(The New) Zebra Island

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Wildering Haven

This story began as a collaborative adventure / pass-time and quickly grew out of control. There are various versions of this tale, hence the name "(The New) Zebra Island." The collaborator's combined names might be Bobert Bringene Geimes. Clarity is almost at hand. Don't believe anything you are about to read. Nobody has made it to the end, so far. You could be the first?

When the lights went off I was holding the door shut, the pounding was increasing. I looked at my watch in the dark, the face glows in the darkness. The pounding stopped but I kept the door tightly shut, leaning on it hard. A minute went by, then another. I was thinking of various things, my teacher, an old face that I do not recognize, and of course, the danger I am in right now. I am having a hard time remembering my own name, I am too frightened. The pounding has stopped, minutes go by, its a trick.
 

Now there is a simple businesslike knocking on the door. They are calling a name. Courage Joiner. Who is Courage Joiner? Or is it Joyner? I can't remember my own name, but I know that my name is not Courage Joiner. Are they saying Kurdish Jynar?

 

It was a full moon.

I was waiting in the hallway. The two idiotic “telegram delivery boys” were making a mess of my careful plans. The subject was holed up tight, I had him. I Had Him! Then these goof boys showed up, pounding on the door and generally making a ridiculous racket. 

What could I do? I waited in the darkness of the hall, mostly hidden. Fuming.

I open the door just as two high-school aged boys try to force it open, they comically come tumbling in and fall down on each other. “Telegram, Mr. Joiner” I say nothing, I am not Joiner, why are they here?

They try to hand me the paper envelope they are carrying, but I wont lift my hand, I just look at them. I say nothing but I am thinking “who is Courage Joiner?” I point to the table, I want them to put the paper on the table, but they want me to sign something. I wont sign it. They eventually get angry and storm off, its the end of a long day of delivering messages. Now they are going home, its done, it is quitting time.


I hear them go noisily down the stairs, and that is when the explosion happened.

Now the door is stuck shut, there is a huge hole in my floor, and I try to open the door, but it wont move. Once I was holding it shut, now I am unable to open it.

Somehow after battering the door with their bodies the boys succeeded in entering the room where the subject was. They performed their duty, and ran out of there so fast, I had to jump out of their way or be trampled. Now he was mine. I HAD HIM! But then came the blast.

By the time I got through the jammed door and into the room, it was empty. Weeping searchlights clawing the darkness, again and again, revealing a shocking void. A naked void. A voidy void. Nothing but a huge hole in the floor. I saw that he had probably been vaporized by the explosion. But there was something wrong. Everything was wrong.

I look at the new hole in the floor, it was probably my only way out. I look deep into the hole, it looks like the drop is about five feet. I can do that. I hear shouting and many boots coming up the stairs. At the last possible moment I almost forgot to grab the telegram that they have left for me and stuff it into my pocket.


Geronimo! I jump down into the hole. Its deeper than five feet. As I fall I regret my decision, maybe all of my decisions leading up to this moment. Then I am hit with a blast of water from a huge broken pipe, which changes my fall from straight down to being sprayed by a power blast of water out into the alley. I am soaking wet, and it is cold, so I head off. 

 

The first thing I come to is a laundromat, the machines are running but there is nobody there, so I leave my wet clothing and put on some warm dry clothes, taken directly from the big big hot dryers. Its a t-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara and some black chinos. 


The warm clothes feel good. I go outside. Its deceptively quiet now.

Suddenly there was a crashing noise and tramping feet.

The Safeco Deathrunner Commando Squad A14 burst in through the doors and windows just as I was examining the empty room with a hole in the floor. They pointed their weapons at me. I was holding onto my socks when the head  recognized me.

“Oh, hold on team. Don't you see who this is? Its Gitmo.” 

“Gitmo! The Zombie Slayer!” (They all know me! I love my job.)

“Evenin' boys. Tom, Hank, Lil’ Hank, Dick, Harry, Melvina. How’s Bud?” 

“He's back at home tonight, Gitmo, it’s his turn with the pups. He’s sure gonna be mindblown when I tell him I saw you up here and on the job.” 

“Send him my heart.” 

“Sure, will do. Did you get your zombie, Gitmo? Where is it?” 

“Got away, boys... (oh wait, Melvina is certainly no boy) ErrrRangers.” 

“Next time, Gitmo. You’ll git it next time.” They all showed me that they agreed on this.

“Yep. Next time, for sure. Say, what was that last blast? If I had been a little quicker I would have caught that one full frontal to the next world.” 

“It wasn't one of ours, Gitmo. We thought it was one of yours.” 

“I wish it was. I Had that cussed Zombie! I did.” 

I headed down the stairs, accompanied by only the sound of their exuberant but good-natured peals of laughter as it was their turn to work the room. It’s good to have friends on the force. On all the forces, these days. Cover all the bases. That's how to win. Know people. Spread the lettuce. Harvest the victory.

I look back and up and I see my window. There are many soldiers wearing black uniforms in there now.

They have illuminated the whole building, and more soldiers are repelling off the roof, going in my broken windows. Am I that important that they would all be searching for me? Rather than ask them, I abruptly decided to head off. Gzznga! A guy on a Hoover Disk runs into me, knocks me down and he goes flying off his Hoove. He is delivering Neptunian food. His big funny hat probably says the name of the restaurant where the strange looking food came from. I can sense some of the soldiers coming my way, so I do something that I know I will regret but what choice do I have? 


Before my next move, I ask his name. His name is Sam Ting and he is from Neptune. I still can't remember my name. I take his hoover disk before he can grab it from me and I ride off as fast as I can go.


Now I am on a busy road, and there are two cars that are about to run me over. I make a defensive and evasive swerve on the stolen Hoover Disk and find myself falling into a construction site. Fade to black.


Then something happened, and I am trying to figure it out.


I am waking up in a strange place again. I remember looking at that darned ceiling fan for hundreds of millions of years. Then I remember hearing the head nurse telling the new girl about the different patients on the ward. The fan was endlessly going around and around, and I kept watching it, but I never said anything to anyone. I still do not know where I am, but I am adjusting to that as time goes by. They just kept doing their jobs and took no notice of my awakening. Now they were standing in front of my bed, looking at the charts. My charts.


“This is our Mr. Joyner. He's been with us here for almost five years now. Such a sad case. He used to keep saying one word, over and over again, but now, well... it’s such a sad case. Some fishermen brought him in. It’s really the most incredible story. They said that he must have been floating for days.


"We only recently found out where he came from, and now we have a name for him. We had no idea for all these past few years, but just yesterday they pieced together much more of his story.” 

I was all ears. They had sort of English accents. I love English accents, maybe I am in heaven. Their badges said Auckland Mercy Hospital. Who is Lou Zealand? Now I know that Joyner is spelled with a "y."


“Those fishermen said that they found him on a raft. After a luxury yacht struck something in the darkness, the passengers were forced to abandon ship. They must have been on that raft for a long time, by the time they found our man there were only four of them left alive. They claimed that they saw an object fall off of the side of some kind of airplane and they paddled over to investigate, and there he was, barely alive but still hanging on. I think they were going to eat him but luckily the fishermen showed up. 


"Nobody knew anything more about all this until Miss Pickenwiggens, Willie, you'll meet her... Willie is short for Wilhelmina, over in the library... Anyway she followed up some clues from a bit of paper that was in his pocket, and she found a news article from old San Francisco, imagine that. From back before that final big earthquake. Nobody knows what they do up there in the library, I think that she has lots of time on her hands, so sometimes she finds the strangest things. She's one of a kind. You'll see. Definitely one of ours.” She made a gesture circling her finger around her ear.


The head nurse explained “his” dosages and nutrition to the new girl, since "he" (that would be me) has been in an apparent coma for so long they had given up on any hope for recovery, and that’s why he/I was in The Garden which is what they called the ward for the most unfortunate patients that linger on in a persistent vegetative state.


“Please get back to the story, just where did our Mr. Joyner come from?” 


“Well, this is where the story itself is rather hard to believe, but there were two witnesses at the time, it was quite a sensation. Of course they were all lost in that earthquake, so nobody can really be sure now. You see how his eyes are open? It’s so strange, it’s like he is looking at us. We have tried everything, the lights look like they are on, but believe you me, nobody is home. They ran hundreds of tests. Nothing. He is just another watermelon in our patch now.” 


The new nurse thought to herself, a watermelon is not a vegetable, so that is a wrong metaphor for a vegetative patient, but why bother…


“Yes, his eyes seem to follow us even now. Yoo hoo! Bright eyes! It’s like he can hear us. Gives me a chill.”


“Please go on!” 


“Well, in some old newspaper there was a story about some kind of explosion and a man was seen running from the area that night. It was a gas explosion, probably an accident, but, well, you know, mysterious. Anyway, those two witnesses saw not one but two speeding vehicles almost strike that man. At the last minute he jumped or sort of fell out of the way. There was a construction site there and he leaped or fell into that. The witnesses swear it happened just that way. But now there is this old YouTube video from back then, on the Internet. Won some kind of award. That’s what Willie found just Yesterday.” 


“Well, if it’s on the Internet...” 

 

“No, really! Willie said there were some kids making some kind of Batman film at that very construction site. Mr. Joyner can be seen quite clearly for just a fraction of a second, a close up of his face as he falls onto the fulcrum or catapult that they were using for their movie, you know, to pop things into the air, to appear to be flying.” 


“Oh really?” 


“Bloody hell!" (she is tired of this skeptical "Oh really" business). "The camera was rolling and he falls directly on the catapult, knocking aside some kind of costumed mannequin dressed as a superhero, just when they set it off, and bidew! There he went, neat as pie into the sky. Willie said that you can see his face perfectly, but just for a second. She said she has printed out a picture that we can go see, she says it’s really him, I don't know. Then he is shot way way way up in the air and hits the passing transporter face first, POW! He was somehow stuck up there, because he didn't fall off. I can’t imagine…” 


“No!” 


“Yes! But you know, if it wasn't for that old soggy telegram we found in his pocket we would have no idea of what his name is. All we could make out was the name Courage Joyner, and we think it’s his name, nobody knows, really. And there was an address; it was in San Francisco, California, way up there in the States. Now thanks to Willie we have figured out that the address on the telegram was the very same building where the explosion was. That was the biggest link that proves the whole story. Her finding the video was really quite... well! I never! Let’s go have a look at that picture for ourselves, she probably still has it. Coffee time.” 

By the time I got to the airport in Antarctica, it had been almost two months since the suspicious aircraft had landed. Lucky for me I did manage to find the exact same airplane that the Zombie had flown in on, but with no sign of the Zombie. He was not on the flight manifest or the passenger log, but I did find little scratch marks where he had clung to the smooth side of the aircraft, some fingernail and tooth marks. No sign as to where or when he let go. End of the trail again? No way! For some this would be the end of the trail, but not for me. 

Plus I got a call.

There was a mysterious stranger found by some fishermen, and they have someone that meets the description of My Zombie. I am on my way to Auckland, New Zealand. To the charity hospital. To see the head nurse of the intensive care and no-hope unit. They call it The Garden. Its where the vegetables are kept. Fruits too, probably, but that is another story.

Got you this time, Zombie scum! He is Mine. He ain’t a-goin’ nowhere.

Sure enough, I talk to the head nurse, a Mrs. Bradshaw, and there he is. He is definitely not going anywhere. They won’t let me kill him or take him, unless I want to assume the full costs of all the tests and treatment that they have so far performed, but, like I said, he is not going anywhere. I virtually own him right where he lies, he is not capable of going anywhere, and that is good enough for me just now. They can keep him until my benefactor decides what to do with his semi-mortal remains.

They all talk funny here, sort of like the Beatles only different. While I was there I by chance happened to meet the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, she said her name was Miss Piggywiggy. Wilhelmina. In our brief time together she shared her secret name with me. To me she is Sweet Cheeks Willy, she is a librarian, and I have a thing for smart women wearing glasses. She clearly has a thing for Zombie Slayers. All women do. We chatted for only a few moments, but I know one when I see one, this is one, and I am not letting this one go, no sir. Two major prizes at once, the Beauty and the Beast. She agreed to my subterfuge, if anything happens to my Zombie Beast, she will call me, so now she has my number.

Gitmo, The Zombie Slayer. Number one. Outstanding in my field. I hope she calls anyway. (Later note: she didn’t. She never did.)

She gestured at me and pointed to the strange round hole in the ground. “GET IN! DON'T JUST SIT THERE, GET IN!” The dogs were now close enough to see them and be seen by them. The only thing worse than being eaten by large reptiles might be to be eaten by dogs. I am glad not to know precisely.

I did as I was told. “Call me Willie” were the next words she said to me. I was thinking that it could not possibly be the same Willie, Wilhelmina, that they were talking about in the hospital. But it turns out to be one and the same.

The door to the Terra-Submersible silently slid shut and I felt us dive into the earth.

It was dark in there, but my eyes adjusted, and by the light of a thousand LED controls I watched this powerfully built young woman at the helm. I could feel us descending and moving forward. She called the vessel she was operating “Tadpole” and she had some kind of story about spending the last five years waiting for me to awaken from my coma. She was just about to give up when she noticed that I was abruptly showing new signs of life that the nursing staff had failed to recognize. She insists that my name is spelled with an “i” not a “y.” 

So this is the same Willie that the nurses were talking about, the one who put together the clues, but I feel certain that I know only one thing, and that is my name is not Courage Joiner. I do not know for sure who I am, but I am glad to be out of the hospital, though it feels like I was not there for long. Certainly not five years.

She explains that her name is actually Wilhelmina, but her father called her Willie when she was tiny, and the name stuck. She also calls herself Wilma when it suits her.

The Tadpole Terra-Submersible was invented by Willie's late father, and she was sent to the Auckland hospital to keep an eye on me so that when I woke up (if I woke up) she could follow up with me, there are lots of questions. The questions now are, why, and for who, and to do what? Is she with the good guys or the bad guys, or is it that simple? For now, I am just along for the ride, and I will keep my options open as I figure things out. (Y or I? I wish I knew.)

Things happen slow and then fast in my business. Time is uncertain. There are long periods of nothing, zilch, nada, bubkis, nix, not-a-thing. Then suddenly, badda bing all heck breaks loose and we just have to do the best we can as the bricks come off the old ship house.

Time goes by. Next thing I hear, there has been a break-out. The Zombie just suddenly sat up and skittered on out the door. Well, it was actually the window. It was not Ms. Piggywiggy who called me, but my other contact, the head nurse, the Mrs. Bradshaw. It turns out Bradshaw hates the librarian. She has a lot of dirt on Piggywiggy that she wants to give to me, but I am focused only on my Zombie. It’s amazing what a little lettuce can do to promote loyalty and candor. By the time I got there, the trail was almost ALMOST cold again, but only a little cool, and you know about me and my trail. It’s never completely cold for Gitmo the Zombie Slayer, no sir. 

The tracks headed out to the edge of the swamp; there was a dead gigantic lizard, a real man-eater for sure, with a razorpointed bullet-type thingy, right in the brainpan. Zapped. But by whom? Not another Zombie, they have no sense and would not plan ahead. 

Perhaps a Zombie abettor. An assistant to the walking dead. Those are the worst kind of people. Traitors to the living. Scum of the bums. I kept the razor tipped bullet. It’s mine now. I'll show it to you later.

Sweet Cheeks was gone. She originally told me that she had been there for years, and yet that same night she just disappeared. Bradshaw thinks she may be exaggerating about how long she had been there at the New Zealand Charity Hospital Library. She might have only been there a few days. It’s the library, located on the top floor, and nobody pays attention to them, nobody knows for sure how long she was there. They live in a separate world, with a different paymaster. Lucky for me I have my network. I trace her to someone named Pickenwiggens. Is it a coincidence that the name is almost but not quite similar? I shall have to ask her. I will. 

It appears that she is part of some kind of mysterious organization who is not trying to kill me on sight, as opposed to the other mysterious organization who apparently IS trying to kill me on sight. I could be wrong about that, except that I am still alive for now. I start to look at her and my hormones stirred, she has a hidden magnetism that I am starting to sense. Why is this happening to me? I think we're alone now. How can I get her in a romantic mood?

She now is scolding me for some imagined decision she thinks I made, she is angry because she says I was defying her father and his plans for saving the world. I do not understand what she is talking about, which of course is making her more angry, and causing her to doubt me more and more, which, in turn, is causing me to become more and more aroused. She has a nice balcony. This is not going to work out so easily, but just maybe it could, who knows?

She produces a copy of the folded piece of paper that she claims was found in my pocket, the actual telegram. I never did read the darned thing. The water has ruined most of the original message, she demands that I decode whatever the secret message is. This is even more puzzling to me. She is wearing a holster with some kind of gun and her nipples are hard now. I start to earnestly try to help her, reading the strange marks that are left on the page.

The only clue I can deduce from the page are the letters D and C, which are evidently the initials of the sender. They mean less than nothing to me. Why would Direct Current, or the District of Columbia, or half of an Australian rock band send me a telegram? Maybe its from Dick Clark. That's a joke.

My inside man, a wheezy fellow named DC, invited me to come to the tropical island he was visiting. Not now. But it sounds good. I wonder what DC's name really is? In my business, we do not ask and we do not tell. We listen. We listen Hard. But things happen, and sooner or later I always find out. Everything, I even find out things I do not want to know. It’s just part of the crazy job I have. I love my job, most days.

Next I am on a small boat for a few days, “The Doolittle,” on its scientific long-term mission, to count and track as many of the thousands of small islands in the Indian Ocean as they can, as the sea rises and the islands vanish. It could be like a vacation, but not for me, I am always at work, always focused, always looking for My Zombie. I stay on “The Doolittle” for but a few days, maybe a week or a few months at most, we find lots of those islands. There is one that stands out; it’s got a black and white striped beach with a water-tight hut where an old man is living. Talk about a retirement haven! I hope I can go that way when it’s my time. I was only there for a few hours. He had the strangest little assistants. I plan on going back to see Old Man Nemo someday. But not now, not while there is a Zombie loose. My Zombie.

About three months or maybe a year or two later I am in Norway, there was another call about another sighting that could be my Zombie monster. There had been some kind of disturbance in the arctic sea, and that name “Pickenwiggens” turned up again. Coincidence?

She looks at me and says “DC?”
Is that a question? I am about to say something, I hesitate as I don't know what to say and she is evidently ready to peel me alive and I am trying not to imagine peeling her clothes off, when the Tadpole shudders, and then flips upside down for one revolution, and when I recover from being on the wrong side of gravity, she is gone. Just gone. I holler a few times, but nothing. It's just me inside the Tadpole Terra-Submersable, moving through the ocean at some fantastic speed. My first thought: DO NOT BUMP OR TOUCH ANYTHING. With my luck things could get worse.

I fall asleep by the light of the LED meters. I don't know for how long, I have a poor sense of time. When I awaken, the ship is still moving steadily. I find a pair of strange glasses hanging from a hook, I pick them up and look at them, I put them on. I feel like there is something watching me. I take them off and hang them around my neck. I am alone in the dark Tadpole interior. 

After another long time, the Tadpole starts slowing down.

Now we are rising, like a bubble. We stop and I feel like I am on a boat, for the first time. 

The vessel is swaying, like a cork floating on top of the water. I sit for a long time, expectantly, something is going to happen. We have arrived and I am frightened.

I think I waited too long, maybe an hour? Its hard to tell. There is what appears to be a hatch, with a latch. If I open it, will the ocean rush in? 

I wait some more. What's the rush?

No more waiting. I grasp the handle and pull, nothing happens. I push, and a hissing click, the seal is released and the opening sighs wider and wider. Its a large metal room, not too bright, not too dark, the ship is bobbing on a small indoor pond. I am alone. I hop over onto the deck or whatever you call it. The place is empty. I see something on the wall, its very small, and on impulse I put on the spectacles which hang around my neck. This next part happens very quickly. When I put them on the room becomes crowded with strange beings. The room now looks more like a cave, with wet rock walls. There is a huge fat creature of some sort, it shouts “THERE!” and it points at me. There are hundreds of small humanoid shaped creatures, ranging from eight to twelve inches in height, each with six arms, and they are all looking to where the fat starfish shaped hand points, which is at me. They seem to be angry.


I jerk the glasses off and step backwards. Now I am alone again. What the heck just happened? There is only one thing to do, I take a few steps and cautiously put the glasses back on again. 

“NOW THERE!” the fatty points at my new location, and the small creatures that look sort of like Indian Gods, little Vishnu creatures? They are moving to surround me. Off go the glasses and I trot on back to the Tadpole, but the hatch is now closed and there is only smooth metal, no handle or any means to open the door I came out of, there is no door, and nowhere for me to hide. I pound on it screaming. But I am alone, there is nothing to hide from and no one to hear me.


Not knowing what else to do, I walk to where I would estimate to be behind the reclining Leviathan, and carefully hold the glasses up to my eyes, watching carefully how the world shifts from solitude to the maddening crowd of Hindu Lilliputians and the Big One. I am right next to him/it, just behind him/it. He/it has not seen me yet, I experiment with moving the glasses close to my eyes, he/it is looking intently towards where I recently was, I pull the glasses further away, and I am alone.


I ease the glasses on my face, prepared to pull them off, and say “Who are you?” which of course startles Large-and-in-Charge, who tries to turn the table and fires a question at me, instead of answering. “WHERE IS WILLIE? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH WILLIE?” 


Off go the glasses, and I relocate. I consider my options. I ease them back on again.


“You mean Wilhelmina?” To hear the answer I must keep the glasses on, but I am ready to pull them off.


“YES! WILLIE! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER?” I stick around, I keep the glasses on, but I am ready to jerk them off if anything appears to be threatening to me. The voice is male, no it.


The legions turn towards me, but they do not approach. They begin chanting, a few at first, then all of them “vvvVILLY! VILLY! VILLY!...” they have high pitched reedy thin little Munchkin voices. This keeps on and the big fellow gestures for me to talk.


I explain what has happened, the short version, beginning with my rescue from the giant swamp lizard, getting into the Tadpole, the discussion Wilhelmina and I were having... 


By the way, I strategically leave out the part about DC. And then I tell him how the vessel flipped over and then she was gone. I keep an eye out for any sneaky stuff, but the tribe stands politely and listens, as does the Main Man. I have decided that whatever it is, it is most definitely probably male. He has human features, just really big. Big weird starfish-like fingers. The mouth is the biggest part of his head. He appears to just lie there, while the little minions do the work. I glance up, and notice above us hangs a strange mirror disco ball reflecting many colors on the cave walls. It looms over us. He notices that I am looking at it, and with a gesture, he appears to cause the mirror ball to descend.

The little fellows have stopped with the chanting and are now all watching me.


For some reason this makes me uneasy, so I pull the glasses off and step backwards. I examine my options for escape. The doors are all shut tight, the Tadpole is sealed up tight, so that leaves the water. I look intently down below the Tadpole, which floats on the indoor pool. Its dark down there, and it gets darker. Swimming out is not a good choice. My options for escape are woefully limited.

I choose where I want to be. I put the glasses cautiously to my eyes. The big fellow has not moved. I put it to him one more time. “Who are you?” 

Of course. No big deal. This big old world is full of random nonsensical coincidences.

No point in getting lost chasing all the wild turkeys that appear and then disappear all around you. Got to stay focused, that is how you catch a Zombie and slay it. It’s my ancient craft. I Am the Zombie Slayer. My job transcends the grave. My assignments are all Big. This one is a really REALLY big one.

They never let me see her, but they had their prisoner, the one named Pickenwiggens, in a cell. She had been on some kind of passenger ship that had capsized, their story was muddled and still doesn’t make any sense to me. She was the only survivor found floating and unconscious in the dark and nearly-frozen arctic sea, and that trail included contact with My Zombie. Back on the tail again! Never give up. I am here to tell you, you too should never give up, whatever you are doing. It was my man DC again who led me to this one. Someday I hope to meet him, maybe take him up on his offer to have me for supper. I always love a good hot meal. He sounds like quite the chef.

But I digress, the story goes on. They had My Zombie in a cell for one day. One day!

Well, fifty-six hours, but time is different up there that far north. It was him, it was My Zombie, the pictures do not lie. It was him. They found him attempting to communicate with their private prisoner Pickenwiggens, the one I never saw, and they questioned my Zombie very thoroughly. I got to read the transcripts. Clever Zombie, he spewed his filthy patch of lies and half-truths that made no sense at all, none. Then he was gone. Just like that. Cursed Zombie. This is one time that my well placed lettuce did not pay off. I heard about it after all this was done, and the Zombie's cell was cold and empty. Evil Damned Zombie. That Zombie Must Die.

Okay, it’s time to press the “wayback” button and tell you a bit more about my job. I am a Zombie Slayer for Hire. I was employed by a mysterious wealthy man, a scientist, to find this sleeper Zombie man. 

My employer's name was Harley Earl, and the assignment transcended his death. I know this sounds like the beginning of a steaming crock of wild swamp lizard pee, but hold on. Here is the real story. Here is the low-down skinny on this wild time adventure drama from beyond the pail of crazy dreams. The bucket of bedlam.

Are you ready?

He/it looks annoyed with my method of disappearing and re-appearing in new locations.


“I am DC.” This is the first piece of information that fits with Wilhelmina's last words before she disappeared.


The little Vishnu pixies are now busy with what appears to be maintenance work on the Tadpole, they have it open and are carrying various tools and supplies into the ship as it peacefully bobs in the water.


DC gestures to me, and lowers the mirror ball. I notice that there are images on some of the mirror surfaces, moving images. He turns nostalgic and starts talking about how he first met Willie and he gets all misty and talks as if he were a child. Then he starts working with the mirror ball, images of Willie as a young girl appear. He shows me how to focus on one image and to bring it into my vision, so that it becomes huge. There are various episodes of her life, sometimes with her father, and sometimes DC is visible. She grows from a girl into a teenager. Then DC sort of mutters to himself as if he were searching "…civil war, birthday party, Mai Xiong tournament, pyramids, sabertooth and mastodon…” 


"Be patient. It happens sometimes. The field the ship creates to move through solid earth as easily as it does water... it dipped inside for a second and flipped her." My mind struggled with his words, as each were familiar, yet when stacked in just this way in combination, let's face it, I was lost. But he did not seem concerned, and reassured me Willie was okay, somewhere, ‘flipped’or whatever. He is searching for something on the mirror ball.


"Ah, here's an empty one. You said she was all grown up now, this must be it." He placed his plump starfish appendage in front of the light, and held the tiny window, while the other fragments of light resumed motion as if they had never stopped, and the little creatures appeared undaunted in their duties as before.


The window began to grow within his palm, and he resumed speaking, "That is how we met the Captain initially; her father, he has been working on the Tadpole for years."


At which point the little creatures grab the Tadpole's open portal on every side and began to wobble it like that huge piece of tin, rather as if it were a backstage device used for sound effects like thunder, only louder. Wilma began to emerge, first front then back, then front again, one last back and, pushhh!

And out she careened, stumbling onto the chiseled rock ledge serving as a boat dock, and into my arms. A light steam came off her svelte black jumpsuit, although she was shivering, as she held me just a little too tight and a little too long to qualify for getting her bearings. I feel her delicious warmth. 


She slowly raised her face and eyes and looked up into mine, we are having a moment. My sense of magnetism has returned and I feel that she is noticing me too. She must be feeling what I am feeling, its so strong now, how could she not? We both know what will happen soon, if we can be alone, and it is going to be fantastic. How's my breath?


Her lips parted in slow motion. Now she is talking about how the mission must go forward, lives sacrificed for this moment, an opportunity remarkable, or something like that I think, and there is no time to waste. I have no idea of what she is talking about, but I sense that a great journey is ahead, for the two of us together, and I am floating in bliss.


The elves have finished with their work, repairs and reloading whatever supplies were necessary. I was starting to feel that I could easily be at home in the Tadpole, this could work out just fine. I had no other plans, so it all fits naturally. I should probably just make up a name for myself. I begin weighing my options. Hendrix. Dylan. Mick. Ringo. Bingo. Bongo. Oh my oh.


Now the moment has come for departure, I excuse myself to use the restroom. When I return she is giving a speech about her father, the next generation of Terra-Submersibles represented by a new vessel called The Bullfrog which the little people are working on, and her father's dedication to saving the world on some kind of crusade or secret project, and her opportunity to finish his major work. I am so happy I could melt. At last I have meaning and I am going to serve a purpose, as well as get closer to my beloved Wilhelmina. I can't help but wonder how she will look almost naked. 


Then she turns to me and says, “Good luck. Maybe I will see you if I get back.” 


The hatch closes and the Tadpole sinks into the dark water and is gone. I have not said anything, there is nothing I can say. My whole world has collapsed again. I may need to have some time to get over this. I had a great new plan and suddenly its gone. I am morose. Maybe cannibals will eat me.

Harley Earl was partners with Pickenwiggens, the father of the mysterious prisoner, but I did not know it at the time. That could have been an important part of the puzzle to have had as the chase unfolded. The prison has since been closed, all that has been scattered to the raging Norwegian winds, everything is different now. They sold out to tourism. Anyway, Harley payed me to find this Zombie, who was under the control of old man Pickenwiggens, they called old man Pickenwiggens “The Captain.” I guess he was in the army. His wife Bess had died on a sailboat called Topic of Cancer, or some such, and he moved to a creepy old four story fancy mansion in Shakeytown. That Pretty City by the Bay. You know where I mean.

Well. You haven't guessed, so I am going to have to tell you. I am talking about San Francisco. It’s gone now in that long predicted final quake. But my assignment continues. My assignment transcends death.

There was some kind of paternity and inheritance question, ancillary to my assignment, which was always hush-hush to me. Some kind of bones about ownership of some valuable scientific patents pertaining to amphibians that were in limbo, not my problem. This Zombie was dangerous because he had some kind of crazy doomsday programming installed in his nameless insane Zombie head, which he, supposedly even he, the Zombie, did not know about it, and I was to stop him using any method I deemed necessary in my professional capacity. I love this kind of assignment. I was told that he is going to struggle to save himself and that he would say anything, he would probably even lie to me, but I am to immediately kill him in any way I can, before he gets a chance to do his evil work against the Entirety of All Humanity And the Collective Future of The Planet Earth, and the Known Universe to boot. I told you this was a big assignment, didn’t I. Yep, I did. Check page eighteen. Or is it seven? Check it.

After Mr. Earl passed away I was operating under the terms of his will under the direction of his estate for my generous pay. I have since had a series of representative agents from a secret Board of Directors to answer to, that I only knew as a code word, which I am not going to reveal to you. Not just yet. One word. Can you keep this secret? Not just yet. One word. Carbunckle.

It’s sort of a Manchurian Candidate scenario, and only I can save the world. 

It is now all up to me. 

DC offers me a bowl of fruit, it appears to be melon balls. The colors are wrong, but the fruit is sweet and it goes down easily. I notice that he is not eating any. He squeezes my left arm and licks his lips. He shows me where to sit and we watch the mirror ball, exploring all sorts of things. I start to feel sleepy.


DC then generously offered me some kind of warm fruit beverage while he appeared to focus on his sphere of many colors, but I sensed that he was only pretending to watch the mirror ball. I noticed he was not having any of the beverage either. He said that it was not suitable for his constitution, but that he knew I would like it. His confidence was somewhat unsettling, but not threatening or in the least bit suspicious. It’s just his way, I thought. I let myself relax, going with the moment. What could possibly go wrong? 


My head feels light and I am feeling pleasantly warm and sleepy. I might be okay. Better now, at least. Warm. No more tears. There just might be a new dawn in this morning.

 

I accepted a glass. It was indeed delightfully refreshing. I drank it slowly, cautiously, and joined him in watching all the different things on his amazing disco video ball. He showed me how to focus in on one screen and make it appear huge to me, or how to view just a few screens at a time, or how to skip along viewing multiple screens at once, which was too much for me to take in. DC loved his own jokes, and commented that he knows I could soon be as skilled as he "…if, for it, you have the…u8221"  he chortled and pointed to the wooden bowl in my lap, "…the balls! Har, har, harrrrrr...” 


I had a sense the reflected window bits have a show about to start, and that it is just for me. I exhale deeply as if to prepare for a deeper sigh. When I inhale it is the "what, where, when, why," and when I exhale it is just "here." I sit back and I wait for the planetarium recording to say in that omnipresent loudspeaker voice, " It was the dawn of time itself…" when I notice the lights are starting to leave tracer tails. Kewl!


I take another dayglow green “honeydew” into my mouth and, suddenly, illumination. My problems are receding and my new feeling of warmth is growing. I just might survive after all.


A warm secure feeling was embracing me as I sat there, enjoying every moment. 

Tingling happily.


Radiant. I feel like I could float, I can feel my body rejuvenating, and my mind said I should be ready for the relief of sleep any now time.


“Go ahead, relax. I am watching the Tigers, a program about Diatomic cooking, Sailing the Seychelles, Robot Dancing, Music of the Inuit, History of Orchids, Folk Remedies of Tuva, History of Submersibles, and I am keeping track of the tournaments. All of them.” 


“Right. Sure. Of course.” I was amused, time I knew flew by, time melted away, time marched on. My heart was settling down, I was getting on with life once again; there will be no more sadness tonight. I watched a huge variety of things, some familiar, some not, all in perfect focus, tiny and huge depending on how or what or how many I wanted to watch. I was feeling pretty good.

I love my job. License to kill. Now we are talking, Miss Moneypenny. I love Shakespeare and balconies. And I shake martinis, I would never stir them. And I love my job. Slaying Zombies. And while doing that, I like living the good life. 

Generous pay for interesting work. It’s just my good fortune. I was born under a good sign. That’s another story, Chuck-o. Let’s stay on course here.

My instructions now are to be available for the next move, so I am to keep my cell phone handy at all times and stay sharp. Other than that, I am free to roam anywhere on the planet where there is a handy airport. Time goes by.

I just received a report of some kind of activity at sea, I am now waiting for a chartered helicopter to get me out there and where the action is.

The pilot's name is Mr. Clark, he's a toothy big one. The crew are these really odd looking little fellahs, no spreaky ingrish, they stay up in the cockpit while I stay back in the passenger air lounge. I have been given a bright green frogman suit that I am supposed to change into and an array of newly invented weapons to strap on. Mr. Clark talks to me through the special comm system, and the representative agent from the Earl estate has been in contact too. There are many rewards for a job well done, but there is only death for failure. My job is to board the unusual submarine and neutralize the Zombie.

Checkmate is at hand. Payday!  Payday!

It feels real but without all that personal investment that usually tires me out so much. No agenda I have to pursue. My thoughts are wandering, like my words now. Happily mumbily freebly stumbly…

In the spirit of what I presumed was male inter-species bonding, I made chit chat while some clues about my life flashed before my eyes. “Ssssooo... Is thish your home?” 


“Oh heavens no, no. We came here about two or three weeks ago, maybe four weeks, always looking for Willie.” I wondered if my glowing watch had even been made when they became... what? Terrestrial tourists? I found myself conjecturing wildly, but I was getting used to this strange new um...

He continued on, “It was really hard to find this place. This is a small island, it’s a floating island, and it can submerge if necessary. Its called Zebra island. We got here and have been waiting for our Sweet Willie.” 


I thought about telling him that Wilhelmina preferred to be called Wilma, but I decided not to. To him she was his young innocent Willie, a child, and I have my Wilma, a strong shapely young woman with a mission and a vision and knockers that drive me wild. To the loyal arthropods she is the goddess vvVillie. We are all here waiting for her. All together now, waiting on wee Willy Wog.


And while I am waiting I pop another of those luscious little guava balls and wash down the pulpy past with more ambrosia. I cock my head to the side, relax and watch my own reminiscences, soon immersed in my own...

DC reached to inspect my beverage. “Let me fill your glass again.” 


“Oh no. No, no no no, I couldn't, no no no no no no no no no no, really, no. Well, okay, sure. Sure.” He had already poured me.


We all had bought into it, the handpicked few, preparing to save the world in one easy step. Follow orders, follow the rules. I was to go in first. I have that face you can trust. Gain his cooperation, his affection if you can. Otherwise do like that old saying we had, “If you can’t live with ‘em, kill ‘em.” But there I was, watching myself breaking the rules. Was it that picture of him with that little girl Willie by the dilapidated sailboat, placed so lovingly on the mantle? I am why I am, and it might make soon sense.


Two more generous refills of DC’s elixir of the gods after that, and I was fading fast. No, no, no. Well, if you’ll drive. Chit chat. This channel was experiencing technical difficulties. My mind kept drifting back to that experiential labyrinth he called the disco ball, as I tried to fill in memories and weave the whole dusty spider’s web back together.


“Are there other people here?” I asked him, trying to keep my head in the game, juss staring to slurb a bittle. No dishreshpect, my brothash.


“Well, yes there were others here,” said DC, “now it’s just us. We will be moving along soon, after Willie gets back. I have no idea when. I miss my home.” I remember composing one more question, and not struggling as the beverage gathered me in and wrapped me warm and snug in its... um, whatever.


“So.... What does your name mean, DC?” 


“My initials.” 


I wondered where our little sweet Willie Wog was right at this moment, but popped in the last melon blob, and pursued my previous line of inquiry, “Ah. So..... (I almost did not make it to the question) ...wwwwhat is your real name, your full name?” 


I was falling down down down into darkness as I thought I heard him say…


“Dick Clark.” 


I was asleep.

I dreamed about swimming in warm water to a soundtrack of the greatest hits of rock and roll countdown, and there were heavenly smells, savory meat cooking, some perfume, spice, ocean smells.


A jungle, underwater, with swimming creatures. I could spin and twirl upside down. I laughed. They laughed too. How can there be smells underwater? It was a dream, it does not require logic. I was where I belonged and it felt perfect.


When I woke up DC was munching on something. Licking his odd shaped fingers.  Enjoying it very much. “You have got to try some of this barbecue. There is not much left. I will save you some. Unless...” 


He looked from me back down to it, lovingly, and smacked his massive lips.


“Oh, no thanks, it sounds delicious, but it smells far too spicy for my breakfast. How long was I asleep? I’m not so hungry now anyway. You go ahead and finish that off. Later, someday, I’ll try some, for sure.” I felt an itching on my left ankle and reached out to scratch it.


The itching on my leg was annoying, but not half as much as my next realization as I sat there with my gluttonous host. I tried to itch my leg, and terror filled my soul as I discovered my left arm was missing. I felt around with my right arm, the area where my left arm used to be showed no mark, it was smooth. There was no discomfort. There was now just a nub at the end of my shoulder. The arm was gone… MY arm IS gone!


I started breathing hard and the lump in my throat signaled panic as I screamed. “DC! MY ARM IS GONE!” 


He slowly leaned over, glancing quickly and then returning to the video mirror ball world before him. “Mmmm. Yeah. So it is. Look, I'm trying to watch this right now. Calm yourself down. We'll take good care of you. No worries. Try to relax yourself.” 


“But IT’S MY ARM! AND IT’S GONE! HELLO! GONE!"

I kept protesting while he made logical counter arguments, “Tsk. Does it hurt? It doesn't hurt, does it? You have another. It was your left arm. You hardly used it. Don't be silly. Look, try to see this my way. We can work it out. Let me finish watching this. I will be giving you my full attention momentarily. You are making way too much out of this. Please settle down.” 


All of a sudden my view of the talking picture book sphere in front of me became infused with my heightened emotions of the moment. Things as they happened. I was seeing it on an instant replay, and my panic was magnified like being in one of those bathrooms with mirrors on both sides. I stood looking at myself stripped naked, my missing arm in endless repetition off into infinity. Only one arm left now, but maybe I should take an inventory of my body parts. It did not take long. Only one arm missing.


I could hear DC minimizing my concerns, far off in the background of my very valid panic, seemingly for an eternity. And then that bathroom mirror phenomenon again, and another eternity. “Well," he said as if reading my mind, "You know what they say: An eternity here, and an eternity there, but sooner or later it starts to add up, Ha, Ha. Quiet down and have some fruit juice old boy, relax, you are making too much of it... Don't you worry ‘bout a ting. No barbecue for you? It's really good, this is the last of it..."


Mmmmm. (burp) “Ahhh. Sorry, now there is nothing left for you! Unless...” his eyes shifted to my remaining arm.

“WHAT HAPPENED TO MY ARM?” 


“I'll tell you what. We can get our small friends to make you another one, a better one. You'll see, it will be even better than that old left arm.” He returned to whatever he was watching, shutting me out.

I had no quick or slow answers. No answers. Here I am with Mega Lord Poppin’Fresh and his endless appetite. With us are the million and one little entomological sorcerer’s apprentices. We are watching a magic watermelon and waiting for the triumphant return of the wandering princess and her crew of spiders. What could possibly go wrong?


I puzzled over what DC said last night. He has been here for a short time, maybe four weeks, there were others here when he got here and now they are gone. He was eating something, and MY ARM IS FREAKING MISSING. Dick Clark? No way. I visualized a trim man dancing the twist and grinning, with perfect hair. What is he smiling about?


The closing theme music for “Gilligan’s Island” fills the air. DC turns to me and continues on in a patronizing voice, “Okay, let's plan your new arm. Will that make you feel better? Sure it will.” Again, I pushed the panic down enough to try to ask for some clarification.


DC used the sphere to illustrate his presentation. “We can make it bend in more directions than the old one. It will be stronger, you'll like that. They can make it look just like the old one, or not, as you prefer. It will be able to sense in new ways. For example, we can put eyes on your fingertips, you can have six or maybe ten or more fingers, we can make special attachments. Did you used to play the piano? You will be able to play many musical instruments, and in new ways, operate equipment, use new tools. Make new tools...


“What did you do with that old arm? Not so much really, park your chin on it; useful for tying knots; scratch the family jewels; hunt boogers.


“Now you can think of whole new things to do without that lazy ol’left arm. With your new arm you will be able to reach further, five, ten, twenty feet or more. Tolerate extreme temperatures; we have various kinds of sensory adapters and extenders, things you have never even thought of. You will be able to feel new softness or even taste things with your fingers, think of it; also of course you can block unpleasant textures or tastes just as easily.”  Again he emphasized, “Just...think...of it. From something that was too lazy to even salute.” 


I was speechless.


But it seemed he never was, he went on and on, and I once more lost track of time, and when I turned to look again, there it was.

When we get there, after all that journey, we have to wait, as the submarine is under siege. Under the sea. This changes things. Who is shooting at whom? Nobody is talking. This is not what I signed up for. I operate in the dark, but not naked in battle. It’s cold. We are in the arctic. 

What, do they think that I am going to dive down there and sneak in the submarine's back door while shots are being fired? I am negotiating with the Big Clark and the familiar voice of the Earl estate's current agent. I am now provided with a warm fruit beverage, which is delicious. Now there is a new plan, relax, I am being paid to take off the frog suit, and rub some fine smelling lotion on me. It has sort of a spicy smell, almost like a barbecue scent, but more savory. See what I mean? I love this job. Every day is different. Some days are busy, some are not. Today is a fine day. Yes, a fine day. 

Tasty. This smells like a delicious spicy marinade, but it feels like fine lotion.

(This was the last known word from Gitmo, the Zombie Slayer.)

 

The new synthetic arm was a perfect fit, but there was no explanation about what to do with it. An owner’s manual, is that too much to ask for? I figured out that there was a mode where my new arm looked like a normal arm, incognito, and there was an extended and accessorized version. I wondered if this was how the Swiss Army would eventually evolve. One thing I enjoyed doing was to send my finger up about thirty feet and then open up the eye, I could see in a complete circle. There might be virtually no end to what I could get the prosthetic marvel to accomplish, once I figure it out. I would have liked the real arm better, but this one was starting to grow on me, pun intended. 


Let's just say that the new appendage was making friends all around the Zebra Island neighborhood, up and downtown.


Up above there is an island, a few primitive huts, a beach, a jungle, big blue sunny skies and all the time in the world. Down is where DC spent most of his time. Eating.


I started spending all my time out on the beach and exploring the wooded areas. I wondered more about the little creatures manufacturing capability, had they made the white and black sand? There was the beach with its perfect zebra stripes, and a remote hut on one of the distant keys that I made plans to visit one day. There was a jungle, almost big enough to get lost in. In the center there was an exotic waterfall and place to swim. No native girls? Once Wilhelmina gets back we can do some splishing and splashing. She remained more than mortal in my memory. I wonder if she ever went by the name Mina? I wonder what we should name our first-born? Settle down.


At night there was always a fire on the beach and we all ate the freshly caught seafood I had speared with a trident that appeared on my new elongated pinky finger. The little people had limitless skills, including the epicurean arts. I could get used to this, really easily. They would sing their unique blend of modern and traditional folk songs, and relax when it was their off-time. Right now they are engaged in a rousing version of "Wimoweh" also known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I enjoy watching them dance around the fire. It turns out they have a name, the are usually called the Bzyklwitch.

I was walking through the tunnels down below the surface world, when I came upon a procession of overburdened Bzyklwitch, carrying our huge friend.


“Dick!”


“Call me DC, if you please.” 


“Okay then. DC! I never would have chosen this mechanical arm thing, but now that it is here, perhaps I should probably express some kind of gratitude.” 

DC took a quick furtive look at my legs. “Would you like to join me for um, some more fruit juice and melon balls?” 

“Well I...” 

“I have a new kind of juice for you, it’s even better than that sleepy stuff, this will put a zip in your step, a lift in your lap.” He produced the melon bowl; it was brimming with pastel morsels. He was ready.

“I can imagine. Sure, why not. Oh, but first, I need to visit the uh.. you know, the little room.” He had no idea of what I was talking about.

“The little room with no windows.” 

He looked blank. I tried again. “The water closet.” 

“Oh, yes, yes, of course. Make some more room in there.” He likes his Randy Man jokes, and I know it’s good to laugh with him, makes him relaxed. We want DC to be relaxed.

“I'll be right back.” The bathroom is to the left, I went straight ahead. Now was a fine time to do some more exploring. GET ME OUT OF HERE. I tried not to panic. Bionic legs might be the only fashionable match for my new super-arm, but not tonight. I headed down a hall I had not been down before. It was dark. I found a door, it was locked. 

Further down the hall I found a wider spot, and way down at the end in the dark it had a bottomless pool in it too. And there it was.

Floating in the pool was a white vehicle, it looked sort of like a 1960 Cadillac, with big white fins. I spent some time looking at it, about 12 feet long, no windows or openings visible, sort of oblong, with the two white fins. I ran my right hand over it, smooth and cold, wet and hard. I mumbled to myself.
“Useless, but fascinating.” This is the Jitterbug. Says so right on the plaque. I wonder who Harley Earl is?

I extended my left hand, the mechanical one. They seemed to respond to each other, hand and Jitterbug.

“Chnkkk” a door opened up. Inside, the LED array started to awaken, little dancing lights doing their self-diagnosis routines. It was irresistible, like a big car, just like a 1960 white Cadillac. Front seat, back seat, control panel. No steering wheel. Smooth leather seats. 


Oh man. From outside, the vehicle appears to be opaque, inside, it’s the widest view imaginable; the inside is bigger than the outside. How do they do that? Slide on in, mmmmm yeah. "Zooooooom zoom… Bpbpbpbpbpbpbbppppppppppppp..." I am meant to be here, right now. I could just go. I wonder how to turn the engine on?


The more I thought about the hungry fellow waiting for me, the more I had ideas for a new plan. This would be the perfect time to just slip on out of this crazy bait shop, just leave this tropical snack bar before Fatso and the Crawlers have all or part of me for their dim-sum again.

No steering wheel. No glove compartment, no owner’s manual. No key. There was clearly some kind of relationship between this vehicle and my new hand. I gave it a try. I held my hand out and thought CLOSE DOOR and it closed. Then SUBMERSE. Away I went, down and then out into the deep dark sea. I extended my new left arm and hand, now able to make that “Vulcan V” of Mr. Spock’s. How about this: FIND VILLIE. The speed increased.

 

Florescent orange. Wilma started feeling her arms and her head. She was covered in an orange microfleece blanket.

She cautiously cracked open one eye. Then she felt the bite of the steel handcuffs.

"Zhere now!" A friendly smiling woman wearing a uniform, holding out an offering. A steaming cup of tea. She stood directly before Wilhelmina. "Kiptan! Kiptan, sheaz coming around now! You may nao begin zee interrogation."

Wilma eased her eye shut and slumped. This is not happening.

"Oop, zere she goes a-gain, sorrah Kiptan...."

Sweet darkness returns.

Okay, what has happened. She remembers bits and pieces, flotsam and jetsam, some kind of chunky whirlpool, pieces bumping up against each other in a jagged pattern that starts to emerge and then is again overcome by chaos and ice. Just ice. DC's face on her communication screen. A view from inside the old obsolete vessel they named The Jitterbug. Watching the eminant impact on the rock wall, a flash, and....

Nothing! Not a trace. The Terra-Submersible Jitterbug went right into the rock wall and the hole sealed up behind it.

Nothing is in order, but recall coalesces and a little bit more of the situation emerges. She and her crew of Bzyklwitch were all hanging by their fingernails as the damaged Tadpole tipped. It slowly, slowly started to tip back into a horizontal position.

She kept everyone from making any sudden moves. The damaged Tadpole was fluttering at the edge, it could tumble from a whisker.

Wilma began flipping back and forth through her mental Rolodex. There was unexpected contact from DC, who evidently was watching the whole thing on his omniscient viewball system. There was a small squad of Bzyklwitch that had been onboard the old Jitterbug, an engineering crew caught by surprise in the aft section of the seamless craft. What were they doing there? It was not an assigned task.

It was the Bzyklwitch who had first contacted DC. They knew the situation was doomed on the Jitterbug and were preparing to evacuate. DC says something to Wilma about someone he called “Kurdish Jaynor” that new man (that would be me, of course) stealing the Jitterbug from the bay and heading out for deepsea, probably to find her. DC says that her problems are bigger than that. Vessels on the surface have been tracking her, several submarines are closing in, and from the air there are five, now seven, counting twelve.... Let's just say that there is an ever growing population of intercepts upstairs.

Looks bad, I think to myself. Time for evasive action. Why can’t they hear me? DC picks a bit of last night’s supper off his tusk, and nonchalantly comments over the static, “Willie-One, Do you read?” 

They can obviously see the Jitterbug, and I apparently now have a new moniker, as Wilma shouts, “What is that idiot doing? Three-DC, why don't you break into his comm screen?"

Just when I am about to scream, “I’m right here! I am the ready rescuer! Me Tarzan. You Jane!” right then my view-screen starts to static out and I cannot get Wilma back for several seconds.

But I can distinctly hear DC saying "Well, the Kurdish one is likely in a skitish frame of mind right now, thief on the run and that sort of thing. My face would most likely fluster him and not bring about good results. We need good results, Willie-One."

"Copy that, Three-DC." says Wilma. "I know what to do. Old Nemo is right there on Zebra Island where you are, living in his retirement hut. Get him to a comm screen and see if he has any ideas about what to do to recover the Jitterbug. He is the only one that knows that thing, he and Harley Earl built it years ago as a prototype for the Tadpole. Nemo is our last living hope. Our only hope, Three-DC. Oh!" One of the Bzyklwitch fell onto her lap and startled her.

"Say again, Willie-One, Did you say that Nemo is here? On the island? This island? Zebra Island?" It was not often I had seen DC appear surprised or caught off guard. I am watching on my screen aboard the Jitterbug.

"Well, yes!” said Wilma, “I understand he has been living in a special geriatric hut that his personal team of Bzyklwitch built for him on the beach. The Bzyklwitch are quite clever, though I do not always understand their colloquialisms. They say they built him the perfect retirement home, sun and sand, and the endless sky and long deep swims in the ocean...” 

She paused while hastily getting details, and puzzled, she turned to her on-board first mate, “Cal, what do you mean? ‘We made him completely water-tight’?” 

"Nemo was HERE?” said DC. “That was Nemo?"

“Three-DC, what do you mean ‘was?’Just get Nemo, get him to a comm screen and let’s get some ideas about how to deal with the Jitterbug."

On board the silent Jitterbug, I had been feeling excited about getting away from the friendly but hungry cannibals. I guess they are not cannibals if they are not my own species. Humanitarians. But they are hungry and I am, thank you and please, not ready for dinner just yet. 

Mostly I was excited about finding Wilma.

To the rescue!

So, what could possibly go wrong?

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT COULD GO WRONG? I thought in response to my own inner dialog, as I struggled to bring them back into view. Perhaps this is not the best question to ask right now.

“Get Nemo!" Demanded Wilma.

"Nemo is... not available."

Wilma sounded impatient, "Three-DC, What do you mean, not available? Please clarify."

"Err, well, Willie-One, let’s get back to your real problems. Our sensors show that you are positively tracked by a growing array of vessels, you are about to be taken prisoner unless you can, well, do what you do, go hide inside the rocks or whatever. Of course, from here it looks like the Tadpole is malfunctioning in a big way."

"Roger on that, big fellah. Cut the crap. Where is Nemo?"

"Enough about Nemo, already. Nemo is Fine, okay? Nemo has no problems. Truthfully. He was last seen heading into the kitchen not long before you and the new Kurdish boy joined us. Just forget about Nemo and let us focus back on your situation there. And who is Roger?"

Wilma became aware of an array of quickly approaching submersible vessels. Friends or Foes? Then she thought, with so many shades of gray, what’s the difference?

Finally the Jitterbug’s screens come on line, absent that annoying static, and I am back surrounded by my new friendly hosts. The invisible magic-hand throttle is on full and my rapt attention locked on the little image of Wilma. Not Wilma personally, but I had the Tadpole dead in my sights. I could see that something was terribly wrong, because the Tadpole was lifeless in the water, several hundred feet down under the broken icy water of the surface, tipped vertically and wobbling perilously on a pointed rock formation. It was starting to come about and right itself, albeit much too slowly to satisfy the average prudent person. In concert with that notion, there was an array of alarms going off on my instrument panel, though I have no idea of what they do. Whooop Whoop Whoooooop! 

Lots of noise, adds to the excitement. Faster now, Faster! Help is on the way. Jus’ hang on Missy Willie-One! I have come!

"Can you contact that idiot on the Jitterbug, Three-DC?” and the immediate reply, "How about if I patch you in, Willie-One, remember, he does not want to talk to me just now. I would wager that he would loooove to talk to you." (Chortle chortle, *click*) "Go ahead now."

"Okay. HEY BONEHEAD! WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING??!"

I can show them I know my new communications moniker. "Bonehead to Wilma, I mean, Willie-One, I see you, ahhh, that is, I have a visual on the Tadpole, and I am closing in fast! Prepare yourself for rescue!” I was one big grin from tooth to tail.

This was my glorious moment and I loved every shivering bit of it. I was standing hard and tall and proud. “Here I come, sweet cheeks, ready or not!"

"FIRST OF ALL, KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE SWEET CHEEKS!!!"

"Willie-One, hold it please. Try to speak more calmly, I can't hear you when you shout."

"Fine, Mr. Bonehead. I can do that. First. The Jitterbug was an abandoned prototype. Not ready for sea travel. Did you notice that there is no steering wheel? There are no brakes either. You are riding on a missile that you have no way to control or even just slow down. But your next problem is the old unstable power supply. It’s been nice knowing you, Mr. Bonehead. Make peace with your maker, and you better do it right now. Goodnight, Joiner, or Courage Joyner, or Kurdish Jaynar, or whoever you are. Or were."

There was a brief video image of my face on her comm screen. Try to imagine the expression on my face. Sort of a flickering transition from a gleeful BABY HERE I COME! to a warm puddle-making OH SHHHHIPPPP…

For a man who cannot even remember my own name, I have a lot of perspective. There were more than a couple view screens inside the Jitterbug that caught my attention while I watched the drama reflecting my own (in hind sight not so) ultimate demise. I had an odd feeling, almost of pleasure, as Wilma averted her burning gaze in horror at the moment of impact, while the unflappable DC placidly looked on, munching on something crunchy.

Wilma struggled to watch, incredulously, as the Jitterbug flashed past her in a magnificent arc, white fins holding steady, a thing of beauty to behold. There was the rock wall. There was the Jitterbug. A little silver pod of some sort popped out just before it came to the wall… Impact in 3. 2. FLASH!

Then: 

Nothing. Not a thing. No sound. Not even a bubble. The rock wall appeared to be untouched, no sign of any impact. The Jitterbug had created its own passage and then closed itself in as it went. It appeared as if nothing had ever happened. Such a wonderful vehicle, now merged with infinity. What was he thinking? Why such a hurry? 

Wilma ponders aloud, "Is this another tragic case of testosterone poisoning?"

"Okay, on to the real problem. Can you get the Tadpole to move?"

"Negative, DC-Three."

"Oh. Well, sorry dear one, dear sweet Willie-One. I have not seen you in umpteen years, and then you are suddenly back in my life (there was a murmur of Bzyklwitch protest from the peanut gallery), errrmm, OUR lives, and now, this, another goodbye. You know the old rules. If any of those trackers get a hold of this technology they are going to use it for a whole new type of military nightmare. That Can Not Happen. You must execute the final plan, Willie-One."

There were frogmen surrounding the Tadpole.

Wilma remembers gathering the remaining little group of bravely weeping beloved Bzyklwitch close to her and pushing the black button. She shouts “UP YOURS!” and the end comes to the world’s first working terra-submersible.

BLOOP!!! A shock-wave emanated from the Tadpole, its last statement to all pursuers. 

The ship broke into pieces and the icy water came in eagerly to welcome everyone to inky freezing blackness.

All they found was Wilma's limp body when it floated to the surface.

They hauled her up still alive out of the arctic gray slush and wrapped her frozen body in a florescent orange microfleece blanket. 

They prepared to ask her lots of questions.

 

Approximately a week or so later, deep in a dark cave, a tiny grinding noise could be heard. Eventually a metal probe pushed a big rock aside and at its tip an infrared eyeball scanned the area. Lots of dark nothingness, but it was not rock, it was air. There was space in the rock. It was a cave. Slowly, slowly more finger probes eased into the cave, and slowly, slowly something larger was brought out of the solid rock and up onto the cave floor. 


That would be me crawling out of the Jitterbug. Heck yes, it was quite painful.


Wilma had tried to remain silent to her captors, then she started blathering whatever deceptive lies she could imagine. They remained calm and cool, asking and re-asking questions, flocks of questions. Endless beaches, endless grains of sand that were questions. She prayed for them to give up on her, pleading that because she is insane now, a mind folded back in on itself, they should stop wasting the effort. A body fetal and safe back in the ancient mother’s womb. Mercy, oh my sweet shrieking mercy. But she lives, glory be.


There was no functioning equipment left to explain, only her presence in the arctic sea. That was as good or as bad of a starting place as any. Question after question, endless questions. This is too important to them to give it up to her convenient madness. She is the one minuscule but solid piece of the puzzle that they ever had. Something solid at last. Someone who would talk, eventually. They could wait. They have waited a long time already. 

 

A tiny grinding noise came from low in the wall in the cell where they kept the living remains of Wilma, now plausibly insane.

A spot on the cell wall was vibrating. Oh no, not again.

It’s another trick they are perpetrating on me, it’s another trick. This is MY cell, says Wilma to Wilma. She agreed bitterly and then argued, ready to strike back somehow. She tensed for the battle.

A metallic proboscis started to emerge from the wall. This was not expected.

Wilma started screaming and Wilma watched. The guards gathered at their monitors. A team moved in to cautiously investigate. The vibrating stopped. A few minutes later it started again. 

"Wilma! Hey Wilma! It’s me!"

"You!? BONEHEAD!" It’s another interrogation trick! "JUST LEAVE ME ALONE."

"Would you rather stay here?"

"I VANT TO BE ALONE."

I backed off. Now is a bad time. I'll try again later. Rescue for the unwilling is more difficult than just a simple warm intervention.

I was sleeping when they burst in on me. My mistake was lingering nearby. They must have used some kind of sonar or motion detection system to locate me. In their rock walled prison on that first day I got a hot bath, that was good, and they gave me something familiar to eat; this is getting better all the time.

But then the questions for me began. How did I get there where did I come from what was my name what was I doing who did I work for who is the girl then back to the start. 

How did I get there, all that, over and over again. That was one very long day with no sunshine. I kept my arm in stealth mode and, sure enough, they never suspected what I had. That night I exercised my secret powers and used my bionic arm to wiggle on out of my cell, quite easily done actually. After the impossible escape act of leaving the Jitterbug in the solid rock and using my hand as pneumatic drill, and jack, and wedge, finally getting enough of an opening to percolate the rest of the cells in my body into the cavern, this release was a breeze. It’s time to get far away and then figure out what next.

Nothing will ever be the same after this. I can just tell.

 

It is five years later, I am walking on the Appalachian trail, something I have always wanted to do. I have started a new business, my new partner is Sam Ting, the same man from Neptune from whom I appropriated the Hoover Disk just before falling into the construction site.


Once it was clear to me that my whole attachment to Wilhelmina was inappropriate, I made other plans but I kept thinking what if, what if, oh, what if.


First I spent a considerable time working on a sailing vessel called “The Doolittle” which was surveying the portion of the ocean where I secretly calculated Zebra Island to be. I got lots of overtime in. With the money I earned, I have worked towards opening a Hoover Disk rental shop in Charleston, South Carolina. My partner knows all about Hoover Disks, it was his idea, and I had the funding, so I have some influence on the project. Gzznga Hoover Disk Rentals has a prime location in the tourist area, near a big park, and there is no significant competition. The shop is right on Rainbow Row next to Waterfront Park in the Historic District of Charleston. It’s perfect. I have never been to Charleston before and it turns out to be a charming place. Sam insisted I take this vacaction so here I am.

I was a hand on “The Doolittle” for nearly four years. Its ongoing scientific mission: to explore a huge range of little islands in the Indian Ocean and try to improve on the old mapping that has suffered for all these years. Navigational charts everywhere all need updating as the oceans rise. The islands seem to float around, they don't really float around, but they do tend to slowly sink and linger dangerously just under the waves, so we got in there, placed beacons, made some measurements and did some counting. 


I had a hidden agenda during those years, I was looking for a certain little tropical island I would surely recognize, it has curious striped black and white sand with a certain little grass shack... Yes, I want to be with all the kanes and wahines that I used to know, so long ago… possibly also inhabited by a thousand or more little industrious insect-like critters (eight appendages, with 6 arms and 2 legs, therefore they are spiders), and possibly one certain large hungry lumpy-bumpy mound of talking carbon based protein who goes by the name of DC. No luck. We did see the humuhumunukunukuâpua`a go swimming by and I can still hear the old Hawaiians saying “Komo mai no kâua i ka hale welakahao,” which translates as something about the good fortune of a boat coming in to port. Hawaii is a long, long way from where we were, but the music travels in my mind, like Jimmy Buffet.

Mars is not dusty, it’s sort of moist. The first settlers grabbed up all the good stuff, the sources of what passes for water, which is thicker than it is on earth, but it smells better. It’s also a fantastic lubricant, which is good for machines. For human earthlings it’s not so good for drinking in its raw form, but it can be processed and it is delicious. It’s intoxicating too. The whole planet could be like a big Rock Candy Mountain. But it isn’t.

Out here on Mars there are the land owners, not many of them, and the settlers, lots of them. Once the immigration program was worked out a steady stream of them kept arriving from earth every day. After the climate changed everyone had to live in shelters anyway, so why not move to Mars and live in a new shelter instead of old caves...

There are two distinct settler working class communities, the miners and the ranchers. The agricultural possibilities are as yet abandoned; sooner or later someone will figure that one out, as there is considerable demand for “fresh” fruits and vegetables. A fortune is waiting for the clever agriculturalist. Farming is not very a very popular concept with the powerful land-grabbing ranching cartel. They don't want fences, under starry skies above. Perhaps the answer will be underground greenhouses, made from the abandoned mines, once some kind of source for illumination is figured out. Now, that is a fortune awaiting a clever and lucky farmer and inventor.

The area around the infirmary is forbidding. I attempt to propel myself forward like the devil was after me. Later I decided that he was actually waiting out ahead for me, so running only decreased my distance from his influences. Now it seems that nobody was chasing me. With the wisdom of hind-sight, I think that they were probably all watching me on their little security monitors and wagering on how long I will last on my own in the Martian wilderness.

It was a mistake to look down to try and rip the wrinkled and weather-beaten tape off my wrists, as in the gathering darkness my new old boot finds something under the Martian moss that is slippery. My heel slides forward too wide, and then stops short, whipping me to knee, to chest and, stopping directly on the side of my face as it once again hits the impressionable ground in spite of my best jazz hands. I find myself staring down the gullet of about the biggest hungry predatory creature this side of the Milky Way. He has a natural pattern of bars and an “N” burned on his back. He belly crawls way too fast at my face until he is just three feet away. He and I both know that he will soon take my head off, and the guttural air escaping rises into a victorious reptilian roar for just a second before the diamond-shaped, razor sharp metal projectile comes straight down out of the night’s blackness. The harpoon tip passes between the bulging periscope eyes and into that Martian critter's brainpan with the whisper of instant death. I cautiously and gratefully look up, searching for the source of my salvation. But what if they had actually missed their intended target? 

I am a stranger in an orange-red land, wearing a crazy colored jump-suit decorated with duct tape and shoes that do not fit. What could possibly go wrong?

In the dim light I see a silhouette of a tall amazingly muscular female human holding a weapon. Thank God for the Section Five funding of high school girl’s athletic training programs, which allowed young ladies to learn to shoot competitively. My Amazon champion has blond hair pulled back into a practical weave and she would own the basketball court if there was a handy basketball court, but there is none out here. 

She owns me now.

She quickly retrieves the harpoon tip from the creature's cooling corpse and restores it to her utility belt. “Hopefully nobody saw us shoot that thing; I do NOT want to have to pay for it. With our luck, some dang rancher is going to miss it.” Us? Our luck?

She does not have to convince me that this is a bad place for “us” to be as I see a multitude of the snap-jawed “N” creatures swarming in to investigate what their lost sibling was about to eat. My new heroine has a dirty old tunneling vehicle about 20 feet in length and I jump in first. We scoot across the surface of Mars. 

She says her name is Mina (Me-Nah), and is short for Wilhelmina. 

She tells me that she hates that name. Her father ran a bed-and- breakfast in Northern Norway. She hated it there and signed up as soon as she possibly could to come to Mars. Now she hates it here. But it’s not as dull as Northern Norway. Her mother, Helga, died when she was young and so she has no memories of her. Her father is a big grumpy man with blond hair and huge hands. His name is really Fritz, but everyone calls him Willy. She has two sisters, they were a perfect post-petite pod of triplets. Myna came to Mars first and has a career somewhere deep in the mineral extraction profession; and triplet three, Mimi, remains at the family business with their papa Willy in Norway.

She sets the miner's carriage, called a Carbuncle, to automatic pilot and continues telling me all about herself, but she thinks of it as telling me how things work around here. She lives in a bivouac on the flats; there is an extra room or two that she rents to new arrivals, called noobs, which would be my status. I seem to be her recruit for the mines. She runs the bivouac as a boarding house and assists with the immigrant’s transition from noob to productive resident in the mining community nearby. This keeps her out of the mines.

She chatters away, and then abruptly says “Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back.”  I think she is going topside of the rolling Carbuncle to smoke a cigarette, but that couldn't be. Nobody smokes cigarettes any more, do they? In the old cowboy movies they do. A few minutes later I heard what sounded like a soft gasp and then nothing. I was fading into a nap. I should have investigated, but it was pleasant where I was, so I continued warmly fading while the Carbuncle was swaying.

That was the last I saw of her that night. The carriage seemed to know what to do. The Carbuncle found its way home through the darkness while I dozed off. We arrived and sat there for a while before I awoke and figured out that I was “home.” 

In the living quarters there was a tall thin bipedal creature with a huge toothy mouth. He greets me with a smile. His name is Dmitri Caspar, and he asks me what my name is.

I have no idea.

He has an answer. “Oh yeah, it’s transporter amnesia. Humans are not meant for space travel, this happens all the time. Let’s call you... Kurt. Kurt Ishjoynar.” 

Call me Ishjoynar.

He asks me where Mina is, he has been waiting for her, he planned to surprise her, and she does not know he is here. He was expecting her to be on the Carbuncle with me. I know nothing. He is not concerned, he's an easy-going Martian, or whatever.

“Well, since we’re both waiting for Mina, we might as well see what’s on the tele.” 

There is only one channel, and it’s instructional, all about mining and new equipment, surface weather, seismographic activities, safety bulletins and endless chatter, but the hostess of the show is one good-looking something-or-other. Sort of silver-copper mixed blond hair and a balcony fit for Shakespeare, if you know what I mean. 

Dmitri Caspar is quite happily absorbed in her splendor. I take advantage of his distraction to look around the room.

On the table is a pair of really strange looking old wire rim glasses, I can't help myself, and I put them on. Suddenly Dmitri Caspar appears to be a flaming hungry demon who I can plainly see wants to eat me, his eyes burn me as his tongue, long and blue, travels the entire circumference of his surprisingly wide salivating toothy hunger hole. It beckons to me. 

All around us there are these twelve-inch tall silver chipmunk-like creatures that walk upright, they are carrying tools and all busy doing things, they can plainly see me but take no special notice, they all are extremely busy. I take the glasses off and quietly put them back where I found them.

“Did you say something, Ishjoynar?” says the harmless looking thin man with too many teeth. I am keeping my distance from him and looking around the room for the chipmunks. Cautious steps, careful footing; I would not want to step on one.

“Uh, no, I skinned my knee a little while ago, still hurts.”  I rub my knee for effect.

“Do you require medical attention?”  He looks lustfully at my legs and licks his lips.

“Oh I'm fine, thanks.”  What are you going to do, kiss it? This is not going well.

“Your legs are extraordinary, Kurt.”  He licks his lips again. His gaze is revolting to me, having seen what I saw. What did I just see? Chipmunks? A hungry demon? Maybe it’s more complicated than that. Or not. Maybe I am just tired. Or not.

“Um. Thanks.” Awkward moment. He is a hungry demon for sure.

“Have a beer.” That is a great idea, every time. Dmitri is alright. Yes, indeed.

“Thanks, I sure can use one.” I notice Dmitri is not having any. He comments that it means more beer for me. I agree. I have several. Then I have several more. This pleases him. This pleases me too. At this point it’s working out pretty well for me. As the beer flows and the evening unfolds, Dimmy is for sure now my very bestest buddy ever now, yeppir. I really mean it, man.

Or whatever he is. Dude. Dude-thing. Is that a word?

I wake up on the couch. The rosy red fingers of the Martian dawn have long since passed from the sky; it must be mid-morning, or maybe early mid-morning. Dmitri is munching on some kind of sticky snack, it’s all over his mouth and cheeks. He seems started when he sees that I am awake. He seems to be guilty of something as he offers me some of his smeary chunks. I say “Thanks but no thanks, Dimmy.” He happily continues munching and watching the tele. The new hostess for the morning miner's news show has strawberry mint hair. She also is easy on the eyes, if you know what I mean.

My leg itches. I reach for it, but my legs are... (can you guess?) Both FREAKIN' GONE. All both of them. Words cannot describe my feelings at this moment. This moment goes on longer than any other moment in my life, except maybe for the moment last night when the snap-jawed lizard-thing nearly got my head. I am not hungry any more just now. I am having difficulty breathing. I am making squeaking noises as I probe my stumps and look under the couch, I would check the Carbuncle but it’s too far.

I am now a living stub, sitting on the couch, next to Dmitri. He actually notices my distress and comments between wet smacking gobbles. This saves me from having to make an announcement as my words are hard to come by just now.

“No legs. Oh yeah. That is a problem, Kurty. (Burp.) No worries. We can requisition you some new ones. Chop-chop!” 

He continues his messy meal, never having looked away from the strawberry mint dream girl. My brain has shorted out, I am not able to form words just now, my jaws do not work, and my eyes are overflowing dilated limpid pools of subterranean darkness. I have never been a human doorstop before. Lay me on the floor and call me Matt. Take me swimming, call me Bob. Take me water skiing, call me Skip. Hang me on the wall, call me Art. All of these things involve the initiative of others. I am a potted plant now.

Mina shows up, it turns out she fell off of the carriage. She had to walk the seventeen miles back to the bivouac. She is oddly composed for having walked seventeen miles in the Martian darkness and dawn with those snapper-things out there roaming free. She knows a few things. This is more or less just another normal day for her in this wild frontier place. Am I going to love it here, or what?

She is cordially surprised but polite when she spots Dmitri. It’s not like it’s a warm reunion. Now I have to wonder about their dynamics. Watch and learn.

She does not like my new name “Kurt” either, but she is sympathetic towards my leg-free condition. They were my second and third favorite appendages. Mining and ranching are both very dangerous professions and it’s not unusual to find workers that have artificial limbs. Actually, for some jobs, prosthetics are preferred or even required, because the new technology allows for the wearer to perform in new and more useful ways. Will I be able to play the drums, doctor?

I guess once I get the new legs I will be able to run really fast. That could be handy, with those snappers out there, and whatever else might be waiting for me. I wonder if I will be able to jump really high? I meant it as a joke, but Mina said I should be careful. Some of the first users of the power-legs jumped straight up several hundred feet and when they came back down they died from the impact. Such jumping is evidently handy for crossing chasms or leaping atop tall buildings in a single bound. I can't wait. Really, I can't. 

Show me the way to go home.

She tells me more about the ropes while Dimmy stays in the realm of strawberry-mint fields forever. It’s a good place for him just now.

 

I thought that I had saved enough money from the “Doolittle” job to open the Hoover Disk shop. Then I had the incredible luck to meet Sam, who increased the likelihood for the success of the business, and the two of us are going to take over the world; the world of Hoover Disk rentals in the Historic Battery District of Charleston, South Carolina. You are probably thinking, if Sam knows about hooves much better than I do, and he knows how to repair hooves more quickly than I do, and he knows about managing a small business more profitably than I do, what the heck am I doing in the picture? Well, since you ask, I am seeking a day-job cover for my not so secret “other” life, writing novels. I am stuffed full of novel ideas and I need a pleasantly passable vocation that will allow me to exercise my dark powers on a regular basis while continuing to pay the rent. This is it. I have created my own world, which I will be launching after I return from my little celebratory ” new career” vacation here on the trail. If only I could remember my name. Just kidding, I got used to that long ago.


I met Sam back in old San Francisco, way back before the big you-know-what. He had been there with his family laundry and meal delivery job when I decided that I needed any form of transportation, for example his hoover disk, and so I helped myself to it, which was rude of me. I felt bad for a little while, but, like so much of my life, I forgot all about it. He didn’t forget all about it. He was nursing his grudge. He found me.


He saw my face on YouTube, in two prominent places, I won some kind of funny award for my flying escape trick, and later he came upon some short clips I made for promoting the opening of the new hoover disk shop, and he just showed up one night, out of the blue. No appointment. He was highly insistent, wanting to know what I was going to do about a remedy for rectifying the ragged situation. Nothing could be done about the ruined Neptune meals from that night (or the ruined laundry), but he wanted me to have the chance to redeem my shameful red face, and he wanted me to repair my dishonor. Neither of us was sure of what to say after he said all that, but after some more discussion it comes out that he actually knows more about Hoover Disks in general than I do, he knows more about how to repair Hoover Disks and can do it far more quickly than I can, and best of all he knows about managing a tight small business and making a profit much better than I do.


We hit it off pretty well. To try to somehow repay him for that hoover disk fiasco, I offered him a partnership in a Hoover Disk shop. Fortune is strange that way. It’s all about recognizing opportunities. That is the trick. I had the money and ideas, he knows how to do the work.


The shop opens in ten days, I need this little vacation to freshen up after these many years of continuous work preparing for what now turns out to be this grand opening of Gzznga.


So here I am on the Appalachian Trail. The sky is perfect, some breezes, and the path is not so congested, its all about timing. This is not the peak season. I like it like that.


After a particularly enjoyable scramble up a very large incline, I am pausing to enjoy the vista and doing some birdwatching. There are no other hikers visible at this time, I own this mountain.

I notice that the ground is starting to tremble. There is nobody around just now, which is unusual on the trail at this time of year. I am not sure of where to run to, so I'll just sit there and watch, and possibly die. Wish me luck.


Ten feet in front of me the earth vibrates so quickly that it appears to be a blur. Then a silver pole emerges, which smoothly opens up and turns into a comm screen. The face I have been dreading all these years appears, in full color, maybe even a bit bigger than he is in real life, and he is looking right at me.


“Come on. Let’s go.”


“DC! What the ffffff- Farquahar?!”


“Kurd boy! A merry Farquahar to you too. Time is short. We've located Willie and we need your help to affect the rescue. Get in.”


I know this guy from many years ago and I thought I was done with him. He always has hidden agendas and they usually have to do with him eating my limbs. “Is this also a secret invitation to one of your famous barbeques?”


“You should be so lucky. Actually, that's a great idea. Mmmmmm. Bar-b-que... But first I, we, need you, your, help.”


“Go on. What do we need me for?” I see where he is looking now, hungry devil. He has had that one taste of me, and look, now he is back for more. Naughty-naughty DC.


“Well, you are the only one we know that is worthy enough to place our reliable trust and considered esteem in. And you are the only one still alive that we know that can easily pass for a human. Our method for locating her is rather general, and for the final part we will need some help, eyes on boots.

But first I have some rules. One rule actually. You are not allowed anywhere near the navigational controls. Do you hear me? Keep your hands off the wheel. We have seen how you operate, you drive like a raving lunatic, and in no way are you to be allowed anywhere near the helm. Not now, not then, no way, not ever, no-no, no go. Do I make myself clear?”


“Well, DC, so far you haven't sold me on anything yet, and you might find this hard to believe, but I do have a life going on here, and I am not about to just drop it and head off to... You say you found Wilma?”


“Near where you lost her. We have a positive reading, she has a locator chip in her, um, hip muscle, that has missed a few battery charges, but we were at long last able to find her. We need your help. Then you can get back to your, ah, Gzznga whatever it is that you have going on now. Let's go.”

He had me at the first mention of Wilma, and he knew it. But I was too proud; I could not just hop into his amphibious mobile kitchen there and probably more than possibly populate his pepper-pot.


“I have a few rules of my own. Well, one rule. You can't eat me or any more of my body parts.”


“What? You think I would.. what? WHAT? WHATWHATWHAT??!! Damn you, Kurd boy! Now NOW you have truly offended me. You have gone too far. The very idea that you think I would...”

He sputtered on and on like that, red faced and indignant.


I break in. “Time is running out, DC. I will stay away from the helm, if you do not eat me or any of my body parts. Deal?”


“Done. Hop in.” The soft earth around the pole yielded a glass semi-sphere which opened, and there was a circular platform. I stood on it and was brought into THE BULLFROG! 


Cue the theme music, Thus Spake Zara-frogstra. It’s freakin’awesome. I wish you could see it now. It’s.... awesome. Words are inadequate to describe her. Dark green. Metallic. Smooth. Big eyes, big mouth. Fast and bulbous.


The journey to the wilderness north of Norway was rapid. The Bullfrog is much larger and faster than the Tadpole, but the propulsion is the same, she moves through ocean and rock with equal ease, only the Bullfrog is bigger and even more, well, awesome. True to our agreement, I did not get a chance to see the helm (at this time), and DC did not offer me any of his flavoring lotion to rub on me (at that time).


There were probably about two dozen Bzyklwitch on the Bullfrog, but it’s impossible to count them, they all look alike for the most part. (There were 218 on board at that time.)

Amongst them were several unique familiar faces, including my old friend Calibration. I grilled him to find out about what had happened in the past few years. Those little guys seem to have very little long term memory. He evidently knows everything about what to do for repairs and basic operating protocol, and he seems to know what happened as far back as a few months ago. He seemed to know my face, but clearly he did not know my name. But then, nobody knows my name. He did not respond to grilling very well, but he was in good humor. Not exactly a loquacious being. The other Bzyklwitch stood off cautiously and watched me anxiously. Something about the smell of the grill drives them wild; I can see it in their hungry eyes. They were otherwise anxious and focused. They chirp in unison: 

"Villee? Villliie? vvVillie! Vilieee? vVillieee!"

We arrived at the rescue location shortly after sunset. Northern Norway is a cold and rocky place, somewhat desolate, but there is a peaceful charm, if you can a-Fjord it. It’s a magical land of granite cliffs, witches, rocks, trolls, stones, twisted old trees, more rocks and stones, and goblins. It’s all rocky cliffs by the cold and windy sea, with a few really old looking scraggly bushes. The Northern Lights were just kicking in for the extended evening show. Did I mention that evenings that far north last for months in the winter, and the sun never sets in the summer? So it was twilight the whole time. Endless twilight. Three AM looks the same as 3 PM, midnight and noon, it’s all twilight at this time of year.

My job was to go in there and see what I could find out. I was to leave an inconspicuous floral gift with a secret camera in it, and then brief the others about how to best proceed to grab the gal and make with the hippity-hoppity in the Bullfrog.

I knocked on the door. A large brutally muscular blond man answered. From the sound of his utterance he wanted to know the nature of my inquiry. He did not speak my language, nor did I speak his. He looked at the flowers suspiciously. I looked at his elaborate demonic tattoos on his gigantic arms in quiet horror.

A familiar face peeked out from behind him, it was Wilma! She looked curious, but it was nothing at all like “old home week” on her side of our personal equation.

There were some young ones, triplets, extremely large for such young faces, they appeared to be perhaps four years of age, and she was obviously ripe with another load. I'd say she had about two or three weeks to go before the stork would arrive.

“Wilma! (Pause. Nothing.) Wilhelmina! (Pause. Nothing.) Willie! (Pause. Nothing.) Miss Pickenwiggens?”


“He is Fritz but call him Willy. I am Helga. Who are you? Who is Pickenwiggens?”


“Ohhhh. You look just like someone I know.” She looked unhappy.


The large blond man looked increasingly annoyed. He glowered. He flexed. He was not amused.

She said something to him; he made a sour face and then stood aside, indicating his reluctant acceptance of my passage. His balled fists were each the size of my head. It was good to get out of the cold.


I blurted out my carefully crafted cover story to Helga or Wilhelmina. She accepted the flowers and gave them to one of the huge little girls. They obviously take after their father in many ways. The little group of young daughters took the flowers into another room and then cautiously returned to watch me from a safe distance. “Herr Fritz, hvordan du sier mister?” Big Willy, just stood there glaring.


Abruptly my precious old friend startled, and tilted her head. “Pickenwiggens?” I could see the wheels turning, her eyes sort of lit up behind a veil of confusion, and that is when Big Willy spoke to her in whatever language they spoke. She grimly agreed with him and turned to me. “Your story is interesting. I'll tell you briefly that this used to be a prison; it was sold to my husband and me several years ago. He used to be a guard here and I was a guest before the money ran out, but before that it’s always been somewhat hazy to me. We're developing the property as a tourist destination, Famous Dungeons of Norway. But here is the short version of what I must tell you. You need to leave now before he tears your arms off and beats you with them. He does that. It was nice to meet you, what did you say your name was?”


“Enjoy the flowers. Nice to meet you, Mr. William, Sir. I wish you and your lovely wife Helga and all your wonderful little children all the best. Go I must now.” I bowed deeply and skipped the usual handshake convention for this occasion. I'm keeping my arms, dammit. When I got back to the Bullfrog, DC was strangely happy, but I was depressed. He knew everything, as usual, because he had been watching on his upgraded famous disco-ball electric flying watermelon viewer using the sensor in the little secret flower patch I just delivered.


“We'll have a celebration! It’s the end of your sorrows! You're not going to be sad ever again, Kurd boy! Never! We have already gotten started on the preparations. Why don't you start with a nice warm herbal broth, I mean, bath... We have a special hot tub for you to relax in. Don't you worry about a ting! We have everything taken care of and under control, Goodie Sir. And to start, I have a special treat for you! Remember the fruit juice that you love?”


Same drill as last time. The hot tub was to the left; when I was out of sight I grabbed my muck-lucks and jacket and quietly went straight ahead. It’s too cold to be a swamp, but it was wilderness and the local critters were probably as hungry here as they were in that swamp in old New Zealand. I pressed on, over the freezing old windblown rocks and into the relative comfort of the thick underbrush as quickly as I could manage.


The Aurora Borealis is my only friend now, but I am accepting applications.


My watch glows in the dark. All of the first twelve hours I could look back and see the fire in the distance. I used the Bullfrog's beacon as a reverse guide to steer my exit. I went away from the light of the frog and into the darkish twilight tundra, trying to avoid the huge cliffs, as well as the smaller ones. The medium sized cliffs too.


Running is a bad idea, so I sort of hustled cautiously. It would appear that a hunting party is not on my heels, but I might as well stay scared. Being scared keeps me focused and, so far, alive.


For the second twelve hours I did not look back so much, I just headed South, expecting to eventually find some kind of road that I could take that would lead me further and further away from my dreaded special dinner engagement and closer and closer towards warm and wonderful South Carolina and Sam Ting and the Gzznga Hoover Disk rentals.”


Nothing could be finah…

Here is what Mina told me about mining on Mars. It’s very repetitive work. Most miners wind up in some kind of glazed condition, they do not live long, most die, ahem, retire before they turn 40. After just a few months in the mines they tend to turn gray, developing huge facial running sores and a conspicuous preference for darkness. They do not talk much, well, they sort of groan, and they lumber about in a surprisingly productive fog for many years until they slow down and eventually they just stop moving. Then usually somebody has to bury them. 

There is some research going on towards the possibilities for refurbishment. Reuse. Recycle. Reanimate. Replace. Repeat. Slaves for life, the life of a slave.

The life, well, it’s not really a life. The existence of a miner not painful, she says, and it pays the surviving family members very well, so it’s a popular profession for recruits from polluted and broken old overpopulated worlds with no hope. So, you got your Martian pit-men and your Martian wranglers who hate each other, with absolutely no half-way point in betwixt.

The immigrants who come for the mining opportunities are not a bit like the ranching types. Mina hates the fast-talking rude and arrogant wannabe land-grabbing surface types. Ranchers are a different breed, much more adventuresome and they tend to avoid the miners altogether. Those “cowboy” guys tend to lose limbs the hard way, getting nipped by the “cows” which is what they call the dim witted snap-jawed creatures. The cows are ferocious, but the bulls are twice the size and much more dangerous. Luckily they are extremely rare. The males are kept for breeding only. Those nipper-creatures are prized for their tasty meat. They tend to graze on some specially bred smaller creatures that do not move quickly enough, and they grow fat. The smaller creatures do not taste good to humans. The cows will eat pretty much anything. They love fresh miners best of all. I am more sure I don't like it here.

Mina puts in a requisition for a set of new legs which arrive in a few minutes, and then she locks herself in her private chambers. So now it’s just me and Dmitri Caspar with his messy mug and the tele babes. He is looking at my arms, but he does not say that I have extraordinary arms. Still, this unspoken possibility does not comfort me.

I strap on the legs and go for a test walk around the room. It’s easy. In various places there are special ports for all sorts of accessories, but there is no user’s manual. It’s supposed to be all on the tele. The first-time wearers have plenty of time, as they are not going anywhere, so if they wait long enough they will sufficiently learn enough about the basics of prosthetic operations to get going again. If you can't figure it out quickly, you are told to go feed the cows and are usually never seen again.

From the corner of my eye I can see that Dmitri is secretly looking at my arms again, but he is not very good with secrets. He looks perpetually hungry. This is not a good place to relax.

Past the restroom is a locked door, and down the hall further I find a shaft with a ladder leading to new places for me to explore as I adjust to my new locomotivity. The first two levels below are unremarkable, so I continue climbing down, where I come to a dark chamber and find some kind of bay with a pool in it. When I enter, the lights automatically come on, fading up slowly.

Floating in the pool of thick fluid was a white vehicle; it looked sort of like a 1960 Cadillac, with big white fins. I spent some time looking at it, about 12 feet long, no windows or openings visible, sort of oblong, with the two white fins. I ran my hand over it, smooth and cold, wet and hard. It appears to be quite useless, but fascinating. This is the Watusi, it says so right on the plaque. It says it was made on Zebra Island and the Earth date. There is no door but it has sort of a saddle with some odd attachments. I did not think to look at my new legs to see if any matched. I eventually head back up the ladder, this Watusi thing is fascinating to me, but it’s time for me to eat. A man has to obey his natural priorities.

No one is in the kitchen with Mina when I get there. I remark that she has an unusual old banjo hanging on the wall. I take it down and strum it. She asks me to put it back. Happily there is no sign of Dmitri Caspar. The pantry has thousands of cans labeled “Happy Meals for Hungry Humans” but no ingredients are listed. It’s all the same, and it’s not so bad, so I dig right in. 

There are no forks or knives in a Martian miner's kitchen, just spoons and can openers. I ask her about the eye-glasses that I found, and she looks panicked, where are they now? They are all she has left from her mother's things. No sign of them on the table where I left them, or on the floor behind the table. I ask her about the silver chipmunks, she laughs nervously and suggests that I am still adjusting to my arrival on the Red Planet. She decides to change the subject and continues with my introductory lessons. 

Its a twist. I don't mention the Watusi. I am standing still. I feel naked. The number is 9. Why or eye?

Mina explains to me that the landowners resent the miners because it limits the range where the “cows” can roam, they tend to fall into the holes, and of course there is the water situation, well, it’s not really water, like water on earth, it’s something indigenous, it’s necessary for both mining and herding, and it’s in short supply. So there are constant struggles over the natural resources. Nature is all about struggles, everywhere you roam.

She quietly confides to me that Dmitri is known to be a spy from the mining cartel who is here to keep an eye on her activities. She does not trust him, but she is not about to signal her concern, a good report from him means more supplies. I suggest that he might have stolen the glasses; she frowns and changes the subject again. This really bugs her.

She has a lot of work to do, so she suggests that I head outside to get better acquainted with my new legs. “Go run outside and play. Go on!”

It’s still morning, the sun is approaching the meridian and I am putting my new legs through their paces. It’s windy outside, in the sunshine.

Yes, I can run really fast, and it’s a gas! I am not ready to try jumping quite yet, except I notice something over in the periphery of my vision. It’s a huge shadow coming right at me. I startle and leap just in time to avoid a huge disaster; it appears to be an avalanche of sticks and branches, which goes noisily bouncing past me in the wind.

The tumbleweeds on Mars are usually over 50 feet tall, some get to be 200 feet or more in height. They roam across the Martian plains and must be respected. I have cheated death one more time by sidestepping a monstrous free-roaming bush. There is a mining settlement nearby, but off in the distance I see what appears to be an isolated building of some kind, which I feel compelled to investigate. I cover the distance at a moderate jog in about thirty minutes and find myself outside of the Big "N" Ranch.

The first wrangler I meet is Shorty. He is a black man, seven feet tall in his fancy cowboy boots and he has an easy smile. He tells me that they are looking for hands, and I should talk to the big bossman, Nemo. Mr. Nemo (nope, just Nemo) is out just now, tending the back 40,000,000 acres, but he will be returning before sundown. I should take a look around and make myself presentable, if that is what I want to do. It’s not an easy life, being a ranch hand, but what good is easy anyway?

Shorty tells me that Nemo is a bit hard to get used to; he tends to run a tight ship, keeps the boys in line with his famous nasty temper. He likes to think of himself as a cruel boss man, but a fair one. If I can get along with Nemo, my future on the surface is secure, “podner.” If not, they will eventually feed me to the cows. Simple.

Shorty has seen lots of Westerns, he loves the old films. He mimics their speech, with lots of colorful gunslinger slang terms and sometimes he sports a fake drawl. I never was so big on old movies about men on horses with guns and boots that jingle jangle jingle, and ten-gallon hats, but I know enough to comprehend what Shorty is saying, for the most part.

Right now the cows are all feeding, over the hill somewhere over there, I mean “yonder,”  further away from the mining camp. Shorty says that I should stay away from the cows until I've had some basic instruction. There's a video pod in the ranch-house, and Shorty sets me up with the various training programs. Unlike the miner’s mono-channel, there are 1200 or so streaming broadcast choices for cowpokes to view on, but I am assigned the safety basics, which should keep me busy until Nemo shows. Shorty excuses himself; he has been assigned to help Cooky with the evening grub. He welcomes me again, with a hearty slap on the back which nearly knocks me off my legs, but he is already gone, chuckling to the mess hall.

The cows are not indigenous; they were bred on the planet by some of the earliest settlers. They had a huge number of experimental breeds, but only the dangerous snapjawed types survived. Some got away from the poorly designed primitive pens a long time ago, now they roam in great packs across the Redlands. Most of them are branded and tend to return each evening to their night territory.

They are extremely dangerous, but very tasty, grilled over a campfire at night, or prepared in a thousand different ways that the ranch-folk pride themselves in preparing.

Miners tend to stay away from all that, they eat from cans and have their own ways of doing things. They are regarded as inferior beings by the cowboys, who would just as soon feed them to their cows as look at them. The miner families tend to steadily accumulate wealth, while the cowboys are loners, depending on their home ranch for everything. I think I would rather be a cowboy than a miner. It’s really up to Nemo now.

Nemo, it turns out, has been feuding with another landowner, also a rancher, name of Picketwicket. Seems that somebody has just recently (it was just last night) shot one of Nemo's prize cows, which is a survival drama everyone understands and would be excused if it was kill or be killed, but what turns it sour is that they just left the body there to be eaten by the other cows, which is a crime in these parts. They should of et it themselves. This kerfuffle could set off another range war. It had been shot in the head with some kind of arrow-razor device, and the killing point had been pulled, obviously in an effort to cover the trail. Somebody is going to pay for this waste of good meat. Prime heifer. The best, from the N Ranch, wasted and left to gather trouble. This is bad.

But wait, the story is much more complicated than just a simple land feud between old ranchers. There is some history to this bloody situation. Years ago, Picketwicket and Nemo had been partners, hence the adjacent spreads. There was a very private and darkly hidden rumor that Nemo had fathered a child by Mrs. Picketwicket, but the situation was further complicated by the first business partner of Picketwicket, name of Early Harl, who has long since vanished from the scene. Harl had eventually hired a gunslinger to settle things after Nemo came on the scene. After old man Picketwicket passed away, old Nemo rigged up some deal to snatch up all that land, so now Nemo has the entire combined spread to himself. It’s prime Martian Redlands that stretch further than you can see in one day, either by motorcycle, or by Carbuncle; but you could by running on my automaton legs.

I found a road. There was a babushka walking slowly ahead of me. I decided as I approached the ragged old crone that I should be as pleasant as I could. I was hoping she would speak English. I also hoped she might have some food that I might persuade her to share with me. Maybe she would feed me in exchange for a piggy-back ride. I have little else to bargain with just now. She hears my approaching footsteps and turns with obvious apprehension. She is younger than I thought she would be, and very pregnant. Hold on to your hat.

It was Helga/Wilma! She had a shiner. It was a real doozy. She was happy to see me. She has a big long wonderful warm hug for me and tells me her story. She does have some bread and dried salmon. We light a fire. It was the best fire of my life.

Like a twisted new light bulb hesitantly turning on, after my recent visit she had remembered more of her past, which lead to a horrible fight with Willy, her gigantic pet husband, who subsequently popped her one and cast her out.

He had a hard time fitting the life she had most recently been living with all that she had abruptly been remembering, and he wanted nothing of any of the old Helga or the new old Willie. He is the official one and only house Willy, and they do not have room for any more Willies. Or Wilmas. Or Wilhelminas. And certainly no Pickenwiggens. Once that memory-door of hers opened a tiny crack, when I said “Pickenwiggens,” it all came tumbling back into her recollection, and her world convulsed throughout her mind as she awakened to her past. It’s nice to see you too, old shoe, how have you been?

He'll take good care of the huge little blond bunnies. She has an understandable great maternal sorrow, but she intellectually adapts and recognizes the larger picture of her new old life. Plus he is one big mean dude and that will never change. One shiner is enough, thanks.

We decided to go back to try to find DC.

Well, if you must know the truth, it was her idea. The last person I wanted to see was Dick Clark, the gi-normous galloping gourmet. I was just happy to see her. And it’s really her, it’s really Wilma and she knows she is Wilma. She has come back. Wherever she is, that is my home now. And I am going to be a father! We need to talk about that. Nobody knows my name, which is how I have come to like it these days. I am at peace with the mystery. I am afraid that if my door opens a bit, the memories will not be so pleasant either. My favorite comfortable delusion is my friend to the end. It took us several days, but we actually found the way back to the Bullfrog, which appeared to be nearly abandoned. There was Calibration and probably no more than two dozen Bzyklwitch on watch. (One hundred fifty-seven.)

They were so jubilant when they saw vvvVilma. vvVillee? Villliie? vvVillie! Vilieee? Vvillieee! The reunion festivities were quite remarkable. She was all teary-eyed and they were all huggy. It’s time for s'mores! The fire was already set. We had a delicious vegetarian soup that night. No sign of DC, and the unusually silent Calibration was evidently not expecting to see him either. “Ve vas vaiting for vvvvVilma,” he jokes in a fake exaggerated accent. Now she is here. The team is rested, ready and raring to go.

There are ample supplies of a variety of normal provisions. By eating seafood and whatever can be found along the way, the crew can be sustained pretty much forever. Well, until the s'mores run out, which is now.

Wilma knows exactly what to do. There is a large grocery store about fifty-five kilometers back that way on down the big road, then around to the left another seventeen kilometers. There they have the grahams and marshmallows and chocolate. She likes to add a little peanut butter. I like bananas, and the Bzyklwitch like sardines. Everyone gets plenty of what they need, and the Bullfrog provides us shelter.

Our Lady Wilma-Sweet-Willie-One is proud and happy at the helm, and she kindly allows me to watch her operate the big wheel, as she heads out to deepsea to continue her amazing work on the tectonic plates. I have lots of questions, and now she has the answers. Well, mostly.

We do not know that happened to DC, and the Bzyklwitch just smile grimly.

The tires stopped squealing when the car went off the cliff. It spun and bounced down the rocky walls and came to rest, right side up, but facing the wrong way, on the boulders lining the shore of the Willamette River.

I have not used my robotic arm in, well, years, but when it came time to use it, I was able to pop open the jammed car door and leap out. I saw the tree and rolled hard; the car door hit the trunk and was smashed shut again just as the car went off the cliff. I got some involuntary shut-eye under that tree, but we found that my thumb-camera came on and captured what transpired after that.

Be careful of what you ask for. At the wheel was the hitch-hiker. A few minutes earlier I had decided to reach out to someone in need and give them a lift, and that helpless person decided to reach out to me, and take everything I had. He was at the wheel, and he was not such a good driver, holding his gun on me and steering with the other hand and looking at me and the rest of the world while he made his new plans. We heard the sound of a cell phone ringing once, it sounded like it was under the car, there was a click and the brakes went out. Of course, we were on a mountain road coming to the cliff. What that hitch-hiker did for me, unwittingly, is something I could never pay back, but somehow I feel very little sense of guilt or loss. Should I? I was on assignment; Stanley and Willie have hired me as a gumshoe. We were working on old business.

It was bad business that would not leave us alone. The name is one word, which you are about to learn.

The thumb-camera took over while I rested up under that tree. A black Lexus pulled up, three prickly bearded men with brown hair got out, and they were looking down at the car below. The short one pulled out his Smartphone and said in perfect Russian: “Tell Nemo it’s my payday! Yes, I can see him down there; he is trying to open the bulletproof windshield using his face!” The taller one said, in an English accent, in English, “That’s using his head!” and charfled, “har har har!!” The other two in synchronization, as if they had done it a million times before said “Shut up Henry,” which made Henry charfle even harder “HAR HAR HAR HAR!” Now there was black smoke coming from below. Then the short guy on the Smartphone held it up to show the view, “There he is! Wait!

What’s this?” The sound of a roaring fire as the gasoline explodes, first on the outside, which animates the trapped man, and then the inside of the car roars, a fireball pops out all the windows. “Bad news, it looks like he has decided to take a nap.” 

Suddenly a naked teenage boy jumps up on a nearby moss covered redwood tree trunk lying nearby, he points at the fire engulfed car below and says “Whoa, dude!” 

Immediately three red dots appear, one between his eyes, two on his chest, he looks at the three men, there are three snapping clicks and he is blown backwards, falling behind the log and down the cliff.

The middle guy says to the short guy “You got the headshot, your point.” The short guy is back on his phone, in Russian, “Five-Oh is probably on the way.” Henry says “Nemo doesn’t want any more dead cops from us.” It’s not clear who says “Let’s Roll!” but the three of them jump into the Lexus, the license plate rotates from “USA USA1” to “1WAYRYDE” and the car sprays gravel.

I woke up under the tree with Sweet Willie and Cal standing over me, placing me into a sled. Willie says “Don’t move,” and I said “Helga!” and she looked puzzled. Cal said “You moved.” Then he released some kind of sedative into my neck. 

 

I really don't like what I have just written here so far, I will soon go back in there and fix it up after a bit. It’s sort of like a quick happy ending, but there is promise for more adventures on the mighty Bullfrog, fixing the tectonic plates and playing cat-and-mouse with the bad guys who track her, or whatever they are doing. Nemo. And, what in Farquahar ever happened to DC? Maybe the little guys ate him. Food for thought. Too much thought.

Sam is out for lunch and I am at the counter, ready for new customers. Here comes one now.

“Is this Garzongab Hoover Ship Rentals?” 

"Gzznga.." and then I stopped. The customer is always right. Insulting her by correcting her would probably queer the possibilities for any sales opportunity, and we do need every sales possibility. “Welcome, Madame! Will it be credit or cash?” 

“Well, the reason I ask is that I wanted to talk to the owner, Stan from Neptune. Is he in? When will he be back?” 

The customer is always right. “Stan” will be back from Neptune soon. In the meanwhile, if there is anything I can help you with, I am here and eagerly available, Madame.” 

“Thank you, you're very kind.” She fishes her little telephone from her purse. “Bridget? It’s Marty. The little man from Neptune who owns the place is not here, it’s just some guy I have never seen, who does not seem to know his aaa... Yes. Well, when they arrive we can come back and they can each pick out their own hoover disks. What are you doing for lunch?...” She walks out, chattering away to the small plastic object she holds upside of her skull. It’s all so modern.

“Stan” also known as Sam will be back soon. I have my laptop and the story waits for me.

That is what I like about my new life, I can just set this aside and go at it another way.

After a little while I have a new spin on the story.

 

I sort of woke up here; it started in the transporter, something must have happened which cleaned my clock. It was a rough landing, well, not exactly. It was a horrible crash, bippity bippity zoom and thudtinkle-sizzle, with a lam bam boom. When we came to a stop the airlock was jammed shut, but there was a huge hole torn in the floor. After leisurely considering my options for almost one endless second, and simultaneously pounding frantically on the airlock door, while the air supply rapidly turned nasty, I decided to just shout GERONIMO and jump into the hole. That might have been a mistake. I probably should have tested it a bit and lowered myself gradually. I wonder what happened. I have no idea.

The infirmary has these ceiling fans. I woke up slowly. I came to realize that I had been watching those fans for the past million years. No, maybe longer. I have no idea how long I have been here now. I think I may have been born here. Maybe I will die here. Let's find out, but slowly though. What’s the sport in rushing? No hurries. I hear the nurses talking. Now they are standing in front of my bed and looking at me, pointing at me, consulting their charts, and making notes. They look at me an all nod in perfect agreement. “This one is hopeless. Dumb as an empty box of hammer-rocks. We bloody well can't afford to keep the likes of him around any longer, eating and breathing, he's going to the “Euthy Camp” tomorrow. This other guy next to him, he seems to be making some progress.” That fellow, by the name of Courage Joyner, is out cold but he has some kind of strange attachment or prosthesis instead of his left arm. He is wearing a poorly fitting new black Che Guevara shirt and ill-fitting black chinos with the price tag dangling, odd for space travel. Except for being unconscious, he appears to be in good shape for any of the most difficult frontier work.

The nurses wander on down the row, assessing each of the unconscious potted plants. It’s mostly very quiet in here, except for the yammering nurses. The machines hum and beep, but they are sort of soothing to listen to when you are resting. It’s the nurses who are the noisy trouble here. Euthy?

Euthanasia.

Bummer. I don't want to be getting me some of any of that.

That very night, after it felt like it was the time for what I knew that had to do, I took advantage of my somewhat untested abilities to move, and slipped out of the airlock. The ground below was further down than I expected. Luckily, when I hit, I landed on my face, but now I am more or less walking in a straight line again, and it’s getting better with every hour as I put one painful foot in front of the other. I found some obviously abandoned boots that sort of fit me, and a jumpsuit. The orange ones were not my color, so I took the only light green one. Upon reflection, an orange one would have blended in with the Martian landscape a bit better, which could have worked to my advantage, as I was seeking to avoid the “Euthy Camp” sing-along memorial society. Upon yet a bit more reflection, orange could have been a problem, I would have been both lost and hidden and my story would have a different outcome at this point. It seems to have worked out for the best, as you will eventually see.

The area around the infirmary is forbidding. I attempt to propel myself forward like the devil is after me. Later I decided that he was actually waiting out ahead for me, so running only decreased my distance from his influences. Now it seems that nobody was chasing me. Now, with the wisdom of hind-sight, I think that they were probably all watching me on their little security monitors and wagering on how long I will last on my own in the Martian wilderness.

It was a mistake to look down to try and rip the wrinkled and weather-beaten tape off my wrists, as in the gathering darkness my new old boot finds something under the Martian moss that is slippery. My heel slides forward too wide, and then stops short, whipping me to knee, to chest and, stopping directly on the side of my face as it once again hits the impressionable ground in spite of my best jazz hands. I find myself staring down the gullet of about the biggest hungry predatory creature this side of the Milky Way. He has a natural pattern of bars and an “N” burned on his back. He belly crawls way too fast at my face until he is just three feet away. He and I both know that he will soon take my head off, and the guttural air escaping rises into a victorious reptilian roar for just a second before the diamondshaped, razor sharp metal projectile comes straight down out of the night’s blackness. The harpoon tip passes between the bulging periscope eyes and into that Martian critter's brainpan with the whisper of instant death. I cautiously and gratefully look up, searching for the source of my salvation. But what if they had actually missed their intended target? I am a stranger in a stranger land.

In the dim light I see a silhouette of a tall amazingly muscular female human holding a weapon. Thank God for the funding of high school girl’s athletic training programs, which allowed young ladies to learn to shoot. My Amazon champion has blond hair pulled back into a practical weave and she would own the basketball court if there was a handy basketball court, but there is none out here. She owns me now, heart and soul.

She quickly retrieves the harpoon tip from the creatures cooling corpse and restores it to her utility belt.

“Hopefully nobody saw us shoot that thing; I do NOT want to have to pay for it. With our luck, some dang rancher is going to miss it.” Us? Our luck?

She does not have to convince me that this is a bad place for “us” to be as I see a multitude of the snapjawed “N” creatures swarming in to assist and/or dine upon their lost sibling. My new heroine has a dirty old tunneling vehicle about 20 feet in length and I jump in first. We scoot across the surface of Mars. She says her name is Mina, which is short for Wilhelmina. She tells me that she hates that name.

Her father ran a bed-and-breakfast in Northern Norway. She hated it there and signed up as soon as she possibly could to come to Mars. Now she hates it here. But it’s not as dull as Northern Norway.

Her mother, Helga, died when she was young and so she has no memories of her. Her father is a big grumpy man with blond hair and huge hands. His name is really Fritz, but everyone calls him Willy.

Gunshots bite the silent night; tire squeals rip apart the dark air. 

The telephone rings. 

Stan Ting, Neptune Private Eye, reaches to see who is calling. It’s trouble again. Wrong number.

Stan and Wilma have started a detective agency. Wilma has other responsibilities coming up soon, once the Bullfrog is fixed (in two weeks, three days and forty nine, forty eight minutes), but she has stars in her eyes, as does Stan, and the two of them make a pretty good team. Maybe Stan can help out on the Bullfrog. Wilma is teaching him to speak the language of the Bzyklwitch. I mean, The Brothers of Creation.

Ronni and Angea’s new shop, Gzznga Hoover Disks and Shoes, is doing very well. It helps that there are two beautiful young women running the place, and the younger staff members divide their time between Sam’s shop, frolicking in the playground location, and caring for the smallest of our precious human treasures, Than and Lilac. Autumn and school are quickly coming up! We have the youngsters all signed in and ready to go.

Rose and I are pretty much an item now, or so I would like to imagine. It’s hard to tell what she thinks, most of the time. She has been helping me with proofreading my various literary adventures, when she is not otherwise busy with the team and the babies. She can do anything. I already said that, didn’t I? I will probably say it again and again.

We are all happy to all be here in Charleston, a sleepy Southern city with lots of history.

The South is going to rise again! And we are here to help. We have Hoover Disks.

Tess tells us about the colorful population of ghosts in Charleston, which is a popular tourist draw. Let me summarize the highlights from Tess’s report.

At the Battery Carriage House Inn, a handsome young man lies down with female guests, and when they scream he escapes by walking through the wall. There is a place called Haunted Poogan's Porch Restaurant. Poogan is the ghost of a little terrier who brushes up against your legs, so you better watch your step. 

There is the fearsome ghost of Blackbeard The Pirate, who they say sometimes lived on Folly Island. That same man, who had the legal name of Mr. Edward Teach, most notoriously had lots of troublesome issues during his colorful life, and now, unexplainable lights at sea are often referred to as "Teach's light." Some claim that the notorious pirate now roams the afterlife searching for his detached head, for fear that the Devil, and maybe his friends, will not recognize him in his current headless form. 

The ghosts of many Civil War soldiers are reported often on Folly Island, which was also a staging area for pirate and “Rebellion-era” raiding parties.

Dock Street Theatre has two ghosts, one is the father of John Wilkes Booth, and the other is a nameless angry prostitute. Tess saved the best Historic Charleston ghost story for the last. The White Point Gardens are where the spirits of the pirates that were hung there have been seen walking all through the park in search of their executioners.

Maybe we can work all that into our White Point Garden’s “Gzznga Hoover Disks and Shoes” shop somehow. Tess tells us that Charleston’s Battery is known now as White Point Gardens, which still sits on the edge of the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Long before the area became a prominent and pretty peaceful park, both Fort Broughton and Fort Wilkins occupied what was then known as White or Oyster Point, named for the eerie skeletal white piles of bleached oyster shells covering the peninsula’s point. The Battery has been a place of conflict since its colonial beginnings. We are sitting on a goldmine of tourist-attracting local superstitions. We intend to try to make it work for us, for regular tourists and ghost hunters too. There are an increasing number of tourists who call themselves ghost hunters these days, we might as well provide them with the services they need.

Chris has been looking at property for her restaurant; she is ready to start something small, just to see how it goes. She wants to focus on international fusion menus, a little bit of this and that from here and there, things that work together. She plans on having no menus, serving one main meal which changes every week. With that main meal there will be an array of soups and side dishes, so a steady customer would have every reason to come frequently. In addition to the lunch routine, she has big ideas. She is very theatrical and wants to make the place unlike anything else anyone has ever seen, the kind of place where you mak e reservations for a special night months in advance and negotiate the menu for your special events. Right now she is figuring out a name for her Neptune cuisine restaurant, something as striking as her concept.

 

I am going to try again.

It was a full moon.

There is an old legend that folks tell around here, as to the truth behind it, nobody will ever know for sure. There was a young man who had won the heart of the Picketwicket daughter (the one rumored to be secretly fathered by Nemo), which is probably why Early Harl hired the gunslinger. One day both of the young men were suddenly gone and the pregnant daughter had abruptly gone back to Earth to try her hand at working the family business there in Norway and to raise the offspring. The fate of the two young men is an old legend, they are said to have been eaten by the cows of course, but their spirits were still stalking each other, taking potshots in the Martian nights. To these times, nobody will go up into certain hills, day or night.

You never hear the lazer pistol shot that kills you, but the ones that miss make a ferocious snapping sound, the whole area smells burnt, and whatever it does hit is damaged or obliterated. We had been receiving shots for almost five minutes now. Myna was hit, all that is left of her are those remarkable long legs, a little bit of the top of her head, and her arms. 

Nemo’s men caught us unarmed in the abandoned mine where we have been working on our secret project. We have no reason to be armed, and we have no idea why they are gunning for us. They are shooting first, while we are trying to ask questions too late.

The soil on Mars is pretty much worthless, it’s just red, and sort of creamy in texture. Of course, I knew that when I started experimenting. I was able to procure some rare mineral mine tailings that are higher in carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen, and at first I thought I would try growing mushrooms in one of the abandoned mines, just to see what would happen. Nothing happened. I tried this, I tried that.

Nothing worked, until I tried mixing in a bit of phosphorus-rich cow pie, and when I rigged up a “grow light,” things took right off. I am using the native water, but not much.

A little goes a long way.

They look like mushrooms, but they are juicier and we are getting good results from the experiments with genetically introducing various flavors. There are mushrooms that are sweet and look like bright red strawberries, tangy deep red raspberries and pale cream flavored mushrooms. We have to think of a new name for these new types of produce.

Just the mention of the possibility of new types of food is enough to drive the local folks to rapture. This is going to be big, once we get it figured out. Right now it’s best kept a secret, and being in an abandoned mine, that’s not hard to do. So what the hell are these crazy cowboys doing here, why are they shooting at us? They refuse to talk. We refuse to die. It’s a difficult situation.

For our business plan, next we still intend to try genetically introducing vegetable flavors, and different textures.

There were four of us working at this. Mina knows where all the abandoned mines are and Dimmy works miracles with the land title purchases, lucky for him he is somewhere else right now. Myna, Mina’s now deceased sister, played a key role in our work.

Although she had been unfairly reduced to a sub-human condition by her accumulated time in the mines, she was also very valuable with the basic labor, gathering the right minerals from the mine tailings, setting up tables and lights, secretly gathering the cow pies, carrying the thick Martian water, and basics like that. She introduced us to her friend Gobo, who luckily is also not here right now; he helps out doing what Myna was doing. He is further along with the miner’s condition; he is capable of no words, just persistent labor. He is a good guy. Unlike Dmitri, we know where Gobo is. He is gathering minerals using the Carbuncle.

Myna never said much to me, Mina showed us some pictures of her before she came to Mars, WOW! She was a tall, tanned and beautiful blond, but the person I knew was tall and sturdy, but grey, bald and had the characteristic running sores all over her like the more experienced miners do. She sort of moaned and never spoke in sentences, preferred the darkness, and walked slowly, but she was otherwise more intelligent than she appeared and she was eager to work towards the goal of our new business rather than dig ore for the nameless and faceless old rich guys who think they run the whole show here. We have just had success with some new flavors and textures: pumpkin (savorysoft), carrot (crispy), garlic (hard), onion (layered), honeydew (sweetsoft) and lychee (moist interior with a hard shell). We need some other food formats. If only we could emulate leaves, bulbs, stems, and seed pods. I think we can figure it out with time.

Even though it’s far better than a diet from cans, only eating mushrooms all the time is going to get boring, in my opinion, no matter how they taste and feel. I suppose we could grind them up and press them into forms. They have a short shelf life.

My first and only meeting with Nemo back a ways ago did not go so well. He might have had a bad day before he got home that night, but once he met me things went south, and fast, as they say in the cowboy movies. I am lucky he did not send me out with a bucket of warm meat to feed the cows, which of course would have been the end of me. The bucket would be empty but still in fine shape and the cows would be happy and fed. But there would be nothing left of me. Maybe the mechanical legs would be left, I shudder to think about that. Maybe they would get up and walk home themselves, like a Carbuncle. Where would be their home?

The loss of his one “prize” heifer under mysterious circumstances had really set him off. Shorty said that he was making his plans for revenge for weeks after that. He never did figure out who killed his cow and why they left her body to just lie there, stinkin’on the red range. That one cow was evidently extremely valuable to him, although there are plenty more where she came from. Some guys just seem to thrive on holding grudges.

Needless to say, I did not get the cowboy job that day, hence my attempts to make my own business from dirt, out here on the high crimson plains.

We could all see what was brewing, even Myna saw it coming. We need cow pies and Nemo needs to control the action. So far, so good, but when we go into full scale production we are going to need to make arrangements with the powers that be. That would be he. The Big N. And now his men have us holed up. Maybe there is a backdoor to this mine, we never did follow it all the way back. Myna knew, but it’s a little too late for asking her now.

They are not telling us why they are shooting at us. Could be about that dead cow, could be our secretive nature, could be the perceived threat to their land ownership, and could be something that they are just plain mistaken about. I suppose it’s possible they got wind of our plans before we had a chance to make our formal business presentation, which would have to include them, of course, which is how things work here. We planned on that. They might have planned otherwise because they felt left out. Hot heads.

One thing is for sure, they are willing to kill for it. Mina is completely devastated, if she lives she will get her revenge, and I would hate to be in those cowboy boots when she catches up with them.

 

Everything was wrong.

The weather in Charleston has turned, now it’s the busy season. The trees are blooming and the whole floral panorama is a riot of colors.

We are pulling the business in as fast as we can handle it, this is fantastic!

 

Wilma said she had been out in the Bay at the time of the calamity in San Francisco.  It had been such a calm night and she loved the "Mercy B," her father's old “40-footer,” a tiny cabin-style sailboat they had refurbished together after her mom died.  She had just turned into the wind and was listening to the lazy sail luff and the waves lap.

Swinging around to check the ceiling air monitor of our vessel, her turned up face was beautiful for those few seconds when she remembered, what she now calls, her "former" life.  But she shook off the reminisce as the demands of getting “Tadpole” mobile again stole her attention. 

Going was slow at first, and when she told me to ‘be quiet,’ I realized she was purposefully lumbering in service to stealth as I began to feel the power this little baby was holding back.  Getting through the muck and eventually into swamp water made going easier, and she clearly was no longer worried about noise when "Tadpole" rattled through several feet of shale into an underground tributary and eventually squirting into the Pacific.  Either this thing was unbelievably fast, or we were closer to the beach than I thought.  Wilma set her on automatic, bumped the throttle down to a high but sustainable cruising speed, and swung her captain's chair around as two mysteries faced one another in the half-light.  Then I noticed the gun pointed right at my private heart. 

"I need some answers.  Now!  My new bosses had to trust me some in order to let me bounce that telegram between every coding system and language created since the geologic era where Leaky first met Lucy, but frankly they were not that careful with what else I heard.”  She frowned in earnest, and sighted her weapon.  "You were there!" 

I stammered, realizing this was no time to be noticing both the razor sharp points of the trim harpoon handgun, and the fine hand stitching of her, you should pardon the expression, flat black leather one piece.  I finally found words, I knew I had to say something.

"That much I know.  And I heard about an earthquake, but that happens all the time."

"Not like that it doesn't!  I can still see the TransAmerica Pyramid pogo hop and bounce on the foundation out towards the water.  Well, so much for “Earthquake proof.”  Just plain uprooted, about a half a second before all the lights went out.  From the Bay I could just make out the silhouette finally coming to a halt in the dust of the last building it had stomped out like an old cigarette, then toppling straight in my direction, over Embarcadero Way and down.  That arrowhead top just cleared the edge of the wharf before slapping the water with a wave so big I barely got us turned around before hitting the Alameda.”

She straightened as her recollection of her own tragic loss gave way to a sense of things greater than she.  "Tens of thousands of people!  And you were more than there.  You were a part of it.  Somehow.  And I heard them say they were just too late, that handful that survived, anyway.  And nobody knew how you got away.  Not until they found you out on that raft, that much of their story was true.”

Her determination was undiminished.  It was evident she had been holding on to the need to know, maybe for longer than I have, and she continued her quest for the truth.  "When I saw the determination on your face in that video I had to find out for myself, ‘What kind of man throws himself into the stratosphere unless he knows this is his last hope against hope in the face of certain death.’  I tracked it down, not everything was on the website.  The equipment was damaged, but his parents up in Marin County kept it anyway after they dug him out of that construction site.  I got a full extra second and a half, mister.  You cut that safety release, and I’m bettin’ you pushed the mannequin off its rightful place on the throne, too.  Okay Superman, the only question left is this.  You were there, but you were more than there.  And the look on your face tells me you knew.  But did you more than know?  Did you cause this thing to happen?  Choose your words like you would choose your last meal.  No baloney, ‘cause there is always room for Jell-O!” 

She can really talk, can't she? I am in love.

“I.. Look I don't know.  That’s it, I don't know.  And right now, if I could know, I think I would take that thing right in the eye,” I pointed to the sawed off harpoon gun. “…whether I had done it or not, because this not knowing has got to be worse.  I know some things, and I don't know how I know them.  I know I've been trained for something, but I'm not sure it has helped.  I feel like I am going from one ‘Perils of Pauline" episode to another, which would be okay, if I only knew what I was fighting for.  I've got no memory, hence no friends, no family, no notion of what country I am from except I speak English absent what I am almost sure would be a Cockney accent…” 

"Not the time!”  She soured, if possible, further, a point she emphasized by moving the diamond sharp point even closer to my third eye.  "The fact having no family gives us something in common has not extended your life expectancy one iota.  I brought the so-called telegram.  Let's start there, shall we?  It's the original, along with a couple of your personal effects, those crazy sunglasses and the ink pen in the case with them.  Oh, yeah.  Do you remember writing the note?  That's right.  It wasn't a telegram at all, you know.  And we checked.  The ink was the same as in the pen.

 

I went to check the mail; there is a package with a disc enclosed. A silver CD but it’s not music or a DVD, it’s just some kind of cryptic text. It’s not labeled; the package has a dozen or so stamps from Tasmania, New Zealand, Norway, Malta, The Netherlands, Bombay, and a whole bunch of far-away places with strange sounding names that I cannot make out. There is so much to wade through. I’ll just have to take it home and look at it later, after I go to the bank.

Two weeks go by, nothing from Sam. Things look bleak for my writing career but the Hoover Disk business is gliding right along. Even though I am just treading water I am making a profit, but there is no time for me to write, which is a big problem. I have managed to open the disc, its chock full of odd manuscripts, I will take a peek at the one on top.

Here is how the first text appears, after the mysterious codes and odd symbols:

From the Royal Scribe Enkido, a history of the immortal brotherhood.

Know my words! Oh My Brothers! This is Our Story. We are the Brothers of Creation!

This is All Our Stories and this is One Story. 

This is Who We Are. This is Who We Have Been. 

This is the story of the Grand Mystery and was told by The Royal Scribe Enkido.

Listen and Read. Learn and Know.

We are the Brothers of Creation. Behold! 

There are a Multitude of Tales, this one is ours, from Zebra Island, in the Great Ocean.

For Many Years We Have Served the grand Leviathan, he would always provide. 

We ate and rejoiced and continued with our assistance to his many secret machines.

(Here it goes on and on about the machines, all the details of how those gizmo's work. Evidently they invent and then constantly fix them using their advanced ju-ju. Blah blah blah. Let me skip ahead.)

We cared for the Old Man on the Beach, Omen be his name, some call him Nemo. 

Call him Omen. 

We built his home and ensured his nourishment in his human twilight years. 

Until the Leviathan came. The Leviathan served Nemo well, it was Nemo’s destiny, 

Nemo’s feast day. 

Blessed be Nemo! 

May he live forever on the Zebra beaches of Southern Valhalla. 

May his feast go on forever.

(Blah blah blah, let me skip ahead again, so much repetition. These guys are so gol-danged full of themselves.)

We were on the Jitterbug Machine when the New-Arm-Man Lost his Faith. 

He had our newest navigational system contained in his new arm, but he knew not what it was. 

He knew not what we had given him. Nobody else knew either. 

They think they know, but they have no Faith. 

Now the Jitterbug Machine waits, deep in the Northland sea stone wall. 

We Have a Recovery Plan for The Jitterbug Machine.

We have a team pursuing this goal...

(Lets skip ahead a little bit more, I get bored easily with all this flourishing verbiage mixed with techno-jumbolese.)

We jettisoned from the Jitterbug Machine seconds before impact, 

The New-Arm-Man’s senseless needless impact. 

Our silver seed pod gave us shelter from the certain death of the black ice water. 

We gathered up our brothers in the wild and dark arctic sea, no brother's bodies remained. 

We Are Forever Very Careful. 

Such is our way, our survival, and our sustenance. 

We found them all and brought them back from death. 

They are all back with us Now! 

We never leave our lost behind. There are no lost dead brothers. 

We have gathered their knowledge to the Grand Pool of Wisdom. 

Such is our way, our survival, and our sustenance.

We are the Brothers of Creation!

(Oh brother! Ahead we go, just a bit. Here.)

The Pagan frog-men did steal our Goddess Vilma.

The Goddess Vilma was lost to the pagan frog-men. 

It was a time of great loss and sorrow. 

The pagan frog-men only got one thing, but it was Our Vilma. 

It was a dark day. A dark time. 

The Tadpole Machine was lost to the frog-men. 

The Jitterbug was caught deep in sea stone. 

The Goddess Vilma was taken but not Lost. 

The pagan frog-men withdrew without the Tadpole Machine 

and without the Jitterbug Machine, and that was our only victory that dark and dismal day. 

We returned to our holy Zebra Island to once again serve the Leviathan 

in exchange for his guidance, his will, and his providing. 

We continue our traditions. We served. The Leviathan provided. We did abide.

(Pop pop pop, skip ahead, it gets better. Please bear with me.)

The Leviathan spent his time searching with his Videosphere Machine. 

He would search for the stolen goddess Vilma, 

for the New-Arm-Man and for the lost dark lord Omen, the one they call Nemo. 

The Leviathan made his many plans. The Leviathan withheld his true intentions.

Many things happened, much time went by, but this is how our story now continues. 

Hear our Truest Story, Oh My Brothers. These are the words of Enkido.

We are the Brothers of Creation!

(They are the pumped-up brothers of repetition and navel infatuation. Onanistic little Dickens.)

The Leviathan took the New-Arm-Man to the Long-Day Northlands

to gather the stolen goddess Vilma.

We were there.

We continued our assistance to the preservation and increase of the machines of The Leviathan in Exchange for his Guidance, his will and his providing.

Until the Leviathan FELL.

(I love this part.)

Then came the Gigantic damned missteps, the Leviathan’s outrages. 

We could not abide The Leviathan any longer. We did not pause. 

We do not hesitate. 

We cut fast and sharp. 

We did what was necessary to preserve The Grand Objective. 

We serve and enhance. 

We are the Brothers of Creation. We serve no Fallen Gods. We abide no Liars.

We vanquished the failed traitor Leviathan when he broke his word and made ready to eat our New-Arm-Man. 

The Leviathan has fallen. The Leviathan was not pushed, the Leviathan JUMPED. 

The Leviathan Saw Us Coming. 

The Goddess Vilma Now Guides Us! 

The Goddess Vilma is our Everything and our New Eternity.

(What the heck do you suppose this means? Darned if I know.)

The Grand-Man, the Leviathan, changed himself from our leader 

and fell from the supreme top down and down and down. 

The Leviathan has become into a cursed parasite.

The Liar! The Leviathan has lost his way, the Leviathan is now cursed. 

Henceforth, let none of the brothers fear his name. 

Henceforth, forever. 

Listen to Enkido, Scribe of the Brothers. 

Hear my Words! Know my Message! Think these thoughts!

Build upon this Knowledge. 

Walk in These Sacred Shoes. Use These Holy Tools!

We are the Brothers of Creation.

(Oh please.)

The Brothers have dealt with the cursed Leviathan. He is gone forever. 

Do not look for the Leviathan as he has gone away forever. We fixed him good.

(Note to self: do not piss these guys off.)

The New-Arm-Man returned our Goddess Vilma to us, Jubilation! 

Sing the Old High Songs! Ring the deep bells! Bring forth the feasting! 

Dance the secret hidden ancient dances! 

We shall Forever Serve the Goddess Vilma! 

Her Name Most Holy!

Now the blessed work of Our Goddess Vilma resumes. 

All praises and honor to Our Goddess Vilma. 

The Blessed and Virtuous Vilma. Blessed Be!

Our Vilma is with Child!

 

So much has happened. Sam is back, it turned out that his wife passed away, so now he is here with his thirteen children. But wait, there is more.

Wilhelmina has given birth to a beautiful blonde daughter, who she has named Bethany. Mother and daughter are doing very well. Of course there is yet more too.

The Bullfrog was damaged during the last expedition, it took some flack, it is in dry-dock on Zebra Island, which has been moved to the South Atlantic for safe keeping. The Bzyklwitch are doing a major reworking and expect to be ready in about twelve months. Well, twelve months, six days, four hours and fifty three, fifty two minutes from now. It’s their way to be so precise. Drives me crazy. They hate being called Bzyklwitch, they call themselves The Brothers of Creation. I will always think of them as the Bzyklwitch, however, lesson learned, always do what they say and show them no disrespect. They are known to hold grudges and pursue vendettas.

First, Sweet Cheeks showed up, showing off Bouncing Baby Bethany, and it looked like my prayers were answered; at last I had some company to help run the shop. And Willie was lookin’good. Best of all, she appeared to be happy to see me again, too.

Later that same day Sam shows up with his crew, and we have been working things out ever since. Be precise in what you pray for.

 

“What did you say your name is?” 

“I didn't.” 

“Who is Courage Joyner?” 

“I do not know.” 

“Why is that name on a piece of paper in your pocket?” 

“I don't know.” 

“We have been doing some investigating and there are a lot of interesting things about that name, which we have reason to believe is your name.” 

“Its not my name. What do you know?” 

“Courage Joyner' became a code for 'Kurdish joiner' according to one prominent theory going around at the top of the organization. That would make you a very troublesome and dangerous man in some places, in light of the current war over there.” 

I dreamed about swimming in warm water, and there were heavenly smells, savory meat cooking, some strange perfume, unknown new spices, ocean smells. A jungle, underwater, with swimming creatures. I could spin and twirl upside down. I laughed.

How can there be smells underwater? It was a dream, it does not require logic. I was where I belonged and it felt perfect.

"Don't.....move.” 

The Captain was explaining how all the land and ocean masses have deeper overlapping tectonic plates far below, and how tension builds up and, unless it is gently released, disasters like earthquakes are the result. He, and his longtime assistant, had made plans to address this problem all over the world. They had worked for years, and built first a prototype terra submersible that, given enough time, would be capable of focusing enough energy to make the appropriate adjustments before increasing tensions resulted in massive devastation on the surface.

 

The Ting children.

Rose (Perpetual Spring) is number one; she goes by Rose, the first-born. She is a very ambitious woman; she never married because she felt obliged to care for her mother and the entire family. She is very attractive. Twenty-three years old. She can do anything, very smart and inquisitive, and she always knows just the right thing to say. She speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Farsi, French and Spanish. I am in love. More about that later.

Sam’s eldest boy, Livingston Ting, is twenty-two years old. To the family he is known as Stanley or sometimes just Stan, a childhood nickname, and he is about to graduate from law school but he is planning on going into business as a private investigator (his childhood dream). To put himself through his long journey at the various specialized schools he has attended, he has been working on the Oakland Police Force as a detective, which has given him lots of useful experience. He even volunteers as an EMS technician every other weekend. This guy is the perfect energizer bunny, he is always going.

He looks forward to starting his own business, and has just decided to base himself here in Charleston, where he can help out with the family as they adjust to life after the slow and horrible death of their Queen.

Chrysanthemum (Chris) is twenty years old and she does the cooking. She is really good at it. The first thing she made was a Mulligan Stew using all the left-overs in my refrigerator, lots of potatoes, onions and carrots in a beef broth. She served it with incredible cheesy biscuits! For desert, she made almond ice cream. She made it herself. She wants to start her own restaurant specializing in international cuisine. She is a natural.

Citron (Ronni) is nineteen years old and Hydrangea (Angea) is seventeen years old, the two of them have already asked about opening up their own franchise on the family business, to be called “Gzznga Sports Shoes and Hoover Disks.” Right now they are looking at some property in Southern Charleston, over by the White Point Gardens. We cover the waterfront.

Lotus (Tess) at fifteen years old is the dreamer of the group, she is always reading. She loves to take her book on long walks and find places to sit and read, and write in her journal. She does not talk much, she does not have to. Her eyes tell glimpses of her tale, mostly she observes.

Narcissus (Sissy) is fourteen years old, she is the achiever, she loves to play at almost any sports known or made up on the spot, she is wicked-smart with the video games and she loves to watch movies at night. She tends to keep the six younger children engaged in various activities, from tournaments to marathons. They are a very physically active family, and Sissy is the coach of the team.

Orchid is twelve years old (Ork), Peony (Ony) is ten years old, Plum is nine years old, Azalea (Az) is six years old, Peach is five years old, and Lilac is three years old, she is the family jewel. She usually is with Rose, but now she is teamed up with Bethany and the two of them are in the custody of the Ting Team of little women, under the close supervision of the elders, which now includes me too.

Darnedest thing, when Stan first walked in Wilhelmina said “WOW!” and Stan said “WOW!!” they made some obviously dreamy small talk for a few hours, and then locked themselves in my bedroom.

They must be tired. Sometimes I can hear them calling out to The Deity. It’s good that they have such a strong spiritual connection. They exercise quite a bit, I can hear that too.

I have always been busier than I want to be with the store, and never getting ahead, just trying to keep up at the end of the day. I am so glad to have Sam back, and even better, it’s amazing that he brought with him so many reinforcements.

I seem to have lost Wilma again, but maybe I have gained a Rose. Actually, I have not lost anyone, Wilma is here, with baby-cakes Bethany, and we are all a new family, an American family. Bethany is known as Than by Team Ting. Wilma is pleased to have so many aunties for her new baby daughter.

Sam is a natural with the customers, who are also glad to see him back. Word has gotten out that he is back and there is a steady stream of old customers who have come to have a laugh with Sam. I am enjoying the extra time with Rose. She and I are doing an extensive review of the company books, overseeing a contingency of Team Ting as they are helping us by inventorying the merchandise, and we are all preparing for the coming new franchise. That involves lots of research: real estate, vendors, local licenses, places to store the combined merchandise, it goes on and on.

Another dream.

The Captain was explaining how all the land and ocean masses have deeper overlapping tectonic plates far below, and how tension builds up and, unless it is gently released, disasters like earthquakes are the result.  He and his longtime assistant, had made plans to address this problem all over the world.  They had worked for years, and built first a prototype terra submersible that, given enough time, would be capable of focusing enough energy to make the appropriate adjustments before increasing tensions resulted in massive devastation on the surface.

But he was afraid, and said he had the sense lately that someone had been spying on him.  They were obviously trying to get through the codes and security devices, the incantations that allowed him, and him alone, to pilot the most recently evolved incarnation, a behemoth he called “Bullfrog.”

I believed him, not because he was right about others wanting to usurp his work (after all, the people I worked for wanted to do exactly that), but because there were other forces, perhaps another entity who could be, if it were possible, even more dangerous than my beloved government, and I sensed that, too. And because I believed him, or because somehow deep down I knew you had to trust somebody, and he was a better bet than anyone I had met lately, I told him everything. The training, and the mission, how I was supposed to befriend him or kill him in order to get the exact secrets he was revealing to me now.

I had never encountered a mind like his.  "Well," he said, "there are watchers, and there are joiners, and you clearly are the latter, my boy.  I don't know what your game is, but from what you've told me, if I were like the people who sent you, you surely would be dead right now.  And, because I have no doubt you are also keenly aware of that fact, you've got courage, and that counts for something.”  He stood there, looking into my eyes, and within a half a minute he announced he had formulated a plan, and said with conviction, “So, you have earned the chance to prove yourself."

Although the Captain said the plan was not all that complicated, there was only a part he could tell me, the rest he would lock in my unconscious.  I was to stay here, in what, over the course of this past weekend we had spent together, had become a very familiar Victorian four-story home.

I must wait for a message.  It was a message that was, ironically, from me, but also to me, and he wrote down a series of hieroglyphics the likes of which I had never seen.  He made me copy them onto the telegram stationary exactly as is, and told me I would know what to do when the time came.  More precisely, that two "triggers" would bring about the decoding process.  It would reveal where I could meet him next.  The kicker was that he himself did not yet know where that would be, and he alluded to additional contact information that would have to be added to the telegram, with the cooperation of his friend at the telegram office.

I was clearly instructed, if worst came to worst and his suspicions were correct that the Bullfrog was about to fall into enemy hands...  There he stopped to explain, "...and not just enemies like you, Mr. Joiner.  You and your friends with that ‘I’m from the government and I'm only here to help you,’ type ‘enemy,’ but real, ‘There goes the neighborhood’ into a gaping pit ‘where all Hell broke loose,’ type ‘enemy.”

“There are few absolutes,” he went on, “but this is one of them.”  If worst came to worst, then I was to resume my original mission.  It surprised me a bit that this family man and all ‘round humanitarian encouraged deadly force.  He demanded it, in fact, saying I must gain entry into Bullfrog by any means necessary.  Once inside, I was to perform a subtle act of sabotage, and then he said something I didn't understand, but I was kind of getting used to it.  He said, "Take us home, Carbuncle!"

Next, on the outside of the envelope he had me write this address, that of his old Victorian, of course, where I would be waiting.  Then what he had me write for the recipient’s name on the front of the telegram made me smile.  More irony.  I admit that I was having my doubts, but maybe I did belong here and, after all was said and done, should be doing exactly what I was doing.  The double entendre was his way of bringing me into his brainiac circle.  When I pointed to what I was supposed to copy down for my last name, and looked up at him with a curious questioning face, the Captain smiled and said, "Yeah, I thought we'd better spell it differently.  No need to make it too easy for them if it falls into the wrong hands."

He went on, "Now, ahem, Courage.  Look here for a moment.  Do you like this?"  He held up a necklace with what I took to be some kind of spiritual message, and as it spun I became fascinated, and could not take my eyes off it.  As the word "Mercy" flipped around it revealed a symbol on the other side, a sideways heart, like the ace of hearts rotated 90° clockwise.  As it spun I noticed the “r” in the middle of the one side overlapped the heart on the other, giving the image of a capital “B.”

Even the window of my experience enfolded in that supposedly ultimate illumination provided by the balls of melon and mirrors would not let me see the Captain providing the rest of my instructions.  But I have a conscious mind, too.  I have no idea what the two triggers might have been, but it all fits.  Fancy glasses, plain paper, fancy pen.  A dot dash dot sequence of actions from out of that clockwork mind of his, ultimately revealing, as it turns out, not so much a contact place as a contact person.  The name of who we were supposed to meet when we got where we were going.

I chuckled to think of the Captain adding his own “Arabesque” joke of those meaningless hieroglyphics.  Watching me as Gregory Peck’s character, Egyptology professor Pollock, puzzling over an inane pictograph, “Goosey Goosey Gander.”

I might have gotten a better reception in the cave of many colors if I had just said what was on the note in the first place, like I am sure the Captain probably told me to, but I had an excuse.  See? (I rapped the knuckles of my hand on my knobby skull), hollow. Nyunck, Nyunck.  Oh, who am I kidding, even if I knew DC’s whole name I would never have had the guts to say it.  My mind drifts back to American Bandstand and the other perennial never-aging Ken doll, Casey Casum, “Counting down from number ten this week, number four on the charts is from a band new to these parts.  It's the letter ‘U’ and the numeral ‘2.”  I am sliding away with Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve.  That is where I’ve seen that big dropping ball before.  But where are we now?  And how come I still don't know why I forgot all that other stuff?  No more questions for now, I have held on as long as I can.  It is time for #3 “Just my Imagination,” #2 Slippin into Darkness, and topping the charts, the Moody Blues, with “Nights in White Satin…"

I dreamed about swimming in warm water, and there were heavenly smells, savory meat cooking, some perfume, spice, ocean smells. A jungle, underwater, with swimming creatures. I could spin and twirl upside down. I laughed. How can there be smells underwater? It was a dream, it does not require logic. I was where I belonged and it felt perfect.

The name “Willie” was starting to grow on her, as when a hundred shipmates give you a loving nickname the same bittersweet memory of your father returns, and there is no sense in pushing it back out of consciousness anymore.  “Nearing target, Villie,” said one of the triplets manning each of three coordinates wheels on the starboard side of Tadpole.  "Thank you Moe, maintain heading. Curly, set depth and hold."  "We are there Villie,” said the third, “If I may.  All engines, stop?"

"Okay, all stop.  Attention please." said Willie, "Humble is our watchword, eh boys?"  And the one she had nicknamed Newman said, "Lower than whale shit, ma'am!"  The others tittered a bit, and snapped back to attention when she spoke.  "Well," Willie frowned, "I am not sure I would go that far.  Although I guess, literally, that is kind of true."  She went on with her mission speech, "Anyway, although no one will ever know, we will probably save a lot of Swedes and Norwegians from having a very bad day today."  All the little beetles cheered, and Vilma amused herself with a little pep squad routine she had been rehearsing with the virtuous vermin, "Tell your neighbor how I feel about you, boys!" And they began their high-pitched chorus while she laughed and laughed.  Each of the fun-loving crew turned to the next one closest to them, pointed, and sang, "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

When I woke up DC was munching on something. Licking his odd shaped fingers. Enjoying it very much.  “You have got to try some of this barbecue. There is not much left. I will save you some, unless...” He looked from me back down to it, lovingly, and smacked his massive lips.

“Oh, no thanks, it sounds delicious, but its probably far too spicy for me, I am more of a bland breakfast type of eater. Not so hungry now. Later, for sure.”  I felt an itching on my left leg and reached to scratch it...

Wilma began to adjust each of two knobs on the port side, and the slow and low hum started.  She was reminded of her father's old reclining chair that had a massage motor in the back, and one in the footstool.  As a child she would get them both going at the same time, just enough off of synchrony to start a third low pulsation.  As the molecules outside the ship flipped and did their dance, the varying left and right speeds contrived just such a low frequency hum.  Not unlike how drops of water one after another can dig patiently away until, eventually, you have got a Grand Canyon, so these little vibrations began to release the pressure and shift the gargantuan igneous plates where they wanted to go.  While it may be felt on the surface, it is nothing like what would've happened had they waited even two more weeks, according to her father’s and Nemo's calculations.

I hope Nemo is enjoying his well-earned retirement, thought Wilma.  I should have looked in on him while I was at the island.  She knew that she owed him a lot, mostly because he had helped her father with the heavy metal work, and brought him a macrobiotically balanced diet and organic milk while the Captain was doing the heavy mental work.  Kind of like a roadie, or a butler, but father and Harley Earl trusted him.  Wilma wasn't so sure, and she had caught him going through drawers in her father's study, a topic she broached that night of the great earthquake when she and her father were on the Mercy B that one last time.  Although she could tell he was concerned, like usual, he said something like, "Oh, Willie Wog, perhaps there is nothing either good or bad, but that thinking makes it so."  “Nice play,” she retorted.

“Dad, the head of my department said you stopped by.”  The Captain passed it off, “You really have to let me know when you move, darling,” he said, “Your apartment was bare and empty but for the wood floors and answering machine, but your landlady said you were paid through the end of next month.”

“I, I had to have time to think…,” she paused in mute apology, told him her new address, and then enunciated as if the pronoun itself were the question, “Dad?…, why didn’t you and mom have any other kids?”

“What on earth?  Willie Wog you…,” he was clearly caught unawares, and sensed this was not the real question he would soon be called on to answer.

“No, Dad, I got a photograph under my door at the old place, and some odd messages on my phone.  I had to get out of there, man I was spooked.”  The messages said I was not who I thought I was.  They said they knew my mom, and “…the man you call your father,” what is happening?  The photo of mom looked like a university campus somewhere, and she looked a lot like me then.  I had to be alone for a while.”

“I am still trying to figure out what is going on myself, honey,” said the Captain, “I can’t tell you more now, but keep your eyes and ears open.  You were right to move, I am so glad you called me so we could meet tonight.  There is only one real question here, wog of my life, and it is just this; What is your definition of ‘father?’ And then the last question he would ever ask, “If I send someone for you, will you go with them?”

It was then the Captain broke the news to her that he had to go away for a time, perhaps on a very long trip.  It was the first time since she was a girl she could remember him going away for more than a few days at a time, but she had learned to relish the good times.  She had learned to, as her father said, "Just lock them in their own little window, where they can stay forever.”  Although he played it off as part of the plan, she could tell that her comments about Nemo had hastened their departure, as her father said, “We will rest here another half an hour, and then, ‘Take me home, Carbuncle!"

They both laid back to watch the stars, as usual, while the ship lay still on the glassy surface.  Father and daughter were disturbed from their leisure when a staccato barrage of droplets of water began to strike the hull, most curiously, from the bottom up.  They both started and sat up, looking out across the lights on the water, and the absolutely smooth surface of moments ago now appeared as though pummeled by a tremendous rainstorm, although there was not a cloud in the sky.  The city began to seize, and she turned to see her father's face become long as his jaw dropped and a pale recognition swept across it.  They had no time to watch the great city do its little dance, to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll," because, as some of what had been the grander accomplishments of man toppled into the bay, the drops dancing up from the water gave way to a surge the likes of which neither of them had seen before.

Willie brushed a tear aside, lest her diminutive charges become concerned for her and she disturb their time of glory.  She moved on from the memory of her father’s last horrified moments.  Willie looked out at the smiling faces and absentmindedly chattering teeth, as that gently repeating asynchronous pulse did its work, and they sang the other song she had taught them, again in and high-pitched elfin harmony that suited the subject matter so well, "Goood, Goood, Goood, Good vibrations.”

After all the excitement, tracking the exploding submarine and grabbing the limp and frozen body from the choppy Arctic Ocean, Uri and Sasha were happy to be in the radio room awaiting instructions, rather than carrying them out in that makeshift torture chamber in the adjacent cavern.  Sasha was almost asleep, a punishable offense while on duty, but Uri always watched out for her.  She dreamed it might be Uri’s fingers on her neck, tickling the short sensitive hairs, and hardly noticed the serpentine finger spiraled over her lips and mouth, and for yet another rotation or two around her head until an unmistakable firmness held her brow.  She snapped back to being fully awake with a muffled scream, and looked at Uri in the adjacent chair, also with a long thin finger curled around his face and stopping with a death grip above his eyebrows.  One quick flick of the wrist of that miraculous arm, and it was lights out for the two mercenaries, operatives plucked from the former Union of Neptunian Socialist Republics for what seemed more capitalist pursuits.

The radio room is all mine, confident fool that I am, I thought to myself.  Now let's get in touch with my old boss.  After all, they can't kill me if they can't touch me, and maybe I can get some information.  "Open channel ‘D,’ Solo here."

"Who is this?  This is a secure frequency.  Identify yourself."

"Well, that's just it.  Get a superior on the line, because I can't tell you who I am, but ‘why I am’ is pretty intimately connected to that San Francisco 9.1 shaker you all had, I am guessing, about three weeks ago now.”  Several seconds of silence on the other end of the line, "Over?"

“Sleven!”  What the deuce have you dreamed up this time!  When you ran, we thought you had turned.”

"Ran, which time?”

"Come back, we did not catch that."

"I mean, I have been suffering from amnesia, I thought you knew that.  That is why you've been so accommodating with that nice soft bed, and trying to help me get my memory back by telling me five years had passed.  How did that work out again?”

"We had to find out…"

I interrupted him, this was going nowhere, "Look, I don't have much time, I am in the enemy’s radio room, and I need to know who might be playing fast and loose with our latest top-secret project."

Again silence at the other end of the line, "Over,” you slimy duplicitous bastard, I thought to myself.

“Well, all our evidence points to Nemo.  He spent a lot of time getting deep under our skin, forming allegiances, getting close to Pickenwiggins and his wife.  They always kind of hid him from us, quite a feat to ménage, don't you think?  Did you ever notice that jet black shoulder length hair that Willie throws this way and that?"

I had to keep objective, but the weight of that one piece of information had me reeling.  Was it Nemo that coldcocked me while I waited in the old Victorian? Caused me to lose my memory.  Made a shambles of the coolest city on the western seaboard?  Betrayed his friends and colleagues and lover for a distant country he hadn't known in over 20 years? 

"Anyway," came the voice again from the other end of the line, more urgently this time, "…you have got to get it back.  Our planes have lost track of that purloined prototype “Tadpole,” as it seems you’re slippery wet Willie disengaged the signal beacon before you two slipped away from our New Zealand site.  But that is small potatoes compared to "Bullfrog..."

Less than three minutes back with my old teammates and they were already telling me junk I mostly already knew, "Gotta go," and I spun the radio frequency dial before bolting out the fire door towards Willie's cell.

My “Let your fingers do the walking” bit worked the same deft trick on the two guards on either side of her cell door, and I was inside.  The absence of subterfuge was a better ploy, and she looked up in disbelief, "Kurd?"  I thought about telling her it was probably “Sleven," but she was confused enough and I wasn't sure I liked that name a whole lot better, since I had a choice now and everything.

"Yeah, it’s me sweet ch.. Willma.”  She raised her arms to me as if she were ready to be anywhere but there, and I bent down to take one arm over my shoulder and stand up.  I was not sure how much she had learned in our time apart.  Nor could I guess how much she could remember after what I am sure was grueling torture that showed in her eyes that were just a little further back and only now coming out of a dazed nystagmus.  More pointedly, I was not sure how much she was ready for, when all our assumptions about who we are make us feel like an empty rumor in an old cold house.  So what if her mother had a fling.  That doesn't change who she is.  But how could you find out your real father was a spy from Neptune, now a rogue and on his own.  Packaging his own brand of megalomania and world hatred.  I think I had better worry about how to break that to her later, and focus on how to get out.  It wasn't much, but I was armed.

We stayed close to the walls and under the cameras as I tried to reason out where ol’ Bullfrog might be baying.  Then more guards by a door that was different from the rest, with a vacuum seal screw wheel in the middle.  I stretched my arm far down the last corridor, avoiding the cameras again, and another perhaps 55 yards to a camera near the radio room.  There I took the two fingers that made it that far and unscrewed the lens cap.  Whoever might be watching had a pretty blurry view even before I popped a spider in between the lenses and screwed the outer cover back in place.  It must have looked like there was quite some activity at the radio room door, and the two unconscious comrades they would be unable to raise on the intercom were icing on the cake.  "All available ‘G’ squad to radio room.  Repeat.  Assault. Radio room.  All available personnel!"

The two remaining guards were a snap, and we twisted the vacuum seal and went inside where I gently placed Wilma in one of the sling chairs and looked for the “go” button.  My heart did a massive thump and my stomach churned before my body turned to see a dark figure standing at the top of a short metal stair, the light so bright behind him I could make out no features at all.  His heavy words were slowly and carefully uttered, not unlike the spider to the fly, "Yep, mebbie a bit too easy."

Bethany brought the groceries into the house she shared with what she considered two great men, but nobody was home, and it seemed even more empty since Harley Earl had disappeared without a word.  She unloaded first the ice cream, "Minty Flubber,” Nemo's favorite, so that it wouldn't melt, while she then hung the bananas on their little “s” hook to keep them from getting bruised.  The second bag on the counter lost its balance and fell slowly so that she was able to catch it before horizontal, although the egg carton opened and one oblong orb slowly waddled off the countertop.

“Oh, Bless!”  She said, "Well, it could be worse," and she tore off two sections of paper towel to usher the little lost embryo into the garbage.

As she knelt down, a familiar voice broke the solitude of the kitchen and startled her.  "I always loved that you could see the best in even tragic situations.  Even your own love energies lost.  Twitter-pated.  Ha, Ha.”  Bethany immediately raised her eyes as she was kneeling in the shadow of the power-hungry figure that she could not guess would some day stand over their daughter in the same menacing way.

“Mebbie a bit too easy you find yourself in my sanctum sanctorum," said the figure on the stairs, “You are one of the lost boys, perhaps.  And you?  Tinkerbell, I presume.

Adrenaline was starting to change fear to anger for Wilma, I was getting to know her well.  If I was going to distract him I would have to use my newfound knowledge of his identity soon, but I couldn't predict how Wilma would handle the next piece of information.  "Where did it all go wrong, Nemo?  I can't believe you have sunk so low as to torture your own daughter!"

"What!”  Came the stereo reply, both from the man on the stairs and my fallen companion, Wilhelmina.

I figured Wilma was just delirious, and continued confronting the mad Russian, who was now laughing in what must be the frustration of having his identity and secrets openly revealed.

“Psst, Joyner.  Get over here!"  Came the voice from behind me, stronger now but still unable to stand.  I turned around and she grabbed the lapel of my jacket and pulled me close to her clenched jaw as her lips tried to set me straight.  "That can't be Nemo!  The bzykylwitch built him an airtight home back on Zebra Island!”

“That's right.  Talk amongst yourselves.  And as for ‘torturing my own daughter,’ that embryo was lost to me before meiosis began.  I knew when she did not go to the police, and then kept the baby that there was at least one secret between them.  I took the risk of showing my face again in that cozy home, and watched as he shared the love of my little girl, too.”

“Now,” his words became even more menacing, and clearly a major threat to us, "you WILL lead me to DC!  That was what you were supposed to do when you read his name on the telegram!  Yes, I did a lot of eavesdropping and peeking through keyholes while living with your so called, ‘daddy.”  He turned back to me, “I overheard The Captain when he told you he would write you where to meet him, but I got to the telegram office first.  It was a long shot, but gaining control of DC and the mirror ball makes Bullfrog looked like a child's toy.  Hell, why not have both."

I suddenly remembered the rest of the instructions.  The act of sabotage was simply to break the key to Bullfrog’s ignition, another filigree “B” shape, the same one that signaled the start of the process with the sunglasses and Mont Blanc when I was in “Tadpole” with Wilma.  I was then to simply exit Bullfrog.  I now realized it would have then executed its preprogrammed repair maneuver, itself returning to Zebra Island.  But if that was not what The Captain put on the telegram… If I was to get out of the Bullfrog and let it do its “Carbuncle” thing, what was The Captain intending to write to me? That is the problem with secret codes.

“So.  You are not Nemo?"  From behind me she had managed to pull herself to her feet, and said in exasperation, "Oh, for the love of Kurd!  That's not Nemo!"

A huge resounding metallic WHAM like an eight ton oil drum hurled from a catapult at the Exxon Valdez slams into our side.  It must have come from the rock side as it knocks Bullfrog galley west from its mooring half in the rock mountain and pushes it out further into the icy Arctic waters.  The three inside are tossed about, and the man on the stairway struggles to hold onto the railing while both he and Wilma point in the direction of the big bang, and shout, "THAT is Nemo!"


“No wonder he can’t remember his name.” The next word stops the whole party cold.

“Nemo?” 

"Oh Man!"

"Omen?" That is Nemo backwards.


Submitted: May 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Robin James. All rights reserved.

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