2.5 Olympe to the Rescue

2.5.1 Olympe Enables Alenby's Escape from Prison

Prison Fernand Point

12 h Monday 23 November 1987

 Alenby arrived at Prison Fernand Point on the stroke of noon, prepared as usual on Mondays to act as Cunronsky's chauffeur on another tour of the Hexagon. But on this occasion the warden, instead of leading him directly into the presence of the Commissair, presented him with a message saying that the scheduled tour of the Hexagon for that day had been cancelled in favor of a special luncheon  to be served at 13h in the prison's main dining room, following aperitifs in the bar from 12h. The message went on to express the hope that His Excellency Baron Alenby Faintwether Hoggett IV would overlook tardiness of this announcement and agree to be present etc. etc. etc. [signed] Edmund Maurice Sailland.

This was the sort of communication that, in Alenby's experience, promised a feast of a scale and splendor that had delighted gourmets  from the time of Lucullus to the glory days of La Belle France. In one stroke, it swept out of his mind the modest pleasures of his daily fare. Green salads and bean 'n' veggie casseroles satisfied the inner person, but paled in comparison with the indulgences of his feverish imagining: Scottish salmon, magret de canard en sel...

In prospect of the coming feast, Alenby at once bade the orderly open the massive door leading into the prison proper; and after pausing  to sign what he took to be a visitor's record, he strode through to greet his host, who stood waiting for him on the other side.

"Greetings, greetings, sho happy to shee you Baron my good shap!" cried Curnonski. "You are in good time for an aperitif. The bar has concocted a speshial tipple for the occasion--a kir, a lesser Lafaillette enhanched with blackberry liqueur. And you must meet our fellow epicures, champions all of La Belle France. Thish way, thish way!"

Alenby felt a pang of dismay at the mention of blackberry kir. To his mind, putting berries in Champagne was an idiocy akin to putting human wastes in drinking water. He was also disagreeably surprised to notice that the company were in black tie, an overly formal get-up for a luncheon event. Nevertheless he feigned an of genial urbanity and was about to mingle with the champions of La Belle France, when the entire gathering was roiled by a singular event:

The prison warden--a man of neat and sober habit but now wildly disheveled--had burst in, gabbling something about a priestess--yes, a Priestess of Gaea, in the prison basement, demanding to see His Excellency Alenby Faintwether Hoggett IV!

Curnonsky tried to smooth things over, but the warden insisted on delivering his message: It was highly unusual--unprecedented, in fact--for a priestess to gt into Prison Fernand Point. Of course he'd tried to turn her away, but she insisted on a priestess' right--reluctantly confirmed by PROFATPOL's legal department--to enter any PROFATPOL prison and interview any inmate in private. Anyway, she was being held prisoner in the basement, in the dimmest and dingiest place in the prison, the überdüngermischmaschine room, to let her know as forcefully as legally permissible that she was not welcome.

Perceiving that nobody else had any idea how to handle the situation, Alenby stepped forward to make it known that he had lately enjoyed success in dealing with the weaker sex, and offered to meet with the intruder in private and persuade her to go away quietly, preferably before lunch. Curnonsky agreed, and ordered the warder to give His Excellency every possible assistance.

The warder led the way down to the gloomy depths of the prison, unlocked and pushed open a creaking door, and gestured to what appeared, in the glow of an energy-saving fluorescent light bulb, to be a bundle of something, dirty laundry perhaps, wrapped in a tarpaulin überdüngermischmaschine. But after the warden had left and Alenby had closed and locked the door, he turned to see that what he'd taken for a tarpaulin was a heavy, all-enveloping woman's garment--as he soon learned, a green burka, the official uniform of a Priestess of Gaea. And the bundle inside it was the crouching figure of a woman, the alleged priestess. 

He was unable to contain his indignation. "Look here, " he burst out, "this visit is damnably inconvenient, you know. Lunch will be served in-less than a half hour from now, and I have yet to study the menu! Couldn't you make it another time, after lunch, 17h for instance?"

The woman--she was indeed a priestess--slowly raised a hand, palm outward, in a magisterial sign for silence. He obeyed, and slowly she raised herself to her full height, only slightly less than his, and addressed him in French, in a quiet, low-pitched voice that trembled with urgency:

"You are in danger. It is a matter of life and death. No, worse than death--life in Prison Fernand Point! Since many years the leaders of PROFATPOL have diverted prison funds to their own accounts, leaving the Commissair and the other inmates to make good the shortfall. Now their once large fortunes are exhausted--" 

Her meaning came to Alenby even as she spoke: Blackberry kir, black tie--black, the color of death. "The Assiette Noire!" he croaked.

"Yes, the Assiette Noire. They plan mass suicide, to leave you--a baron and a man of potentially great wealth--as sole inmate and Commissair, and sole keeper of the flame of their insane ambition to restore the glory of La Belle France. You must escape. Now, before lunch. I have a plan."

Alenby said nothing, but his expression alone was enough to encourage the priestess to put her plan into effect.

The first thing was already done, she told him in her halting English. She had already retrieved the self-commitment form that he had unwittingly signed before passing through the prison door.

Without pause, she went on to the second thing--the disguise he would need to escape through the main door. She flipped up her burka to reveal another, identical garment underneath, and then she pulled off the outer burka and dropped it over Alenby's head.

By the time he had worked his way far enough into the garment's voluminous folds to look out through its tiny front window, she was pantomiming the third thing, the plan for her own escape--to ride the überdüngermischmaschine's discharge chute like a bale of chumanure. She'd already removed the wing nuts securing a side panel from the chute's cover, thus opening up a space big enough to admit a bale of chumanure--or a woman's body.

"The ving nuts," she was saying. "You will push me in. You put back the ving nuts. Then you will press please the button marked CHUMANURE AUS on the console. When the convoyeur starts you will walk out the exit, knees bended so you look not so high. The guardian will ask the name, and you will whisper "Soeur Vertumne." Practice the whisper, please."

Alenby practiced until he got the whisper exactly right.

"Bon," said the priestess. "Then the guardian will perhaps demand the identification cart. It is in the pocket."

As she was saying this, she placed a chair beside the open port preparatory to climbing up into the chute. Alenby moved to help her, but she stopped him with a gesture.

"Attendez--" she said in a low tone clotted with emotion, and on a mutual impulse they embraced as tightly as possible for two people in burkas briefly. Then breaking away with a whispered "Au revoir," she stepped up on the chair and wriggled into the chute without assistance.

"Au revoir," he returned. He replaced the panel, tightened the wing nuts, pressed the button. The conveyer rumbled.

A few minutes later, having followed the priestess' instructions without incident, Alenby walked out of the prison a free man. Free, but still robed in the burka of a Priestess of Gaea, and increasingly anxious to take off that garment and hide it somewhere without attracting attention. The thickly wooded Parc Richelieu, which began just opposite the prison, seemed a good place.... He made his way in that direction, laboriously, knees still bended, into the park's bosky depths.

***

When he felt at last that he was practically certain not to be observed, Alenby removed the burka, rolled it up quickly and hid it in some tight-packed shrubbery. Another look around. Nobody about. Phew! What a relief. He moved away a few steps and went into his stretching routine in preparation for running home to Château Mourey.

While so engaged, however, he realized that in his hurry to rid himself of the burka, he'd left the priestess's identification card in one of its pockets! He had to get the card back at once, or risk embarrassment to himself or, even more excruciating to contemplate, to the good Soeur Vertumne. He'd hardly taken his first step back to the hiding place when he was brought up short by a shout of "Hoy, sport! D' y' think this's a fracking rubbish dump?" Moving towards the source of the inquiry, he glimpsed a man's head repeatedly bobbing up above a line of shrubbery, and heard in the same voice: "Elsie, get your fat bum off my groundsheet or I'll pull it out from under you!"

A few steps closer, Alenby took in the situation: a man hurriedly putting his pants on, and a woman--Elsie, obviously--sitting on the groundsheet and not showing any inclination whatever to putting her pants on. This scene, combined with a certain sort of rustling of nearby shrubbery and notes of  juniper berry and alcohol in the air, suddenly jelled for Alenby in the realization that he'd had stumbled upon a meeting of a British sex orgy. Most likely the very same British orgy that Dr Ott had suggested for checking the state of one's penile dysfunction. 

"So you're the joker I saw mucking up the park," said the man, zipping his fly. "Don't you have the slightest respect for science and reason, which dictates that you sort all refuse and deposit it in the appropriate recycling or composting bins? If the groundsman catches you chucking rubbish in the park he'll give you a kick in the arse you'll remember till your dying day." To this he added in an undertone, "C'mon Elsie--up! I've got to get back, and I need  my groundsheet."

"I am indeed the joker you saw," said Alenby, and in a happy stroke of invention he added: "And in response to your question, I must make one point perfectly clear. It was not rubbish I deposited in the underbrush, it was a groundsheet."

 "A groundsheet!" Elsie cried, leaping to her feet. "Hear that, Reggie? The big bloke has a groundsheet, so you can take your measly rug and bash it! And my bum is not fat!"

Although Elsie's remarks were not addressed to him, Alenby took advantage of her implied invitation to verify that he no longer needed a dys in front of his penile function.

***

Upon noticing finally the chill of the November afternoon, they rose and, at Elsie's suggestion, ran to the British expatriates' haunt in Richelieu, The English Tea Room, for what she called a "cuppa." Along the way they dropped off the substitute groundsheet at a convenient recycling bin.

After they were settled at a cozy corner table: "Ah, a nice hot cup of tea!" Elsie said, sipping. "Hits the spot after a nice orgy, don't you agree, Al?"

"Yes, indeed, I do agree," he responded politely enough, though absently. His attention was temporarily focused on the tea liquor's interesting though frequently overlooked savors: spiky herbal notes against a smooth, slightly sweet background of dried stone fruits. Peach predominantly....

 "Although," he continued, "I must admit that my experience of sex orgies is limited to today's introduction to that no doubt admirable activity. Thanks to you, ah, Elsie, it was an auspicious one."

"Oh, I'm happy to hear that! Al...perhaps you'd like to join our little group? I'll nominate you, of course, and my husband will stick up for you, too. Reggie was a bit gruff today, had to get back to work early, but he's always going on about how we need more blokes. Another cup?"

 "Thank you. The cups are rather small, I find. I'm wondering, do you usually participate in orgies with your husband?"

"Oh no, not usually. It was just the luck of the draw. Good luck, I mean. I like getting Reggie--he gets so fired up in an orgy situation. We're happy together, always were; even dreamed of having kiddies, but then the new law came in and put the kabosh on that idea... But about your joining us--it's not just about needing another man. You're not just another man. There's something special about you, as well as your...you know. A refined quality....

"Oh, I almost forgot," she said in a different tone, "before we recycled that burka, I went through its pockets and I found this." She handed over the blue priestess identification card. "I was going to stick it in the paper and cardboard bin, and then I--what's up?"

lt was well that she should ask, for Alenby's appearance surely reflected powerful emotions, a jumble of gratitude to Elsie for returning the card and shock that he had completely forgotten his debt to Soeur Vertumne.

"Ah, said Elsie, eyes sparkling. "Now I understand what's special about you. You're the sentimental sort. You are in love. With a priestess, what's more. Well, good luck with that!" Rising suddenly and heading for the door, she added: "If it doesn't work out, don't forget--Mondays at noon in the park, right opposite the prison. Tootleoo."

Alenby mutely acknowledged her insight. He was in love, all right. But not with a priestess. He knew it now, he was in love with Olympe.

***

2.6 Alenby to the Rescue

2.6.1 Alenby celebrates Thanksgiving

Restaurant Le Gardon Frit

12 noon Thursday 26 November 1987

Alenby had just finished his daily weeding chores and was about to hang up his hoe in the garden tool shed when he happened on a sealed envelope, half hidden in a place where only he would be likely to find it. He ripped it open and scanned the enclosure:

Her Lowness Dr Ada Lynch needs a hero to abduct her from a place where she is being held against her will.

Applicants may present themselves at the rear of Restaurant Le Gardon in Pouzay, on Thursday 26 November 1987 before 21 h.

PS: Beware PROFATPOL thugs posted 24/7 on all Pouzay thoroughfares.

PPS: Refrain from communicating with Dr Lynch. Her inputs are monitored.

PPPS: Warning: As part of the operation, the hero may find it difficult to avoid participating in some phase of the American prosub users' feast known as Thanksgiving.  

PPPPS: Destroy this note after memorizing contents.

He made a snap decision--go! He tossed aside the message, prepared to run to Pouzay, and within a few minutes he was striding eastward along the pedestrian path on the bank of the Vienne, approaching  the bridge at l'Ile-Bouchard. His heart and lungs had responded smoothly and pleasurably to the increased demands on them. At each step his feet nestled cozily in the newly designed running sandals that Jules César had just made for him. He felt good.

That message, he thought, probably a hoax. But it didn't matter. Hoax or not, it gave him the pretext he needed to confirm that the woman he'd loved since Monday afternoon was the same as the woman in the burka. And even if he failed to see her, nothing was lost. He would simply turn around and run back to Château Mourey. Jules César will be glad to see him for news of the sandals' performance. 

His thoughts turned back to the message. He found the word "hero" a trifle unnerving. But if danger threatened--from PROFATPOL thugs, for instance--a prudent change of itinerary was always in the cards. Even if it did mean missing lunch.

As a matter of fact, he mused, missing lunch did not loom as large on one's personal disaster list as it had before he'd paid his debt to society in Prison Simone Weil. In the course of his detention, he had missed not just one but twenty-one lunches in succession, along with twenty-one breakfasts, dinners, and the same number of morning and afternoon snacks, yet had suffered no lasting harm. In contrast to that situation, today was a special day, Thanksgiving, on which harm might more likely come from overabundance than paucity. He thought back, with occasional frissons of horror, to Thanksgivings past: overdone green beans, pumpkin heavily spiced and sugared, lard-like expanses of turkey breast half submerged in rapidly congealing brown sauce. There was always too much, and people were always pressing excess on other people. One must be vigilant, he told himself, and at all costs avoid any gathering of American prosub users. It's no use being half safe.

He turned right on to the bridge, and half-way across he noted, a feature of interest to him in his persona as stunt driver--a row of dense shrubbery running to the right along the opposite river bank, and a grassy slope descending fairly steeply to a dirt track running along the water's edge. Perfect for a simple but spectacular stunt, he mused. In the trial period prior to purchasing the Borstal, he'd done something of the sort dozens of times. In this case one would take a sharp right off the bridge, accelerate into the shrubbery at a shallow angle, spin the wheel left and let her roll over easy. One complete revolution would put the vehicle squarely on that lower track. He felt a piercing sense of the loss of his Borstal, a perfect vehicle for that simple, elegantly spectacular stunt.... He ran on over the bridge, turned left and picked up the pace on the road to Pouzay., moving easily.

On reaching the bridge leading into Pouzay he passed a pair of black-uniformed PROFATPOL officers lounging in their black Peugeot 305 stinkpot patrol car. They made some oafish comment on his running sandals, but made no attempt to stop him crossing the bridge. These must be a sample of the thugs mentioned in the note, he thought. The mysterious message was looking less and less like a hoax. He continued across the bridge and went around to the rear entry to Restaurant Le Gardon.

The password clue Title of a Mozart opera related thematically to your present undertaking, briefly gave him no trouble. He tapped in ENTFURUNG, the door swung open and a petite young woman in waitress attire--he recognized Cleopatra Kirwan in the classic black dress-white apron combination--motioned him to enter. "Ah," she said, "I'm happy you got my message. Madame Montrachet Picpoul is gripped by anxiety for the safety of her friend and former governess, but she knows you are a man of great courage.  Follow me please." Alenby obeyedand then to follow her along a dimly lighted passageway and down a stairway. He noticed that since he had last seen her, Cleo's figure had acquired womanly proportions and she walked with the graceful gait of confident adulthood.

At the closed door at the foot of the stairway she stopped and said quietly, "This is the entrance to Restaurant Le Gardon Frit. You will be met in the foyer by a functuary who will escort you to Le Coin Brillat-Savarin, the private dining reserved by Her Lowness Dr Ada Lynch."

After a short pause she added, speaking rapidly in a still lower voice: "It sometimes happens that patrons of Le Gardon Frit are overcome by the toxic fumes given off by the heated corpses of the sick, intensively medicated animals offered, in lieu of ordinary food, as an inescapable concomitant of the illegal restaurant experience. Should this, Gaea forbid--" she made the sign of the circle "--happen to Your Excellency, you may regain entry into Le Gardon simply by entering a password using the keypad inconspicuously positioned behind a potted palm to the right of the door. The clue is a six-letter word of the English language, meaning 'to revoke or abrogate by legislative enactment.'

"Bon chance," she added as she turned away and started up the stairway.

Alenby hesitated. Several thoughts, all unprecedantly having nothing to do with lunch, flashed into his mind. That six-letter word--REPEAL, obviously--was the key to presence of his newly beloved. But Olympe,  herself committed to Ada's escape, would greet him with contempt--might even refuse to receive him--unless he also made some credible show of joining in the rescue effort. He had to go on.  

2.6.3 Alenby Celebrates Thanksgiving

Le Coin Brillat-Savarin, Restaurant Le Gardon Frit, Pouzay

Afternoon, Thursday 26 November 1987

The functionary, though of short stature, contrived to tilt his head so as to present a clear view up his nostrils--exceedingly well-groomed nostrils--thus effectively identifying himself as the restaurant's Maître de Salle. And this Maître de Salle, having clinched his credentials for that position by expressing subtle yet unmistakable disapproval of Alenby's sandals, conducted him to one of the restaurant's several private dining rooms.

"Voilà Le Coin Brillat-Savarin," he murmured, opening the door to reveal an elegantly furnished space with a table set for two, a large window giving on a bucolic scene reconstructed through the wonders of HV, and incongruously, a pair of American-style La-Z-Girl reclining chairs positioned before the HV for effortless consumption of electronic entertainment. He guided Alenby to take a seat, not at the table but at one of the recliners, meanwhile murmuring something to the effect that Her Lowness Dr Ada Lynch would be joining him momentarily.

As soon as the Maître de Salle had left--or to use words more fitting to the exceeding fluency of his actions, had ceased to be present--Alenby adjusted the La-Z-Girl so he could check the condition of his sandals. Dusty and sweat-soaked, they were a link to reality in a situation overhung with questions: This Maître de Salle, why did the fellow seem familiar?  When were they going to serve lunch? Why was one lounging in a recliner instead of sitting at table, studying the menu and wine list? Where was Ada?

Ada made the last question moot by seating herself with a relieved-sounding "Ooof" in the other La-Z-Girl. Her action, one couldn't help noting, was ungainly. But it was the same Ada who had guided his early steps in u, a little dull and puffy in appearance now, and only artificially bright in manner.

After the couple had exchanged greetings of the sort that intimates generally exchange after a separation, she prattled on in a way that disposed of Alenby's other questions as well.

"He's not a Maître de Salle at all," she said when the topic came up, "not even a waiter. He's just an actor. Name's Leo, Leo Barton, teaches Theater or something at Iowa State. Came over on a sabbatical to work on PROFATPOL propaganda, got into the HV end and made quite a success of it, playing an unflappable quasi-British law-enforcement type. Now he's embedded in PROFATPOL's restaurant entrapment system, picking up background for his next HV series. Le Cèpe--that's the chef--he's very conscientious about reproducing authentic traditional regional criminal cuisine, and he wants everything to be in keeping with that. So he got Leo Barton come in for Thanksgiving, to help create a genuine American atmosphere for this very special occasion. 

"At first Leo didn't know any more than the any other normal law-abiding American might know about Thanksgiving and how users celebrate it, except of course that it's all about substance indulgence. But after boodling and Waki-ing a lot of old prepro records like old writings, old-master paintings--mainly Norman Rockwells, I think--and all that sort of thing, he seems to have gotten a convincing grasp of the whole Thanksgiving tradition. That reminds me, I'd better remind Leo--" She spoke a command into her vex, and continued, "Speaking of Thanksgiving tradition, we have only an hour or two to kill before the turkey is ready. We shouldn't be sprawling here doing nothing. We should be sprawling here whetting our appetites with tasty snacks and traditional American aperitifs--whiskey, gin, coffee...."

The Maître de Salle wheeled in a tray table loaded with those items, and positioned it between the two recliners. He had no sooner vanished again than Ada started in on these "fixin's," as she insisted on calling them. She munched with what Alenby thought unbecoming urgency, and urged him to do likewise.

"We have to thank Le Cèpe," she told him. "He's such a genius--he's gone to a lot of trouble to reproduce these authentic Thanksgiving-food-like substances in his own kitchen. Like these crispy wafer things. They are quite simply loaded with genuine trans fats, and ethyl-bridged flavanols for that authentic mouth-feel, the whole kit and caboodle...."

Half-listening to her chatter, Alenby sipped coffee, black, and noted a distinctive metallic aroma, like that of a gear mechanism running hot for want of oil. It needed a shot of lubricant of some sort, like milk. He became aware of long-buried memories of Thanksgivings past seeping back....

"Oh, there's one other tradition I forgot," Ada said, interrupting herself. "Good Gaea, how could I have forgotten! The lively conversation we've been enjoying is not at all traditional. We should be slumped before the HV, silently enjoying sports entertainment experiences."

She picked up a controller and pressed a button to bring into view a list of Thanksgiving specials: "American Football? There's an exciting two-ton-a-side match-up between the Tulsa Termites and the Detroit Dung-beetles. Or how about synchronized swimming? The Miami Manatees take on the Seattle Sealionesses, with an all-male cheerleader squad--we'll experience that."

Before Alenby had time to respond, she activated the synchronized swimming channel and set the volume to high. At once the room was filled with sight and sound of a pool full of naked women frolicking in unison to the swirling rhythms of the opening scene of "Das Rheingold."

"Now," said Ada into Alenby's ear, "now we are free to talk, without fear of--" She looked about the room, rolling her eyeballs and forming her lips in a "shh" sign.

After a moment he caught on. The place was bugged. But before he had time to consider the unsettling implications, Ada put a question on a matter that while not exactly close to his heart, was obviously not far distant:

"Alenby, what is that...footwear?"

Relieved to put Thanksgiving aside, he took the opportunity to talk at length about his sandals, his interest in running and other pursuits of the sweat-inducing genre, his ambition to take part in the Tour de France.... 

Uncharacteristically for her, Ada refrained from interrupting and listened to the peroration all the way to the end. "You know I've got to get out of here," she said finally. "You know I need help. That's why you're here, isn't it?"

Barely waiting for his nod of assent, she continued: "I wouldn't have cast you in the role of scarperer, but from how you look and what you say I think you really are up to it, physically, at least. And morally, too. Am I right?"

He felt inclined to back out right then, abandon Ada and set his sandals on the running path back to Château Mourey. But the thought of the example set by Olympe in the person of Soeur Vertumne led him to stiffen his spine and imitate the action of the tiger: "It's damnably inconvenient, you know. But yes, now I'm here anyway, I suppose I'm up to it."

Ada responded with hugs and kisses, called him "My Scarlet Pimpernel," told him the abduction would begin at a certain point on the bank of the Vienne, at 21h sharp.

Alenby might have backtracked, citing safety issues. But at that moment he become aware of an aroma that took him back to childhood, a breath-stopping reminder of family celebrations of long ago. And a souvenir of Oxford, also breath-stopping--dirty rugby togs left lying forgotten for a week or two.

"Ah," said Ada, "I perceive you have picked up the appetizing aroma of actual roast turkey spiked with the synthetic osmzome mix marketed under the "roast turkey" label, the centerpiece of the users' Thanksgiving tradition. The vapor is piped into the dining room to keep our appetites at fever pitch."

"Yes, very appetizing, but what's that off note on the nose?"

"Well," said Ada, settling herself into her recliner, "we biochemists think the off odor is due to pyrolyzed residues of various fat-soluble antipsychotic-drugs traditionally fed to turkeys of the dimensionally disadvantaged traditional Thanksgiving type--the 'broad-beam' breed, ideally so long on fat and short on muscle that it is unable to stand up unaided--to ensure that most of them survive the final fattening-up process prior to slaughter."

Alenby felt a little ill, but Ada, apparenly not noticing, went on:

"From the standpoint of the social sciences, however, the offending odor is ultimately due to the economics of the prosub industry. The costs of evading the law are out of this universe! In the first place, prosubs--"

Alenby had a queasy feeling settling ominously in the vicinity of his small intestine, .lost interest in what she was saying when his  He excused himself and headed for the toilet.

***

In the relatively wholesome ambience of the toilet, his head cleared and he emerged refreshed, with priorities straight. He strode to the potted palm, reached behind it to the keypad, and entered the password. The door opened. In the dim light of the corridor he made out the slightly hunched female figure, svelte in the long black gown, much black hair, bare arm gleaming white as she stood at the bottom of the stairway with one hand on the newel knob. He knew definitely, at once, without knowing how he knew--she was his Soeur Vertumne, his Olympe!

Impulsively he sprang forward, grasped her unengaged hand and pressed it to his lips. Seemingly taken aback, she moved to withdraw her hand but immediately relented and did nothing to discourage his advances. Ardently, he kissed her hand, her forearm, her upper arm with special attention to its silky underside--

She spoke in her thrilling, low-pitched voice: "Let us do la screwing," she suggested, glancing towards the stairs.

It was Alenby's turn to be taken aback. Shouldn't "screwing," being a foreign word of non-Latin origin, be masculine? But his hesitation was brief. In this feminist-oriented universe, u, the default gender would naturally be feminine....

Without further ado, the pair scampered hand in hand, up the stairs to their assignation.

 

2.6.4 The Abduction

Downstream of Pouzay

Evening, 26 November 1987

From the gurgle and shush of the fast flowing Vienne, Alenby knew he was close to the water's edge. He glanced at his watch, but it was already too dark to read the time. He knew it was after 21 h. That was the deadline for this idiotic abduction caper. He was late. All was still, no wind, no signs of PROFATPOL patrols. No sign of Ada, either. A hoax, after all? An excuse to return to what had suddenly become a contender for one's favorite activity? Not likely--wishful thinking pure and simple. Even less likely that Olympe would welcome him back to her bed. She had been keen at first, but cooled off fast when she suddenly remembered some sort of commitment from forty years back--forty years! And then she'd been damnably firm on sending him to Ada's rescue. One had no reason to doubt her affection, though. When the time came for him to go, she'd put on a creditable mad scene--shedding tears, wailing, tearing hair and so on and so forth. But on the matter of the rescue attempt, she had remained adamant....

He started at the sound, leaves rustling.... He made out the form of Ada, standing close by. Close enough to smell, actually. Her bodily odor was--uh oh, more off notes there. In a previous life, he'd have thought bad cork, an occasion for a quiet word with the sommelier. But now he knew different--the offending smell was the smell of a user.

She handed him a partly filled black plastic garbage bag of the sort you close tight with a drawstring. "Undress and stick your things in this," she said in a low, determined voice. "Pull the string tight so it'll float. Loop it around your neck. And for the love of Gaea, keep quiet, and follow me."

He did what she said, though reluctantly. He felt pretty foolish, naked in the darkness, on the verge of shivering in the cool still night air. And it seemed to him positively ridiculous to swim the Vienne at night, considering the chances of getting snagged on roots of fallen trees, floundering on mucky banks.... And another thing--the last time he saw Ada, she could swim better than he did. Why did she need an abductor, anyway? 

He put the last point to Ada, sotto voce, and commendably calmly, he thought, as they made their way along a narrow path leading down to a muddy area at the water's edge. Her answer was a quiet but brisk "Later!" accompanied by a sharp push that sent him staggering into deeper, fast-moving water. He instinctively dropped into a steady swimming rhythm, propelling himself out to the middle of the stream. She followed close behind, but she soon tired and had to grab the floating garbage bag for support. From then on the pair floated downstream on the river's current.

Presently they heard grunts and thrashing noises from the river banks.

"PROFATPOL patrols passing on both sides," Ada explained in an undertone. "Tracking hogs, by the sound of it--just as well we took to the water...."

Some time later, when they were sure the patrols were quite out of earshot, she answered the outstanding question:

"I'm beat. Totally out of shape. Haven't been swimming for ages. Couldn't have made it without you...."

And after a short time to catch her breath, "Worse than being out of shape, there's something wrong with my inner woman. Something users get, I think. It feels like a--a rock or something stuck in my large intestine--"

"Constipation," said Alenby. "You may have been consuming animal based substances, which lack the fiber needed for proper digestion."

"Yes, I know all about fiber. I don't want to hear about any holistic folk remedies, thank you. Not now--this is an emergency. I need something stronger. Like--would you happen to have any laxative medication? Users I have been talking to are very enthusiastic about Ipüpoften. It's a Murk product developed originally to treat chronic muscle and joint pain, but there were problems with side effects, including especially diarrhea. So after consultation with their team of top medical scientists and lawyers they changed the promotional materials to put this insight to work for the health of the prosub utilizing community."

"Well, Ipüpoften certainly sounds like a winner, but I fear my personal apothecary is no longer abreast with the latest exciting medical advances in the ongoing search for a cure for constipation. I believe I do have some of the old tried and true Crudulax. Not in the oral form, it's too late for that. You'll have to take the French, or suppository version, Xaludurc you know. I don't have it on me of course, but back at Château Mourey....

"By the way, the moon's coming up. We'll soon be dangerously visible. Isn't it time we headed back to dry land?"

Ada agreed, and the current having slackened greatly at that point--they were in fact opposite Trogues, where the Vienne widens and makes a sweeping turn to the left--the couple had no trouble swimming to the left bank. They had no sooner emerged, dressed and begun to worry how they might bypass a likely PROFATPOL checkpoint at l'Ile Bouchard, when they made out the friendly outline of Jules-César's Citroën 2CV plug-in utility vehicle waiting for them in shadows. Alenby remembered then that he had quite forgotten to destroy Cleo's message, and guessed--correctly as it turned out--the fortunate outcome of his oversight: the alert factotem had read the message, foreseen the course of  the abduction and positioned himself to pick up the fugitives without attracting unwanted attention.

The trio made their way safely past the checkpoint with the fugitives safely hidden on the load tray of the 2CV under a couple of bales of chumanure. On arriving at Château Mourey Jules-César popped the Champagne, and the trio drank to their successes: the abduction, of course, and the trial of Alenby's running-sandals.

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