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Diane Duane
Book Excerpts
- To Visit the Queen
- Stealing the Elf-King's Roses

Book Synopses
- Stealing the Elf-King's Roses

To Visit the Queen (Book Excerpt)
         by Diane Duane
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Chapter 1

Patel went slowly up the gray concrete stairs to the elevated Docklands Light Railway station at Island Gardens; he took them one at a time, rather than two or three at once as he usually did. Nothing was wrong with him: it was morning, he felt energetic enough—a good breakfast inside him, everything okay at home, the weather steady enough, cool and gray but not raining. However, the package he was carrying was heavy enough to pull a prizefighter's arms out of their sockets.

He had made the mistake of putting the book in a plastic shopping bag. Now the thing's sharp corners were punching through the bag, and the bag's handles, such as they were, were stretching thinner and thinner under the book's weight, cutting into his hands like cheesewire and leaving red marks. He had to stop and transfer the bag from right hand to left, left hand to right, as he went up the stairs, hauling himself along by the chipped blue-painted handrail. When he finally reached the platform, Patel set the bag down gratefully on the concrete, with a grunt, and rubbed his hands, looking up at the red LEDs of the train status sign to see when the next one would be along. 1, the sign read, bank, 2 minutes.

He leaned against the wall of the glass-sided station-platform shelter, out of reach of the light, chill east wind, and thought about the morning's class schedule. This was his second year of a putative three years at London Guildhall University, up in the City. He was well on his way toward a degree in mathematics with business applications, though what good that was really going to do him, at the end of the day, he wasn't certain. There would be time to start worrying about job hunting, though, next year. Right now Patel was doing well enough, his student grant was safe, and whatever attention he wasn't spending on his studies was mostly directed toward making sure he had enough money to get by. Though he didn't have to worry about rent as yet, courtesy of his folks, there were other serious matters at hand: clothes, textbooks, partying.

From down the track came a demure hum and a thrum of rails as the little three-car red-and-blue Docklands train slid toward the station. Patel picked up the book in his arms—he had had enough of the bag's bloody handles—satisfied that at least this would be the last time he would have to carry the huge god-awful thing anywhere. One of the jewelry students, of all people, had seen the for-sale ad on Patel's Web page and had decided that the metallurgical information in the book would make it more than worth the twenty quid Patel was asking for it. For his own part, Patel was glad enough to let it go. He had bought the book originally for its mathematical and statistical content, and found to his annoyance within about a month of starting his second semester that it was more technical than he needed for the courses he was taking, which by and large did not involve metallurgy or engineering. He had put the book aside, and after that, most of the use it had seen involved Patel's mother using it to press flowers.

The train pulled up in front of him, stopped, and chimed: the doors opened, and people emptied out in a rush of briefcases and schoolbags going by, and here and there a few white uniforms showing from under jackets and coats—people heading to the hospital in town. Patel got on the last car, which would be the first one out, and sat in what would have been the driver's seat, if there had been a driver; there was none. These trains were handled by a trio of straightforwardly programmed PCs based somewhere in the Canary Wharf complex. The innovation left the first seats in the front car open, and gave the lucky passenger a beautiful view of the ride in to town.

Patel, though, had seen it all a hundred times, and paid little attention until the train swung round the big curve near South Quay and headed across the water. Even though he knew a little about the place's history, Patel found it hard to imagine this landscape not full of construction gear and scaffolding, but jostling with the hulls of close-berthed ships, the air black with smoke from a thousand smokestacks, cranes loading and unloading goods: the shipping of an empire filling these man-made harbors and lagoons that had been dredged out of oxbows of the Thames. It had all vanished a long time ago, when Britain stopped being an empire and the mistress of the seas. This whole area had undergone a terrible decline after the war, during which it had been bombed nearly flat, and whatever was left had fallen into decrepitude or ruin. Now it was growing again, office space abruptly mushrooming on the waterside sites where the ships had docked to disgorge their cargoes. Only the street names, and the names of the Docklands stations, preserved the nautical memories. Some of the old loading cranes still stood, but the warehouses behind them had been converted to expensive loft apartments. Slim black cormorants fished off Heron Quays, though the quays themselves were gone, slowly being replaced by more apartments and office space, and shining hotels and still more office buildings looked down on waters that were no longer so polluted they would catch fire if you dropped a match in them.

Patel got out at Shadwell to change for the little spur line to Tower Gateway, and stood there waiting for a few minutes. All around were four- or five-story brick buildings, their brick all leached and streaked with many years' weather, tired looking. Scattered among them was much council housing, ten-story blocks of flats done in pebble-dash and painted concrete, looking just as weary. These were not slums anymore, not quite, though his father never tired of telling Patel and his mother how lucky they were to be able to afford someplace better. It was true enough, though it meant Patel had a three-quarter-hour commute to school every morning instead of a fifteen-minute walk.

Copyright© 1999, 2000 Diane Duane. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author. This excerpt has been provided by Time Warner Bookmark and printed with their permission.

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