipper and mate could merely offer their best wishes. Kamehameha Ryan and Carita Fenger made what arrangements they were able, and the foursome took off for the pair of days available before departure.
Though Gelbstein Park is popular in summer, visitors to that high country are few when winter has fallen over the southern hemisphere of Wunderland. These got romantic near-solitude. A walk amidst the scenery preceded dinner back at the lodge, drinks before the fireplace, and a long goodnight.
“Brrr-hooee!” Ryan hugged himself. Breath smoked from his round brown countenance. “I’m glad I’m not a brass monkey.”
Carita took his arm. The Jinxian’s own skin seemed coal-black against the snowscape, in which Laurinda’s albino complexion showed ghostly. “Keep reminding yourself that not all your ancestors were kanakas,” she suggested.
“Or that it gets pretty cold on top of Mauna Kea too, yeah.” The quartermaster snuggled his chin under the collar of his jacket.
“You could’ve insisted we go to Eden or the Roseninsel or wherever tropical.”
“Naw, I’m okay. Juan opted for here, and this’s his last chance.”
Yoshü seemed indeed lost in his surroundings. Was a poem brewing? Overhead the sky stood huge, cloudless, as deeply blue as the shadows cast by sun A across the snows. Paler were those from B, an elfin tracery mingled with the frost-glitter. A kilometer ahead, the trail ended at a hot springs area. The greens and russets of pools were twice vivid in the whiteness elsewhere; the steam that rose from them was utter purity. Beyond, the Lucknerberg gleamed in its might. The sounds of seething carried this far through the silence, but muffled, as if it were the underground working of the planet that one heard.
“You are so land,” Laurlnda said. “We’ll miss you so much.”
Yoshü shivered, left his reverie, and caught his girl’s gloved hand. They were walking in front of their companions. He glanced back. “Yes, and we’ll worry about you,” he added. “Headed into the… the unknown ”
“You’ll have better things to do,” Ryan laughed.
“And we’ll be fine,” Carita put in.
“Shorthanded,” Yoshü said. They had not found a satisfactory replacement for him. “I can’t help feeling guilty, like a deserter.”
“Juan, boy,” Carita replied, “if you left this lass behind now, even for a month’s jaunt, I’d turn you over my knee and spank you till you took first prize at the next baboon show.” Quite possibly she meant it. Her short, massive frame certainly had the capability.
“I might have gone too ” Laurinda’s words trailed off. No, she would not have done that to her parents. “If we could only stay in touch!”
Ryan shrugged. “Someday they’ll miniaturize hyper-wave equipment to the point where it’ll fit in a spaceship.”
“Why haven’t they already?” she protested. “Or why didn’t it come with the hyperdrive?”
“We can’t expect to understand or assimilate a non-human technology overnight,” Yoshü told her in his soft fashion. “As was, it took skull sweat to adapt what the Outsiders sold your world to our uses. I’m surprised that you, of all people, should ask such a question.”
“A woman needs to spring an occasional surprise,” Carita said.
Laurinda gulped. “But not a stupid remark. I’m sorry. My thinking had gone askew. I am afraid for you two and the Saxtorphs.”
“Nonsense,” Ryan said. “It’ll be aheahe, a breeze, a well-paid junket.” Into reaches that had swallowed a kzinti warcraft. “You don’t get ol‘ Bob haring right off on impulse. If we should meet difficulties we can’t skip straight away from, we’re equipped like an octopus to handle ’em.”
“No weapons.” She had not been concerned with the refitting, but she knew this.
“Oh, he and I saw quietly to our stash of small arms, explosives, and all.”
Yoshü‘s mouth tightened. “What use against the universe?”
“As for that,” Carita stated, “you know full well what we’ve got.” Mainly to Laurinda: “A beefed-up grapnel field system. We can lock onto a fair-sized asteroid and shift its orbit, if we want to spend the fuel. Our new main laser can bore a hole from end to end of it. Our robot prospector-lander can boost at as high as a hundred Earth gees, for a total delta v of a thousand KPS. Plus the stuff we carried before, except for the second boat radars, instruments, teleprobes, you name it. Oh, we’d be no match for a naval vessel, but aside from that, we’re loaded like a verguuz drinker.”
“Now will you joyful honeymooners kindly reel in your faces and start singing and dancing as the drill calls for?” Ryan snorted.
The couple traded a look, which rapidly grew warm. Smiles radiated between them. “Makes me feel downright lecherous,” Carita murmured to Ryan. “How ‘bout you?”
With a rumbling roar, a geyser erupted among the springs. Higher and higher it climbed against the gentle gravity, until the tower of it reached a hundred meters aloft. Light sharded to bows and diamonds in its plume. Thence it flung a fine rain which fell stinging hot, smelling of sulfur and tasting of iron, violence broken loose from rocks far below. Abruptly the humans felt very small.