Chapter 22

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Beneath sullen, stormy skies, the massive monolith of Uluru brooded over the dry and desolate wastes of central Australia, silently standing sentinel as it had done for the preceding half a billion years or more. The weathered slopes were dull ochre in the sombre half-light, but glowed bright red in the vivid flashes of lightning that periodically rent the the troubled skies roiling above the ancient behemoth.

From the bridge of the battletank, hovering several hundred metres above and to the side of the rock, Cora, Mel and EJ looked down at the apocalyptic scene.

"That," said Mel in hushed tones, as the stormy light played on her features, "is one big-arse rock."

There was no denying this. The others didn't.

"So, the PM is down there, somewhere," said Cora.

"That's right," replied EJ. "Or at least the Rigellians think he is. And they're generally pretty good at finding people they want found. I'm frankly pretty astonished that he's managed to avoid being captured for this long."

Cora looked thoughtful. "Me too. He always struck me as the sort of politician whose primary skill was waving. I never really saw him as the resourceful, alien-dodging kind."

Mel turned away from the window. "Well, normally I'd say the Rigellians are welcome to him. And to all of his political mates. But if saving his butt can save ours, then let's get to it. OK Eejie, how do we find him?"

EJ looked pained. "C'mon Mel, please don't call me that."

"Oh, I see," said the tank, huffily. "You'll ask her nicely without being prompted. And use her name.  So that's how it is."

"What?"  Like so many things in his short 'life,' EJ was finding gender relations to be somewhat of a steep learning curve.  He wasn't even sure how he'd managed to land himself in trouble again, which was a feeling he was starting to get used to.  He carefully considered his reply.

"No?" he ventured, hopefully.

"No?  So how is it, then?"

EJ could feel his headache coming back.  He decided to try logic.  "I'm not quite sure what the it we're talking about even is, so I can't really say how it is."

"Aha!" said the tank. "So if you don't know what the it is then how do you know that the it in question isn't what I implied it was?"

If EJ had looked pained before, he now looked positively tortured.  Clearly, logic wasn't necessarily applicable to cross-gender communications.  "Um. How about if I just say I'm really, really sorry and that I'm totally wrong and that you're totally right? How does that work for you?"

"That will do nicely.  And of course I completely forgive you, Eejie."

EJ opened his mouth to protest the continued use of the diminutive version of his name but then thought better of it.  As he closed his mouth, he was surprised to receive a light round of applause from Cora and Mel.

"What's that for?"

Cora smiled at him. "EJ, most men take years to figure out that the woman is always right.  You may be only a few days old, but you're a fast learner."

"Yep," said Mel, grudgingly. "Maybe there's a bit of I in there after all."

"Yes, yes," said the tank.  "We're all agreed that Eejie is wonderful."  The voice took on an ominous tone.  "But don't you two go getting any ideas."

Cora wasn't sure whether the tank could see her expression, but she put on her best poker face anyway.  "Of course not, Marilyn.  Clearly EJ is a real catch but we can see that he's taken.  You two make a lovely couple and we'd never do anything to come between you.  Isn't that right, Mel?"

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