Chapter 36

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"I spy, vith my little eye, something beginning vith V."

Stifling a yawn, the British PM half-heartedly scanned the room.  "Let's see.  It's not the Venezuelan president again, is it?"

With a grin, the German Chancellor shook her head.

The US president didn't even bother to look.  "The Vanuatu guy?"

"Nein, nein.  They are much closer than that."

"They?" queried the PM, with a frown.  "So there's more than one?"

The chancellor stifled a giggle.  "Oh, ja.  There are two."

Perplexed, the PM scoured their immediate vicinity.  "V . . . V . . . hmm.  No, I'm afraid I haven't a clue, my dear.  I give up."  He turned to the president.  "How about you, old boy?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever.  I didn't even wanna play in the first place.  I give up."

The chancellor could barely contain her glee.  "It is you two, of course!"

The men exchanged glances.  "Sorry, little lady," said the president, "but we don't start with V."

The German leader clapped her hands in delight.  "Oh, but of course you do!  You are vankers!"  She dissolved into fits of giggles.  "Two big vankers, hee-hee!"

The PM gave a wry smile.  "Touche, my dear.  I'm pleased to see that at least one of us is managing to enjoy our incarceration."

"What the hell is a vanker?" demanded the president.  "And when the hell are those damn Ri-jellians gonna let us the hell outta here?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, old bean.  And I suspect the letter the chancellor was after may have actually been a W."

The president's facial expression had just graduated from puzzlement to outrage, when a voice erupted from speakers, set high up on the ceiling, a robotic voice, presumably translating whatever it was the Rigellians wanted to announce.

"Attention, baristas—"

A Rigellian shuttle approached one of the battle-station's multitude of docking bays

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A Rigellian shuttle approached one of the battle-station's multitude of docking bays.  Fresh from Milan, it was loaded with the finest hats and shoes that the Earth had to offer.  Although generally disappointing in altitude, there were some promising designs, with definite potential for increased elevation.

Unbeknownst to the crew, the shuttle carried a second cargo; clinging tightly to the undercarriage, a space-suited stowaway was hitching a ride.  With a core temperature far too low for detection by the shuttle's infrared sensors, his proximity to the vessel also rendered him invisible to the station's more comprehensive detectors.

So close now.  The ice-cold eyes watched the bay entrance looming larger, the objective of his long quest drawing nearer by the second.  What would he say, he wondered, when he tracked down his target?  What words could possibly convey the satisfaction of finally confronting the foe he had sought for so long?  Maybe he could say—

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