“Of course, this little beauty is not for racing, you understand. It has nothing on those J-class monstrosities you see in the America’s Cup nowadays. We don’t even have the Bermuda mast.”
Professor Khan nodded and smiled, being careful not to show his teeth. If there was anything more tiring than listening to Lord Blinkersly complain about the inadequacy of his fifty-foot yacht, it was his oft-repeated confes- sion that he found Khan’s teeth “damned disconcerting.”
“Daddy!” Bertie Blinkersly called. He pronounced it Duddy. “You mustn’t bore the Professor talking about yacht races we won’t even enter!”
Bertie was a tall lad, topping six foot four inches, but despite being old enough to take up arms in defense of king and country, he still seemed unfinished, more of a gawky boy than man. Khan liked him the way one might like an enthusiastic puppy: near enough to make one laugh but not close enough to accidentally muss one’s tweed. Sadly, while the yacht was quite impressively long, it was also narrow. Bertie, clambering toward them in the bow, would soon be very close indeed.
Following carefully behind him was his fiancé, Petunia. She was a pain- fully shy young woman, but pretty in a colorless, self-effacing way. Khan had politely inquired after her health before they had set sail, but she had simply squeaked in response, then stared at the toes of her deck shoes. No matter. He had become accustomed to the unfortunate effect he had on people.
The bow struck a wave, raising a salty spray that soaked them all. Bertie and Lord Blinkersly did their best to bear it manfully. Petunia shielded her face, blinking down at the deck.
“Dear boy,” Lord Blinkersly answered. His jowls started at his lower eye- lashes and stopped at the collar of his shirt. They jiggled hypnotically when- ever he spoke. “I’m only talking about larger, more comfortable vessels! I do believe your professor is feeling a widge out of sorts, don’t you know.”
Khan realized his hands were gripping tightly to the wooden bench upon which he was seated. What’s more, he had not moved from the spot since they had first glided away from the dock.
“I’m fine,” he lied. “The sun is wonderful and I’ve always loved the smell of the sea.”
Lies were expected. Lies were polite. It was also expected that, when one of your most mediocre students invited you to go sailing with his father, a Lord Temporal who had endowed a chair at Oxford, you accepted. It wouldn’t affect Bertie’s grades one jot, no matter how much the Blinkerslys hoped oth- erwise, but still, the Professor could not bring himself to refuse Bertie’s offer.
He should have. Khan had been on the water before, but familiarity had not made the experience any easier. He was still terrified.
“I say, the water’s not particularly rough today, don’t you know, but I could always ask the fellows to turn us back in toward land.” The fellows were a pair of Portuguese sailors who actually did the business of sailing the yacht. Khan hadn’t been introduced and he half expected that the Blinkerslys did not know their names. “It would be no problem at all, my good fellow.”
“Oh! By Jove, Daddy, I think I’ve tackled it! It’s the life jacket.”
They all turned toward Professor Khan. He was, indeed, wearing his life jacket. Yes, he was the only one. Yes, he’d put it on before they’d even untied from the dock.
Lord Blinkersly harumphed and looked vaguely put out. “We haven’t sunk ourselves so far, and the fellows are quite skilled at fishing unfortunate passengers out of the drink. They’ve certainly hooked Bertie here back into the boat enough times.”
“Ha ha! I’ll say! There’s really nothing to fret about, Professor. Truly.”
Khan felt a chill run down his back. Would propriety require him to remove his life jacket, too?
“No,” Petunia said.
As they turned to her, she seemed to shrink in on herself. Bertie stood beside her but didn’t offer a comforting hand. In fact, he never seemed to touch her at all. Khan felt a sudden flush of anger he dared not show: They were engaged to be married, for pity’s sake! Yet Khan had never seen them so much as hold hands. Did they love each other at all? Or were public displays of affection “simply not done”?
By God, the boy mustn’t make the same mistake that Khan had, but of course it wasn’t his place to speak.
“You see…” Petunia forced herself to continue. “When Bertie told me we would be sailing with the Professor, I went to my library—”
Professor Khan felt his heart break a little. She was engaged to Bertie and she was bookish, too? Good Lord.
“… And did a little research. You see, the fellows would never be able to rescue Professor Khan if he fell overboard, because he’s not as buoyant as we are. Because he’s…”
Petunia couldn’t bring herself to say it, even though the fact was evident to anyone with eyes: because he’s a gorilla.
An intelligent gorilla, created by Doctor Methuselah as part of one of his obscure plots. In fact, there was an entire small nation of his kind out there in the world, ruled over by the iron hand of the Professor’s “father,” Gorilla Khan. The Professor could have lived among them as a prince, if he were willing to devote his life to carnage and war rather than science and learning.
But Professor Khan had turned his back on conquest. He had sided with the humans against his own people to protect innocent lives. Now he was both hero and exile, Englishman and ape, Oxford professor and barely-toler- ated freak of nature.
Lord Blinkersly turned to Khan with a shocked look on his face. “I say, old boy, is that true?”
The Professor shrugged and glanced down at his bare feet. No one in all of England made shoes to fit those feet. “I weigh about four hundred pounds and, although I do prefer traditional English foods like bangers and mash, I don’t carry the same level of body fat humans do. If I were to lose my footing—”
“I say! You’d sink like a stone, jacket be damned! Fellows!” Lord Blinkersly began to wave toward the low, green shape of England off the starboard side. “Back-o to dock-o!”
The fellows trimmed sail and brought the boat about. Bertie knelt beside the Professor’s bench. “I had no idea, Professor. I wish you had popped the cork on this one when I lobbed the invitation toward you.”
“Nevermind that, boy,” Lord Blinkersly interrupted. “I understand why he didn’t say anything, although I can’t say the same for my future daughter- in-law.” Petunia drifted toward the stern, out of earshot of whatever scolding the old fellow had in mind. Everyone gripped the rails tightly as the ocean swells hit the yacht broadside, making her roll. “I imagine the Professor felt obliged by our name and title. It’s not unheard of for… er…. immigrants to put a greater weight on the English system than we do, wot? Still, Professor, your life jacket looks better than that whorehouse window curtain my son is wearing.”
Bertie stroked the sleeve of his tangerine checked jacket. “Now, Daddy.” Lord Blinkersly bent down to Khan. “Professor, how do you feel about sitting by the sea, wot? Would you enjoy feeling the sand between your… toes?” Khan tried to hide his relief. The rolling yacht made him queasy and he had to relax his grip on the bench for fear of breaking the wood. “I would very much, thank you.”
Lord Blinkersly clapped him on the shoulder, looking more comfortable now that he was in a position to ease or exacerbate his guest’s fears. The yacht rolled hard to the port side, then back the other way. It was when the mast was pointed farthest to the west that the gleaming arrow flashed out of the sky and struck the boat, nearly neutering Professor Khan.