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from the You Gotta Wear Shades collection

Tristyn and Ludmillo Play the Fringe

by Meg Belviso

As creative director of the Beta-quadrant New Millennial Shakespeare Players, Trystyn Webforce had seen plenty of prop laser spears. And yet this was the first time he had seen a real one this close to being shoved up his nose.

“What did we do? What did we say?” shrieked the stage manager, Gaia.

“I don’t know!” Trystyn shrieked back. His eyes searched instinctively for Ludmillo, clutching his battle axe to his chest, his kilt hanging lopsided at his knees.

Trystyn desperately went over the last few minutes in his mind. Dunstan Wood had moved on the castle, Macbeth had met his tragic end, Malcolm was crowned king. Trystyn had watched from backstage the whole time and he couldn’t think of anything that should have caused an audience full of giant, muscular K^jl to bang their chests and howl, much less leap onto the stage with their weapons and shove them up peoples’ noses. The performance had been going well, Trystyn thought. So well, in fact, that when the vocal displeasure first started he thought the K^jl were just getting into the show, and were eager to see Macbeth get what was coming to him. He’d read about the K^jl’s warrior culture; he just didn’t know it could be directed against actors.

“Hrraaaggnookk!” one of the K^jl shouted. That was no help at all.

They did speak English, the man who booked them to play the theater had assured him when he was surprised by the engagement. As much as the K^jl hated the Association of Planets and still refused to join after 50 years of trade, they’d learned how to conduct business in that Association language, among others. “People call them barbarians,” the booking agent had said, “but the Association liaisons are convinced that culture is the way to win them over those last few steps.” Music, fiction, and theater were the road to understanding, they said, even though the agent admitted that most of the bookings he did on K^jl were for the Intergalactic Wrestling Federation.

This is all your fault, Trystyn said to himself. You just had to come here. Had to do something important for creature-kind. Well, you didn’t.

The K^jl continued shouting and growling, as much at each other as at the Players. Then one of them reached out and pulled something into the middle of them, and that something was Trystyn’s husband of thirty-two years.


The K^jl turned to stare at him. The whole sickening tableau—one dark-skinned, slightly pudgy Earthling man in a kilt surrounded by bumpy-skinned, broad-shouldered aliens in a knot in the shape of a human fist—looked so obviously staged that Trystyn went into director mode, as if this was just another dress rehearsal gone wrong, waiting for him to take control.

People really did want a director sometimes.

“Gentlemen. Err, and Ladies? There seems to have been some misunderstanding. What’s the problem, exactly?”

“What’s the problem?” the biggest of the K^jl roared. “You don’t insult the K^jl and get away with it, that’s the problem!”

“I’m sorry? Insult you?”

The K^jl exploded into another angry chorus of growls and shouts, but eventually the voices resolved themselves into something like an Association Language.

As far as Trystyn could understand, the story of Macbeth contained certain eerie parallels to historical events on K^jl. It wasn’t completely the same—on their world the king was called Chbrost (Trystyn wasn’t sure of the spelling) and he didn’t wear kilts. He didn’t see any ghosts or floating daggers. He did kill someone in bed—two people, actually, and an owl. And he did receive a prophecy—not from witches but from a bowl of cornflakes (Trystyn was pretty sure this was a mistranslation on the K^jl’s part but he didn’t want to insult them again by asking for clarification) and he did have a formidable wife. But—and here was the important bit—the K^jl Macbeth had triumphed over his Macduff. He was one of the most respected, violent kings in K^jl history. Three of the gentlemen in the fist-shaped group were named after him.

Well, Trystyn was starting to understand the problem. It was as if Shakespeare had put on a Henry V where Henry lost to the Germans. French. Henry V fought the French. Trystyn wasn’t good at ancient history, and they’d been doing a lot of Brecht lately.

“It was just a misunderstanding!” he said, unconsciously imitating the reassuring yet enthusiastic tone Ludmillo often used with him when he was freaking out about something. Ludmillo, who was now doing his best to avoid touching either of the two K^jl looming over him, sucked in his stomach like Doôbrogv Ypre doing a love scene. A wave of affection washed over Trystyn and threatened to knock him over. “Allow me to explain gentle—K^jl. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon—a little town on Earth—long before we had any idea you existed!”

He gave the K^jl a quick history of the Bard, nothing too detailed. He just put the man into historical context, explained why he was so important, reeled off a few famous quotes. As he talked he got more comfortable. It had been a while since Trystyn had acted on stage—directing and running the company took up most of his time—but the stage was still home to him. Even if the audience was nine feet tall with green, lumpy skin and built like the docking bay of a megacruiser.

“So you see,” he summed up, “any parallels to your own history are purely coincidence—ones that none of us had any way of knowing about, so we can all put this behind us. No hard feelings. I know how passionate people can be about their planets. So then… ”

He took a cheerful step forward and almost walked into the laser spear that was once again pointed at his face. The K^jl holding it grunted something to the others and then Trystyn was being dragged off-stage, away from Ludmillo.

Trystyn had never been in a cell before, but he’d played Grupho Mal–8–tsen in the Pheta System Festival years ago. The second to last scene in Act V took place in Mal – 8 –tsen’s cell in the Brick. Mal-8-tsen was imprisoned for a crime his friend committed. But he chose not to fight it because his friend’s work was more important than his own life. He was a hero.

Trystyn was an idiot.

He slumped against the wall in his own cell. It looked nothing like the way they’d staged it in the play. Mal-8-tsen’s cell had a tiny window with bars and a romantic crescent moon shining through it. The K^jl cell looked like an old bathroom with stained tiles and no windows and a rusty drain in the center.

What was happening to Ludmillo?

There was nothing to do in the cell but think about what he’d done. He remembered the night he’d told Ludmillo about the tour through the Fringe Systems. “Trystyn,” Ludmillo had said, “you remember when we went camping on New Terra? That was a simulated forest and you came down with psychosomatic poison oak. Why on earth would you want to play the Fringe? It’s like playing to a black hole. Have they even heard of Shakespeare?”

“The booking agent said they played Titus Andronicus there last demi-annos. It was sold out. They even had to extend the run.”

“For Titus Andronicus? Trystyn, that is not a good sign.”

Trystyn had huffed and thrown himself down on the couch, which immediately adjusted itself to his body shape and temperature. He remembered looking around the dwelling space they had shared for ten years, the sunset streaming through the windows.

A month earlier, Trystyn had found a brochure in his email for Village X, a retirement community on a Terraficial Planet. The climate varied across the surface so you could choose which zone you wanted to live in. The windows were all tinted and set on a timer to produce a sunset every night at your favorite hour. The only requirement for joining the community was age—Trystyn and Ludmillo were 10 and 12 years away from the right year, respectively.

Obviously the brochure wasn’t sent to him personally. It was spam, or probably his name was on some mailing list that sounded old. The problem wasn’t that Trystyn had gotten the email, it was that he’d found himself reading it all the way through and thinking how pleasant the whole thing sounded. Retirement! Pleasant! It was horrifying!

“When I became an actor, Ludo, I was passionate about everything,” he’d explained to his husband. “I wanted to do plays nobody’d seen before. Or old plays in ways nobody had ever seen them. Remember I told you about the first time I saw I Can Haz? in a little theater on Jane Street?”

“And the stage opened up for you like an endless universe expanding forever outward until it all broke apart and you glimpsed perfect knowledge between the atoms,” Ludmillo recited from memory without a trace of sarcasm. “Of course I remember.”

“And remember when I told you about my great great great great etc. grandfather back in the 20th century?”

“Founding director of the Negro Players Guild in Harlem. You have his smile.” Ludmillo grinned.

Trystyn waved him away, blushing a little. “I wanted to do something with theater. Change the world, one alien at a time. You remember what I said when I quit the streaming show?”

“Of course,” said Ludmillo, sinking into the couch beside him, forming his own personal body dent. They’d had the couch for so long Trystyn was pretty sure he could draw Ludmillo’s dent from memory.

Trystyn had co-starred for 9 seasons as Lieutenant Smith-Jones on The Fleet, a popular but pedestrian show about the Association Space Navy. A dozen times a month someone stopped him on the street and repeated what had become something like his catchphrase, “Lieutenant Smith-Jones, I see you’ve got everything under control.” So far he hadn’t punched anyone in the face in response. So far.

“You said as exciting as it was to know that billions of people all over the universe were watching your show you preferred being in the same room with your audience.”

“Right,” Trystyn had said. “But how can I do that—how can I be that person—if I want to sit in a climate controlled room and toast marshmallows?”

“You’ve lost me.”

That was another thing, Trystyn thought. If he’d acted more in recent years he wouldn’t be so rusty at persuasive monologues. And why had he pulled back on acting, after all? He said it was because he was focused on directing, but wasn’t he a little relieved to no longer have to push through the stage fright? He didn’t miss the nausea and the cold sweat. He’d traded all that for a job safe behind the curtain. Like a coward!

“I just… ” he said, picking up the brandy that Ludmillo had poured him and swirling it in the glass (his favorite part of drinking brandy). “I want to do something important. Something daring. I want to feel like I went on an adventure for a good reason. I played a Fleet member for nine years. Maybe I want to know what it feels like to be one in real life.”

He tossed back the brandy in a gesture both despairing and reckless. To this day he thought it was that gesture that put it over the top.

“Okay,” Ludmillo had said. “I hadn’t understood but… you’re right, we could use an adventure. And who’s to say we don’t have what it takes to be in the Fleet? We never tried it.”

In his scummy K^jl cell, Trystyn felt another wave of affection and regret wash over him. Good old Ludo. No one was a better friend and husband. That was probably why he never had much of a career as a leading actor. Ludmillo himself always blamed his looks, which were “more R2D2 than Lando Calrissian” (the first time he said it Trystyn had laughed and then ducked away to look up the reference), but Trystyn found traditional good-looks boring in an actor and he wasn’t alone. Look at Jervis Bogatian. He was always the romantic lead and he had one and a half noses!

No, Ludmillo played support parts because he really was naturally supportive. DEPENDABLE might as well have been written across his dark moon-like face.

And what had supporting Trystyn gotten him? Endless worries about the budget of a tiny acting troupe? Endless journeys in cramped shuttles, often in suspended animation, with too few days to really get over the resulting nausea before he was shoved out onstage? Endless nights listening to Trystyn explain in great detail why whatever play he was working on now would never work? And now, for the big finish, death at the hands of lumpy-skinned aliens because the company didn’t have the funding for a full-time dramaturgist.

Trystyn leapt up and pounded on the cell door. “Ludmillo! I’m sorry!”

To his shock, he heard the sound of a key in the lock. Then the door open and Ludmillo careened into him, knocking them both over.

“Ludo!” said Trystyn, kissing him all over his big, stupid face. “Did they hurt you? Did they touch you?”

“Nah,” Ludmillo said. “It wasn’t bad.”

But Trystyn could see the beginnings of a shiner on his left eye, and he noticed him wince as he sat himself down against the wall. “Bastards!”

Ludmillo leaned tiredly against his shoulder and Trystyn hugged him tight. “Did they say anything?” he whispered. “What are they going to do?”

“I don’t think they’ve decided,” Ludmillo said. “Two of them were arguing over me, but not in English. From what I could gather Greenie—that’s what I called the one with the bright skin—Greenie wanted to have my head chopped off like we did to Macbeth in the play.”

Trystyn winced. He’d added that bit to appeal to the brutal tastes of the K^jl. A planet that sold out Titus Andronicus obviously liked their dismemberment.

“But Mr. Peepers—that’s the tall skinny one with the bulgy eyes. I called her that because… ”

“Because she looks like Mrs. Dobmeyer’s cat. I noticed it too.”

“Well, Mr. Peepers didn’t want to do that. I’m not sure she was on my side, though. She may have just wanted me drawn and quartered more publicly.”

“I won’t let them do that to you,” said Trystyn.

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t,” said Ludmillo. “Funny, isn’t it? I’ve never imagined myself being executed.”

Ludmillo went through a phase as a child where he acted out all manner of deaths, wrote epitaphs, the works. Trystyn loved hearing about them. It was funny he’d never imagined being executed. He’d hit every other fatality.

“I suppose I could imagine it now,” Ludmillo said. “But I’d rather not. To be honest, the idea makes me want to throw up.” His voice broke a little on the last word and Trystyn squeezed him tighter as Ludmillo took a calming breath. “But maybe it’s just that I can’t stand the idea of wearing a muffin-tamer in my death scene.”

“What?” Trystyn looked down at the waistline of Ludmillo’s wrinkled kilt. Sure enough, there was a line of tell-tale lycrazine spandix. “Shapewear? Oh, Ludo, you didn’t.”

“Shut up. I’m too old to be MacDuff. I didn’t want to be too fat too.”

“You’re pretty vain for a character actor, you know.”

“Don’t tell the union.”

They sat in silence for a moment, foreheads touching, eyes closed.

There was a violent bang at the door.

“What? What?”

Greenie marched in with a few other K^jl. Greenie? thought Trystyn. That’s not a good sign.

“You die tonight, scum,” the K^jl bellowed. Trystyn wasn’t sure if he meant just Ludmillo or both of them. He hoped he meant both. There was just no way he could live after getting his true love killed.

“Where’s the karga-dagger?” demanded one of the other K^jl.

“Karga… ?”

“The king’s karga-dagger? Where did you hide it after the assassination of the owl?”

Trystyn’s mind froze like a bad laptop. Karga? Assassination? Owl? Maybe they didn’t speak English after all. Maybe they weren’t actually threatening to kill anybody.

“Errr… ?”

“It’s a prop,” Ludmillo said wearily. “We put the props away after we use them. You’ll have to ask the stage manager where it is.”

Greenie turned his vertical eyes on Ludmillo. “Where is this Stag Manager?” he growled.

“You put her in a cell,” said Ludmillo. There was an undercurrent of toughness in his voice that made Trystyn’s heart sing just a little. “Her name is Gaia.”

Greenie turned to his companions who were again arranged in fist-shape—maybe this was a thing in K^jl culture?—and barked out some orders. Then all of them stomped out the door again. But not before Greenie warned them they’d be back.

As soon as the door shut behind them, Ludmillo sunk to the ground. “Oh my god,” he moaned. “They’re going to kill us. Or me. I hope it’s just me.”

“Shut up!” said Trystyn. His mind was slowly rebooting, but it would take a while before it was ready to operate. When it finally got there, it didn’t do any good. They were going to die.

“I just want you to know,” Trystyn whispered. “That I know this is my fault.”


“I’m the one who wanted to come here. I’m the one who wanted to do something important. The truth is I didn’t even mean to be this stupid. All that talk of adventure was bullshit. I never believed the Fringe could really be dangerous, not with the Fleet patrols and the booking agents, and for God’s sakes, we’re a Shakespeare company! Productions of Shakespeare haven’t been fatal since the 24th century!”

Ludmillo frowned at Trystyn as if he’d suddenly started speaking K^jl. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about who I am and what I did!” Trystyn said. “I’m an actor. I like to pretend to be things. I don’t actually do them. I couldn’t be a hero any more than I could really be the Prince of Denmark! If I’d been living in Harlem the same time as my great great great etc. grandfather? I probably wouldn’t even have been brave enough to join the Negro Players Guild. I’m just a big coward.”

Trystyn had delivered the last part of this speech to the grimy tiled floor between his knees. When he finished he waited a beat and then lifted his eyes shamefully to Ludmillo, who did not look pleased.

“Are you finished?” he demanded. “Because I do not have time for this shit.”

“I… I’m sorry?”

“Shut up, you’re ‘sorry,’” said Ludmillo. “Trystyn Aurelius Webforce, there is a herd of lumpy green aliens out there that is going to kill us and I do not intend to spend my last minutes on earth listening to you whine about how it’s all down to your poor character. You’re lucky I don’t slap you upside the head. If your grandmother were here she’d do just that.”

Trystyn gasped. His grandmother’s upside slaps were a sensitive issue to him.

“How… how do you want to spend your last minutes?” Trystyn said. “It’s only fair you choose because I did get us into this mess.”

“Trystyn Aurelius… ” Ludmillo began, and then stopped when he remembered he’d already done the full name thing seconds earlier. “Trystyn, I know you’re a great director but could you please for once admit that you don’t direct everything in our life? Do you think I’m so weak that I’d have just followed you to the Fringe because you directed it? Do you think I wasn’t just as clueless as you were about the danger? Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that I was actually inspired by your damn fool talk about doing something important? I know I don’t look like the leading man but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be one sometimes. Idiot.”

“I love you,” said Trystyn.

“I love you too,” said Ludmillo. “And damn if I didn’t just make a sidekick speech. Even when I audition for Harry Potter I’m Ron Weasley.”

“I don’t know who those people are.”

“The point is, you’re the one who wants redemption so much. Come up with a plan to get us out of here! Come on. What do we have to work with?”

They both looked around the cell. There wasn’t much in the way of weapons and even if there were neither of them stood much of a chance against the K^jl. Trickery was the answer, but what kind of trick? They whispered together for over an hour. Ludmillo made diagrams in the grime on the walls. Before he noticed what he was doing, Trystyn was pacing back and forth across the cell the way he did at home when he was trying to work out a problem in whatever play he was working on. The pacing was a good sign—it meant he was no longer lying face down on the couch (dangerous on memory foam, Ludmillo constantly reminded him) moaning about how the whole thing was impossible.

And little by little a plan took shape. It was risky. It was daring. There were a million ways it could go wrong: if the K^jl didn’t let Ludmillo stop to pull up his kilt when he let it slip around his ankles. If the break range of the spandex fibres in Ludmillo’s muffin-tamer was between 450% and 510% instead of 520% to 610%. If Greenie didn’t have any living grandparents who did karaoke. If even one of these K^jl had ever watched The Fleet. They would be sunk!

As they ironed out the details, their situation took on a surreal aspect. More than once Trystyn forgot they were in mortal danger and not just improvising the final act of a badly-written play. At one point they even stopped planning for over ten minutes to argue over the ending of And The Stars Will Know Our Names. Trystyn still thought the lovers were clearly dead in the end. Ludmillo thought they were just being born. They’d had the argument a million times already, yet Trystyn was actually glad to be having it again now, in what was possibly their final act.

If we make it out of here alive and I get to stage that play, Trystyn thought, I’m using Ludo’s interpretation. Even if it kills me because it’s so obviously wrong.

“Is there any way this is actually going to work, do you think?” asked Ludmillo when they’d gone through the plan from start to finish.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Trystyn.

They sat back down on the tiles, with their heads against the wall. Ludmillo rubbed his belly, enjoying the lack of shapewear, which was now hidden in Trystyn’s trousers.

“If we did move into that retirement village one day,” Ludmillo said. “What zone would you choose?”

Trystyn stared at him. “How do you know about the climate zones?”

“You printed out the email,” Ludmillo reminded him. “You kept waving it around like it was Exhibit A. So what zone would you choose?”

Trystyn hunched his shoulders, feeling foolish. “Indian Summer,” he admitted. “Warm days, cool nights. Good beach weather. I know,” he said, cutting off Ludmillo’s protest. “There’s no seasons! There’s no seasons! How will I know what time of year it is with no seasons?”

“Well, it’s true,” said Ludmillo. “It’s just unnatural.”

“I guess we’d have to separate,” Trystyn sighed.

“You can come visit me in Humid Continental With Surprisingly Mild Winter This Year,” said Ludmillo. “Make sure you bring bagelmuffs.”

Trystyn’s mind was flooded with a hundred Sunday mornings when he came home after a run with a bag of toasty bagelmuffs from the hover-kiosk on Costa Street, because those were the best ones. Six strawberanas for Ludmillo, six lemolimas for him. Plus one more that he ate on the way home. Ludmillo would invariably be sprawled out on the living room couch, a dozen projection screens hovering in the air above him as he lazily flipped through the headlines.

“Do you think they have sharks on Village X?” Trystyn asked.

“Wait, is that what they call the retirement planet? Village X? Are they trying to make it sound like a medical experiment?”

“I know, right? Anyway, do you think they have sharks there?”

“On a Terrificial? Seems like a pointless waste of resources. Why fly in a big fish that people will barely see unless they’re being attacked… ” Ludmillo glanced over and caught Trystyn laughing. “Oh, shut up.”


“Look, you wouldn’t be laughing if it really was a shark that time.”

“No, because what was funny was you shrieking at what turned out to be a child’s kickboard. That you’d mistaken for a shark.”

“It had sharp edges. It drew blood.”

“You stepped on a sea shell on your mad dash out of the water!”

“Wouldn’t be so funny if there’d been a shark.”

“And what about me?” Trystyn went on gleefully. “I’m the real victim here. I can’t ever show my face on that beach again.”

Ludmillo looked at him narrowly. “I am never coming to visit you at Indian Summer.”

They dissolved into laughter and kissing, until the sound of footsteps brought them back to reality.

“Ready?” Ludmillo said.

Trystyn squeezed his hand.

It was Greenie again and Mr. Peepers was with him, looking resentful. “Get up!” Greenie ordered. “We’re going out to the square.”

Trystyn gripped Ludmillo’s hand and the two of them walked out together through the dark K^jl corridors. He felt strangely calm, like that second after the nausea of stage fright went away and he’d resigned himself to his fate and stepped out on stage. He didn’t think about the terrible fate in store for them if their ridiculous plan didn’t work. Instead he found himself thinking of a million little moments with Ludmillo and the company and his family and seeing for the first time what good memories they were and how much they meant to the world, even if nobody remembered or cared about them but him. He got an idea for a play about a man who goes back in time and tries to stop his former self from doing something reckless because he doesn’t appreciate a good bagelmuff. It could be a great concept if he could get the structure right. Ludmillo was always good at structure.

At the end of the corridor they stepped into an elevator which took them to the main floor. The same floor where only that morning the New Millennial Shakespeare Players had stumbled in, still groggy from the damn suspend-an, and jokingly pretended they’d forgotten what play they were doing. Like they did at every performance.

He wondered if Shakespeare’s players had done the same thing. Actors.

Ludmillo’s hand slipped out of his as they reached the exit. It was almost time to put The Plan into action. He wished he could kiss Ludmillo once more, passionately, for luck and for good-bye, but even the K^jl might recognize that cliché. So instead he slipped the Shapewear slowly out of his underwear and gave Ludmillo the signal.

“Hey, uh, you?” he said, addressing Greenie. “I could swear I saw somebody who looked just like you doing karaoke once. Just like you, but older. Maybe a grandparent?”

Greenie looked at him suspiciously. “You know my grandmother?”

Soldiers dashed out from the surrounding buildings, leveling blasters and shouting, “Freeze! Down on the ground! Now!”

This wasn’t part of The Plan.

Trystyn looked around wildly, thinking they’d been ambushed by yet another group of hostile, violent aliens who didn’t like theater, until he recognized the uniforms. The Fleet! The Fleet was here to save them! Just like on the show!

The Fleet officers made quick work of the K^jl, confiscating their weapons and taking them in for questioning. One of the Fleetsters, a young woman with a protruding Lallalligan brow, helped Trystyn and Ludmillo to their feet.

“Lieutenant Smith-Jones,” she said. “I see you’ve got things under control.”

Trystyn could have kissed her.

Soon they were reunited with the rest of the cast—and Gaia, who had apparently led the K^jl a merry chase through the corridors before they grabbed the dagger off her. Sure it was a prop dagger made of plastic that could be replaced in five minutes, but it was a good luck dagger, she said. Besides, it was the principle of the thing. “It’s Trystyn and Ludmillo who are the real heroes!” she said.

Trystyn and Ludmillo looked at each other awkwardly.

They batted away questions as best they could all the way to the Fleet Ship that would take them back to the station at Devox. From there they could get a shuttle back to Earth. The Fleet members loved having Captain Smith-Jones on board, and he posed for as many pictures as they wanted. Even better, Trystyn thought, was the admittedly smaller but more passionate group of Fleetsters who recognized Ludmillo from his experimental web series, which Trystyn privately believed was a work of surrealistic genius.

After he finished signing autographs, Ludmillo came back to their cabin with a pile of ginger plats and a pot of Lady Grey tea. “I know you think this flavor’s pretentious,” he said. “But I don’t care what you think.”

He sat down on the bunk beside him, affectionately banging his shoulder into Trystyn’s as he did. “Move over.”

They sipped the tea in companionable silence.

“I guess the Fleet kind of stole our thunder,” said Ludmillo. “We never got to see if our plan worked.”

“I am actually okay with that,” said Trystyn. “I think my great great great etc. grandfather would approve as well. I can live with knowing I’m not a hero. Ow!” Trystyn sat up, rubbing his head. “Did you just… did you just slap me upside the head?”

“A little bit,” said Ludmillo. “Who are you to say you know you aren’t the hero? Our plan might have worked. We were ready to try it. It was all going like clockwork until the Fleetsters showed up. Not that I’m complaining,” he said, settling back down and reaching once again for his tea. “I’m just saying. It might have worked. We’ll always know it might have worked.”

Trystyn thought about it. Ludmillo was right. It might have worked. Might have. He could almost see it happening in his mind, staging it like a play, from Trystyn first giving the signal to Ludmillo’s final leap from the muffin-tamer. He sighed happily, nibbled a ginger plat and said, “We are going to have the best stories to tell in retirement.”

Meg Belviso is a New York writer and editor who has produced a staggering number of books for children and young adults. The tattered fragments of her spare time are divided between her love of dance, her fascination with complicated fictional jerks, and her detailed knowledge of the interpersonal dynamics of the adoptive Batman family.