MASCULINE PLURAL

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

 

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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 any 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. The word turmoil was overused back then too. But already I digress.

Turmoil on the global markets, the journobot said. Ongoing turmoil in the World Fed General Assembly. Increased turmoil in the Caucasus. More refugees fleeing what’s left of Japan after the l8est volcanoes and earthquakes. More bits of Asia-Pacifica sinking into the sea.

So business as usual.

8V was already up and about. She was my lover. Her real name was Octaviana Threadgill-Rios, but I always called her 8V. You know, Oct = 8 and all that. She didn’t seem to mind

Over breakfast I mentioned her upcoming birthday. Would she like me to fess what kind of gift I was planning? Or would she prefer a total surprise?

“No,” 8V 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 for the night. What a perfect arrangement. You could …”

“No, I’m serious,” she said with unusual force. “I really want another you. A corp in Kandy has this 24-hour FCC service. Not too expensive either, if you spread the payments over a 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 way 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 a 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? With us?”

“Only for a year, like I said.”

“But … but … here, 8V. Right here in our own hab? And in our futon?”

“That’s the idea, oui. And it’s just for a year, like I said. Not forever. Anyway, I have to sprint or I’ll miss my subshuttle. We’ll talk about it tonight. Let’s open that bottle of Swedish Chardonnay and parler some more. Bise bise!

So that’s how it started.

Let me tell you about 8V.  If the custom of burying people in coffins still existed, hers would have to be Y-shaped. She has a take-no-prisoners attitude to the m8ing game, like some medieval pope’s mistress. When she finally became my lover and shared my hab I already knew that only-you-sex would not be a part of her kick. 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? I mean, the clone would be you, right?” She’d stopped off at the gen-mod salon on the way home and her irises were purple that night. She knew about me and 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 like un compliment!”

“But,” I said, “you’d get 2ce as much of ‘me’ but I’d only get ½ as much of you!” This 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.” 8V toyed with the stem of her wineglass with a vague sexual spin. “Actually, I should fess up. 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 little like you, you know. Mais, I prefer my Zander. So now 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 that Conrad Polyakov-Huang was sniffing around. 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 8V 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 on pronomial transformations in some dead or as-good-as-dead Himalayan dialects. Maybe only 20 or 30 people in the world would ever want to read it. 20 or 30 out of 15 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 paid 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 about life in our early 22nd century.

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 eventually be mine. Or be ours if 8V 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). The population was a lot less than now, of course. Hence his usual rant about how there were waaaay too many people (but he was anti compulsory defunctioning for the over-100’s) and how this old world was on its last legs and how everybody now is stupid and shallow and we’re all greedbots and how the weather was crazier than ever.

I let him vent. Then I cut to the link:

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

“Why on earth Sri Lanka? 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, 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 all to herself. You understand what that means?”

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

“Ha! That Octaviana. She really loves to do the juicy, am I right? I haven’t met her, have I? What about those others? With the cheek bones?”

“That Sybil Zirakashvili-Romanescu, you mean? Or that Fabia Terreblanche-Miyamoto? Don’t you remember, Unc? They’re long gone. But what about Sri Lanka, Unc? I’ve already said yes and we leave soon. Is this a huge 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 anti it. Anyway, it’s illegal.”

“Not in Sri Lanka, Unc. And not if the clone’s only temporary. Ours will be kaput after a year. That’s the main selling point. It lives 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 …”

“No, Unc” I said. “Not in the futon at the same time. I’m adamant about that.”

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 anti that particular speech-habit. He went quiet for a moment and then re-activ8ed the windows and looked out. Maybe watching the mess outside gave him comfort, as if the exterior chaos confirmed the orderliness of his own life.

“Well,” he said, “this whole thing’s going to be messy. Ay real mess. I feel it in my 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 365 days to live?” old Cody asked.

“No,” I replied. “If it knew 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. When can I meet her?”

“True. Some woman. We’ll drop by for ginger tea when we’re back from Kandy. But just 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 running around in public simultaneously, right?”

“True. True.” A brief silence followed.

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

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

“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. Then he slapped his thighs.

“Well, here’s what I think. You should go ahead with it. Maybe I’m stupid and shallow like 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 w8, I’m not finished yet. With that clone there’s ay simple way you can cut the stress and the expense, you know.”

“How, Unc? Keep it ½-starved and sed8d?”

 

 

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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 our family knew he was a dirty cop.

We’ll never get the whole story. But while he worked in homicide 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. 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. Listen now. The clone’s definitely going to complic8 your life, but it’s a necessary complication if you’re going keep your Octaviana.”

“True. But Unc, I’ve been meaning to tell you: in our hab I always call her 8V.”

“I … er … Really? Remind me to ask you why sometime. Now, what was I saying?”

“A necessary complication.”

“True. When you get cloned you’re supposed to live with that Alexander Unger-Avakian #2 for a whole year. But why do you have to wait that long? After all, unforeseen developments are bound to happen, right? Untimely deaths happen all the time.”

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

Old Cody cocked his head and said, “Zander, I know some 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 owe me for past … assistance.”

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 ½-smiled, as if remembering a secret pleasure. “I mean, these indivs can make a death look like ay tragic accident. Or like a suicide, if that’s your pref.”

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

“Suicide? You have an interesting idea there, Unc. 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. It’s a gift from an older Unger to a younger Unger.”

Here was the solution. With the clone’s untimely death assured, I could keep my promise (and hopefully keep my 8V) while ridding myself of the clone before it sucked all my creds and wrecked my life. And it would cost no more than the clone itself and the trip to Sri Lanka (2 round-trips and a 1-way).

“Unc, you’re a genius. It’ll definitely work. I’ll see to it that the clone sinks into something resembling depression. Then that 8V will definitely get why it was driven to ‘suicide’ so soon. Stuck in our little hab 24-7. Enduring all that isolation. Dealing with all her mood swings. No independence. All that would drive anybody out of orbit. I almost feel sorry 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?”

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 again,” 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 crap. Forget them. We’re not discussing murder. We’re dealing with ay clone, not a human. It’s not the same, right?”

“The World Fed’s still deb8ing that. But I agree 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 intro me to that 8V.”

I left his hab, subshuttled home and ordered Sri Lankan food for dinner. 8V asked me what old Uncle Cody and I talked about.

“Oh, nothing much,” I said. “We just chatted. He complained about le monde moderne again. He said it’s like an ant colony.”

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

 

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

Surrounded by lawyers, we signed waivers and agreements, contracts and declarations. Next came a mountain 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 until the last document was in the bag.

Beaucoup de customers, recently?” I asked, just to make conversation.

“Sir?”

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

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

“What’s Short Clone Service?”

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

8V had mentioned something about this on the sub-orb flight. People frantically shag their own clones for a day or 2. Or some people just savagely beat and torture them. You usually do that on your shrink’s recommendation. But some shag their own clones just for the kick. It’s a heightened form of ‘bation.

Self-sexing wasn’t something I’d consider for myself. I’m so very conventional about these things. 8V opined my negitude (‘negative attitude’) 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 we’d signed the last whatever-it-was, we had to w8 the full 24 hours. No shortcuts, they said. We spent a sullen night. The heat and the pounding rain and our tempo-hab’s primitive envirocon really tanked 8V. I had the jeebies about meeting this thing the next day – a thing meant to look, sound, move and even smell like me. How was I supposed to act with it? Were we supposed to shake hands? How would 8V address each of us? And was its name Zander too?

It turned out the clone had a large C tattooed on its head. They’d forgotten 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. 8V was the 1st to break the awkward silence, saying – pretty much as you’d expect – “Oh, my sweet, it looks exactement like you!”

Then the clone cleared his throat and spoke for the 1st time. “W8! He looks exactement like you. Not it. I’m a man, not a thing. Henceforth, 8V, kindly oblige me by keeping that particular detail firmly in mind.

“It even talks oldy-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 8V 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. Neither of us liked the place, but 8V was keen to – as she put it – get acquainted with the l8est member of our habhold. So I took a different tempo-hab while she shagged his brains out.

Strange. I was in a completely different tower the whole time, but it actually felt like I was in the room with her – with them – all night. I tasted her juices with my mind’s mouth and heard her pleasure moans with my mind’s ears and experienced The Special Thing with all my mind’s senses. Strange.

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 was it temporary?

Anyway, in the morning I felt remarkably good. 8V and I had arranged to meet for breakfast at her tempo-hab’s cafe (the clone had room-service). After the usual morning pleasantries I cut to the link.

Alors, 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, “can’t complain. Can’t complain.”

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

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

I changed the subject.

“Incidentally, what’s the clone’s name? We can’t call him Zander. How about Zander #2. Or Virgil? Virgil has a certain histori …”

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

During a lull in the proceedings, I suspected.

“Zander, you read books. Remember that story from way back 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 …  w8! He stayed the same but the painting got older. What was his nom again?”

“Dorian Gray.”

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

“As you wish, ma belle,” I murmured. If she named the clone after a stinking tropical fruit, so what? It would only have to endure that idiotic name until Gr8 Uncle Cody’s hitman had seen to its untimely death, after all. I could wait.

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

8V 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, 8V, it just kind of occurred to me. I thought that’s what he’d have for breakfast. If he was really hungry. Sais pas. The thought just popped into my head. Kind of.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “Mais that’s what you’d order if you’d been mon amour 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 grinned.

“So what should I call you collectivement?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Durander? Zandrian?”

But I was thinking about something else. There was a psych-link between the clone and myself. The corp said nothing about this. No mention of a possible psych-overlap. Maybe they assumed it would be so obvious that there was no need to alert me to it. Well, thanks a lot.

So how could I keep my thoughts to myself and away from Durian? Come to think of it, how could Durian keep his thoughts from me? If I could read his thoughts and feelings then he could reciproc8. Heaven’s g8!  Does this mean we have 2 heads but a single brain?

8V ignored my silence. “I have a pressentiment this coming year will be funner than I thought,” she said.

I saw 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.

 

Image result for blue monkey

 

 

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

Could Durian read my thoughts? Feel my emotions? There was a simple way to find out. 8V 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 ….

“…this through, I know. I should’ve asked the corp. I just didn’t expect it …”

… would be this noisy inside our heads. I know. Now I know.

Static in my heads. 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 8V. 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 …”

…  Gr8 Uncle Cody’s idea to have me killed by a lowlife associ8 of his? Yes, his idea to put both of us out of our misery.” I sensed Durian suddenly smiling a ½-smile. “You know, Zander, he was right. You really are as thick as pig shit sometimes! Merely …”

“… joking. 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 foolish woman 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 doubly productive and 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 a year than all the other researchers combined.”

” Ah yes,” I flashed. ” ‘These difficult times’ but also these woefully 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 8V out of our lives we’d have no petty distractions in the hab, no more accommod8ing her whims and moodswings, no more wondering if she’s shagging somebody in secret. No more baby- …”

… talk 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 creds you can’t afford for a clone. That’s how much you’ve let her pussywhip you. But now we can end these humiliations and end this negative cycle 1ce and for all.”

“Durian, you’re right!”

Please,” he flashed, “call me Virgil.

He was right. Ridding myself of 8V was necessary if I was ever to stand up in freedom. I’d have to take immediate action, before my resolve weakened and I started looking at the other side of the coin (an expression she wouldn’t comprehend). I’d start having doubts about what I’d lose if she was gone from my life for good.

“Right,” I said to myself. Ourselves. “Let’s do it. Death to 8V! I’ll make the TEL right now!”

No!” flashed Virgil. “Don’t!

 

                                                                                (8)

 

What?” I gasped. “Why can’t I make the TEL?”

Don’t you do it. I want to do it myself. Let me do it. Our voices are identical!

Virgil made the TEL that very minute, tossing my/our usual sense of decorum out the window, not caring who he/I woke up or why.

We said, “I woke you up, did I? There’s something you andneed to talk about. It’s too important to w8. You see, 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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BEYOND THEM CHINESE BONES

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

 

                                                                      (i)

 

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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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                                                                                  (ii)

 

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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                                                                                (iii)

 

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?

 

                                                                                  (iv)

 

 

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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?”

 

 

                                                                                 (v)

 

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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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THE KISS OF ’96

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To: Mr. Oliver Rickebaugh, Elizabeth, New Jersey

From: Edward Bradley Lambert, New Rochelle, New York

October 26, 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 now approaching. 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’s future, may Providence lead Governor McKinley to the White House!

Yours as ever,

Edward

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHAT THE EYES BEHOLD

(FICTION)                           RETURN TO HOME PAGE

 

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.

 

Image result for long purple fingernails

 

(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.

 

 

Image result for cappuccino froth

 

 

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SO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL THRU TIME

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

or

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:

PHYS TRAINING

FIRST (1st) AID

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

ESCAPE PROCEDURES 

INFO GATHERING/STORAGE

LANGUAGE(S)

ANTHROPODYNAMICS

SURVIVAL TECHNIQUES

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.

THE CHRONONAUTS MOTTO: GET THERE, GET BACK, GET IT ON THE MARKET.

GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR TRAINING. DONT LET YOURSELF DOWN. ΞψφΞ497401218643/3639λ

 

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THE MAFIA ON THE MOON

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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

 

                                                   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.

 

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