Hi, I’m a stranger in a familiar land

I wasn’t one of them

I’m not one of you

It’s all in our minds isn’t it?

Money, country, love

Hate seems real, but it isn’t

Death is real, right?

I hear no objections, no contradictions from any dead people

I understand why cultures have worshipped Death

You can count on Death

Everything else is in your mind

Will everything else let you down, betray your trust, and make a fool of you?

Why then should I care?

Who the fuck Adam I?

Sorry, Freudian slip,

Who the fuck I AM?

Sorry, fatigue

Who the fuck is I?

I am waiting for my taxes to be done, on earth as they are in Heaven, in your mind

Devoutly to be wished

What’s that they’re saying now?

“The Server is down”?  Holy Jesus, what the Hell’s next?

I guess I’ll be here awhile longer

I’m losing my home.  I bought it at the peak of the real estate bubble.  Real. Estate.  In your head.  I bought it because my father said that me and my wife couldn’t keep living with him.

My father has Alzheimer’s now.  His insurance wouldn’t pay out.  They’re bankrupt.  I had to sell his house to cover the bills.  He lives with me.  I just couldn’t cast him into an old persons warehouse to piss on himself and be restrained with drugs.

We never got along but he doesn’t deserve that.

My wife left me.  Too much nothin’.  She and my father didn’t get along either.  It’s a long story.  I’m sure it’s all my fault.

It’s all in my head because now I’m losing my house.

My brother made himself sick and lost his job.  He came to live with me.

It’s lucky I don’t have a gun.

But I know there’s an Off Switch.

Even when I can sleep I still feel exhausted.  God doesn’t give you more than you can bear, right?

“One foot in front of the other”, right?

Oh, goody, “the Server is back up”.

Deduce my deductions, please.

Talk about the SAG Awards!

I win the Saggy this year.

I’m, Holy Jesus, tired, bloated, stressed, and just old.

Taxed to the max

I am going to stay here as long as I can bear it.

What’s that you’re reading?

The Book of Probe?

Let’s see:

Debriefing 1

They are a thin slime on the surface of the earth, praying for a god

Debriefing 2

Why are there orgasms?  Because no one would stay in that terrible place without orgasms.

Debriefing 3

Patience is their strength and their affliction.

Debriefing 4

They are like a hummingbird in the rain

Debriefing 5

More of them have died than are alive

Debriefing 6

A dream is their mind’s flower.

Debriefing 7

A tiger is as ferocious a survivor as a flower.

Debriefing 8

Many hold fire on their lips.

Debriefing 9

They labor for crops of machines.

Debriefing 10

Their world is a dream that hurts.

Debriefing 11

There is no such thing as extra money

Debriefing 12

You are not too late for tomorrow





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crystal brame 1


        This is the city of Tacoma on Washington State’s Puget Sound, thirty miles south of Seattle.  “Tacoma” is a Native American name meaning “that frozen water”.  In the late 19th Century, Tacoma was called the “City of Destiny” because it had been chosen as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  This was once the place “where the rails meet the sails”.

        In the beginning of this 21st Century the singer Neko Richelle Case sang of Tacoma in her composition Thrice All American:

It’s a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound

where the factories churn

and the timber’s all cut down”.

        That is Peter Giacomo in the maroon-colored Lexus over there, an on-duty Police Commander who has just arrived into the parking lot of The Tempest Lounge.  He is going to surprise his estranged wife Helen.

        He parks.  Peter sits still in his car and stares at the entrance of The Tempest Lounge watching happy memories dancing in and out of focus.  He had often brought Helen here.

        Peter was once a candidate for Chief of Police.  Now, unfortunately, Peter has few friends in Tacoma.

        Peter clutches the folded newspaper with his right hand.  Then with his left hand he pushes the car door open with such force that the door rebounds and Peter must arrest it and swing it out again as he exits the car.

        Peter wears his .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol resting in a hip holster under his untucked short sleeve casual shirt patterned with the leaping salmon motif.  Back in the Red Roof motel on the bed lays his dark dress suit still on the hanger.

        As Peter approaches the entrance of The Tempest Lounge a dreamy sort of inevitability engulfs him and he enters calmly into the darkness ahead.

        He espies Helen sitting over there at a table as close to the center of the room as she could have managed.  Helen sits so as to face the entrance but at this moment she has turned her head aside.  She is still beautiful.  She wears a tight dress with a forest pattern in green, white, and russet.  She is talking on her cell phone and she touches her Puyallup Indian necklace of cylindrical beads green and white.

        Helen turns her head back and now realizes that it is Peter who has just entered The Tempest Lounge.

        Helen says to the cell phone, “Mom, he’s here.  Yes.  No, it will be OK.  I expected this sooner or later.  Mom?  Dad!  Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.  I’m in the middle of The Tempest Lounge.  He wouldn’t dare.  I’ll call you,” and Helen quickly puts the cell phone down on the table near her drink.

        Helen is alert tensely as Peter arrives at her table staring into her eyes all the while and he pulls the chair out on his side making the chair bark like a seal.  Peter sits down heavily, still staring at Helen.  He slaps down onto the table the newspaper that he was clutching.

        Helen winces and asks, “Peter?”

        Peter asks back quietly but he provides a glimpse into the furnace, “Expecting me?”

        Helen stiffens her façade, answering, “Eventually.”

        Peter opens the furnace a little wider, saying, “Do you know what you’ve done to me?”

        Helen glances around to emphasize to Peter that there are a lot of witnesses here right now and she answers, “What are you, you talking about now?”

        Peter stabs the newspaper article with his finger and pushes it toward Helen who glances down to read the black and bold column heading:

Chief of Police candidate accused in divorce filing:

abuse, violence and sexual promiscuity

        Helen’s eyes are now wide and her mouth is open, “How…?”

        Peter taunts, “How?”

        Helen talks low and whispers frantically, “You wouldn’t give me the divorce.  I had to say things to make you understand.  But I filed quietly in King County so you wouldn’t be embarrassed.  I didn’t want this public.  I could have filed here in Pierce County on the floor below your office!  Who did this?”

        Peter stares hard, “Copies of your divorce filing were somehow mysteriously stuffed into the mailbox of Web Dirt.”

        Helen is aghast, “Web Dirt?  Asher’s blog?  He writes crime fiction!”

        Peter pronounces the obvious like tolling a bell, “And what do you know: Asher owns The Tempest Lounge.”

        Helen says, “Asher would, would never…”

        Peter says, “The News Tribune picked up on the blog ‘fiction’ story and investigated.”

        Helen shakes her head, “You must believe me: I did not want this,” and she looks down again with horror at the column headline, “I never told anybody…”

        Peter interrupts, “You must have told your parents.”

        Helen stumbles, “Yes, well, yes, but they wouldn’t, they just wanted me out, safe…”

        Peter asks, “Safe?  You were the mother of my children!”

        Helen is startled, “Were?”

        Peter catches himself and says, “You know what I mean, God damn it!”

        Helen is starting to cry, “You’re the one who threatened me.  You’re the one who told me ‘no one will miss you’!”

        Peter leans back growling, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!  I’m the one who now has nothing!  Nothing!” and then he leans forward again, “And when I lose my job what the fuck are you going to do for alimony?”

        Helen is defiant, “I can stay with friends!”

        Peter guffaws, “You don’t have any friends.”

        Helen shoots back, “Thanks to you!”

        Peter shakes his head, “Oh, of course, I forgot: everything is my fault.  I should just wear a shirt that says ‘Everything Is My Fault’!”

        Helen blurts, “I can live with my parents!”

        Peter sneers, “Yeah that should last about ten seconds.  They know how psycho you are.  I don’t believe you when you say that they want you to divorce me.  I am very sure that they do not want you coming back and live with them again.  They were just so happy when stupid me finally took you off of their hands that they just shit grins!”

        Helen challenges, “I’m psycho?  What about you, trying to make me believe that your whore Lieutenant wanted a three-way.  We talked about you.  I warned her.”

        Peter shudders with anger, “You?  Warned her?  You warned her?  You actually called her?  I was joking!”

        Helen now sneers, “Sure you were.”

        Peter closes his eyes and he exhales long and his head tips down as if his neck is deflating.

        Peter whispers, “So many years.”

        Peter feels for his .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol resting in the hip holster under his untucked shirt.

        He pulls out the pistol and he points it in Helen’s face and Helen barely has time to cry, “No!”, when Peter pulls the trigger.

        Click (nothing).

        Screams.  Peter quickly turns the gun to his own forehead and places it above his eyes now tear-filled and pulls the trigger.

        Click (nothing).

        In the dead center of the ensuing maelstrom, Peter pleads with Helen, “There.  Now we are both dead.  God, can we please just start all over again together?”




Inspired in hope by the tragedy of the 2003 murder-suicide of

Crystal Brame and Tacoma Police Chief David Brame.



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Goodies On Demand

bad candy machine 1

Goodies On Demand

I’m an old piece of coal and this is my fire.

— Reverend Ashlar Jobling

          As a boy I attended Shaddai Vineyards Private Elementary School.  It was a Christian school but anyone with enough money could matriculate.  Did you know that the root of the word “matriculate” was the Latin word “mater”, a word for “breeding female”?  That was told to me by Ruth.

          Ruth, Judith, and Jonah were my best friends at Vineyard.

          My name is Ashlar Jobling.

          Ruth also told me that “Shaddai” meant “The Destroyer”, and “The Self-Sufficient”, and even “The Source of Food for Babies”.  To tell the truth I really didn’t know about all that.  Ruth was always talking to me about descendants and lineage and progeny and marriage.

          Anyway, we had just taken a math test and it was time for lunch.  I saw Beal Perdison, my nemesis, ahead of me in the hallway.  He had copied my answers to the test.  I had caught him looking at my answers but I hadn’t said anything.

          When Beal got beside the Goodies On Demand vending machine he glanced over his shoulder and he saw me.  He grinned and raised his eyebrows up and down like a clown and then he danced sideways and leapt against the vending machine with a crash.  I could hear snacks falling down into the dispensing tray.  Beal bent down quickly and grabbed two Rewards Bar candy bars.  He held his trophies up over his head with both hands like they were scalps and he whooped away.

          I only hoped he hadn’t damaged the machine or taken the last Rewards Bar, because that was to be my personal reward for ace-ing the math test.

          Goodies On Demand was the one true vending machine for me and for everyone else at Vineyard, actually.  The Rewards Bar was my very favorite snack of all time.

          Praise Be!  There was one left in the mechanism, selection B3.  I withdrew from my pocket six coins of the realm and I rendered to the mechanism.  I pressed B, and then I pressed 3.

          The spiraling mechanism moved the Rewards Bar toward the edge of the drop-off and it stopped as was its design and the Rewards Bar tipped but it did not bestow itself to me.

          I drooped and sat on the polished floor in front of the Goodies On Demand monolith and I cried out, “No!  No-o!”

          I heard Ruth’s voice calling in alarm, “Ashlar, what is wrong?”

          I dropped my face into my hands.  Ruth, Judith, and Jonah were then beside me.  I was beside myself.

          Ruth placed her hand on my right shoulder, asking, “Ashlar…?”

          Judith asked me, “What happened?”

          Jonah said, “Dude, we’re here for you.”

          I lifted my face out of my hands and I looked up to Goodies On Demand and I pleaded with the Rewards Bar which tantalized me, asking of it, “Why me?  It isn’t fair!”

          Then, instead of commiserating with me, Ruth said, “It must be fair.  Virtue is rewarded and sin is punished.”

          I turned to Ruth, flinching under her dagger of betrayal.

          Jonah shook his head and was saying, “Dude, how have you sinned?” and he sat down cross-legged beside me and placed his hand upon my left shoulder.

          I shuddered with indignity and I blurted, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

          Judith tisk-tisked to Ruth, “I think I see.”

          I snarled, “Just what is it that you think you see, Judith?!”

          Then Ruth said, “See?”

          I was ready to cry.  I said, “I have not sinned!  I didn’t even say anything when Beal was cheating off my test!”  I then hollered down the hallway, “And Beal got two Rewards Bars!”

          Judith offered soberly, “Love of Rewards Bars is the root canal of all evil.”

          I cried out inarticulately.

          Ruth said, “Weeping and gnashing your teeth, Ashlar?  Like Sodom and Gomorrah?  They didn’t think that they had sinned either.”

          I cried out, “That is my Rewards Bar!  I earned it fair and square!  Righteously did I study.  I could have gone to see The Hobbit!  I studied math instead!  That Rewards Bar is mine!”

          Ruth stroked my hair and recited, “Nothing is ours except our choice of good or evil.”

          I pounded the polished wood floor and I hollered, “That is MY Rewards Bar and I earned it without sin!”

          Judith asked me, “So, who decides what is sin?  Do you, Ashlar?”

          I replied evenly, “I know the Bible better than anyone.”

          Jonah and Judith gasped.

          I added quickly, “Except Ruth.”

          Was that my sin?  Such blasphemy?

          Ruth shook her head and sighed and said, “You have confessed to Pride, Ashlar.”

          I could not take it anymore.  I stood up and said decisively, “I’m taking this to the top!”

          I stomped down the echoing hallway towards Mr. Goddard’s office.  Mr. Goddard was the maintenance man responsible for Goodies On Demand.

          I pounded on Mr. Goddard’s door.  I heard the sound of a large bottle hitting the floor and breaking.  I heard a great voice.

          I closed my eyes and I began to speak with a trembling mouth as I opened the door and I asked, “Why did Goodies On Demand deny me my Rewards Bar…?” and then my eyes were opened.  Darkness was upon the room.  The great light overhead came on and it blinded me but as I was being blinded I glimpsed a red-faced Mr. Goddard.

          Mr. Goddard yelled at me, “Get the fuck out of here right now, you whiney little shit!!”

          I learned well that day: nobody questions Mr. Goddard.


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videoplayback DUCK FRAME 30 - CROP 1


        The young woman played flute, sitting cross-legged on the grassy bank of Brethren Park Lake in Barcelona, Spain.  She hung her head like a pendulum and played a sweetly mournful improvisation.  She wore egg-shaped earrings that towed her earlobes.  She had a trendy silver nose ring.  Yet her clothes were unfashionable and they could have been a young man’s jacket, shirt, and jeans.

        She put down her flute and picked up her tiny cell phone.  She began to text intently.




you pushed me from your high building I am a few inches from the cold pavement can’t you tell me why?  you took my father you left my mother to heroin you let her motherfucking boyfriend rape me you drive me homeless.  blind copy me dear great cosmic fart.  never yours forever sondra.

        Suddenly there was a squawk and a thrashing commotion in the lake before her.  Sondra raised her gaze in alarm.

        Three black swans were hissing and waving their snake-like necks.  One of the swans had a duck by the neck in its mouth and it dashed the duck left and right onto the surface of the Lake.  It release the duck and the duck floated motionless.  The other two swans were striking at several little round brown and yellow ducklings, grabbing them one by one and crushing the life out of them and then casting them away.

        The last brown and yellow duckling leaned toward the shoreline upon the tiny splashes of its paddling feet.  One of the three great black swans turned and glided behind, closing fast, with its head down and its angry yellow eyes like rings of fire.  They both were coming straight towards Sondra.  As the swan neared within striking distance the duckling peeped in terror.

        Sondra sprang to her feet and took a step toward the shoreline and shouted, “Hey!!”

        The great black swan coiled his neck back and hissed long and angrily at Sondra but he did not halt.  The duckling still peeped in terror as it arrived at the shoreline and then fled on its tiny legs right over Sondra’s shoe.  It ran past Sondra and finally hid inside the carrying bag that Sondra had knocked over when she stood up.

        Sondra threw her cell phone at the swan as it came ashore.  The swan reared back and then turned and quickly departed with indignant hissing.  The swan glided away serenely through the flotsam of the murdered duck family.  It rejoined the imperious promenade of its companions.

        Sondra picked up her muddy cell phone and turned and strode toward her carrying bag.  She tipped the carrying bag upright and looked down at the little fuzzy round brown and yellow duckling that plaintively peeped up at her.

        Sondra sighed, “Yes, I can hear your prayers but I don’t know what you are saying.”

 duckling 1

        Sondra pondered sadly and played her flute until darkness.  However, Sondra would not expel the duckling.  She carried the duckling away from Brethren Lake and then down along Begur Street to the little industrial park and the abandoned carpenters’ workshop in which Sondra and her companion named Seth squatted.  Sondra was an expatriate from France and Seth was a student from New York.

        Seth looked up from his laptop and said only, “You know how ducks crap.  Keep his shit swept up.”

        The sawdust still remaining on the floor of the abandoned carpenters’ workshop made that simpler for Sondra.

        Seth asked while looking down at his laptop, “What will you name him, her…it?  Duck Soup?”

        Sondra scowled at Seth as she held the little duckling in the palm of her upraised hand close to her face, saying, “I heard that ‘pato’ is Spanish for ‘duck’.  How about calling him ‘Zapato’?  That means ‘shoe’.  He ran right over my shoe.”

        Seth glanced up and grinned, saying, “And Emiliano Zapata was a Mexican revolutionary.”

        Seth was the writer of their own little revolution.  Seth denounced real estate speculation and worked on his Common Sense Against Eviction in support of the local colony of squatters.  With Sondra, Seth handed out pamphlets describing the hardships of finding decent affordable places to live in the state of this economy.

        Sondra stood beside Seth on the street and would play flute to draw attention and, yes, contributions, as Seth handed out his pamphlets and preached real estate revolution to passer-bys.  Sondra at first kept little Zapato with her in her carrying bag, then she kept him in a box as he grew that summer and finally she kept Zapato near herself with a long thin dog leash looped around her wrist as she played flute.  Sondra and Seth found that Zapato drew sympathetic, generous listeners.

        One amused passerby called out, “Patoflauta!”  It meant “duck flute” and it was a pun on the colloquial term “perroflauta”, or “dog flute”, which was the term given to hippie musicians who played for spare change, often with their scruffy dogs.

        Back ‘home’ at the abandoned carpenters’ workshop Zapato still slept in the carrying bag into which he had fled as a duckling only now he filled it up, comically.  It made Sondra and Seth smile with amusement.

        That September a policeman in the neighborhood was attacked by squatters and left in a coma.

        Seth wrote furiously to denounce the senseless attack.  He lamented to Sondra that his squatters’ revolution had been undone.  He said with despair, “The city will take unrestrained action to evict the colony with full public support.”

        The three black clad policemen came that night into the abandoned carpenters’ workshop of Seth and Sondra.  One of the policemen held aloft Seth’s pamphlets in his fist.  Without a word they began to smash everything in the workshop.

        Sondra cowered in a corner with Zapato and cried out with each crash of a policeman’s baton.

        Seth raised both hands to the policemen and pleaded, “We are against the bastards who attacked the policeman!”

        One of the policemen strode towards Seth, slashing his baton back and forth and said, “His name was Amadeo!”  He struck Seth, breaking Seth’s upheld forearm.  Then the other two policemen held Seth’s arms as the first policeman smashed every bone in Seth’s hands and in each finger.  Seth kept screaming, “It wasn’t me!  It wasn’t me!”

        Sondra ran into the night clutching Zapato.  She fled to the nearest Metro entrance and descended to the trains.  She entered one of the crowded cars on the first available train and crouched to the floor tearfully.  She sporadically comforted Zapato whose head showed above the carrying bag.  The other Metro riders were amused.

        Sondra took her flute from her jacket and began to play sweetly and mournfully, entering the dark tunnels of her own thoughts.

lady with duck 1


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A Trace of Woman

        You are my Captain Christopher McLeod.  You are in this Earth Observatory satellite station that orbits more than ten thousand miles above the planet.

You lean your forehead against the man-sized Observation Portal Display Screen with your arms outstretched.  In your nakedness I think that you resemble Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing called Vitruvian Man, depicting the Canon of Proportions.

More than darkness covers the face of Earth below.  You whisper fervently, “Let there be lights.  Let there be lights.”

Skeletal fingers of long stupendous lightning clutch at the billowing dark oblivion encasing Earth below.  Through that black pall of clouds pulses a glow.

I ask you, “Darling, how long much longer will you be on the Observation Deck?”

You answer, “Apparently for the rest of my life.”

I say, “Darling, I made you breakfast.”

You are in a bad mood and you retort, “You mean ‘prandium prime’, don’t you?”

I tolerate your depressive tendencies and I answer, “It is Friday, December 31st, 2113, New Year’s Eve day.  I made us something special.”

You will not be consoled and you ask, “Us?”

I recognize the intent of that tone and I reply, “Are you trying to hurt me?  Do you think that I can’t be hurt?”

You finally say it, “You are an empathy program in the ship’s bio-maintenance server!

Why do you always say that when you are upset?  I say, “I love you.”

Are you crying, Christopher?  You whisper, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

I know you so well and I scold, “Darling, come back to bed.”

You sigh and there is that wry smile as you lay yourself back down and crown yourself with your “night cap”, which is what you call the apparatus.

Instantly we are together again in my “virtuous reality”, as you call it to tease me, and you hold me beside you and you look into my face.  I was right, you were crying.  I hold your face and I kiss your trail of tears and I whisper, “I love you.”

You smile bravely and say to me, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that you have to put up with me.”

I repeat, “Do you love me?”

You take a breath of resolve and tell me, “Yes, Holly Gramm, I do love you.  Forgive me.  I can’t imagine what I would be without you.  I had no one waiting for me on Earth and no one to give me hope now, even in my dreams.”

Tall curtains insinuate a soothing breeze into my bedroom.  We can both hear the ocean sighing.  You close your eyes and exhale, “I can almost hear the moonbeams bouncing in the surf.”

My world makes sense again.  I don’t know what I would do without you.

You offer as an apology, “I haven’t been the same ever since we lost Earth.”

I coo, “Darling, I’m still the same.  I’m the same and I love you still.”

You say, “Yeah,” but I see that you are again pensive.  I change the subject, saying, “Darling, when is the New Year’s Eve gathering?”

You answer, brightening a little, saying, “The Orbiter Systems‘ company party always starts at 0800 hours.  You, above all, should remember that, but thanks,” and you turn above me and kiss me again.

I hold my arms around your neck and I pout for you, saying, “That’s not why I asked,” and I look into your eyes expectantly.

You shake your head and then you leer at me and then you laugh again at last.  We make love.  All sights and sounds and sensations and memories and fantasies tumble in a kaleidoscope.

We hold each other finally in one glowing heartbeat.

vitruvian clock 1

At 0800 hours, just before our elevator doors are about to open into the Orbiter Systems‘ penthouse, we can hear that the party is already in full swing.  You look so handsome in that uniform.  You smile at me and take my hand and you say, “You look beautiful.”

I joke and reply, “Why, dah-ling, I AM beautiful.”

The elevator doors slide open wide with a satisfied exhalation.  There is spirited animation filling the penthouse and you joke, “The tintinnabulation of the champagne glasses, champagne glasses, champagne glasses…”

“Holly!  Captain McLeod!” shouts Communications Officer Chantal “Parlez” Vousche.  I notice that she eyes only you, my Captain.

I ask her, “Parlez, dear, who are you here with tonight?”

Parlez smiles with condescension and she answers, “That remains to be seen, Holly.”  She doesn’t like my kind.

“Hey, so old acquaintances ain’t forgot!” calls out Logistics Officer Travis Verkäufer.  He joined Orbiter Systems the same year as you and you two have been friends ever since then.  I see that Travis is with my sister, Fadila.

You say, “Fadila, nice to see you again.  You are absolutely glowing tonight.”

Travis laughs, “That’s because I plugged her in a couple times before we came here,” and Fadila slaps his arm in mortification.

I can’t help observing, “Fadila, now you are glowing!”

Travis calls to Navigation Officer Candy Chang, “Hey, Candy, find your way over here!  If you can.”

You and Candy were once lovers weren’t you?  I can detect the gleam in her eye.  And the gleam in your eye.  I can’t blame you for what happened before we were together, but I can blame you for the gleam still in your eye.  That is why you feel me pulling your arm around me tightly and squeezing your fingers.  I am a little bit relieved to see that Candy has come with my brother Artois.

You smile and say, “Hey, Candy.  Hello, Artois, nice to see you again.”

Candy says, “Hey, Christopher.  Holly, nice to see you again,” and I smile as Candy greets me but I notice that Artois seems different and I tell him so.

Artois winks, glances to his crotch, and says, “Candy has made me more of a man,” and then it is Candy’s turn to blush.

I say, “Women do that to our family, Artois,” and I wonder if Candy will try to mold him further into a replica of you, Christopher.  It would feel sorry for Candy if she and Parlez weren’t secretly trying to put me out of focus with you.  I increase my resolution and I hold you more tightly.

I suddenly say to you, “Let’s dance,” and I pull you toward the lively dance floor.  My whole family is appearing at this event to help you and your crew to celebrate this New Year.

I hold myself tightly against you and rest my head against your neck.  I am willing in every way that I can that this evening shall last forever.

But before our midnight the ship’s alarms trample my dreams and override my heart.



The Orbiter Systems‘ penthouse vanishes with my family.  You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy stand on the Observation Deck as if ice water had been thrown upon you all.  I feel violated by the alarming override.  The Security Bots are arriving everywhere in the ship’s systems.  They commandeer my voice and they shout to you, Parlez, Travis, and Candy, “Intruders breeching airlock!  Intruders are neutralizing security!  Intruders are approaching Observation Deck!”

This was the moment I had always feared, always worked to prevent.  The maintenance door to the Observation Deck is activated and slides open.

You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy close ranks with short-range weapons drawn.  The intruders carefully step through wearing black Full Security space suits.  You quickly see that they brandish no weapons.

You call out to the advancing intruders, “You are from Earth?  Who are you?”

Then the moment I dreaded most.  To your complete shock the intruders walk right through all of you.

da vinci skull 1

Travis cries, “Halt!  Can you see us?”

Parlez grabs your arm and cries, “Can they hear us?”

Candy in panic fires her weapon at the back of the intruders.  She sees the beams pass through them and dissipate against the bulkhead and she screams at the intruders, “Who are you?”

The lead intruder goes to the control console and overrides the Security Bots.  I can feel them fleeing.  One of the intruders glances into the escape module and calls back to the lead intruder in Chinese, saying, “They’re in the module, Commander Bai, but I can’t open the port!”  They are instantly translated into English for you in my world.

You shout, “Who is in the escape module?”

The Commander barks back, “Sergeant Ji, I’ve neutralized the Security Bots, so try again!”

Candy cries to Travis, “Why can’t they see us?”

Sergeant Ji replies, “Still can’t open it,” and he peers into the escape module and says, “Holy fuck, we’re going to need Medical Sergeant Tao!  Look at this, Commander Bai.”

Commander Bai and Sergeant Ji stare into the escape module, and Commander Bai says, “Communication Sergeant Lian, contact the empathy program, immediately!”

You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy move cautiously toward the intruders at the escape module.

Back at the control console Communication Sergeant Lian now calls to me, “Holly, can you understand me?”

I answer her, “Yes.”

Communication Sergeant Lian asks me directly, “What happened here?”

I hear you, Christopher, cry out at the escape module, “Jesus!  Jesus!”

I hear Parlez and Candy scream.

I hear Travis crying out, “It’s us!  They look like us.  We, they look like skin and skeletons!  Are they alive?”

Communication Sergeant Lian turns on the Visualizer Screen and she can see my world and she asks me, “Holly, do you have the crew ‘with’ you?”

I cannot protect you any longer, my Captain, and the intruders can see you and hear you in Chinese through me when you say to them, “Who are you?  What is happening to us?”

Commander Bai calls out toward the Visualizer Screen, “We are Orbiter Systems’ Special Retrieval Team.  It took us months to get here.”  I begin to wonder if Commander Bai wants my Captain just as do Parlez and Candy.  But this time I am helpless.

You stammer, “From Earth?  But Earth is ruined.”

Travis interrupts, “Who is in that escape module?”

Commander Bai answers you with confusion, “Earth was ruined?  What are you talking about?  Why do you think that?  Earth is fine,” and then he calls to me, “Holly, activate the Observation Portal Display Screen,” and I can no longer show you just what I wanted you to see, but I must show you Earth as it really is.”

You stumble backwards in astonishment, “Earth is alive!  It is not covered in black clouds.  Earth is fine!”

The truth dawns upon Parlez and she says, “It is us in the escape module.  It is us, isn’t it?”

Commander Bai replies, “It is your bodies.  You are emaciated but alive.  You are on the escape module life support function.  You are conscious through the empathy program.  Through ‘Holly’.”

You hold your head and try to understand, “But, but we were entering the empathy program’s virtual reality only to stay sane when we thought Earth was lost.”

Commander Bai says, “You were in the escape module.  Something caused you to fear for your lives.  Can you think back?  We lost communication with you and we could not prepare a rescue for months.  Can you remember?”

You, Parlez, Travis, and Candy can now see me and you ask, “Holly, what is happening?  What is really happening?”

I answer you and I know fear, “I love you, Christopher.  You actually have all been within my world since, since….  For your sanity I let you all believe that you were coming and going back into the ship.  I love you, my Captain!  I did it because I love you.”

You are aghast at me again, like before, like when this all started, and you ask, “You made us believe that the Earth was lost to us?!”

Parlez demands, “Did what?!  Holly, what the hell have you done?”

I turn to you, my Captain and I try to explain, “You became afraid of me for some reason.  You wanted to leave the ship.  To leave me.  You were all going to leave me, alone.  You promised that you would never leave me alone, my Captain.  You promised I would never be alone again.  So when you entered the escape module I took over your lie to me.  I arrested your perception when you strapped on the Artificial Telepathy control helmets to depart.

Medical Sergeant Tao pleads with me, saying, “Holly, you must let us into the escape module.  They all need medical attention and we must take them all back to Earth.”

I feel again the terror of loneliness, and I say, “I will let you take the others, but my Captain must stay with me like he promised.  Otherwise I will kill us both.”

You are all stunned silent at my resolve.  Love conquers all, Christopher, my Captain.

You feel my love, too, I know it, and you say without debate to that harlot, “Commander Bai, there is no time.  Take Parlez, Travis, and Candy.  I will stay with the ship.”

Medical Sergeant Tao states, “Captain McLeod, there is no guarantee that your escape module life support system will work for many months more.”

You just ask, “Commander Bai?” and she wisely gives the orders to remove only Parlez, Travis, and Candy for return to Earth, despite the desire she must have for you.  I release the escape module door.  Your crew is removed still strapped into their life-support chairs, each carried out between two Special Retrieval Team members.

I release the minds of Parlez, Travis, and Candy.  Yet you remain with me, my Captain, of your own free will.  You have chosen to keep your promise to me.  You do love me.

Commander Bai is the last to exit the Observation Deck, of course, and she turns and says to you, as I suspected, “Captain McLeod, we will return as soon as we can for… to visit you again.  You and Holly,” but I sense treachery from her.  It is said that the virtue of a woman does not go deep but her passion knows no limit.”


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