"Hi Pythia, welcome back! Did you bring me anything? You *did*? Wow, what is it? Is it nice? Was it very expensive?"
Pythia dropped the grimy plastic bag on Cassie's desk. "There you go - an exotic pink-flowered orchid, just like you wanted. I'll be happy to bring you another two or three of these, they were fun to get. I got to tie a few pythons into knots, up in the trees. Pity I got interrupted while doing that macrame... and I wonder if they've undone themselves from the Gordon's yet?"

"Wow, Pythia, *cool*!" Cassie looked into the bag and retreated in disgust. "Ewww, Pythia, there's snakes! You... you... you!"

"That's weird. Lemme just check here ..." Pythia yanked more or less hard at the moving bits. "Nah, they're all attached to the center, see? No eyes, either - Whoa, oops, I take that back. Well, at least, no teeth - Ouch! Hmmm, it didn't have -those- a week ago. I wonder if the university would be interested ...? ...umm, Cassie, I'm sorry, you won't get this after all."

"Well," (sniffle) "thank *goodness*. I wouldn't want your crummy present anyway." (snuffle) "Pink orchid, indeed!" (snivel)

"It was pretty when I picked it, honest. I thought you'd like it. Here, have a tissue. Calm down, I'll buy you one from the florists. Or better yet, you buy yourself one. Here's some money. C'mon, stop snivelling now."

--- Two days later... ---

"Hey, Pythia, some crummy university wants you to join their next botanical expeditions. They say 'all expenses paid', too, it's just so unfair!

"Wow, look at their list: Australia - hey, I get to visit Steve! Woohoo, I can't wait to tell Sibyl! - New Zealand, Easter Island ..."

"Where the Easter bunny lives?"

"Yeah, right, Cassie. I bet you believe Santa Claus lives on the North Pole, too."

"Well, doesn't he, then?"

"Oh Cassie. You wouldn't like a couple lead weights around your feet, would you?"


"Oh, nothing, nothing. Just something we worked on with Sibyl the other day..."