There comes a time to pass the baton.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but there’s often a point in any long-running series when you can tell that it has gone past its sell-by date. The plots start to repeat or lack originality, the characters just seem to be going through the motions.

That some series, whether they are books, T.V. shows or movie franchises, seem to go on past the point of no return can be a shame. Mainly because you forget all the good episodes or stories at the start and only remember the bad ones at the end.

I always think that it would be better to bite the bullet and just stop, although I suspect that in some respects, the temptation to keep making money on reputation alone must be strong.

Personally, I’ve made a pact with myself. If I ever feel like any of my series are becoming trite or formulaic then I will stop them and try something new.

I never want anyone to say “That Richard Dee, his stuff used to be good but now he’s just going through the motions.”

And so we come to Andorra Pett. At present, I have six books in her series, with one more in progress. But I think that it’s getting near the time to hang up her investigating hat. Purely because I don’t want the standard to drop.

I have set adventures on all the places in her universe, Saturn, the Moon, Mars and Earth. As well as in the space between. To be honest I’m struggling to think of another setting. And I’d hate to publish a sub-standard tale, because I won’t be happy with it.

I expect that the people who have enjoyed the series so far would still buy it. I’d hate for them to be disappointed. too.

Of course, I might keep thinking up exciting Andorra Pett adventures, but I have to face the fact that one day, I’ll probably run out of ideas. It would be a shame to lose a character like Andorra completely, especially if there was some way that she could carry on. In another form, with a fresh start.

With that in mind, I had a quick think about what might happen when the time comes for her to retire.

This was what I came up with.

Faye finds the Answer.

“What’s in the box?”

“I don’t know,” I said, looking at it. About the size of a good ready meal, it lay on the ground next to my seat. “It’s only just arrived and I can’t tell who it’s from. The return label is damaged, it’s been following me around for a while though, by the looks of it.”

“Comes from never settling down I guess, aren’t you going to open it?”

I had finished work for the day and returned to my camp, the old shipping container that I had turned into my home while I was here. Empty of the world-building supplies it had carried, I had borrowed a lifter and dragged it into a gap between the trees, near a stream. It had all my worldly possessions inside, all the comforts I wanted.

My home was on Blodwin, a newly discovered planet, out on the edge of explored space. For the next couple of years, while we built a settlement for the colony, it was my life. It might not be in the centre of the universe but it wasn’t too bad. When I got back from a day of securing curtain walling, the package had been placed in the shade and a note stuck to the door. I had looked at it and decided that it could wait.

I could see the mountains in the distance, the sky was dominated by a single moon, with its rings shining in red and purple in the setting sun.  That same sunlight reflected off the plasto-steel framework on the flat ground by the river, the start of the settlement that I was helping to make.

I turned the package over in my hands, it was scuffed and battered. It had seen a lot of action on its way to me. Mail was a luxury on Blodwin, if there was room on the supply ship and someone remembered, it was thrown on at the last minute. The number of labels showed that it had travelled extensively around the new worlds and visited more of them than I ever had.

“Come on,” said Malich, “the suspense is killing me.”

Feeling less than enthusiastic, I cut the seal, using the safety knife I carried clipped to my belt. Free from restraint, my bio-chip had already activated the lock and the lid popped open.

“What’s inside, Faye?” Malich was peering over my shoulder. I hated it when people did that. Unless it was me doing it, that was different.

“Do you mind, Mal,” I had seen the label on the inside, “it’s from my father.”

“Oh,” was all he said. He backed away.

There was a letter, typewritten on a lightweight plastic e-stat and dated two years ago. Which meant that the news of his death had beaten this package to me by a matter of months. Though I had got used to the idea that he’d gone, I felt a lump in my throat, he had been all the family I had left. Getting this, now, well it made it seem like he was still alive, it made me well up.

I don’t know when you’ll get this, he wrote, but I thought you should have it. The people who disposed of your grandmother’s effects have had it returned to them, apparently, it was found hidden in a piece of furniture. I hope you’re safe and enjoying life.

It was signed in the handwriting I remembered so well, with all its curls. Danvers Masters. There was a line of kisses, which did little to help. He always wrote Danvers, everyone called him Dan.

Underneath the letter, there was a journal. It was very old and had been used a lot, judging by the worn leather and partly broken spine. I remembered it now, sitting on my grandmother’s desk. I had seen her reading it, asked to look inside and she had always said, one day, when the time is right. There’s a secret in here, but it’s not for you, not yet. Then I grew up, found other interests and forgot all about it. Somehow, fate or Karma or whatever had brought it halfway across the galaxy to find me.

I opened it up, the title page was written in faded purple ink.

To my darling daughter, Eva. I’m sorry I wasn’t always there. I hope this explains everything. Underneath was a name I had almost forgotten, my great-grandmother’s. It wasn’t my name, I had taken her partner’s. In strong letters it simply said,

With all my love, your mother, Andorra Pett.

Malich was hovering, unsure of what to do. It was awkward, even though we worked together, often in close proximity, we weren’t involved, not even at the hugging stage. Malich was practical, he told me more than once that female emotions were a mystery to him. Anyway, I wanted to be alone for a moment so that I could cry; for the family I hadn’t seen in so long, would never see now. I was welling up and he sensed my mood, “I’ll leave you for a moment, but if you want anything, I’ll be around.”

“Thanks,” I sobbed, “I’ll be OK, just give me a chance to take it all in.”

I put the journal down and sat for a moment, tears streaming down my face. I was trying to bring my grandmother’s face into focus in my mind. Although she hadn’t been, she had seemed so old when I was young, mostly I remembered her huge ginger cat, Cy. He treated the whole world with disdain but if you knew where to rub, just behind his ears, he would purr and never let you stop.

Eva had led a chequered life and told stories that made me want to do what I was doing now. My father had tried to put me off. He scolded her for encouraging me to learn to fly and wanting to explore. She just smiled and told him that her mother had done it, so why shouldn’t I? He despaired, my mother was gone, he was doing his best to raise me and I guess he thought that when I went, he would never see me again.

In the end, I left, but I always made sure that I kept in touch, I called regularly and saw him whenever I got the chance. In the end, he was happy, because I was.

I looked at the journal, I wanted to read it but, in a way, I didn’t. It had bought up memories, and sadness. What had all seemed so distant was now in sharper focus. Then, as I thought about it more, I realised the truth. Even if I discovered anything I didn’t know, it was so long ago and so far away from me that I wouldn’t be able to do much about it. Which might be more of a problem than knowing nothing. It was all pointless, academic. I had enough to do. So I put it, and the letter, back in its container and laid it on the ground Then I just sat and sobbed, as I stared at my new home.

The sun was just dropping below the horizon when Malich returned, carrying a bag that made interesting, liquid-in-motion noises as it moved. I was feeling better, it was good to see him.

“Is it alright to come back?” he asked, “I’ve bought some food for you, and a couple of bottles of wine.”

“Yes, it is, and thanks for being so wise.”

He grinned, “sometimes, you just need to be on your own. I’ve learned that much.” We had known each other for a few years, despite the lack of a spark, we had the special sort of friendship that comes from having saved each other more than once.

He lit the barbeque and produced real food, steaks and salad, stuff that you’d never see in a standard self-heating pack. Bread and garlic butter as well. The wine was in a chiller bottle. Alcohol was forbidden on Blodwin, it must have cost him a fortune, or a big favour. I found some glasses, well; paper sample cups but they were clean. I took a sip of wine, this was the real stuff, made from grapes, not that reconstituted powder that passes for wine in the far reaches of humanity.

The journal wasn’t mentioned as we ate and watched the stars come out.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked as we sat in silence, the food and one bottle had gone. I was feeling more relaxed about the journal now, that would be the wine and the fact that I’d cried. If there really was a family secret, I ought to find it out. And I could probably get Malich to help me.

“This was my great-grandmother’s journal,” I said, holding it up. “It was a family heirloom and always supposed to contain a secret. Granny Eva would never let anyone read it.”

“And now you can,” Malich said. “Didn’t you tell me that your great-grandmother was some sort of celebrity?”

I racked my brains about all the tales I’d heard. There were exploits on Earth, Mars, The Moon and all points in between, Andorra’s adventures were more than enough for one lifetime. I had a sneaking suspicion that some of them might have been made up, to impress the younger me. Then, when I’d started to have adventures of my own, experienced the improbable and the downright ridiculous, I changed my opinion.

“She was a crazy lady, according to what Granny Eva said. She had a knack for getting herself into trouble and the ability to come out of out all smelling of roses. She was one of the first female ring miners, amongst other things, which is just wrong. She started life as a dress designer, for goodness sake.”

“Ring miners, they were a tough bunch,” said Malich. Coming from him, it was high praise. Although what we did wasn’t much safer.

“She had adventures all over,” I continued. “Then, when Eva was only about ten, she left one day with her buddy Cy and never came back. In fact, neither of them was ever seen again. Eva went to live with her father, Derek’s, first wife. Helen was her name, she had two children of her own, Louis and Davina. They lived on Mars and the mining station around Saturn. They were all sure that one day Andorra would turn up, with another tale to tell but she never did.”

“How did it get back to her then?” Malich asked, “if she never returned.”

“Granny Eva never said, just that one day it was in the post.”

“Like it is now. So, what’s in it, you mentioned a secret?”

“Maybe some answers, let’s find out,” I said. I felt excited, remembering the longing I’d felt when I was young and a lot less cynical, wanting to know Andorra’s thoughts, wondering where she had gone and why it was all such a secret.

I turned the page.

Eva, it’s your mother here, writing this to let you know that I’m OK. I know I should be with you, but the chance came up for me to do something that would make our future a time when we didn’t have to worry.

It means that I have to go away but I hope this explains everything, it’ll certainly ensure that you never need to struggle to find enough money to fulfil your dreams. Helen knows about me going and Davina will be happy for you to stay with her on the station, just until I come back.

Do you remember your Auntie Benita? She came to see me a while ago. What I didn’t tell you then was that she had news of a possible job, doing what I used to do, before I had you. Back then, I was a ring miner. I expect Helen’s told you all about that, you can see the miners doing their thing every day from your cabin on Oscar Station.

Well, this new job was doing the same thing, but not where Oscar Station is. To do it I needed to commit to some time away from you. It shouldn’t have taken me long, at least that was the plan. The trouble was, once we got started, things got complicated. One day, I hope you’ll understand. It’s all in here, just make sure that you’re careful who you let see this. I wouldn’t want to bring any trouble down on you.

“That sounds interesting,” Malich was leaning forward as if he was trying to be closer to the pages. “What’s next?”

I shut the journal with a snap. “No idea; and I’m not rushing into finding out. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a job for me here, this was all so many years ago.”

“But a secret job, mining rocks somewhere, it must have been important.”

“Maybe it was, they can’t have found anything though, or I’d know about it, we all would. Let’s face it; since the light drive was developed, the galaxy has opened up. There are no secrets anymore, not really.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “I suppose I should get going, we’ve another busy day tomorrow.”

“Malich,” I said. He stopped packing things away. “Thanks for looking after me and thanks for dinner.”

“You’re welcome, what are friends for? I’m only sorry it wasn’t better news.”

He left and I wondered if he had noticed that I’d got rid of him a bit clumsily. The thing was, I’d seen what else Andorra had written on the page and I wanted to read it on my own before I got him involved.

To say I was shocked didn’t cover it.

If it was true, then it wasn’t too long ago and it did matter.

Inside the journal was a proper treasure map, with X most definitely marking the spot.

The big question is, what happens next?

I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait and see. 😁

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