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Erskine (backpacking).

 

Cammy swung her backpack into the row of seats in front of them and sat down next to Yulia with a thump. She loved travelling - even loved the weight of her backpack, the ache in her feet and thighs and god, in everything from the neck down, after from walking with it uphill for the last day, but she was, frankly, overjoyed to be able to take it off and sit down for the next four hours.

 

Yulia passed her the water bottle and Cammy drank a sip, ignoring the chemical taste of the purifier. Cammy didn’t have a problem travelling her on her own, but she was glad that she’d found Yulia as well, six weeks and two countries ago. It made it easier, travelling with another woman, and Yulia was good at travel games.

 

Yulia nodded over at the only other foreigner left on the bus. “What do you think?” she said.

 

Cammy looked over, peering over around her backpack propped up in the row of seats in front of them. The man was huge, sitting sideways on one of the seats with his back against the window and his head fallen forward, asleep despite the jerking of the bus. His legs were long enough that they stretched out across the aisle, over his own backpack -small compared to hers and tiny compared to him- and took up the seat opposite. “I’m gonna say… ooh, he’s pretty tall. Norwegian, maybe?”

 

Yulia shook her head. “No, not Norwegian. Maybe German? Or one of yours?”

 

“No leaf,” Cammy said, tapping the maple leaf ironed on to her backpack. “Like any Canadian’s gonna risk being mistaken for an American.”

 

“Right, how foolish of me,” Yulia said, smiling. “Maybe English?” She tilted her head to one side. “I think… not a gap year. Maybe army? With the hair,” she said, one hand sweeping over her head to imitate his buzzcut.

 

“Maybe,” Cammy said, doubtfully. “I don’t think so, though. My cousin’s in the navy. Military guys, they have this whole vibe, even off duty.”

 

“No, is like, when everyone has to be in army? For one year?” Yulia said. “You know?”

 

“National Service,” Cammy said. “Not English then, they don’t do that there. But yeah, let’s go with the national service thing.” He looked like someone used to be being big and scary.

 

“Okay, so let’s say… he finished his army time, maybe a few months ago. Girlfriend broke up with him.”

 

“Poor guy,” Cammy said.

 

Yulia grinned. “Yes, very heartbroken. So he thinks, that’s it, nothing for me here. I go travel, see the world. Leave all the tears behind, but very manly, very macho. Not planned at all.”

 

“Which is why the little rucksack and leather jacket, I like that” Cammy looked at him over again with Yulia’s story in mind. Yeah, she could make that fit. She gave the guy a couple of siblings -bigger brothers, because she liked the idea of him being the little one in his family- and made the ex-girlfriend leave him for one of them, because she watched too many soaps. And that was the sort of thing that made guys like him -big and tough and scary enough that they mostly got by on that alone- fly halfway across the world to suffer through badly thought-out trips, until they gave in and flew home or to some tourist resort in Ibiza or Bali.

 

The idea of it made her feel almost fond of him, enough to slot him in with her cousins as big and deceptively harmless, and she fell asleep.

 

~.~

 

She woke up with a start, Yulia asleep on her shoulder. The bus had stopped and the driver was saying something to a woman she didn’t recognise. A new passenger, she guessed.

 

“Shcho?” Yulia said, lifting her head up. “What happen?”

 

“I don’t know,” Cammy said. The bus was empty now, except for them and the big man who was awake as well. He stood up, ducking his head to avoid the roof of the bus and went over to them.

 

The man leaned down and down until he was level with the old woman and the driver and said something to her. Cammy blinked, surprised, when the woman answered back, and then felt embarrassed by her surprise. He looked— well, her mother would say he looked like he had a good heart, which is what she always said when she thought someone was a little simple. The guy didn’t look like had a good heart, but he didn’t look like he’d be winning any prizes for intelligence either. He definitely didn’t look like someone who spoke— she didn’t even know what they spoke here. Sikkimese, maybe? Dzongkha?

 

They got off the bus together. Cammy pulled out her phone and switched it on, crossing her fingers until a bar appeared.

 

Between an online dictionary and the driver’s english, he managed to explain that the road ahead had flooded, the old woman had come to warn them, and the man had gone with her to see if he could help.

 

The driver had turned the engine off and the clouds obscured most of the sky. Cammy tried to remember if she’d charged her emergency power cell, if she could risk the battery on her phone for a few games of mah jong solitaire.

 

She wasn’t sure how long it was before the man and the old woman came back. He was covered in mud to just above the waist, but it didn’t seem to bother him. The driver got up and talked to him, then the tall man came back over to them.

“Dam broke,” the man said. English, Cammy thought, surprised despite herself. “Sorted it, but the road’s too wet still. Have to wait till it dries out.” The woman gestured at them. “Mrs Dorji says we can stay with her tonight. Said you were my sisters.”

 

Cammy and Yulia exchanged looks. “Uh, thank you?” Cammy said. “I don’t know that— your sisters?”

 

The man shrugged. “Better than my real sisters, probably. Being nice,” he added, sounding wounded.

 

They had tents— well, two bivouacs, really, but they weren’t comfortable to sleep in. Cammy still hesitated for a moment, before Yulia made the decision for both of them and nodded, getting up from her seat. “Thank you,” she said. She turned to look down at Cammy. “Better than sleeping on the bus,” she said.

 

“Have to walk there,” the man explained. “Want a hand?” Cammy bent to get her backpack. She wasn’t sure if he meant hers, Yulia’s or both, but she shook her head.

 

The woman - Mrs Dorji - lead the way, occasionally talking to the man. There was something ridiculously comical about it— he was easily twice as tall as her, the drying mud flaking off as he walked, leather jacket weirdly clean in comparison. Halfway there, the moon broke through the clouds, shockingly bright.

 

They were shown to a room, almost pitch black with the shutters closed. Mrs Dorji gestured at Cammy and Yulia, and then grabbed the man by the arm and tugged him away, like a corgi leading a bear.



~.~

 

She woke up the next morning and wriggled out of the sleeping bag, throwing open the shutters. The day hadn’t quite started to warm up, but the sun was already bright and clear in the sky. The fields looked like ripples running down the mountain and she felt suddenly optimistic.

 

She got dressed and rolled up her sleeping bag, waited while Yulia braided her hair, and then they went to find the other man. She still didn’t know his name, Cammy realised.

 

They found the man and Mrs Dorji talking in what looked like the main room. The man sat cross-legged, doing his unsuccessful best to make himself look smaller.

 

Mrs Dorji looked very cheerful and she waved at them to sit down with a plate of rice.

 

“She seems happy,” Cammy said.

 

“Fixed the water pump for her,” he said. “Doing all my good deeds. Should remember that.”

 

Cammy wondered if he meant that he should or that they should.

 

“That was nice of you,” she said to be safe.

 

“Good with plumbing,” the man said. Then added, “Not a plumber,” as if correcting them. “Not army either. Don’t like taking orders.” He grinned at them. “Just travelling. Seeing the world.”

 

“All of it?” Yulia said. “Ambitious.”

 

“Got the time,” he said. “Didn’t get much chance when I was younger.” He grinned again, big and simple. “On my gap years.”

 

“Us too,” Cammy said. She reached out her hand for him to shake, a belated introduction. “Cammy, Canada.”

 

“Erskine,” he said, shaking it very carefully. Yulia offered her name and he shook her hand as well with the same level of care.

 

Yulia laughed suddenly. Cammy gave her a questioning look and she smiled. “Just— Yulia, Ukraine. Cammy, Canada. Erskine, England. Very…” she made a vague gesture. “Very poetry?”

 

The man, Erskine, grinned again, big and foolish. It had to be deliberate, Cammy thought, like he was careful to look that way. If she hadn’t heard him talking to Mrs Dorji, she’d probably assume it was true.  She wondered if it was because he looked was so big— something he did to make himself less scary.  

 

“Do you know if we can head back to the bus?” Yulia asked, finishing her rice.

 

“After breakfast,” he said.

 

Yulia nodded and stood up. “I have to pack my bag,” she said. “Cammy, I’ll grab yours too?”

 

“Thanks,” she said, still eating.

 

Erskine pulled something out of his pocket. He must have had a chance to clean his jeans, Cammy realised. He hadn’t brought his rucksack with him, but his jeans were clean now, and there was no way Mrs Dorji would have had anything that fit him.

 

“Got to write postcards,” he said. “Promised.” He pushed one over to her. “Want one?”

 

“Sure,” she said. The front of the postcard was a generic monastery. She wrote her parents address on it and then suffered a complete failure of inspiration. Where to start? She looked over at what Erskine was writing. His handwriting was messy, almost illegible. Cammy could just about make out a name at the top - Catriona - when he changed cards, starting a new one. He started to write something  -Ventures, maybe?-, then very deliberately crossed it out and wrote Howard. He caught Cammy looking and for a moment, she couldn’t read his expression, then it settled into a familiar foolishness. “Family joke,” he said. “My little brother hates his name.”

 

“You have a lot of brothers?” Cammy asked politely.

 

“Four,” he said. “Two sisters.”

 

“Must be nice,” she said. “I’m an only child, but my cousins lived just down the block from us, so it was like having brothers.”

 

Erskine smiled again, and this one wasn’t dopey like the other. It was sharp, close to vicious, and barely there long enough for her to see. “Lived with my family for too long. Much better when there’s some space between us.”

 

“Sure,” Cammy said. “But you still write to them?”

 

Erskine looked down the postcard as if it suddenly surprised him to have it there. “Well,” he said. “Not all bad.”




Hathaway (day trip)

 

The ruff, small as it was, was probably a mistake. Hathaway was prepared to admit that. But it was exactly the kind of mistake that Torquil would enjoy, ridiculous and stuffy and appropriately inappropriate for a trip to the theatre. So he kept it on, pulled some of the puffs of his undershirt a little more through the slashing on his jacket, and headed to his study, only to find Anne and Will in the corridor outside.

 

“Father!" Anne said. "Why are you dressed so?"

 

She eyed his outfit suspiciously. "We have no guests expected, do we?" She took her arm out from Will's to better look over his shoulder, peering into the study to see if he was hiding them from her. "None of your strangers? My distant descendants? I’ll not be pleased if you’ve kept my own family from their many-times great-grandmother.”

 

"None, so you both may leave to visit Will's parents without any fear of missing anything," he said. He waved his hand from her and Will to the door.

 

“I’ve never seen you dressed so,” she said.  Anne crossed her arms at him in a way that reminded him strongly of her mother, and frowned in a way that brought to mind Venturus's little sister. "You'd tell me if we did have visitors coming? Perhaps Uncle Torquil? Will has yet to meet him and they would have much to discuss."

 

"No," he said cheerfully, "I'd keep thee as far from that brother's influence as possible." He sighed, as dramatically as Torquil ever had. "And thou were such a good girl, before my wicked relations influence thee so." He glanced at Will, who took his cue well.

“That then is much to my benefit,” he said. “If Anne was not the woman she is, she’d not have looked twice at me. I’d have had to settle for some other fair maiden, all sweetness and light and modesty.” He made a face at the thought and Anne elbowed him. He played it up, clutching at his side. “How awful that would have been.”

 

“You cannot distract me with such nonsense, father,” Anne said firmly. “Where do you go, dressed like that.”

 

“To my study,” he said. “For private contemplation.” He ignored the way the ruff kept his chin up, making the statement ridiculous.

 

Anne reached out and poked at his doublet. “And you must dress your thoughts so finely for that?”

 

“What better reason could I have,” he said. “Should I let my finest clothes go to waste, just because my life has so little occasion to it?”

 

“Should you join us in London, your life could match your dress,” Anne said.

 

“I visited you just this past Christmas,” he said.

 

“And we have visited you this very day,” Anne said, “so it’s your turn for sure.”

 

“Well, that is hard logic to argue with,” he said dryly. “If your husband has no objection to your father taking residency in your home, maybe I can join you again this autumn.”

 

“No objection from me,” Will said. “Certainly none with Anne’s sharp elbows so close.” he dodged a second blow and Hathaway made his way into his study while her attention was distracted. He closed the door and locked it with half a thought, then opened his cupboard. At the back, safely out of sight from most of the household staff, the mirrored surface of the communicator showed how perfectly ridiculous he looked, but he ignored it to pick up the gift Venturus - Howard, he reminded himself, he preferred to be called Howard - had given him.

 

He took it over and sat back in his chair, and waited for the future to come to him.



 

Torquil (tour)

 

The theatre was built with a true Victorian style, gilt and polished brass picking up all the lights as the audience rustled, settling themselves to focus on the stage behind the curtain for the next few hours, all of them, from the plushest stalls to the cheapest gods, ready to share in the same carefully created set of emotions. The red curtain moved very slightly, the heavy weight of the velvet warring with the warm air from the packed audience.  Another time, and he might have picked one of the cheap seats, up high with a perfect view of the entire theatre and a steep view of the stage.

 

This time, he was in one of the stall boxes. He wasn't in the royal box, which Torquil regretted slightly. In terms of luxury and cost –if he'd had to pay- it was identical, and with a slightly better view of the stage. Still, he regretted the missed chance to sit there and let himself be watched by the audience before the lights went down. In the royal box, he could have played the role of Mysterious Benefactor, Hollywood-gaudy or old-money restrained. As much a part of the show as the people on stage.

 

Not tonight, though. Tonight, he was happy to watch with the rest of the audience.

 

The orchestra tuned their instruments. It felt like an inhalation, the music about to breathe, and Torquil felt both calmed and anticipatory. He let the audience’s mood spread and amplify, finding The Times’ theatre critic in the audience and making him a little less rigid in his views on musicals. 

 

The lights dimmed and the empty seat next to him blurred slightly as Hathaway slid into the present. Torquil leaned over to Hathaway. "You made it then. What are you wearing?"

 

"I could say the same," Hathaway said, pulling at his undershirt through one of the gores on his sleeve. "Besides, I thought you'd appreciate it."

 

"It's brown," Torquil objected. "And decidedly elizabethan." He reached out and poked at the ruff, his finger going through it and turning.

 

"Well…" Hathaway said, shrugging slightly. To Torquil's mind, he buzzed slightly, a vague sense of Venturus floating around him to hold him in the present –Hathaway's future- while Hathaway himself was several centuries away.

 

The first performer walked onto the stage – the understudy, a last minute change, and Torquil quietly helped him find his mark. He felt Hathaway's glance at him, picking up on it, but chose to ignore him. The understudy started to sing and Torquil felt him slip into the role.

Hathaway leaned forward in his seat, arms folded over the edge of the balcony, his image fading slightly in the light. Torquil wasn't sure how that worked, why Hathaway didn't fall through it—whatever Venturus had done when he made this tool was beyond him, and Venturus hadn't bothered to explain, just shrugged and looked awkward and muttered something about holograms and photons and how it was just something one of his lecturers had said in class.

 

Hathaway laughed at something on stage and Torquil brought his attention back to it. The next number was going to start, the dancers waiting in the wings to fly on stage, the director calling a last minute adjustment, something to take advantage of their unexpected and last minute allotment of this theatre. One of them was ruthlessly ignoring a swollen knee and Torquil gave the spotlights a little extra spark and lifted her pain at the same time, then let the story carry him away until the lights came up for the interval.

 

Hathaway leaned back as soon the lights went up, smiling happily. “Thank you for inviting me,” he said. “That was…” he laughed. “Well, i’m glad to see you’re putting your energy to good use.”

There was a time when that would have been the start of an argument— Hathaway complaining that Torquil was too like their older siblings, using his allowed sphere for his own entertainment without any care. And Torquil pointing out that at least he did something, unlike Hathaway, contain to let his responsibilities fall on other people’s shoulders, happy to retreat into the past.

 

But then, they’d been trapped by their parents’ last command, the constant feeling of being held back, of being limited and constrained effecting all of them in different ways. Making Shine more vicious, Archer and Dillian more controlling, making Erskine go sullen, making Hathaway withdraw in time when he couldn’t find space anywhere else.

 

And Torquil had been his own worst self. He could have done more with what was his, but it had all seemed so pointless, so petty. And then he’d felt rejected by Hathaway.

 

They weren't fighting anymore, but the memory of it was still close enough that Torquil found himself being occasionally cautious around him, unwilling to risk the truce no matter how robust it was now. And Torquil had been very good at distracting himself from being lonely, but still. He'd missed his brother, the only one that had actually felt like a friend—like he, Torquil, was somebody someone could be friends with.

 

“How are our little brothers?” Hathaway said. “Venturus hasn’t been to see me in months.

 

“University,” Torquil said, still baffled. “Studying engineering, for some reason.”

 

“He’s always liked to build.”

 

“Yes, but he hardly needs to study for that,” Torquil said. “You never saw his little palace in the future. There’s nothing he can learn now that’s greater than what he can do then.”

 

Hathaway smiled. “Perhaps he wants to take the long way round this time. Any sign of Erskine?”

 

“Still travelling, according to Venturus.”

 

“They keep in touch?” Hathaway said, surprised. “I’d have thought Erskine would be glad to be shot of all us. None of us were very good to him.”

 

They hadn’t been. Their parents had been so focussed on Venturus and Erskine had been just one more sibling to fight with or ignore, without any of the charisma that fooled you into thinking the elders were bearable. It was another of Torquil’s failures, in retrospect. Even Hathaway had largely let him be, happy to let him take on the burden of looking after Venturus and already busy distancing himself as much as possible from their family.

 

“With his whole family,” Torquil said, still baffled at the thought. “I think the mother is particularly fond of him, for some reason.”

“Oh!” Hathaway said, and then, “oh,” more contemplatively. “Yes. I can see that.”

 

“You haven’t even met them,” Torquil scoffed. “And Erskine… Well, I can’t imagine what he gets out of it.”

 

“I met Howard and Awful,” Hathaway said. “They do visit sometimes. On the whole, they give a good impression of their parents. And you can hardly blame him for wanting what Venturus-- what Howard has.” What Hathaway himself had gone all the way to the 16th century to find.

 

“He sends them postcards. He even-- here,” Torquil said, pulling one out from his pocket, re-directed from his Vegas address to LA, to Broadway and then back to London’s West End, where it had found him walking between the Young and Old Vic, stuck to the bottom of his shoe. One of Erskine’s little tricks, he thought-- Erskine was always clever that way.

 

The front was a blue-green sea with a small red-sailed boat sailing between steep-walled, shrub-covered islets. Torquil turned it over, holding it so Hathaway could see the other side.

 

The handwriting was almost entirely illegible, smudged beyond repair somewhere between Vietnam, Las Vegas, LA, New York and London, but Hathaway could just about read his own name at the top and, at the bottom, “harder to get here when you are.” Hathaway reached out for it anyway, his fingers drifting through. “Well,” he said, sounding pleased. “I suppose that’s his idea of a joke.”

 

“I’ll come and visit you soon,” Torquil said, putting it back in his pocket. “You can read it properly then. Now quiet, the second-half’s starting.”

 

He let out a faint tug of power -just enough to fix the occasional buzz caused by the sound engineer’s unfamiliarity with acoustics up in the second dress circle, where the Londonist reviewer was- and concentrated on the show.

 

Venturus (jetset lifestyle)

 

The horrible thing about remembering all of his past was remembering who he’d been, how he’d been. The memories would raise their head whenever he got angry about one of Awful’s latest tantrums or started to begrudge it when Quentin irritably told Erskine that if he was going to be about for Christmas, then he should tell them now so they had time to warn the new lodger and he’d have to share a room with Ginger and Howard, before Erskine had even said if he was going to be in England for it.

 

There were a few things Howard knew very clearly. The first was that he definitely did not want to be like any of his siblings, not even Hathaway, who he did like, or Torquil and Erskine that he liked more than he used to. The second was that he definitely wanted to design spaceships still. The third was that he also didn’t want to be like his parents -not Quentin and Catriona, but the other ones- who hadn’t been ambitious and distant and scornful, on the whole, rather bad at being parents.

 

The fourth thing, and the thing that kept him around much more so than any of the others, was that he didn’t want Awful turning out like any of them either. She didn’t have their powers, of course, but he wasn’t entirely sure she’d need them-- Awful had always been good at getting people to do what she wanted, or making them regret that she hadn’t. She might not be able to farm the world, at least not without help, but he definitely thought she could manage a city or two, or even a country if she really wanted.

 

It was one of the reasons why he didn’t retreat to the future, even though he could feel the lure of it like a constant tug at the back of his mind, saying that if he was there, he wouldn’t have to worry about his A-level results, or his violin practice, or Ginger’s fight with his dad - there, there it would just be him and his beautifully functional machines that could build the  spaceships that couldn’t exist in the now.

 

Awful had settled into secondary school with a bang and several whimpers from other directions, not exactly making friends yet, but gathering a small herd of acolytes. She arranged games and dictated what new fad everyone should follow- her arms were covered in friendship bracelets from the last one, but she’d already started to grow bored with that.

 

“I think I want to be a pilot,” Awful said. “You can make me a fighter plane,” she added, like she was doing him a favour by offering.

 

Howard rolled his eyes. “I don’t make fighter planes.”

 

“A fighter spaceship then,” Awful said. “Maybe I could go find aliens. Or Archer and Shine and Dillian and--” She pretended to shoot lasers at them. “I wouldn’t use it against anyone nice,” she said. “And you didn’t even give me a proper birthday present.”

 

“Howard, you are not to give your sister any weaponry,” Catriona said firmly. “Not even for her birthday.”

 

“I wasn’t going to!” Howard objected. “And I took you to see Hathaway for your birthday, like you asked me to.” He’d even wrangled it so they could come back via the future, carefully balancing it so she could stay a little longer without growing up or down.

 

“I could run away,” Awful said, eyeing them speculatively. “And join the army.”

 

“Air Force,” Quentin corrected absently, reaching for the cereal. “You’ll have to wait a few years for that.”

 

“Everyone thinks I’m older than I am,” Awful said smugly. She’d hit her growth spurt almost a year ago, and growing up and up until she could look down on Quentin’s head and comment on his bald spot. “Bet I could convince them to take me anyway.”

 

“You sound like the Goon,” Howard said.

 

“Don’t call your brother a goon,” Catriona said absently. “Howard, you’ll need to get the trundle bed down from the attic before he gets here.”

 

It was, Howard knew, a good thing that his parents are taken to Erskine, although with different degrees of fondness and tolerance. The world was probably a lot safer that way. His parents, after all, had done a pretty good job of making Howard in to Howard and Awful could have been Truly Awful  if she’d been raised by… well, by his first set of parents for example. That didn’t mean he thought it was entirely fair, especially not since Catriona seemed to feel that Erskine was, on the whole, less troublesome than Howard and Awful and therefore the Good One.

 

Erskine, Howard thought, took advantage of this, always looking extra pleased and surprised when Catriona showed him the growing collection of postcards stuck to the corkboard in the kitchen and being helpful when Catriona brought in heavy instruments from work. Catriona had even taken him to a harp performance by one of her colleagues when Awful and Howard had both claimed homework as an excuse. Howard could imagine it very clearly - Erskine folded up into one of those theatre seats that Howard was too big for, in his leather jacket and jeans, with Catriona next to him listening to the music attentively with her eyes closed and her hands picking on the notes on her armrest.

 

It was funny to think about, but he also felt, quite strongly, that Erskine was intruding on his and Awful’s territory. It was their job as the Sykes children to go to these things with their mother if they couldn’t avoid it, or not go if they could. It was not Erskine’s job to go in their place. The ease with which Erskine had settled in made Howard feel oddly guilty about his own adoption, knowing that Catriona and Quentin might have been compelled to take care of him, an ancestral trait passed down from Hathaway. They had no reason to like Erskine, except that he did-- except that, Howard knew, Erskine was as clever as he was, and liked that Catriona and Quentin liked him, and that despite everything, he still had the habit of care, and the horrible thing about remembering all of his past was remembering who he’d been, how he’d been. Howard could remember now how much Erskine had taken care of him-- how ungrateful he’d been for it, much preferring Archer’s occasional flashes of attention or even the sheer entertainment value of Torquil’s moods.

 

He could remember as well how little their parents had cared about Erskine-- by that time, he was just another kid, without even Archer, Dillian or Torquil’s charm, and just one more step to getting their precious seventh child.

 

“Another postcard from Erskine,” Quentin said, pulling Howard’s attention back to the present. “I’m starting to think I should lend him my old typewriter,” he added. “His handwriting is worse than yours, Howard.” He leaned back in his chair, keeping it out of reach of Awful’s grabbing hands, reading it deliberately slowly with occasional hums and ahs until Awful got out from her seat and used her new reach to pluck it from him.

 

“It’s not even for us,” she said, disappointed. “It’s for them.” She tossed it over to Howard who caught it before it landed in his bran flakes.

 

The picture on the front was a picture of the earth from space and on the address side - F+A+D+S, Alpha Centauri, ℅ Venturus. And then Erskine’s usual illegible handwriting, though he could just about make out “Wish You Were Here?” Which, he supposed, was Erskine’s way of getting the last word. It still seemed a bit mean, though he supposed Erskine was as justified as any of them.

 

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Howard said. “Why would he even write to them? What does he expect me to do about it? I can’t send them a--”

 

Although, he thought, an unmanned vessel could definitely go faster than the ship he’d put them all on, and would be much quicker to build. Maybe-- well, there was nothing he could do now, but in theory…

 

Maybe he could talk to Ginger about it. Not that he’d post it-- at least, not without talking to Hathaway and Torquil and definitely Erskine in person, but in theory, well. He could see the little remote-controlled ship in his head already, sleek and elegant and just big enough for a postcard or two. All of his previous designs had been for manned ships, but this one would be entirely different and he’d have to redo his temple first-- there was no way he was going back in there when it still had those statues of him, and definitely no way he’d let Ginger there again-- so it would take a lot of planning, but… And the design would definitely work as a probe for manned ships, could maybe even be simplified enough that he could build it only a decade in the future, maybe even just a few years, and pass on the design to the ISA or...

 

He tapped the postcard on the edge of the table and thought about the stars.