Previously in Only Slightly... after unexpectedly falling
through a spatial tear onto a world made entirely of water (instead of
Mars as she had expected), The Geraldine found herself in a mysterious
room talking to an even more mysterious four-thousand-year-old man who can
change his appearance at will, and has just made the rather startling
suggestion that The Geraldine is a God.
'You're trying to suggest that I'm some kind of Goddess?' The Geraldine
asked after a few moments of what felt to her like an extremely profound
silence. The formerly old man sighed, as one would when attempting to
explain a simple concept to a small child who was refusing to pay
'I am not trying to suggest anything,' he said. 'I am only telling you
what you need to know.'
The Geraldine sighed exasperatedly now, as anyone would if they were
unable to understand something somebody was trying to explain to them,
when it's clear the other person thinks what they were trying to explain
was extremely simple.
'So tell me then, why do I need to know it?'
'Now that is an interesting question.' The man steepled his fingers and
studied The Geraldine over the top of them.
'Are you going to answer it?'
'What do you think?'
'I think you are going to give me some cryptic answer which I don't
understand, but which you expect me to figure out.'
'And why do you think that?'
The Geraldine treated him to a long, steady look.
'Because that's about all you've done since I arrived here. You have
yet to properly explain why I am here, who you are, why you are here, what
you want with me or even what you mean by half the things you have said,'
she told him, her voice betraying her increasing exasperation.
'You underestimate yourself,' the man said. 'You have understood more
than you think you have.'
'How does that help me, when I don't know what it is you're talking
'That is something you will find out later. For now, there are more
things you need to be told.'
'Understanding not required?'
The man smiled slightly. 'Not yet. Later. I hope for your sake that
understanding comes before you require it.'
'And if it doesn't?'
'I shall say only that you wouldn't like the consequences very
'Then perhaps you should continue. I think I will need as much time as
I can get.'
For some reason, that made the man laugh.
Bill received a simple text message from Mars the day after the
settlers landed. Two hours later, dressed in his dark green wizard's
robes, he strode down a corridor in the White House with a knot of
advisors snapping at his heels.
'Are you sure this is wise, Mr. President?'
'Let somebody else handle it, there are many capable wizards who
'Be quiet!' he thundered eventually, rounding on the suited gaggle of
people who thought they knew better than him so suddenly that two of them
walked right into him. He was still just as bulky as he'd been when he
started his first term as President forty years before, so they were the
ones who staggered back from the impact. 'My decision has been made. If
anything, this is the place where there are many people who can do what
needs to be done without me here. Mars is where I am needed now.'
The Secretary of State sighed, then held out a notepad. 'At least read
this first, Mr. President.'
With a curious glance at the Secretary of State, Bill took the notepad
and switched it on. Text appeared on the screen, and he read half of it
before its meaning really started to sink in. He looked up at his advisors
again, then read it right through from the beginning.
'Call the ambassador from New Earth,' he said finally. 'Inform her that
I would like to meet her on Luna at her earliest convenience.'
'Yes, Mr. President,' the Secretary of State said, evidently satisfied.
The President wouldn't be going to Mars today.
'And send a message to the Mars settlers. Tell them that I'm attempting
to find out where The Geraldine is through alternative sources, and ask
Bidet to listen out for communication spells.'
'Of course, Mr. President.' The Secretary of State looked smug and
victorious, something Bill wasn't particularly inclined to let stand.
'Tell him I expect to be there in a few days,' he said, triggering a
fresh round of protests, which he ignored. Ambassador Randall would see
him quickly, he was sure, and he intended to make sure that he didn't
waste a moment of anybody's time.
He changed into a more suitably-cut set of robes, slightly more formal
in appearance and decorated with sparse embroidery in thread-of-gold, then
took the short trip in the Presidential aircar to Washington spaceport,
where there was a small shuttle for his use which was ideal for visiting
Luna or one of the space stations which were almost continually being
constructed in Earth orbit.
There was a short formal greeting ceremony when he arrived on Luna four
hours later; the more traditional longer ones for visiting heads of state
made no sense when the head of state in question visited as often as Bill
visited Luna. When the ceremony was over, Bill and King Frank of Luna
shook each other's hands warmly.
'Ambassador Randall is waiting for you in the dome lounge, Mr.
President,' King Frank said. 'She seems quite anxious to see you.'
'I appreciate being able to meet her here,' Bill said. 'If I let my
government officials anywhere near her we'd never get to meet in
'You really should do something about them, you know.'
'I'll leave that up to the next fool who agrees to be President.' Bill
headed off in the direction of the dome lounge. 'You're welcome to join
us, if you wish, your Majesty.'
'I have things to be doing,' the King replied. 'Besides, from what she
said when she arrived, she would much prefer to talk with you alone. I
will see that your shuttle is refuelled ready for you to leave.'
The dome lounge was Bill's favourite part of the base on Luna - a huge
room by the standards of the place, built only twenty years ago. It
covered an area the size of a soccer pitch, and was roofed entirely with a
totally transparent dome that offered excellent views of the stars, one of
the two Luna-orbit space stations, and the Earth, which was currently
looking particularly blue and jewel-like almost directly overhead.
Ambassador Elizabeth Randall of New Earth sat on a curved sofa in the
exact centre of the lounge, wearing a scarlet dress which did absolutely
nothing to hide her remarkable figure. Thankfully, in forty years of
dealing with her (during which time her figure hadn't diminished even
slightly), Bill had learned to rein in some of his baser instincts, and no
longer had to struggle through several minutes of being distracted from
the business at hand by her cleavage, which some commentators had
described as 'mountainous'.
'Mr. President,' she greeted him in a rich voice which filled the room
and at one time (before he learned to resist it) would have turned his
knees to jelly. 'I assume you are here in response to the message I left
with your Secretary of State.'
'You assume correctly, your Excellency,' Bill replied, taking a seat on
the sofa opposite. 'Although I must admit, I do not entirely understand
'To be brutally honest, neither do we.' Randall leaned forward.
'Yesterday one of our exploration vessels on the edge of the galaxy picked
up some rather unusual energy emissions from a planet we thought was
completely devoid of life. They changed course for a closer look, and
picked up some even more interesting things, which our theorists believe
may be consistent with the energy release required to form a spatial tear,
potentially one which emerged somewhere in Earth's solar system.'
'Such as on Mars,' Bill said.
'Exactly. Since we arranged this meeting, I have received word that the
ship has detected one human life sign about fifty miles below the planet's
'Impossible for us to tell, even if we were close enough, we don't have
her details in our files. We believe it is a possibility, however.'
'I have to get out there.'
'If you insist. I have already arranged transport, although I didn't
think you'd want to go yourself.'
'Bidet can handle things on Mars,' Bill said. 'I can be of most help
with your science vessel.'
'In that case,' Randall said as she rose to her feet. 'If you will
follow me, Mr. President, we will get you there as quickly as we can.'
Will Bill really find The Geraldine on the mysterious planet at
the edge of the galaxy? Will The Geraldine ever make sense of what the
age-defying man is attempting to tell her? Will we ever find out who he
really is? Why are you asking me?