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A Plate of XXXX@ vhysw a7msyulh
with a Side of Muons. Please.

"You think I should hit the order again?" Bill said, looking over at the kitchen. Service in Adar restaurants was proverbially slow but this was ridiculous. He and Sal had sent in their orders over thirty minutes ago and still they didn't even have their drinks.

Lieutenant Commander William "Doc" Weaver, RN, Ph.D., wasn't really happy about the lunch anyway. He'd known Sal Weinstein back when they both worked for Columbia Defense so when Sal called and asked if he was doing anything for lunch, he'd thought it was just a social call. He should have guessed that Sal, whom he hadn't spoken to in two years, wasn't going to drive down to Norfolk to chat.

"Won't work," Sal said, shrugging. "But go ahead if it makes you happy. Now, about the server . . ."

Bill flipped open the menu and hit the entry for glangi with extra melaegl sauce. The thing didn't even flash. He'd already ordered with this menu. One menu, one order. No tickee, no laundry.

"It's a damned Microsoft Vavala server with some code thrown on top," Bill replied, hitting the entry again. The restaurant wasn't particularly crowded and now he knew why. Some of the Adar had started to catch on that humans didn't take four hours for lunch. Clearly the family unit running this place were right out of the Glass.

"We've got top Adar working on it," Sal argued. "Top Adar."

"You've got Fazglim and Dulaul," Bill said, not looking up. "Who are the only Adar I've ever met who fall into the description of credit-whores. And neither one of them knows diddly maulk about server tech. Fazglim's a natural processes philo and Dulaul is a micro-actions philo. So you're telling me you've got the best server on the market because you happen to have a tame biologist and quantum physicist who are willing to sign off on it. It's an MS Vav, which is one of the buggiest one servers in the world, with code from Col-Gomo programming thrown on top. And that makes it buggier. Come on, Sal, don't try to snow me. I know Adar tech. I work with it every damned day."

The problem was, since the opening of the Looking Glasses, the whole world, and especially Wall Street, had gone nuts over Adar. Adar tech was light years ahead of human, but it wasn't magic. And a lot of stuff that was sold as being "Adar technology" was anything but. The Adar had been a philosophical race when they encountered humans. Which meant they were about as resistant to marketing as Native Americans to disease. So more and more of them were emigrating to Earth where "everything was prettier." And, by and large, they could command immense salaries because if a company had an Adar, even if the male, female or transfer neuter was the training equivalent of a janitor, they could say they had an Adar working on their technology.

Bill had fallen for that scam exactly once, an "Adar-tech" shampoo substitute. Basically, it was a comb you were supposed to use in the shower to wash your hair. Guaranteed to do miraculous things for your entire head region.

He was still trying to grow the hair back.

He had to admit that there was some great stuff out there that was derived from real Adar technology. Forget brushing your teeth, all you had to do was pop a Nanobrush ™ capsule, crunch it in your teeth and not only did your teeth turn lily-white but you didn't have to worry about halitosis for twelve hours. Then there was the entire electronic tech revolution. . . . 

"Wait, got a call," Sal said, holding up his hand to the back of his head. "Yeah, Joe, Sal . . . That's great man . . ."

Implants, though . . . Jeeze. Back when they were the "killer app," Doc had thought BlackBerry was a pain in the ass. The only way you could tell the difference between a raving street-guy and a raving corporate attorney was the quality of clothing and that one had a flashing blue thing in his ear. But since implants had hit the market, people really did hear voices. Now you couldn't tell the difference at all.

Of course, he was wearing a VeriNthal ear piece, which gave him pretty much the same look as an implant wearer. But you could at least see the damned earring.

He hit the menu again and was amazed to see an Adar exit the door to the restaurant's kitchens, bearing a massive platter.

That was the other thing about Adar cooking. The Adar approached their two daily meals with religious reverence. The most undertrained neuter home-cook had more passion for cuisine than a cordon bleu chef. Each meal had to be both satisfying and a work of art. They were worse than the Japanese about it.

So while Bill would have been perfectly satisfied with a platter of glangi noodles, what he got instead was a half a dozen dishes. Condiments, sides, little crunchy things, none of it was particularly identifiable. He'd been to dinners at the White House that were less elaborate.

"Methmar," Weaver said, nodding to the trans-neut waiter. The transfer-neuters were only semi-sentient and did most of the mundane tasks of the Adar. Far smaller than the males, much less the females, the trans-mute was about six feet tall with mottled brown skin and three eyes set over a wide, flat face that was mostly a mouth with wide, grinding molars.

Clashing with the standard Adar look, though, was its clothes. The Adar, when Weaver first met them, tended to wear something not much more complex than a loincloth. However, they had never dealt with marketing departments. While Adar tech had become the rage on Earth, human styles and fads had hit the Adar like hard liquor at a redneck party.

The Adar was wearing an electric purple skirt and a "blouse" that was basically transparent. Under it was a tank top of electric pink. It was sporting huge rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses with giant wings on either side that made it look like an Elvis Valkyrie.

It was also wearing an iPod. Given that it was assuredly implanted and the iPod was at best superfluous, it had to be a fashion device.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome," the trans-neut squeaked, a terribly high falsetto from something six feet tall and weighing in at damned near three hundred pounds. "Worship! Enjoy! Taking Care of Business! Nothing But Hound Dog!"

So it meant to be an Elvis Valkyrie.

"Thanks," Bill said as the being shimmied back to the kitchen. He sighed and picked up his tongs, scooping up some of the noodles.

Bill Weaver had been a peaceful little scientist working for Columbia Defense, coming up with solutions to problems U.S. national defense didn't even realize it had, when he got dragged over to the White House one rainy Saturday night to explain quantum physics to the National Security Council. A physics experiment gone awry had not only created a massive—on the order of sixty kilotons—explosion at the University of Central Florida, but it had left a strange anomaly behind. He'd just happened to be the nearest physicist the secretary of defense could lay his hand on who had a Top Secret clearance.

Subsequent to that he'd been blown up, ripped into other dimensions, killed he was pretty sure, resurrected he was more sure and generally had a "blast" stopping an alien invasion.

The anomaly had been a boson generator, a black sphere they still didn't have a theoretical handle on, that generated Higgs bosons at a phenomenal rate. What was worse, or better, take your pick, is that the bosons turned out to have the ability to "link" to other bosons and open up portals to . . . well, just about anywhere. Instantaneous transportation, even to other planets. The portals created mirrorlike openings that had been christened "Looking Glasses." They went some strange places, that was for sure.

The kicker was that some of those planets had sentient beings that were interested in taking over the Earth. Called the Dreen, the species reproduced via a mat of fungus that was programmed to produce various other creatures. Like big, howling dog demons that ate people—humanity's first contact with the Dreen—and all the way up to giant spider things the size of mountains. Presumably there was some sentient control behind the Dreen, but Bill had never seen it. All he'd seen was rhino-tanks and centipedes and howlers. Lots of howlers. The very name, Dreen, was an Adar rendition of the howl. Dreeeeeeen. Neither humans nor the Adar had any idea what the species called itself and didn't really care. All they cared about was avoiding them or, if necessary or possible, wiping them out to the last fungoid monstrosity.

The upside to the gates were the Adar. They had encountered the Dreen when they'd first started creating their own Glasses, had had similar problems and had figured out how to close a Glass. Basically, all it needed was a big enough explosion. Big. World-killing. Since there was no way to set it off in the middle of a transfer—the movement was as close to instantaneous as instruments could detect—you had to choose which world to set it off on.

The Adar hadn't wanted to risk it but when the Dreen were swarming through multiple portals the humans, specifically the President of the United States, had been willing to try anything. Weaver, with the support of a short division of mech infantry and a SEAL team, had managed to stick the explosive device on the far side of a portal in Kentucky. That was the second time he was pretty sure he'd died. But he'd been spit back out after a strange conversation with an entity or entities that might be God.

Shortly after they'd stopped the invasion, the Adar had given him another strange device. On first tests, it had appeared to be the world's most powerful nuclear hand grenade. Any electrical power sent to it, so much as a spark of static, and, well, there was a boom. A really big boom. "There should have been an earth shattering Ka-Boom!" boom. Putting three-phase on it had, in fact, erased a solar system.

The Adar didn't know what it was supposed to do but Weaver had basically guessed that it was, in fact, some sort of Faster-Than-Light drive. It took nearly a year of tinkering, and two more planets, to figure out that it was, in fact, such a drive. It had taken another year to create the first prototype starship.

By then, Weaver had switched sides in the ongoing sales war, leaving the Beltway and taking a direct commission in the Navy, which was the lead service in developing the world's first spaceship. He'd pointed out even before switching sides that the Navy just made more sense. The President wanted a presence off-world as fast as possible. They'd picked up enough intel in the brief war to know that the Dreen had some sort of FTL as well. Finding out where the Dreen were, whether they were headed to Earth through normal space, was a high priority. The only way to make a spaceship, fast, was to convert something. The obvious choice had been one of the many ballistic missile submarines that were being decommissioned.

So Weaver, while continuing to consult on engineering issues, was now the astrogation officer of the Naval Construction Contract—4144. Despite a couple of shakedown cruises around the solar system, the top-secret boat had yet to be named. The 4144 had all the beauty and problems of any prototype. Most of the equipment was human, much of it original to the former SSBN-Nebraska. Other bits were Adar or Human-Adar manufacture. The fact that it worked at all was amazing.

In two days, the still unnamed boat was going to be blasting off for points unknown. Well, actually, all the points were known. Bill had created the initial survey route. But what was there was unknown. Mankind was finally going "Where No Man Has Gone Before." And he was listening to Sal pitch the new Col-Gomo Adar 2007 to another unsuspecting client while picking at his ordundrorob beetle soup.

Most Adar food was incompatible with human systems. The Adar had, after all, evolved on a completely different planet. Even basic sugars were stereo isomers. Isomers were chemicals in which certain bonds could go in either direction. All the "sugar" isomers of Earth were so-called "left" isomers. Adar sugars were "right" isomers. Many Adar foods were so incompatible as to be poisonous.

But over the last five years, humans and Adar had found a surprising number of dishes and drinks, starting with Coca-Cola, that each species could consume. Oh, it was usually the nutritional equivalent of eating sawdust, but the food was good. And since there was zero nutritional content it was the killer diet food. Bill, mostly due to spending all his damned time sitting at a desk lately, had started to pad on a few pounds. Given that he'd once been champion-class at mountain biking and karate, the tub was eating at him. Ergo, Adar food.

On the other hand . . . 

"I've got a meeting at thirteen-thirty," Bill said as Sal finished his call, finally. "The answer is I'm not in that branch of procurement, I don't do procurement and I think your system sucks. If you're looking for me to say good words about it, look elsewhere."

"Bill. Buddy . . ." Sal said, shaking his head. "You don't have to be that way . . ."

"Yes, I do," Bill replied. "I'm a damned government employee these days, Sal. I'm going to have to do paperwork on this lunch, I'm going to have to pick up the bill or go Dutch and I've got a forty-minute drive back to the docks. All that to be pitched on a system we both know is crap."

"Okay," Sal said, holding up his hands. "Seriously. I agree with you. Fazglim and Dulaul don't know diddly about servers. We both know that. So . . . Do you know any good Adar that are in the market?"

"Why couldn't you just come out and say that, Sal?" Bill asked, tonging up another mouthful of noodles. "I don't, but I know who to ask. Good enough?"

"We really need a good Adar working in our code department," Sal said. "We're losing ground to LockLilug. They've got Gilanglka heading up their department. We can't compete with him."

"Whoever it is is going to want something like a CIO position," Bill pointed out. "You know that."

"I was told by very senior people to ask," Sal said.

"I'll ask around," Bill said. "Ring. Command. Bill."

"Your bill is twenty-nine, forty-seven," his earring phone replied. "Fifteen percent tip will be four, forty-two."

"Command: Add tip. Pay bill," Bill said, standing up. "Command off. See, ya, Sal."

"Good to see you again, Bill," Sal said, standing up. "I should have gotten at least half."

"I needed to run," Weaver replied, shaking his hand. He'd gotten some melaegl sauce on his khakis and he wiped at it with the nannie nap. The napkin, which had active nannites that aggressively sought out and removed stains, should have swept the stain clean but all it did was rub it in. Of course, if they'd been washed too many times . . . 

Weaver shook his head and walked out. What a day.

* * *

"You could have given me more warning," Mimi said acerbically to, apparently, nothing. "It's not like we didn't know it was going to happen. Yes, but you're not the one that has to convince Aunt Vera. Sure, but you know that she's going to maulk a brick."

Mimi Jones was fourteen, short for her age, slight of figure, with long brown hair. She currently lived with her aunt and uncle, her mother having died in the Chen Event, and was in the eighth grade gifted program at Doctor Phillips Middle School in Orlando, Florida. She was actually in two separate programs. Fortunately for Mimi, Dr. Phillips Middle School, which catered primarily to families that were upper middle-class in income, had a very open-minded approach to their gifted program. For most of the children in the gifted program there was a set schedule of classes with some electives and independent study. In Mimi's case, she was entirely in independent study. In fact, Mimi would have been, in earlier times, ready to graduate. From college.

You see, Mimi had a friend. And the friend was very smart. Smart enough and capable enough to take the child on adventures of the mind far beyond those of the classroom.

When Mimi was nine she had lived on Mendel Terrace, Orlando, in a small two-bedroom apartment with her mother, Loretta Jones. Mendel Terrace was less than a half a mile from the center of the Event that destroyed the University of Central Florida and, on that particular morning, Mimi had been watching cartoons when everything suddenly went black.

Mimi's recollection of the subsequent period had been investigated several times. All that she could remember was being in a black space, then there was "someone," or more likely something, who was there, for some value of "there." The person, thing, entity or whatever, comforted her. And then she was back on Earth, in the darkness, lying in rubble with a new friend. The "friend" was a large brown spider thing that looked very much like a stuffed toy. It said its name was Tuffy, for values of "said." The best Mimi had ever been able to explain is that knowledge appeared in her head as if she had always had it.

Mimi had then gotten up and gone to the light. The light, Klieg lights in fact, had been set up at the base studying the brand new Chen Anomaly. Mimi's brief period in some otherwhere had taken most of that day and it was nearly midnight when she stumbled into a group that was taking a break from studying the enigmatic black globe that was Ray Chen's final legacy. Among those present was William Weaver, Ph.D., who at the time had no idea of the wonders he was about to experience. Already worried about potential biological contamination a deputy sheriff, against Weaver's advice, had attempted to relieve Mimi of her new friend. Tuffy had extended two of his ten legs, extended or extruded some claws and zapped the deputy with what was later suspected to be about four thousand volts of electricity.

After that, nobody tried to take Tuffy away from Mimi. Even her school had allowed the alien "friend"—the word "pet" was never used—to attend with her.

During his investigation of the Anomaly, Weaver had experienced some very strange events. One of them was either a vivid hallucination or a period of time outside the universe, a place that had no definition of "real" for anyone, even the most out-there physicist. In that time of untime he had either met other "Tuffys" or had hallucinated them. However, some of the revelations that had come from the sojourn indicated to him that Tuffys were real, for values of "real," and that the being that rode on Mimi's shoulder was from that unplace. In fact, there was an argument he occasionally had with himself as to whether Tuffy was, in fact, God or at least some reasonable approximation.

Whatever Tuffy might be, he was definitely smart. And he had helped Mimi to become smart as well. There were very few researchers that Mimi, and Tuffy, trusted enough to let close. But a few had managed to ask enough questions of Mimi to get a feel for what was going on between the two. Initially, from the point of view of study, Tuffy had simply acted as a helpmate, expertly creating scenarios for Mimi that had assisted her in her own understanding of the work placed in front of her by teachers. However, as time passed, Tuffy had begun using that basis to take Mimi farther and faster than the teachers believed possible. By the time Mimi had left the third grade she was already exploring algebra, trigonometry and the beginnings of astrophysics with Tuffy. As she passed through subsequent grades she accelerated faster so that by the time she was in the seventh she was at a college level in all of the hard sciences with a massive knowledge, as well, of history, psychology, anthropology and even theology.

Mimi's aunt and uncle were very devout Christians and, in general, believers that the only book that people needed to read was the Bible. However, they had indulged Mimi's passion for eclectic reading, especially since a good bit of it was theological. Their minister, who had a Ph.D. in theology, had pointed out that knowing the details of other religions was not a sin and, in fact, vital for a truer understanding of Christianity. They had, however, drawn the line at certain texts on human physiology and aberrant psychology. So Mimi had just looked the data up on the Internet, easily bypassing the "child protection" programs with Tuffy's help.

Lately, Mimi had become more helpful with some researchers. The reason was simple: money. The Wilsons lived in one of the less affluent areas around Dr. Phillips and Mr. Wilson was a carpenter whose income was enough to keep Mimi in relative comfort. But Mimi and Tuffy realized that in the near future they were going to need more money than that, if for no other reason than to keep up with Mimi's researches.

Mimi had, therefore, begun to contact some very senior researchers and offer to assist them in knotty questions they were stuck on. Whether it was Mimi or Tuffy answering questions like the seven Millennium Mathematics Problems was never quite clear. But the questions were answered.

The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or the CMI as it is known in mathematics circles, identified seven problems in mathematics that had eluded scientists and mathematicians for enduring periods of time. The CMI offered a one million dollar award for each solution. Mimi, more or less out of the blue, had submitted solutions to four of the seven unsolved problems. Although the solutions had been available for review for more than the two-year required "review period," the mathematics community did not consider Mimi as "a member of the community" so she was slow rolled on the payment.

Specifically, and relevant to the Higgs bosons, the Chen Anomaly, and the gates, was her solution to the Quantum Yang-Mills theory. Before the Chen Anomaly and the Dreen had come, the laws of quantum physics had been to the world of elementary particles what Newton's laws of classical mechanics had been to the macroscopic world for centuries: quantum physics had become the base theory from which to start in forming any new concept as Newton's laws had been a century before. Where Newton's laws described how things in the macroscopic world moved and reacted in general around mundane gravitational fields any odd things such as black holes required Einstein's General Relativity. Similarly, quantum mechanics described particle physics fairly well, until the Chen Anomaly.

In the mid 1950s Yang and Mills introduced a remarkable new framework to describe elementary particles using structures that also occur in geometry and showed how to use the theory to predict particular elementary particle actions. Thus, Yang-Mills was more of a description of particle actions rather than an explanation of them. The theory had been verified experimentally but there was no underlying model that supported the theory.

The theory itself is basically a gauge theory, like the Higgs boson theory that enables the prediction of particles which interact via the so-called "strong" force. The strong force interactions depend on a subtle quantum mechanical property called the "mass gap": quantum particles have positive masses, even though the classical waves travel at the speed of light, which is in contradiction, or at the least counter intuitive, to Einstein's Special Relativity. According to Special Relativity, a particle with mass can't reach the speed of light within the normal universe because it would take an infinite amount of energy, but some quantum particles appear to violate this. Hence, the "mass gap." Mimi's mathematical proof, finally, explained this violation.

Mimi, or perhaps Tuffy, had surmised that the fractal path the Looking Glass bosons—or the LGBs as they were now discussed in math and physics circles—took after the Chen Anomaly was through a dimension of the spacetime continuum that was outside those governed by even the multiple manifold dimensions of string theory but was a modified string theory that resembled the newer membrane theories. Interestingly enough, the new "field" required for the LGBs encompassed the Higgs field that "permeates" all of the universe at any instant and therefore the Higgs boson was a subset or actually an unstable relativistic version of the LGBs. For the first time humanity had an understanding of the "connectivity" of the LGBs and how it worked. Best of all, this new "field" required a mass gap at its fundamental level. Eureka! Yang-Mills theory explained!

Mimi had discussed this with her friend Dr. Weaver ad nauseum. Dr. William Weaver was first to surmise that the gates were Higgs bosons, which created an insurmountable amount of maulk from experimental particle physicists who assumed they knew everything and that the so-called Standard Model of modern physics was an end-all-be-all description of the universe.

In fact, the Standard Model was nothing more than matching experimental data with mathematical descriptions, not a true theory that could predict quantum actions. And Mimi, Dr. Weaver, and Tuffy were realizing that there were few scientists and mathematicians on Earth who would accept the subtle difference. Weaver and Mimi had used the analogy that describing light as photons or particles was still a "curve fit" to data and that light is light. That didn't go over well with the particle physicists either, as Feynman had told them all that light was a particle and therefore it must be. The Adar had often found this trait of human scientists who were supposed to be "open-minded" as an extremely hypocritical and humorous aspect of humanity.

So, Mimi at Weaver's request had actually stopped referring to these different Higgs bosons as Higgs bosons when in fact they both understood that that is exactly what they were. Or better yet, the Higgs bosons were actually a nonstationary and unstable version of what the LGBs really were. When it came to fighting the inbred physics community, Weaver had often told Mimi that he preferred fighting the Dreen. Tuffy usually kept quiet on the subject.

However, what Mimi actually did generate was the theoretical prediction of Yang-Mills. The theory that fell out of the math she had uncovered was not only the theoretical prediction of the Yang-Mills gauge but a whole heck of a lot more. It had become known as the "four plus one plus six formalism" where there were the four dimensions of space from membrane theory, one of time, and six other dimensions that varied between forms used in both string and membrane concepts. But it was Mimi's mathematical wizardry that tied them all together including the LGBs and that not only described the Quantum Yang-Mills theory but predicted it.

The CMI had continued to slow-roll her in the payout until she had finally used one of her two ace cards. Her number one ace card of course was Tuffy, but she didn't go that far. Her second ace card had been Dr. William Weaver who, other than Mimi, was the planet's expert on the LGBs. Although Dr. Weaver had been spending most of his time of late learning the application of the LGBs and not the fundamentals, he was very politically connected—perhaps even more so now that he was a navy officer. When the director of the CMI received a phone call from the national security advisor—as a favor to Weaver—the CMI finally got off their dime and at least paid Mimi for the one solution. Mimi still puzzled over Weaver's remark about the "stagnant inbred not invented here eggheads." Weaver had also used several other "Southern" euphemisms and metaphors that Mimi's aunt wouldn't allow her to repeat. Tuffy had told her not to give it much thought.

The industrial complex on the other hand, had no such "not invented here" problem. Clever entrepreneurs used any good source of information from which to make money and in Mimi's and Tuffy's cases they were crawling out of the woodwork to pay them. Mimi had been integral in the reverse engineering of the Adar miniature power supplies for communications implants, which left her with one percent of a patent that one of the major cellular networks owned, not to mention a slice of just about every battery being made in the market.

There was one armored glass manufacturer that asked her to help them decipher a problem with a new polymer manufacturing process. After a few months of her working with the company, a new patent for an aluminum, titanium oxide, and magnesium sulfide compound layered in precise alternating optical thicknesses was developed that ended up being as strong as aluminum or better and optically transparent. The company gave Mimi seven percent of that patent. Dubbed "aliglass" since "transparent aluminum" was too over-the-top, the material was beginning to replace glass in every skyscraper in the world, not to mention parts in most armored systems. It was a somewhat lucrative contract.

Each time Mimi and Tuffy would be involved with such solution endeavors Mimi always refused the aid of a contracts or patents lawyer or accountant. Tuffy seemed to have a preternatural knowledge of the actual value attached to a piece of information and the team was very good at writing iron-clad contracts. And when the negotiations were face to face, even the toughest corporate lawyer found negotiating with a soft-spoken fourteen year-old—who just might have God riding on her shoulder—extremely disconcerting.

Some of the money they earned they gave to the Wilsons in thanks for taking care of Mimi. Most of it, however, was spent on books or put in the bank. At this point, Mimi had a bank account that would have made any accountant smile. The time had come, though, to spend some of it.

Which was why Mimi, wearing a light blue dress and dress shoes, was sitting on her bed with her hands clasped in her lap, looking out the window and lightly tapping her thumbs together. At her feet was a packed suitcase.

Tuffy had changed over the years. Actually, most of the changes had occurred quite recently. His once stubby limbs had increased in length and now had definite little claws that glittered a silvery purple. His fur had also darkened to almost midnight black that flashed purple in the right light. In addition, he had developed eyes or eyespots that were a bright emerald green. Around the eyespots were patches of purple fur, sometimes blue, that were narrow and curved.

The changes had baffled most of the researchers who were trying to study him until one of them, a female, had pointed out that Tuffy now looked, "well, cool." When Tuffy had first appeared, and for many years thereafter, Mimi had needed comfort. She was a child and needed a teddy bear, or spider in this case, to hug and keep away the nightmares.

Puberty had changed that. Mimi had suffered few of the extreme mood swings of that period in life, but she had changed, nonetheless. She had "put away childish things" and in keeping with that, perhaps, Tuffy had morphed to be more of what a young teenager, recently a child but now exploring the world of adulthood, needed, somebody cool and Tuff looking.

Or he might just be aging. Nobody really knew. Except Tuffy and, maybe, Mimi, and they weren't talking.

"Okay, okay," Mimi said with an exasperated sigh.

She got up and walked into the living room where Mrs. Wilson was vacuuming with the TV on in the background.

"Aunt Vera," Mimi said over the sound of the vacuum.

"Mimi," Vera said, shutting off the machine. Vera Wilson was a heavyset woman in her forties, currently wearing a muumuu since the Wilsons kept the thermostat high to save energy. "You're dressed nice for school."

"I'm not going," Mimi said. "Tuffy has told me I have to go visit someone. Today."

"You're . . . what?" Vera Wilson asked, confused. Since taking Mimi in she had found her to be a very biddable and charming young lady, the daughter she'd never had. Mimi had never asked to skip school and had certainly never back talked or said anything this . . . strange. "What do you mean you're not going to school?"

"Tuffy has something that I need to do," Mimi said, calmly but definitely. "I need to go visit someone and then . . . well, I'll probably be gone for a while. But there will be adults who will talk to you about it. But I have to leave now, this morning; we have a transfer from the gateport at ten. And there's a taxi on the way."

"Young lady, you can't just walk out of this house . . ." Vera Wilson started to respond angrily.

"I don't want to make you mad, Aunt Vera," Mimi continued calmly. "But I really need to go. I'm not running away. Some adults will come explain, I'm sure, but I'm not sure what I can say to you about it. You remember when Dr. Weaver came to visit that one time and he said it was 'confidential.' It's secret like that."

"Well, if the government wants you to go, why didn't they tell me?" Mrs. Wilson asked, confused.

"They don't know I have to go," Mimi said. "But Tuffy says that if I don't, it's not going to work."

"What's not going to work?" Mrs. Wilson said, totally out of her depth.

"The thing I can't talk about," Mimi said as the taxi honked its horn. "That's my ride. I've gotta go. I'll write and I'll probably be back, maybe soon for a week or so, if you'll let me come back. But it's time for me to do the things I'm supposed to do. I think, it's sort of like being called by God, Auntie Vera. I have a calling. And the first place it will take me is San Diego."

Aunt Vera looked at the cool looking spider thing on Mimi's shoulder and sighed. She'd had a very confusing, but interesting, conversation with Dr. Weaver at one point when he visited Mimi to thank her for her help. After that she'd had to wonder: Do angels always appear in a cloud of light? Or, as Dr. Weaver had pointed out, "Well, we got the big light. And the city was certainly smited or smitten or whatever . . . I don't know exactly what Tuffy is, but from what I went through, an angel in heavy disguise is a pretty good description."

But God sure worked in mysterious ways. You just had to have the patience of Job and trust that it would all come out right.

"You write, you hear?" Aunt Vera said, tearing up. She and Herman had never been able to have children and Mimi had been, in a way, a gift from God. Now, it seemed, the time was come to lose the gift. She'd thought they'd have more years. She hugged the girl to her and sniffled. "I got the hang of that e-mail thing. You be sending me e-mails, you hear, girl? And come home when you got a chance. This is always home."

"I will," Mimi said, sniffling herself. "But where I'm going, well, I don't think there's e-mail."


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