Fawn was overwhelmed. Her stomach took a drop towards the floor and her hands tingled. This was way different than smoking some weed in the park across the street from the school.
“I’ve got plans.”
Indeed he had. With the money he was going to buy a Cadillac SUV, get it armored, hire a bodyguard, and drive to Mexico. Things were cheap in Mexico. Maybe he would buy guns in Mexico or maybe he would buy them here in the US. In Mexico, he would buy a fancy house and hire maids. Some of the maids would know someone in a local cartel. The money to be made was bigger the closer you were to the source. After that he would be set for life.
Sandy wasn’t dumb. She had one her friends/buyers in high school ask Fawn something.
DM: ” hey I heard Tobin has rail to sell”
DM: “yeah a lot but you didn’t hear it from me”
Fawn came home from school to a mother who had lost her mind.
“He’s………..dead!” she screamed.
“What.” Fawn realized she wasn’t going to get more from Mom. Mom had always been ’emotional’ and sometimes dialog with her was impossible. This was the maximum. But was Tobin really dead?
Fawn couldn’t make any headway with Mom. Fawn couldn’t even get her to sit or lie down. She was too agitated to do anything but rock back and forth on her feet and scream. Fawn called her father at work. She wasn’t supposed to do that.
“You’re not supp…”
“Mom’s out of her mind. Is Tobin okay?”
“I see,” He’d been dealing with Mom for longer than Fawn had.
“Do your best with her. I’ll see what I can find out and be home as soon as I can.”
When he got home he told Fawn that Tobin had been shot in front of the SevenEleven. Driveby. He taken enough shots that he was dead before anyone could get to him. At the emergency room, Mom got a heavy dose from the doc and was either asleep or comatose. At that point Fawn and Dad were grateful for the silence.
A year later Mom was not much better and Dad was gone. Of course Mom had lost her job. Fawn hoped she knew enough to get Mom on disability. Uncle Harry was trying to help but he lived in another state far away.
Fawn was on her third shift. She was lucky that it was a front desk job at a hotel. Fawn could swear she was able to sleep with her eyes open.
Dr. Dobson knew what she was doing. She’d only seen the various scans of the patient. Black and white but mostly hazy gray. She knew how to read them and also what they wouldn’t be able to tell her.
Fawn was going after a bullet close to the spine. If she made the slightest mistake it meant the patient might be a paraplegic or dead.
“Is he under?” Fawn asked the anesthesiologist.
“Yep. Go ahead doctor.”
The respiratory team was prepared to keep him alive if something went awry.
Would she need to do a vertebra fusion? She’d only know once she was in. A 9-mm bullet was in with its head facing the incision, completely encased in scar tissue, blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. There was a special tool for grabbing bullets. Huh this is America.
Fawn was as cautious as she had learned to be while performing the dissection. No damage to the nerve roots if she could help it. She put on the surgical microscope headset. She had two grips to move the light in tiny increments. She needed to be incredibly exact to release the bullet from the scar tissue. If she pulled too hard it was over for the patient, but if she didn’t pull enough the bullet was going to stay stuck. Got it. Bullet free from from the surrounding tissue.
There was no applause but a huge release of tension in the room.
As team was finishing up Fawn got to see the boy, Tobias. He had gunshot scars in many places. Tobias/Tobin. Fawn broke down and cried. Really sobbed for the first time in decades. The rest of the operating room did not know why. She’d just been phenomenal.
Hollis was tired. Going on a book tour was “Sorry I’m not fun anymore”. She was not going to write that book. There was one more reader, the last in line. She was not holding a book though.
“Did you want me to sign your book?”
“You did a long time ago. I’m Betty Bell.”
Hollis did some quick arithmetic. Of course she remembered Betty Bell. But it was a common enough name.
“Named after the Betty in ‘Year of Goodbyes’ ?”
“No, I was born in 1957.”
“You were ten.”
“I found out later. How did you do it? Why did you do it? The only way you could have was if you hired a snoop. Did you hire a snoop?”
Hollis looked around. The bookstore clerk that had been her escort was starting to close up the store. He was as far away from her as he could get and still be in the store. There was no one else around.
“Yeah you can play like you don’t know what. I was eighteen when some customer told me ‘Hey Betty you’re in a book’. Funny. So I read it. The parts you didn’t get right, you probably put in to throw any of us that knew off.”
“Betty Bell is a character in a book. She’s imaginary.”
“Then how you did know dad… and sister Caroline you called her Charlotte…and the time train hit our dog…and I went to work at the “Glazed Cheer Grille”… so you never been to Mount Victory either?”
“The town was Logansville.”
Hollis had never had to deal with this level of crazy before. The staff at each bookstore was supposed to do that. This was a small bookstore though and Ed? or was it Chris? was now not around. She could yell for him but what if that made it worse?
“…got worse all the things that happened to Betty in the book happened to me after. The Grille burned down just like it did. I thought Bud was different from ‘Fred’ but then he done the same things. Who are you? What are you?”
Because her mind was racing, Hollis’ thoughts went in a strange direction. A lot of material appeared in her awareness in a instant. Although Betty was not a major character Hollis had put a lot of time fleshing her out. Especially because Betty betrayed Nikki, the protagonist at a key point in the plot. Betty, Betty, Betty. Her boyfriend was originally ‘Buddy’ before she changed him to ‘Fred’. She had changed the town’s name from ‘Mount Gilead’ when that sounded too biblical.
Hollis let out a big breath. She’d been holding it. She drew on what she knew of conflict resolution.
“Tell me more.”
It came rushing out. As Betty told more of the concordances between ‘Year of Goodbyes’ and her life she started to be less agitated. Unless she was more mentally ill than anyone Hollis could imagine it was starting to get creepy. There had not been a ‘Nikki’ in BettyTwo’s life but there had been a Vicky. BettyTwo told that she had been betrayed by Vicky. Hollis recalled that BettyOne had thought the same thing in the world of the book. She had left that backstory out to keep the plot moving. She knew better than to say anything about it.
Betty was wearing out. Hollis had no idea what to do next.
“Do you want to get a drink?” Hollis was no longer afraid.
“Six years sober.”
Hollis was really stumped. She started to wonder if she was in some kind of afterlife where she would be confronted by every one of the characters she had written.
“Write me a happy ending. You owe me that.” Betty turned and walked out almost at a run. Hollis knew better than to try and catch her. She had a job to do.
Betty meet Betty. Hollis has her eyes shut because it’s dark, too dark to see.
He was a squeegee man. At that time in New York City, men approached cars stopped at traffic lights and then squeegee’ed the driver’s windshield. This was a minor form of threat – the car wasn’t going anywhere in the congestion of downtown and a menacing man was right outside the window. He had done you, the driver, a service.
“Gimme two dollars.” said Ardnoid Brady.
Sometimes he got a five. It kept him busy and the risk was ‘jaywalking’ instead of the risks of stealing, drug ‘intent to’ (bad) or trafficking (worse).
He walked by a limo. Limos were no good for a handout. Women by themselves in mid or cheap cars, they were the best. This time, for no good reason, he squeegee’ed and tapped on the driver’s window. To his surprise he got a hundred dollar bill (!!!!!) and a business card with a phone number on it. The print was embossed and shiny.
The window rolled up and traffic moved on. Ardnoid got honked at because he wasn’t paying attention. Bad news for a squeegee man.
The card said ‘Turner Bates’ . Ard called and said:
“Hey Turner Bates. Got any more Benjamins?”
“Well yes I do” replied the voice “but you’re going to need to work for more of ’em.”
“I’m not much for work, kind of an ontrpenyour.”
“The shadow factory” (they called it that) “can make your entrepreneurial dreams come true. We’ll train you and set you up in any business you want.”
“What the fuck? what if I want to be a car dealer?”
Ard was now going to be shrewd. “Why me?”
“We know about you, we think you have potential. You would have to do us a little favor. That’s where the training comes in.”
“Jame Bond shit? Do I get a gun and waste somebody? Do I screw a rich woman and find out her secrets? ”
“You won’t know unless you show up. What we want you to do we tell you after the training. Pay is commensurate with your ability. You learn you earn. You slack off you get nothing.”
“I’ll think about it and maybe call you back.”
He did. They sped him off to an undisclosed location and he found out he was a prisoner. It was a good gig though. When he asked for a hooker why there she appeared. He did have to work though. They taught him some language and really emphasized talking in a special way. It was loud and gruff and was like a loud speech.
The really tough part was the operations on his face. He didn’t look that different but the drugs were good. It still hurt.
Finally they made him start wearing a white uniform like some general or something. They told him the training was almost over and showed him a suitcase full of money. Finally.
“Okay Ard the fun and games are about to begin.”
“Not too soon.”
“Say it in Portuguese.”
“Não muito cedo”
“Eseng haufinyane haholo”
“Good. We’re on our way.”
They let him hold the suitcase during the flight.
A black SUV drove them somewhere. By now Ard was used to being some kind of prisoner. He was dressed in that uniform and had a suitcase full of money. He was looking forward to his future.
“You’re almost done. You have to go out on stage, raise your arms and say in Portuguese and Lungabundu ‘My People’. Just like we practiced. Yell it over and over. We’ll get you after that and you’re free to spend your pay.”
When they got to some fancy building there was a crush of guys with bugs in their ears. Ard couldn’t see much of anything, They went up an elevator and though some fancy rooms. They clipped a mic to his lapel and then they said:
He walked out onto a balcony and there were thousands of people cheering and looking at him. He’d rehearsed this a thousand times in the immersive video room.
“Sechaba sa ka! Meu povo! Sechaba sa ka! Meu povo! Sechaba sa ka! Meu povo!” He yelled as loudly as he could,
And they yelled back! This was okay!
He felt like a bunch of cigarettes were being jammed into his chest. Some scrawny kid was holding an Ak-47. The gun you didn’t have to aim.
The black ops team pulled his dead body away. The assassin had already been killed by local Republican Guard bouncers.
The President in a white uniform with pig blood spattered on it strode to the front.
“Não tenha medo!”
–Don’t be afraid.
Ard is going down for the count. The lotus will receive him.
She needed a private eye. Susie knew how ridiculous that sounded. She’d never gone to the police. The diamond ring had been gone for years now. But Susie missed it because Richard had died a month ago.
Lucy and Susie were having lunch.
“Do you know what my Cara is doing now?” said Lucy.
“She’s a private investigator!”
“Still sober. So proud of her.”
“That’s such a comfort. I know you went through hell.”
“I can tell you,” said Lucy “the worst was a day when we both went into the bathroom and she was using – shooting up! in the stall next to me. I just sobbed.”
“Has she had any cases yet?”
“She just started.”
Later that day Susie was surprised by a call from a city detective.
After the polite preliminaries the detective got down to business.
“We’ve had a jailhouse confession. A prisoner has told us that he had been in possession of a ring worth quite a bit of money and he told us your name. Do you know anything about a valuable ring you believed lost or stolen?”
“No detective I can’t say that I do.”
“We thought it was odd too, but we have to follow up. I’m sure you understand.”
Cara already had a website. Susie used the contact form.
“This is your mother’s friend Susie. Would you work on a cold case?”
Many years before, Richard was talking to a coworker. He was soon to propose to Susie.
“Hey I know you’re gonna get hitched. I dun ya a favor.”
John then pulled a diamond ring out of his pocket.
“Jeez John I can’t afford that!”
“I’m offerin it to ya with a five finger discount.” He laughed.
“Your five fingers?”
“Let’s just say I know a guy who knows a guy what owes me.”
So Susie had a diamond wedding ring. She knew Richard could not have afforded it. Most of the time she wore only her engagement band. She made up some excuse for the few people who asked. Soon enough it was just a given that she didn’t wear a wedding ring. It was just a quirk of hers.
A lot of the time it sat next to the sink as if Susie had absentmindedly left it there as she washed.
Cara was in Susie and Richard’s kitchen. She thought of it as Denise’s kitchen though. Denise was cool. But not cool enough to do heroin yet. She’ll get there thought Cara.
Cara felt ‘nice’. If you were one of the in crowd you knew what she meant. In addition to regular adolescent acne she scratched her skin a lot leaving red welts. She was popular none the less. She hadn’t started dealing yet. She would in a few months. But right now lack of money was starting to get in the way of feeling nice. Which she deserved to feel.
She saw the ring. It would buy a lot she thought. She hadn’t yet experienced the steep discount buyers of stolen merch faced. She was overly optimistic concerning how much a diamond ring would fetch.
But fetch the ring she did. Cara wasn’t too careful because she was high. Denise couldn’t even comprehend that Cara would do such a thing so it was invisible to her.
Cara made her excuses and left.
Later Cara was with friends. She was drinking which she seldom did. Drinking on top of everything else usually made her puke. But hey they were drinking so she did.
“Look at this!”
“Huh. Are you getting married?”
“No stupid, I’m going to score a load and you know sisters share.”
“I didn’t even need to break in nowhere. It was Denise’s house….”
“Hah! They don’t have no money. Yuh didn’t”
“I did. Denise’s mom never wears it. It’ll be weeks before she notices. Maybe it went down the sink!”
All of them laughed. They hoped she was not fibbing about sharing.
At a seedy motel Cara was meeting her ‘man’. Brad had a new supply.
“Hey howsabout I trade you this ring?”
“I’ll give you a bag”
“Shit this is a real diamond. Big huh?”
“Do I look like a jewelry shop? Okay two.”
By now Cara was starting to get itchy. She scratched. It wasn’t as bad as when the family had dragged her to the shore and she couldn’t score there. She would feel like that soon enough.
“Okay but you’re an asshole.”
“Take it or leave it. Throw in a blow job and I’ll make it three.”
“Two for now.” Cara mimed a kiss. You never knew when the trade he was offering would come in handy. Handy! Ha?
“What am I gonna do with this ring?” said Brad.
“You know who Cara stole it from?”
“Susan Sofar. Lives on Riverton next to the Walgreens.”
“Don’t care. I’ll get rid of it tomorrow.”
He didn’t. He and the ring ended up in the river. Neither was ever found.
Susie and Cara were sitting at a table next to where Lucy and revealed Cara’s new job.
“So Cara what do you think about being a …private…investigator?”
“I don’t know yet Mrs. Sofer”
“Call me Susie.”
“Su..Susie you would be my first case. Thank you for trusting me. After we finish with your business you must tell me about Denise.”
“It is about a ring.”
Cara hoped her blush was not visible from a mile away. She felt almost as bad in the pit of her stomach as the night she had been tied to a bed in rehab. She hoped she wouldn’t retch and throw up.
“…A….rin?” she managed to get out.
Susie had given her the detective’s name. Cara called him because Susie expected her to, not because she wanted to.
“Yeah uh I’m Cara Sanders. I’m an investigator Idaho badge number 4673. I’m following up on a call you made to Mrs. Sofer about an inmate’s testimony.”
“Hmmm. Give me your number, I’ll have to look it up.”
He called back.
“We’d like to get to the bottom of this. Could you come in?”
Cara was surprised at the station when the detective took her right in to the interrogation room. In it was Steve, older and much the worse for wear. He was handcuffed to a chair.
“Cara! Did they catch you?”
“Uh no. I’m a private investigator.” She hoped again that she wasn’t blushing like a red neon sign.
The detective intervened. “Do you know this man?”
Well he obviously knows my name, so I can’t outright lie she thought.
“Steve knows me.” She looked at him as though she was shooting a laser etching the words ‘shut up’ on his forehead and hoped he would take the hint.
“Remember boss? You said I could get some time off for good behavior? She’s the thief.”
This can’t be happening to me/can’t be/can’t be Cara thought. Like some dopey echo in a telenovela.
The detective grabbed Steve and slammed his head down on the table.
“You stupid shit why you waste my time? You gonna be sorry.”
“No no! Boss she’s a junkie too! Just like me!” Steve managed to get this out from the side of his mouth.
“There wasn’t a ring you just wasting my time.”
At this point Cara could have said something but she had a new life now and she didn’t.
William Gibson, the renowned author couldn’t believe his eyes. The yellow pad one of with which he always started a book was turning back into the scraps it had been made from. The yellow dye that had concealed the paltriness of the wood pulp was now running down the front of Gibson’s desk.
“Oh that scamp Deidre”, he thought. It took a long time to echo through whatever cavern he was in.
She was always teasing him that she would put LSD in his tea. Gibson guessed she had finally done it. She must be ready to quit he surmised. That surmise took a long time too. She knows I’ll fire her after this.
Although myriads of his fans believed Gibson’s oeuvre must have had some chemical oomph, he had written all his novels in normal consciousness. He’d never been a fan of any kind of drug. Reality was strange enough. Not to put too fine a point on it, reality was hard enough to bear. He was sure that intensifying it would be too much in terms of pain and suffering. He was sure.
But now he had to deal with ‘this’. Of course he had friends who were ‘in the tribe’ so to speak. He hoped he could manage the phone.
“Luvena”, he croaked. At least it sounded like a croak.
“Mx Luvena Woods.”
“No Luvena, it’s me Bill.”
“What? Bill? Are you sick?”
“Diedre dosed me with acid.”
“How utterly charming dear! I’ll be right over.”
“Luv, you’re two hours away.”
“You won’t notice.” click.
By now everything looked perfectly normal – the yellow pad had somehow reconstituted itself. But absolutely nothing was the same. When Gibson wrote about the experience later he, who millions revered for his ability to describe cyberspace and related real world locales, was at a loss. “Everything was ‘here’ but none of it was” was the best he ever came up with. That description was not even close.
In any case Luvena showed up and she had an antidote. He was eventually able to sleep.
The next few days he felt indistinct although what that meant for a human was undefined.
Diedre, as expected never showed up. She had always been a sketchy character but Gibson felt he could manage sketchy characters. His novels were filled with them.
A year later he found out how she had cashed in. He saw that a signed first edition and his notes for “CyberMinax Eternal” were gone. Diedre had the list of his richest most extreme fans. Like a stolen Mona Lisa, the buyer could never admit he or she had it, but could admire it while alone. Gibson imagined the kind of room they would have built to keep it.
He would know them when in their presence. Meanwhile he had the germ of a new story. It would start with a Pope of cyberspace and would end with the discovery of a robbery.
Here’s that Pope as promised. He and Deidre are about to float in cyberspace on a cyber balloon.
Fake cheeks cost 150 dollars. She guessed they would be worth it. She knew she was good at this. She did it all the time and now she was doing it for herself. English accent, she’d lower her voice an octave. She really was good at this. Got well paid for it
Wig, boob expanders, butt lift and even a little pot belly – She would be someone he can’t look away from and then she would know. She suspects.
It was a cocktail party for a new show by a “famous” artist. The aspiration is to act like the one you want to be. She was acting like the one she wasn’t. Sort of the same she thought. Her hands were cold with anticipation.
There he was, talking to a gallerista drinks in hand. She was the Unknown. Was he hitting on this slip of a girl?
She walked up swinging her hips which were wider than they had been.
“You’re him! You wrote that book ‘Swipe of Dark Love’!”
He turned from the girl and his eyes widened.
“Uh I think you mean ‘Touch of Dark Love’?”
“Oh how silly of me, of course ‘Touch’. Hey I want to know what everyone wants to know – did she get on the yacht?”
“Oh now… you’ll just have to wait until the sequel…”
“What’s it called? What?”
“…comes out. I know what I’m calling it, but it might not be the final title, so…”
“I want her to get on that yacht. Nolan’s not good enough for her.”
“No you can’t convince me Nolan didn’t cheat on her, so…”
“I see you don’t have a drink. Shall we go to the bar? What do you drink?”
As they chatted she looked at him with admiration. She batted her eyes. Who knew that was really a thing?
Finally he made his move.
“There’s a little hotel just a block from here. Want to come?”
“Surprise!” She whipped off her wig like a drag queen.
“You bitch!” She could see his teeth grinding. “You lying wh…”
Then he got control of himself.
“How amusingly droll, my dear”, he managed to get out. “I knew it all the time, but I wanted to play along. Kinky.”
He looked at her. Unwearable. Nothing good. Not Okay.
“Make up sex?”, he asked.
“Break up sex?”, he hoped.
And like that, she was off to look for a-better-than-Nolan and a yacht.
There she is, just like a shepherdess on the right. And there she is under the Plexiglas looking up.
Six rockets sped towards Seattle WA USA. The good news: they missed the city. The bad news: they all landed in the bay, also one of them detonated.
Lilliana Hackett was walking her dog on a park ridge above the city. Her phone was turned off; she had not received the fifteen minute warning that screamed in millions of phones.
She heard the missiles hit the water and the explosion. Something bad had happened but she didn’t know what.
A huge water spout like a tsunami that was tilted ninety degrees rose in the air. Then it fell. Liliana was hit from above with 30 pounds of water falling at a great rate. She was knocked unconscious and her dog was killed.
When she awoke it was to intense pain. Her legs were broken, both of them. She was dizzy and sick to her stomach in addition to the searing pain. Her legs had swollen up like balloons. Even a tiny movement let her know she wasn’t going anywhere.
Her rescuers came much later that day. They put her in a plastic spineboard. As they managed her pain she was able to say: “Save the young people. Let me die. Save the young people of the city; I’m not worth it.”
An EMT said “It’s Okay. Most everyone ducked and covered. There’s room at the hospital for you.” Right after that she went into darkness. Her injuries were severe enough she was put into a new kind of medically induced coma and in the midst of chaos, an over worked hospital and breakdown of law and order she stayed there. When a review came up, which was seldom, it was easier just to let her stay and get on to more pressing cases.
When she finally came to, she was still in bad shape. She remembered what had happened but asked for her dog. No one knew anything so she assumed he was dead. She was alone, more alone than she had ever been. In her mind’s eye, she was a chilled, dead tree.
Things were worse than before, bad as they had been then. That snake, Chester, her husband had told her about all the times he had cheated and stolen her money before he died. Why did he have to do that? And her daughter Corll was a chip off the old block and drunk on top of the other abusive ‘tudes. Lilliana had not spoken to her in years, and good riddance to bad rubbish.
She wasn’t well enough to leave the hospital. She did have visitors though.
“Hi. We’re here on behalf of the Armor Our Homeland Fund. You know that the Kingdom of Asnijan perpetrated the dastardly attack that has put you here. I’ll cut to the chase: To protect our homeland your country needs you to buy Armor Bonds.”
Lillian was still in a daze when she said: “How much money do I have?”
The Fund was nothing but thorough. The agents had Lilliana’s net worth to the penny, what was liquid, what was not. The agents told her.
Lilliana said: “I’m going to die anyway, just take it.”
“Oh we’re not going to take it, we’re going to invest it! Invest it!” the lead agent said the last part very loudly (could she tell what they were asking? who cares?)
Since her signature was so illegible, they video’ed her signing. She was so whacked out she waved to the phone recording her.
“Hi, I’m going to die. Hell of a thing to say isn’t it?”
“Ms. Hackett is signing now”, said the agent. He was off camera.
They left her with a stack of papers that she threw away.
A day came when she was able to leave the hospital. She saw Corll. Damn. What was that? Who was that?
Corll, clean and sober. Lilliana was a grandmother in a wheelchair. The three would live together. But they needed money.
Lilliana called the Fund.
“This is Harvey, how can I help today?” Her phone number had already called up her stats on his screen.
“Harvey I need to get money out of the Fund.”
“Liliana as you know, we were attacked. You of all people know how badly the homeland was hurt. The war goes on and on, your contribution helped us win the battle of Adiba. Don’t you want to support the troops?”
“Well yes, but I need to support my family now.”
The conversation lasted a long time. Harvey read from his scripts. Lilliana would have to hire a lawyer. Who would lose.
Corll is a superhero of sobriety. Corll’s daughter is beside her. The fund is crushing Corll.
“I’m ghosting you”, wrote Cady Bonin in a text. She felt good. Quit him before he quits me. It would be fun to have a partner that understands me and let’s me be me. But he’s not it.
This is not exactly how Giancarlo saw it. This betrayal was arguably worse than when he and Dee had a scream fest and threw things. He was thinking in English because that was the language they had used. This was some kind of how you say? chickenshit – but you know, she was worth it. He took it as the opposite of a loss.
Cady was still on her phone and switched to swiftgram. Her follower count was 750,000. She had bought 40,000 followers to put her over 500,000 so she could have let them go but it was easier just to keep them. She posted a picture of her little Yorkie dog. This was easier on a day before a big reveal: that G was out of the picture. For that post she was going to need help.
She had a stylist on retainer. Her photographer had his lights, softbox and so on in a closet at Cady’s house. This was going to be a ‘d.R.A.M.A.’ post. Her followers loved them and could tell one was coming just from the production values in the pic.
She thought. The lead-in -> Maybe: ‘My fairy tale might have a better or worse ending I dunno. But that’s Okay’. Good start, she would send it to her team in the Philippines. They would run it through an AI and then do a quick and dirty focus group. Then they would write the rest of the post. She would edit it and blam! maybe even a note in USA Today. “Why did G and C break up?” second lede: “Who cheated on Who?”
She was C. that is: Cady, not Katie or shudder Kathleen. Hey how about: ‘I’ll cry tomorrow. Not today with fresh makeup on.’ She liked that too and sent it on to the Phil team.
The next day things were coming together. The text of the post was great. Cady was styled demurely with a tiny hint of smudged mascara. She knew how skilled the photog was. This was going to be drunkmoneyawesome. Now which sponsored product would be featured in the following post? She handled that business herself – why pay an agent their fucking cut?
Like she had said to her mother, “Maybe if you had a fucking business you were passionate about, you’d know what it takes to run a fucking business, but you don’t. So don’t even act like you know what I’m talking about.”
Next up she needed a new boyfriend, a foil, some arm candy. Who?
A few weeks later Bruce was in every other post. No one better call her a ‘ho. The Phil team took care of comments like that.
Sometimes she had two sponsored products in a post at once. Until she got this message from the Filipino team:
Strange comment showed up three times: “Who is katiebee1990?” Usually if an odd one like this shows up it happens only once. The AI agrees this anomaly needs to be checked out.
Cady’s heart froze and she felt her throat tighten. She knew what it meant. She was katiebee1990. She had deleted that avatar and made sure no one could dredge it up again. Someone could not have hacked swiftgram but was there some other archive? Must be.
Cady had a few email accounts she used anonymously. She sent a message “Re: katiebee1990/ how much do you want? bitcoin or some other crypto?”
Then the reposts from her followers started. They went like this: Cady/Katie at seventeen with acne! and bad hair was talking about how she wasn’t ever going to do things to be famous. And this: Katie showing off her mall fashion. So bad.
And then worse: A pic of Cady in bed probably with a hangover and spit running down her cheek. Giancarlo! I’ll bet it was him thought Cady.
Then came the reposts that made Cady delete her account. They were deepfakes of young Katie talking in today’s Cady’s voice or the other way around, Katie talking in Cady’s voice. Everyone knew they were fake but they went explosively viral. Cady knew there was no recovery from this deep a hole. She was out of a job, her cash flow dipped negative.
She had enough money left to disappear so she did.
Some years later Cady said: “I know this is more house than you two had planned on, but if you think of the future this the house you’ll need. Always aspire that’s what I say.”
The young couple looked convinced.
Cady thought: “Cha-ching!” She was right.
Burn. Burned, burned down. Matthew 26:52. “… for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
That’s Giancarlo in yellow towards the bottom of the video.
Marlow Wessex had never been on a space-ship before. He was an anthropologist, not an exo-anthropologist. Still, one had to be flexible depending on one’s bank account balance. The mysterious voice on the other end of his wristradio had proved genuine. His balance had jumped in precisely the exact amount that the voice had promised. His ticket had arrived by pneumatic tube the next day.
Included in the envelope was (also as promised) the task he was expected to do. There was a certain object the voice desired.
Dame Minax Margatroid recognized the type. A Pithicene, hairless except for the head. The Pithicenes were close approximations of the Stellulopes. In a dark alley one could be fooled. This one, a male was pointing one of the wands they carried and quasi-intellible Stellulope audio was emitted.
“But I am a user. I knew my people and came to earth. I hope to look again if you want to know more.”
What he said: “Hullo I’m an anthropologist. I come in peace to study your people. I hope to learn much and also teach much if you wish it.”
Sigh, she thought. He didn’t have enough money to buy a decent wand. Aside from the space-ship troopers and their leaders most Pithicenes couldn’t afford the upgrade to Stellulope. But she had been assigned to him, to keep him out of (ahem) “trouble” and to keep the Stell from offending the space-ship troopers. That had been an unmitigated disaster until the Pith’s were able to create good wands.
She knew better than to say anything complicated. “Come with me. I’ll take you on a tour and you can try and tell me what you are after.”
He heard: “Back, I will take you to the suburbs and you can try to tell me what you are passing by.”
They walked through the bazaar where they saw the berryquats, pinecados, pequince, the usual. She knew better than to take him through the animal flesh area. Instead they walked through the fabric section. Beautiful crown of life that looked like glass if glass ran with all shades of indigo, fish of the sea, a lighter but iridescent blue, berean-breathed linen a cloth that changed depending on the wearers mood. Pithicenes were usually impressed with this mundane stuff.
“Beautiful, unworldly, ingenious, transcendant!”
“Good world, not brilliant!”
They usually said something like that. They kept walking through the Stellulope town named Benjo.
“Do you like Benjo?”
He heard: “Do you like a cow?” They briefing book he had read on the way had warned him that Stellu’s often said enigmatic things and he had been advised to never show surprise. According to the book, Stellu’s did not have the emotion of surprise or disgust.
“Yes my father had a farm with cows chickens pigs and goats. I spent many happy summers there.”
“Yes, my father is the cats and the goats. I shouted there.”
The Stellulope race had been quite stealthy. Not only did they have the emotions of surprise and disgust. but the anatomy books they had given to humans were wrong in one crucial detail. Stellulopes did not have constricted ear openings. They are all connected to the interdigifleet, the compendium of all Stellulope knowledge. Like all intelligent species’ wikis about 10 percent of that knowledge was true and useful. Another 20 percent was true and not useful (boring). The other 70 percent was of course untrue and not useful.
Dame Margatroid had him (the pithicene that is) checked out. He had no government or military connections. He did seem to be 100 percent academic with little to show for it. No family. Few friends on veneerbook, no other notable social media. He was perfect.
They were now passing a temple. Marlow’s interest was piqued.
“Can we go inside?”
wand: “Can I come back to us?”
“Sure.” said the Dame.
wand: “Most calm moments.”
So they did.
Marlow was subtly apprehended at the door. The guys were suave and Marlow was guileless. A good combination to avoid a noticeable fracas. Before he knew it Marlow was tied up under the most gigantic glass lens he had ever seen. The sun was bright and even the dimmest bulb could figure out heat was about to play a leading role in Marlow’s life.
From doorways around the sunroom a few priests (there is hardly a culture where the priests are hard to recognize) started advancing. The sun crept across the sky. A bead of light formed on the floor and was traveling along with the sun in the sky. Then Marlow noticed there was a desholiri, a small rodent like animal – TIED UP just like we was.
The sun’s focused light touched the desholiri. It screamed like a trumpet whining through a catacomb. Liquid dripped from the arms of the beast into small chalices. The priests approached and drank. Then they sang the universal song of delight, god curse their dirty souls. Marlow was next.
As the sun moved in one direction a curious shadow moved the opposite way. As the sun grew brighter the shadow grew bigger. Just as the beam of light was about to start sending Marlow into shrill agony the sun was eclipsed!
In the utter darkness Marlow felt his bonds being slit. “Quiet, and run like you’ve been struck by thumder”. M saw that his benefactor was human! As much as M admired the Pinkertons, this was a touchstone not be be believed.
In the briefing room aboard the space-ship his wonder increased. The whole Stellulope scheme was even now being broken up by InterPlanetary Patrol. The ‘eclipse’ was one of the space-ship’s lightsails adroitly maneuvered into place. Timing is not everything, it is the only thing.
Here’s Marlow and Dame Minax. She looks quite human don’t you think? And he, such a long haired poetic visage! Perhaps before or even during his anthropology career he also versifies
Although it is not in Stellulope, the writing at the bottom of Marlow’s wand does contain the word ‘free’. Perhaps even the voice from his wristradio was from the InterPlanetary Patrol.
Ah! the green and blue sky of the Planet of the Stellulopes.