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As if life wasn’t complic8ed enough, Zander doubled his DNA.





My name is Alexander Unger-Avakian.

Just before my lover’s birthday I woke up to my usual newsfeed on the hypernet. It’s always set to BBC© in the morning because I figure a news corp that’s been oper8ing for about 200 years must be the news corp. More turmoil in the Middle East, it said.

That reminded me: I recently viewed some old 2D-TV news reports by the BBC© from the early 21st century. I noticed the word turmoil was overused back then too. But already I digress.

Turmoil on the global currency markets, the journobot said. Turmoil in the energy sector. Increasing turmoil in the Caucasus. More refugees fleeing what’s left of Japan. More turmoil after the l8est volcanoes and earthquakes. More bits of Asia and Polynesia likely to sink into the sea.

So it was business as usual.

Lesbia was already up and about. She was my lover. Her real name was Octaviana Threadgill-Rios, but I always called her Lesbia. Not for the reason you’re probably imagining right now, but because that was the nickname the ancient Roman poet Catullus gave his lover. I’ve always liked Catullus. He was born about 2,200 years ago but his kick lives on.

Over breakfast I raised the subject of Lesbia’s upcoming birthday. Would she like me to fess what kind of gift I had in mind? Or would she prefer a total surprise?

Pas de surprises,” she said, looking up from her wrist-o-com. “No, my sweet. I know exactement what I want for my birthday. Another you!”

“Ah, how très gentille,” I purred. “One of me for the daytime and one of me pour la nuit. What a perfect arrangement. You could …”

“No, I mean it,” she said with unusual force. “I really want another you. There’s a corp in Kandy with a 24-hour FCC service. Not too cher either, if you spread the payments over 1 year.”

“FCC? Isn’t that some kind of friend-finding service? Friendship Contact Coordination or something? And why do you need a Sri Lankan corp to find new friends? Or any corp?”

“You’re so out of touch, Zander! I’m not talking about pal-popping. FCC means Full Condition Cloning. In 24 hours you get a clone of yourself with all your up-to-d8 memories and everything else built in. It has a 365-day lifespan, so you’re not stuck with it forever, only for 1 year. Très cool, n’est-ce pas?”

It was like she’d just tanked my brain. “You mean you want me to pay for a clone of myself and then have the thing live right here? Avec nous?”

“Only for 1 year, like I said.”

“But…but…here, Lez. Right here in our own hab? And in our futon?”

“That’s the general idea, oui. And it’s seulement for 1 year, like I said. Pas toujours. Anyway, I have to sprint or I’ll miss my subshuttle. We’ll talk about it tonight. We can open that bottle of Swedish Chardonnay and parler some more. Bise bise!

So that’s how it started.

Let me tell you about Lesbia. The current land shortage means we can’t put people in coffins and bury them in the ground like people used to. But if that custom still existed they’d have to bury Lesbia in a Y-shaped coffin. She has a take-no-prisoners attitude to the m8ing game, just like that Lesbia in ancient Rome. When she finally became my lover and started sharing my hab I already knew that 1-and-only-1-sex wouldn’t be a part of the deal. But I was happy to have access to her most of the time. My main fix was to keep her satisfied. And I thought I did.

But now this?



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Over the Swedish Chardonnay that night I came str8 out with it. “You think I can’t satisfy you, do you? So you want a clone of me. To shag instead of me. While I’m hard …” She giggled suggestively. “While I’m hard at work in the Lang Lab.”

“Zander, think about what you’re saying. You make it sound like I’d be ‘shagging’ – what a cute oldy-fashioned word, by the way – somebody else. But it would be … well .. .you, wouldn’t it? Je veux dire, the clone would be you, right?” Lesbia had stopped off at the gen-mod salon on the way home and her irises were purple that night. She knew how wild I was about purple eyes. All part of her plan.

She looked at me with a lingering gaze. Those purple eyes!

“If anything, Zander, you should take my wish comme un compliment!”

“But,” I said, “you’d get 2ce as much of ‘me’ but I’d only get 1/2 as much of you!” It was a kiddish thing to say. But I was stressed, and the wine wasn’t helping.

“Now now, Zander, don’t look at it comme ça.” Lesbia toyed with the stem of her wineglass. There was a vague sexual spin in the way she did that “I should fess quelque chose. That Conrad Polyakov-Huang at the Clinic wants to ‘shag’ me. He told me so himself, although he didn’t use that word. I just said I’d think about it. Ha! But actually that’s what gave me this idée. That Conrad looks a bit like you, you know. Mais, I prefer my Zander. So maintenant I can have 2 of you. And my birthday’s coming, right? So say oui! Say oui, my sweet!”



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Of course I said oui. I had the gravest misgivings. But those purple eyes! And now I knew about that Conrad Polyakov-Huang sniffing around Lesbia. And, well, it was only for a year, like she said. Then the clone would be defunctioned and she’d get all this out of her orbit and we could get on with our lives.

That night in the futon Lesbia did The Special Thing that I liked by way of gratitude and the next day I left for work feeling remarkably good. All morning in the Lang Lab I buried myself in my research paper on pronomial transformations in some dead or as-good-as-dead Himalayan dialects. Perhaps only 20 or 30 people in the world would ever want to read it. 20 or 30 out of 19 billion isn’t bad, I thought. Anyway, comparative linguistics isn’t what it used to be. Most things aren’t these days. So I reminded myself how lucky I was to get a salary for something I love to do anyway.

During lunch I TELed my Gr8 Uncle Cody to set a meeting. He was over 100 years old and could – when his mood was right – dispense the wisdom of age. But 1st you had to let him vent a few minutes and get some complaints about our early 22nd century out of his orbit.

After work we met for ginger tea at his hab. He preferred a solo hab, without a homebot, and his 98th-floor hab was spacious to the max. Not for the 1st time I wondered whether it would 1 day be mine. Or be ours if Lesbia stayed in my life.


futuristic, skyscrapers


Gr8 Uncle Cody was old enough to remember when people still played golf outdoors and had their own houses with outdoor grass patches (lawns, they called them) and used money made of paper and metal (he gave me some coins when I was a kid). He remembered when the population was a lot less than now. That triggered his usual rant about how there were waaaay too many people (but he was against compulsory defunctioning for the over-100’s) and how this old world was on its last legs and how everybody now is just stupid and shallow and we’re all consumed with greed and how the weather was crazier than ever.

I let him have his say and then cut to the link:

“Unc, my Octaviana’s birthday’s coming up, and I have to get her a present. She wants to go to Sri Lanka…”

“Why on earth are you going there? It rains nonstop and it’s sinking into the sea, right?”

“It won’t sink for a while yet, Unc, and it doesn’t rain nonstop. Anyway, the thing is, we’re going there because there’s a corp in Kandy that makes adult clones. Octaviana wants me to clone myself so we can come back here and live as 3. So, 2 of me and 1 of her. You understand what that means?”

Old Uncle Cody activ8d the windows and stared at the massive hab towers and corp towers surrounding us. Had the old boy even heard me? Or was he still thinking about ‘the good old days’?

“Ha! That Octaviana. She’s the 1 who really loves to do the juicy, right? I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her. What about that other 1, the 1 with the cheek bones?”

“That Sybil Zirakashvili-Romanescu, you mean? Or that Fabia Terreblanche-Miyamoto? Don’t you remember, Unc? They’re both long gone. But what do you think? I’ve already said yes and we leave for Sri Lanka soon. Is this a big mistake?”

Old Cody sighed. “Well, I never was big on cloning people. Too many things can go wrong. Sure, clone ginger and all the plants and animals for food. Clone spare body parts till you’re blue in the face. Clone away, I say. But whole people? That’s waaay different. Recreational cloning is what it is. And I’m against it. Anyway, it’s illegal, right?”

“Not in Sri Lanka, Unc. And not if the clone’s only temporary. This 1 will be kaput after a year. That’s the main selling point. The clone’s yours for 365 days and then it’s auto-defunctioned.”

Gr8 Uncle Cody sipped his ginger tea in silence.

“So your Octaviana wants 2 Zanders to play with? Both in the same hab, and both in the same futon. That’ll…”

“Not at the same time,” I said. “Not in the futon at the same time. That’s something I was adamant about.”

Adamant. Now, there’s ay word I haven’t heard in ages!”

Gr8 Uncle Cody had that old-fashioned custom of sometimes pronouncing the indefinite article like the 1st letter of the alphabet. I like to speak “old-fashioned” myself, but I’m not fond of that particular speech-habit. He went quiet for a moment and then activ8ed the windows again and looked out. It occurred to me that watching the mess outside somehow gave old Cody comfort, as if the exterior chaos confirmed the orderliness of his own life.

“Well,” he said, “I know this whole thing’s going to be messy. Ay real mess. I feel it in my old bones. And I confidently predict you and the clone will lead lives of higher than average stress. Yeah. The clone’s going to resent you as much as you resent it. You’ll be at each other’s throats!”

What else was new?

“And will the clone know it has only 1 year to live?” Old Cody asked.

“No,” I replied. “If it knew about that then it would get all rebellious, wouldn’t it?”

“True. True. And it’s ay full adult version with all your memories and habits and everything else that makes you you, right?”

“That’s the promise.”

“And you’re putting yourself through all this for ay woman? She must be some woman, that Octaviana. When can I meet her?”

“True. She’s some woman. We’ll drop by some time for ginger tea after we get back from Kandy. But it’ll just be the 2 of us, without the clone. That thing will stay permanently locked up in the hab, if I have my way. No outside privileges. We can’t have 2 of me out in public simultaneously, can we?”

“True. True.” A brief silence followed.

Old Cody looked up and said, “Is that Octaviana paying for some of the clone’s upkeep? It has to eat while it still breathes.”

This was true. In all the talk and blather I hadn’t even considered that aspect: paying for the upkeep of something I don’t even want. And now I recalled there was vague talk of budget cuts at the Lang Lab, meaning salary cuts. Or worse.

“Well, not as far as I know, Unc.”

Not as far as I know, Unc? What kind of a shit answer is that? Either she is or she isn’t.”

For a minute he contempl8d the mess outside and considered my messy situation. Then he slapped his thighs.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I think. You should go ahead with it. Maybe I’m as stupid and shallow as everybody else these days. But she must be worth it if she really does the juicy like her butt’s on fire. In that case she’s worth all the stress and expense. The temporary stress and the temporary expense.”

“O.K. Thanks, Unc, I really apppreci8 your input.”

“But hang on, I’m not finished yet. With that clone there’s ay simple way you can cut the stress and the expense right down, you know.”

“How’s that, Unc? Keep it 1/2-starved and sed8d?”





I should tell you Gr8 Uncle Cody used to work in law enforcement. He was in Homicide. A top detective, too, when he retired. The Cody Koslovich-Unger Tower bears his name. That’s how highly his anti-crime corp thought of Gr8 Uncle Cody.

But everybody in our family knew he was a dirty cop.

We’ll never get the whole story. But while he was a detective lots of people were incarcer8d or walked away free because he tampered with evidence or perjured himself. He was some cop. So with all the enemies he must have accumul8d how come he hadn’t become a pile of ashes before I was even born? Maybe he had powerful protectors. My Gr8 Aunt Maddy (that Madison Haralambopoulos-De Waal) must have known, but she took her secrets to the urn.

Anyway, I was brought up never to raise this subject with him. But now he sort of raised it himself.

“Zander, sometimes you’re as thick as pig shit!”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you can be ay real idiot sometimes. Pay attention now. The clone’s going to complic8 your life for sure, but it’s a necessary complication if you’re going to hang on to your Octaviana.”

“True. But Unc, you know I’ve been meaning to tell you: I don’t actually call her by her real name in our hab. I call her Lesbia.”

“I … er … Really? Why on earth didn’t you say this earlier? We’ll definitely have to discuss that some time. Now, what was I saying?”

“A necessary complication.”

“True. When you get yourself cloned then that Alexander Unger-Avakian #2’s supposed to be around for a full year. But why do you have to obey that condition? I mean, unforeseen developments happen all the time, right? The cycle of life and death, and all that.”

“True,” I said. “True. But I don’t quite see what …”

Old Cody cocked his head a little and said, “Zander, I just happen to know 1 or 2 people. Not the kind of people you’d usually mix with. But people all the same. Anyway, they’re all just a TEL away. They all owe me for past … assistance I was able to offer.”

Now I got it.

“People? You mean murderers? Assassins? Criminal elements?”

“Let’s not go into unnecessary detail. But they really know their business.” Old Cody broke into a 1/2-smile, like he was remembering a secret pleasure. “I mean, these indivs can make a death look like ay tragic accident. Or even make it look like suicide, if that’s your pref.”

My brain, slow though it might sometimes be, was now on rocket fuel.

“Unc, you have an interesting idea there. But what’s the price?”

“That’s the thing. That’s what I’ve been telling you. These indivs owe me. They’re in my debt. It won’t cost you ay single cred. Consider it a gift from an older Unger to a younger Unger.”

This was the answer to my situation. With the clone’s untimely death assured, I could go ahead with my promise and keep Lesbia in my life, and rid myself of the clone before it sucked too many creds out of me and became too much of a nuisance. And it would cost me no more than the clone itself and the trip to Sri Lanka (2 round-trips and 1 1-way).

“Unc, you’re a genius. She’ll definitely fall for it. I’ll make sure the clone sinks into something that looks like suicidal depression because of everything it has to endure. She’ll definitely get why it was driven to ‘suicide’ so soon. Stuck in that little hab 24-7. Dealing with all her mood swings. No life of its own. All that would drive anybody out of orbit. I almost feel sad for its untimely demise.”

“I knew you’d like my little gift,” he said.

I smiled. “Gift in German means poison. Did you know that, Unc?”

Old Cody made the that’s-news-to-me sign and then stood up with extraordinary speed. Heaven’s g8! I thought. His biofibe hips and knees let the old boy move better than me!

“But before you get too excited, listen to me 1 more time,” he warned. “I know how you think, Zander. You’re full plus about this plan now, but you’re so hyper-analytical that soon you’ll start having doubts. Moral doubts. They’re all crap. Forget them. It’s not murder we’re talking about. We’re dealing with ay clone, not a human. It’s not the same at all, right?”

“The World Fed’s still deb8ing that issue. But I know what you mean by ‘it’s not the same’,” I said.

“Good. Then hold that thought. And TEL me when you’re back from … er …”

“Sri Lanka.”

“Sri Lanka,” he said. “And we’ll talk again.”

And with that I left his hab and subshuttled home. I ordered Sri Lankan food for dinner. Lesbia asked me what old Uncle Cody and I talked about.

“Oh, nothing much,” I said. “We just had a little conversation. But he started complaining about le monde moderne again. He said it’s become an ant colony.”

Lesbia stopped chewing and asked, “What on earth is an ‘ant colony’?”


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Sri Lanka was hot and it did indeed rain nonstop. 45,000,000 people jammed together didn’t improve things either.

We sat with lawyers and I had to sign this and that, waivers and agreements. Then we dealt with a staggering number of immigration documents. The clone would get a 1-year visa (how exact!) and needed 2 guarantors. A Sri Lankan orderly kept us company while we w8ed for permission to finally leave that dreary office when the last document was in the bag.

“You have beaucoup de customers recently?” I asked, just to make idle chit chat.


“I mean, do you have a lot of customers recently?”

“Sir, not like your good self, sir. We are having many Short Clone Service customers. Not so many of FCC-1-year customers, sir.”

“What’s Short Clone Service?”

“Sir, they are clones for customers who wish to have clones of themselves for only 24 hours, sir. Or maybe 48 hours. Yes, sir. They then proceed to have all kinds of … er … physical relations with their clones, sir. It is becoming quite popular now, sir. And madame.”

Lesbia had mentioned something about this on the sub-orb flight. People frantically shag their own clones for a frenzied day or 2. Or some people just savagely beat and torture them. You usually do this kind of thing on your shrink’s recommendation. But some shag their own clones just for the buzz of it, as a heightened form of masturbation.

Self-sexing wasn’t something I could ever imagine for myself. I’m so very conventional about these things. Lesbia said my negitude ( ‘negative attitude’ in Lesbiaspeak) was  further proof of my unique oldy-fashionedness. She said this oldy-fashionedness, combined with the ‘oldy-worldy’ way I speak, absolutely proves I was born in the wrong century.

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After they took my DNA and I’d signed the last waiver we had to w8 the full 24 hours. No shortcuts, they said. We spent a sullen night. Lesbia was tanked by the heat and the pounding rain and our tempo hab’s primitive envirocon. I had the jeebies about meeting this thing the next day – a thing meant to look and sound and move and even smell like me. How was I supposed to act when it appeared? Were we expected to shake hands or something? How was Lesbia supposed to address each of us? And was its name Zander too?

As it turned out, the clone had a large C tattooed on its head. They obviously forgot to mention that, but anyway the problem of distinguishing the copy from the original solved itself. 3 corp minders brought it out, checked my I.D., had me “confirm acceptance of purchased item” and walked away. The clone and I sized each other up. Lesbia was the 1st to break the awkward silence when she said – pretty much as I’d expected – “Oh, my sweet, it looks just comme toi!”

Then the clone cleared his throat and spoke for the 1st time. “Just a minute. He looks just comme toi. Not it. I’m a man, not a thing. Henceforth, Lez, you will kindly oblige me by keeping that particular detail firmly in mind.”

“It even talks old fashioned, just like you, Zander!” Which was exactly the way it was supposed to talk. The clone was like me in every single respect. The thought occurred to me: Trust Lesbia to st8 the perfectly obvious as if it were a revelation to us all.

My sentiments exactly,” said a voice in my head.

Was that my voice?



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We spent the night in Kandy, even though neither of us liked the place. But Lesbia was keen to – as she put it – get acquainted with the l8est addition to our habhold. So I moved to a different tempo-hab while she shagged his brains out.

It was strange. Even though I was in a completely different tower the whole time, it actually felt like I was in the room with her – with them – all night. I could taste her juices with my mind’s mouth and hear her pleasure moans with my mind’s ears and experience The Special Thing with all my mind’s senses. Uncanny.

The shagging was frantic, fierce and suffused with – what’s the word? – hostility. Yes, hostility. It was like the clone urgently needed to vent h8red. And it made me feel strangely liber8d. I couldn’t say why. Yet I was sure this synchrotude wasn’t a mere memory trick or the product of an overactive imagination. But would it repeat itself?

Anyway, in the morning I felt remarkably good. Lesbia and I had arranged to meet for breakfast at her tempo-hab (the clone used room-service). After the usual morning pleasantries I cut to the link.

Alors, Lez, how was last night’s getting-to-know-you session with the clone?” I asked, pretending I didn’t already know. “Satisfactory?”

“Oh,” she said, “I can’t complain. Can’t complain.”

“Good. Good. Then the birthday gift’s acceptable, I take it?”

Mais oui,” she purred, and stirred her ginger tea.

I felt the urge to change the subject.

“By the way, Lez, what’s the clone’s name? We can’t call him Zander, can we? Or Zander #2. How about Virgil? I’ve always liked that Roman poet. Virgil has a certain histori …”

Mais non,” she replied. “Tu sais, I was thinking about that last night.”

During a lull in the proceedings?, I asked myself.

“Zander, you read books and stuff. You remember that story from the 19th century or something about that mec who had a picture that looked just like him?”

“A portr8, you mean?”

“True. And as he got older the painting stayed the same. Or … no! W8! He stayed the same but the painting got older. What was son nom again?”

“Dorian Gray, you mean?”

C’est ça! Durian Grey. So we’ll call him Durian, then. You’re Zander and he’s Durian. Parfait!

Ton souhait est mon ordre, ma belle,” I murmured. If she named the clone after a stinking tropical fruit, so what? And it would only have to endure that idiotic name until Gr8 Uncle Cody’s hitman had seen to the clone’s untimely death, after all. Not long at all.

“So Durian measured up to my level of skill and enthusiasm, did he?” I asked.  “I suppose he’s now enjoying all that coconut rice and that huge fru-salad because he built up such a ginormous appetite last night!”

Lesbia dropped her mango kebab and looked at me intently. “Zander, how on earth did you know Durian ordered coconut rice and a gr8 big salade de fruits? Have you seen him déjà this morning?”

Good question. How did I know that? “Oh, well, you know, Lez, it just kind of occurred to me. I thought that’s what he’d have for breakfast if he was really hungry. Sais pas, Lez. The thought just popped into my head. Kind of.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “Mais it’s what you’d order if you’d been le roi de mon lit the night before, you mean. Because you’re Durian and Durian is you. How on earth could you forget that?”

She had a point there. And now she was on a roll.

“So what should I call you collectivement?” she asked with a sly grin. “Durander? Zandrian?”

But the pieces were all now falling in a place. There was a psych-link between the clone and myself. The corp mentioned nothing about this. No mention of a possible psych-overlap. Maybe they assumed it would be so obvious that there was no need to discuss it. Well, thanks a lot.

So how could I keep my thoughts to myself with Durian now on the scene? And, come to think of it, how could Durian keep his thoughts to himself? If I could read his thoughts and feel his feelings then he could reciproc8. Heaven’s g8!  Does this mean we have 2 heads but 1 brain?

“I have a pressentiment this coming year will be funner than I thought,” said Lesbia with unusual conviction.

But I knew right then that I had to watch myself. If I didn’t want Durian to know about it, then I shouldn’t think about it. For instance that recent conversation in Uncle Cody’s hab. But warning myself of that risk already made it too l8. What was that old expression? The cat’s jumped out of the bag. Meaning I was already in deep merde.


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Don’t think about blue monkeys. Don’t think about blue monkeys. That was the old mindshot from the distant past: trying not to think about something was the surest way to cement that very thought.

Could Durian read my thoughts and feel my emotions? There was only 1 way to find out. Lesbia said she had to TEL some people and she badly needed a nap (ha!), so while she was in her room I flashed Durian the thought:

“The Special Thing last night was particular …”

… ly compelling,” he flashed back. “As you well know. And you very clearly detect…”

“… ed the hostile underpsych during the shag after shag af …”

… ter shag. I know.

I thought to myself (if that was still possible): So this is how it’s going to be from now on? No privacy in my thoughts?

I had to ask: “Are you and I doomed to always finish …”

… each other’s sentences? Did you expect otherwise, even with the corp’s silence on this subject? You expected to have an exact copy of yourself who thinks differently from yourself? You obviously hadn’t thought ….

“…t his through, I know. I should’ve asked the corp. It just didn’t occur to me that it …”

… would be this noisy inside our heads. I know. Of course I know.

Static in my head. We struggled to get our thoughts str8. But when the static died I resumed with:

“Let me ask about all that hostility last night in your underpsych when you were shagging Lesbia. Was that from you? Or from me?”

From me. And you. From you because of what she’d done to your life but you never admitted it to yourself. Personally, I h8 her. She summoned me into a 1-year existence on a mere whim. So now I’m doomed to be nothing but a sex toy for a shallow fool. A beautiful fool, but a fool nonetheless. In my situation wouldn’t you …”

“… feel exactly the same? Yes, I would.” I paused momentarily. “So, then, if you already know about the unavoidable 365-day time limit you must also know about …”

… your – our – Gr8 Uncle Cody’s idea to have me killed by 1 of his old lowlife associ8s? Yes, his idea to put both of us out of our misery.” I sensed Durian suddenly smiling a 1/2-smile. “You know, Zander, he was right. You really are as thick as pig shit sometimes! Merely …”

“… joking. Ha ha. So how do you feel about that? It would be a relief in a way, wouldn’t it? I mean, your life as a clone – such as it is – was always intended to be nasty, brutish and short. I imagine you’d welcome an early death as a …”

… release from my term of bondage. True. True. But I’d really rather spend my single year of life without that fool Lesbia around the hab. Then the 2 of us, you and me, could get on with what we really want to do with our lives: become the Lang Lab’s star researchers. Zander, we could really put comparative linguistics back on the map, you and I. Make it a thriving field again in these difficult times. You and I could accomplish more in 1 year than all the other researchers combined.”

” Ah yes,” I flashed. ” ‘These difficult times’ but also these badly underfunded times. The …”

… Lang Lab would never put a clone on the payroll. That’s obvious. But I don’t need to be physically present in the Lang Lab, do …”

“… I? True. True. Yeah, you have point there. And with Lesbia out of our lives we’d have no petty distractions in the hab, no more accommod8ing her sudden whims and moodswings, no more wondering who she’s shagging in secret. No more baby- …”

…t alk French. Yes, that’s how it will be. You never admitted to yourself what a mess she’s made of your life, and how she’s emascul8d you. Admit it, Zander, you’d do anything to keep her in your life, even pay to make a clone. That’s how much you’ve let her control you. But now we can overcome all these humiliations and end this negative cycle for good.”

“Durian, you’re right!”

Please,” he flashed, “call me Virgil.

He was right. Ridding myself of Lesbia was something I needed to do if I was ever to stand up and be free. I’d have to take action now, otherwise my resolve may weaken and I’ll start looking at the other side of the coin (an expression Lesbia wouldn’t comprehend) and start having doubts about what I would lose with Lesbia gone from my life for good.

“Right,” I said to myself. Ourselves. “I’ll do it. Death to Lesbia! I’ll make the TEL right now!”

No!” flashed Virgil. “Don’t!




What?” I gasped. “Why don’t you want me to make the TEL?”

Don’t you do it. I want to do it myself. Let me make the TEL. Nobody can tell our voices apart, can they?

Virgil made the TEL that very minute, throwing my normal solicitude to the winds, not caring who he/I woke up or why.

Virgil and I said, “I woke you up, did I? There’s something we need to talk about. It’s too important to w8. You see, I’ve decided there needs to be a really big change.”

The voice at the other end was annoyed at being woken so suddenly and with such an imperious demand.

“What really big change? What on earth are you talking about?”

“Well,” we said, “it’s basically the same plan we discussed earlier, Unc. Just a change in the design8d target, that’s all.”

                                                                                 THE END





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She had the man and she had the plan. But what about luck?




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Why did Maggie accept this stranger? She was a handsome young woman, alone on a south Texas farm, a widow since a Yankee bullet killed her husband in some pointless skirmish in the last days of the War Between the States. Why should she let a total stranger – a bedraggled, desperate looking stranger – into her home? Simple Christian charity, she told herself. It’s wrong to refuse a kindness.

She examined the man at her door. Not yet thirty, brown haired, well built. He held himself well, with none of the shiftiness you expect in a miscreant. She liked that in a man. Her late husband could look any man in the eye too. But the stranger was grimy and sweaty, with the haggard, haunted look of a man fleeing something bad.

So why beat around the bush? “You running from the law, mister?” she asked as she gestured for him to sit at the table.

The stranger hesitated and collected himself.

Finally he said, “Well, ma’am, the gospel truth is that I’m innocent. But I am a wanted man. There’s nothing for me in Tennessee now and I was headed out to make a new life in New Mexico. But I shot a colored boy in Arkansas. The low son of a…pardon me, ma’am…tried to steal this gold watch.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and unwrapped the watch. The sunlight through the window made it gleam. “That’s why I’m so far south right now, on account of that…incident. I aim to lay low in Mexico until all this blows over.”

Maggie poured coffee. “All that running from the law because of that? Hah! What is the world coming to?”

“How right you are, ma’am. Everything’s upside down since we lost the war and those damn Carpetbaggers moved in like a plague of locusts. Why, I could tell you some stories…”

Maggie sipped her coffee and shook her head. She had no wish to hear “some stories”. Her own story was sad enough. As they sat in silence an idea took shape in her mind.

“That there watch is worth something, is it?”

The stranger’s pride in his valued possession was plain to see. “It surely is, ma’am. My dear mother kept it safe even after the Yankees took Nashville back in ’62. Not a scratch on it. Solid gold, too.”

Maggie looked at it as intensely as she’d looked at this stranger when he first approached her door. It was a thing of great beauty.

“By the way, ma’am, I should introduce myself. My name is…”

“No, do not tell me your name.  If you’re a fugitive from the law the less I know about you the better. You can just be plain ‘Mr. Smith’ while you’re under my roof.”

‘Mr. Smith’ bowed his head slightly. “As you wish, ma’am. And so I will not ask you yours.”

The stranger smelled of sweat and too many days on a horse. And now the idea in Maggie’s mind took shape.

“That watch is not engraved,” she observed.

“Engraved? No, ma’am. Why?”

Maggie said, “Maybe we can help each other out. You look more in need of a hot meal and a bath and clean clothes than any man I’ve seen since the war. You can sleep here tonight too. And I’ll trade your tired horse for a fresh one. I’ll even give you my poor husband’s shirt and britches and some other things of his. He was about your size, may the Almighty keep his soul. But you’ll have to do something for me.”

‘Mr. Smith’ bowed again and said, “That’s extremely kind of you, ma’am. And if there’s anything I can do for you that won’t land me in a bigger fix than I’m already in, then I shall willingly oblige.     


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Maggie continued: “Well, you’re obliged to me for the food and clothes and the bath. If you do what I say and keep a cool head you will have no trouble and your debt will be cleared.” She explained her plan:

On the first day of every month a San Antonio banker rode to Maggie’s house to collect a regular payment on Maggie’s loan. Why the banker rode there and back himself every month was simply because he always made it clear to Maggie that he’d be willing to “forget about” that month’s $8-payment if she would just extend to him the ultimate female hospitality.

‘Mr. Smith’ felt a slight stirring in his loins. He knew just how the banker felt. Any full-blooded man would.

“I always refuse him,” Maggie continued. “Eight dollars a month wasn’t such a burden in the past. Even while my husband was away fighting for the Glorious Cause I could somehow make ends meet. But it is now an intolerable burden for a woman alone in these wretched times. Yet I will not defile my dear husband’s memory, with him only dead coming on to a year now. No, not even if I have to scrimp and scrape for every single dollar.”

The stranger said, “Your devotion does you proud, ma’am.”

Maggie wiped away a tear with the heel of her hand, collected herself and sat upright in her chair. “How much do you reckon that watch is worth?” she asked.

“How much? Most likely thirty dollars these days, easy. But, ma’am, I could never…”

“Listen,” said Maggie with a sudden force that surprised ‘Mr. Smith’. “Tomorrow’s the first day of March. The good Lord must have sent you here for a purpose, so it would be sinful to waste this chance. When Strick England comes here tomorrow morning I’ll pretend to pay him with this watch. I’ll say it’s my husband’s family heirloom. But my desperate plight means I cannot afford to keep it any longer. If it’s worth thirty dollars then I can bargain real hard and stretch it to thirty-two dollars. That’s a four-month-payment.”

‘Mr. Smith’ could smell a ruse as well as anybody could. “But he won’t get to keep the watch, is that what you intend?”


Maggie pointed east. “He’ll be coming in from San Antone like he always does, with his stove pipe hat like Abe Lincoln himself. And riding a fine white horse. Always about nine o’clock. And he heads back the same way, too, and always in a foul mood because I will not…But this here gold watch will make him happy. And if he’s happy he’ll get careless.”

“I see. So where do this England and I…?”

Maggie said, “You just ride east about half a mile. You’ll see a big old tree with a skeleton on it. That’s where they strung up that Chinaman last fall, and the crows picked his flesh clean. You go a ways beyond that and there’s an old Mexican shrine among some elm trees. That’s where you can hide. When England rides by you catch him from behind and take back that watch. But do not shoot him, you hear me? Don’t draw attention. Just take the watch and kick him on his way back to town. Understand?”

“Mercy, ma’am, your plan is as clear as creation.”

“Good,” said Maggie. “And then you skedaddle on to Mexico. But come nowhere near this house, you hear?”

‘Mr. Smith’ plucked at his thick brown beard and thought for a moment. “You know, ma’am,” he said, “if I take only the watch he might see he’s been the victim of a conspiracy. Then he’ll come right back to this house in righteous anger. So I’d better take whatever else he has that’s worth taking. That way he’ll think it was just a simple robbery by happenstance, nothing to do with you. By the way, was this banker in the war?”

Strick England?! He just carried on the whole four years like the war was nothing but a chance for him to make more money.”

“So, then,” said the stranger, “strictly speaking this is not a crime, is it? Robbing a profiteer is no crime. But anyway I must deny myself the pleasure of doing him violence if I’m to ‘skedaddle on to Mexico’ with all possible speed. I’ll just knock him cold or something to prevent him getting a good look at me.”

“Well, if you do or you don’t, that’s not my concern. Just make sure he does not suspect you and I are…are…”

“In cahoots? Yes, ma’am, you can trust me. By the way, you always get a receipt from him, don’t you? I mean a proper receipt from the bank, official and all?”

“Sure, I always do.”

“Without fail?”

“Without fail,” Maggie said. “Especially tomorrow.”




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With ‘Mr. Smith’ and Maggie now officially in cahoots, he wondered if this might afford him special privileges.

After his bath and change of clothes he felt like a new man. Over supper their conversation became more personal, and he mentioned in passing that he “went to school” in the north. This surprised her. She’d never met anyone who had lived among the hated Yankees. But he was vague about the details, and they went on to talk about the war. He had been a cavalry officer, he said, and was wounded twice, the last time at the Battle of Franklin in ’64

The bond they’d established during supper gave him reason for cautious optimism. He was further encouraged to see that she was not a teetotaller. As the supper progressed she started to display signs of near-gaiety. ‘Mr. Smith’ attributed this to her being in male company for the first time in ages.

He was careful to remain courteous and amiable, always gentlemanly yet clearly not indifferent to her considerable charms. She knew he carried the scars of battle. Would all that be enough to draw this handsome widow into his arms?

It was not. Before they retired she told him her room had a strong lock and she slept with a loaded pistol. She then bade him good night, locking her door with a bang.



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It rained heavily just before dawn. They ate breakfast, speaking little. Then ‘Mr. Smith’ saddled up the fresh horse Maggie had exchanged for his tired gelding. They shook hands as he departed, and he wondered whether he should kiss her hand as a token of respect. But he decided against it – she might not take it well. She was nothing like those northern ladies he had met and waltzed with as a cadet at West Point – that “school in the north” – before the war.

West Point! That time in his life felt like a century ago. He shook his head and tried to rid himself of the memory. He’d known too many good men – good men on both sides – cut down mercilessly in their prime.

He rode out under clearing skies and spotted the tree with the dead Chinaman’s skeleton. It suddenly occurred to him that he should have asked Maggie about the story behind all that. What was this oriental doing around San Antonio? And why put his corpse up a tree? These Texans are strange, he concluded. Wild, strange people. The ones he’d met in the war were apt to – what was that expression his colonel used? – stray into dangerous excesses.

The war was our ruination, he thought to himself as he approached the Mexican shrine. We live in darkness.

He wondered how it would be to have a woman like Maggie. Have her as a wife. The war was a disaster. It robbed him of his youth. And since he’d chosen to serve in the army that tasted defeat it had robbed him of a future military career.

What did he have to show for the war but aching scars and some worthless medals and a broken spirit and the memory of enough death and desperation to last ten lifetimes? When he slept he could never be sure if the blood-soaked nightmares and silent screams would return. The only thing connecting him to his life before the war was that watch, and right soon it would be sitting in some cowardly profiteer’s pocket. But not for long, he thought, if there’s any justice in this vale of tears.

I was destined for better things, he thought to himself as he passed the skeleton tree and hid among the elms. Now look at me: a penniless vagrant on the run for killing a thieving black. And waiting to hoodwink a profiteer.

How will I fare in Mexico? Will I ever breathe the sweet air of Tennessee again?





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By ten o’clock Maggie was sure her plan had worked.

Strickland P. England had arrived as usual. His refusal even to consider accepting anything other than cash was to no avail. Maggie knew his vanity and greed, and she slowly, artfully brought him around. He departed in triumph, the gold watch in the pocket of his silk vest. He took it out every minute, caressed it and listened to its soft, regular ticking. Even before he accepted the watch all thoughts of carnal embrace with the beautiful widow had departed his mind.

For the first time in years Maggie felt joyous. She put the receipt in a safe place and hugged herself with pleasure. Now she could avoid England’s loathsome presence for another four months.

But she was wrong. Around noon she took a break from her chores and sat down at the table, thinking about ‘Mr. Smith’. That stranger was a fine looking man once he scrubbed himself clean. Polite, too. Always stood up whenever I left the table. Fellers around here don’t do that. And he was well-spoken. Maybe he…

But the sound of approaching horsemen broke her reverie. The banker had arrived with two men, the old sheriff and his even older deputy.


Mrs. Jordan,” said England, “I have been robbed in broad daylight in the vicinity of this very house! These two gentlemen are here from San Antonio to investigate this outrage.”

“Ma’am,” said the sheriff, tipping his hat. “We’re sorry if we get any mud on your floor, but we’re curious if you seen a stranger around here recent. A man who don’t sound like he’s from around these parts. Somebody suspicious.”

Maggie steeled herself. What had gone wrong? “No, sheriff, I have not,” she said. “And if I did I would’ve made him skedaddle soon enough. I’m all alone, but I can shoot a bean off a barrel at thirty paces.”

“I’m sure you could, ma’am,” he said with a chuckle. “Well, anyway, mind if we poke around and see for ourselves? He might have been around without you knew it.”

What went wrong? she asked herself as they spread out and poked around the house and the stable. She forced herself to look busy. What went wrong? Do they suspect I was behind this? Did the stranger make a mess of things?

She looked out the doorway and noticed the hoof prints of their three horses in the soft ground outside. And then she realized the stranger had left a trail of hoof-prints when he rode out on Maggie’s brown colt after the rain. England and the lawmen must have seen that as they rode in. They couldn’t miss it.

She heard them whispering outside. England led them back inside.  The sheriff said, “Did you go out riding this morning, ma’am? Them tracks leading up to the road are yours, are they?”

Maggie felt her legs weaken, but she strained to control herself. “No sir, I did not. Those tracks are from yesterday. Just before supper time. I don’t know how it was in town, but it started raining over here just before sundown. I led a horse out to the road to stretch its legs for a while. That’s all.”

“Which horse was that, Mrs. Jordan,” England asked. “That brown colt you got last year from old Joe Myers? I didn’t see it anywhere. Did you exchange it for that worn out gelding we just saw?”

Suddenly the lawmen and England moved in closer. No apology this time for more mud on the floor. England and the sheriff exchanged glances.


Mrs. Jordan,” the sheriff said, “it grieves me beyond measure to say this, but you were in league with that thief who robbed Mr. England. Them tracks are from this morning. They’re too fresh to be from last night. And they’re deep, from the weight of a man riding a horse, not from a horse being led out like you said.”

Maggie said, “No, sheriff, you don’t understand. I…”

“And them tracks don’t lead back to your stable, but go all the way beyond that tree where we strung up that heathen’s body as a warning to every other heathen. That’s where Mr. England was robbed, ain’t that so, Mr. England? That horse and rider came from your property, Mrs. Jordan. It’s as plain as glory.”

Maggie’s heart froze. “That makes you an assessory,” the sheriff continued. “But if you tell us who this thief is and where he’s headed then it’ll go better for you, ain’t that so, Mr. England? And give us a description so we can get word to other towns.”

Maggie stated to sob.

“If you give us that information, ma’am, then Mr. England here may see fit to not press criminal charges on you. Ain’t that right, Mr. England, sir?”





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Maggie knew she was lost. But she could at least save ‘Mr. Smith’.

“All right, sheriff,” she said. “I will tell you all I know.”

She sat at the table and drew a deep breath, wiping her tears as she stalled for time and thought of something plausible.

“The man you seek is a youth. Maybe eighteen years of age or so. Long blond hair. No beard. Barely old enough to shave. He said he was from Georgia.”

“Headed for Mexico, is he?” asked the sheriff.

“Why, no, I believe he said he was headed for somewhere here in Texas. Yes, Corpus Christi I think. Yes, now I remember clearly. Yes, Corpus Christi. That is what he said.”

“Well,” said England, “that is rather odd. Who in his right mind would voluntarily go to Corpus Christi? And he’s certainly chosen a long and winding route, hasn’t he, if he’s coming from Georgia? Are you absolutely sure he said Corpus Christi?”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure. Now I recall he said he had a hankering to see the sea.”

“You have not told us this scoundrel’s name, Mrs Jordan,” growled the banker.

“He said his name was Davis.” It was the first name she could think of.

With that the lawmen rode back to San Antonio to form a posse and send word to every lawman’s office between there and Corpus Christi. They left England alone with Maggie. He sat down uninvited and lit a cigar.

“Well, now, Mrs. Jordan, it seems you and I have further business to transact. You now owe me four payments. How do you propose to make good those payments? Have you sufficient cash at your disposal?”

Maggie had started sobbing again. “You know damn well I don’t!”

“That is what I thought,” he said, dropping ash from his cigar on the table. “However, I wish to discuss…how can I put it?…an alternative arrangement.”

Maggie could hardly breathe. She knew what kind of “alternative arrangement” England had in mind. What she could not know was how his banker’s mind dealt with the details.



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You see, Mrs. Jordan – or may I call you Maggie? You see, Maggie, I happen to enjoy the game of poker. It’s one of my few recreations. And I have a…an acquaintance with whom I sometimes play. For money. And unfortunately, I am currently in arrears to this gentleman.”  He blew a smoke ring. “Just as you are in arrears to me.”

“What is that to do with me?” Maggie demanded through her tears.

“Don’t you know, Maggie? Can’t you see? You surprise me, an intelligent woman like yourself.”

“What are you driving at?”

England puffed slowly on his cigar and looked at the ceiling, as if contemplating how much to ante up in a poker game. Maggie’s sobs annoyed him, but he decided to ignore them. Why let her tears bother him when he held such good cards?

“Let me see, now. You owe me four payments, for which I could take possession of this property right now as my legal right. Plus I could have you arrested and charged as an accessory to that bandit’s theft of my new watch, a sum of cash and an unloaded pistol. That would make you penniless, Maggie. Penniless, but not homeless, since you would be in a prison cell, wouldn’t you?”

“Damn you to hell!”

“Now, now, Maggie, there is no need to talk like a common whore. Although whatever you and that Georgian bandit did in your bed last night was no doubt…But never mind. No, as I said, I have an alternative arrangement in mind.”

Maggie tried to speak, but the words would not form.

“What’s that, Maggie?” he asked. “What arrangement do I have in mind? I’m glad you asked.”

England stood without warning and grabbed both her arms, shaking her violently. “Listen, you harlot! Stop your damned whimpering! Listen!”

He sat down again and waited till she composed herself. He idly watched the smoke from his cigar. Then he continued calmly and deliberately, like his outburst had never happened.

“You owe me four payments. Plus I have decided you owe me four more payments for the outrage of aiding and abetting that scoundrel Georgian. That is fair compensation. Plus you owe me four more payments for not having you arrested and imprisoned. That makes twelve payments in all. But I do not expect you to pay me, or my acquaintance, in cash.”

Maggie wept. She knew where this was leading.

“Quiet now and listen to me! Each payment is equal to two nights in your bed. I could of course demand more, but I am not a vindictive man. Nor am I unreasonable. So that makes twenty four nights of free and unlimited access to your body. We will make it eighteen nights for me and six for my acquaintance, who will be informed of this arrangement upon my return to town this afternoon.”

Maggie remained mute. She could say nothing that England didn’t already know or couldn’t anticipate.

“Have I made myself clear? You understand your debt, don’t you? You are in no doubt about what this entails?”

She nodded weakly.

“Let me hear you say it, Maggie. Tell me you understand.”

She choked on the words, but somehow she uttered, “I understand.”

“Very well, then. I’m glad you’ve decided to be sensible about this.”

England stood up and brushed cigar ash from his jacket. It mixed with the mud on the floor.

“Oh, and Maggie, our arrangement starts tomorrow evening. With me. Ensure the sheets are freshly laundered.”

On his way out he stopped at the doorway and said, “Oh yes, I almost forgot. My acquaintance will…meet you soon. Good day. Until tomorrow evening, then.”

England rode off and Maggie buried her head in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably. Thoughts flooded her mind. What about ‘Mr. Smith’? Is he safe? She thought of her husband looking down from heaven. She thought about the shotgun in her bedroom. Do I have the courage to end it all?

Maggie knew what she must become. If she wanted to survive she had no choice. A woman alone must suffer to live.




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To: Mr. Oliver Rickebaugh, Elizabeth, New Jersey

From: Edward Bradley Lambert, New Rochelle, New York

August 6, 1896


My Dear Olrick,

Congratulations are in order. I have just seen a moving picture!

It was made by Mr. Edison’s company, and one was truly astonished to see how the actors – for that is what they were, Mr. John Rice and Mrs. May Irwin – moved just as if they were actually in front of one. I’m sure you know them: they performed in that popular Broadway play The Widow Jones, and I recall how you have always delighted in every manifestation of the Thalian muse, being ever a devotee of the theatrical arts. And, one might add, of the “ladies” encountered therein.

The moving images are projected from an apparatus expertly constructed for that purpose. I understand it is referred to as a kinematograph. (You do remember your Greek from Yale, don’t you, Olrick? I certainly remember mine.)

This kinematograph emits a thin beam of light onto a screen upon which the actors appear to move. Did I just say “appear” to move? No, Olrick, indeed they do move. They do! How is this miraculous feat accomplished? What is the nature of this wonderful apparatus which sends forth pictures to move without fail before our very eyes, as if the spirits themselves have been summoned and then contained in a box to be released at will, just like the jinni from Aladdin’s lamp?

I cannot answer this question, for I am no mechanic. I am, as you know, intended for a career in the Law. I only know it is indeed wondrous to behold. We are approaching the cusp of the 20th century, Olrick, and it makes one’s heart race with anticipation at the thought of the other amazing inventions we shall live to see.

And yet.

What was exhibited to the public by this astounding apparatus, this miraculum miraculorum? Something of great substance, intended to uplift and edify? No, Olrick, this moving picture depicted a man and a woman – one could scarcely refer to them as a gentleman and a lady – performing an action clearly intended to induce thoughts of concupiscence and to tempt each spectator into succumbing to his baser appetites.

I should explain, this moving picture had a title, as if it were a painting or a theatrical piece, as if it were an opera or the inestimable King Lear. It was entitled The Kiss. The moving picture depicted them kissing. But it was by no means a chaste kiss, born of innocence, but a slobbering kiss on the mouth if you please! And it gave every indication that these two individuals  were ready, willing and able to indulge in further gross indecencies.

Now Olrick, you will readily attest that I am no prude. But I ask you: Is this the depth to which our civilization has descended? I am obliged to point out that there were young ladies among the spectators. And I feel confident in saying that these young ladies were from respectable families. How must their fathers have felt? As a society, should we not be outraged by this vulgar display of carnality to which their daughters were so wantonly exposed?

I see no moral benefits arising from moving pictures. The kinematograph is a marvel of ingenuity. But if The Kiss is representative of the “entertainment” it will offer, then I shudder at how it will corrupt our American nation.

It is my fervent wish that kinematography will become nothing more than an occasional novelty. An ingenious novelty, but a mere novelty nonetheless. In any case, can spectral images on a screen compare with a stage presentation involving real, flesh-and-blood thespians? And now that I come to think of it, the kinematograph shows us only a portion of each performer’s body, just the head and shoulders. Can this compete with the theater, where one can see each character from head to foot? And now that I reflect even further, one cannot even hear the performers in a moving picture. They move just as they do in real life, but they move in silence. The only sounds to be heard during The Kiss were the clacking of the kinematographic apparatus and the gasps from the assembled spectators. If my memory does not deceive me, one or two of the ladies had the presence of mind to faint.

Kinematography may just be a flash in the pan, so perhaps we need not be alarmed. It may well be only a passing distraction, and by the time my child enters school – you’ll recall the happy news that Martha is expecting our first – the kinematograph will have become a mere fairground attraction (operated, one would hope, under strict police supervision).

Of more immediate concern is the presidential election this fall. Would you concur with my prediction that Mr. Bryan stands no chance against Governor McKinley? For the sake of our economy, and for the sake of our fair republic as a whole, may Providence lead Governor McKinley to the White House!

Yours as ever,










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You need to get some work done. But what’s with all the distractions?


Why do I keep coming to this place? The coffee’s not that special. Neither’s the music. And that cute barista who always smiled that special smile has moved on. I hope she wasn’t fired. Did she suddenly quit? Maybe she met a guy and moved somewhere with him. But that’s okay. It means fewer distractions, so I can get some work done. I have a novel to write.

And if I get the right table I won’t be tempted to keep looking at the female customers. I should sit in the non-smoking section too. I have a novel to finish, and watery eyes are the last thing. Actually, I’d be better off having my manuscript on a laptop and not have to deal with all this messy paper. It’s the 21st century, for crying out loud. But what if somebody spills coffee on it? What then? Or if I spill coffee on it?



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Well, well. What have we here? That guy over there with the burgundy laptop. I’ve seen him here before. He looks pretty cool, staring at a spreadsheet. I should do something like that. People respect you when you stare at a spreadsheet while drinking coffee. It marks you out as an alpha male. See, now he’s talking on his smart phone while he works the keyboard. What’s that language he’s speaking? Maybe if I go over and pretend to check out the coffee beans I can…French! That show-off is speaking French!

Those two babes in the smoking section are looking at him. That one on the right has unbelievably long purple fingernails. I worry about things like that. I mean, how can she wipe her butt without doing some serious damage? And can she go bowling? Both babes appear to be office workers. Surely she can’t type with those nails. I’ll bet she’s good at opening envelopes, though. Her friend with the pony tail is pretty hot, too. No ring on her finger, but does that necessarily mean anything?

Look at how they’re both smoking like chimneys. They’re obviously on a break from work, so it’s like four cigarettes in 20 minutes. I should’ve sat in the smoking section. I’ll sit there every time from now on. That way, if they come again I can fake a phone call in French and note their reaction. I might even make eye contact with one of them. Or even both. Pretend that it’s no big deal, just speaking French with my very own Parisian publisher. Mon èditeur parisien. And then when they leave I can smile a general smile their way and see who smiles back first. The pony tail or the long purple nails?

                                                                                                                                                                    Why am I wasting time like this? I have a novel to complete. The deadline looms. I should order something stronger this time. If I order something with a kick to it then I can really knuckle down. Cappuccino! That’s what I need. I don’t like cappuccino, but I need it. A double-shot cappuccino and then knuckle down.


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(Four minutes later.)

I really should’ve checked these chapter outlines before I came here. I’ve already wasted too much time. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. That’s Richard the Second, Act 5. Some things you never forget. Hmmm, that guy who just walked in with those two tall young women looks a bit kingly himself, like European royalty. Receding chin, suspect dentition. He’s probably descended from ten generations of people marrying their cousins. Those two tall young women aren’t bad looking, though. Not bad at all. But what’s with all the pairs of women today? Are they riding shotgun for each other or something?

The younger woman there has a haughty look, like she’s Cleopatra. High maintenance, for sure. She’d wear the pants in any relationship. Tight pants, too. Tight, faded blue jeans. Low cut. And under those tight, low cut jeans? Wait! Let’s not get carried away.

My eyes aren’t playing tricks, are they? She’s looking straight at me! Or is there something interesting behind me? No. No. She’s definitely looking at little old moi. Enchanted by my aura. Now what? Play it cool? Or roll the dice and go for it?

But what’s that unusual expression on her face? Something’s not quite right. Or maybe she’s just inhibited because she’s with a friend. Now her friend’s looking at me too. Something’s amiss. Is my fly open? They couldn’t see that. Or is there snot hanging out of my nostril? Merde! That’s all I…Oh, wait! Wait! The cappuccino. Who can drink cappuccino without getting any on their top lip? I must look like a clown. But I’ve hardly touched my cappuccino. So I’m clean, then? But then why are they both giving me that funny look? Both of them.

Only one way to check without being too obvious. Slowly, ever so slowly…raise the paper towel to my mouth and check for froth. That’s all. If it’s froth-free then they’re not looking at me for the worst possible reason. Anyway, I have to know the reason. I have to know for sure.

Here goes.



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Cat was a child of the Swingin’ Sixties, de facto if not in spiritu.

His name was Robert, but he avoided it, insisting on the nickname Cat. That came from his admiration for a Roman poet and from his highly unfashionable love of the Latin language, a love he nurtured throughout his short life.


He was born in London in 1963. His stockbroker father popped champagne. A bouncing baby boy! Robert’s mother later mentioned that Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party “was reportedly audible” from the nurses’ room radio when he drew his first breath. As his love of Latin tightened its grip, teenage Robert/Cat renamed that song Hic Est Celebratio Mea, but admitted under pressure the English title had more zing.

He became Cat at school. Not because of any affinity with felines, but as a tribute to Catullus, the Roman poet. Catullus’s aching love poems – their primal passions and their striking imagery – reverberated in his hungry young brain.

The permanently lovesick Roman’s rollercoaster verse propelled Robert/Cat through puberty. The febrile tone of Catullus’s poetic pleas to his capricious, hedonistic, spectacularly licentious and resolutely married lover “Lesbia” (Lesbia!) shook him to the core. Their sexually-charged tone merged with delicate manifestations of transcendent love to make the virginal teenager gape at the poems in astonishment. By his 14th birthday Robert was Cat and he was hooked for life.

Young Cat made a vow: when Cupid’s arrow struck, wherever that might happen and whoever the lady in question might be, his love would pulsate cum passione. He dismissed the notion that all-or-nothing love was “questionable.” Did not Catullus of old cling (usually) to his serially-unfaithful Lesbia, come what may? No, he informed whoever fell victim to an opinionated adolescent’s ideas on amor, all-or-nothing love is the only love worth feeling.

All-or-nothing love, he told his reflection in the mirror, is love painted on a bigger canvas.


His classmates loathed Latin’s endless verb declensions and case endings, gender system and knotty syntax, all designed to torment 20th-century schoolboys. But its capacity to say so much so concisely – Aegrescit medendo  (“The cure is worse than the disease”) – amazed Cat. “This,” he thought as he devoured a library book of Latin aphorisms, “this is quite a language.”

His Latin teacher, old Farley-Ferguson, was delighted – and more than a little surprised – to encounter such keenness after decades of schoolboy apathy. He declared the lad’s enthusiasm for the ancient language made him “one of a dying breed.” Cat – now firmly established as the school’s undisputed oddball, its “Latin lover” – shrugged and replied, “Lingua Latina me delectat” (Latin delights me).


As Cat prepared for university, his father thought they should have a word.

“Well, Rob … er … Cat,” he said, “I’ve long been of the opinion, as you know, that after Oxford your wisest option would be a career in business. I know of several perfectly suitable investment banks and brokerages who’d welcome a bright …”

“Yes, Dad, you’ve long been of that opinion.”

“Quite.” His father tapped his pipe and searched for his tobacco pouch. “So, you’ll definitely bear that in mind for the future, won’t you?”

“I’ll bear in mind that you’ve long been of that opinion, yes.”

Career options could wait. Cat’s priority was to “seize the day” and delve further into the Latin classics alongside fellow enthusiasts. And he kept up his French (Latin’s elegant daughter). It might come in handy one day.


At graduation, Cat’s scholastic accolades couldn’t tempt him into an academic career. Academia involved teaching. He hankered for employment abroad. A fellow graduate reported he’d scored a job teaching English in Milan and recommended he consider something similar. “Hmmm, Milan,” Cat said. “But teaching English? I’d rather swallow a golf ball.”

The Diplomatic Service crossed his radar. He shuddered at the thought. Well, what about the BBC? “With the Beeb, Manchester would be more likely than Milan” was his stock reply. Then he hit upon print journalism. Guaranteed flexibility, the chance to travel. None of the Diplomatic Service’s stultifying torpor mentis. Never having to think twice before saying nothing. None of that BBC bureaucracy, either. Yes, he concluded, print journalism would do nicely.

perfectly suitable news agency recruited him. In an impressively short time he earned a posting to Geneva. There his French would indeed come in handy.

And there Cat began his descent into chaos.




Geneva was nowhere near as sedate as he’d been warned. And while his colleagues weren’t as dynamic as he’d hoped, they weren’t as bland as he’d expected. His avuncular Bureau Chief – old “Pinky” Pinkerton – liked bow ties, Scottish ballads and the novels of Evelyn Waugh. Cat soon shaped his working life to allow himself time to pursue francophone Switzerland’s ladies plus the occasional Française.

Impelled by simple lust or lured by the prospect of another conquest, his dalliances were generally successful. But amor never asserted itself. All Cupid’s arrows whizzed past. Cat’s women were as disposable as they were accessible.

Then it happened.

In early May 1989 he was about to escape from a lifeless cocktail party when the hostess introduced him to the young trophy-wife of a 60-ish, aristocratically surnamed United Nations dignitary. They’d been the last to arrive. She mingled freely but her husband left after one quick drink, grumbling about “a ridiculously early” trans-Atlantic flight the next day.

They felt the spark as their eyes met. Pupils dilated and hearts skipped beats. Their handshake lingered. Electricity filled the air. Then, as if everything had been written in the stars, it all clicked. She made it clear – as her lively but limited English yielded to his polished French – the attraction was mutual and her marital status was absolutely no impediment. They seduced each other.

With every encounter his desire became more feverish. The deeper he fell, the deeper he wanted to fall.


He called her Liz, an approximate shortening of her real name. His world became a sensual dream. Her husband was usually abroad or in Geneva’s Palais des Nations (at meetings/conferences/lunch). And even if Monsieur le secrétaire knew of his wife’s amorous adventures he wouldn’t have cared. Her role was to accompany him to public functions and make other men jealous. Her private life was her own business. The lovers exploited this to the hilt, and Cat was tempted to wonder if Eros himself had orchestrated this whole amatory whirlwind.

Liz became his everything. But she cautioned him at the start that she was not a free agent and they couldn’t meet every day. Domestic demands and the burden of being “married to the U.N.” constrained her time. Cat said, “D’accord,” swept some hairs from the sheets and resumed exploring her anatomy with his mouth.

They met every couple of days. Usually at his apartment, occasionally at hotels across the French border. She was a prodigy. Every impulse, every variation was to be explored and enjoyed. Catullus would have approved. The Consenting Adults Hall of Fame awaited them. Cat loved her. Cum passione.



The summer of 1989 was calm for Geneva’s newsmen, even though anti-communist protests behind the Iron Curtain threatened to transform European geopolitics. Luckily, most of Cat’s auto-pilot assignments gave him the freedom to explore Lizology and the delights of Lizvana and Lizmania.

Yet there were hiccups. In mid-July Liz mentioned her husband would visit “Malaysia or Manila, one of those countries” for ten days. Cat used this time to add some above-the-neck elements to their relationship. But the results were disappointing. Taking Liz to an exhibition of 15th-century Flemish art proved unwise. His choice of video (black-and-white, Marlon Brando) also flopped. She dozed off.

Even during this husband-free period, Liz was always too occupée to rendezvous on consecutive days. Busy with what? Cat asked his reflection in the mirror. But he accepted she needed her alone time, especially since their carnal activities remained blissful beyond compare. The only unsettling issue he could identify was their misaligned cultural tastes. Could this derail their relationship?

It could not, he concluded after a moment’s analysis. Classical wisdom confirmed this. Contrarii se attrahunt. Opposites attract.





From mid-August Liz had unavoidable commitments. She owed her mother in Orléans a couple of days, followed by an obligatory two-week vacation at Monsieur le secrétaire’s sprawling ancestral château near Bordeaux.

Cat now caught his breath, recharged his batteries and reconnected with friends. Soon after her departure he went to a hotel bar on Quai du Mont Blanc for beers with Yves Lambert, a Swiss journalist on a local newspaper. Their conversation inevitably turned to women.

“We thought you’d gone underground,” Yves joked. “Nobody’s seen you around in ages. So … who is she? Anybody I know?”

“Yves, you know me. All work and no play.” Cat nodded to the barman for two more Cardinals. “It’s all happening, isn’t it? Big rumblings in Eastern Europe. Old Pinkerton says there’ll be ‘Europe-wide repercussions’. Those East German protest marches are mushrooming. And the Hungarians have …”

“I know, I know. And I know you. So who is she, Cat? Anyone of my acquaintance?”

Prevarication with a fellow journalist was futile, so he told Yves about Liz. Keeping it general, he let his friend guess the graphic details. But when Cat mentioned her name, Yves almost spilled his beer.


The Venus who’s married to that pompous French fart at the Palais des Nations!” Yves paused. “So,” he continued, “you’re her latest.”

Her latest? What are you talking about?”

Yves paused again. “Seriously? Since the lady’s graced our fair city she’s seen more naked men than an army doctor. Seriously. There was a Swissair guy a couple of months back. And a tennis coach around then, or maybe before. A diplomat. Plus that Italian fencing team. Anyway, they’re the ones I’ve heard about. Recently.”

Cat stared at him, stupefied. Yves was on a roll: “I haven’t had that particular pleasure myself, you understand, but as I said, quite a few have. I mean, seriously, didn’t you know about her? Word gets around. And Geneva’s not that big. Seriously, Cat? This whole time you had no idea?”

Cat could only manage a half-whispered, “No.”

“I was joking about the Italian fencers, by the way. But seriously, I’m amazed you’ve been clueless about her this whole time.” Yves was un bon ami, but he wasn’t above twisting the knife. And Cat’s stunned expression was so unmissable the barman had trouble pretending not to notice.


Yves said Liz always refused exclusivity. She’d make that crystal clear from the start.

Yet for three months she’d never raised this subject with Cat. He’d always viewed their relationship as straightforward: two lusty creatures – one of whom was married to an indifferent cuckold – had fallen for each other in the most passionate way. Now this bombshell. Liz had other lovers while letting him think he was her exclusive one.

Well, he reflected, in a sense he was “one. Just one of several. Like Catullus with his Lesbia.

Liz told all her lovers that sexclusivity – he spontaneously coined the word – was not negotiable. So why had she completely avoided this subject with him for three months?





Back in his apartment Cat poured himself a cognac. Normally he’d feel tipsy, but Yves’s revelation was a sobering experience. He needed to order  his thoughts. His inner journalist made him write an auto-memo:

FACT: Liz = supremely passionate lover.

FACT: She’s had other men (rivals????) whole time!

FACT: Yves wouldn’t lie.

FACT: She’s never mentioned one word about others.

FACT: But insists we can’t meet every day. So has time – makes time – to meet others. Her claims of marital responsibilities &c = a ruse!

Question: Why didn’t I suss this? So obvious!!

Question: Maybe Liz never told me about others because I never asked. Was I expected to ask??

FACT: No!! Yves said she always refused sexclusivity. But this info’s WITHHELD!!

FACT: Ergo, this doesn’t apply to me!! So she never mentioned it.

FACTErgo, I’m in a completely different category from others. I = permanent lover. Permanent!!!!

Question: So why has she kept seeing those other men if she’s so committed to me??? Why this duplicity????? Why???????


Cat lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He rolled over and inhaled the intoxicating fragrance from Liz’s regular pillow. The night was still warm and he heard the distant hum of late-night traffic through the open window. His mind retreated.

Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle

Quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.

Dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,

In vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.

My love says she desires none but me,

And even Jove could never make her swear.

But what women tell their lovers, you’ll agree,

One writes on running water or on air.

Catullus LXX was the poet’s rueful admission to himself that dishonesty is embedded in the game of love. It was one of the many Catullian verses he’d memorized in both languages. But for him the crux was what Liz hadn’t said. That was what he had to untangle.

He got up and stood before the full-length mirror.

“When she gets back,” he told his reflection, “I’ll uncover the truth.”

And just as he’d imagined Catullus doing whenever his beloved Lesbia inflicted yet another wound, Cat drew himself up, clenched and unclenched his fists, and whispered over and over, Contine te ipsum! Contine te ipsum! 

Get a grip!




The days preceding Liz’s return passed in a ferment of impatience and apprehension. He was owed a two-week vacation starting August 26th. But preoccupied with his impending moment of truth with Liz, this completely slipped his mind. When the old, underworked secretary tapped the calendar as a caustic reminder, Cat requested an indefinite postponement. The resulting domino effect provoked mutterings. But by now he was beyond caring.


The day before Liz’s return, his boss, “Pinky” Pinkerton, invited him to lunch at a nearby bistro. “A wee chat” was in order, he said.

The Chief had the menu du jour. Cat hardly touched his chicken salad. The younger man, Pinkerton noted, did make more inroads into the rosé than was considered seemly with the sun barely over the yardarm. He made a mental note but no comment.

“When you started with us I was immediately impressed,” Pinkerton said after some chit-chat. “You displayed considerable aptitude. Sharp journalistic instincts. Your command of French was as advertised. And you knew how to use apostrophes! I took you for one of a dying breed, but …”

Cat felt a jolt. “Did you just say ‘one of a dying breed’?” he asked.

“I did,” his boss answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s just something from my schooldays. But I’m interrupting. You were saying …”

“Yes, you manifested some notable qualities, as I was saying. But chiefly, your reportage was concise. Most neophytes take ages to master concision, but you excelled in that regard.”

Right, Cat thought, he’s softened me up with praise. Here comes the punch.

“However, your work’s been deteriorating of late. May one ask the reason?” He eyed Cat’s almost empty wineglass. “Been burning the candle at both ends, have we?”

“Well,” Cat replied, swirling the remnants of his wine and wondering whether ordering another would be pushing it, “er …”

“That’s what it looks like to me,” Pinkerton continued, brushing breadcrumbs off the tablecloth. “You’re looking rather frazzled. Like someone with too much on his mind. If a chap keeps burning the candle at both ends like that he’s likely to … “

“Run out of candle?”

“I’m serious! Heed the advice of one who’s been down that road. Slow down, my boy. Keep your eye on the big picture.” He adjusted his spectacles. “I mean, if you play your cards right your career needn’t stay anchored in Geneva. No sir. There’s Brussels. There’s Strasbourg.”

Surmising this news was supposed to perk him up, Cat nodded vigorously.

The Chief leaned conspiratorially across the table. “Incidentally,” he said sotto voce, “accelerated promotion to Senior Correspondent is not entirely out of the question for someone of your ilk, entre nous. And, in the fullness of time, perhaps,” he now called for the bill, scuttling Cat’s hopes of more wine, “even Assistant Bureau Chief. The sky’s the limit!”

Pinkerton then threw concision to the winds and launched into a rambling story from a bygone decade about another up-and-coming newsman who’d parlayed his journalistic contacts into a string of lucrative business ventures. He intended this to illustrate how the sky could also be Cat’s limit. But his central point was lost in a maze of meandering details.


During the Chief’s reminiscences the younger man’s thoughts floated back to a game he’d played with Liz one June morning. When she nominated a part of her naked anatomy, he had to announce its Latin name and kiss it cum passione. Any hesitation or admission of ignorance incurred a “penalty”: Liz had to kiss cum passione whatever part of Cat’s body she chose.

As they began, he called the news agency from his bedside phone to report he’d be late. When the waspish secretary asked him why, he explained, Je suis actuellement engagé dans une activité de la plus haute importance,” and hung up before she could catch Liz’s tinkling laugh.

“Where were we?”

“My right shin!” Liz said.

“Tua tibia dextera” … (kiss).

“My left thigh!”

“Tuum sinistrum femur” … (kiss).

“Between my thighs!”

” ‘Between your thighs?”


“Inter femora” … (kiss).

Before Liz announced her next selection, Cat said, “Porro excelsiusque!”

She cocked an eyebrow. Her expression was half-knowing, half-questioning.

“Onward and upward!” he replied, and their game veered off on a tangent.

He smiled at the memory.

But Pinkerton’s discursive tale had just petered out, and he was annoyed to see it had elicited amusement rather than admiration.

“Did I just say something funny?” he asked. “Let me in on the joke, since it’s so amusing.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Really.”

“Well, it’s gratifying to observe how easily tickled you can be. But whilst I have your undivided attention, we’ve not yet resolved your holiday situation. You’re still owed a fortnight’s leave. What are your intentions in that regard?”

Cat scratched his chin and looked wistfully at his empty wineglass.

“Can I get back to you later about that?”

“Still undecided?” Pinkerton asked, pocketing the lunch receipt to claim on his expense account. “You could jolly well use a break, I’d say. And the sooner the better. All this Iron Curtain business notwithstanding. What do you say?”

“Well, it’s just that there’s a personal situation I need to sort out first.”



Liz returned on August 30th. She’d put on a little weight, as Cat instantly noted at their reunion. She phoned on August 31st. Not tonight, chéri. Pas d’énergie! No, not at his apartment. And not at a hotel. She suggested their rendezvous for the next morning and named a popular – and bustling – café. This was an unwelcome development. Liz breathlessly added she had some big news, but couldn’t talk now. À demain!


The next morning Cat hacked away at a dull feature article. But concentration eluded him. Accepting defeat, he left the office, telling the secretary he was heading out to follow up a lead.

Lead?” the crone replied. “Sherlock Holmes now, are you?”


He arrived at the café thirty minutes early and downed a double vodka to help him get a grip. Ignoring the censorious looks from the two Swiss matrons seated nearby – double vodka at 10:30 in the morning! – he took deep breaths. Calmness was required while he had it out with Liz. Then he’d learn where he – they – stood.

Her “big news” preoccupied him. Had Liz messed up her Pill schedule? If she had, he’d now play a new role in her life: not just her lover, but her child’s father, her partner in parenthood.

Unless the baby wasn’t his.

“Shit!” he groaned audibly in English. The Swiss matrons reacted accordingly.


Liz arrived twenty minutes late. She’d been busy and lost track of the time. Cat buried this ominous sign under the pleasing awareness that her (new?) summer dress flattered her hips and made her breasts look fuller. Was she pregnant? Or had the château‘s wine cellar and food been particularly tempting?

She ordered café Viennois, attentively mixing in three sugars. He chose mineral water, then opened the proceedings.

“Liz, it’s wonderful to see you again. You’re looking super. Super!”


He paused, expecting her to continue. But she eagerly drank her café Viennois.

“Really super. Anyway,” he continued, “there’s something on my mind that we need to discuss. It’s …”

“Attends!” she said. “You haven’t heard my big news.”

“But we really …”

“We’re leaving at the end of September. They approved Jean-Baptiste’s transfer. Vienna! Can you imagine? The Industrial Development Agency. It’s all so sudden! They only just confirmed it.” She frowned. “Punaise! They speak German there. Anyway, we’ll have to rush with all the packing and arranging all  … Chéri, what’s wrong? You look ill.”

He hadn’t eaten in twenty hours. He was still keyed up, despite the vodka currently churning in his bowels. And now this punch to the solar plexus. All thoughts of a heart-to-heart with Liz evaporated. Anyway, this café was no place for that.

Yet Cat’s indisposition had an unforeseen benefit. Liz’s concern for his health made her take him straight back to his apartment.


After Liz’s thunderbolt he saw no point in confronting her about her duplicity. What good would it do?

She wiped the sweat from his face and neck and unbuttoned his shirt. Her sincere concern and gentle solicitude were meant to soothe him. Instead, they aroused him.

“Liz, I love you. More than life itself. I’ve told you countless times.”

“I know.”

“And it’s not just bedroom love. I love you more than life itself!”

“I know.”

“So how can you leave, just like that? Like my love means nothing? Our love?”

Chéri, you know I’m married. You’ve always known.”

“Of course. But all we’ve meant to each other, Liz … how can you just end it so casually?”

“It’s not casual. It’s … We …  Did you think we could just continue like this forever?

Add a sexclusivity clause and Cat would have absolutely no objection.

He snapped out of it: “Stay! Stay with me. Be my love.”

She sat quietly. Her thoughts were tangled.

“Liz, I love you more than life itself!”

A silence descended. Time slowed to a crawl. She looked up.

A solitary teardrop rolled down her cheek.

“Will you stay, mon amour? Ma vie? Stay with me?”

She appeared not to hear. But then she stood up and kissed him. Her tongue tasted of sweet coffee.

“I cannot,” she whispered. “I cannot.”

He wiped her tear with his hand. The teardrop trickled down his index finger and he put it to his mouth. She kissed him again. Then she undressed him. Then he undressed her.


Afterwards, she lay her head on his heaving chest. “The transfer’s in one month, Cat,” she murmured.

She stretched and yawned. “Et puis Vienne.”

“And then Vienna” robbed Cat of the power of speech. Was she speaking of the future to push him into the past?

Liz reached across his bare torso for a cigarette. She sat up, lit it, faced him and blew smoke at the ceiling.

“Anyway,” she said, “Vienna’s only a 90-minute flight.”





Through September they met whenever her race against the calendar would allow.

Even at her most suggestible times – during a post-coital smoke and after a shower – Liz resisted his appeals with poise. But as Vienna Day loomed her irritability surged. The pressures were piling up. She’d lost track of this, miscalculated that. Monsieur le secrétaire‘s constant shuttling between Vienna and Geneva complicated things. She had trouble deciding what to keep and discard. She suspected the servants were pilfering.

Cat resigned himself to becoming her long-distance lover.


Three evenings before the move she arrived at his apartment feeling testy. Always particular about her hair and make up, she looked – by her usual standards – unkempt.

Her complaints about the tiresome bureaucracy involved in this routine move to a nearby country had themselves become tiresome. But Cat always let her vent. Now she returned to that theme. Tonight, though, his concerns were more immediate. He started massaging her shoulders, pressing his thumbs on the back of her neck the way she liked. He whispered, “I can help you forget all that.”

Liz angrily shook him off. “Are you deaf? You don’t get it, do you? I’m not in the mood! Je suis fatiguée!”

“Liz, I only meant …”

“I know what you meant! It’s all you ever mean.”

“What? What are you saying?”

She let fly with a string of condemnations. He didn’t really love her. He just used her body. He ignored her feelings. He didn’t even notice how tired and tense she was. She shouldn’t have come over that evening. At least her husband respected her in his own way. Visiting him that evening was a mistake. This whole thing’s a mistake. She didn’t even know why she was here. Leave me alone. Don’t touch me! I said don’t touch me! I’m going home! Don’t call me!


Of course Cat called her, more often than was prudent. Liz told the servants to hang up on him at once.

September 29, 1989 – Vienna Day – came and went with no word from Liz. No au revoir, chéri!  Merely silence.


Cat was so drunk that night he called three wrong numbers before he reached Yves. He rushed to Cat’s apartment. The door was unlocked. The shambles and his friend’s disordered condition reminded Yves of the opening few minutes of Apocalypse Now.

Mon Dieu, Cat!”

“Huh? Who’s that?”

“Yves! You just called me, remember? Mon Dieu! Where are your clothes?”

He dragged Cat into the shower, turning it on full blast. He found some clothes. Going far beyond the normal requirements of friendship he dried Cat off and somehow got him dressed. Next, Yves made coffee. He tripped over various bottles searching the kitchen in vain for something edible. Then he made him drink water, coffee, and more water.

“Have you eaten today?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.” Then Cat keeled over as he vomited the water, coffee and a range of unidentifiable fluids. Yves caught him before his head hit the floor. He made Cat lie on his side and called an ambulance.




The hospital pumped out his stomach. The next day Yves called Cat’s office to report Robert Maddox was sick and couldn’t make it. With obvious annoyance the secretary said, “Is this notification necessary, monsieur? Maddox is currently en vacances and isn’t due back until …”. He heard her shuffle some papers  “… I have the exact date here somewhere …” Yves mumbled a vague apology, adding he must have misread the calendar. He hung up, thinking, That old cow probably thinks I’m Cat’s boyfriend.

In the jingle-jangle morning Cat went straight home and slept. As usual he pulled Liz’s regular pillow to his face and breathed her in. Yves called him late that afternoon from his office to urge a meeting. No alcohol, Yves warned. You need food. You must eat. Then you can explain why you seem to be so intent on killing yourself centimètre par centimètre.

They met at Yves’s apartment, where he made Cat eat two hefty slices of pizza. Then Cat’s floodgates opened.


He divulged everything. He recounted how Yves’s revelation in the hotel bar that August night was like a dagger in the chest. Yves was tempted to ask forgiveness for revealing the truth so callously. But then he suspected Cat would’ve eventually heard about Liz’s ways somewhere else, and probably in cruder terms.

Cat described how his beloved’s infidelities tore him apart. He recounted how her blithe  announcement she was leaving had shaken him to the core. He chronicled his efforts to convince her to divorce and stay with him. Despite his undying love she was immovable.

He loved her more than life itself, but she was immovable.

And now, he concluded, she’d left without a single word of farewell. And he was stuck in Geneva drinking himself into oblivion like an idiot.

He knew now what he must do.

“Okay,” Yves replied. “She tore you apart. Okay. But now you can move on, right? Seriously. Liz never called you back, right? And she refused all your calls. She’s gone, Cat. Gone for good. Her choice. She had her chances, lots of chances, but she’s moved on. Moved on. What I’m saying makes sense, right?”

Cat looked away and said, “Hmmm. Everything you say is logical …”

“I’m glad you’re finally wising up. You said you know what you must do. What’s that English expression? Grip on it?

Cat’s half-smile was ironic. “Get a grip.”

“Get a grip. C’est ça.”

Contine te ipsum!”


“Never mind.” Staring out the window, Cat thought about how Liz was both his disease and the cure. Then he noticed a Renault parked under a streetlamp. It was the same shade of red as Liz’s bra the night they first met.

“So,” said Yves, “that’s that then. Leave all this behind and move on.”

Cat stared at the Renault.

Yves now thought it advisable to lighten the mood. He said, “You know, Cat, I say this with a perfect record as a straight male, but you’re a good looking guy. Ha ha. So what are you waiting for? All those great women out there! Seriously. I’ve seen you in action. So forget about Liz. Find someone new. Right?”


“So you’re going to get a grip, right? You absolutely know what you have to do, then, right?”

“Right,” Cat said. He stood erect. “I know what I have to do. I’m quitting my job and moving to Vienna.”  




Storms delayed Cat’s flight then diverted it to Milan. But winds kept the plane idling on Milan’s runway. A thunderstorm brewed, electrifying the air. The plane took off while it still could, bucking and jolting, pitching and rolling throughout its ascent. Behind him a baby howled like its lungs would burst.

He knew this pursuit of Liz was the biggest gamble of his young life. When he’d requested their Viennese home phone number and address, the U.N. politely but firmly reminded him that its privacy rules forbade such disclosures. His personal contacts at the Palais des Nations couldn’t or wouldn’t help him.

It suddenly dawned on him he should have bribed somebody. Would bribery work in squeaky-clean Switzerland? Unlikely. It might in Vienna, you never know. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.


The plane pitched violently as the chief flight attendant reminded everyone yet again to ensure their seat belts were secure-aaaaaah!-ly fastened.

Cat ignored the brutal turbulence. His mind was on his final conversation back in Yves’s apartment.

“I have to find her,” he’d said after his shock announcement. “I have to see if there’s any chance for us. I can’t stay in this darkness.”

Yves sat him down.

“Listen,” Yves said, “her attitude’s been totally consistent, right? You’re sabotaging your career for nothing more than a minuscule chance with this woman. And what will Liz do when you turn up? You see this as un geste magnifique, but I seriously doubt she will. She might even call the cops!”

“No she wouldn’t! Liz …”

“You’ll be throwing away everything you’ve achieved.” (Not entirely true, he knew, but he was low on ammunition.) “And … think about your parents.”

“My parents?”

Such pale arguments were futile against such intransigence. Cat’s parents? Seriously? Now all Yves could say was: “Get a grip while you still can, Cat. While you’re able. C’est tout.

But Cat was long past getting a grip. Reason, he’d decided early in life, had no place in affairs of the heart. As a virginal teenager he’d promised himself that when he loved he would love with fierce intensity. He’d have his Lesbia, and he’d love her more than life itself.


Yves decided switching to English might give his arguments more impact. He demanded, “Are you sure you love Liz? Are you?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Aren’t you really just in love with being in love?”

“Yves, spare me this cheap psychoanalysis. You can’t understand this darkness.”

“Listen! You’re sacrificing everything for someone who’s finished with you. That’s madness!”

“No,” Cat said. “That’s not madness. That’s love.”

Yves changed tack: “Has Liz ever told you she loved you?”

Cat remained silent. That red car held his gaze.

Has she?”

Cat sat upright. “What can I say?” he replied. “She’s my destiny.”

Then he joined his palms between his thighs, rocked back and forth in his armchair and said, “I have to seek my destiny.”


And two days later here he was, bouncing through thunderbolts over the Italian Alps. Seeking his destiny.

Since adolescence Cat habitually withdrew into the Latin language to relieve stress. Once, on a ferry to his annual French-immersion summer camp in Calais, a storm rolled in. He got seasick and calmed himself by retreating into his pet Latin proverbs, reciting them in alphabetical order. This was such a time.

His turbulent emotions on this turbulent flight, the howling infant and every cascading vision of Liz drove his mind into retreat. I have to seek my destiny. In Latin.

I have to seek my destiny. He sifted through the possible translations. But he only got as far as fatum meum. In swirling clouds full of savage gusts and lightning the plane smashed into a mountain. It became a fireball, killing everyone.

In the final milliseconds before his brain shut down forever Cat’s thoughts were about how Liz’s teardrop tasted so much like her sweat and about the casually erotic way she held her cigarette and about the tiny scar on the fourth toe of her right foot.





Allô, Cat! Happy New Year! Comment vas-tu, chéri?

Liz planned to start The Phone Call thus. “Chéri” would be risky after her three-month silence. But it would demonstrate she still had feelings for him. Would Cat reciprocate? Or was he too embittered to respond? If only she knew.


Her cheerless life in Vienna – the isolation and solitude, the bewildering language – forced nostalgia upon her. While other men’s memories disappeared like smoke, only Cat’s image endured. He commandeered her reminiscences, invaded her sleep. Vienna’s decadent pastries could only temporarily deflect her thoughts from the only man in her life whose “je t’aime” sprang from undying devotion.

Projecting her domestic frustrations onto him was unfair. Slamming the door on him was wrong. Emboldened by wine, she’d sometimes dial his number. But burdened by guilt, her stomach in knots, fearing rejection, unsure of what to say, unsure she even had the right to say anything, she’d never reach the last digit.

Then, during yet another impenetrable German lesson, an idea was born. She’d seek professional advice.


The psychic’s receptionist squeezed her in on December 5th, instructing her to bring a personal possession or at least a photo of the individual she wished Madame Claire to read. But Liz had nothing. She’d torn up her only photo of Cat that ugly night. On the Paris-bound plane she sought to offset this lack by focusing her psychic energies on Cat.

Under the reception area’s CASH ONLY (IN ADVANCE) sign, Liz completed the mandatory questionnaire. Entering the consultation room, she noticed Madame Claire’s sunglasses (“to block psychic interferences, Madame”).

Madame Claire’s trained eye scanned her client: 30-ish, well groomed, designer handbag, big-budget wedding ring. Older husband deficiencies. Or problems with a lover her own age.  She suspected the latter.

L: Madame, my situation concerns an affair of the heart. It is of a particularly delicate nature.

P: Such is generally the case, Madame. Rest assured, confidentialité totale is guaranteed. Your beloved is not your husband.

L: How did you … ?

P: Come, Madame, we are not children. And I am Madame Claire. Now, have you brought his possession? Or a photograph?

L: I’m afraid not. You see, I was angry after we argued, and I …

P: That is not uncommon. This must therefore be a less-than-definitive reading. “Cold” readings are tricky, Madame. Anyway …

(After some incisive – but cunningly disguised – questions concerning the gentleman):

… Now, concentrate on your beloved. Remember him. Remember his voice. His touch. Concentrate, Madame. Give me your hands while I absorb the psychic vibrations.

(Deciding on a cliché-laden divination, foregrounding cold readings’ notorious ambiguity):

P: You may remove your hands, Madame. I regret your vibrations – for reasons which must be obvious – were less clear than one would wish.

L: But you detected something?

P: Despite the feeble vibrations, oui.

L: Then there’s still hope, Madame?

P: Listen! Your beloved dwells in darkness. Darkness! I cannot say why. The vibrations were faint. Therefore you must act, Madame. During this estrangement you must take the initiative. Make the first move!

L: “Dwells in darkness”?

P: Cold readings produce few details, Madame. I repeat: you must take the initiative. Contact him! But timing is crucial. Apply your knowledge and experience. Select the optimum time with the utmost care!

I can say no more, Madame.


Back in Vienna, Liz’s knowledge and experience directed her to January 3rd’s auspicious Mercury-Jupiter conjunction and waxing moon. And New Year – the time of renewal – would be a natural opportunity to rekindle amour with displays of heartfelt warmth.


To help while away the dreary days until The Call she compiled La Liste:


(1) Says I’m The Cat Magnet.

(2) Is a Gemini.

(3) Says he’ll love me forever!!!!!!

(4) Likes to get up early.

(5) Watches me when he thinks I’m asleep.

(6) Says I’m a human aphrodisiac!!!

(7) Scratches his chin when he concentrates.

(8) Never snores.

(9) Has magic fingers!!!

(10) Sometimes has a dreamy look in his eyes.


January 3rd, 1990 crawled in. During that cold, restless pre-dawn she listened to her Walkman, augmenting La Liste:

… (58) Likes R & B.

(59) Says he’d like to teach me backgammon.

(60) Says left-handers (like him!) lead shorter lives.

After Monsieur le secrétaire left for yet another ridiculously early flight, Liz read French magazines. When she intuited the moment was optimum she made The Call. But no one answered. She tried again. Nothing. Was Cat away? Had he changed addresses? Or left Geneva? 

Luckily, she’d neglected to erase Cat’s office phone number from her address book because it was under A for agence de presse. Her hand trembled slightly. A young woman answered.

L:  … Lisette Muillac-d’Aurignol. I’m trying to reach Robert Maddox. He’s still working there?

S: Excusez-moi, Madame … you said ‘Robert Maddox’?

L: Oui, your “star” journalist!

S: Er … Madame … Er … Robert Maddox is deceased  …  Allô?   Allô? … Would you like the Bureau Chief to call …  Allô?

L: I … we … I mean … Deceased? How?

S: It was before my time, Madame. I only started here in November. An aircraft accident, they said. In early October. Shall I ask Monsieur Pinkerton to call you back as soon …

L: Was Cat flying to England?

S: “Cat?”

L: Robert! Where was he flying to?

S: Oh … er … V? It started with V.

L: V?!

S: Oui … er … Venice, maybe? No! Vienna! Oui. Vienna. Shall I ask the Bureau Chief to …

L: Vienna?!

S: Oui, Madame. They said he was en vacances. That’s all I … Allô? … Allô?


Autumn 1991: Lisette was living quietly with her mother in Orléans. An annuity from her late husband meant she didn’t have to work – merci! – but Business Class and servants became out of reach. She spent endless hours with lawyers, wrestling with litigation from a recently divorced illegitimate stepdaughter her own age – whom she’d never met – demanding half of cher papa’s assets.

Lisette learned backgammon, displaying a surprising – to herself above all – aptitude. She doted on Robertus, her British Shorthair cat. She kept up La Liste, although the entries dwindled:

… (74) Preferred black socks …

… (78) Got his cleverest ideas while shaving.

(79) Claimed he’d make a good detective.


The lawsuit grudgingly settled to her advantage, 1995 found Lisette living in Brussels with her Belgian fiancé, a radio journalist. He didn’t inspire passion, and theirs wasn’t a love for the ages, but their partnership was stable. At this point in her life, stable was good.

His feline-fur-allergy meant Robertus stayed in Orléans, along with La Liste.

Before setting the wedding date, Lisette consulted Madame Claire, who’d so miraculously sensed Cat was dwelling in darkness. It was just that his darkness was permanent.

“Your intended works in broadcasting, Madame?” the psychic asked after some expertly camouflaged questioning.

Oui!” Lisette replied, again hugely impressed. “And here’s his t-shirt. It’s unwashed, Madame.”


The psychic’s divination approved the wedding. “Fortune smiles on you, Madame,” she declared. “You are indeed a survivor. You always land on your feet. Like a cat.”

She noted Lisette’s ironic smile.

“I said something drôle, Madame?”

“Oh,” Lisette said. “It’s nothing. Really.”


Cat continued to pop into Lisette’s mind. But as year followed year the pops became more sporadic. The details grew dim.

One night when Radioman was away on assignment, her drowsy thoughts drifted back to Geneva ’89. When she awoke she had to accept that the face and the voice and the touch of the man who drank her teardrop and who died for loving her had become a mist.

This troubled Lisette.

Then it troubled her that it hadn’t troubled her more.











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The Do’s and the Do-Not-Do’s of time travel for profit.


Who woulda thought time travel was so difficult?



WARNING!: This infos exclusively for the use of applicandid8s to the International Chrononautics Academy (I.C.A.)® Class of the year 2118 (twenty-one 8een). Anydude applying to the academy must read & confirm this info before proceeding. Non-applicandid8s wanting to find more info about the application process, plz see ΔθICAappcaninfo/ΩuΩ/ΞπmhjoakolchprzΣ/Σ2117+1 for more info.



Image result for the year 2118
Thats us now lol


So you want to travel thru time. Thats awesome! Your now applying to Chrononaut (chrono: time, naut: voyager) School. A chrononauts lifes demanding to the max & requires like total dedication. But the fact that your applying shows that your a adventurous indiv & we like that.

Everydude hoping to earn the chrononauts logo must pass a one (1)-year basic course before starting advanced training & being assigned to their first (1st) time travel mission. Every candid8 must pass each of:



CHRONONAUTICAL THEORY (basic understanding of Jani-Khartunian equations & Menshchikova Conjecture)






other subjects as required as case-by-case.

The whole aim of the course is to like make sure of three (3) things:

(a): you get back from your time travel missions safe & sound &

(2) (two): the info you bring backs marketable so it wasnt all a waste of everydudes time lol &

(c): you do nothing that could like change the course of history & so change the future.

Thats our future your changing lol!

I.C.A.® is internationally funded & the info & images you bring back to our century we sell to universities & institutions & the telenetworks thru our parent-org International Chrononautics Research Initiative (I.C.R.I.)® based in Trondheim since 2090 (twenty ninety) plus Punta Arenas since 2093 (twenty ninety-three) plus Prince Rupert since 2099 (twenty ninety-nine).

What you bring back from your time travel missions pays the bills & keeps our shareholders happy ♥. & it pays your salary lol.

Before we describe the training, plz remember that any talk you maybe heard that time travel into the future is now possible is dead wrong. FACT. Despite of all efforts, nodude has found any loopholes in the Jani-Khartunian equations. So its impossible to travel into the future, only the past. FACT.

Now, all about your training:

Itll take like two (2) years. The first (1st) years to qualify as a chrononaut. After that everydude must take another year to like train for their assigned mission. Why so long? Everything must be prepared right for your survival & safe return to the here & now, which for you will be the here & future, like 2119 (twenty-one nineteen) @ least lol.

Your mission can take a few days & or a few weeks. I.C.R.I.® decides all the variables depending on the danger level of each mission as case by case. Deep penetration time travels always shorter because of the higher danger. @ the moment deep-pen missions go back more than 7,000 (seven thousand) years, but this figures now like under review.

Now, your training breaks down like this:

PHYS TRAINING: Youll get all about how to withstand primitive conditions & the time travels hardships. Your pushing your body thru the time barrier & the Jani-Khartunian waves arent good for you, so theres lots of phys stress. Your training will like minimize the health probs of time travel.



Image result for time machine pictures
These waves arent cool


Note: Youll require inoculations against diseases common in the primitive times like small pox & hep. This is for your safety & the safety of everydude in the here & now & in the future to come. No exceptions. Sorry, but no confirmation from you = no place in the academy. FACT.

You must also delete any & all tats, m-plants, toos, sex-plants, com-plants & any & all bodymods which people in the past didnt have. Thisll prevent you looking like some dude from their future which we definitely dont want lol.  No exceptions. No confirmation from you about this rule = no place for you in the academy. FACT.

You must also confirm youll strictly avoid all 22nd (twenty-second)-century food, drinks, halants & anything whichll alter &/or affect how you smell. Dudes in the past didnt eat what we eat & drink what we drink & they didnt have halants so if your going to blend in youll have to like take about one (1) year to clean up. This is specially important if you encounter dogs in your missions. No exceptions. No confirmation from you = your like out of the program. FACT.

If you are male youll have to confirm to have a temporary reproductive sterilization procedure (Terestepro) before each mission. Its like totally reversible so dont worry lol. But we dont want you to leave any little 9 (nine)-month time bombs back in the past lol. No exceptions. Failure to confirm means exclusion from the mission & possible exclusion from the Chrononaut Corps®. FACT.

FIRST AID: We take every precaution & make every effort to like make your arrival in the past & your return to our century as safe as poss. But nodude can anticip8 every single variable. Theres always a little possibility you might like materialize a couple of meters up in the air & fall to the ground. Or maybe even under water. One (1) member of a mission to the 17th (seventeenth) century materialized @ the bottom of a well. A well is like a deep & narrow pit for storing water. She got out OK but was injured bad & I.C.R.I.® pressed ABORT.


Image result for old well
Well well lol


Note: 22nd (twenty-second)-century med equipment & pharmas & so on cant be used in time travel missions, right?. This is why youll get all about first (1st) aid the old fashioned way lol. Its hard but youll get it anyway so dont worry lol.

Note: When you return from a mission you must pass thru like a quarantine period post-debriefing & before your release. This is for easy-to-understand reasons. The quarantine period depends on many many factors as case by case.

CHRONONAUTICAL THEORY: Youve all read time travel fiction from the old days like Thus We Frustr8 Charlemagne & also Making History & of course that classic from 2090 (twenty ninety) Our Past Lies Before Us & so on. In this course youll get why this is so important to the max. Its important for the present as well as the past.

The Jani-Khartunian equations are the basis of time travel. But you dont have to master them, only get a basic grip so dont worry lol. But its important that you understand the possible paradoxes & snakelines involving time travel. Your life & the f8 of our century depend on this. FACT!

Just fyi, there was a mission back to the early 21st (twenty-first) century to what was then called the United St8s of America. One (1) mission member was about like one (1) cm away from by accident preventing the assassination of President Gore. It was only just nothing but dumb luck that stopped her by accident preventing that assassination & changing history like forever. Since that mission all the controls are now more strict. FACT!



Image result for IMAGES OF AL GORE CA 200
They ALMOST prevented his assassination! 


This has to be one (1) of the important to the max parts of your training. You must never forget that even a action thats really trivial can somehow have like a big effect & change the future without anydude realizing it. Imagine if President Gore didnt get assassin8d. Then history wouldve changed to the max & we wouldnt even realize it!

Note: The Menshchikova Conjecture! Its still a important subject in your training even if not every scientist is on board with it. Remember, the first (1st) candid8 or chrononaut to prove Menshchikova rightll win 100,000,000 (one hundred million) New Kronor from I.C.R.I.® & get lifelong membership & a academy vice professorship.

ESCAPE PROCEDURES: If a mission goes wrong like real wrong & it could like affect history & change the future or if a mission member is like in great danger then the mission must ABORT & thats that. Your trainingll prepare you as much as poss. Dont forget this!

Note: Plz keep in mind that youll have to confirm a injury &/or death waiver before every mission. Forget about accident or death insurance as far as time travel. No insurer @ all wants to touch it. FACT! Thats one (1) of the reasons why chrononauts are heroes.

INFO GATHERING & STORAGE:Whats the point of a mission if you like come back to our time & you have zero (0) to show us & no info for I.C.R.I.® to put on the open market? A picture (2D or 3D) or even a nanopic is worth a thousand (1,000) words, they say. In your training youll get all about the best ways to observe, record & store info. It must be safe @ all times! Dont let it fall into like the wrong hands! That would be a disaster. FACT.

Note: Anydude bringing back any items which can be marketable antiques in our century will def be arrested & do hard time in a max correcto facil. FACT. So dont try & mess with market forces. Dont even think about this!

LANGUAGE(S): Way way back they spoke funny & some didnt even speak English as good as us or even @ all. So if your going to like blend in youll have to get their language(s). The Dextratek ΘB® is your friend to the max as far as language learning. Youll get the basics & then make it all better to the max with Holoprax® & so on. So dont worry.

Note: Many deep penetration missions may need no language training @ all. This is because we dont even know their languages lol. So no worries there. They wont understand you & you wont understand them but its all good.

ANTHROPODYNAMICS: Way way back there werent like 19,000,000,000 (nineteen billion) people alive. & there were no big Hot Zones & Nuke Zones here & there like now. So when you go way way back youll see they had unbelievable to the max personal space & youll also see some societies were like only 40 (forty) or 50 (fifty) indivs. Thats right: only 40 (forty) or fifty (50). Hard to believe isnt it lol?

So these are like quick-in-quick-out missions because you cant hide in a crowd when theres no crowd lol. Youll have to quickly understand each societys three (3) main elements, like:

(a) Whos in charge? &

(2) Whats everydudes sexual orientation? &

(C) Whats their economy? Thats right: even tiny little tribes had a economy. Youll get all about this l8er in the training training so dont worry.

SURVIVAL TECHNIQUES: Survival techniques will help you get all you need to know about survival when your way way back & the foods strange & every drinks a weird one (1) & the primitives all look @ you funny & you have important jobs to do but theres not much time & dangers all around because these dudes totally dont trust strangers like you. What kind of danger?  The prims were violent & emotional. Not like us lol. But its important to the max that as a chrononaut you keep your focus on the mission & use all the training the academy gives you. So pay attention. The life you save will be yours!

Also you must get all about how to function in the past like you totally know what your doing just like you were born there lol. That means for example you may have to get how to like ride a horse like youve seen them do in old 2DVs from like 100 (one hundred) or 150 (one hundred fifty) years ago. (Note: Training for this will be in the Patagonian Republic or the Trans-Asia Republic, as case by case.)

Or you may have to get how to use cash (money made of like metal or plastic or paper) & so on & so on. One (1) other thing: avoiding trouble is important to the max. Like you have to know who you can m8 & who you cant m8. This is all like part of what you have to get so when your on a mission you can blend in & avoid trouble that might be bad for your health lol.

REMEMBER: Leave nothing behind except footprints & bring nothing back except what the academic marketplace & the telenetworks want to buy.







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What if NASA got the flick back in the late 1950’s and the Mafia ran the space race?


If the Mafia had been tasked with the running of the United States manned space program right from the get go, things would – surprise surprise – have turned out rather differently.

But firstly, why would Uncle Sam entrust this huge project to the Mob? What’s wrong with taking the traditional route of creating another bloated government agency, namely NASA?

For one thing, viewing the Mafia as merely an Italian fraternal organization involved in the financial services sector would be wrong. Dead wrong. By the 1950’s it was already a multinational organization known for its exceptional competence (occasional internecine massacres notwithstanding). Only la Cosa Nostra could match the Soviet Union at achieving results by the application of breathtakingly brutal efficiency. Plus it controlled some key unions.

The Mob had all the prerequisites for winning the space race faster and cheaper. The potential profit from a government contract of this magnitude would have been enough to make every mafioso salivate uncontrollably. And it would all be legit. Legit! So why didn’t they pursue this chance with their customary single mindedness? Why didn’t the Mafia make President Eisenhower an offer he couldn’t understand, followed by an offer he couldn’t refuse?

Maybe it was distracted by the ongoing threat of losing its golden goose – Havana – to that lousy commie punk, that stinkin’ hairy Castro son of a bitch. Or maybe the Mob’s Vegas operations – also legit, come to think of it – were already enough of a handful.

Of course, only a dreamer would believe that a Mob-managed space program would be totally smooth sailing. There were bound to be hiccups along the way. Like the occasional rocket exploding on the launchpad. How to deal with that? The simplest solution: get to every eyewitness and stuff a hundred dollar bill – a 1960 hundred dollar bill, remember – in their pocket. Then you can be sure of collective amnesia.


Image result for rocket exploding on launch pad
Nobody saw nothin’!


The Russian space program had its setbacks too, so on balance it would be entirely reasonable to expect that a Mafia-controlled U.S. manned space program would have beaten the Sovietskis. Therefore the first man in space would have been an American. Someone the Mob’s senior management felt comfortable with. Somebody they could relate to. A paesano, who else? Frank Sinatra springs to mind. And Ol’ Blue Eyes – a tuxedo under his spacesuit – would also have been the first man to drink a martini and smoke a Camel in space.

But it wouldn’t have stopped there. In the early days the Kennedy Administration made a public vow to land astronauts on the moon. President Kennedy set the deadline for 1970. With the Mob at the helm America would certainly have beaten NASA’s July 1969 moon landing, the one we all know about from the Discovery Channel. Beaten it by months, maybe even years.

And the first men to leave their footprints in the moon dust would not have been Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. No. They would’ve been two guys named Joe and Carmine. (Just Joe and Carmine. Their last names are nobody’s business.)

What about a casino in space by 1985? Why not?  Such an enticing idea. No taxes, no cops, no Nevada Gaming Commission. Ladies and gentlemen! All the way from Earth – boom boom – the Astro Lounge is pleased to present … Mr. … Rodney … Dangerfield!


Image result for lunar landscape pictures

                                        The poifect spot for a nightclub


So Sinatra in space, Rodney Dangerfield doing his “I-don’t-get-no-respect” shtick in orbit, and Joe and Carmine making history on the moon. What, we might ask ourselves, would the memorial plaque they left on the lunar surface have said? NASA’s wishy washy message was WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. Joe and Carmine’s plaque would have said something like NOBODY FUCKS WITH NICK LAZARINO.