Christopher Grimes stared with characteristic dourness out at the thronged convention hall. "I'm telling you, Senator," he said, "if you make that speech, it's going to be your Waterloo."
"Good," said Rose Chiang brightly.
Grimes blinked. "Good?"
"Sure," said Chiang, and pinched Grimes's cheek affectionately. "Because my Grouchy showed up."
"Behold, Nobelians," said Oeneas. "Nova Vegae, birthplace of dragons: a self-sustaining sea of gemmeous stardust currents, iridescent with its own internal aurora." He chuckled. "Now you understand our exiles' legendary treasure-hoards."
"It's beautiful," Amélie breathed, drinking in the dazzling cloudscape.
"Indeed," said Oeneas gravely. "And beauty must be defended. Come."
"No, the ikol aren't persons," said Maksali. "Only sophisticated mimicries thereof."
"Do they know that?" said Natalie.
Maksali frowned. "Well… not being persons, they don't know anything," he said. "They only mimic knowledge."
"That must be sad for them," Natalie murmured.
"Again, conscious sentiment…" Maksali paused, and sighed. "Never mind."
"You have my admiration, Emissary," said Cardinal Mwaba. "It takes great courage to tell the Security Council that binary sexual differentiation is fundamental to human nature."
The hermaphroditic alien chirped quizzically. *What is courageous about noting so obvious a fact?* it inquired.
Mwaba chuckled bitterly. "Oh, you wait and see."
"Well?" said Eleanor, adjusting her rags. "Do I look sufficiently wretched to fool a Beggar-Lord?"
"I wouldn't know you for a princess," said Melissa candidly.
"I would," Cameron murmured.
Eleanor's cheeks burned beneath their mud-stains. "Well, Arsenius won't be seeing me with your eyes," she said. "Come on, let's go."
"Man, I wish this grocery store wouldn't put the vegetables up front."
"Well, here I am, the quintessential indolent Newport heiress preparing for another week of gluttonously extravagant First-World consumption, and the first thing I see is a sign saying 'PRODUCE'. My conscience doesn't need a loudspeaker, dammit."
"To review," said Antoine, "I'm running across Ireland in the dead of night to help Mademoiselle Yeats fetch the worm that carved the Decalogue, so it can eat Samuel Beckett's L'Innomable before that book's owner succumbs to Satan."
"Precisely," said Amélie.
Antoine shook his head. "The lives we Nobelians lead…"
"If people simply mustn't have these weapons, Tom," Frances Dewey mused, "why not create an elite spy force with the sole mission of locating and neutralizing any facilities that might try to make them?"
The President considered. "Interesting idea, darling…"
Four months later, the International Corps of Saboteurs was born.
"And this," said the Canon proudly, "is the original crozier of St. Alan Thompson – the one he flung into Lake Michigan after signing the Eschewal, saying that one too weak to die for his sheep didn't deserve the shepherd's crook."
Caroline frowned. "I thought Thompson was martyred."
"That was later."
"Enjoying your new form, doctor?" said Diane archly. "That's the price of a weekend's unbridled lust, here on Hedon Atoll."
"Mmrreeow!" Jim yowled impotently.
"It's inspired by another famous pleasure island," Diane remarked. "Only here it's, 'Give a sleazy man enough rope, and he'll soon make a tomcat of himself.'"