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Volume 3, Part 1d

"Time to go, hero," said the guard.

"Already? Seems like I just got here." And with that, he collected his belongings, and walked out the gates that had held him in for five infinitesimal years.

After a short carriage ride, he found himself outside his mansion. He took a deep breath, walked up the lane, and opened his door. Which he was surprised to find unlocked.

His surprise didn't last long, however, as just in the foyer, he saw an old friend. "Why Charlotte Hawk, I do declare! It's been a spell, hasn't it? But what brings you to this neck of the woods, mon ami?"

She grinned and replied in a casual manner, "Well, you know, I happened to be in town on business, and I read in the paper that you'd be returning from your little vacation today, so I thought I'd stop in and say 'how do?' So, how do?"

"Quite well, actually. Much fun as these little getaways may be, from time to time, it's always nice to get home. Though I must say, it hardly seems like I went that far. It's almost like I never left town at all! Still it's nice to be back. And it's nice to see a friendly face. So, what've you been up to?"

"Officially retired, you know, though I've actually been thinking of turning my old hobby of writing into a bit of a second career. I've got a publisher interested in putting out a few of my books. I swear, I have to laugh sometimes, at the very notion! I never imagined I'd ever get these things published, they were just... well, as I said, a hobby. A lark. Of course, I think this fellow is more interested in getting me to write a tell-all about my time as a profiteer, and more specifically about my associations with various other... wartime entrepreneurs. One in particular. I don't know if I will or not, but I think if I do, he may be somewhat disappointed. The details tend not to be quite as juicy as he might suspect. Still, I don't suppose he actually dislikes the science fiction writings he's been asking after, even if they're more a means to another end. We'll see."

"Goodness! But it does sound like you've kept busy. Well, I've certainly always enjoyed your writing, and I should quite like to see your work in actual published form. At the least, it'd be easier to keep the pages together... Meanwhile, might I offer you a drink?"

She looked down at her hands, which actually were each already holding a glass. She looked up again, grinned, and said, "I do apologize for helping myself, but I got tired of waiting. I expected you to return earlier." She proffered one of the glasses, which Lucien gratefully accepted.

"I see you remembered my favorite drink."

"Well, it's not like you keep a wide selection in stock."

He tipped back his glass, and then sighed in contentment. "It's aged well in my absence. Maybe I should let things keep more often." He finished his drink, and went to sit on the sofa. "Care to join me?"

She did, and finished her own drink. She turned to the table to refill both their glasses, but suddenly stopped, and turned back to face her old friend. "Oh, Lucien! I can't wait any longer! This coy dance of ours has gone on far too long..."

He just grinned. After a few moments, she frowned, and asked, "Can you? Wait, I mean? How can you just... or am I mistaken? Do you feel as I always thought we both did, or don't you?"

His expression turned more serious, but at the same time, somewhat tender. "Oh, I do, believe me."

"So then... God, Lucien, aren't you tired of the waiting?!"

"Yes, I suppose I am. But then, you'd be shocked how good I am at waiting."

"Try me."

"Oh, I haven't made love in... about 42 million years."

She laughed. "Yes, it seems that way for me, as well. So-"

"Seriously." He sighed deeply, and quite wistfully. "If we're to be together, you have to know the truth about me. The whole truth. And like I said... it's shocking. A sexual dry spell... is really nothing, hardly even qualifies as the tip of the iceberg."

"Oh but, Lucien, what ever are you talking about?"

"Charlotte... oh, how to begin? ...As good as you are at both, you're a woman not only of science fiction, or even of business, but first and moremost of science. Which will make what I have to tell you all the more incredible. So I think it's better if I show you." He stood, and offered her his hand. "Please, come with me."

"Where?"

"You'll have to wait and see. I'd rather not say anything until we get there. You trust me?"

"Of course..." She looked up at him questioningly for a few moments, before finally taking his hand and rising.

Releasing her hand, Lucien led the way to a door that hadn't been unlocked in all the time since the mansion had been built. Taking a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door to reveal a simple staircase. From the wall just inside the room they now entered, Lucien took a lantern, lit it, and led her down....

part 1e
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