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Subject: Makarovia! Sure, I Know Where That Is! Chapter 25 Arriving Home Story: Makarovia! Sure, I Know Where That Is Chapter 25 Arriving Home Author: Eric McQueen ail) Adult Readers, Sexual Situations, Sex Freedom of expression is precious. To do that, Nifty needs help. Your donation is greatly desired. Give to fty/ or this story ends and all the others! That would be a crime! Peter and Eric return to Makarovia. There is going to be another wedding in Makarovia. Arriving Home It wasn’t long after that we heard a bell. I swear I never heard it before. Not here. It had the same metal clanging sound of boats I often heard on boats docked in a marina. “What the Hell was that!?” I looked, but you didn’t expect me to see a bell. The people in the audio departments can be proud of themselves. That ring was so real. Mercea rose instantly, “Yay! We’re through the canal!” He started to hurry down the hall but stopped. “Thank you for the advice.” Then he returned to his smile on. “I wonder what Henri’s making for lunch.” He rubbed his middle that gurgled. “I’m starved!” “Wait!” Peter said to him. “They did that last time? I don’t remember hearing it then.” Mercea shrugged and pointed at the surrounding walls. “No windows here. The personal quarters won’t hear the bell,” he chuckled, “Earl told me he could program it to sound like Big Ben! You will swear you’re in London!” He raced out of the library. Peter got up as I came over, “What do you think?” He put his arm around me as we walked down. I grinned, “You mean about Mercea and Mikell?” Peter shook his head, but smiled even bigger, “Obviously.” “When you ask an open-ended question,” I said, “You give the person you asked the freedom to add whatever they want. I could interpret that question is about Dow Jones Futures or how the Forty-niners stand this upcoming season.” “You don’t care about football.” “What would interest me in a sport where start and stop so often?” I pointed at him. “I love Hockey. Nonstop action until they score, or time runs out for each quarter.” Peter grinned at me, “We’ve got to strengthen those ankles.” I stopped in the hall and pointed at Peter, “You take scuba diving, and I will do what I need to learn to skate.” I held my right out to shake his, “Is that agreeable?” Peter’s smile got a little more sexual but took my hand and shook it. “I know your preference when it comes to greetings. Hugs are so much more personal than that. However, a kiss is even more personal.” He pulled me close, “There is one even closer!!” I smiled at that and held my hand up, “Before you whip anything out,” My face only maybe an inch away, “Which I won’t mind seeing; everybody knows what’s next.” I paused and thought. “Wait,” I frowned. “How did we get from Mikell and Mercea, to agreeing to try a new sport, to sex?” Peter closed the distance and kissed me, “That wasn’t hard. Sex is kinda like a sport. We’re both guys.” He shrugged. “What was it? Every eight minutes we think of sex?” “More if you’re in the same room with me,” I grinned again. “It’s actually about every twenty seconds. That’s the medial number with the extreme on the opposite edges of the scale.” I said moving my hands from left to the right. “Some are more, and some are less.” I bounced once, “In fact, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and two other brainiacs came up with those stats,” I nodded, “Just as he did with the scale!” Peter chuckled, “He was one of those who thought about it most often.” “Yes,” I pulled him against myself hard and said, “and we’re doing it again!” I blew a breath of air, “What do I think about Mercea and Mikell? I say it will be great. There are times I see Mikell look at Mercea with a look of compassion.” I raised that finger again, “You see he’s more protective of Mercea than the other agents.” Peter shrugged, “I just assumed he was training Mercea.” “Have you seen Mikell train others?” “No,” Peter said. “I don’t know Mikell’s history,” I said, “But first,” I kissed him gently. “I’m not taking a risk. I love you, Peter.” Peter hugged me and kissed me again, “Yes, you do. I love you.” “Yes, you do,” I grinned. “Do you think Mikell’s overprotective?” Peter asked. I pressed a finger on his chest, “Stop it!” Peter’s eyes widened, “Stop what?” I tapped out each syllable of the next sentence, “Just ’cause a different rabbit does a dash out of the hole doesn’t mean you have to run after it!” Peter laughed and now tapped on my chest, “That was a Southern Proverb!” “Mikell and Mercea; fine,” I held one finger up. “We both try a new sport,” I held up another finger, “Mikell isn’t so overprotective Mercea that Mercea can’t do the job.” I pointed at nothing, but said, “Here’s another rabbit. Makarovia doesn’t have rules about people becoming involved with people they work with? These agents are in Makarovian, right?” Peter laughed again, “Our numbers were sometimes difficult to get together. If you found love with someone; why waste it? But you still love Makarovia more?” Peter asked. I nodded, “I do! And here’s why. As liberal as Greece is it still doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.” I shook my head, “They lead the way granting equal rights and adopting children. They can serve openly in the military and police, but that…one,” I held my thumb and forefinger close together but didn’t touch each other, “…little…teeny, tiny hurdle they just can’t seem to get past.” “Why?” Peter blurted. “I don’t know!” I said just as loud, “A majority population has no objection! They have Civil Unions. Semantics! I said it before,” I said in English, “if it ain’t broke…” Peter nodded and finished with me, “…don’t fix it.” “But it is broken!” I insisted. “Being homosexual is not a phase! A young man is given the honor of attention by an older, wealthy man, married or not, may not just move on.” I was getting worked up. “Did you know that in many Greek Marriages begin the wedding, she’s in her dress, but when they come together that night, she dresses like a Hyperetes…” “A what?” “Kind of a page?” I asked, “The young men that serve knights? The new bride wears a simple tunic, belted and sandals. She looked like a boy!!” Peter’s head went back an inch, “To ease him into sex with his wife instead of a man?” “Bingo!” I said happily. Peter frowned, “I hate keeping going with the same word, but why!?” “Getting pregnant was super important and very dangerous!” I replied, “Controlling the male urges was more important. Infant mortality was very high! Only a real marriage that produces children counts and there were almost no women on battlefields.” Peter smiled and looked deep into my eyes. He used his thumbs to lower my lower lids and peered even deeper. “Where do you get this stuff!? After you get it, where do you put it?” I chuckled, “I read!” I raised the finger again. “This will tell you about the past. There was a plant that was so good at preventing pregnancy it became extinct!! Silphium!” “Damn!” Peter marveled. “And they harvested to the point it doesn’t exist anymore.” I nodded, “That’s right. Of course, all those smart people still debate about what it did. It must have worked to become extinct.” “You remember everything you read?” “Hell, no,” I said back, “I do remember things I find interesting.” “A lot of things you find interesting,” Peter nodded. “Which explains my dislike of math,” I grumbled. “Theorems and all that garbage…” I shuddered, “Geometry!” “Please,” Peter hugged me again, “Don’t ever change.” “I don’t think I could if I tried,” I grinned. “You can’t change either.” We resumed going downstairs, “There is one game of football I like a lot.” “You mean soccer?” “No!” I said happily, “Aussie Rules Football!” I even used the best Australian accent. “Aussie? Australian Football?” Peter asked. “Footy is what they call it. They know how to play!!” I said, “No big pads and the ball is in play until it leaves the field after scoring or goes out of bounds and any part of the body can be used!” “You like violent sports, but back to the sex thing for a second,” Peter squinted an eye. “You read about sex. You’re as fixated on sex as that Kinsey guy.” “Sure,” I nodded. “Of course, I am!! I wanted to know how it all worked. Our bodies were designed to do it. Nerves to the Pleasure Centers go crazy. The first need is air, the next part is food and then; we create people so they can do what we were designed to do.” I eyebrows waggled and makes want to do it again and again! It’s who and what we are!” I wrapped my arms around him. “Now, let’s be honest…” Peter looked surprised at me, “Do you even know how to be dishonest?” “I’ve heard about it,” I muttered. “It gets complicated having to remember what you said to whom.” I patted his chest. “I was determined to get a good University Degree on which I hoped to build a future, but I was doing it on my own. While, I wasn’t depressed or miserable…but not happy. And you…” Peter nodded in a hurry saying, “Yes, yes. I was miserable, too.” I took Peter’s hand. “Now, I’m saying it. I am starved!!” Coming in the galley, we saw him doing something we’d seen once. The indoor grill was shooting up flames as he looked like he was flipping hamburgers. My nose told me that was untrue. Looking at the “patties,” they were white with grill marks on it. “I’ll have yours ready in just a minute,” Henri smiled and returned to his meal preparation. “Has Mercea gotten his?” Peter asked. “No,” Henri looked curious and shook his head. “Give him three or four of those,” Peter pleaded. “Compassion for the suffering of others is paramount,” I pointed over my shoulder. “He’s suffering now!” Henri chuckled and took two of the “burgers” from the grill, “I’ll be right back.” I looked at rounded patties and smiled, “He made shrimp burgers?” I motioned to the burgers. “I heard they always fall apart!” The galley door opened again and shook his head, “Then those that told you that was doing it wrong. Non Monsieur,” Henri grinned. “This is a spicy, shrimp and crab burger.” “Cajun?” I asked. Henri stopped a moment to think, “No, not really.” He waved at a thick patty. “The meats are tender, but I chopped shrimp and mixed it with crab meat. It has jalapenos and my own hot red sauce and Sazon.” He pointed at open buns. “I made these yesterday.” He pointed at some other dishes red stuff that looked like cocktail sauce. “A little heat in the seafood sauce.” He waved at a bowl of strips and circles of potato and onions. “And fries and onion rings!” Peter frowned, “I thought you didn’t do fries because it gets soggy.” “And these won’t,” he pointed overhead at some vents, “Not with this baby on. It’s a dehumidifier.” He shrugged. “Even if you ate outside it won’t be that quick.” I smiled even bigger, “I wondered why it never seemed uncomfortable in here.” “De-humidify,” Peter said cautiously forward until became evident. “…meaning to take moisture out of the air?” I pointed at my nose tip and then my telling him he was right in the sign language of charades! I didn’t have to tell him. He knew he was right as he bobbed his head in confidence. Henri rested a hand on the cutting board and the other on a hip, “Do you want to keep going and talk about it more? I need at least a few hours to clean up and prepare dinner!” He did a sweeping motion at us telling us to leave. “You’re bothering me!” He looked at his clock. “It won’t take long. It will need just a quick sizzle.” It happened again. This…dark and empty feeling and was getting stronger. It wasn’t even about the Duchess. It was the people on the Duchess that made it mean so much to Peter and me. Yuri came from upstairs as we were going to the dining area. “…and no one can tell?” Boris asked. “No,” Yuri stated. He looked at us and threw his out to incorporate the Duchess. He grinned at Peter at me, “This is the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna Romanova,” he bowed. “The eldest of four daughters all of who were killed during that Russian Revolution?” “Okay,” Peter said uncertainly. “This I do know.” He looked at Yuri. “Anastasia’s big sister?” Yuri nodded, “That’s her.” “Why?” Peter asked. Yuri didn’t back down, “Why not?” He touched Peter’s and my arms. “We’re all part Russian! Aren’t we?” I nodded, “And there’s even a kilt or two thrown in, too.” Yuri waved that off, “The good will overshadow and counterbalance…” Boris immediately stretched his arm out swatting Yuri with an audible impact, “Think carefully about how you should end that statement.” “They were all children!” Yuri stated with a tone that asked why we couldn’t understand that? We could be serious, but why would we want to? Henri was right. All that was needed to happen was a quick sizzle. Nothing was more important to Henri than creating something new. Nothing was beneath him. He didn’t serve fast food. Yes, yes, semantics again. Marriage and Civic Unions were fine. Fast food and food served and made fast. Is there a difference? Try both and you’ll find out. Henri put two of his burgers in front of each of us. He placed a large plate that was making sounds with those onion rings and fries! Pavlov’s Dog was salivating. (Look it up.) Meals around a table were nice, but so much better from talking with friends. Cherish the pain, I told myself. Every one of them, security agents and Duchess Crewmembers had melted into a group of friends. Conversations flowed with no effort needed. Gretchen leaned close to Nita and said something in her ear which Nita looked surprised at Gretchen and, I didn’t hear it, but I saw Nita mouth “really?” She looked back at Alec and they both laughed. Alec was speaking to Earl and Luke. It was delightful chaos! And, when I say, that chaos added a quiet comfort; many will scratch heads to figure that out. “When you plan to arrive in Venice?” Boris asked while munching his burger. That was not Boris-like behavior. “If I push it we could be back morning.” Luke, the captain grinned. “Well,” I said. “There’s no hurry.” “A little anxious about going home?” Peter grinned. “Anxious,” Boris stated, “excited and…” he gave grudging nod, “a little scared.” I smiled hearing that, but I could have guessed why but asked anyway. “Scared of what?” Boris looked like he couldn’t see why. “We’ll be back in Boston in another week. God only knows what condition I’ll find it.” Yuri chuckled, “Don said it was still standing.” “You won’t be here for my birthday?” Peter is an adult, but the slight quiver in his voice made him sound disappointed and younger. Boris gave a slight nod, “I suppose we could fly back for that…The new airport should be up and fully functional then and fly back to Boston with you. You can’t even imagine what I might find.” Peter nodded, “Uh, huh, but you can.” Boris stopped and thought only a second and said, “Yes!” Those shrimp and crab burgers were unlike any I’ve had before. The plate of onion-rings and fries had to be replaced as more were made. How do you describe a flavor? I know I asked before, but I’ll try again. It was spicy. It wasn’t a piercing biting heat like hot peppers. The heat was all over as though the burger vibrated. No pain, but these burgers gently bit back! Delicious. The onion rings and fries were crisp, tender…then the worst thing happened; I got full! Damn it. Right now, I didn’t know what I weighed. I knew I had gained some during the two weeks and I dreaded it. I never dieted in my life. It wasn’t necessary yet. A pound lost or gained was normal. However, at the university, I wasn’t as active as I had been in high school. Henri came from galley smiling. He knew what he’d done. “Dessert, anyone?” He asked casually. “You know we love you,” Peter groaned holding his stomach, “But what you just said was just evil.” Henri shrugged with a chuckle, “All I did was make the meal,” he waved at the now empty plates. “How many burgers did you eat? Six?” “Five,” Peter said back and looked at Mercea. “You ate more than that.” “They kept coming!” Mercea looked up innocent. “I’m a big eater!” He waved at Henri, “He wanted me to!” Yuri looked at Luke. “Does the Duchess tell you about any suspicious ships out there?” Luke shook his head, “I would like to say she wouldn’t dare.” He pointed in different directions off the ship. “All around us is Greece in the Gulf of Corinth. Unless she comes up with a plan, I’m confident she shouldn’t bother us. The Greek Navy deals with pirates with deadly force.” “So far,” I said a little disgusted. “All her attempts have failed. She was sloppy.” “Are you going to tell her that?” Peter’s eyes grew, “Do mezitli escort you want to help her!?” I rolled my eyes, “Oh, yes, Peter. One of my other dreams, when I was a kid, was to be a pirate. I got the royal thing. So, why not? It’s a perfectly natural progression!” I sat back a little, “My favorite was being a vampire for many Halloweens! The whole Goth thing had run its course, but I revived it. For two I years wore nothing but black.” (Heh, heh.) I turned back to Yuri and Luke, “A part of me wanted Peter to be so I could be one, too.” Peter smirked at me. “I thought she was this evil Wonder Woman-like pirate.” I held out my hands. “She started a mission without testing the equipment!? No fresh batteries…” “Thank god,” Alec said in a mutter. I nodded, “My point is I thought she was this amazing, blood-thirsty super pirate!” Luke nodded, “Usually she is.” He shrugged, “With these last-minute plans, she couldn’t plan like she normally does.” “Thank god!” Alec said again louder, and I saw him cross himself. It wasn’t the Catholic’s version. He touched the center of his forehead, then lowered that hand to his naval up and over to his right shoulder and then touched his left shoulder. Does it sound backward to you? It is what Russian Orthodox do and it was developed to be just that; different. I knew how to cross myself since…I don’t remember, it was so long ago. We had two in Charleston, but only one in Asheville. St. Nickolas and no, it wasn’t the Cathedral of Santa Claus. (I was disappointed.) There were Baptists and Methodists churches were everywhere! I smiled in Alec’s direction. There had been severe abuse with this man. Something helped him deal with it. That had been laid out as a foundation of values to build on. He did it very well. I believed. Something created this and other worlds, but some very fine details worked together so well…how can I believe we were just pond goo who knows he’s just pond goo? It’s out in the vastness of space and the smallest particles that make it. I have never been afraid of God. Grandma asked me, “There’s God. If he can hear private, unsaid prayers, he already knows how you feel. Don’t be a hypocrite. Nothing will offend, hurt him or shock him.” She then pointed her finger in my face and said firmly, “Just be honest!” Sure! That was just easier. Yuri nodded, “I’m glad she is sloppy with what she tries. I read about some of her victories,” he did air quotes. “She made herself famous with a few of them. That took some smarts.” Luke chuckled, “She has it,” he raised his finger, “When she has time to plan. If she came into this Gulf, that isn’t the best plan.” “And maybe she’d use that to her advantage,” Peter suggested. “We will follow the coastline up to Venice. We’ll never leave sight of land,” Luke said. “More traffic.” Peter looked at me as I stood, “Help me up?” I shook my head, “No one helped me up.” But I offered my hand and as Peter touched me, I hauled to his feet. “And what do we do today? Not just simply wait for supper.” He asked me. “No,” I grinned, “We shouldn’t just wait for supper.” I did touch his midsection. “That would be a problem to become lazy if we make it a habit.” We didn’t do much. I led him back up the stairs, but to the Media Room. Naturally, it had an amazing set up with pay television, cinema, and shows from around the world. That giant monitor was huge! Three-dimensional plasma television with access to any country’s networks. This was dangerous! I just said into the remote for coverage of Australian Rules Football. I did have to make a choice. Last season’s highlights, upcoming games…all that kind stuff. “Carlton and Adelaide,” The logo swept over the screen for the ANZN. The Australian, New Zealand Network. And here we go again with a kind of Greece and Italian thing. They sound the same! I know, I know…they don’t really. So why do they sound the same to me? I’ll throw in South Africans, too. I’m always lecturing to you. Now, you have the floor. I’ll read it. I need to hear it more to hear the differences. Peter was now able to hear my accent more when we were speaking English. Maybe an almost immersion in various accents, I’ll pick up those differences. But not today! It began as usual. Two teams compete for points by getting the ball through two center posts at either end of an oblong field. There is a sweet spot and hard to get through. There are two more posted just beyond the center two. Less in points awarded for goals like that, but a point is a point. Players came out and in just seconds the team that won the coin toss got the ball kicked in their direction. The ball was shaped like an American football, but that ball did not stop! The ball had to be bounced every fifteen seconds! The ball was “alive” as long as you kept it going. Passing the ball, kicking the ball and other various movements were done and without fail, it happened. One team had the ball but nearing the end for carrying it. There was someone from his team could get it and make a goal! A member of each team was watching the sky to be there when it arrived. They didn’t see each other, so run full force into the other! I saw Peter jolt suddenly, looking astounded and did what everyone will do. He cringed a little imagining the pain with an, “Oooo, that had to hurt!” He said sympathetically. The thing was the ball was still in the field and still a game ball. It took a few seconds more and the ball did go outside the field lines. “We’ll see it again at different angles. Slowly.” It’s what they do after collisions like this. An instant replay and moment by moment passed and you could see them both each try to get the ball, but neither got it. I grinned at the antics of one of the guys at this network. He added audio to the crash. The animated sound of birds chirping badly, and off key was added. Little birds circling the heads from the pain? Everyone knew that you saw stars and little birds circling when in pain. Birdbrains? “They aren’t wearing any padding?” Peter asked as the one player spoke to the other. I would hope it was to see if the other would be okay and offered his hand to help him get up. The crowd at the field always wanted good sportsmanship. Blood and guts were just icing on the cake! “Other than one of those athletic cups I’ve not seen, but assume are there,” I shook my head, “No.” This game did what was supposed to and had nonstop action. There was not all the discussion about plays. There were other collisions and one I was certain broke something on his right hand he held against himself to protect. Once Peter and I were into the game, we were unaware of others that came in. It was great to see Rolph up and out of his quarters. He was still a little depressed. Mercea didn’t know what the word “depressed” even meant. Alec was there. Boris and Yuri! We watched another game! We could see them until we got to Venice if we wanted to. It was played in other countries now. With enough Aussies around the world, why not? It was a good sport! Peter looked at me as we cheered was ready for the next game. “I was right! You do like violent games!” “And not once have I denied it!” I pointed to myself, “There is enough cave dweller in here that likes the aggression.” I raised the finger to make a point again. “In fact, I don’t really like professional hockey games.” Peter was suddenly uncertain from a lack of understanding. He had signature moves, just like I did. The head went back an inch to try to contemplate the possibilities. He couldn’t find one that fit, so he asked, “Why not?” “The skating takes no thought,” I shrugged, “It’s like…they were born on the ice. They pass so quickly the puck just…vanishes.” Then I pointed more directly. “The minor league game…” I start shaking my head as I said, “They don’t have the honed skills yet. I don’t consider it a good night until someone gets their faces smashed up again the Plexiglas.” I chuckled as his eyes widen. “The blood and spittle dripping…” Peter held his hand up and nodded, “I got it!” He patted my hand and said more quietly. “I got it.” He then grinned. “You didn’t object to the hockey game last Winter?” “Why would I object?!” It was my turn to not understanding. “I wanted to be out there. I was jealous!!” “You can learn to skate!” Peter insisted. “I can show you.” I gave a grudging nod. “You could, but not in Makarovia. Other than the freezer, is there any ice?” “No,” he said a little gloomy. The finger again. “Ah, but there are two or three within driving distance of the house in Boston.” “And they’re open now?” Peter asked to be sure. “Yes, Peter.” I contemplated a minute and asked. “How did you learn?” I waved at him. “With Mom, I know she didn’t just put skates on you and told you to go skate.” “No,” Peter said in of course not tone. “I barely remember. I was about two. I could walk, but I wanted to do what Big Brother Olek was doing. They put a chair down and I was to push it around on the ice.” We heard another collision, but the good people down under were kind enough to show it for us again. They used that cartoon birdbrain music. There were many sympathetic groans. “He can’t do that!” Mercea leaped up, yelled, and pointing to the giant screen. He looked at me, “Can he do that?” I waved at the screen, “You saw it, Mr. Holtz had the ball…” I moved the finger in a wide arching motion, “had left his hand and Mr. Weeks scooped it up. It happened we saw it, the umpire saw it, so, yes, he can do that.” I had several strange looks, “Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know the word for umpire in Makarovian! Or Ukrainian.” Peter laughed hugging me quickly. “I don’t think there is one. Suddya (referee) is the closest one.” Alec pointed at the screen, “How do they bounce that ball?” He looked at us, but he had no idea what we talking about or just didn’t care. “Look at the damned thing! It’s oblong! It can easily go in another direction!” “The word arrives when the sport does,” Yuri chuckled, “The Great American Pastime wasn’t welcomed in Russia or her powers.” There was another constant at work here. Most men have an aggressive streak. That cave dweller inside of me could spring out at any moment. Men get together, watch a game or two…three? We also eat. We didn’t want a meal, but something to snack on. Then Boris entering the room. I hadn’t seen him leave the room! In each hand were two extremely large glass bowls of fluffy white. The hot buttery smell and popped corn. “Popcorn!” I said. The nice thing was, they didn’t have to do this! They weren’t on duty. They could have been on deck. They loved the new sport I’d told them about and just didn’t leave. Had any of them been out in the world? What cable channels had they seen in Makarovia? Not this one at least. My phone began to vibrate and I pulled it out of my pocket. “Wait!” Yuri urged me, “Can I see it?” I shrugged and gave it to Yuri. On the remote control, he called up a menu, looked for an incoming Wi-Fi signal and hit another button on the remote. There were now two very large heads close together. It not only surprised Peter and me but Mikell and Cosmo! “Whoa!” Mikell said as his eyes widened, “Next time, warn a guy.” He turned the iPad sideways to see everyone on a landscaped screen. “You weren’t all waiting for me to call, were you?” “Would that be a problem if we did?” Peter asked happily waving to include all the guys. “You two are a part of us.” Yeah! I was in the us!! Hygiene was important in hospitals to keep possible infections down. The truth is hospitals the most germ-filled place there is! Washing hair and shaving wasn’t at the top of the list of priorities, but Cosmo was alive! He was pale. I didn’t see much strength in his face. There were the beginnings of a dark beard. There were even a few white ones near his chin. “It’s good to see you, Cosmo,” I sincerely said quietly. Cosmo nodded, “It’s good to be seen.” “And if he does well today, he’ll get a clear liquid dinner,” Mikell said with a very fake bit of excitement. “That’s only going to make it worse!” Cosmo complained. “I’ll want food!” “You were stabbed in an area needed for digestion,” I grinned, “If you’re healing correctly and tolerate that, they’ll bring more later.” “How can you have a steak if you can’t process chicken broth?” Peter asked. “Yeah,” Cosmo grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest in a pout, “They said that, too. Maybe they can give me something for the pain I know I’ll have.” Now, he was sounding more like the Cosmo we all knew. It was good to hear. I looked over at Mercea who was a little uncomfortable. I went over and asked him, “What’s this about?” I pointed at him. “I should talk to him, shouldn’t I?” He asked, “But, what do we talk about?” I chuckled, “You’ve got the rudder and throttle on this…” I switched to English, “Relation Ship.” It only took a second or two for him to get what I said. “That was pretty clever!” Mercea grinned. “I get them from time to time,” I said, “You control the direction and speed. My only suggestion will be to reach the man, speak to him as a man. Not as a subordinate.” I had to ask Yuri how to stop the Wi-Fi to the television without losing the connection to the phone. I felt so better having seen and speaking to Cosmo. I told Mikell to hang on and cut the call to my phone only and handed it to Mercea. “Use it as long as you need to.” He worried about what they’d talk about? I got my phone back two hours later. The way Mercea was smiling, I didn’t have to ask about how it went. We weren’t out of danger. We had to either pass by countries like Montenegro and Croatia, but it didn’t feel safe resting in any of their harbors. “We’ll have to risk it again,” Yuri pointed on the map. “We get past Corfu and cross into Italian waters. That doesn’t take long.” Luke shook his head, “We’ll almost miss it and I’d feel better waiting the night in a harbor there than any of the others. Bari maybe.” “And they’ll come if we call?” Peter asked. “As opposed to our calling and there’s no response,” Luke nodded, “How many have signed on now?” “I don’t know,” Peter said in a near groan. “Millions and millions,” Luke stated confidently. “Until we do something to piss someone off,” I muttered, “Can names be taken off the list?” Luke looked surprised, but thought, “I suppose, but why?” He waved at me. “He’s an all-American boy meets East Europe,” he pointed at Peter, “He’s Prince Charming standing for truth, justice, and the Makarovian way.” I grinned as Peter rolled his eyes. I patted him on the chest. “We’ll have to find a shirt with a giant M over the chest.” “Or a suit of armor,” Yuri chuckled. The trip back was supposed to seem shorter. That was the way it always had been. Now, I was anxious about going home and it seemed to drag on forever! It seemed like another trip Troy to Ithica. Okay, yes, he was Odysseus, Ulysses with the Romans. (No, they didn’t steal that myth! No.) That trip took twenty years!! Ten years to fight and ten years to get back? Troy was right on the coast of Turkey! Practically next door! You know by now; I have an imagination. I almost heard the music played in Jaws right before the shark bit someone in haft. I kept forcing myself to go over what I knew. She was a bad planner. Sometimes you have to make decisions on your feet. She was sloppy with that. She overthought, perhaps. She was good at doing what she did and made a name for herself and was feared. But she made mistakes. As I looked at the day as it was ending. I wouldn’t be seen. “What?” Peter asked who knew what I was thinking about but had freaked me too much recently and took pity on me. I waved at the water that had gone a vibrant blue, to one with a darker hue. Soon, it would be black. “She’s out there.” Peter nodded. “Yes.” He sighed, “There are a lot of people out there that would do anything to get a part of what we have.” He started shaking his head, “I didn’t understand how much trouble it could be…much Makarovia remembers. We learned to hide what we had to keep it.” I nodded, “I know…” “But she won’t stop just because we’ve come ashore,” Peter said seriously. Normally, we would occasionally surprise each other with what we said. My eyes widened now, “I hadn’t thought of that!” “It would be very unusual for her, but that could be what she’s counting on.” He shrugged. “For a portion of that billion in Euros, I believe nothing will stop her. She’ll gladly attack on land or off.” My expressions were easy reading now for Peter. pozcu escort “Oh, no,” Peter grabbed me in a hug and began rocking us both gently. “Don’t get worried.” “No,” I began and had to nod, “Well, yes that did cross my mind, but she knows we’re coming back to Venice. She’ll be waiting for us.” “It says that on the Duchess,” Peter said and I watched his eyes fly open as he said that. “Yes!” I patting Peter on the arm. “The Duchess will go to Venice, but we won’t be on it.” I frowned. “I still think we should have disembarked in Athens and flown from there.” I held my hand out to count the positives, “Tomorrow, we go to a city with no history of us having been there. It’s in Italy…” I looked at Peter, “The only reason we went back this way was to keep a promise to Barry, Pano, and Edger! I know there are other cities with airports! Does it have to be an International Airport? We could connect…” “Security,” Peter said firmly. “A big International Airport can handle the load.” “You’re telling me,” I pointed away from us, “an unprepared city with medium-sized airport couldn’t handle us? They’d be protecting us from an unknown that may or may not be there…” Peter took my raised hand, lowering it and said. “I’m telling you, we need to talk to Yuri and the Captain.” I nodded, “Let’s go.” We went to the Bridge knowing Luke would be there, Yuri was right beside him. Yuri saw us first as he raised his head and smiled, “Ah, just the two we were about to call.” Peter and I weren’t prepared for that and slowed our approach. But Yuri went on as if nothing happened, “How about getting off the Duchess tomorrow at another city in Italy?” They didn’t. I thought, “No,” I said in almost a whisper. Luke waved at the map and went on quicker, “It would really only be a few hours difference. I asked Yuri about the meeting in Venice if it had to be there…” They did! “Nnoo,” I said in a kind of whine, “Not about that. We were coming to ask you about leaving early!” Yuri’s smile lit the room instantly. He nudged Luke, “It is a good idea!” He declared, “You each had the same one!” Luke motioned us closer and pointed at the map on the wide monitor, “There is a nice harbor in Cattolica. It’s only a few kilometers east of San Marino. There is a fairly good-sized airport there.” “It’s almost to Venice,” Yuri shrugged. I shook my head, “It’s gotta be this ship.” I muttered. I tapped Peter on the arm. “Peter’s reading my mind, my ideas are being Shanghaied…” Peter nodded, “We’ll be off tomorrow, and it will all be over.” I looked at him and muttered, “I’m not so sure.”. Probably because had stuffed ourselves at lunch we were famished by dinner having stretching our stomachs. One more time we all got together to share a meal; crewmembers from the Duchess and people from Makarovia. We had said things during other meals, thanks were given and promises made before. We even decided to dress a little more for dinner. Not the tuxedos and evening gowns thing, but nice clothes. Nita even wore a skirt. Yet, because we’d said our goodbyes the conversations were a little hushed and quiet. Henri’s meal presentation didn’t have any of the flourishes it usually had. I looked at them and didn’t know I felt happy and yet sad? Well, that makes as much sense to me as hurry up, but do it slowly. Huh? They were all the best sorts of Human Beings. They were hardworking that had endeared themselves to Peter and me very quickly. Earl, an ex-Navy man, did wonders with modern technology. He did a lot of work with the artificial intelligence of the Duchess. He got the software to work the hardware! There wasn’t much about the Intelligence Department he hadn’t seen or knew about. He didn’t help with the reputations of men from the United States. Twice I saw him blow large bubbles of pink stuff he managed to get to the size of a softball and suck it back in with the popping snap to repeat the process. Yes, they had chewing gum in Europe. Even bubblegum, though I hadn’t been to a store to confirm that. After a meal, they quickly chewed a piece to get rid of bad breath. It was considered rude to do it longer. Recreational chewing just to be chewing was never thought of. That reputation spread like a wildfire across Europe after World War Two. The second time I asked what kind he liked. He pulled one from his pocket, looked at me. “Please.” He said as if how could I ask that? “Bazooka!” I nodded pointing at it. “Do you have enough?” Earl nodded, “My sister sends a new supply every month.” He pulled two more out and a fourth one fell out he struck a good vein of gold in a mine. “I have more. Take as many as you want!” I grinned, “I prefer Double Bubble, personally.” “No.” Earl said back disappointed, “Bazooka is like…the Holy Grail of bubble gum!” “I like Big League Chew.” He pointed at me suddenly nodding, “Yes!! That’s a good one!” We were talking about bubble gum. Two adult men telling what we liked. Big League Chew was bubble gum. It was marketed for men who, like me, didn’t smoke, chew or spit tobacco. It came in bags like chewing tobacco giving people the impression we were putting something between our cheek and gum…if the tobacco was reddish-pink and we didn’t spit. It was good! I took one for myself and two for Peter. I’d never seen him with any kind of gum. He might not like it. He’d been in Boston for two years, but I didn’t know if Ted or someone may have shown this part of the world to Peter. Coming in where Peter was reading, sat near him and began to surf the channel menu on the Duchess. I didn’t have to look to see that single eyebrow raise when I blew the softball-sized bubble. I knew it was there. Then for the next half an hour, I showed him how to blow a bubble. There are concerns with me that I’d told you about us are…well…there isn’t a lot of maturity. Many of the situations could be handled without being silly. We all knew that. I know that. What was happening was very serious. Someone out there wanted to get us. The lives of those people who were to prevent that were in danger and nearly cost us Cosmo. It could simply be a coping mechanism we used to protect ourselves from the stress. There were times the option to be serious wasn’t a choice. My thinking is; not one of us was so serious it was a part of who we were. Alec was dealing with some horrible abuse in his past, but we had uncovered it. He wasn’t cured. Far from it, but he was healing. It can’t be taken away or forgotten, but he can deal with it with help. He was trusting us. Mikell had a past, but he would be more difficult. Rolph put all of his personal things on the table. He was an open book. Luke Agius was Captain and there was no one I knew of more qualified. He was the Duchess. Nita and Gretchen, until a week ago, I didn’t even know were onboard! I complimented Gretchen, but she was outdone by Nita who stayed hidden a day longer. Or was it two? No, it was one. The next day was the little island that didn’t much on it but rocks and maybe one hundred people. None the dramatics or flourishes, Henri presented us with…I don’t know. Henri didn’t explain what it was. Never tell Henri he can’t do something. He’ll do it just to show you, it can be done! He did it! I’d had escargot served many ways, but never like a stew. A very thick stew. I’m not wasting your time anymore. It was delicious. It was so quiet we could hear the silverware touch the china! The main course I didn’t know either. It had premium strips of beef and chunks of lobster; served in these single bowl things of cast iron. The smell of potato and cheese touched my nose. It was perfection in a bowl. Steak and Lobster with potatoes cooked and smothered in cheese. Delicious again and suddenly there was a clatter as Nita threw her silverware on her plate suddenly. “Someone needs to do something really silly and stupid or tell something absolutely hilarious right now…” She wailed bringing her napkin up to do the dab thing to prevent messing something up. I know I’d seen commercials that claimed to be waterproof. She didn’t use that for some reason. Gretchen leaned from her place by Nita to comfort Nita. I noticed moisture on her face, too. Earl shrugged, “I hope no one’s expecting me to do what Nita said.” “We knew this would end,” Peter reasoned, “Eric said it only hours after boarding day one this was dangerous.” “We did it several times this trip to get ready for this,” It should be funny, but no one felt that right now. “I don’t want to say goodbye!” Nita said in nearly a sob. “So, don’t!” I said logically. “I don’t want any of you to do that.” Peter nodded, “I have had two of the best weeks of my life!” “Me, too!” I added. “The only reason it will be goodbye is if we don’t stay in touch! We’ll see you later.” “That isn’t the same,” Henri shook his head. Peter pointed at Henri, “You,” he said and pointed down, “Sit.” He wobbled a grudging nod. “Life… changes. We can’t stop it. Don’t fight it.” “Grandma says what’s next is going to happen,” I said, “It might be bad, but it might be wonderful. You won’t know until you get there.” Luke nodded, “You’ve been a pleasure to have on board.” “Oui,” Henri smiled, “You appreciated whatever I made…” “You hardly left me anything to do,” Gretchen complained. “A little vacuuming and dusting, change the sheets…I had to look for what to clean.” “See?” Peter nudged me, “I told you,” “That isn’t me!” I said back. “Rules again.” Peter’s eyes rolled, but I kept going, “If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. Take it out, put it back…” “Yes, I know,” Peter chuckled. “This has almost been a vacation for me,” Nita stated. “I will go to Makarovia, perhaps find a nice Makarovian man and marry him. These men have been nothing but polite and courteous gentlemen the whole time” Peter chuckled, “They were showing Makarovia to you. There are some not so nice in Makarovia.” “You’ll have to show me,” Nita smiled. “And it’s not just behavior…” “Leo,” Gretchen mentioned and they both began laughing. Earl chuckled, but Luke frowned. I thought that was unusual. I was also feeling the dark mood lift a little, “He didn’t behave?” I asked. “You all have very different reactions to the name.” “It wasn’t anything like that,” Nita said, “He was very nice, but…” “He had…a problem…” Gretchen searched hesitantly for an explanation. “He farted!” Earl just stated. He just ripped that “Band-Aid” right off, “A lot.” I was a bit confused, “We all do that. We have to. Dogs, cats, hamsters…whales…” “Whales fart?” Peter leaned in and asked me quietly. “I assume,” I replied. “They are living beings that eat and digest…” Earl shook his head, “Not as much or as he did.” His statement said he had no doubt about that. “It wasn’t even his fault.” “Leo’s diet?” I asked, mostly Henri. “The poor guy! There are medications and…” “We tried a great number of things,” Luke assured me, “He was a good crewman.” Nita looked slightly alarmed, “Don’t think he was teased or made fun of because for it. I really liked him. He and I even dated five times.” “Are you sure?” Gretchen’s face got confused, “It wasn’t six?” Nita thought a second and nodded, “Well, yes. If you count…” “You dated!” Rolph growled. “We got it.” He did a hand rotating motion for her to keep it moving. “We never hurt him,” Gretchen added. “He was a very smart man who was very nice.” “We always have such delightful conversations at the dinner table,” Boris sighed and shook his head. Yuri smiled and gave Boris a pat on his hand in a there, there, it will be okay gesture “Those farts told a lot about other members on the Duchess,” Luke said, “At the beginning, I left them alone and tasks to do.” “Them?” Peter asked, “The other members of the crew?” Luke nodded, “I did that for a whole week. There is a lot about a person’s characters you find out about just listening and who they spoke to.” He resumed eating but paused. “They came aboard and I watched them break up into groups. Anyone I overheard teases Leo or anyone about something that can’t be helped was gone. That day. Anyone caught laughing behind the back of another…gone. If I can’t trust someone, even if they are the top in their field, I won’t use them. Anyone who gets pleasure from someone else’s pain, I won’t use.” He smiled Gretchen, Nita, and Earl. hurting someone “This ship offers wages well above people on other ships in the same position. The Count and Countess will gladly pay for good service.” I held my hands up in what most of the world knew was “time out.” I even said, “Whoa, whoa, time out. How the Hell did we get from bad behaviors of fellow crewmembers, to farts, to the pay scale on the Duchess?” “Talk about chasing rabbits!” Peter said trying to remember. Luke chuckled, “You were good guests. We’ll be happy to have you back.” He used his fork to emphasize. “I will love to see Makarovia.” The evening was saved and the noise level went back to where it should be. It was a good evening. I had friends take cruises; Celebrity, Royal Caribbean Carnival…the selection of cruises was countless! The difference here was we didn’t have to pack the night before we departed, and no suitcases were left in the hall. The cruise ships wanted the previous passengers to leave quickly so the new ones could get in the stateroom that same afternoon! We didn’t have that highly ordered chaos. I’ll just snap my fingers in disappointment and say “darn.” “We didn’t buy anything!” Peter said in disbelief. He frowned at the mound of clothes he was trying to pack. The suitcase was open on the round bed. “How can the very same clothes no longer fit in the very same suitcase it was brought in?” I chuckled, “I’m sure they are devoting research about that mystery right now,” I came around the bed carry a little suitcase with our grooming supplies and kissed him quickly. “It just may be a mystery that remains unsolved; like the mystery of why occasionally you put seven pairs of socks in and only six and a half come out. We may never know.” I got a little malicious. “You do know about washers and dryers, don’t you?” Peter nodded, “Yes, of course, I do.” And then he conceded with a grudging nod. “I know about those things, but I’ve never used one.” Chuckling, I patted him on the arm. “You’ll never know the joy of the rinse cycle.” Peter looked up, “Joy? What joy?” One with a finger I touched the end of my nose and the other pointed at Peter with a finger on the other hand, “Exactly.” I said walking backward. That wasn’t unusual. How many lightly pink or blue shirts did you see at college? Males and females on their own with no help were just lost. No one woke them for class or did laundry. That was all on them! Yuri told us the Makarovian jet was coming from Venice. If that…pirate (She was a criminal, but a pirate? I still see the Pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Sparrow.) was waiting on us. If she had someone watch for our plane. She could see the plane leave and depending on the equipment she used, she would see it head south. Where were we? We hadn’t arrived, had we? The plane must be picking us up from somewhere else. She would have to change tactics. Yuri came in followed by Boris. “Ready to go home?” Boris asked happily. Peter nodded with a chuckle, “We are! This was great!” He nodded looking at the suitcase. “It will be great to see Olek and Helga.” I looked at him surprised, “And?” Peter smiled, “Them too. It’s just a long list now.” Boris looked at the bed and walked over quickly, “What are you doing!?” He picked a shirt on top of the mound of clothes. “We have to pack,” Peter replied. “We can’t just leave it here.” Boris pulled the clothes out shaking his head, “You’re doing it wrong.” Peter’s eyebrow rose, “There is a right way other than it goes in and shuts?” “Of course, there is,” Boris took the last clothes from the suitcase. “You tried, I see,” he took a shirt and unfolded it. “These squares and rectangles are inefficient.” He looked at Peter. “Did it looked close to this you got them out?” Peter shrugged, “I don’t remember that.” Boris pointed at Peter, “I know it wasn’t. I packed it!” I tried not to laugh, “You went to a class to learn how to pack?” “Yes!” Boris got an annoyed look and grimaced. “Every cargo ship, truck, plane, or train car is packed professionally. Weight distribution has to be accounted for to prevent slips, load shifting, and overturning…many of those container trucks turn over because of the load shift.” If I could escort bayan do what Peter did, my eyebrow would have risen. Boris was right. I just hadn’t thought about it. Boris took over our packing. Things were going back to normal for Peter and me. Boris and Yuri were there to keep us organized. What can I say? Boris was very organized! Boris got everything Peter had in that pile on the bed into the suitcase and had room for more! I just put clothes in a suitcase, closed it and was done. Yuri was organized, but different. The plane was on the way. A few vans were coming to take us to San Marino. Our friends on the Duchess hugged and bid our farewells, promising to speak soon and all the Makarovians got in the vans. If this were for sightseeing, I would have paid more attention. It was pretty here, but I felt the urge to see everybody in Makarovia. They do this everywhere. The airport was in Rimini. The whole area was San Marino. I lived in Charleston. If you lived in Mt. Pleasant, Goose Creek or Hanahan, you lived in Charleston. There were a bunch of little burbs that made up the big burb. We got to the airport, and I will say I was…let down? I had been through some pretty big airports. Often, we landed at an alternate airport like Gatwick instead of Heathrow. When we did the Ellen DeGeneres we flew to Burbank, not LAX, Logan Airport in Boston. This was the Federico Fellini International Airport. I didn’t know who he was. He had to do something to have an airport named after him. I looked him up. He made films. Movies before my time and no movie title did I recognize. He was born here! He made a name for himself, and they named an airport after him. They were naming Rsys Lake after Peter’s and Olek’s father. I needed to talk to Mom about that when we got back. Oh, yeah! The airport. It was an International Airport, but crossing from Italy to another country was like what people in the United States crossing state lines. It wasn’t big. No superjumbo jets were landing and taking off. Yuri, who sat in the front passenger seat, had been speaking with someone a few minutes on the phone. He spoke enough Italian; he communicated with the Italians about what we were doing. Yuri relayed something to the driver, who said something and nodded. When we got off the Duchess, the passenger and cargo van waiting. The drivers were told to meet the Duchess and take her passengers to the airport. The expression of the van driver seeing Peter and me was classic now. This would be something to share at the water cooler. Yuri said one final thing to whoever was on the phone. “The plane is waiting for us.” He looked as the van veered left and away from the “airport.” The airport that had all those multiple concourses with gate after gate, wasn’t this airport. We arrived at a group of hangars. A few people were opening the large hangar doors and we were taken in by the vans. My eyebrows rose, seeing the plane it wasn’t the one that brought to Italy…or London, Boston, or Burbank. “What the…” Peter began looking in awe. The other jet was simply white. That was the color of most private jets. This plane had three engines. Three! That was odd. I’m not necessarily meaning the number. All three engines were on the back of the plane as if to push the jet through the air. One on either side and the third in the center with the tailfin sticking out of it. The engines and tailfin were a shiny black. The body of the jet was red! Not fire engine red, but a slightly deeper red like the red on our flag; Makarovia’s colors. The other thing was it looked sharp. Not like a well-dressed man looks sharp, it was well-dressed, but it looked as if the nose of the plane could pierce through anything. The nose was longer. The nose was long and red and those Gothic lions on the royal crest were there in gold on the side. The nose was longer, but the wings just ahead of the tailfin got shorter and seemed to in the wrong place; to me. There were two very short ones, very short, toward the nose. They couldn’t lift this plane! The other wings were too far back. It was the jet for Makarovia. The van’s passenger door was slid open. I got out and just stared. Yuri chuckled and waved behind himself at the plane. “This is an Aerion AS2.” He bounced. “She is a hypersonic jet…” “Hypersonic!?” I gaped. “It breaks the sound barrier!?” Yuri nodded, “It has,” he smiled at the plane and then turned back. “Overland we won’t, but over the Atlantic, we will.” He looked again at the jet. “She has two levels, which the bottom level has bedrooms.” He shrugged, “Not big bedrooms at all, but queen-sized beds or twin beds. There’s an office on the second level and places to eat…” Peter began smiling like a child that got an unexpected, delightful surprise. “I have got to see this!” It felt very comfortable. Luxurious! Fit for a king because it was! And for the Queen; both of them, and extended family. Then a feeling came I didn’t welcome, so, I slapped myself in the face with a smack. Peter was now a little worried, “What was that?” “Just keeping my feet on the ground,” I muttered. What I said in Makarovian was: Prosto trymayuchy nohy na zemil. Peter got even more confused. I needed to clear some things up. When I told Peter that I wanted to make modern companies, industry “green” with my degree from the University…green didn’t carry the meaning in Makarovian or Ukrainian. The direct word for word translation, what I said didn’t make sense. I nodded as I read his expression. “Okay.” I thought a moment. “This,” I pointed straight down and then waved at the surrounding plane, “Is not our plane.” “What!?” Peter balked. I gently put my hand over his mouth and held that finger I used when making points, “At least listen to all of it before you react. Okay?” I rose slightly on my toes and kissed him quickly. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. It’s not the Ivanovs’ plane. It’s the plane for Makarovia and to get people to various places for Makarovia to improve their lives.” I shrugged. “I hit myself because, just for a second, I felt like I deserved it.” I shook my head. “I don’t.” “You do!” Peter argued. “You are a prince and made one by Makarovians.” I grinned, “Why? I haven’t done anything except give a member of the royal family an erection.” Just he would raise a single eyebrow. That same eye narrowed as he looked at me suspiciously. “I’ll just say it,” I said. “I am truly humbled by all this.” I saw Peter’s face soften. “Not that false humility where someone says: Oh, You shouldn’t have when know they don’t mean it; or someone who has the attention of everyone when an exceptional job is done; it was nothing is said or appearing humble when they’re not as many religious leaders do.” I sighed and looked at this jet’s interior. “They are dishonest. In this entire world, you know me best of all. Is this an act?” Peter smiled warmly, “No.” “The people of Makarovia are trusting me,” I said gravely softly. “The palace, the house in Boston, and this plane; are all parts of that trust as I’m allowed to use it.” I shook my head. “When we arrived here and I saw the name of the airport, I know it’s named after someone. I wondered if something will be named for me.” I pointed at Peter. “This is how it starts.” “How what starts?” “That feeling of entitlement,” I said simply. “Living in a palace, flying all overall because of who I am? I’d want it to be because of what I’ve done.” Peter nodded and pulled closer, “I see.” “I expect you to keep watch to see that I don’t,” I said. Peter shrugged, “You do for me, so why not?” He kissed me. “I love you.” “I know,” I grinned. “I love you.” “Yeah, yeah,” Rolph said coming in and sitting down. The others did the same. He pointed at the couch and some chairs. “Love, love, no one would know that just by looking at you. You might want to sit and fasten the seatbelts. We’re taking off.” Every kid wants to try out their new toy. I was waiting for the engines to start. Only to find out they were running!! The hangar doors were opened and the engines that had been idling made a “wheen” sound that got louder and we began to move. I am still the guy that believes just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. It was the Makarovian jet. The colors and the gold lions on the side told everyone that. As smooth as they want the runway to be, tarmacs have bumps. Anyone who has flown knows, you wait your turn on the runway. Logan, the airport in Boston had planes in line to do that. Taking off and landing; you went when they said it was your turn. That wasn’t the case here. That “wheen” grew and we began moving faster. The nose began to rise and then we were airborne! Makarovia was North and a little East of where we were. It was three or four hundreds of miles away…that and weather conditions, we had to fly over Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, and Slovakia. The plane felt and sounded different. You know I am not just saying it to brag…well, yeah, I am, but soon we began to descend. The mountainous landscape was familiar to me now. “I’m not complaining,” Peter said to Yuri. “This trip sort of flew by.” I chuckled. “That wasn’t a pun or something, was it?” Yuri smiled, “It was faster. The other plane could go four or five hundred kilometers an hour. Eventually.” He patted his seat. “This can go up to eight hundred kilometers an hour.” Ouch, again. Math. That was about five hundred miles per hour. I could see why it was important. There were times when getting there quickly was the most important. If we went over the Atlantic where we did break the sound barrier, we would be going more than seven hundred and sixty miles an hour! Geez! That was fast!! We did a slower circle, and I could see Stryia. From above Styria looked the same as it always did. It was underground that was radically changing. The people came out with warmer weather because it was so rare. That tall structure that held the palace; it was large. It was the tallest and widest construction in Makarovia. Stryia. Touching down we stopped on the only runway in Stryia. We only lost an hour so there was no shock. Grandma, Olek, Helga, Mom, Mario…it was getting crowded! Grandma and Mom broke from the others. Naturally, Grandma hugged me while Mom hugged Peter and they switched. “It’s good to have you back,” Grandma said happily. I nodded, “It’s great to be back.” The others came one by one to hug and speak to us. Mario was smiling but stood back a little. I looked at him. Remember, the only common language spoken was English. I don’t believe we spoke anything but Makarovian. I switched to English, “No, Mario, your days in the background here are done. You’re one of the family now.” Peter chuckled, “If he passes the next test.” A frown appeared Mario’s face, “Test? What test?” There are many customs and strange things are done in Makarovia; I’m sure his mind was quickly searching for what that could be. Peter walked up to him, “This test.” He put his arms around Mario and hugged him. Not one of those man-hugs or short “how do you do” hugs, but an embrace. It didn’t even take a second before Mario was returning the embrace. I saw Mom’s expression go from happy to pleased and now tears were welling in her eyes. Mom must have seen the commercial I did about the water-proof gunk for the eyes. Her’s didn’t run. Two of her hands came together as if to say a prayer or to say thank you. She probably did! “So,” Olek grinned at us. “What did you guys think?” Peter released Mario and got this look, “Think about what?” I am telling you! If there was an award for convincing acting…oh, wait, that’s right! There is. Peter deserved an Oscar. Everyone would have been convinced he didn’t know what Olek was talking about. Olek’s mouth dropped open and he gestured quickly with both hands at the plane. His expression said what else? I shoved Peter lightly, “Stop teasing your brother.” I turned to Olek and hugged him. “The plane! It was damned fast! It seemed we just got into the air and then down again. It’s beautiful! Comfortable and…tight?” We spoke English to not leave anyone out, but somethings had to be clarified. “It’s so damned new nothing rattles? A new car is tight…” Olek was nodding now, “I understand.” Peter chuckled, “I had to do that. I couldn’t help it.” He waved at the plane. “How do I say this?” He thought a few seconds. “It looks…mean?” Olek was nodding harder, “That’s what I said!” He looked at Helga as if she could confirm. “A flight from here to Boston takes almost an entire day,” I said. Olek was still nodding, “Yes. You have to consider refueling and all that.” He literally waved it aside physically with his hand. He pointed toward the plane with his thumb. “A full fuel supply and she could almost go from here to Boston and back…on one tank!!” He marveled. “No more eighteen and nineteen-hour flights,” Peter said to be sure he understood. “No!” Olek said excitedly. “We can cut that almost in half!” He gave a conceding nod, “We can’t fly over populated areas at the speed it’s capable of.” The grin was filling up with the devilment. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t push it toward that level. You flew here at Mach 0.8 or 0.9. It doesn’t take long for this plane to get to that speed for cruising.” He chuckled. “That’s not hypersonic, but close. If we stay below Mach One, there is no shockwave or boom.” I saw “Olek.” He was this big kid that had the greatest toy. Ever! Peter did the head back thing again and just blinked, “Who are you?” He looked at me. “I find out my husband loves sports that are violent and now I see a man that looks like my brother Olek. Your voice sounds like his, but you can’t be him.” Peter shook his head. “I’ve never seen you before.” Olek laughed hugging Peter, “Welcome home!” Yuri came to us, followed by Rolph, Alec, and Mercea. “My apologies, Your Majesty,” They all bowed. I was confused for only a second or two. He spoke with King Olek many times. To have that kind of familiarity was not appropriate in front of the men. Like Peter’s and my calling Luke captain. Protocols. He looked at the agents, “Is there anything else required of them?” “Sure!” I said immediately and pointed at each of them. “Come back.” You know, hugs and all that happened. They had been given four days off duty. They could visit family and friends and sleep as late as they wanted. It was their time. You also know me. I knew what Rolph had at home. I didn’t know what Alec had, or Mercea. Most of the concern was for Alec. He had been with the guys for two weeks in nice, but somewhat close quarters. “Alec!” He turned with a quizzical look. “Guys!” I shouted. “I can promise confidentially as I am about the sun setting in the West; we will go to the Grotto. I don’t want to lose touch. It would be great if you came, too.” Rolph nodded, “We’ll have to get a babysitter,” he grinned, “I’d love to.” Alec looked happier knowing we weren’t just abandoning him. We had told all of them, but now it was said in front of the King and Queen. He knew we meant it. Alec nodded, “You have our numbers. Just call or text when.” Mercea shrugged, “I’m just going home. Mom will shower me food saying I wasn’t eating enough…” Peter’s eyes widened, “You’re kidding.” I smiled, “She has seen you eat before?” Mercea shrugged, “She always says that. She loves me.” “Is she Italian?” I asked. He smiled bigger, “Grandma, Mom’s mother was.” “That explains it,” I laughed. Everybody who knows Italian families knows grandmothers and mothers equated love with food. Peter reached out and touched Helga. She was always a beautiful woman, but now…I know its cliché, she glowed. “How are you?” She put a hand over her midsection. I didn’t see any swelling, “We are fine.” At least she accepted she was pregnant. “The doctor prescribed prenatal vitamins,” I said with certainty. “She did,” Helga nodded. “She even helped with the morning sickness.” Sighing contently, she added. “I can honestly say I haven’t felt this good before.” “Wonderful!” Peter said. “It’s still in the first trimester,” Helga explained. “We plan to legally marry tomorrow,” Olek said. “It won’t be a formal ceremony, but you two had to be here. Is there anything on your agenda that would take you away?” “They couldn’t drag us away!” Peter promised. Olek waved his hand to indicate he was moving on, “We still want all the traditional things for Makarovian Royal Marriages.” “Traditions are great,” I agreed. “Eventually old traditions are replaced by new ones.” Olek smiled, “And we will tell everyone why. The truth. We’re not hiding anymore.” I loved the country and this family. Birds flew overhead. There was chirping in a tree by the hangar. The weather was comfortable with cool breezes. The sky was almost cloud-free. It was a beautiful summer day in Makarovia.

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