It would be nicer to say that I was so moved by Naru Umino's grief that I was glum for the rest of the day, but I'd be lying. A few minutes later, out on the softball field, I was as happy as a clam is supposed to be. At eight (almost nine) a decent ball game can do that: Let you forget other stuff for awhile. Maybe in your eighties or even nineties, too. Nereid was good, darned good for a girl. Miyo was excellent for a guy. Al warned me her father had been a jock when he was in high school in Japan. Ishtar was beyond excellent; she could jump five feet to make a catch. She was just not big enough yet to hit really long balls, but she never struck out. It was heaven, for awhile.
But "other stuff" did not forget us. We weren't alone out there, the kids from the top floor. There were fifteen floors on that hotel, and while many guests were there to enjoy the Disney resort (not a kid-magnet), there were still a lot who had brought their kids.
I began to notice a lot of grownups had cameras. Well, why not? Who goes on vacation without a camera, especially with kids. But after a more innings of this endless game, where players came and went and sometimes changed sides, I began to wonder why so many of them were using so many cameras so much. I mean, this was just a playground, even if it was on Disney property, not Space Mountain or the Tower of Terror.
Then I noticed an argument. Nereid was with me (big surprise) and with her superior ears and facility with languages I found out what it was about. The two men were arguing about picture taking. One was saying he would get the other man fired if he did not hand over his camera. The other man was saying that the first man was a thief who just wanted to sell the pictures himself. They were arguing mostly in Spanish.
We were what was so interesting. Disney or the hotel or both were not allowing any news people or paparazzi in that day, but the word was all through the hotel about us--"The aliens and their friends," Nereid explained. "Probably most of those people with cameras will want to sell their pictures."
Nereid seemed very matter-of-fact about it, a little annoyed but not as much as I thought she would be. "I am used to it. Maman and Uncle Roland were famous before. The picture takers have gotten worse since Kakyuu-sama came, though. People are putting bugs in our house. The Sureté is supposed to stop them, but Maman thinks they put in some of the bugs. She did not tell Roland about that, though. He gets very angry when people bother us. He does not mind at all if they take pictures of him with other women. But he is suing one of our neighbors for selling pictures of us."
Sure enough, stills and video of our game started showing up on TV before I finished my lunch.
Dad asked me if I wanted to see a little more of Florida after lunch. I said "Okay." Nereid wanted to go but her mom--well, her other mom, Haruka--said she should stay and help her older sisters with the little ones again. I kind of caught on that Haruka had worked this out with my dad. Besu and Hippy stayed at the hotel.
Mr. Tiggs drove us around. He was the man Dad had been talking with for so long that morning. He was from Philadelphia originally, but he'd been a lot of places when he was in the FBI. He'd come down to Florida after he quit, and he'd been working for the hotel company. He lived in another one of their hotels. It was in Orlando itself, downtown. Orlando had a pretty rich looking business district. "Quite a few companies like Florida because of the tax laws," he said. "This isn't just a tourist town. We get more guests up here than down at the Disney site if you count the whole year."
"What do you do for the hotel?" I asked. "I mean, what kind of stuff do you take care of for them?"
"Number one thing is watching the staff," he said. "Make sure they aren't stealing from the guests or the hotel. Then it's watching out for hotel thieves, burglars who work hotels. And then--can I be frank with the boy?"
"He knows the facts of life," said Dad.
"Well, then it's hookers, Leon. Prostitutes, women and men. Most of them are drug addicts. I feel for them, they've got really bad lives, but I have to keep them out if I can. They steal, they bring drugs in, they just invite trouble. And we could get sued if one of the guests gets robbed by one of them, or catches a disease from them, or gets hurt by one of them. Amazin' but true."
Soon enough we were beyond the city and even its suburbs. Orlando in 2010 was a city, not just a big town, but it wasn't part of a sprawl like where I'd grown up. We were in real boondocks: Farms, ranches, marshy woods, and occasional crossroads with a store or two and maybe a church or a small school.
"Pretty good fishing her," said Mr. Tiggs. "Trout and catfish. Ever see a catfish walk, Leon?"
"A fish walking?" I said dubiously. I was eight (almost nine) and even if I had seen flying magic girls and bug-eyed monsters from outer space, I wasn't about to fall for an obvious whopper.
"Some fool brought them over from Africa somewhere. They can stay out of the water long enough to walk from one pond to the next. They're up here now. Not many yet; Fish and Game tries to keep them down because they'll eat most everything else. Guess they'll make it to Georgia in ten, fifteen more years," Mr. Tiggs mused. "Alligators eat them, but we don't have many gators up here."
"You fish a lot?" asked Dad.
"Some," he said. "I'm a city boy. I didn't bait a hook until I went to Alaska for the Bureau. I was up there long enough to go fishing once or twice, though, and I liked it. So now I go fishing whenever I can find a little free time. Catfish and trout. Trout aren't in season now, but you can catch catfish any time. Haven't caught any of those walking cats yet, but a fella about a month back here caught one. Twenty-one pounds. They get big. Some of the farmers swear they go after chickens. That's just talk, though. They're big enough, but they just aren't smart enough to know a chicken is something they could eat."
A little while later, we saw some deer. Mr. Tiggs pulled over and we got out. The deer moved away from us, but not out of sight.
"How did they get here?" I asked.
"That's a good question," said my dad. Driving up, we could see that this bit of woodland wasn't that big, and was completely surrounded by farms.
"This is a game ranch," explained Mr. Tiggs.
"What's that?" I asked.
"People pay to shoot the deer," said Mr. Tiggs. "Not a lot of sport in that. The Rensaleers, the folks who run this place, they try to keep the deer from getting tame. But most places, the deer will come right up to you, thinking you have food for them." He shook his head. "I don't think I could shoot one. But they do make some mighty good eating."
After that, instead of going back the way we came, we went for another long drive on the country roads, and we got on a highway. We drove to Cocoa beach, where we had dinner--or "supper" as they say in the South, where "dinner" is something you eat around noon. Then we watched one of the space shuttles take off. Mr. Tiggs said, "Guess it won't be long before they put 'em all in museums after we start building that alien stuff."
Dad said, "I hope so" in a very far off, very serious way. Mr Tiggs looked suprised for a second. He looked down at me, then back at Dad, and then up at the shuttle, now just a moving star in the twilight sky.
I decided not to ask either of them about what they were thinking about then. I was going to ask Dad when we got back to the hotel, but I fell asleep in the car, and when I woke up, I was in bed, and it was morning.
Prince Kageshirou was with us by that Monday morning. Kag was almost as tall as my Dad then, and girls fluttered around him like hummingbirds around around a sugared birdbath. The Queen's husband and the mysterious Shi did not come, though.
It didn't look like a good day for the parks anyway. It clouded up, and there were thunderstorms in the afternoon--and a tornado, north of Orlando. It was too far away for us to see, even from the fifteenth floor. Fortunately no one was hurt very badly. One of the cops told me that they had more tornados in Florida than places like Oklahoma or Kansas.
Some press were allowed in that day. They were there mostly for the Kinmoku people, and mostly their Royal Family: Kakyuu, Kag, and Usami. And Dana, even. Kag had already been on the People cover twice, once with his family, and once all by himself.
While the press was there, we stayed in our room, along with Nereid--big surprise--and Dr. Huntaromo. He didn't want too distract the press from his Queen. He could talk to us, having recovered his voicebox. He told us about how beautiful Kinmoku was, and about its strange time. Time passes faster there, and sometimes faster in different places. "I had a sibling who became older than I because we lived in different places."
"Did he come with you?" I asked.
"No," said the bug-bear physician. "He is gone before me."
"War?" asked Besu.
"No, he simply lived out all his years. I am quite old now. I have outlived all my siblings."
He was the only one of his people--the bug-bears--who had come to Earth. In fact, he thought he might be the last of his people, anywhere. "Galaxia destroyed our world utterly. I fear my race has come to the end of its years. Perhaps the Hrrr will find us useful. But we are a gregarious people. We need to be among others of our kind. We made a place for ourselves among the people of Kinmoku. But we do not care much for the Hrrr as they are now. Once they finish extirpating Kinmoku culture as I fear they will, I do not think we will continue."
He left us after the reporters and the cameras were gone.
Other than than the weather and the visit from the media, it was a so-so day, looking after the little ones, watching video, meals, a little web surfing. I played chess with Nereid's . . . well, with Mr. Descartes. He won every game, but said I was good for a young man. Then he played Dad, who beat him in maybe twenty moves. He was not so happy to lose, though he was polite enough to hide it. I knew what to look for, though, after being close to Nereid for as long as I had.
As I've said, memory is mutable. Perhaps I have gotten things wrong. Certainly I do not really remember exactly what I said or heard other people say that long ago, but I have reconstructed their words as best I can. Most of these people I would know for a long time, so I know how they spoke.
I've left things out, of course. I am telling a story, not swearing out an affadavit. Maybe I have distorted things here and there to make this a better story. But I am not making up any of this out of whole cloth. If I'm not sure about something important, I will tell you so.
LIke the bees.
I remember a show about bees, killer bees, the nastier breed from Africa. A honeybee (except a queen) leaves its stinger when it stings. It tears out of the bee, and it dies. But the stinger doesn't die, not right away. It stays in, and a little sack on top of the barb keeps pumping venom into the victim. I remember seeing a whole bunch of stingers in something, maybe a glove, pulsing. They looked something like flowers with their blossoms opening and closing, only it was the venom sacks pumping.
Was I with Nereid when I saw it? Did I even see it while I was at the hotel? Probably, but I'm not sure. Whenever I did see it, though, I remembered it, and that night I dreamed about bees. I thought they were after me at first, but then I saw them chasing Good Old Fred. So it wasn't exactly a nightmare.