Who Is Michel And What Are Anomalies?

Humanity got used to spatial tricks such as caverns, alcoves, event horizons, and wormholes long ago. At least flying through black holes and even creating them has become commonplace for us. But we still don’t know much about time warps. We didn’t. Until Michel appeared.

It was he who explained and scientifically substantiated the existence of areas in the Universe where time flows in the opposite direction. He called them backward anomalies. He outlined their characteristics. He listed their types. He even calculated the coordinates of seven potential locations within the known Supercluster of the Universe where these anomalies could be found.

Yet, the first predicted location turned out to be empty, there were no signs of time curvature there. That created a whirlwind in the interplanetary scientific society. What words were used to humiliate Michel! “Pseudo-scientific dreamer” was not the worst of them. He himself treated the noise and hype with a good-natured humor that seemed to infuriate his scientific opponents much more than the absence of the predicted anomaly itself. Only a handful of Michel’s theory’s supporters bothered to read his paper titled “Time Distortions and Anomalies in the U-18 Supercluster of the Universe” attentively. And only they tried to draw the attention of the enraged scientists to a crucial detail. They pointed out that the anomaly predicted by Michel near the double star Aljanah (ε Cygnus) is a flashing anomaly. In other words it appeared and disappeared at intervals spanning several million reference years. “The Desgrange Prize today, the opportunity to test the hypothesis in a million years!” others replied, laughing offensively.

How abruptly this laughter came to an end in just five reference years! Then, right in the heart of the third ring of Limb, amidst the vast expanse of icy debris, in the very place Michel had predicted, a small area of space was found. It was a flattened sphere measuring only a mile in diameter that had strange and somewhat eerie properties. It had no impact on living matter or natural objects, such as the ice fragments that floated around and through it. However, Gulshat Jaliya Bashar, the head of the expedition, managed to reveal it. She chose the area pointed by Michel along with an additional nine miles. She commended to clear it of shards and various space debris and cover it with a three-dimensional silver mesh. And almost immediately the anomaly has become visible to the naked eye. Somewhere towards the center, but slightly closer to the western edge the mesh began to slowly melt, thinning, then disappeared and was replaced by…

“What is that, Michel?” Jaliya asked, hushing her colleagues. They were cheerfully and excitedly chattering next to the small screen upon which Vince, the ship’s artificial intelligence, displayed information about the observations of the anomaly. He projected infinite numbers that seamlessly flowed into each other. Jaliya did not turn on the visualization program to make it faster. Only Michel was able to do this advanced mental math and translate numbers into objects. “What do you see?”

“You won’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “A piece of apple!”

“What? Who?” the astronomers and physicists shouted.

“Don’t overwhelm Michel with additional questions!” Jaliya said. “Wait for three minutes until the pictures are ready, you’ll see for yourselves!” But she couldn’t resist asking, “Michel, are you sure that what you see is an apple core?”

“Yes! “I mean, no…” Michel answered, tilting his head and gazing at the orderly lines of zeros, ones, twos, and threes. “It’s materializing and building up before our eyes… half of it… appears to be a Golden Delicious. Petro, listen, it’s your favorite apple variety!”

“If it’s not a Golden, I’m tearing up the contract and heading home,” Petro, a Golden enthusiast and astrophysicist, chuckled.

“No, it’s not a Golden,” Michel disappointed him. “The other side formed and it’s red. It resembles a Kalu Dawn or something.”

“Ugh, sour!” Petro grimaced. He was nervous and overwhelmed just like everyone else aboard this spaceship. And he was flicking his tongue like Kalu snowcock does with its tail when it is excited.

“Jaliya, fire me please,” everyone laughed, also nervously, but cheerfully.

At this time, a green inscription appeared on the screen of the main observer computer: “Image series number C-1819 is ready.”

“Just show it to me, Vince!” Jaliya exclaimed.

“I’m showing it to you now, Jali,” the ship’s artificial intelligence boomed.

Everyone left Michel alone and gathered under the screen. They were silent for a long long time.

“I don’t understand one thing,” Petro finally said, nervously biting his lips, “Why an apple, a broken children’s telescope, and some… what are they? Shoes and some other unknown devices.”

“It’s very simple,” Michel said, approaching his colleagues and rubbing his eyes, “I’m tired of looking,” he explained, “Jaliya, tell me, where did you get this silver mesh?”

“From the warehouse,” she shrugged. “From the Moon. Why?”

“And how did it appear in the warehouse?” Michel asked.

“It was synthesized right there in the supply department.”

“You have your answer,” Michel replied. “Some of the employees threw broken tools into the synthesizer’s receiver, some added a toy, some shoes…”

“But what about the apple?” asked the beautiful Abebi, the ship’s chief biologist. “It’s a natural object, and the anomaly doesn’t affect them.”

“Well, then it’s not natural,” Petro objected. “So, it was synthesized too.”

“I wonder what it was made of?” Jaliya asked, and they resumed looking at the screen…

After a reference year of intensive study of the anomaly Michel, Jaliya and Petro presented a big… um… it was a cross between a lecture and a press conference at the Institute of Time in Paris. Jaliya showed journalists, bloggers and students a photo of a red children’s car damaged with something heavy.

“Our chief astrophysicist, Petro Ponomarenko, crushed it with a press,” she explained.

“Why?” someone in the audience exclaimed.

“To measure the time it would take to fully recover,” Petro explained.

Michel took the restored car out of his pocket and rolled it several times on the table in front of him.

“And what was the time?” the audience gasped.

“Four hours, eighteen minutes, one second, fourteen milliseconds,” Michel answered and pressed the roof of the car. Somewhere inside it, a small antigrav switched on, and it flew up and hovered in front of his face. “The main thing is not to overdo it,” Michel commented. “This is the third car. The first one turned into the garbage from which it was synthesized, and the second one turned into primal matter.”

“It’s a dangerous thing,” said one of the students. “If you accidentally fly into such an anomaly, your ship and spacesuit will turn into primal matter. Despite the fact that it doesn’t affect living matter, you’ll be hanging around in the third ring of Limb like…” he bulged his eyes and stuck out his tongue.

“Nonsense!” his neighbor, a blond guy in a lab coat with a blue stain on his left shoulder, hotly argued. “As far as I understood Mr. Hartmann, the anomaly is quite small. We can build an artificial Limb satellite right around it!”

“Oh, really?” someone laughed. “Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“And do you have any idea what it would mean?” the blond man retorted. “By placing ancient, half-destroyed things that are found every day at excavations on Limb inside the anomaly, we can fully restore them! Can you fathom the amount of information we can gather about our past? This is a genuine archaeological anomaly!”

“What did you say?” Michel asked, turning towards the blond student.

In short, twenty reference years later, when the next – and currently the last – backward anomaly was discovered, the construction of artificial planets was no longer such a novelty for humanity.

However, it was one thing to build Limb Minor around an archaeological anomaly in the well-studied ice ring of Limb Major, and quite another to do the same near the biological anomaly of the star R Coronae Borealis.

“Why quite another? Why is it so fundamentally different?” Jaliya asked from the left half of the spaceship’s main communication screen, in front of which Michel stood. “Is it much bigger? Or much further away?”

The right half of the screen was still dark. Outside the ship’s viewport, in the endless black space, very far from Earth, a yellow giant, the variable star R floated.

“Both much bigger, and much farther away,” Michel replied. “Jaliya, don’t you want to come here for a while? Because I’d like to holographize onto Europe the day after tomorrow, according to the reference time. For a few days. You could take over for me, look around, maybe you’ll like it here. It’s hard without you,” he smiled mildly. “Who else has experience building artificial planets?”

“No, Michel, I’m sorry,” Jaliya shook her head.  “How can I leave Limb? Everything is already dear to me out here. And I still have thirteen reference years left on my contract. Why do you want to holographize onto Europe?”

“Madeleine’s birthday is in three days.”

There was a snort from the dark part of the screen, but Michel didn’t pay attention.

“So what about your new anomaly?” Jaliya lowered her voice. “Is it really biological this time?”

“It’s as biological as it gets,” Michel replied. “We’ve already figured out how and how fast it rejuvenates the cardiovascular system. And we suspect that it rejuvenates the skin as well. We don’t know anything else at the moment.”

Jaliya laughed, “Then I won’t even be mad at you for stealing Abebi away from me. For a biologist, researching something like this is a lifelong dream.”

“By the way, Abebi says hello to you,” Michel said.

“Tell her she’s shameless, but I…”

The dark part of the screen lit up, and a tall woman of unusual scorching beauty appeared on it: with hair as black as a raven’s wing and eyes like that. Her hot and furious gaze made Jaliya want to hide under the table. She was dressed in a simple, dark, unmarked lacquette spacesuit. The cap of the suit was off. The woman stood at her full, considerable height, at the main console of some ship or perhaps even a space station.

“If you’ve finished washing the bones of everyone you know,” she said in a deep, low voice, like a Kalu lion roaring, “then let me get down to business.”

Michel didn’t bat an eye. Jaliya flashed, but remained silent.

“So the bottom line is, in short: we can’t handle the anomaly,” the woman said coolly.

Michel put his hands behind his back. Jaliya asked, “Do you mean the technical aspects of the flight? Because of the distance?”

The woman snorted.

“I didn’t invest my whole life in the study of space travel for nothing. The technical aspects no longer exist for us. I mean, Jaliya, the financial aspects. Do you, you child, have any idea how much it costs not just to create a one-time wormhole, but to maintain it for a long time? The wormhole that is six thousand light-years long!”

“I am not a child!” Jaliya’s eyes flashed.

“You are all my children,” the woman snarled, picking up a small scroll that lay on the edge of the console in front of her. “My stupid, naive children. Now watch your mother selling her soul to the devil for the good of science.”

She unfolded the scroll, ran her fingers over it, and the screen in front of Michel split into three parts, not two. However, the third one remained black for quite a while. Finally, it turned red, and the devil appeared on it. A stunning, alluring devil though. He did not wear horns, but only because they were out of fashion this season. Instead, he wore a snow-white suit made of thin and somehow crispy-looking fabric, an equally snow-white corset that peeked out from behind the lapel of his jacket by a millimeter, a crimson ascot tie, and a ring with a large octagonal ruby. A black strand of hair, curling carelessly, fell on his swarthy forehead. And it immediately became clear that a batch of stylists had worked on this carelessness. The devil’s face, covered with an even, thick tan that he had apparently acquired while vacationing at the best resorts in hell, was lively and pleasant. Especially the dark eyes: quick, agile, attentive, they looked around Michel and Jaliya with interest and lingered on the last interlocutor. The devil smiled and purred, “Hello, Miriam. What do you want?”

“Hello, Max,” she replied and added with a friendly reproach, “How do you talk to the head of the Space Flight Directorate, you rascal?”

The rascal smiled pleasantly and replied, “That’s how I talk to anyone who needs money from me, Miriam.”

“What makes you think I need money from you?” Miriam raised her eyebrows.

Max looked at her, shook his head, smiling, and stretched out his polished, dark palm somewhere to his right, into the reddish infernal shadows. At the same moment, someone’s helpful hands promptly placed a crystal glass of water in this palm. The devil drank, smiled and said, “I learned this from my experience. No matter how our dialogues begin: with great love, with the good of science, with space travel, they always end with the same thing, ‘Max, give me money.'”

Jaliya looked at Michel with a silent question, but Miriam said confidently, “Well, for a change, let us start with the main thing this time, ‘Max, give me some money.'”

The devil burst into wonderful humor. He even laughed and smacked his palm on the table, “Do you know what I’ve always liked about you, Miriam?”

“What is it?” Miriam asked.

“Your exceptional impudence. Do you know what ordinary people say when you give them money?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never tried it,” Miriam replied. “What?”

Max smiled and made himself comfortable in his chair.

“I could write a book,” he squinted and took another sip of water. “Statistics of the information entropy that a patron hears when giving people something they didn’t earn.” So,” he intertwined his fingers. “Sixty percent say I have a kind heart.”

Miriam laughed out loud. So did Michel. Jaliya watched the scene in silence.

“I react in much the same way,” Max nodded and continued, “Forty percent lie about returning my money. And about twenty-five percent offer to sleep with them.”

“And you agree?” Miriam asked, her black eyebrows raised inquisitively.

Max waved his hand lazily, “Of course not! They could find something more unusual to seduce me with. If I did them all,” he made an obscene gesture, “when will I have time to sleep, eat, and work?”

“Your percentages don’t add up,” Miriam said. “It turns out that the respondents are one hundred and twenty-five percent.”

“No,” the devil said, “it’s just that the ones who offer to sleep with them are the same ones who tell me stories about my kind heart,” he threw his legs up on the table. “Maybe my kindness sexually arouses them? What do you think, Miriam?”

Michel looked at Jaliya and held up his hands as if to apologize for his friends. Miriam, meanwhile, hummed, “What sexually excites them is your name at the top of the Forbes spot.”

“Ugh, how cynical,” the devil said and wagged his tail sadly under the table. No one saw it, of course, but everyone clearly felt it. “And I thought it was kindness after all.”

He looked sideways at Miriam, she looked at him, they paused for a second and burst out laughing in sync.

“So, Miriam, let’s not get distracted. You’re the only woman in three worlds who, at the moment of transferring the tickets, said to me, instead of the usual nonsense: “Come on, Max! Give me more! You won’t get hungry!” I was so touched! I still can’t forget it!” and he wiped his absolutely dry eyes with his palm.

Jaliya smiled cautiously, and Miriam waved her hand at the devil and said, “Max, give me more!”

The devil took his feet off the table and shook his finger at her. “Woman! Have you lost your conscience anywhere?”

“No. But if I find it on some distant planet, I’ll definitely let you know,” Miriam said firmly.

“How much do you need, my dear?”

Miriam turned off her screen for Michel and Jaliya and apparently showed the amount on the scroll. Because the devil suddenly jumped up in his chair and screamed in a shrill voice, “Damn you!!!”

Miriam turned on her screen and replied steadily, twisting the scroll, “Are you ready to discuss the terms or do you need to calm down first?”

“What terms, you?” the devil shrieked. “Good God! What is going on? She’s taking the last of me again!”

“This is your fate, Max, accept it,” Miriam said philosophically and put a cover on the scroll.

“Get away from me, you old bitch!” the devil screamed, rolling his eyes in despair.

“Herr Juren,” Miriam said firmly and tapped the scroll on the frame of the console, “I remind you that you are talking to the head of the Space Flight Directorate.”

“And I remind you, you wretched hag, that you’re talking to the richest man in our supercluster of the universe! My God!” he grabbed the crystal glass with a trembling hand. “The most valuable! I’ll take away… I’ll take away a discount on industrial jurrenium from you!”

“And then I’ll revoke my license to fly in space from all your companies, especially ‘SpaceJurren'” Miriam said with a threat.

“And I!..”

Jaliya looked at Michel with some vague doubt. Apparently, according to her ideas, the powerful ones of three worlds communicate in a slightly different manner. Miriam hummed, “That’s enough, Max. Stop it. Next you’ll say, ‘I’m going to call my older brother.’ I see that you can’t afford my offer. Let’s just leave it alone. I’m sorry for bothering you. Have a good day, or whatever is round there.”

“Wait!” The devil made a sharp movement toward the screen, as if trying to catch Miriam by the sleeve.

“And don’t put your hands on me,” she said firmly. “There are five light-years between us now. Your arms are too short for that.”

There was a long silence. The devil stared at the screen with eyes whose pupils had dilated and covered the entire iris, and bit his lips as if in a fever, nervously calculating something. After a lengthy pause, Miriam said, “Max, why are you trembling like a Kalu girlie? No means no. It’s your right to refuse, after all. I repeat: I’m sorry to have disturbed you, and goodbye.”

The devil threw his hand toward the screen again and exclaimed, “Wait!” He squinted suspiciously. “Great Mother! I’m sure as soon as I cut off the call, you’ll be in touch with that old geezer Yokotara!”

Jaliya twitched when she heard the familiar name. Before she met Michel, she had worked as a senior researcher at YokotaraSpaceIndustries.

“Of course, I’ll get in touch with him,” Miriam replied with an icy expression.

“What a traitor you are!” the devil grabbed his head, trying to feel for horns. “After everything we’ve had together!”

The head of the Space Flight Directorate shrugged, “We had nothing extraordinary together. And Yokotara is at least an elderly respectable man. He has experience. He knows business better.”

The devil looked at Ms. Shore in a way that theoretically should have made her burst into flames of hell and instantly vaporize. Instead, she smiled politely and added, “Moreover, he is richer than you.”

Max couldn’t take it anymore and hissed, “Why is Yokotara richer? I’m in first place on Forbes!”

The head of the Space Flight Directorate laughed derisively, “Better will be, ‘I suddenly found myself after I had bought Forbes through eighty-five shell companies!'”

“Lies!” the devil objected quickly and nervously twitched his tail. “You’ll never prove it!”

“Why should I?” Miriam asked contemptuously. “You can play in your sandbox all you want. Merchants!.. It’s enough for us that I know you’re a smug little liar. You know it. Yokotara knows it. All the most powerful people in the three worlds know it. So leave the stories about your kind heart and your billions to the bloggers!”

Max blushed in spots, drilled Miriam with his eyes and remained silent.

“I can tell by the intensity of your flush that you’re ready to get down to the details,” Miriam said. “So, do you really want to become the richest man in the three worlds and leave Yokotara far behind?”

Everyone fell silent. The devil neither agreed nor objected. He sat there, wrinkling his forehead, and suddenly turned to Michel. “Tell me what’s going on over there, kid.”

“Good afternoon, Herr Juren,” Michel said politely, as if he had just noticed him.

“It’s evening in Kaluana,” he replied.

“Even if it’s night,” Michel said. The devil didn’t like that, but he pretended not to hear. “Right now, I, along with ninety-four other scientists and forty-two crew members are orbiting the star R in the constellation Coronae Borealis. It’s a variable star. A yellow giant. Do you know what a variable star is, Herr Juren?”

“How will this information help me get more commercial tickets?”

Michel shrugged and looked at his watch, “I’m about as interested in your commercial tickets as in an old black hole.”

“What a dreadful family you are!” the devil fussed. “Both you and your mother! Two beggars come in with their hands out, and they demonstrate to me how much they despise my tickets! Miriam! Immediately tell your son to be polite to me!”

“Max, shut your mouth and listen carefully to everything Michel tells you,” Miriam replied sternly and added through greeted teeth, “He has learned to be rude to everyone except his adored Madeleine.”

Max inhaled deeply, ready to explode with indignation, and Jaliya drew her head into her shoulders. But Michel continued, paying no attention to the devilish expression on Max’s face, “A variable star is a star that periodically fluctuates in luminosity.” He thought, “Hmm, in the case of star R, it’s not quite periodic. Its atmosphere is poor in hydrogen, so…”

“So, do you and your mom want me to deliver you some hydrogen or what?” Max interrupted.

“God forbid,” Michel said. “You can keep your hydrogen.”

Jaliya looked at Miriam with doubt. Max snorted, but Michel continued, “What it has a lot of in its atmosphere is carbon. Sometimes it concentrates in the photosphere, and then the star dim.”

“And how significant is it, Michel?” interjected Jaliya, who was very interested in this unusual star from a professional point of view.

“Ten to twelve magnitudes,” he answered. Jaliya whistled. “Under normal circumstances, the magnitude of the star R is six. It can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. But sometimes it drops to fifteen. And recently we recorded a historical minimum – during two consecutive reference days, the stellar magnitude was eighteen.”

He was silent and then added with a smile, “You see, Herr Juren, magnitudes are not commercial tickets. Bigger is not always better.”

The devil threw up his hands, “Damn you! Don’t make an idiot of me, you juvenile genius!”

“I’m seventy already,” Michel said.

Max clasped his hands over his chest and pretended to be touched, “How time flies! Isn’t that right, Miriam? Not so long ago he was forty. He was wet behind the ears, and now he’s seventy!”

“By the way, Mr. Hartmann was not wet behind the ears at the age of forty. At this time he has already won the Desgrange Prize,” said Jaliya, who was growing increasingly uneasy with the direction of the conversation and Herr Juren’s presence.

“By the way, Michel,” the devil squinted, “don’t you want to invest the prize in your research? How much do you have?

Michel smiled politely, “None of your business.”

“What a terrible, horrible, awful family,” the devil commented as synthesized water for himself. “And it’s all on my head. Go on, kid. What’s up with that sickly star?”

“It’s not so sickly, by the way,” Michel replied. “It’s a supergiant of spectral classes F and G, the so-called yellow supergiant. Let’s finish with the star itself, I’ve given you a general description, and you definitely aren’t going to retrain from a merchant to an astronomer anyway, right?”

“My commercial tickets are closer to me than your beggarly social points,” the devil replied.

“Well, God be with you,” Michelle agreed. “After all, God be with the R star as well. We are interested in an object orbiting it at a distance of 102 astronomical units.”

“Will you show me the pictures?” Max asked. Jaliya eagerly moved to the screen. She wanted to see the mysterious object too.

“I won’t show you,” Michel shook his head. “The object is invisible.”

The devil opened his mouth. He was silent. Then he asked, addressing Miriam, “You mean you are offering me to buy an object that orbits a weak star that cannot even shine properly? And this object is invisible? Did I understand everything correctly?”

Ms. Shore raised her hands.

“Come on, Max. What do you mean, “buy”? I can’t sell celestial bodies to private individuals, even if they are very rich. You just give me money for the research, that’s all.”

“That’s all,” Max repeated. “Have I mentioned that you are a crazy family?”

“Not for the last five minutes,” Michel replied politely, and the head of the Space Flight Directorate huffed, “Stop crying over your tickets, Max! It’s not like I’m suggesting you shove them into a wild black hole. Not only will you not lose anything, but with the help of Michel’s object, you will double your fortune. Michel, go on.”

“I would prefer not to say more, because the object itself is more suitable for study by biologists. And that is not my field,” Michel replied.

“Then call a biologist or something,” Max suggested. “You’ve managed to pique my interest.”

Michel nodded, touched his watch, and spoke softly, “Hi. Could you please come to the communication room? Yes, it’s very important. Thank you.” Then, addressing everyone else, he said, “Wait.”

“We’ll wait, we’ll wait,” Max sang. “We have plenty of time, we are carefree and easygoing people, and we have nothing to do.”

“What are you doing at the moment, by the way, Max?” Miriam asked.

“I’m working on a speech,” the devil replied, studying his manicure.

“Really? And I thought you were a genius at public speaking and improvisation.”

The devil winked at Michel and Jaliya, “To be liked by people, you have to rehearse everything for a long, long time, including impromptu tears.”

“So, what are you writing your speech for?” asked the head of the SFD.

“For the birthday. Frieda Steinmeier’s one hundred and fiftieth birthday is coming up. Half the planet Kalu is invited, even though the celebration will take place on Earth. Michel, where is your biologist?”

“She’ll finish up some important things and join us,” Michel said.

And Miriam became cheerful and continued, “Are you and Frieda having an affair?”

The devil yawned, “We had a little fling when we were students, classmates, but that was a long time ago. Now we are good friends.”

“And you studied together?” Michel was interested.

At that moment the door membrane thinned and dissolved into the air, and Abebi entered the hall, her white sneakers barely touching the floor. She was tall, angular, and thin, holding a bunch of strange objects, of which Herr Juren recognized only a scroll. She carefully held everything with her elbows, and resembled a big spider with many black limbs. At least, it seemed that only skinny black elbows and knees were sticking out of the snow-white lab coat. Abebi’s hair, lush and rich, was twisted into a sloppy bun and fixed with two white lab pencils. A third pencil, a red one, stuck out from behind her right ear. Her face was simultaneously pretty and stern. The cuteness was created by the dimples on her cheeks, which were unexpectedly plump for such a thin person, and the severity was conveyed through her concentrated gaze and the tense vertical wrinkle on her forehead. The ash-black skin, without the slightest hint of frivolous chocolate, but rather with a serious graphite tint, created a beautiful contrast with the snow-white teeth and whites of her eyes. The eyes themselves were huge, charmingly almond-shaped, black and shiny like an impenetrable outer space with stars.

At the moment, Abebi’s face expressed extreme displeasure as she muttered in concentration, keeping her eyes on the pile of objects in her hands, “Michel, why are you distracting me? I have mice underway.

“Can I help?” Michel stretched out his hands to the top of the pile, like a wobbly snowflake made of shiny pieces of silver wire, held together by some invisible field.

“Don’t touch it. It took me forty minutes to compose this. I’ll bring it to the fourth.”

“Oh!” Michel said with admiration and turned to his interlocutors, “Allow me to introduce the Chief Biologist of Station R, Abebi Sunny.”

Abebi tore her gaze away from the snowflake, glanced at the screens and addressed the devil who smiled charmingly and sat up straighter than usual, “Damn, I didn’t see you there.”

Max was slightly perplexed by this graceful greeting and didn’t answer a word. Meanwhile, Abebi, acknowledged Mariam, saying, “And you too.” Then she noticed Jaliya and exclaimed with genuine joy, “О! How are you doing there on Limb?”

“I’m fine,” Jaliya replied smiling. “I can see that you’ve finally found a space for your experiments and are happy,” she gestured towards the pile of peculiar devices.

“Oh, yes!” Abebi exclaimed enthusiastically. “Jali, you have no idea what it’s like here!”

But then she caught herself, her joy and childlike enthusiasm giving way to a cold and detached demeanor, and she said, “I’ll tell you later… Michel, why did you call me?”

“Abebi, give it to me,” Michel replied and took the pile of instruments from her without disturbing the fragile snowflake, “and you turn on the projector and tell everything we know about the anomaly. By the way, let me introduce them to you: Miriam Shore, head of the Space Flight Directorate, Max Juren, president of JurenMax. The JurenMax.”

Abebi’s expression became quite martyr-like.

“Michel, why are you doing this to me? We have a spokesman for such conversations.”

Michel opened his mouth to object, but then the devil interrupted, finally recovering from his surprise, “Why don’t you want to talk to me, Ms. Sunny?” he asked in a deep velvety voice, smiling sweetly and pleasantly.

“Because I don’t know how to do that,” she replied harshly and coldly, “Eldar will explain everything to you more clearly. In a funny manner and with colorful graphs.”

“I don’t need colorful graphs,” the devil smiled. “I need you. Your knowledge, I mean. Tell me, please. What is that strange object orbiting your star?”

“Well,” Abebi began reluctantly, turning on the projector, a large oval blue glass table, “we have a star R, a yellow supergiant…”

“Spectral classes F and G, if I’m not mistaken?” Herr Juren clarified, rubbing his chin in concentration.

“Yes,” Abebi said. She ran her long fingers along the glass edge of the table, and a star lit up above the blue surface. Not the star itself, of course, but its projection. “Here, you see,” she pointed to something that resembled dirty soot, “from time to time the limb of the star begins to dim.”

“And what causes it?” Herr Juren asked, looking at the projection with great interest, but with one eye very carefully looking at Abebi. “Isn’t it the over-concentration of carbon?”

“That’s exactly it,” Abebi answered, a little surprised. “The chemical composition of this star is very unusual. It differs even from the stars of its class. It is extremely poor in… but you are probably not interested in this,” Abebi interrupted herself.

But then the devil suddenly pulled a trick: he jumped up in his chair, hit his forehead with his palm, and exclaimed, “Hydrogen? Sure! It must be poor in hydrogen! Tell me, Ms. Sunny, am I right?”

“Yes,” Abebi replied, her surprise growing by the minute.

Michel smiled at Jaliya, and Miriam couldn’t stand it and snorted loudly. Ms. Sunny looked at her, at the devil, and said, “To be honest, I’m impressed with your knowledge, Herr Juren. This is a very specific area. I did not expect it.”

“What is my knowledge compared to yours?” he replied modestly. “I’m just an amateur, as the head of the SFD correctly reminded me with her contemptuous snort.”

Michel shook his head but remained silent for the moment.

“But I’m curious,” the devil continued, “how did you imagine me? A ticket-focused simpleton, making jokes like: ‘The star is poor and I’m rich, ha-ha-ha’?”

“Something like that,” Abebi said.

“By the way, Ms. Sunny,” the devil said, looking seriously and sadly into her eyes, “I am extremely disappointed in you. It is wrong for a dispassionate, respected scientist to draw conclusions about a biological object without studying it in detail. On the basis of her personal biases against the objects of this type.”

Abebi was completely confused and looked back helplessly at Michel, who was actually shaking his fist at the devil from behind his back.

“Just kidding,” the devil chuckled softly with a silver tone, “go ahead and tell me more, Ms. Sunny. I am listening to you very carefully.”

And he really listened very carefully, without looking away, without blinking, without interrupting, and without ceasing to smile lightly.

“Well,” Abebi began, a little embarrassed, and switched the projector. Now, above the blue shiny surface, something resembling a paralyzed octopus appeared. Its colored arms sticking up, curling in uneven spirals. “Star R doesn’t have a planetary system,” Abebi continued, “it has this instead.

“What is it?” Herr Juren asked quietly.

“This is the backward anomaly predicted by Michel,” Abebi explained. “It was extremely difficult to detect, even knowing the exact coordinates. You know, the color is nominal, it has no tint or taste, and it doesn’t emit anything.”

The devil nodded.

“But still, we managed to…”

“Not we, but you,” corrected Michel.

“We managed, let’s say, to feel the borders of this object.”

“How?” Herr Juren asked.

Abebi hesitated.

“It’s boring and not very interesting. You will be tired of listening to me.”

The devil lowered his eyes.

“Oh, Ms. Sunny, there you go again with your biases. Tell me. I am interested in everything.”

Abebi was totally embarrassed, but Michel came to her rescue.

“Abebi has designed a special life-support chamber that can be placed inside a standard outbox and released from the ship,” he explained. “The chamber contained white lab mice, usually old and sick. Abebi tirelessly launched such boxes toward the anomaly, getting closer and closer to it. This went on for about two and a half reference years. One day, when the box returned to the ship, she took out a young and perfectly healthy mouse from the chamber.”

The devil remained silent, looking at Abebi stunned, and this time he didn’t pretend. Jaliya looked at her the same way. Miriam, who knew about all the experiments in detail and was therefore not surprised, watched Herr Juren in silence.

“I don’t understand one thing,” he finally said, addressing Abebi, “you have made the greatest discovery, perhaps in the history of mankind, why are you ashamed?”

“Because,” she answered and nervously rubbed her hand over the edge of the projector, “because it’s not the right way to do research! The things Michel praises me for, and you praise me for too… it’s all so primitive!.. It’s a shame for a scientist!” Abebi’s eyes sparkled and she spoke feverishly. “It’s such a flawed, unreliable scheme that… I would never in a million reference years dare to tell this at the Institute of Biology and Life, because they would laugh at me and do the right thing. This is some kind of blind poking at a natural object, like in the First Middle Ages! In the hope that you will understand something!” she waved her hand in complete despair.

“She sits near the area of the universe where time flows in the opposite direction, rejuvenates mice, makes discoveries that potentially give mankind eternal life or at least health, and complains that she is in the Middle Ages,” Jaliya threw up her hands.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Michel nodded. “Abebi is an absolutely unique specialist, not just regarding the knowledge but also her extraordinary flexibility of thinking and ability to take the resources she has and build original solutions to unprecedented problems.”

Abebi waved her hand in frustration and was completely embarrassed, partly because she didn’t think her work was that brilliant, and partly because so much attention was being paid to her humble person, accustomed to the silence of her laboratory and communication with white mice.

“You will never understand,” she said quietly and bitterly.

“Michel, I think that in this situation…” Miriam began, but was suddenly interrupted by the devil.

“Ms. Sunny, what do you think we should do?”

“Michel, and…” Jaliya began.

“Shut up, everyone,” the devil said quietly, but in such a manner that everyone really fell silent. “Ms. Sunny, what should we do with this anomaly?”

She answered timidly and barely audibly, “We should stretch a big silver mesh around the anomaly area. It was Jali’s idea… I mean, Ms. Bashar’s idea. She invented this method back on Limb.”

“Okay, what’s next?” The devil asked. “Should it be just a silver mesh?”

“No, not just,” Abebi answered, turning the projector off and on again. “It has to be a mesh with a special spongy structure. Bacteria must be applied to it in a certain way.”

“What bacteria?” The devil was surprised. “The mesh must be placed in outer space, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. And it has to be Q-bacteria,” Abebi explained.

“Ah, then I see, these will survive,” the devil nodded.

“Yes, not only are they adapted to all conditions, including radiation, ultra-high and ultra-low temperatures, and even the space vacuum,” Abebi continued, “but they also have a unique lifespan for bacteria, and an unusual genome that makes it possible to track their age.”

“Have such experiments been conducted before?” asked the devil. “Is there somewhere I can read about it?”

“Yes,” Abby smiled bitterly. “In the book ‘I found a backward time anomaly in my garage. To-do list! Step-by-step instructions!”

The devil smiled at her joke, “I see.”

“Yes,” Abby said quietly. “We make everything up on our own. Do you want to know if your idea is right or wrong? Then test it. And we often don’t have the resources for tests.”

“By the way, Abebi has already constructed a piece of the necessary mesh,” Michel added, “a ball one inch in diameter, and applied all the Q-bacteria we had on it.”

Jaliya raised her eyebrows in surprise and looked at Abebi.

“Was it successful?” the devil asked.

“Yes, the experiment was very successful,” Michel nodded, “it was due to this little ball that we were able to generally outline the boundaries of the anomaly during the four reference years.”

“But it’s not accurate,” Abebi grumbled. “Here, for example,” she pointed at a green tentacle. “I have my doubts. Unusual readings, and the mice confirmed it later just partially…”

“Well, why not make this mesh bigger?” Herr Juren asked, “so that it would cover the entire anomaly?”

Abebi laughed bitterly, “Do you have any idea how much that would cost? The anomaly is huge. A mesh is still a mesh, but Q-bacteria!”

“If tickets weren’t a problem, would you do it?” the devil asked sharply, looking Abebi straight in the eyes.

“Yes!” She enthusiastically shook her head. The red pencil fell out from behind her ear and hit the metal grav that covered the entire floor.

There was a pause. Then the devil asked, “And what are we going to do with the anomaly after that, Ms. Sunny? When we study it.”

“Then,” Abebi answered, staring either at Herr Juren or into the future with a hope, “we will build an artificial planet around it, like Minor Limb. But the huge one. Inside there should be volumetric cavities of this shape,” she ran her hands along the tentacles of the anomaly. “We’ll build clinics, health, and rejuvenation centers in these cavities. Just being in this area will restore and heal…”

“And what would you call this planet?” Herr Juren asked.

“The Resort…” Abebi answered barely audibly.

Suddenly, she seemed to come to her senses, casting a shameful glance around at everyone before turning her fearful expression towards the devil. It was as if she was worried that Herr Juren would start laughing and exclaim, pointing a finger at her: “This girlie wants an artificial planet! Gosh, have you seen anything like that?”

But he did something completely different; he rubbed his chin in concentration before saying, “Were you going somewhere, Ms. Sunny? Please go. I don’t mean to be impolite, but I need to think now.”

Abebi turned away, gathered up her fancy appliances with the wobbly snowflake on top, looked at him over her shoulder once more, and quietly left without saying a word.

The devil’s screen went out, yet he didn’t break the connection. Under the shimmering black surface, a green light continued to blink like an attentive, curious eye. Miriam looked at Michel and Jaliya, put her finger to her lips, and spoke under her breath: “He counts.”

Dead silence reigned in the communications room for about ten minutes. Finally, the dark screen lit up. The Devil was sitting with his feet up on the table and his hands behind his head. He was smiling broadly and dreamily, like a happy Kalu cat. He looked cunningly at all the interlocutors and said, “One question. Kid, are you having a hanky-panky with her?”

Michel was about to answer, but he was interrupted by Miriam.

“No, Max,” she snorted, “he doesn’t see three worlds behind his Madeleine.”

“That’s great,” The devil half-covered his eyes. “That’s fascinating!”

Michel and Jaliya looked at each other.

“But, don’t think I’m agreeing because of your charming biologist. And I haven’t agreed yet. I have to do some math. And in any case, even if I accept your dubious offer, it will be business. Ms. Sunny is a nice bonus, nothing more.”

Jaliya flared up, “Abebi is not a bonus, Herr Juren! She is not some lighthearted frivolous Kalu girlie of yours, but a respected scientist! And she’s practically a nun!”

Herr Juren squinted and sang, “I have dealt with both scientists and nuns, and the result has always been the same.”

“You arrogant Kalu peacock!” Jaliya exclaimed and blushed with indignation.

“I know,” Herr Juren smiled smugly.

“Then why are you asking Michel about their relationship? Do you care?” Jaliya asked defiantly.

“It is actually a secret, Ms. Bashar,” the devil answered, leaning over his scroll and placing his palm over his mouth, as if he hoped to muffle the sound transformed into an Q-light wave, “but only to you, and only while no one can hear us…”

And he began to tell his story, “Once upon a time, I found myself attending the most important scientific event of the year, the Desgrange Prize. Afterwards, I had an appointment with Dr. Iku Yoni about … well, you don’t need to know. So I came early, and I was sitting in the front row in a place of honor for the entire ceremony. Everyone was excited about the new theory of backward anomalies, everyone noticed its extraordinary importance and the prospects it will open up for humanity. ‘God be with humanity,’ I thought, and noticed something else: the newly minted Desgrange Prize winner had a dazzling wife. A figure though,” he glanced at Michel, “is absolutely unfashionable, her breasts are too big as for the modern concepts of beauty. My Kalu girlfriends would pester me day and night, ‘Give me some money to fix this defect, Max.’ But she’s fine. She’s sitting there as if it’s her appearance to be the only possible beauty standard. And what’s interesting is that the longer I look at her, the more I begin to accept the unbelievable idea that this is exactly that only standard. She doesn’t pay any attention to me, just is looking constantly at her husband. And when she glances at the auditory, she has such an independent expression on her face, like, you can do what you want, but I’m the most important person here. And, believe me, Ms. Bashar, I realize that the most important thing is happening on stage. I say to myself, ‘Listen carefully, Max, science is a good little thing, maybe it will come in handy somewhere!’ However, I look only at her, more and more intently. I almost got strabismus that night,” he giggled. “Then her esteemed husband finished talking about time and space (I didn’t remember anything from that speech), my Dr. Yoni showed up on stage and finally gave him,” he pointed at Michel, “that white scroll that any scientist would choke on. Everyone clapped intelligently, smiled with restraint. Of course, the scientific community is a bit buttoned-up. Everyone is afraid of doing something wrong. And she…” the devil fell silent and shook his head. Michel smiled gently at this point, also remembering that evening and Madeleine. “In short, she got up and whistled with two fingers. And she hypnotized everyone, you know. Everyone jumped out of their seats and started whistling and applauding. ‘What idiots!’, I thought. And realized that I’m standing there whistling myself. Then,” he squinted, “the after party, dance, drink and flight, you know. I talked to her for five minutes, and I swear to you, Ms. Bashar, the conversation was about the weather. And then,” he glanced at Michel, “this kid comes up to me, smirks, and says, ‘Don’t do that.’ ‘Don’t do what?’ I asked innocently, and he answered me: ‘Minus three point eight six six.’

“Excuse me?” said Jaliya, who had been listening to the story very carefully.

“Minus three point eight six six,” Herr Juren repeated and looked at Michel again. The latter was smiling calmly. “I shrugged at the time, too,” the devil continued, “I thought that our mathematician genius had overworked a little bit. Head troubles, you know. It happens,” he stopped smiling. “A month later, the shares of JurenMax began to fall.” He moved his shoulders as if he felt cold, “For the first time in its history. For the first time since I started it as a fifty-year-old youngster. You cannot imagine, Ms. Bashar, what this company means to me.”

He changed, no longer smiling smugly or squinting like a cat. His eyes were wide and dark as deep water. For some reason, for the first time, Jaliya noticed that he had large sticking out ears. And her imagination added to these ears a picture of a thin and insecure disheveled young boy, who was timidly looking with his big dark eyes at the luxurious Kalu world.

“I started when I was twenty, the very day I stepped through the gates of the community. I took on everything. And I lost everything. I know that you despise people like me, Ms. Bashar,” she shook her head and wanted to say something, but Herr Juren raised his hands, “but come on, it’s the truth,” he made a decent expression and continued as if on her behalf, “We are great scientists, we move humanity forward, we put our time and our lives on the altar of science and get quite modest social points for it. And you, wealth-oriented merchants and businessmen, are ready to sell your souls for your commercial tickets, and nothing else interests you. But in fact,” he continued, suddenly conciliatory and on his own behalf, “what is the difference between a biologist who hasn’t been able to reproduce something in a test tube for many years and a businessman who has been failing for many years with his startups, no matter how hard he tries? They grieve equally over their failures, despair in themselves, and want to give it all up from time to time. And they still can’t. Because despite everything, despite failures, disbelief, and defeats… they are insanely fond of what they do. When I was fifty, I gathered everything I had, all my knowledge, experience, connections, and tickets, and started JurenMax. I put everything on the line. And I won. The company has been successful from its first day on the Great Stock Exchange. Its shares have always only grown and never – never! – fell down. I can say that this company is me. It bears my name…”

He was silent.

“And so, a month after the presentation of that ill-fated award, JurenMax shares began to stagnate and then fall. I grabbed my head first, and then the head of my cybersecurity service. None of the management team slept for three Kalu days. We were fueled by stimulin and looking for a solution. Eventually, a young programmer realized that the factor that influenced the stock price was not in the market. In other words, shareholders did not start to trust us less, and various indexes, which I will not tell you about now, are fine. But something happened to the Maternal Algorithm. This is a small part of the program for calculating the stock index that… how can I put it… expresses the state’s attitude towards your company. Usually, the Maternal Algorithm gives out one, and this does not affect your securities in any way. The state’s attitude is neutral. But sometimes, due to some mistakes, for example, underpayment of taxes, it shows not one, but a smaller number, let’s say, it fines you for bad behavior. And when that whiz kid, that junior programmer, I didn’t even know his name at the time, showed me the scroll with the Maternal Algorithm, I was speechless. It was minus three point eight six six percent.”

Michel smiled innocently. Jaliya was, of course, very surprised, but she clarified, “Are you saying that your company’s shares fell by this small percentage?”

“Oh, Miss Bashar,” the devil waved his hand. “You don’t understand anything about business. The combination of this small percentage and the company’s impeccable reputation, led to a real disaster. People are used to the fact that JurenMax shares never fall. They can grow faster or slower, but they always grow. From the very day it was founded. And then, suddenly, a drop. In one day. And by almost four percent. For some unknown reason. The shareholders start looking at each other and slowly, quietly, one by one sell their shares. For the first time, the supply of shares is equal to their demand, and they are starting to fall in price, but not drastically yet. Everyone is waiting for an explanation from me, but what can I say? I can’t tell the truth. If I said: ‘You see, dear shareholders, I tried to hook up with the wife of a great mathematician, and he spoiled the Maternal Algorithm for me,’ then everyone will start dumping their shares en masse, because it’s clear that the company’s president has gone crazy. The Maternal Algorithm is one of the three Great Ancient Algorithms, an artificial intelligence of unprecedented power that can protect itself from outside influences. It cannot be interfered with, it cannot be controlled.”

“And what did you do next?” Jaliya asked curiously.

“I promised the head of cybersecurity that I would lock him away on Okri until he disintegrates,” the devil said with a businesslike tone. “Then I talked to everyone who gives the Maternal Algorithm any information: the head of the Tax office, the president of the Kalu All-Planetary Charitable Foundation, the board of the Interplanetary Patronage Foundation, the Arts Support Society… in short, everyone to whom JurenMax dumps piles of tickets every month and asked what the problem was. They all assured me with one voice that there was no problem, that JurenMax was a company with a crystal reputation, and that they did not forget to report this to the Maternal Algorithm twice a Kalu year.

He was silent.

“Then I called Michel.”

“And?” Jaliya asked, curious, and looked at Michel, who was listening calmly, as if it wasn’t about him.

“He said that he had nothing to do with it and wished me a good day,” the devil replied. He leaned back in his chair and intertwined his fingers on his stomach. “You know, Ms. Bashar, even though I live in the most prestigious and beautiful neighborhood in Kaluana, with a great view of the City of Games and the City of Illusions, and a good chunk of the capital itself, and the Blue Lagoon, too… But my bedroom has no windows.”

“What?” Jaliya asked again.

“I mean no windows at all,” the devil explained. “There are windows in the other rooms, but not in the bedroom. Instead, all the walls are covered with a large screen that displays the indicators of the JurenMax company around the clock. I open my eyes in the morning and immediately see if everything is fine. And if it’s not, I can see what exactly, where I have to intervene. And here, in the very center of the screen, these numbers are glowing red,” he moved his hand in the air, as if touching a number invisible to anyone but him, “minus three point eight six six. I fall asleep and see them, I wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing I see is them. I cannot even tell you what I went through during these days. During these thirty-four days, Ms. Bashar,” he held his temples. “I tried to keep the company from falling as best I could. Every day I gave convincing, lying interviews about how everything was going well. I was shaking my security team. I even tried to figure out the intricacies of the Maternal Algorithm myself,” he waved his hand. “It was all in vain.”

“And what happened next?” asked Miriam, who was finally interested in the story.

“And then everything stopped. One morning I opened my eyes and there was nothing on the screen – just the usual indexes, coefficients, indicators… It seemed like a happy ending, but I had to stabilize the company for another five years,” he raised his eyebrows and looked at Michel, who shrugged as if saying, “What did you expect?”

“And, let me guess,” Miriam hummed, “you didn’t go near Madeleine anymore?”

“Great Mother save and preserve!” exclaimed the devil. “No woman is worth that kind of stress.”

“She wouldn’t have chosen you anyway,” Michel smirked.

“Why else?” Max squinted.

“Because you are a…” followed by a word that no one expected from the intelligent and sweet Michel.

“Oh, kid, you don’t understand anything in life… Really, you don’t,” Herr Juren laughed. “Of course, I am what you said, but women are usually attracted to it, not scared away.”

Michel shook his head, “Madeleine is not that case.”

Jaliya looked at him with completely different eyes, but asked the devil, “Have you tried to understand what happened, Herr Juren?”

“Of course!” he exclaimed. “Of course, I have. I talked to everyone who understands Ancient Algorithms or pretends to: programmers, mathematicians, artificial intelligence specialists, IT archaeologists. It was of no use. Everyone unanimously said that outside influence on any of the Ancient Algorithms was absolutely impossible. The only one who didn’t think I was a freak was my whiz programmer. By the way, I fired my head of the cybersecurity department, and put this youngster in his place… Well, that’s just a side note. In short, in the thirty years since those events, I’ve been told that it’s impossible, that it’s a mere coincidence hundreds of times. And finally I believed it myself. But,” he looked expressively at the women and then at Michel, “I have drawn my conclusions, and you see: I liked the girl who works at the kid’s side, and I take my time, and first ask him politely: can I talk to her about the weather?”

Michel made a broad gesture, but said, “You’re welcome, but you won’t succeed with her either, Herr Juren.”

Max raised his eyebrows in question.

“For the above-mentioned reason,” Michel smiled.

The devil waved his hand dismissively. Miriam laughed, “It will not work, Max. It will really not.”

“Why so bitter, old hag?” Herr Juren asked without any heat. “Still jealous, are you?”

“As if I care about you,” Miriam huffed and turned to Michel, “How old is this girl?”

“Ninety-five,” Michel answered.

“Well, you see!” the devil clapped his hands. “How beautifully everything is working out!”

“And how old are you?” asked the head of the SFD.

“Miriam!” The devil made big eyes. “It is impolite to ask such questions to a Kaluman! But only to you and only in confidence… ninety-seven.” 

“He lied only for fifty-two years,” Michel commented on this information. “Herr Juren is now one hundred and forty-nine years old.”

“What a little troublemaker!” the devil laughed. “Well, how do you know everything?”

“During our conversation,” Michel began in a bored voice, “you mentioned that you were writing a speech for Frieda Steinmeier’s one hundred and fiftieth birthday, and that you were a classmate of hers. Frau Steinmeier was born in the German month, so she is… um… Frau Steinmeier. You, as your name implies, also have a birthday around her, in German month, or in July if we use Earth’s concepts. It’s June on Kalu now. So you are almost, but not yet, one hundred and fifty. We take one hundred and forty-nine, subtract your claimed ninety-seven, and we get…”

The devil laughed, “Well, well, kid, you’ve got me,” and turned to Miriam, “But tell me, dear, how is this going to distract me? We look exactly the same age.”

“You look like classmates with her now,” Miriam objected, “but in thirty or forty years? You’ll start to age, Max. Maybe you’ll turn gray,” he raised his eyebrows. “The first wrinkles will appear,” and he showed Miriam his fist. “The hormonal cocktail in your blood will change. You will become calmer. You will stop being interested in many things. And her? She’ll be one hundred and twenty, the age of full bloom. What will that look like?” Miriam placed her hand on her chest and exaggeratedly coughed. ‘Wait, wait, darling, I’m out of my breath!’ Well, of course, all of this will happen if you give up the source of eternal youth.”

The devil threw his legs up on the table, intertwined his fingers at the back of his head, looked at Miriam for a long time, and smiled. Finally he asked, “Do you know what my nickname is?”

“Of course,” Miriam answered. “Everyone knows it. Max Teufel* Juren. Because you are slily and always achieve your goals.”

Max laughed and spoke softly, “Oh, woman! When I talk to you, it seems to me that I am a neat, innocent angel myself. With these white wings,” he gestured to his hands. “Alright, you win. I agree. We’ll start discussing the details next week.”

He nodded to Jaliya and Michel, winked at Miriam, stood up and exited the frame. The screen went off, but they could still hear his final devilish grin, “Oh, kid! He’s got stunning girls over there. Is it possible to stand it? You just look at her! She doesn’t want this usual stuff, just an artificial planet! Have you seen something like that?”

Then the connection was lost.

Everyone was silent. Jaliya asked, addressing Miriam,

“Won’t he change his mind?”

“No way,” she shook her head. “The word of a Kalu merchant is a solemn bond.”

 * Teufel comes from the German word Toifel that means Devil.

Copyright © 2023 Alex Romano All rights reserved

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.

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1 day ago

As usual, there is a joy in your writing that comes through. What I liked about the story most of all were the characters. Max was delightfully evil! And Miriam was a great fool for Max, keeping him in check. Being on the nose in describing Max as the devil was great lol. I really wish I have Michel’s ability! That was very cool!

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