CHAPTER ONE: A NEW FRONTIER
Hello fair people of Steemit, I've returned from the abyss to grace the world with the good word of sci fi!
So what is the best way to describe space? Bleak, desolate maybe? Intractable sounds impressive and the sort of word that makes people wonder. Hollow, devoid, unfathomable.
“For heavens sake, just say ‘big’ and move on!”
April Conroy shot an icy look across the plastic veneered top of the table she was hunched over, her data pad painting a pale blue sheen over her classically attractive and intensively maintained features.
“Well thanks Pete, that’ll really capture the imaginations of the readers.”
Opposite her Peter Muller held his dimly amused expression. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s only an introduction.”
“You grab a reader within one paragraph.” She said in chastisement. “I need it right or nobody will bother reading the rest of the story. So be helpful or be quiet.”
“My advice,” he shrugged. “Look out the window.”
Reluctantly April heeded his words, glancing to the clear oval window on her left and the reachless dark beyond. It was such a flimsy barrier holding space outside, or more accurately keeping the breathable atmosphere of the Clipper in. When she took the time to examine it the reality of how mankind had not only expanded into this far realm, but how to a great extent he had actually conquered it made her feel quite tiny.
Reclining in her business class seat with a Martini on the table in front of her and a surprisingly delicious Spaceline meal working through her stomach April felt amazingly relaxed even though she was literally inches from death. It was so normal, such an unremarkable part of modern life commuting through Space didn’t really mean much anymore.
Her eyes lazily skipped from distant star to distant star until finally she settled her gaze and the matt red orb they had been heading towards for the last week. The surface of Mars seemed to rise as the Clipper rolled on its long axis, the dark patches of cold deserts mottling the surface in the same way the green and yellow continents of Earth did the same thing.
There was a chime in the cabin as the internal speakers activated.
“Ladies and Gentlemen this is your Captain. We are entering Mars orbit and will be docking at Ares Station within fifteen minutes. On behalf of United Spacelines I’d like to thank you for travelling with us and hope to see you all again soon.”
“Nice of him.” Pete remarked.
“You know he’s just reading a script.”
“Well we’re here on time, and that lunch was pretty good for a Clipper flight.”
April had to agree with that, Clippers were fairly small craft carrying a thousand or so passengers relatively short distances. In this case the United Clipper April and Pete were onboard was the final changeover on a two week long journey from Earth. The bulk of the journey had been undertaken on a vast relatively luxurious Liner weighing in at a hefty five million tons. Ships like her were becoming more and more common as the shipping companies found the deep range space travel market continuing to expand in the Twenty Second century.
The larger ship had unloaded the passengers destined for Mars onto the Clipper, picked up a few more from the Red planet, then continued on its journey all the way out to Jupiter for a sight seeing cruise of the mighty world.
“What time is it now?” April’s mind sorted through the day’s itinerary.
“Ten to Eleven.” Pete replied. “Which means we can get lunch before the first interview of the day.”
April laughed mildly. “This had better be worth it, we’re taking a long time out on this one.”
“Well you put in the effort, you get the reward.” Her companion said with a smile. “You never know, this could be that Pulitzer you get all misty eyed about.”
April answered with a huff. “Carlos just wants me as far away from him as possible after that thing with the Senator and the call girl.”
“Aww come on, what gave you that idea?” Pete jokingly taunted. “Just because we boldly go where no news team has ever gone before…”
“You make it sound like an adventure.” The woman remarked absently. “This is a punishment.”
“So all the better chance to show them exactly what you are made of.”
April Conroy was a net reporter for the prestigious New York Times, one of an up and coming new breed of reporters who hearkened back to the old image of hard nosed News Paper men and women doggedly hunting down stories.
In recent years the news had become bland and full of opinionated and overly smug reporters and editors who simply pursued their own agendas. It was rare just to have facts presented and more often than not the populace was presented a biased opinion presented as fact. Across Earth and its holdings there was a steady undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, something April had tapped into.
Her very second story for the New York Times had been a world wide break, the uncovering of a scandal involving a highly placed United States Senator and a Call Girl who it turned out had some connections to the Chinese embassy.
It had shot April to global fame and gained her a healthy measure of respect in her industry and with the public in general, however her Editor Carlos Rodriguez was less impressed. The owners of the New York Times were major contributors to the Senators election campaign and were sympathetic to his policies. After the scandal the Senator was forced to immediately resign and submit to Federal investigation meaning any hope of him achieving higher office was dashed.
This meant the News paper owners had wasted millions of dollars supporting this man, and held Janet personally responsible. Something her Editor expressed in not so subtle terms.
That, she concluded, was why she was going to be sent on a two months or more round trip to Saturn and beyond. She was livid.
To add insult to injury it wasn’t even going to be on an American ship.
“I still say they are doing this to us on purpose.” She grunted unhappily.
“Course they are, so enjoy it and that’ll really piss them off.”
She shrugged. “So why the Brits?”
“Why are we doing a story on the British Navy?”
“Well first it’s Royal Navy, not British Navy.” Pete corrected. “Get that right or you’ll be walking back to Earth.”
“Fine, so why the Royal Navy?”
“Because there’s a public interest in it.” Her companion said simply. Pete was both her producer and recorder, the man responsible for providing her the medium to get her story across to whoever cared to read it. Usually that involved a video recorder, a palm sized device able to record holographic images and their associated sounds for download to the Sol-net, the twenty second century’s evolution if the old internet.
Sol-net had more or less replaced the old forms of media combining television, cinema, libraries, news agencies and the internet into one multipurpose portal available across the solar system, though owing to the distances there could sometimes be a hell of a time lag.
The man who had invented the high capacity data feeds that enabled the network to be created had become the richest man in human history, until he was murdered by one of his jealous children.
“Why is the American public interested in the British… Royal Navy?”
“Because it represents a large and uncommitted space fleet as part of the European Union, and the American public would like to know where they stand.”
“You mean with us or China?”
“Yeah, though I’d guess in the neutral ground in the middle like nearly everyone else.”
The developing competition between China and the United States was the principle subject of almost every news story for the last decade. Some called it scare mongering or sensationalising a mediocre situation, but every time someone decried it there was still that undercurrent of a threat.
America had been an early proponent of space expansion and one of the original ‘Big Three’ space players with Russia and the Europe Union. To that club China and India eventually joined, along with Japan and after a time South East Asia in general.
While most people considered space big enough for everyone China and America had often tried claiming each other’s territory resulting in some near misses as warships occasionally faced off and forced one side or the other to back down.
The situation in April’s view was getting more and more tense, and she like everyone else wanted to know where the rest of the world stood.
That place was on the fence, with India, Russia and the rest firmly neutral. The only real support for America came from Japan within Oceania, and that was mostly because they had the world’s biggest army and air force right in their back yard.
The shadows streaming from the windows shifted as the Clipper rotated, rolling on its axis as it made its approach to the main civilian station over Mars, the multinational Ares facility. As it did so the blackness beyond turned rusty red, the curve of the Red Planet rising majestically into view beside them.
“Not a sight you see everyday.” Pete spoke with genuine awe. “We’ve had people down there for a century, but it’s still something unbelievable. Chills me just thinking about it.”
She quickly typed down a few points. “Not bad, I think I can use that.”
“That was me speaking from the heart.” Pete said with a sideways glance.
“That’s what will make it so good to open with.” April said plainly. “Are we there yet?”
“Sweeping in now, plenty of traffic today.”
April looked briefly out and saw a few other ships, sleek passenger vessels sharing airspace with lumbering dirty coloured mining vessels. The great freighters weren’t pleasing to the eye, ugly industrial ships built for efficiency and not aesthetics, yet they carried in their bulbous bellies the lifeblood of the modern world, the raw materials and fuels crucial to the sustenance of society.
She paid them little attention, but Pete drew her eyes to one in particular.
“Look at that one, there.”
She followed his indication, catching sight of a particularly large and grotesque vessel with cargo pods bursting from its hull like parasites.
“What about it?”
“She’s Chinese.” Pete said. “And look at her flanks, she’s taken hits from something.”
April was having a hard time picking out the signs of deliberate abuse on the unlovely ship. “Really?”
“Yeah, laser hits.” He said. “Some missiles too. Our buddies in Paris ran a story about merchant ships getting hit by Mercs, a lot of them working for US companies.” He grunted. “Eliminating the competition.”
“I thought that was the Chinese doing that, taking out US ships?”
“Maybe both countries are neck deep in it, do you trust our own Mega-corps?”
“We’ve run enough stories on corruption and greed, wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
Pete nodded. “Looking out there I’d say it was for real. Just be glad Ares is still a free port, I wouldn’t want to travel through Chinese space in an American ship right now.”
“Amen to that.”
Ares station was vast, an old orbital station that had grown exponentially over decades. It had started as a ring shaped station with a two hundred metre diameter spinning to simulate gravity. When artificial gravity was cracked motion was no longer required to simulate an Earth like environment and the station was stopped, becoming the fixed heart of a titanic network of docking bays, loading piers, lounges, promenades, shops, massive arrays of sensors and communication antennas and even a few research labs
At last count its maze of facilities sprawled over twenty miles in each direction from the core, thin slabs of metal and latticework glinting in the reflected light of the Martian surface. Within its steel arms thousands of people lived and worked, most were from Mars but plenty had come from the nations of Earth. It was no secret tensions were growing at home, and those tensions were reflected in growing outbursts and petty violence within the station itself. The administration tried to keep it neutral ground, but it wasn’t working.
The white clipper ship curled gently into its docking area, two rectangular prongs jutting from the spider web of Ares, stubby fingers lined with airlocks, tension cables and boarding tubes poised and eager to ensnare the passenger vessel and drain the tourists from its body. She was a graceful vessel, practical but also designed to be aesthetically pleasing. The deep space cruise industry was a deceptively cut throat business, a reality which would seem out of place considering their services. To April’s mind it was like a gang of effeminate hairdressers trying to slaughter each other with curling irons and bottles of Frizz-ease. Yet for all their fluffy appearances, cheesy entertainers and artistic looking ships the companies behind the enterprises were some of the largest mega corporations in existence and seized every possible advantage in the struggle for more cash. One such advantage was to have a ship which looked sexy on a holo vid.
The ship moved easily between the docking pylons, articulated armatures extending to grasp coupling points on the cruise ship as the gravity drives pushed against the station like a cushion gradually reducing resistance like an athlete swimming in treacle. With barely a single shudder the Clipper came to a halt and was successfully snared by the stations robotic embrace.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain. Once again thank you for travelling with United Spaceways and we hope you enjoyed your voyage. Please disembark from the starboard, that is right side, airlocks and proceed along the designated customs channels into the station itself. For those travelling on to the Reagan Mid-point complex or Jupiter we will be departing at Nine tomorrow morning giving you a whole evening to enjoy the cosmopolitan delights of this orbital metropolis. Please have a pleasant stay.”
“Very accommodating kind of guy ain’t he?” Pete began to gather his things. “He must have been doing it for a while, I could barely tell he was reading a script.”
“Another wannabe news caster.” April rolled her eyes, glaring at the wall of dull metal now dominating the view from her window. Her eye picked out imperfections, uneven surfaces, scorch marks from retro thrusters fired too close by some previous occupant of the alcove. None of it was even remotely interesting to her.
“We’ve got a little time before we meet our first interview, want a drink?”
She raised her eyes to her companion with a mildly accusing stare.
Pete broke into a wide knowing grin. “Not that sort of a drink, just as friends.”
“In that case, yeah.”
“We’ve spent so long together we’re like a married couple anyway.” The man beamed. “Only reason I haven’t dumped you is because I get paid too well.”
“And only reason I haven’t fired you is that you make me look good on Camera.” She retorted. “You’re too cheerful.”
“And you’re too whiny.” Pete responded by rote. “Jack Dee?”
“Make it a Cognac.” She pushed herself out of her seat. “I’ll need it, I’d forgotten how boring space is.”
The two news crew members gathered their bags and headed for the airlock, having packed earlier in the day they didn’t bother returning to their cabin and beat a swift retreat to the exits. They strode down the thick carpet leading to the airlock, once again soaking up the sumptuous décor and extravagance lavished on the ship. For those stepping aboard it was a grand first impression that physically inflicted awe on the impressionable and pandered the egos of the new upper classes who imagined they deserved such finery. At its root it was of course just one more marketing strategy. So was the steward who bade them farewell, thanking them yet again for choosing to fly with United Spaceways, a subsidiary of Errol Corp.
Pete politely gave him a smile and a tip while April just mumbled something unintelligible, caught up in her own growing rain cloud of annoyance with lightning flashes of anger. She was being punished for doing her job, which was both wrong and unfair on a level of cosmic proportions. The amount of work, good fortune and clever investigation she had put in was far more than any other reporter would bother with, her colleagues were too lazy for their own good and made a living taking whatever piece of crap crossed their path and then blowing it up to make a story. It wasn’t journalism, it was sensationalism, and most of it was utter rubbish. Of course provided the reporters used the words ‘Allegedly’ or ‘According to sources’ nothing ever came of it. The industry was a farce, and April wasn’t having it. Unfortunately no good deed goes unpunished.
The lush red flooring of the Clipper transformed into flat non slip fabric as they left the warmly lit ship and entered the neon glow of the boarding tube. The long snaking tunnel stretched a hundred yards from station to ship secured at both ends very tightly. Never the less a lot of people found it the worst part of any journey, the closest they would ever come to the harsh vacuum of space itself. Fears of the tunnel breaching, or the clamping seals splitting was quite common especially among the older generation, not helped by several of April’s fellow journalists massively over hyping the risks to draw in ratings. She was so lost in her own world of accusations and recriminations she barely noticed, stepping onto the station before she even knew she was off the ship.
“Good Morning Madam.” A cheery middle aged man offered enthusiastically. “Welcome to Ares Station, and good morning to you also sir.”
“Good to be here.” Pete returned happily, a sentiment April wasn’t about to echo.
“Can I ask you to step through the scanner please, this will only take a minute.”
The man wore the uniform of the European Coast Guard with responsibility for handling customs and excise duties across European sovereign territory. While technically not a coast the station was European property and was classified in much the same way as any city back on Earth or any planetary colony. The Coast Guard also provided officers at air and seaports continent wide as well as the grand space ports like this one, operating with local Police Forces to handle security and detect any law breakers trying to peddle their way into the EU.
Pete went first, walking up to an archway and stepping through, bags in hand before waiting on the other side. The Customs officer checked a small security monitor beside the arch with a keen stare before nodding in apparent approval.
“And you Madam?”
April followed suit, walking through with a mild slouch like a sulky teenager before halting beside Pete.
“Excellent, the scans show you have no contraband or dangerous items.” He said with the fervour of a game show host awarding a prize. “It also confirms your biometric data, your hotel has been informed of your arrival and you have six messages waiting for you at the front desk.”
“Oh. Great.” April grunted moodily. “Our Editor doing his job. ‘Are you there yet? Did you get the interview? Don’t miss the ship!’ Bastard weasel man.”
“So we’ll be going now.” Pete forced a smile, steering April away and pointing her down the docking arm toward the station itself.
“One moment, one of the messages is flagged.” The officer called after them. “From an Admiral Bradford, he confirms your meeting at fourteen hundred hours.”
“Can you acknowledge that for us? We’ll be there!” Pete replied as he pushed April with one hand and dragged his case with the other. “Thanks!”
“Enjoy your stay!” The Customs man added with the same smile.
“Thanks again!” Pete returned. “Nice guy don’t you think?”
“Why does Carlos keep treating me like a bad child? He doesn’t have to keep checking up on me?” April whined.
“You pretty much ruined the ambitions of his best friend, and cost him some major bribes…I mean contracts.”
“This is just so unfair.”
“It’s an opportunity.” Pete answered jovially. “Treat it as such.”
“Stop being so annoyingly positive! It’s getting scary.”
“You, Booze, now.”
Three hours later April was drunk. Technically she’d been drunk after just thirty minutes, every other drink since then had simply been icing on the cake.
“Look on the bright side, look on the bright side!” She slurred, head lolling from side to side as her eyes failed to focus. “Ya know what? Screw the bright side! I hate the bright side! The bright side sucks.”
Pete checked his watch. “This is a golden opportunity.”
“No it isn’t! It’s a dead end story in space. I hate space! Its so…so…so… spacey!”
“Quite the philosopher when you’ve had a few huh?” He mentioned with barely restrained amusement.
“Well you can just stop smiling right now!” She gurgled back. “Coz if I go down, you go down too!”
“That an offer?”
“It’s a promise!” She countered, failing to grasp his meaning. “Your career is stuck to mine boy, and we’re both in a barrel heading for a waterfall.”
“Look at it this way, your Editor is two hundred million miles away. He’s got no say over what you record out here.”
“Yeah, because everything out here is boring!” She groaned. “He doesn’t care!”
“There’s always a story, always.” Pete stated confidently. “Even out here, you just have to find it.”
She took a clumsy drink, sliding the glass back down onto the wood table they were sat at. At this time of day the small bar was pretty empty which was fortunate, April was a relatively well known face and a few snaps of her in this state was bound to make her even more moody when she found them.
“I hate everything!” She announced grandly. “Especially optimism!”
“And nice people.”
“And nice people!” She growled. “I swear they all have something to hide!”
He checked his watch again. “We have that interview in forty minutes. Time to go.”
April glared at him. “I don’t want to do the interview, it’s a waste of me.”
“And what do you want to do? Sit here all day?”
She frowned, weighing the options. “Yes. Get me more booze.”
Pete stood up and wrapped his arms around April, hefting her up to her feet and holding her while she found a semblance of balance.
“You might think your career is over, but I don’t.” He said, taking a small bottle from his pocket. “And I’m going to make sure you don’t throw it away.”
He left her teetering slightly as he opened the bottle and shook out a small white pill.
“Here, take this.”
April shot him an evil stare. “Make the booze come back.”
He shrugged. “You’ll thank me for this later.”
He reached over and pinched April’s nose, pulling her closer.
“Ow, ow, ow!”
“Here we go, mouth open, here comes the aeroplane.”
“I’m going to kick you in the balls!” She yelled. “As soon as I learn to stand on one leg again!”
As she was complaining he dropped the pill into her mouth and closed her jaw, forcing her to swallow.
“There you go.”
At once her attitude disappeared, the pill instantly countering the affects of alcohol in her body. Her drunkenness vanished in a few moments and she steadied herself.
“Oh you son of a bitch.”
“Miracle of modern medicine.” He beamed. “Now you can conduct the interview without throwing up on the Admiral’s shoes.”
“That was a sober pill.”
“You know what those things do to people!”
“Yeah, they flush alcohol from your system.” He confirmed. “You’ll find the bathroom over there, we’ve still got thirty five minutes.”
“I’m going to kill you when I get out of there!”
“I’ll have a mineral water waiting for you.” Pete sat down, hugely pleased with himself. “Need to replenish your fluids.”
“I am going to…” She paused. “Oh hell.”
“Better run, don’t want any puddles…”
Without any further delay she bolted for the bathroom
“You’re a dead man!”
Thirty minutes later they left the bar, April still quite annoyed but no longer falling over drunk. Pete followed her, still unconscionably happy.
“That was just evil.”
“You’ll thank me tomorrow when you still have a job.” Pete gave his stock answer.
“Those pills are not natural, and I’m still a bit queasy.”
“They aren’t perfect, but better than the alternative.” He answered. “Still leave a bit of a hangover though.”
She huffed, turning her head to take in the location. Inside the core of the facility Ares was just like any other modern city, it had streets, monorails, shops, businesses, tower blocks, even small stalls by roadsides. Cars whizzed by on their automated routes while a mixture of people milled around, most of them either tourists or off duty ship crews. Occasionally a frustrated local bounded past looking disdainful of the visitors.
A good number of people wore uniforms, the greens and browns of army camouflage or the far more common blue or white of the navy. The vast majority belonged to the European Union, it was after all their base, but a trained eye could pick out other nationalities stopping off on their way to or from the edges of the Solar System. This part of the station was a free port and open to anyone. It was run by a civilian council as part of the European Mars administration encompassing some half a billion souls on or above the Red Planet. About a third of the station however was largely off limits to civilians and foreign personnel, areas administered by the navy for the refit and supply of European Union Warships of which there were usually several docked at any one time. It was this restricted sector that the two journalists had been granted access to.
They walked past the shop fronts, most of them trying to sell souvenirs to tourists. April dismissed most of the items, guide vids, Mars Rocks, children’s trinkets based on little green men. They were all vastly over priced of course, though she did toy with the idea of buying one for her Editor and charging it to her business account.
Their path took them away from the busy streets and towards a blank set of doorways set into a squat metal building. One was vast, easily big enough to consume a pair of cargo trucks side by side, the other was much smaller and definitely person sized. Both were edged in yellow and black warning markings and both were guarded by very intimidating Marines.
The two reporters slowed their pace and grinned with a hint of nerves. The Marines were of course professionals and had no reason to hurt them, but they were still an imposing sight. There were five of them, one was a junior officer dressed in a white and grey urban splinter camouflaged uniform. He had a side arm and a green beret coupled with cold eyes and a very closely cropped haircut. His movements alone betrayed his strength and poise, the short and efficient gestures and steps ingrained as part of his combat training.
Scary as he was the four soldiers behind him stood at the doors were worse. Each was ensconced in fully articulated battle armour, pale grey suits of hard edged slanted metal and polymers that could resist all but the most destructive man portable weapons. They were faceless, the troopers inside informed of the world through holographic sensor displays requiring no clear visor that would be a weak point in their armour. They did not appear much bigger than the people within, but could carry immense weights with their mechanically supported limbs, which in this case meant an assortment of large and vicious guns. With the security at every entrance to the station it was unlikely these armoured icons of power would meet anything worthy of their attentions, but their simple presence did a lot to keep the area free of trouble. Very, very free of trouble.
“Hold please.” The unarmoured officer stepped forward, speaking with a French or Belgian accent April couldn’t quite place. Long ago English had been chosen as the language of Commerce and Aviation and by this era had also been adopted by the military for its multinational forces. “You must be the Journalists.”
“April Conroy, Peter Muller.” She introduced them both in her best unfazed act. “New York Times.”
“If you would place your hand here please.”
He held out a flat data tablet and in turn April and Pete had their hands scanned, the device swiftly checking several sources of data to confirm their identity. Both were cleared.
“If you enter that door you’ll find an elevator.” The French Marine pointed to the smaller entrance. “A liaison will meet you at the other end.”
“Got it, thanks.”
He stepped aside with no further word and let the two reporters pass. They stepped up to the door between a pair of Marines and activated the control panel fixed to the wall beside it. The armoured Marines ignored them, still as statues facing forward with legs set straight and a large rifle held across their chests. Not before time the doors opened and let the civilians in, leading them to an elevator.
“Pretty intimidating.” Peter said.
“Our guys are just as tough.” April dismissed.
“You can tell that guy was French though.”
“Only person in a week who didn’t thank us for being here.”
The elevator descended quietly, the only indication they were moving coming from the illuminated numbers counting down above the door revealing which floor they were currently passing. There was no music to pass the time and no windows, the military apparently needing no such frivolities. After some seventy floors they slowed down, the magnetic rails stiffening their resistance and halting the car gently at their destination.
“Hello news People!” A man grinned in at them before the doors had even fully opened. “I hope your journey was good.”
“Well he’s not French.” April muttered. “Hi, I’m April.”
“Yes, I have seen your casts many times.” The male officer replied gleefully. “I am Miko Janssen, First Lieutenant assigned to the Press Office. If you please, come this way.”
The stepped out into a large lobby busy with uniformed personnel moving back and forth, transiting from one part of the base to another. Eight corridors branched off like spokes on a wheel heading away to unknown parts while banks of elevators lined the walls.
“It’s a nice station.” Pete said in way of conversation. “Very clean.”
“Thank you!” The officer grinned back. “It is an honour to have you here, I have watched many of your casts!”
“Yes, you mentioned that.” April said with a slight grating.
“I studied your camera work at Helsinki Media College.” Janssen informed Pete. “I graduated just last year.”
“Good for you, how do you like it out here?”
“Very good, lots to do.” He said. “I am a photographer, I take images of our ships for the recruiters out here.”
“You’ll have to show me some of your work.” Pete said. “How do you deal with light sources out here? I mean lighting a space ship must be a nightmare.”
“Yes, yes I will.” He answered with clear joy that a professional like Pete was interested in his skills. “But first the Admiral.” He opened a door into a basic waiting room with a few chairs, a further door at the far end bore the name of Admiral Bradford spelled out in brass letters. “If you wait here, I will inform him.”
The two reporters took a stand, not bothering to sit down as Janssen knocked on the door before walking in.
“Why is everyone so damn happy here?” April whispered irritably. “They aren’t this happy back home.”
“Because they’re Europeans and nobody hates them.” Peter said. “They’ve got no reason to be grumpy. Except the French.”
“Except the French.” April nodded.
“And even then it’s only because of tradition, and I reckon they put it on for tourists.”
“Unlike back home in the States.” April remarked bitterly. “Feels like the world is against us.”
“And that is why we’re here.” Pete answered. “To show that they aren’t.”