Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
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The Cinderella Deception

by I. Verse

A steampunk fairy tale.

It should have been a simple shakedown but when Charming's thugs trashed the Carnival and destroyed Cinders' beloved carousel she swore revenge. But what's a girl to do? With only the help of her Godmother and her ugly stepsisters, Cinderella will have to rely on her wits, her engineering skills and her... assets.

Dandini struck a match and re-lit the stump of the cigar he'd been nursing all evening. It stank only slightly worse than the damp night air but this simple addiction calmed his nerves, and this night they needed calming.

"You sure you want to do this?" He asked his master, Charming, son and heir to Lord Grey of this manor. Lord not by title but by right, the right of those who still stand when all others are beaten bloody on the ground.

Charming made no reply. In the fog and shadow, his face could only be seen in silhouette beneath the wide brim of his top hat. The set of his chin, the angle of his head, all boded ill. Dandini knew this man, knew well his penchant for violence. Soon would come a day when he needed no excuse to use it but, tonight at least, he had that.

"You should go back to the club, " Dandini said. "Let me and the boys take care of this." Dandini nodded over at what used to be an empty, weed-strewn lot, across the street. Normally, it was home to stray dogs and drunks but now it was lit up and bright with striped tents and stands. A small carnival had pitched up there only that day and their centerpiece, a carousel, revolved to the merry tune playing on its integral pipe organ. Its galloping wooden horses frolicked in a never ending steeplechase as smoke belched from the stack that poked through the centre of its pitched canvas roof.

Charming watched the carnival, waiting as the last of its customers drifted away from the bright lanterns. "Not tonight, Dandini. Tonight, I'm going to show my father I have what it takes. Tonight, I will be blooded."

"It's just simple shakedown, you don't have to--"

Charming turned and jabbed a gloved finger into Dandini's chest. "You don't tell me what to do." He pointed his silver topped cane in the direction of the Carnival. "With me, men," he said over his shoulder.

Two men got down from the carriage they'd all arrived in, making it rock heavily on its springs. Rough coves they were, not too bright but not so dim as to question their governor's son. They loomed behind Charming as he crossed the street, so large they cut a wake through the fog, like barges across the river.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" The old man, the carnival's Gaffa, accosted them as they entered the lot, "We are humbled by your esteemed patronage, but I must tell you that we are closed. Come back tomorrow eh?" The Gaffa wore a top hat as tired and worn as himself. His suit was rumpled, his white gloves were stained with soot, but his eyes were bright and alert in their nest of wrinkles and he had all his own teeth beneath the grey stubble on his face.

"Welcome, sir, welcome," said Charming. "We are always so happy to find new and enterprising people in our fair city. News of your arrival came to my attention and I said to myself, I said, I must go at once and greet these showmen and artists who have taken it upon themselves to set up on our patch without so much as a by your leave."

"Your patch?" The old man's bonhomie dissolved like the smoke into the fog. "An oversight, I assure you, kind sir. Of course, if it's a matter of rent, I can gladly pay at the end of the week."

"How astute of you, sir." said Charming, a cold smile on his lips, a smile that did not touch his eyes. "However, you're abrupt arrival has presented a problem. It is a bold move that smacks of disrespect."

The two thugs flanked the Gaffa, towering over him until he fell into their shadows. Charming himself stepped up to the hapless man, brushing an imaginary speck from the old man's lapel. "I'm afraid I must set an example."

The old man's cries were harsh but carried little in the fog. They were loud enough to bring his folk but too late to stop the damage.

"Ah, Ladies!" Charming took in the two fillies as they hurried in approach. Trim legs and fine bosoms they had indeed, but also strong chins and large hands. "Or be it gentlemen?" Charming added with a sneer.

A small number came, more carnies. Swarthy looking and tough, with rough hands and dark eyes that shone with hate in the lantern light. A stouter man might cringe, a smarter man might run. Charming was neither.

"Back, you scum!" Charming pulled a pistol from his coat, brandishing it at the gathering like a burning torch to hold back the dark. Whether it was the threat of the gun, or the two hulks that still stood over their broken Gaffa, it stayed the crowd. Stayed all but one. A small figure broke through and rushed towards the old man on the ground. Charming pistol-whipped the youngster, who crumpled at his feet, dark hair across a soot stained face and pitiful to behold in a dirty overalls too big for the slender frame within.

"I said back, you dogs!" Charming snarled, his teeth bared and swinging the pistol to cover all assembled. "It seems another lesson is in order, a lesson for you all." Charming grinned and his eyes gleamed with an evil delight. "Boys, if you'd do the honors."

* * *

"Cinders, wake up!"

Instead, the young woman in the oversized boiler suit screwed her eyes tight shut against the thumping pain and sickness. She groaned as a cool hand pressed against her forehead.

"Wake up you stupid, little bitch!"

She opened her eyes. A garish face hung over her, cherry lips and long lashes. "Oh, you dizzy tart, you had me so scared," said Anastasia as she cradled Cinders' head in her lap

"The dobby set?" Cinders whispered, her first thoughts for her beloved carousel.

Anastasia's painted eyebrows knit together in a frown, creasing the heavy white slap on her face. "They smashed it, girl. It's done."

"And the Gaffa?"

"The bastards hurt him plenty but he's as tough as old boots, he'll mend."

Around her, the sorry scene came into focus. Torn canvas and broken wood. Candy floss blowing across the ground like brightly colored tumbleweeds. And the carousel, its fine, painted horses lying scattered and broken, the brass machinery at its center, twisted and burnt.

"I will have those skeevy dogs," spat Cinders, her mouth pinched with hate, "I swear it!"

* * *

In the dawn's early light, the brightly painted gypsy caravan was a thing of beauty. The tireless shire pulled it steadily along grey, cobbled streets between soot stained buildings, their dirty windows reflecting back the gay colors in dull smears. As Glasinda flicked the reins to turn the horse into the Carnival lot, she was greeted with a dismal scene. For a moment, the Romani curses she uttered seemed to thicken the morning mist around her.


Drizilla was the first to see the fortuneteller's arrival, she was quickly joined by her sister Anastasia.

"What in God's name has occurred here?" asked the old woman to the Molly sisters, as she climbed down.

"Lord Grey sent his men around to remind us who is master of this manor," said Drizilla.

"No, we have an arrangement," said Glasinda. "I can't believe Dandini would do this."

"This was some other cove," said Anastasia. "Young and full of pee, a right dandy dresser, and vicious too. He knocked about the Gaffa, he beat on poor Cinders too, and then he had his men smash up the place."

"My Cinders!" said Glasinda. "Where is she, your stepsister?" It was no surprise when Anastasia and Drizilla both pointed to the broken carousel. Glasinda found her Goddaughter picking through the pieces, fresh tears making clean lines through the dirt on her face.

"Come child," said the old woman, holding out her arms to the crying girl "Tell me all."

* * *

"I'm sorry my love, I did not know it would come to this."

Between sweet embraces and feverish kisses, Drizilla whispered in her lover's ear so that their voices could not be heard over the carriage wheels and horses hooves. It was midday, or there about, but within the carriage, with the blinds on every window pulled tight shut, it was dark and intimate.

"I've missed you so," simpered Drizilla as the carriage rocked them close together.

"I've missed you too, Drizy. It's been too long."

"Tell me about the boy, the young prince."

"Ah, the boy's a downright hazard, to himself and to his lordship's enterprise. The old man won't see it but Charming is only in it for the thrill. He loves to see the red stuff flow, got a real taste for it. He doesn't care about respect or family, only money. The old man wants Charming to take over when he retires. That'll be a dark day."

"Someone needs to teach that boy a lesson, put him in his place."

"No one can touch him and he knows. His father won't allow it."

"There must be some way to get to him. I hear whispers that he doesn't care for girls. Maybe I, or my sister--"

"Don't fool yourself. He doesn't care for the Mollys either. No, he likes women, just not the way you'd think."

Drizilla snuggled closer and slipped her big knuckled hand through the open shirt of her sweetheart. "Tell me more," she said.

* * *

Cinderella's face was pale and clean but her eyes were clouded like thunder.

"I don't like it," she said.

Around her, her stepsisters were almost dancing with joy. They whirled from rack to rack of fancy clothing in the changing area of the tent where they performed their song and dance review. They flit, like heavy boned hummingbirds, between costumes of lace and feather, whalebone and silk.

"I can't believe it!" Said Anastasia, with obvious glee.

"We've waited so long to do this," added Drizilla.

"There has to be another way," said Cinders.

"There isn't, not in the time we have available, and besides," said Glasinda pointing at Cinders' bare feet, "No one else has the same... qualifications."

"Nothing these stupid queens have will fit me anyway," said Cinderalla, crossing her arms.

"Don't worry your bony little behind," trilled Anastasia. "I am a magician with the needle."

"Okay, what do we do first?" asked Cinderella.

"First, you make the modifications we need to that old printing press we keep around for handbills." said Glasinda.

"And then?"

Her stepsisters leered at her with huge grins on their painted faces. "Makeover!" they sang in unison.

"Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!" Glasinda told her Goddaughter.

* * *

Getting into Charming's club was not difficult. Its location was known to only those on the guest list. It was well then that Drizilla's beau had the wherewithal to acquire Cinders an invitation.

She tottered up the slick, stone steps to the back street entrance, the high wedge platforms on her feet made her wobble like a newborn foal. The hours she had spent with her stepsisters, striding up and down with books piled on her head, had bruised her knees, her arse and her ego but, she feared, would not be enough to make her convincing.

She knocked on the heavy, wooden door. A small metal panel opened. Even in the ridiculous shoes her Godmother had made her wear, she was too short. She waved her guilt edged invitation in front of the panel. Heavy bolts were drawn, the door creaked open with an ominous groan.

Outside, the mist had been thick. It had stuck, in stinking beads of moisture, to the hooded cloak she'd worn. Inside the club, the air was just as thick, but here it was the heavy scented tobacco smoke of expensive cigars that fogged the air. Cinders left her cloak by the door, and tried to wiggle seductively, as she'd been taught by her stepsisters, between the crowded gambling tables and the roulette wheel.

She was a tasty morsel, to be sure, and trussed up like a goose in a tight, black, silk corset that squeezed her boobies out like soft fruit, ripe for plucking. She had a black choker on her pale neck to match. What her stepsister's laughingly called a skirt barely covered her hips. Her legs, freshly shaved and oiled, were naked except for the most stupidly high pair of crystal clear, glass pumps. Where her Godmother had magicked this fantastical footwear from was a mystery but their purpose was not. For the secret to Prince Charming's heart was not with her perky breasts, her heart-shaped derrière, or her long, silky smooth legs. No, the secret passion of the vicious young Turk was his love of a pair of dainty feet, with high arches and manicured toenails. Cinderella's feet had never felt so slutty or exposed.

It didn't take long. A tall French waiter tapped her on the shoulder. "Mademoiselle, you are invited to the champagne room, upstairs." Cinderella followed his gaze to the sweeping mahogany staircase and inwardly groaned. The climb was going to just kill her ankles.

She climbed slowly because her restricted breathing meant she soon felt like fainting. At the top, she paused until the dizziness faded and then slipped through the heavy, velvet curtains ahead.

The opulence of the club below was as nothing to the decor here. A chandelier glittered overhead, lit by electric Edison lights, illuminating deep satin cushions and low, polished tables on the thickly carpeted floor.

"Welcome, my dear."

Charming held out his hand to her. Cinders had to admit, he was a handsome devil. Slim hipped, tall and with dark hair. He had a noble nose above thin lips and deep blue eyes that glittered with malice, or lust, she could not decide which. His attire was just as rich and attractive. He wore a crisp white shirt, it's stiff collar open with a dark, Burgundy-red cravat pierced with a silver set ruby pin. His waistcoat was of the finest material, showing his silver watch-chain as like a shining comet trail from kidney to navel to kidney again.

"Enchanted, I am sure," she said holding out her own hand for Charming to softly kiss.

"This is your first time at my humble establishment, I am sure. For, if I had set eyes upon such ravishing beauty before, I would remember it well." Despite the corny line, Cinders blushed but her blushes mattered not. Already, the prince was gazing, not at her face, or even her ample breasts, but at her dainty feet.

"Thank you, sir," she murmured "This is indeed my first time, but I have come here for business, not pleasure."

"For most of my female clientele," Charming tore his eyes from her crimson painted toenails to look deep into her eyes, "pleasure is their business."

Cinderella blushed again. "Forgive me, sir, I feel a little faint. Do you think, perhaps, we might sit a while."

"But of course," said Charming, and led her by the hand to the sumptuous cushions.

They sat together and Charming poured two glasses of French champagne from the bottle already open in the ice bucket on the table. Cinderella was so relieved to be off her tortured feet, she barely noticed when Charming passed her drink.

"There now," said Charming, "Do you feel a little better?"

"Thank you, sir," said Cinders, sipping the fine Champagne, "I am much revived."

"I hope I am not being too forward," continued Charming with a lizard-like smile, "but I imagine, your shoes, magnificent as they are, might be somewhat uncomfortable to endure. Please-" And he gestured to her feet, that even now, he could hardly take his eyes away from.

"Sir, I do not allow just anyone to take advantage," said Cinders.

"Of course not."

"But they do feel somewhat sore," said Cinders, as she swung first one and then the other foot across into Charming's lap.

She sighed a little, as the evil prince removed her crystal opera slippers, but when he pressed his thumbs firmly into the arches of her aching feet she moaned like virgin on her wedding night.

"Does that feel good, sweet lady."

"Oh, it does. It does!" She sighed as he languorously massaged her from heel to toe, slim, strong fingers sending shivers of pleasure up her legs and up her spine.

"You said, you came here for business?" prompted Charming.

Cinderella had to shake her head to gain a measure of composure. So sensuous were Charming's ministrations, she had quite forgot herself.

"Yes, sir. I am here to pay a debt." She plucked a five pound note from where it was concealed between her tightly squeezed décolletage. Charming removed his hands from her feet, eliciting a tiny groan of disappointment from her, and took the proffered banknote.

"And this is for?" he asked.

"The Carnival, sir. For the rent."

"Ah, yes."

Charming's manner changed, as if a switch had been thrown. Gone was the salacious, podophiliac, in his place, a cold-hearted accountant now sat. He pushed Cinders' feet from his lap and she withdrew them, reluctantly.

"This is but one tenth of the sum required," Charming said, taking a glass monocle from his waistcoat pocket and examining the note. He reached out and rang the small, silver hand bell that resided beside the Champagne bucket on the table.

"The full amount will be yours, we just need more time. This is offered in good faith,"

"We shall see," said Charming, his tone and manner now quite cool.

A new man entered from between the velvet curtains. This man had the shaven head, the badly set nose, and the cauliflower ears of a bare-knuckle fighter. Two eyes of sharp intelligence, glared from beneath his heavy brow as he approached them.

"Dandini, what do you make of this," said Charming as he handed the banknote to his underling.

Dandini plucked a jeweler's eyeglass from his own pocket and held the note up to the chandelier's bright electric light, examining it closely. "It's a fake, sir," he said. "A bloody good one but a fake, nonetheless."

Where Charming pulled the slim, Italian stiletto from, she knew not. It only impinged upon her awareness as the needle sharp tip pressed against her delicate throat. "What's your game, girl? Do you take me for a fool?" Charming hissed.

"Forgive me, sir. We do not have the means. We are desperate." Cinders didn't have to force the tears that sprang to her eyes, her fear was real enough.

"This is a very fine forgery indeed," said Dandini. "Tell me girl, how did you come by it?"

"I made it, sir."

"You are a forger?"

"No sir, I am an engineer, a mechanic."

"What nonsense is this," interjected Charming." A female mechanic, you would have us next believe machines can fly!"

"I tell the truth, sir," said Cinders, for it was the truth. She was a fine mechanic, responsible for all the Carnival's machinery and none had yet proven better.

"Then you have forged plates, a printing press?" prompted Dandini.

"No, sir. No mere press and plates. I have invented a copying machine. I call it the facsimile device. For any bank note or certificate, of any nationality or any denomination, that is fed into my machine, a copy of near perfection is turned out."

"Then why bring only one, girl?" asked Charming. "Why beg for time? You planned to scarper, tell the truth now."

"No, sir, no. The machine is very slow, very precise. It takes many hours to make such a copy. We needed the time to make more."

As quickly as it had appeared, the deadly steel blade was disappeared, leaving only a sting at her throat to show it had ever been. Charming watched her, appraised her, like a snake regards its prey.

"I do not accept your forged monies as payment," he said, "but if this machine, this facsimile device of yours, truly exists, then you may yet see yourself and your colleagues freed of obligation."

"Yes, sir. It does exist."

"Then I required a demonstration. The question is but when and where."

"Tomorrow's eve, come to the Carnival, gentlemen. You will have a demonstration, if you tarry there a while."

"Indeed, we might," said Charming. "But mark me, wench. Cross me again and you'll wish you had not. Dandini, show her out."

Dandini's huge, scarred hand wrapped around her arm and dragged Cinderella to her feet. She had no time to put on her crystal shoes and could only grab at them as she was yanked away. With her upper arm in a bruising grip, Dandini marched Cinders back through the velvet curtains, down the stairs, and through the still crowded gambling den. He almost threw her down the cold, wet steps but released her then, long enough to throw her cloak after her. It was only as she felt the slimy cobbles of the street under her bare toes that she remembered her shoes. As Cinderella went to put them on, she realized that she had but only one of the glass slippers.

* * *

The device was of a crazy hybrid construction. In its guts an old printing press was easily apparent but bolted around this was a small brass engine, it's boiler blackened with soot. The engine chuffed quietly, it's piston driving the large flywheel serenely around. There was much more, large gears and small, chains that ran from drive to shaft, but these, for now, were stationary.

"Impressive," allowed Charming.

It was crowded in the tent with the facsimile device. Aside from Dandini, there was also the Gaffa, his head bandaged and his arm in a sling, and the girl, the mechanic, young Cinders, sadly no longer in her finery but instead a grubby boiler suit. She wore smart, patent leather boots with two-inch heels, which Charming did admire but did little for him. It was just as well, he mused, as he wished to keep his wits about him. Across from this crowd, on the other side of the machine, the girl's ugly stepsisters skulked, their heads bent together as they fluttered gaudy fans to hide their conspiring painted lips.

"The demonstration, if you please," said Charming.

Cinders stoked the boiler and tapped the pressure gauge. She piled a small stack of blank papers into a flanged feeder. She pulled the large slide lever that engaged the clutch. The gears, cogs, and drive chains whirred into action, their quiet hum evincing the quality of their construction. Finally, she reached into a buttoned pocket of her boiler suit and withdrew a five pound note.

"May I?" Said Charming, beckoning for the money. He examined it briefly, holding it close to his monocled eye, before passing it to Dandini. Dandini's eyeglass appeared once more and he examined it minutely. "It's the real thing," he said.

"Excellent," said Charming, "but you said, it could copy any banknote of any nationality and any denomination."

"Indeed, I said as much," said Cinderella, her eyes evasive.

"Then please, use this instead," said Charming as he withdrew a battered one hundred franc note from his fine waistcoat pocket.

Reluctantly, Cinderella took the French money, carefully flattening out its creases before feeding it slowly into a slot atop her device.

"How long?" Charming inquired.

"It varies, sir," Cinders told him, adjusting knobs and levers on the side panel, "Depending on the complexity of the note design, it may be several hours."

"Then we shall wait."

* * *

It took many hours. The atmosphere in the tent was close. Warm and steamy from the engine, and clouded with the stink of Dandini's horrid cigar smoke. Throughout those hours, Cinders tended her machine, like a mother hen about her chicks. She fed coals into the fire, and topped up the water. She adjusted levers and knobs. Often, she simply sat and stared at it, her forehead furrowed with lines of concentration.

Finally, deep into the night, the small steam whistle fixed to the smokestack blew, a shrill sound that roused those waiting in the tent from their brooding contemplations. Cinders hurried to her machine. From beneath the top slot, she plucked the original one hundred franc note and from a wooden tray beneath, she took a fresh one to match. She scurried to Charming and Dandini, presenting them with both.

Dandini and the prince took their time, comparing the original and its copy. The Molly sisters conspired in quiet whispers. The Gaffa watched stoically in silence but Cinders ministered to her creation, disengaging the flywheel, letting off the steam, and banking the coals.

At last, Charming spoke. "It seems that your facsimile device has spun true," he said. "I am convinced." Cinders wiped her grimy hands on an oily rag and waited. The tent was silent but for the gentle hiss of steam, all breath was held in anticipation.

"I will take this machine in payment for that which I am owed," said Charming to a sharp intake of breath from all but one who were gathered there, "and furnish you an additional one-hundred pounds for your artifice and silence."

"You jest, sir, surely?" Protested Cinders, "In parts alone, it's worth as much."

"I jest not, and do not call me Shirley. I am not one of your degenerate sisters,"

"You have destroyed our shows and stalls, my beloved carousel. We need at least five times that sum or we will not make it through the winter!"

"Two-hundred," countered Charming.

"Four!" said Cinders.

"Two-hundred and fifty, my final offer. Else, I will simply take this device and damn any that try to stop me," growled Charming with Dandini standing behind his shoulder, glaring at all as if to dare them to contradict.

"Aye then, sir. Two-hundred and fifty it is," said Cinderella, reluctant but knowing the barter was done. She held out her hand for Charming to shake and seal their deal.

Charming took her hand and pulled her up close. Around them, the others tensed. "I should crush these sweet hands," Charming whispered to her, "You have so many assets I desire that the loss of such skilful limbs would not be great." The prince let his eyes wander down to Cinders' feet. "But, this time, I think I'll let you keep them." With that, he released her.

"Dandini will return with your payment and a cart for the machine," said Charming. "You had all best be gone before the morrow if you wish to remain in my good regards."

* * *

Lord Grey watched as Charming screamed with rage and beat about the facsimile device with the shovel used for its coal. The great man had sat the many hours while it had whirred and chugged. Lord Grey sat silently still as his son had puzzled over the blank paper it eventually spat out. He had been equally impassive when the boy found the hidden racks of forgeries, different banknotes of varied value and nationality, one of which could be released by a combination of dial or switch to make it appear as if the machine had made a near perfect copy of an original. The device itself was the forgery, an artful deception.

When the boy's humiliated anger would not subside, Lord Grey turned at last to the man by his side. "Where is the carnival?" He asked.

"They are scattered, your lordship," the anonymous man replied. "With smashed stalls and broken tents, they had nothing to bind or hold them."

"And what of Dandini?"

"Last seen taking the Cambridge road in pursuit of the Engineer and her ugly stepsisters."

"A dogged fellow, our Dandini," remarked Lord Grey, "As tenacious as a hound. He will hunt them to ground even if it takes a lifetime. I take some small measure of satisfaction in that."

* * *

Dandini caught them at the Stansted aerodrome. Even in the age of steam, nothing beat a fast horse. He galloped his steed across the field, under the very shadow of the mighty zeppelin that was moored there. Dandini leapt from his mount as he drew near, spying the white bandages of the injured Gaffa, the slight figure of the ingenious young mechanic who was gawking at the giant propellers up above, and the gaudy, burlesque figures of her stepsisters. He ran at them, full speed.

The Gaffa was the first to notice. His shout alerted the would-be fugitives just as Dandini bore down on them. In the last few yards, he took a mighty leap and sailed through the air into the arms of his beloved Drizilla, who swung him around in her arms like a small child.

"Oh, my love," said Drizilla, tears ruining her mascara. "You've made my dreams come true."

"And you, mine," said Dandini. "I swear, from this day forward we shall never again be apart."

At last, Drizilla set him back upon his feet. "Where is it we are bound?" Dandini asked.

"Paris," said Cinderella, the light dancing in her eyes.

"Ah, the fashion and the art" said Anastasia.

"Ah, the women," said the Gaffa.

"Oh, they have such wonderful Carousels there," said Cinderella.

Somewhere, a guard's whistle blew. On this signal, passengers approached the gangplank to board the leviathan of the skies. Linked arm in arm, our motley cast joined with them, keen for fresher fields and new adventures.

* * *

All is well, that ended well, the bard has said.

Or is it?

Picture a bitter, angry, young man. His pride has been stolen, his spirit broken. He is hunched over on satin cushions in his private clubroom and very drunk. Drunk on evil thoughts and French champagne. He rocks as he sits and mutters, the vile deeds he thinks on drop from his lips like pearls. In his arms he cradles an item that shines and catches in the bright electric lights, a singular glass slipper.


© 2013 I. Verse

Bio: I.Verse is a small dog with a big attitude problem. He enjoys long walks, chasing rabbits and writing speculative fiction short stories. His human recently met Terry Pratchett and won't stop going on about it. He also barks incessantly whenever the chance to mention his multiple Forum Flash Challenge victories and popular fiction contributions to Aphelion (most recently "Legacy", April 2013).

E-mail: I. Verse

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