Two-Bit Heroes – Excerpt

Chapter One

In Tuvin Province they serve you chocolate in the morning. It comes in little round cups with flat bottoms and no handles, and people drink it, by and large, outside their homes – in the markets, in sidewalk stalls, on the narrow balconies of the whitewashed houses. It’s a warm and sunny place, being north, and all those chocolate drinkers sit there in the mornings with their hats on. Taking in the illusory peace of Ivory’s fresh new day. Before they all rush out to swindle and cheat the competition.

That’s a generalization, of course, and an unfair one. Particularly coming from me, and considering all I saw and did in that province. Looking back now, it’s amazing the amount of trouble I got into there, and have always seemed to get into on Ivory in general. It never happened to me anyplace else. It seems to be what my teachers on Athena would call “an interactive effect.” But I acquired a taste for morning chocolate in Tuvin Province, and a taste for Trouble, too. Although I wouldn’t expect anyone else to understand about the latter, except for one or two of the Cormallons.

But by all means, let us be chronological. I had just passed my twenty-fifth standard birthday. I had returned to Ivory for the second time in my life. And I was standing alone in the hills of Cormallon, a long hike from the main house, picking cherries for that night’s dessert.

It was a cool day for early summer, but being a barbarian I wore a sun hat anyway. Just then I’d taken it off – a round straw thing that came to a peak in the middle – and was filling it with black-red cherries. The morning sky was a long, glorious blue dome and the wind was gentle, and somewhere around the forty-fourth cherry I was deciding how pain between the shoulder blades could come between one’s intellectual appreciation of the day and the actual joy of it, when I heard the distant whirr of an aircar…

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