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81d: A Visitor from Outer Space, or, The Duke of Annapolis' Beard

New York City, New York, Northern Confederation, CNA
16 May 1974

His Grace Roger, Duke of Annapolis [1], was a man in need of a date.  And
since it was a social rather than a personal date, a woman was definitely
called for.  He was called to help represent the Confederation of North
America at the coronation of the new King of New Granada, of all things, and
a bird was required as an accessory for his image.

Roger searched his mind for some woman who would (a) be socially suitable at
such an occasion, (b) not be an impossibly boring companion, and (c) had no
designs on either his person or his title.  The space pilot, what was her
name, Evie Gilmore!  He'd talked to her twice, once at the officer's mess at
Pax River and once at that state dinner in Burgoyne.  Daughter of old Horace
who died back in '62.  Not so bad looking in a masculine sort of way, not
that he had a problem with that. [2] Certainly able to find the right fork
and so forth.  And able to draw some unwelcome attention away from her escort
-- after all, how many women had been in free fall around the earth -- five
so far?

Smiling to himself, Roger began writing a note for his secretary to make the
necessary arrangements with that Abramowitz fellow in Burgoyne.  As an
afterthought, he added a postscript asking where exactly New Granada was.


Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
15 June 1974

With every passing moment, the genteel, blandly pretty smile across Captain
the Honorable Evangeline Adrienne Gilmore's discretely made-up face grew
increasingly wooden, though an undercurrent of amusement might be glimpsed
warming the glacial cerulean of her eyes. She had no intention of giving the
gaudily braided Cisplatine colonel at her elbow in the receiving line the
pleasure of finding out that she found the festivities a farce that improved
with every passing scene. They were all the butt of the joke, and she the
sole member of the audience.

She had felt that sensation before, when she looked down at the sapphirine
sphere of the earth, threaded with clouds, from the star-lit depths of Outer
Space.  She had been alone in the capsule, at once cut off from the world she
came from and intimately sizing it up.  Only four others in the CNA had ever
seen what she had seen, and she knew now the reason that everyone around her
seemed so filled with folly and pettiness.  She had seen everything in one
great blue curve beneath the black of oblivion, and knew the measure of the
world.  The sweep had been grand, but in the end it was a small place, and
the people that inhabited it were small and short-sighted.

It had seemed so beautiful beneath her feet, a single shard of emotion she
had hoarded to herself when she returned to terra firma.  The earth was the
most beautiful object she had ever seen, as if the eons of creation had
formed it for that one single view, for her own pleasure, yet she knew quite
well it was a ship of fools.

She had to admit, her visit to Bogotá was far more amusing, in a twisted sort
of way, than she could have ever expected.

Of course, she had accepted the invitation of the Duke of Annapolis, now
standing to her left, in the hopes that it might provide some comic relief.
The man was queer as a four-pound note, and while he wouldn't be a threat to
her, if she played her cards right, she might be able to play fast and loose
with his mind without much risk to her own dignity. This was some of the
logic behind the cut of the new dress she had ordered--the latest from Buenos
Aires--before she left New York.

She looked positively regal sheathed in gleaming high-waisted taffeta;
ice-blue, her best color.  It showed the best attributes of her tall, supple
frame while leaving enough to the imagination to leave voyeurs unsatisfied.
Unlike the slit-up monstrosities of the Mexicans--some of which were actually
going bare-legged at a public function, shocking--or that show-off getup La
Premiere, she of the spiked hair, was wearing.  She was too old for that
dress.  Ev knew she herself had the figure to pull off something like that,
but certainly had no intention of doing so.  She gave them a taste, a glance,
and nothing more.  It drove men insane, at once fascinated and terrified and
insecure, and she had no intention of releasing any one of them from that
state.

She knew how to play her part, to be the unapproachable-and, from Roger's
perspective, safe-ice queen, but add just enough innuendo, whether through an
impeccably-raised eyebrow or an odd, piercing, almost fearsome glance, to
throw his bent little mind into a tumult.

But the coronation ball was simply too much to ask for. The whole place
looked like the set of some W.S. Arthur comic opera, and Colonel Elbittar,
his breast swelling beneath a gold-embroidered scarlet plastron, looked like
the Almighty on one of the less tasteful days of Creation. It was a
combination of a bad copy of the worst of the latest military fashion imposed
by the pompous NRP of London on the British army and the usual excesses of
the dictators of Brazil and the Andes.  Walking just behind the newly-minted
monarch, His Most Catholic Majesty King Ferdinand III of New Granada, he was
soaking in the glory of the receiving line, pompously dignified, one
white-gloved hand grasping the garish red-yellow-blue tricolor sash
encircling his trim waist, the other thrust out with ridiculous ceremony to
each international guest.

He had the build of a soldier, and the worry-lines in his face were not those
of the man who dressed like a Spanish-American stage generalissimo out of
choice.  There was something entirely too serious in those hard, dark eyes
for the sort of charade he was putting on here.  A cautionary voice murmured
in the back of her mind, What's his game?  She ignored it.

And, now, passing on to Ferdie the Bull.  For he was old Ferdie, from that
visit to Sir Francis Burdett Prep. She still remembered the visit to her
uncle, the headmaster. The little spotty-faced cretins had worshipped her
like a goddess, and she knew they didn't know why. And she never gave them
the satisfaction.

Now, King Ferdinand was impeccably attired in the uniform of a field-marshal
of the New Granadan army, probably specially over-decorated for the occasion.
He was also (how to put this without sounding crass?) higher than a kite at
the moment. [3] He was far too relaxed, too at ease with himself; Ferdie was
one of those sorts who can't imagine that there's another serious soul on
earth and it's their job to save the world. Usually, they were rather bad at
small talk.  Maybe it would be good for him, this once.

She knew the signs. She'd seen sweet--hardly--little Cadet Nell Phillips get
thoroughly nailed by a cigarillo of the disgusting stuff and act a complete
fool at a party back in Marlborough City. One of the weirder strains of those
Turnerite perverts cultivated the stuff, God knew how or why.

Ev thought it was disgusting, but at the same time, she didn't mind having
fools around her as long as they gave her something to laugh at.

Ferdie and Elbittar were accompanied by an equally ornately uniformed flunky
whose job it was to announce to the becannabissed monarch the identity of the
stranger whose hand he was shaking. The trio had just reached Ev's place in
the line and the flunky had begun to recite, "Vuestra Merced el Duque de
Annapolis y--"

"Miss-Captain Gilmore!" Ferdie interrupted. "Top hole! What on earth are you
doing here?"  The language was English, the accent-and
vocabulary-unmistakably that of Burdett Prep.  Evidently, the sight of her,
in combination with his narcotized state of mind, perhaps, had caused him to
revert back to his squeaky-clean and highly irritating 14-year-old self.

"I'm here as the guest of His Grace," Ev explained serenely with a slight
flick of the eyes towards her companion.

"Absolutely smashing!" His Most Catholic Majesty exclaimed, in a voice
somewhere between dreamy and enthusiastic. "It's a shame we can't chat now
like old times, but I've got all these terribly important people to meet. See
you later!"  Ev was a little unsure of whether they had chatted like old
times the one time she, as an 18-year-old, had visited the monstrous little
monkeys of Burdett Prep, but neither laughed nor decided to correct him.
Giving her a farewell wink, Ferdie turned back to the flunky and continued in
Spanish, "And who is this next gentleman standing beside Capitan Gilmore?"

After a moment's pause, the flunky--who had to forcibly shut his
mouth--announced, "Eh--Colonel Roberto Loeb y Señora Loeb..."

The Duke murmured, "Such a lovely young man, don't you agree?  My dear
Captain, your circle of acquaintances is simply astonishing. I'd no idea you
were on such intimate terms with King Ferdinand."

"Neither did I, your Grace, neither did I," she responded, without turning a
hair.

Notes:

[1] There were a number of noble creations in North America just after the
Rebellion, Burgoyne's elevation to the title of Duke of Albany being the most
famous.  As the emerging CNA political elite branched away from the
aristocracy, they became less common, so that today only knighthoods and
baronetcies are granted, usually for military, legal/judicial, or artistic
achievement.  The hereditary titles still carry considerable cachet in
military and diplomatic circles.

[2] Captain Gilmore would strike any OTL viewer, and most FANTL viewers, as
entirely feminine.  But along with his own prejudices, His Grace might be
thinking of her excellent physical condition and the rather butch
cavalry-inspired Air Force uniform in which he first saw her.

[3] Astute readers who recall that Ferdinand took only one hit off of
Princess Sophia's cigarillo in FAN #81a may find his present state of
intoxication puzzling.  The answer is simple: while waiting in his carriage
for the procession to begin, he discovered that Sophia had hidden the
unsmoked portion of her "banger" in his peaked cap.  By the time the
procession began five minutes later, the cigarillo was gone, and Don
Ferdinand was becoming quite . . . relaxed.