Rudy Rucker : Master of Space and Time
This Is the Name of This Chapter
My screen began flashing. I had the console rigged to measure quitting
time to the nanosecond. Softech had a flexitime system, which meant
that you could quit for the week after putting in forty hours. A few
quick keypunches and I'd logged off for the weekend. I yawned and
looked around the too-familiar room. I was pretty old to be working
this hard. A couple of years ago I'd had it made... my own company and
my own signature on the paychecks. But now...
"Finished so soon, Dr. Fletcher?"
It was my supervisor, an angular young blond woman named Susan Lacey.
Dr. Lacey. No one used first names at Softech. Company policy.
"No, I'm not finished. But I've clocked in my forty hours. It's Friday
She flashed her human-relations smile. "It's two forty-seven, Dr.
Fletcher. I don't have to tell you that they're in an awful rush for
your program. You know how anxious they do get."
They. Lacey was always talking about her higherups as if it were her
and me against some abstract impersonal them. It was her way of trying
to win my sympathy, even though she was a slave driver. A pathetically
transparent con job. I wished I could be my own boss again; I was too
good for this noise.
"Don't worry." I snapped shut my briefcase. "The deadline's only
Wednesday, you know. I'll bring the thing in under the wire. I always
All around me, my coworkers were still tapping away at their
terminals. I was the only one with the nerve to take flexitime
seriously. I'd never move up the Softech corporate ladder this way,
but so what? All I needed from them was a steady paycheck. Soon I'd
find a way to get my engineering firm back on its feet. I gave Lacey a
curt nod and headed for the parking lot.
It was a hot day in late September. Buzzing around the trash cans were
hornets, drunk with a summer's fatness. My car was the biggest on the
lot...I had a black and white 1956 Buick, black on the bottom and
white on top. Little Serena called it Dada's saddle shoe. I'd bought
it just before Fletcher & Company went bankrupt, as a final present to
myself. The guy I'd bought it from had gotten it off the original
owner, a little old lady who only drove it to church, no lie.
As I unlocked my big old bomb, I noticed some things moving around in
there. Bees? The biggest one was perched right on top of the white
plastic steering wheel. But that was no bee. A wave of strangeness
swept over me...a thick, airless feeling as if the world had suddenly
turned into a giant movie set.
Harry Gerber was sitting on my steering wheel. He was two inches tall.
A much smaller version of him was perched on the gearshift as well.
And the tiny dots darting around on my dashboard something told me
they were a flock of yet tinier Harrys. All of them wore gray
polyester suits, white shirts, and no neckties. Oh, my. Who else but
Harry Gerber: the out-of-it genius who'd been the inventor at Fletcher
& Co. We'd had some wild times together, Harry and me. But now I
hadn't seen him for over a year. He'd had a big fight with my wife
Nancy...something about overpopulation and world hunger...and after
that we'd drifted apart. He lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I
lived twenty miles away, in Princeton.
The little figure on the steering wheel hailed me with a cheerful wave
of its tiny arm. "Hey, Fletch! Pretty slick, huh?" He sounded like
I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone from Softech was watching.
Buzzing hornets and thick, sweet sun. I got in my car and closed the
door. I took the thumb-sized Harry off my steering wheel and set him
down on the dashboard. The smaller Harrys moved right along with him.
They all stood there in a row, staring at me.
"Why all the copies, Harry?"
"I'm real, and the others are correction terms," said the thumb-sized
man. "A convergent series of echoes. You've been reading The Cat in
the Hat Comes Back, haven't you?"
"Yeah, I was reading it to Serena last night." I didn't bother asking
how Harry knew. "You must be thinking about the scene where the Cat
has a smaller cat in his Hat, and the smaller cat has a yet smaller
cat in his hat, and the yet smaller cat has a still smaller cat, and
so on forever, right?"
"You're a rational man, Fletcher. Watch this!" Each of the little
Harrys squatted down by the next smaller one. The big one...the
thumb-sized Harry...stuck some fingers in his mouth and attempted a
sharp whistle. It came out as a wet hiss. But this was enough.
The smallest Harry I could see, a speck-sized one, jumped into the
coat pocket of the next larger one, a flea-sized Harry. The flea-sized
Harry jumped into the coat pocket of the ant-sized Harry. The
ant-sized Harry jumped into the coat pocket of the thumb-sized Harry.
They nested themselves together like Chinese boxes. I wondered how
many levels there were.
"You like it better now?"
"I like it better."
"Aren't you going to ask me how I got this way?"
"I figure you'll tell me...if you can." A frustrating aspect of
Harry's inventions was that he rarely understood how they worked. He
was like some drunken chef who never writes down a recipe. This
idiosyncrasy of Harry's had prevented Fletcher & Company from getting
patents on any of his inventions, and had eventually made people
unwilling to contract with us.
"I needed your encouragement, Fletcher. I've come back here to make
sure you really are going to see me tomorrow. I remember that when you
showed up tomorrow you'd seen me tiny in your car."
This was a very strange mixture of tenses. I thought for a minute,
then got the picture. "You mean you're from the future? You've
invented time travel?"
The little man on the dashboard glowed with pride. "Time travel's
nothing compared to what I'm going to do. I'm master of space and
I fought back a laugh. Dumpy, rope-lipped Harry, the king of creation?
"Do you write that with capital letters, Harry? Master of Space and
"It's not funny. I could kill you right now if I wanted to. But you're
the one who'll give me the idea to build the blunzer. You have to come
see me tomorrow. I'll be at the shop. Tomorrow we get the parts, and
Sunday night we build the machine."
"I suppose you want money?" I looked around the car, expecting to spot
a holocaster. This had to be some kind of trick.
"Money? As I recall, you took two thousand out of your bank account.
And you can stop looking around like that, Fletcher. This is for real.
I'm master of space and time."
"Prove it. Do something weird. Put me...put me in an infinite
"I knew you'd say that. You're so anal, Fletcher. Too much math. Here,
you can light this to get back out."
The little figure tossed something at me. A tiny stick of dynamite,
bright red and with a wispy unlit fuse. Something went funny with the
time just then; it was like my time line branched right off from
reality. Instead of hitting me in the face, the little stick of
dynamite just hung there in midair, barely moving. Meanwhile, Harry
was shrinking, moving away from me in some unknown dimension.
Everything was getting dark and Harry's voice was too faint and high
Then Harry was all gone, and the world went black, blacker than night,
zero photons black. I fumbled around, found the controls, and turned
on my headlights. I could see outside, but I couldn't figure out what
I was looking at. My car seemed to be resting on black felt, and ahead
of the car was a soft, horizontally grooved wall. There was more black
cloth to the left of me, and to the right there was a cliff with a big
white pole swooping up from its edge. White plastic with sebaceous
cracks. The scene made no sense whatsoever.
Although my dome light wasn't on, the inside of my car was lit up. I
glanced around to find the cause. Resting on the seat next to me,
there was a sort of toy car, a scale-model 1956 Buick with blazing
headlights. The headlights were aimed at my corduroy-clad right leg.
It looked as if the little car even had a toy driver. I put my hand on
it, then drew back with a scream.
Just as my thumb touched the wraparound windshield of the model car, a
giant's hand had swooped down out of the darkness to press its hamlike
thumb against my own windshield! When I withdrew my hand, the giant
I leaned down to peer into the model car's side window. It was lit up
in there, too. I could make out a very strange sight. Sitting on the
front seat of the model car was a still smaller model car. And peering
into the window of the still smaller model was a thumb-sized little
copy of me, Joseph Fletcher. The hair on my neck prickled as I
realized that, staring in through my own car's window, there must be
the eye of a giant Joe Fletcher.
I whirled around, hoping to see the giant's eye, but he turned as fast
as I did. All I could see of him was the cheek of his huge head. He
had whirled to stare out the window of his car, the giant car on whose
seat my own car was resting. I could see beyond his cheek and out his
window... out there was the head of a yet larger giant, and so on and
on, forever up and down. I was embedded in a doubly infinite regress.
Why on earth had I asked for this? And how had Harry done it? I had to
I flung open my car door, jumped out, and found myself on the seat of
the giant's car. When I looked out the giant's car door, I could see
the giant, standing on the seat of a yet larger car, and staring out
at the yet larger giant. Looking back into my own car, I could see the
little model on the seat, and the thumb-sized Fletcher standing next
to it and staring back in at the ant-sized Fletcher on the model's
seat. No matter how fast I turned, I could never see myself face to
I threw myself back into my car and turned on the radio. Static
crackled from my speaker and from the endless speakers beyond and
within my car. Static, and then a voice, a strangely familiar voice.
-THE RED GLUONS ONLY WORK ONCE," said the radio.
"Hi?" I called questioningly. The giant Fletcher outside roared along,
and from the tiny car on the seat came thumb-sized Fletcher's squeak:
"USE BLUE GLUONS THE SECOND TIME."
"What's your name?"
"IT'S A TYPE OF EXCLUSION PRINCIPLE."
"Please help me get out."
"LIGHT THE FUSE."
Silence fell. After a minute I flicked off the radio. Just then
something bounced off my cheek. It was the miniature dynamite stick
that Harry had thrown at me...how long ago? Time was all messed up.
I picked up the dynamite and struck a match. The larger and smaller
Fletchers did the same thing. I lit the fuse and tossed the dynamite
out the window. A tiny, tiny version of it flew out the window of the
model car on the seat next to me. I braced myself.
The dynamites all blew at once, and I saw stars: cartoon stars and
wacky spirals. When the dust settled, I was back where I'd started, at
the crazed white plastic steering wheel of my Buick in the Softech
parking lot. A square of sunlight lay on my lap, heavy and insistent.
I turned the ignition to ON and fired up the big V-8.
My American Home
WHEN I pulled into the driveway, my two-yearold daughter Serena was
out in the front yard flailing at something with my fishing rod. She
was holding the rod by the tip and slamming the reel down on the
"Dada!" she cried. "Wiggle whack crawly bug!" Something moved in the
grass, and Serena whipped my rod back for a real knockout punch. The
fiberglass snapped, and the piece with the reel flew over to crash on
my Buick's shiny hood.
I got out of the car and tried to just walk on past her. I was
definitely ripe for my Friday-afternoon beer. But Serena was too fast
for me. She put herself between me and the house.
"Bad crawly bug!" She pointed with the tip of my broken rod. "Try bite
I gave a heavy sigh and went over to look. Serena was hell on insects.
A badly mashed stag beetle was lying in the grass. I was relieved that
it wasn't a little Harry.
"Where's Mommy, Serena?"
"Mama lie down."
"Were you a good girl today?"
"Babby bite." She held out her hand to show me a tiny cut on her
"The neighbor's baby bit you? What were you doing to it?"
"Playing. Babby bite. Mary Jo wash."
Mary Jo was the name of the woman next door. Serena liked to go over
and pick on her baby. "Was Mary Jo mad at you?"
"Mary Jo wash." Serena showed me her finger again. The cut certainly
did look clean.
"How nice of Mary Jo to wash your cut. I just hope her baby doesn't
have rabies." I patted Serena on the head. She was a brat, but she was
mine. "Would you like a candy?"
"Here." I found a linty cough drop in my pants pocket. "Now don't
bother that baby any more. And put my fishing rod away."
"I'm going inside to see Mommy now, Serena. Be good." I walked into
our crummy house, still brooding over Harry's message. There could be
money in this, big money.
I found Nancy flaked out on our double bed with a stack of old People
magazines and an overflowing ashtray. The TV was going full blast in
the other room. I closed the door.
"God, Joey, I have such a backache today. And this morning Serena..."
"Yeah, I've had a rough day myself. Is there any beer?"
"Do you think you could rub my back a little?"
"If you move the ashtray. You know I don't like you to smoke in our
"Then why don't you buy a couch for the living room. I hate living
like this. We might as well be in a trailer park."
When we'd first married, we'd had a much nicer home. But I'd lost it
when Fletcher & Company went bankrupt. The house we rented now was a
low-ceilinged three-room tract home: two bedrooms and a
kitchen-dining-living room. Looking out the bedroom window, I could
see fifty-three houses exactly like ours (one Sunday afternoon I'd
counted them). Our development was a reclaimed marsh with woods all
"I'm going to go see Harry tomorrow. I think he's invented something
"Don't give him any money, Joseph. I mean it. We need that money for
our Christmas trip."
"Don't you ever listen to anything I tell you?"
"Look, I'm going to get a beer. You want one?"
"How about my back rub?"
Nancy was lying on her stomach. I sat on the backs of her legs and
worked my fingers up and down her spine. She felt small and fragile,
and she gave off a good smell. My woman.
"I'm sorry to complain so much, Joey. At least we have enough to eat.
There's another terrible famine going on in Mexico, did you know?"
Nancy had some strange complexes about food. She was into world
hunger, often serving on committees and raising funds. Yet she herself
ate very immoderately. Somehow she never seemed to gain weight.
"No, I didn't know that. This afternoon, when I went out to the Buick
in the lot, something really..."
Someone was trying to open the bedroom door. Serena.
"Just a minute, sweetie! Does that feel better, Nancy?"
"A little. Could you do something with Serena? She's been just awful.
This morning she went next door and stuck her hand in the baby's
mouth. That baby only has one tooth, but it bit Serena and she threw a
fit. Mary Jo had to carry her back here."
"What a brat."
"Oh, but be nice to her. I was just like Serena when I was little."
Unable to turn the knob, Serena began kicking the door. "Dada! Dada!
"Here I come. Don't break the door."
When I opened the door, Serena squealed and toddled off at high speed.
I followed her into the kitchen and popped the top on a Bud. One thing
about Nancy, she kept the fridge well-stocked. I inhaled the first
beer and started a second. That regress had been bad news. In a way it
had taken place outside of time. I wondered what would have happened
if I'd wrung the neck of the thumbsized Fletcher in the toy car. The
giant would have done the same to me, of course, while being choked
himself and uh uh uh. Hall of mirrors. Harry's doing. Master of space
and time. I'd ask him for five million.
I got out the phone book and looked under Appliances, Service and
Repair. Harry had taken over his family's business when his parents
died last winter. I'd never seen the place yet. The ad was pure Harry:
Don't Think We Don't Think Don't Think Don't Robotics and Appliance
Twenty Years at the Same Location! Yes, We Take Cash!
824-1301 501 Suydam St. New Brunswick
Cybernetics. That was a word Harry and I had always laughed about.
Nobody has any idea what it means, it's just some crazy term that
Norbert Wiener made up. Gerber Cybernetics. I dialed the number.
"Hello?" An old woman's questioning quaver.
"This is Joseph Fletcher. Is Mr. Gerber in?"
"I'll get him. Haaaaaaaary!" There were footsteps, the sound of
breaking glass, a curse, some yelling. The person at the other end
knocked the phone off the counter, then picked it up.
"Harry! What do you have?" I lowered my voice so that Nancy wouldn't
hear me. "I can spare two grand, but no more."
"Who's this?" He sounded confused. In the background the
old-woman-voice was still yelling.
"Who's this. Who do you think it is, space cadet?"
"Is this Joe Fletcher?"
"I'm supposed to come tomorrow, right?"
"We're open ten to five on Saturdays."
"I'll come in early and we can have lunch together. Like real
businessmen. Do you have any circuit diagrams for the thing?"
"You want me to invent something?"
"I thought you already had it. Master of Space and Time, right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Fletch. Are you drunk?"
This was getting nowhere fast. If the little Harrys had been from the
future, then maybe he really didn't know what I was talking about.
"You're going to be master of space and time," I explained. "I want
five million dollars."
"Hold on." There were voices in the background. "Yes, it's ready,
ma'am. Fletcher, I'm going to have to hang up. Customers. See you
Serena had climbed onto my lap while I was talking. She was about as
short as you can be and still walk. I planted a kiss on her fat little
cheek. "You're not really a brat, are you?"
"Dada hand." She starfished her little paw against my palm. "Serena
I looked around our shabby living area. Everything plastic, piles of
laundry, and the TV always on. I wished I'd bought some good furniture
when I'd had the money. Nancy and Serena deserved better than this.
The Peasant and the Sausage
SATURDAY was cool and rainy. I stopped by my bank and then drove to
New Brunswick. Harry's shop was in a crummy neighborhood near the
train station. There was a bus station too, and next to it was a place
called the Terminal Bar. Some terminal-type guys gimped past in the
wet, one of them an obvious wirehead. He was so far gone that he used
a mechanical walker. You could see the bulge of his stim-unit under
his overcoat. "Where's Gerber Cybernetics?" I asked. "Man."
"Gug-ger-bub-ber? Ruh-hight thu-there. Man." The shop had a big
plate-glass window, a dirty window crowded with junk: a plastic toad
wearing a crown, an old cookie tin with cityscapes embossed on its
sides, an out-of-date girlie calendar from the Rigid Tool Company, an
oriental lamp, some listless houseplants, a coiled-up orange extension
cord, and a terrarium with a mean-looking little lizard in it. I
squatted down to get a better look at the lizard. He was like a
miniature Godzilla, with powerful rear legs and a long, toothy jaw. He
looked as if he'd been in a fight recently, and seemed to be in some
The letters GERBER APPLIANCE arced across the plateglass window, but
with the APPLIANCE only a pale, scraped-off shadow. In place of it,
crudely brushed in, was the new designation: CYBERNETICS. I opened the
door and entered, feeling like a twelve-yearold come to play with his
best friend's train set.
The front of the shop was cramped, with a waisthigh counter. A
partition behind the counter divided the store from the actual work
area in the rear. A robot stood behind the counter, scanning me. It
was a multipurpose Q-89, with the small, bullet-shaped head and the
long, snaky arms.
"What can we do you for?" The machine was programmed to sound like a
friendly old woman. I'd talked to it on the phone.
"I'm Joe Fletcher. Mr. Gerber's expecting me."
"You can call me Antie," said the robot. "A-NT-I-E. Harry's in back."
"Thank you, Antie."
She...with the voice you had to think of Antie as female stepped aside
and I went through the door behind the counter. It was a regular
workshop back there, with shelves of parts, a wall of tools, and a
number of partially disassembled electronic devices. The resinous tang
of solder smoke perfumed the air. I felt right at home.
Harry looked up from a robot torso and gave me a big smile. "Fletcher!
It's been a long time."
"I've been busy with the job and the wife, Harry. Great to see you." I
looked around the crowded workroom. "So this is the Gerber family
business, eh? You making any money?"
"Yeah, some. But it's boring. I'm all alone here except for Antie."
"Why does she talk like an old woman?"
"My mom did that. She programmed Antie to talk and act just like her
... before she died. I keep meaning to change it, but I don't know,
it's sort of soothing." Harry sighed and laid down his soldering ray.
"But what was that phone call of yours all about? Master of space and
Before I could really start, Antie interrupted.
"Would you like some soup, Dr. Fletcher?" The robot shuffled into the
room, bearing a tray with two steaming bowls of thick, dark lentil
"Well... I'd really been planning to take Harry out for lunch."
"You two can still go out. It won't hurt my feelings. I'm just a
machine. Should I put some quark in that, boys?"
"Quark?" I inquired.
"Quark," confirmed Harry with a chuckle. "But not the particle. Quark
is a German word for a kind of yogurt. My family always used it to
mean sour cream. That's a big Hungarian thing, you know, lentil soup
with sour cream. Try it, it's delicious."
Antie served us our soup with quark and, at Harry's urging, went out
to the Terminal Bar for some Utz pretzels and Blatz beer. I gave Harry
a detailed account of my experiences of the day
before. He was particularly interested in the fact that when he
traveled back in time, he'd only looked two inches tall to me.
"So Fred Hoyle was right," Harry exclaimed. "Everything is shrinking!"
"Nothing's shrinking, Harry. I'm the same size every day."
"That's what you think. But your house shrinks, your car shrinks, your
wife shrinks...everything in the universe is shrinking at the same
rate. That's why the distant galaxies keep seeming farther away. I'd
always wondered how to test it. But now..."
"Time travel!" I exclaimed. "I get it. If everything's smaller now
than it was yesterday, then if I jump back through time to yesterday,
I'm much smaller than the people there."
"That's it, Fletch. That's why the time-traveling Harry you saw
yesterday was so small. He was from the future. And the other way
would be the opposite."
"You mean that if we could jump something a few days forward in time
it would come out seeming huge?"
"Yeah." Harry beamed at me for a second. We were having fun. "You say
I called the machine a blunzer?"
"That's right. A blunzer. You said we built it and it made you master
of space and time."
"Blunzer ... I like that. Did I say when we built it? Or how?"
"We build it tomorrow, and today we get the parts. You said that if I
came to see you today, you'd know what to do. The very fact that you
were able to come back from the future means that the blunzer is going
to work, right?"
"Well, yes. The idea of controlling space and time does happen to be
something I've been thinking about recently. The way I see it, it's
simply a matter of increasing the value of Planck's constant by many
orders of magnitude."
"That's what you've been working on?"
"After a fashion." Harry smiled lopsidedly and fell silent. I realized
then that he'd been unable to work without me. It had been a shame to
let Nancy come between us.
"Have you done any experiments?"
"No, I didn't have the energy. This is all so strange. First I have
some ideas, then the ideas decide to become real. The blunzer sends me
back in time to get you to help me build the blunzer. It's a closed
causal loop. But where did it come from?"
"God, maybe. Or another dimension. You're telling me you actually know
how to build the blunzer?"
"I had a dream about it last night, as a matter of fact. I dreamed
that you were explaining it to me. It was a very vivid dream." Harry
stared into space, thinking. "The materials are going to cost," he
said finally. "You only brought two thousand dollars?"
"It's all I have. I work and work and the savings never grow. It's
horrible to have a real job, Harry, they treat me just like anyone
else. I'm ready to gamble everything on you."
"Well, thanks, Fletch. I'm really touched. With you helping me, the
blunzer might work. Planck's constant, you know, it's a measure of the
effect that the observer has on the universe. If I can temporarily
increase the value of Planck's constant in my body, then the world
will look more and more like I want it to."
"Here's the beer, boys." Antie came shuffling back from her run.
We each opened a can. I drank deep and sighed with pleasure. "Drinking
beer in a back room on a rainy Saturday. This is the life, Harry, with
no women around. Nancy and Serena..."
"It's rough, huh? Well, living alone gets pretty old, too."
"Do you have any girl friends?"
"There's one woman I've been seeing. She's a student at the Scientific
Mysticism Seminary here. Kind of plain, but very pleasant. She slept
here last night. I just wish I could get her to stop talking about
"What's her name?"
"Sondra Tupperware. Sondra with an 0."
I burst out laughing. The name was too ridiculous to be believed. "You
lying toad. Has anything you've told me yet been true?"
"It's all true. You're the one who saw me come back from the future."
"Nobody's called Tupperware."
"You want to phone her up?"
"I'll have another beer instead. Tell me more about what you think the
blunzer will do."
"We'll talk about the technical details later. The main thing is that
it'll make me master of space and time. For a while, anyway. Whatever
I wish for will come true."
"And me? Do I get a turn?"
"Sure. First I'll do it, then you."
"That'll be safer," I observed. "So I can undo anything you screw up
"Like 'The Peasant and the Sausage,'" said Harry. "You know that
"Well, there's a peasant who finds a little man trapped in a bramble
bush. He gets the little man out, and the little man says, 'In return
for your help I grant you three wishes. Use them wisely!' So the
peasant runs home and talks it over with his wife. They're trying to
decide what to wish for. They're talking and talking and suppertime
comes, and she's been too busy to fix anything, and she's real hungry.
'I wish I had a nice big sausage,' the wife blurts out, and there on
the table in front of her is a crisp white bratwurst. 'God, you're
stupid!' the husband shouts, beside himself with rage. 'I wish that
sausage would grow onto your nose!' So there's the poor wife with the
big gross sausage grown onto her face."
"And they have to use the third wish to get the sausage off, right?"
"Yeah. Three wishes and all they end up with is a sausage."
"But the blunzer gives you more than three wishes, doesn't it?"
"It gives all the wishes I make, but only for a limited period of
time. A session with the blunzer is like one super-wish."
"Couldn't you wish for infinitely many wishes?"
"I don't think so. You have to wish for something concrete."
"So what are you going to wish for, Harry?"
Harry smiled and rubbed his face. "That's the
hard part, isn't it? I'll get you some money...I know you'll want
"That's right," I put in. "Five million bucks."
"Yeah. And I wish Sondra was prettier. And I wish the blunzer would
work. And ... I don't know. I'd like to have some big adventure
happen. Subconscious wishes count too, which means that..."
"Try to do the big adventure in some other universe," I suggested. "So
this one doesn't get totally wrecked."
"That sounds like a good idea. I'll wish for a magic door to another
world and we can go over there for a while."
"Hey, I'm psyched, Harry!"
"Let's go shopping."
Stars 'n' Bars
WE left Antie in charge of the store and took off in my Buick. Without
Harry having to tell me, I knew where we were headed. Jack McCormack's
Stars 'n' Bars Government Surplus.
Harry handed me a pretzel and an open beer. "Utz and Blatz, Fletcher,
just think about it."
We were on an incredibly built-up divided highway. There were lots of
potholes. The traffic was light but intense. The government had
recently repealed all speed limits in an attempt to boost oil
Businesses were slotted in side by side, not only along both edges of
the highway but also all up and down the broad median strip. Such
dense social tissue needs a vast traffic flow to nourish it, a flow
that was no longer available in these depression times. Many of the
businesses stood empty. Fly-bynight operations flitted in and out of
the abandoned rent-free shells like fish in a coral reef.
BLOOD AND ORGANS BOUGHT AND SOLD!
NORTH JERSEY'S ONLY DOG BUTCHER!
SKIN SHIRTS...WE MAKE OR EAT!
BAG BODY BOXING!
STARS 'N' BARS SURPLUS!
"There it is."
We pulled into the vast empty lot of what had once been a Two Guys
discount center. The building was a weathered yellow cube with half an
American flag painted on one side. A few robots loitered outside the
entrance, standing guard. Jack McCormack, the proprietor, was a
displaced redneck, deeply suspicious of city folks.
When we pulled up, Jack had been standing behind the glass doors,
watching the traffic. But when he saw Harry and me, he turned and
disappeared into the gloomy recesses of his domain.
"Plllease state youuur business," intoned one of the robots, a squat
K-88 with a flare ray bolted to its arm.
"Joseph Fletcher and Harry Gerber, out shopping. Jack knows us."
"Nnnnnegatory. You willl leave the area."
"Come on, McCormack," shouted Harry, "you remember us. We built that
beam weapon for General Moritz. The thing to make water radioactive?"
That had been one of our less successful designs. Harry had lost the
plans for the demonstration model, and we'd been unable to duplicate
"Nnnnnegatory," hummed the robot, leveling its flare ray. "Therrre
willl be no furrrtherrr warnings." The flare ray looked truly vicious:
it was something like a small industrial laser with a superheterodyne
unit in back.
"We've got cash!" I screamed. "Two thousand dollars!"
"Well, why dintcha say so?" At the mention of money, the robot's
speaker switched from taped threats to McCormack's lively drawl. The
machine scurried to open the glass doors. "Y'all boys still owes Stars
'n' Bars right much."
"That's right," I confessed. "Five hundred dollars, wasn't it?"
"Hot golly, les call it three!" Jack McCormack stepped forward from
behind some giant spools of cable. "Assumin y'all boys is really goan
spend two kay." He was a leathery little gnome with hard blue eyes.
"Oh, we'll spend more than that," said Harry breezily. "Though you
should realize, McCormack, that Fletcher & Company qualified for the
Emergency Bankruptcy Act of '95, so that any debts or obligations of
the aforesaid corporation are void."
"Yew fat ugly toad. Ah bet yore foreign, ain't yew?"
"Hungarian-American. And, unlike you, with a full command of the
Looking at the two short men glaring at each other, one fat, one
skinny, I had to laugh. "Look, Jack." I took out my wallet. "Real
cash. Get the truck."
McCormack had a small pickup that you could drive around his huge
store. The three of us piled in, me in the middle.
"First we need a hotshot table," said Harry.
"Good God!" I exclaimed. "Whatever for?" The hotshot table had been a
popular execution device during the early nineties, when capital
punishment had made a big comeback. A hotshot table was like a
hospital gurney, a bed on wheels, but a bed with certain built-in
servo-mechanisms. It was a kind of mechanical Dr. Death, equipped to
give fatal brain injections to condemned criminals. Lying down on a
hotshot table was like lying down on a black widow's belly. The needle
would stab right down into the top of your head. The point of the
thing was that it had helped resolve the AMA's scruples about helping
to kill people. But now capital punishment had been voted out again.
"That's aw-reet," McCormack was saying. "We got 'em in stock. New or
used? Used costs extry... people buy 'em for parties, like."
"Good God! A new one!"
"Got me one still in the crate. Over on aisle naaane." Great mounds of
machinery slid past, lit by our little truck's headlights. Some heavy
robots pounded along behind us, ready to help with the loading.
"A large vacuum pump," said Harry. "And a walk-in refrigerator."
"Kin do, kin do."
"Thirty square meters of copper foil."
"A mater-driven microwave cavity."
"Got one on sale."
The truck darted this way and that.
"A vortex coil," said Harry. "And two meters of sub-ether wave guide."
"And the key ingredient...a magnetic bottle with two hundred grams of
"Great day in the mornin'!"
"And that'll do it."
"Don't he beat all?" McCormack asked me. "Some of these bohunks is
smart, and that's no lie."
Before too long we had everything hauled to the front of the store.
McCormack fiddled with his calculator. "Ah make it tin thousand
"It's them gluons. They're high, even in red."
"Pay him," Harry urged. "Once I get blunzed, we'll have it all."
"Blunzed?" inquired McCormack, glancing at Harry.
"Once I get blunzed I'll be able to control reality," Harry explained.
"I'll get you all the money you want."
"Ah don't want all the money. Ah want tin thousand dollar."
"Uh, I have two thousand in cash, Mr. McCormack. Can I give you a
check for the rest?"
McCormack threw back his head and laughed. There were cords in his
"How would you like to be a partner?" I suggested. "We'll issue you
some shares of stock."
McCormack laughed harder. It wasn't really a pleasant sound.
Harry had been off to one side, looking over our intended purchases,
but now he rejoined me. "Let's go out to the car for a minute,
Fletcher. I just thought of something."
"Ah hope ah din't haul all this gear up front for nothin'!" complained
"We'll be right back," Harry assured him. "I believe we've got some
more money out in the car."
McCormack's guard robots followed us out to my Buick. "You left money
out here?" I asked Harry. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well, it just now occurred to me that I might have. When I came back
from the future to your car yesterday, I could have created money and
put it under your seat. It would be the obvious thing to do, right?"
I got the door unlocked and reached under the driver's seat. Sure
enough, a dense wad of bills: eight thousand dollars' worth, exactly
what we needed.
"If these are from the future, then why aren't they real small?" I
asked Harry. "Like you were."
"I made them the right size, is all. It's obvious. Master of space and
I stared at him for a long time. "Why couldn't you create the whole
ten thousand? Why make me put up my only two?"
"You offered your money of your own free will, Fletch. You're in this,
I sighed and took all our money in to Jack McCormack. "Ten thousand,
"Tin thousand and the three hunnert from before."
Suddenly I lost my temper. The fact that I'd had eight thousand bucks
in my car without knowing it really got to me.
"The deal's off, Jack." I turned to leave. I had an overwhelming urge
to take the money back to Nancy and forget about these little guys.
"Hey now," McCormack cried. "Y'all kin still owe me that five hunnert.
And tell you whut. Ah'll truck yore goods home free."
"Give him the money, Fletch. Bring it to 501 Suydam, McCormack. Gerber
Cybernetics. There's an alley in back."
Godzilla Meets the Toad Man
"LET'S take the Jersey Turnpike home," suggested Harry. "It's faster."
"Okay. And give me another beer." I was feeling happy again. "This
blunzer is really going to work. I mean, here you've already traveled
back in time and created eight thousand dollars. It's fantastic."
"One thing about time travel," said Harry musingly. "There probably
has to be a counterweight. Action equals reaction, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that if I travel from the future to the past, then something
has to travel from the past to the future. To balance things out. When
I jump back to Friday afternoon, I'll probably have to jump some
organism forward a few days."
"If you jump an animal forward, it'll seem real big," I reminded
"That's right. Every object in the universe is shrinking, so if
something jumps forward a few days it seems enormous. Did you ever see
any Godzilla movies, Fletch? With the giant lizard?"
I shot a look over at Harry. His expression was bland and unreadable.
I started to say something, then let it drop. He was just trying to
get a rise out of me.
The Jersey Turnpike's pavement was in good repair today. A Porsche
passed us, doing what looked like 120 miles per hour. Its tires threw
up a long, blinding shock-cone of rainwater. I stuck to the slow lane
and kept my eyes open. To the right were the refineries, to the left
were docks and railyards.
Harry powered down his window and inhaled deeply. "Ah! This is the
smell of American richness."
Many years ago Fletcher & Company had done some business designing
stack scrubbers for one of these companies. But now times were so hard
that nobody much cared about pollution. The main thing was just to
keep the factories open. As long as they stank, you knew they weren't
Although I couldn't share Harry's pleasure at the unearthly smells,
this stretch of the Jersey Turnpike was one of my favorite places. I
was particularly fond of the refinery cracking towers, those great
abstract totems of knotted pipe and wire. And the big storage tanks,
the code-painted conduits, the webs of scaffolding, the catwalks, the
great pulsing gas flares...all sheerly functional, yet charged with
surreal meaning. I felt like a cockroach in a pharmacy.
"What is that over there?" said Harry, interrupting my reverie. "Do
you hear that noise?"
There was a deep, spasmodic roaring coming from the direction of the
docks. The sound grew louder, and now you could hear sirens as well,
sirens and gunshots. I slowed down a bit, and Harry and I peered off
to the left. There was something big there, an immense shadowy form, a
giant lizard stomping a warehouse. Crashes and roars. A boxcar went
flying. A high-tension electrical tower crumpled and great sparks
I stepped on the gas, but Harry reached over and took the key out of
"Stop!" he commanded. "I want to enjoy this!"
I had no choice but to pull off into the emergency lane. Some other
rubberneckers had already done the same. Just a few hundred meters off
was a huge predatory lizard, a two-hundred-foot Godzilla with a head
like a man-eating garbage scow. One of the refinery's gas flares
pulsed up just then, and the monster threw back his head to roar
A police car pulled up on the side of the turnpike and one of the cops
opened up on the monster with a heavy machine gun.
The ground shook as the monster charged.
I was yelling, yelling at Harry. "Goddamnit,
Harry, I know this is your fault! You jumped a lizard up in time! Give
me those keys before..."
"Shut up, Fletcher. I've always wanted to have Godzilla real. The
The police car flew into the air and crashed, burning, on the roadway
"Good God, he's headed for us! He knows you, Harry! Let's get out of
Harry was too enraptured to recognize our danger. I bundled him down
the highway embankment. At the bottom was a culvert, a four-foot
cement pipe running right under the turnpike.
The giant lizard was really getting excited. And... God, God, God...it
was Harry and me he was after. We barely made it into the culvert in
time. A huge claw probed in after us, and was replaced by the
creature's immense basilisk eye.
"Isn't this exciting, Fletch? Watch this!"
Harry yelled and threw a sharp rock right into the giant eye's center.
"I love that noise," chortled Harry. "I can't get enough of it."
The monster's huge claws were tearing at the culvert's end. Meters of
sod crumbled and great chunks of concrete flew. Our tunnel grew
steadily shorter. Harry was looking around for another rock to throw.
"Oh, God, Harry, I hate you so much, you crazy wrecked slob, you don't
care about anything real! Oh, Nancy, I'm so sorry I got involved!
Please, God, help me, save me, save me..."
A third of our tunnel was gone now. The Godzilla-thing had us trapped
like rats. The only escape was to run out the other end. I took off,
leaving Harry behind. He was laughing and hefting a rock. Was he nuts,
or did he know something I didn't know.
It was marshy on the other side of the turnpike, too marshy to head
off overland. The only way out was along the roadway itself.
The giant lizard was concentrating on its digging there hadn't been
any roaring for several minutes. Gathering my courage, I crawled up
the embankment to peer back across the turnpike.
There was the monster's great lashing tail, and there, twenty meters
off to the left, was my car, still unharmed.
"Oh, Nancy," I moaned, "I'm coming, baby."
I sprinted across the northbound lanes and the median. Every hair on
my neck was standing up. I got back into my Buick. Harry had left the
key on the seat. I fumbled it into the ignition and started ...
Harry had just thrown his second rock. Forget it, man, and color me
gone. I floored the accelerator and peeled out. I was still shaking
when I pulled into my driveway back in Princeton.
The Central Teachings of Mysticism
NANCY was at the kitchen table, eating a dish of yogurt with Froot
Loops. The TV was on full blast. A quiz show. Serena was lying on her
side, sucking the corner of a blanket.
"Couldn't you turn down the TV?" I demanded.
"Mr. Big Shot," muttered Nancy, not taking her eyes off the screen.
All the chairs had piles of laundry on them, so I flopped down on the
floor next to Serena.
"What's the matter, Nancy?"
"You," she said. Her eyes were red and puffy. She'd been crying. Her
head kept jerking the way it always did when she was really mad at me.
"You gave all our money to your crazy friend, didn't you? I wanted to
go shopping, and the bank said we've got nothing left. Mr. Big Deal."
She ripped open a package of Oreos and started eating the cookies two
at a time. I could never understand where Nancy put all the food she
ate. Someone on TV won a prize. The audience roared like a broken
washing machine. Serena sucked on her blanket, staring blankly at the
"I'm sorry, Nancy. You're right, I gave our money to Harry. And I
shouldn't have. He's not to be trusted. Did you hear the news yet? A
giant lizard almost killed me on the Jersey Turnpike?"
Nancy stubbed her cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray, and lit
another, chewing all the while. She tilted her head back to keep the
smoke out of her eyes. "All I can say, Joseph, is that is that..."
Abruptly she burst into sobs.
I got up and put my arm around her. I took the cigarette out of her
mouth and put my cheek against hers. My frail strawberry-blond
darling. My southern belle. "I...I did it for you, Nancy! I want us to
be rich and happy again."
"No!" She pushed me away, knocking her ashtray off the table. It
shattered on the floor. Ashes and broken glass. Serena scrambled over
"Look out, Serena, there's broken glass. Let Daddy clean it up."
Nancy and Serena watched me clean up the mess. I used a paper towel
and piece of the Froot Loops box. At the end I cut my finger, probably
on purpose. "Damn. Oh damn, damn, damn."
Sunday morning we went to church, the First Church of Scientific
Mysticism. The religion, vaguely Christian, had grown out of the
mystical teachings of Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel, the two great
Princeton sages. Nancy and I didn't attend regularly, but today it
seemed like the thing to do. According to the evening news, Godzilla
had suddenly disappeared after digging a trench across the Jersey
Turnpike. The news didn't mention if Harry had escaped, but it stood
to reason that he had. I guess I was glad.
The sun was out, and the three of us had a nice time walking over to
"I'm sorry I was so ugly to you yesterday, Joe."
"And I'm sorry about the money, baby. Maybe we can drive up to New
Brunswick today and see what Harry's done with it."
"No, thanks." Nancy looked light and pretty in her Sunday dress. I
took her hand. Serena skipped along ahead of us, light as dandelion
The church building was a remodeled bank, a massive granite building
with big pillars and heavy bronze lamps. Inside, there were pews and a
raised pulpit. In place of an altar was a large hologram of Albert
Einstein. Einstein smiled kindly, occasionally blinking his eyes.
Nancy and Serena and I took a pew halfway up the left side. The
organist was playing a Bach prelude. I gave Nancy's hand a squeeze.
She squeezed back.
Today's service was special. The minister, an elderly physicist named
Alwin Bitter, was celebrating the installation of a new assistant, a
woman named Sondra Tupperware. I jumped when I heard her name,
remembering that Harry had mentioned her yesterday. Was this another
of his fantasies become real? Yet Ms. Tupperware looked solid enough:
a skinny woman with red glasses-frames and a springer spaniel's kinky
Old Bitter was wearing a tuxedo with a thin pink necktie. The dark
suit set off his halo of white hair to advantage. He passed out some
bread and wine, and then he gave a sermon called "The Central
Teachings of Mysticism."
His teachings, as best I recall, were three in number: (1) All is One;
(2) The One is Unknowable; and (3) The One is Right Here. Bitter
delivered his truths with a light touch, and the congregation laughed
a lot happy, surprised laughter.
Nancy and I lingered after the service, chatting with some of the
church members we knew. I was waiting for a chance to ask Alwin Bitter
for some advice.
Finally everyone was gone except for Bitter and Sondra Tupperware. The
party in honor of her installation was going to be later that
"Is Tupperware your real name?" asked Nancy.
Sondra laughed and nodded her head. Her eyes were big and round behind
the red glasses. "My parents were hippies. They changed the family
name to Tupperware to get out from under some legal trouble. Dad was a
close friend of Alwin's."
"That's right," said Bitter. "Sondra's like a niece to me. Did you
enjoy the sermon?"
"It was great," I said. "Though I'd expected more science."
"What's your field?" asked Bitter.
"Well, I studied mathematics, but now I'm mainly in computers. I had
my own business for a while. Fletcher & Company."
"You're Joe Fletcher?" exclaimed Sondra. "I know a friend of yours."
"Harry Gerber, right? That's what I wanted to ask Dr. Bitter about.
Harry's trying to build something that will turn him into God."
Bitter looked doubtful. I kept talking. "I know it sounds crazy, but
I'm really serious. Didn't you hear about the giant lizard yesterday?"
"On the Jersey Turnpike," said Nancy loyally. "It was on the news."
"Yes, but I don't quite see..."
"Harry made the lizard happen. The thing he built it's called a
blunzer...is going to give him control over space and time, even the
past. The weird thing is that it isn't really even Harry. The blunzer
is just using us to make things happen. It sent Harry to tell me to
tell Harry to get me to"
Bitter was looking at his watch. "If you have a specific question, Mr.
Fletcher, I'd be happy to answer it. Otherwise ..."
What was my question?
"My question. Okay, it's this: What if a person becomes the same as
the One? What if a person can control all of reality? What should he
ask for? What changes should he make?"
Bitter stared at me in silence for almost a full minute. I seemed
finally to have engaged his imagination. "You're probably wondering
why that question should boggle my mind," he said at last. "I wish I
could answer it. You ask me to suppose that some person becomes like
God. Very well. Now we are wondering about God's motives. Why is the
universe the way it is? Could it be any different? What does God have
in mind when He makes the world?" Bitter paused and rubbed his eyes.
"Can the One really be said to have a mind at all? To have a
mind...this means to want something. To have plans. But wants and
plans are partial and relative. The One is absolute. As long as wishes
and needs are present, an individual falls short of the final union."
Bitter patted my shoulder and gave me a kind look. "With all this
said, I urge you to remember that individual existence is in fact
identical with the very act of falling short of the final union.
Treasure your humanity, it's all you have."
Bitter raised his hand for silence. "A related point: There is no one
you. An individual is a bundle of conflicting desires, a society in
microcosm. Even if some limited individual were seemingly to take
control of our universe, the world would remain as confusing as ever.
If / were to create a world, for instance, I doubt if it would be any
different from the one in which we find ourselves." Bitter took my
hand and shook it. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get home
for Sunday dinner. Big family reunion today. My wife Sybil's out at
the airport picking up our oldest daughter. She's been visiting her
grandparents in Germany."
Bitter shook hands with the others and took off, leaving the four of
us on the church steps.
"What'd he say?" I asked Sondra.
Sondra shook her head quizzically. Her long, frizzed hair flew out to
the sides. "The bottom line is that he wants to have lunch with his
family. But tell me more about Harry's project."
"How well do you know Harry?" put in Nancy.
"We've been seeing each other off and on for about six months. He
introduced himself to me at the Vienna Cafe. It's a nice bar and grill
in New Brunswick."
"He's no good," said Nancy emphatically. "You should steer clear of
him, Sondra. Do you know what he said when I told him about world
hunger? He said, 'There's too damn many people anyway.' Isn't that
horrible? And what was it he said at Serena's christening, Joe?
Something about dying?"
" 'Born to die' is what he said: 'Fletcher, you've just made something
else that has to die.' I know it sounds bad, but there is a certain
point to it. If there were no more people, there'd be no more
suffering." I was trying to sound as cool as Alwin Bitter. "We want to
be alive. Fine. But that means we have to accept the suffering that
comes along with living. Don't you agree, Sondra?"
"I'm all for accepting reality," said Sondra with a laugh. "Though I'm
not sure that Harry is. Were you serious when you said that he was
building a machine to give him control over the universe? Harry
Gerber? I love Harry, Joe, but..."
For the first time I really let myself imagine the kind of world that
Harry might design. The guy had no respect for the ordinary human
things that make life worth living. Weirdness was all he cared about.
Weirdness and sex and plenty to drink.
"I better go up to New Brunswick," I said abruptly. "Before he gets
"I didn't mean, Is it a good idea?" said Sondra. "I meant, Do you
seriously believe it's possible? After all, Harry's just a TV
repairman. There's a big step from that to..."
"Go, Joey," Nancy urged. "Before it's too late."
"This is getting awfully hysterical," said Sondra. For such a plain
woman, she had extraordinary presence. "Maybe I better come along."
"You've got your reception to go to," I reminded her. "And by the way,
welcome to our church."
"Yes," said Nancy, "we've been meaning to come more often. But are you
going back to New Brunswick after the party, Sondra?"
"Well, stop in at Harry's shop then and make sure Joe's on his way
home. When he and Harry start working on something, they lose all
track of time. Maybe there isn't any big danger, but still..."
"I'll check up on them, Nancy."
Nancy and I strolled home together, each of us holding one of Serena's
hands. She liked us to swing her in the air. Nancy didn't say much...I
could tell she was doing some thinking.
"If it works," she said after a while, "if it works, what are you
going to ask for?"
"Five million dollars."
"And for me?"
"What do you mean? The money's for both of us."
"I want more than money. I want you to make a wish for me."
"All right. What do you want?"
"Make Harry eliminate world hunger. Make him come up with something
that turns dirt into food." Nancy smiled happily at the thought.
"That'll show him!"
HARRY'S shop was locked tight. I pounded and pounded, but nobody came,
not even Antie. I decided to try in back. There was a two-story wooden
porch. Harry was sitting on the steps in the afternoon sun. He was
wearing pajamas and looking through a stack of dirty magazines.
"Say, Fletch. You're in time for lunch. Antic's stewing some chicken
and my pet lizard, Zeke. He got some wounds and today he died." Harry
gave me one of his wet, unfocused smiles.
"The lizard!" I yelped. "I saw him in your store window yesterday! Was
"That's right. Tonight, when I go back to visit you on Friday, Zeke
will jump forward from Thursday to visit you on Saturday. Fifty-five
hours each way, with the visits lasting about fifteen minutes. It
balances out. I noticed the marks on Zeke when I fed him Thursday, but
of course I didn't realize. He was all shot up, poor thing. Antie
found lots of little bullets in him when she skinned him today."
"You're lucky you weren't killed yesterday."
"If I'd gotten killed, then it couldn't have happened, could it? Poor
Zeke. I'm sorry I threw those rocks at him. But the noise was just
"Harry, I don't think this should go any further. I know that there'll
be a time paradox if we don't build the blunzer today, but after
seeing what you did yesterday, I'd almost rather..."
"Aw, come on, Fletch. Don't be so..."
"I was talking about it this morning with Nancy and Sondra."
"She was at our church today, the First Church of Scientific
Mysticism. She's the new assistant."
"Oh, yeah, she told me about that. I think mysticism's a bunch of
crap. All regions are a bunch of crap."
"What do you believe in, Harry?"
"Well, Nancy and Sondra and I were talking, and I realized how
disastrous it could be for someone like you to get any kind of control
over the world. Do you remember what you said to Nancy when she was
talking about world hunger?"
"Sure. There's too damn many people anyway.' It's true, Fletcher, and
you know it. Don't give me this holier-than-thou routine."
"Are you going to bring some terrible plague down on us, Harry? Would
you kill off the whole human race?"
"I'd save these girls." Harry grinned and patted his stack of
"Dinner's ready," called Antie from inside the house.
The whole floor above Harry's shop was an apartment. Apparently Antie
had been expecting me; two places were set in the dark old dining
room. Harry and I took our seats, and Antie brought in the meal.
Besides the lizard stew, we had fried potatoes, cucumber salad, fresh
rolls, a plate of hot sauerkraut, and a bottle of good red wine. Harry
ate with his hands.
"The lizard's not bad," I observed between forkfuls. The meat was pale
and spongy, a bit like soft-shelled lobster. It gave me a good feeling
to be eating something that had tried to kill me only the day before.
"Mmmpf," said Harry by way of agreement. He chewed with his mouth
open, then swallowed. "I've always had a thing about Godzilla. It's no
surprise I picked on poor Zeke for the counterweight."
"But that's just so irresponsible, Harry. You could have used a shoe
or something, and then yesterday would have been no problem. A giant
shoe would have blocked our way for a while, and then it would have
disappeared. How do I know what other craziness you're going to pull?
What if you crack the Earth in half or something? You're not into
disaster movies, are you?"
"Nah, not really. I got enough of that stuff when I was little. My Dad
used to read the Book of Revelations to us every night."
"Oh, brother. That's all we need. Look, Harry, it's time we had a
serious talk. I've seen both you and Zeke travel through time, so I
know the blunzer is going to work. We're going to build it today and
tonight you'll be master of space and time, at least for a while. God
knows I would have picked someone else, but at least you're my friend
and I can count on you to make me rich while you have the power,
"No problem. You want gold, or what?"
"Gold's too high profile. Give me five million bucks in paper
currency. Used bills, small denominations."
"Okay. What else?"
"Well this is Nancy's idea. She wants you to make something that will
turn dirt into food. A machine or something that's simple to reproduce
"No more world hunger," said Harry expansively. "Fine by me. If I can
do it, I will. Let's go downstairs."
"One last thing. All that money isn't going to do me any good if you
turn the solar system into cheese or something."
"I don't like cheese."
"You know what I mean, Harry. The blunzer's effects have to be
self-limiting. It has to stop working after an hour or two. And then
everything has to go back to the way it was."
"Back to the way it was? You don't want your money to disappear, do
you? Or Nancy's cure for world hunger?"
"Make a few reasonable changes in our world, fine. And then let's go
over to an alternate universe, like I said yesterday. First you do the
Friday, and make the money and everything, and then we go over to
another world so you can work out without wrecking things here."
"That sounds good. As long as I'm master of space and time I'll be
able to hold open a magic door to the world of my heart's desire.
We'll stay two hours and then come back here just before the blunzing
wears off. As soon as it wears off, the magic door'll close, and we'll
be free to enjoy the few changes I made here."
"Well" I hesitated, still worrying "it sounds pretty reasonable. But
what if one of the changes you make in our world turns out to be
really lethal? If we don't realize till after the blunzing wears off,
we'll be stuck with it."
"No we won't. We'll only use up half of those red gluons, so there'll
be enough for you to get blunzed and fix everything."
"Like a second wish."
"Sure. The Peasant and the Sausage.' "
"Then I guess we've got an agreement."
"How do you know I'll stick to it?" Harry gave me one of his horrible
"Do I have a choice?"
"You worry too much, Fletch. Come on, let's get started."
Jack McCormack had delivered the goods. The stuff was all in Harry's
workshop, stacked by the back door.
"Here's the basic idea," said Harry, slowly pacing back and forth. "We
put the hotshot table in the fridge and I lie on it. It's cold in
there, and we've got it electromagnetically isolated with the copper
foil. Just before I get the injection, the chamber is flash-pumped to
vacuum. I'll have an air tank, so no problem."
"No problem? What about the shot? What kind of shot do you get? What
happens to you then?"
"Planck juice. I get blunzed." Two made-up words. Harry was flying.
"Blunzed I've heard, Harry. But what's this Planck juice?"
"Okay. That's going to be your and Antic's job. The idea is that you
get Antie to pour half the gluons out of the magnetic bottle and into
the microwave cavity. It makes a super-quantum fluid, right?"
"Do you know what gluons are, Fletcher?"
"Well, they're real small. They have something to do with quarks."
"Gluons are the particles that stick quarks together. A proton is
three quarks with some gluons in there holding the quarks together.
The gluons come in three colors: red, blue and yellow. Red are easiest
"Fine. You've got gluons mixed with microwaves to make a super-quantum
fluid. Then what?"
"The fluid is guided into the vortex coil."
"The vortex coil!" This was getting exciting.
"The vortex coil. Think of a food processor, Fletch. The super-quantum
fluid plops into the vortex coil and skaaaaazzt!"
"Blended into Planck juice, Fletcher, Planck juice being a continuous
pre-quark force-medium with no distinguishing characteristic features
It doesn't know what the value of Planck's constant is supposed to
"It doesn't know."
"But I'll tell it! I'll lie to it! The first thing I'll show the
Planck juice will be a one-meter tunnel of wave guide! So the Planck
length will seem like one meter instead of 10-33 centimeters! That's a
hundred-decillion-fold amplification, Fletcher!"
"Harry, I don't know what you're talking about."
"The Planck length is the size level at which quantum uncertainty
takes over. The Planck juice will be manipulated into behaving as if
the Planck length were one meter. And I'll absorb the juice. What the
blunzer is going to do for me is to greatly magnify the uncertainty
around me. Things will do what I tell them to!"
"Let's backtrack a little, Harry. We've got the Planck juice in the
wave guide now. The wave guide takes it to the hotshot table, which
injects it into your brain and..."
"I get blunzed." Harry jumped up and down with excitement. "Let's get
to work, Fletch. You're going to be in charge of the sequencing."
"Is it dangerous?"
"It's possible that all of central Jersey'll go up when those gluons
hit the vortex coil. But of course"
"We know it's going to work," I chortled. "Or you wouldn't have been
able to make Godzilla happen yesterday."
Harry and I went over the procedure a few more times, and then he and
Antie and I got to work putting everything together. Time passed.
Before I knew it, night had fallen. Someone was pounding at the front
"Who is it?" called Antie in her old woman's voice. "Who's there?"
"Sondra. Let me in, guys."
"SONDRA, the point is to see it work. We know it works. That's why we
built it. Fletcher, you talk to her. I'm going in the chamber now."
Harry hovered near the heavy, copper-swathed door like a fat man
entering a steam-bath.
"Good luck, Harry." I stepped forward and shook his hand. "The effects
will last till midnight, right?"
"If I've got it calibrated correctly. We'll only use a hundred grams
of the gluons. First I'll take care of the time travel and then I'll
open up a door to another world."
"Why?" Sondra burst out. She'd been asking questions ever since we'd
let her in, and she didn't seem to like the answers she'd been
getting. I wished she would go away and let us destroy the universe in
"Look," I said, "could you please just get out of the way?"
"So it's no girls allowed, huh? What if I call the cops?"
"Antic's a girl," said Harry. "Sort of. We're not doing anything
illegal." He stood there, thinking, his hand on the fridge's door
latch. "Sondra, I'm going to be master of space and time for two
hours. Is there something you'd like me to do for you during that
period of time? Wouldn't you like to have blond hair and a bod that
"He can make you look like Beva LeClaire," I suggested. Beva was the
latest Hollywood sex symbol, the Marilyn Monroe of the 1990s.
"Wouldn't you like that, Sondra?"
"I'd rather be able to fly."
"Done," said Harry. "Now shut up and watch." With a last nervous smile
Harry stepped into the cubical blunzing chamber. A cloud of frost
crystals billowed out, and then the refrigerator door slammed shut.
I slid aside a piece of the copper sheathing and peered in through the
window we'd set into the door. Harry lay down on the hotshot table,
waved his fist, and fitted on a breathing mask.
"Turn on the microwave, Antie."
"Check, Dr. F."
Harry slid back into a posture of noble ease. I covered up the little
window and energized the copper sheathing.
"Antie, get the gluons."
Antie pincered up the heavy little magnetic bottle with one hand,
grasping the lid with her other hand.
I opened the microwave cavity, which was a little black box like a
miniature woodstove. A broad spectrum of radiation streamed out.
Antie came close and began pouring the gluons into the cavity. The
gluons made up a sort of fluid, precious and sparkling as Christ's
blood. The microwave energy field soaked the fluid right up.
As the gluons merged into the microwave field, the room filled with
ethereal singing: faint, shifting notes almost too high to detect. A
droplet of gluons slid down the lip of the magnetic bottle and burned
the tip off one of Antic's fingers. I slammed the door of the little
microwave cavity and breathed a sigh of relief. The first stage was
"What was that stuff you poured in?" Sondra wanted to know. "It looked
all iridescent, like fire and water mixed."
"Those were red gluons," I explained. "Usually they're hidden inside
the protons and neutrons. I think they come in blue and yellow, too."
"Buried jewels," marveled Sondra. "Did they cost much?"
"You know it. We're saving half of them for the next time."
"Shall I energize the vortex coil, Dr. F.?"
Antie threw the knife switch on the heavy power cable leading to the
vortex coil, which was a hulking cone-shaped unit right next to the
blunzing chamber. Ozone filled the air, and sparks crackled up and
down the vortex coil's ridgy slopes. I saw the streetlights outside
begin to dim.
"Initiate stage two."
I stepped back from the machinery as Antie devalved the subether wave
guide, a heavily chromed duct leading from the microwave cavity to the
vortex coil's rounded summit.
"Brace yourself, Sondra. This is..."
My words were drowned out by the chatter wild scream crash of tortured
energy. The vortex coil was tearing into the gluons like a chain-saw
hitting railroad spikes in water logs. The whole room went spastic
shudder cow-eye thub scree thubby; my mind seized up. Flames, then a
heavy sheet of sparks arcing from the coil to Antic's body. The
faithful robot fused into dead smoking junk.
"Oh, poor Antie," wailed Sondra, starting forward.
"Stay back!" The screaming energy chatter slid up the scale to an
insane mantric hum. The windows shattered. The fillings in my teeth
"Turn that knob!" I screamed to Sondra, pointing to the nozzle where
the vacuum pump hooked into the blunzing chamber. "This is it!"
All I had to do now was to devalve the meterlong wave guide that led
out of the vortex coil and in through the refrigerator wall to the
needle at the hotshot table's head. But the wave guide was glowing
hot. I cast about wildly, then spotted a broom. The handle would do
the job. Just then there was a heavy thud: chamber at vacuum. Right
on, Sondra. I forced myself forward and stabbed that final valve...
An angel was hovering over me, Beva LeClaire with big soft white
wings. I was lying on a rustly mattress and the angel was floating
"Are you all right, Joe?"
The voice: Sondra Tupperware! I sat up and looked around. This was
Harry's workshop, same as before, and Antie was all well again, well
and busy straightening up the mess we'd made. But Sondra...Sondra was
hovering three feet off the floor, her wings gently aflutter. She wore
a low-cut white evening dress; her face was a lovely cameo framed by
ringlets of purest gold.
"I don't believe this," the angel was saying. "All my life I've hated
women like this, and now I'm one."
"At least you can fly." I looked around for my goodies. And there they
were, right under me, packs and packs of twenties and hundreds and
five hundreds, a whole mattress of them! And next to my money-bed was
a small wood box containing, no doubt, a simply reproducible device
for turning dirt into food, just like I'd asked Harry for. Harry?
I hurried over to the blunzing chamber and dragged the big door open.
There he was, standing in the middle of the blunzing chamber. The
hotshot table was gone. Harry was standing there with a swarm of
little Harrys in the air around him. The little Harrys were all sizes,
numberless as a column of spring gnats.
"Holy science, Harry! You really did it!"
"I've already done the trip back to Friday, and the lizard's trip, and
I made your money and Nancy's cure for world hunger, and I moved the
hotshot table out of the way." I noticed the table standing off to one
side of the room. "And I fixed Antie"
"What about me?" interrupted Sondra. "Flying milk van. I don't like
"Well, I do." Excitement parted his big lips. He stepped out of the
blunzing chamber and looked around. "I like it this way." The swarm of
little Harrys followed him out of the chamber.
"What are those things?" demanded Sondra. "Bugs?"
"They're little copies of me. There's infinitely many of them. It has
to do with the renormalization problem and the existence of multiple
solutions to the Schrodinger wave equation."
"They're little people?" said Sondra, stepping closer. She reached out
a finger and one of the little Harrys landed on it. "How cute!"
"I can use them as scouts," said Harry. "That's what I'm going to do
now." He herded the buzzing school of little Harrys back into the
blunzing chamber, closed the door, and stood outside with his head
pressed against the door. A minute passed, and another.
"There," Harry said finally. "It's done. Six worlds meet. Go on and
He stepped aside and I swung the blunzing chamber's door back open.
What I saw inside was impossible. Somehow each of the cube's six faces
were now an open door. I staggered and almost lost my footing.
Six doors to six places:
1. The room around us: Here and Now.
2. Globs and happy squiggles: The Microworld.
3. An endless meadowed mountain: Infinity.
4. Glowing robots on the moon: The Future.
5. Strange merging shapes: Hyperspace.
6. A room like ours, but upside down and
backwards: Looking-Glass World.
From where I stood, Door No. 2 was to the left and Door No. 3 to the
right. Door No. 4 was where the blunzing chamber's floor had been, and
Door No. 5 was on the chamber's ceiling. Straight across the chamber
was Door No. 6. Door No. 1, of course, was the original door, the door
I stood outside.
The swarm of tiny Harrys buzzed fretfully, darting in and out of the
six magic doors.
"Let's go," said the big Harry at my side. "Come on, Fletch, I want to
jump across to that world on the other side."
"Forget it, man. I want to take my money back to Nancy before"
"Oh, you've got your five million bucks and that's it, huh? Only so
far and no further, right? What are you going to buy, Fletcher? What's
going to be as good as this?"
I looked to Sondra for support. She was staring into a mirror, running
her fingers over the curves of her new face.
I tried again. "Harry, those doors look really exciting. Hyperspace,
size change, parallel worlds...it looks really neat. But I'm not going
to risk everything just for some crazy science fiction thrills."
"I can still make your money disappear, Fletcher. I can put you back
inside an endless regress like before."
"You don't want to do that, Harry. I'm your friend, remember? Just go
ahead and enjoy yourself. Sondra and I'll wait out here."
Sondra fluttered over to stand next to us. Lord, she was gorgeous.
"Make my wings disappear," she requested. "I don't want to be a freak.
Surely you can give me flight without wings."
"Damn!" yelled Harry, suddenly furious. "Here I'm supposed to be the
master of space and time and you two are just..." He clenched his eyes
shut like an angry baby.
There was a faint whisking sound, and Sondra's wings were gone. My
money and my little box...I noticed sadly...were gone as well.
"Gee, Harry, you didn't have to..."
"Your money's safe at home, Fletcher. Right under little Nancy's
homebody bed. And she's opening her dirt-to-food converter right now."
A sly smile twisted his mouth. "You satisfied?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Now, please, you two, let's go across the chamber and into the
looking-glass world. I'm scared to go alone."
I looked into Sondra's clear hazel eyes. I'd never been this close to
such a beautiful woman before. "I'll go if Sondra will."
"Oh, all right. I'll help fly Fletcher across. We wouldn't want him to
fall down onto the moon with those robots. But what's the
looking-glass world supposed to be, Harry?"
"It's where I want to go. I don't know quite what's there... I just
know I reached out and found it."
"Each reality is a point in superspace," said Harry slowly. "I
understand everything so much better now! Superspace has infinitely
many dimensions, one dimension for each question you might ask about
the world. Each universe represents a certain set of answers, a
certain location in superspace. I reached out and found the one I
wanted, the looking-glass world."
"What about those four other worlds?"
"They're...they're other things I've thought about. I understand them
pretty well already. Some of my little echomen have already looked
them over. But come on now, let's go to the looking-glass world! And
Antie, you make sure that no one disturbs the machinery while we're
Sondra could still fly, even without those hokey wings, and Harry of
course had the power of flight as well. Each grabbed me under an arm,
and we flew the two meters across the blunzing chamber.
The view from the chamber's center was just incredible. There was no
gravity in there, and the conflicting vistas through the different
doors destroyed all sense of up and down. Hypercubes, amoebas,
infinite cliffs, space robots...all mixed in with glimpses of Harry's
shop. The room we were headed for was upside down and mirror-reversed
relative to the room we'd started in.
I wondered what it was going to be like over there.
As we passed into the looking-glass world, its gravity took over and
pulled me up to its floor. I tucked my head under and landed on my
shoulders. Regaining my feet, I looked back through the magic door at
the world we'd left. Antie was there, standing by the door watching
us. It was hard not to feel that it was the robot, and not us, who was
The little images of Harry flew out after us and nested themselves
together like they'd done in my car. Each of them got in the coat
pocket of the next larger one. It only took a few seconds. Then the
biggest echoman of all darted into the real Harry's pocket.
"Let's just close the door," suggested Harry. "So nothing sneaks back
through to our world."
I helped him swing the heavy zinc-covered door shut. Although it was
late evening in the world we'd left, it looked like midmorning here.
Sunlight was streaming in the windows, lighting up the mirror-reversed
"Well!" said Sondra. "Now what, guys?"
"Let's go to a restaurant," I suggested. "Get a beer and listen to
what people are talking about. I hope time doesn't run backwards
"Naw," said Harry. "Look." He picked up a book and dropped it. It fell
to the floor. "If our time didn't match this world's, we would have
seen the book fly up into my hand."
"Yeah," I agreed, leaning over the book. "But look, all the writing's
"Well, that's no big deal. Everything's just spacereversed. Once we
get outside, we'll probably find lots of other differences as well.
Like Carroll's Alice did. Let's go, we've got less than two hours!"
We found our way out of Harry's mirror-reversed shop and hit the
street. The streets were clean, that was what struck me first. The
whole city was buffed to an unwholesome sheen. Spotless late-model
autos hurried past in orderly queues, while spiffed-up pedestrians
marched up and down like wooden soldiers. Slovenly Harry couldn't have
looked more out of place. At least the tiny Harrys were stashed out of
sight. This town looked nothing like New Brunswick: besides being
clean, it felt vaguely Arabian. I didn't like the fact that nobody
"Excuse me," I said, stepping in front of a woman in a stiff-collared
blouse. She had gray hair and a dowager's hump. "Is there a restaurant
near here? That sells beer?"
Her thin lips straightened. "I'm going to report you for that, you
"Beer's illegal?" I hazarded, hoping to keep the conversational ball
"Let me pass!"
"Wait," protested Sondra. "We just got here from another world and..."
"Demons!" screamed the woman in the stiffcollared blouse. Two men in
three-piece suits hurried to her aid.
"Let's fly," I suggested.
Harry and Sondra grabbed me by the upper arms again, and we shot up
into the air. There was a cop on the sidewalk across the street,
shouting and pointing a laser rifle.
We whisked off across the building tops and landed in a supermarket
parking lot. Fortunately no one saw us land.
"Do you realize what this world is?" I asked Harry.
"It's the exact opposite of everything you like. Clean streets,
uptight women, no beer. Everything's backwards, you idiot." I could
hear sirens a few blocks off.
"The police are coming," wailed Sondra. "Do something, Harry!"
"I'm not always good in a crisis," he whined. "Ask Fletcher what to
"Let's go in that store," I suggested. "After things cool down, we can
get back to the magic door."
Instead of glass doors, the supermarket had air curtains. These were
sheets of cool air blown down from a grate overhead to be sucked into
a grate in the threshold. We breezed into the store and looked around.
No-cal soft drinks, weight-watcher TV dinners, and diet junk food, all
heavily vitaminized. This provender was at a double remove from
reality: it was artificially made food that had been further treated
in an attempt to make it healthy. There was nothing real in sight: no
meat, no veggies, no booze.
I began to lose my temper. "What would you like, Harry? You can bet
it's not here. God, you're stupid. Who else would go to a world the
exact opposite of what he wants? Just look at this crap!" I kicked at
a bin of one-calorie cupcakes.
"Watch your language, fella!" A round-shouldered man who must have
been the manager poked his head around some shelves to glare at us.
His face was coarse and humorless. When he spotted Sondra his cheeks
grew red. "And get that slut out of here! She's practically naked!"
I sprang to Sondra's defense. Sure she had big breasts and a low-cut
dress, but that didn't make her any less a friend. Far from it. I
stepped threateningly toward the manager. "You're the one who'd better
watch his language, jerk. Slug him, Harry!"
No one was watching, so Harry went ahead and punched the man in the
stomach. What with Harry's superpowers, the punch doubled the manager
right up. Eager to do my part for Sondra, I reached out and slammed my
fist down on the hump between the man's shoulder blades.
To my surprise the hump was soft. It burst with a muffled plotz, and
fluid began seeping through the manager's coat. The poor man's body
shivered a few times and then he was dead.
"Oh, my God," I said in horror. "I...I didn't mean to kill him. I
never thought that..."
"I'll move it out of here before someone sees it," Harry said tensely.
"I can do teleportation. Just..."
Harry knitted his brows, and then the body was gone. I felt better
almost immediately. This world wasn't really real, was it?
"That was bad," said Sondra. "Let's leave."
"We might as well get a couple of six packs of soda," I suggested.
"Once we're outside, Harry can turn them into beer. We'll steal a car
and go cruising."
"Sound thinking, Fletch. The old water-to-wine routine."
"That was nice of you two to stick up for me," mused Sondra. "Being
beautiful isn't always pleasant. Do you think our money's good here?"
"We'll see. Be ready for trouble."
We took our place in the checkout line. A few people stared at Sondra
with mingled lust and hatred, but for the moment everything was cool.
I watched the checker, trying to anticipate any problems.
The checker was a pleasant-faced blond woman with Burnita on her name
tag. She wore a gold chain with a pendant...a little silver chair. She
scanned each product with a little light pencil. Everything had a
patch of thick and thin lines, a Universal Product Code, just like
back home. A cord fed the UPC information into a small console at
Burnita's side. But instead of presenting each customer with a bill,
she ran the light pencil across the client's forehead. Apparently
there was some kind of invisible Universal Consumer Code tattooed on
each of these people's brows. An efficient system, to be sure: a
central computer could deduct your purchases from your credit holdings
on a real-time basis. But, I wondered, what would happen if you let
yourself become badly overdrawn?
Just then I found out. The customer in front of us was a ratlike
little man with a tube of cheese food and three bottles of cough
medicine. Clearly an unsavory individual, and just the type to let his
credit holdings slip deep into the red.
Burnita seemed to feel the same way, and addressed him by name. "Now,
Abie, are you sure you've got the credit for all this?"
Abie snarled something incoherent and pushed his selections toward the
checker. She shrugged, and scanned first the product codes and then
the invisible code on Abie's forehead. Nothing happened, and I
breathed a sigh of relief. We were next. I reached in my pocket,
feeling for some bills. Surely you didn't have to use credit. I hoped
not, because all our foreheads were blank, which might. ..
A great sheet of electricity filled the supermarket entrance. Those
two air-curtain grates were electrodes, powerful energy sources
programmed to crisp anyone who ran up too high a tab. Abie's ashes
spun raggedly. The floor grate sucked them out of sight.
"Oh, my," Burnita sighed. "That's the second one this week. It's hard
for them, you know, since there's no other way to get food. You folks
just want these sodas?" I suddenly realized that the little silver
chair hanging from Burnita's neck was an electric chair.
"Uh, wait." I drew out some money. "Can we pay cash?"
The checker's pleasant face grew tense and puzzled. "Is this some kind
of joke? Come on, folks, which of you should I bill?" She raised the
light pen toward my forehead. God only knew what would happen if they
found out we were uncoded.
"Harry! Get us out of here!"
A moment of disorientation and then we were back outside in the
parking lot. A harsh alarm bell was ringing.
"As long as you can do teleportation, Harry, why not just take us back
to the blunzing chamber?"
"Aw, that wouldn't be any fun. I want to keep the super-stuff to a
minimum. And what's the big rush to leave? We just got here!"
"Let's steal a car like Joe said," urged Sondra. "I've always wanted
to be a big blond in a stolen getaway car."
"What are we getting away with?" I asked sourly.
"The soda!" Prettily she raised the two six-packs up like earrings.
She looked like Marilyn in The
"It's beer now," said Harry. "Let's take that Cad." We piled into a
big white Cadillac with black leather upholstery. Sondra got in front
with Harry, and I got in back with the beer. It was nice and roomy in
there, almost as big as my bedroom back in Princeton. I wondered if
Nancy was worried about me yet.
Harry psych-started the car and peeled out.
"There must be a bad part of town," he muttered, slewing into the
traffic. "That's where we should go. Someone there'll tell us what's
really going on here. I think we should try and overthrow the
government." Harry dodged some cars and gave a whoop of laughter. We
were still accelerating.
"This is neat," Sondra giggled. "Give me a beer, Joe."
"You two are getting overconfident," I warned. "If some cop shoots us
from behind, then Harry's superpowers aren't going to be worth a
damn." Grudgingly I opened three beers. Ah.
Harry flipped on the radio. It was an evangelist, of course, this
being a world of bad choices.
"...hatred," said the radio. "Yes, hatred, my fellow Herberites. Gary
came to preach hatred. I know this may sound strange to some of you
out there in the radio audience, but it's not a matter of conjecture.
God hates the unbeliever, just as the unbeliever hates Gary Herber.
Yes, friends, it's true. Just look at the facts! On the one hand, we
have Seth and Gary Herber bringing the clean wholesomeness of God's
Laws. On the other, we have the unbelievers, with their trumped-up
charges and their public electrocution. Seth Herber died, yes, he died
for mankind. But thanks to the blessed Scionization, Gary Herber lives
with thousands of us, friends, and he's ready to..."
A laser blast shattered our rear window. Cops behind us, gaining fast.
I threw myself down on the seat. "Teleportation time, Harry. Can you
handle the whole car?"
Disorientation again, and then we were coasting down a street of
abandoned Moorish-style white stucco buildings with parapets around
their flat roofs. Hard, midday sun overhead. The sirens were far away.
Harry pulled up onto the curb and we got out. Shadows moved behind the
buildings' broken windows.
"This looks like the right place," said Sondra, radiant in her white
evening dress. She finished her beer and threw the can in the street.
"I wonder who that Gary person is."
A rock flew down from one of the rooftop terraces and crashed through
our car's windshield.
"I wish we had some guns," I said.
"Look in the trunk," offered Harry.
The trunk was unlatched, of course, and there were three bright
plastic pistols, real sf-looking, with fins and knobs and dials all
"This is a matter disintegrator," said Harry, handing me the purple
one. "That dial up there makes the beam fan out."
"Sondra, you take the pink one. It's a demotivator. Makes things stop
"Ooooooo," she squealed, and snatched her toy. Sondra was really
starting to camp it up. She'd waited a long time to be beautiful.
"And I'll keep this green one."
"What does the green one do, Harry?"
"It makes time go backwards."
"Oooooooo!" A toss of her pretty blond hair. Sondra and Harry were
having fun. I wished I could relax and enjoy this, too.
Three more rocks came flying down, one at each of us. We raised our
pistols and fired.
My rock shattered and was gone. Sondra's rock stopped falling and hung
in midair. Harry's rock reversed its motion and flew back up to the
rooftop it had come from. There was a faint scream.
"Let's fly up and meet our friend," I suggested.
ON the roof was a gaunt man wearing a fedora. The rock Harry had sent
back was lying at the man's feet. Sondra froze him with the
demotivator and we frisked him. He seemed clean: no weapons, no
"Check in his hat," Harry suggested.
Sure enough, the hat's sweatband hid a ring of circuit cards and
microprobes. Apparently the hat had been feeding signals in and out of
the gaunt man's brain...probably for pleasure. The guy had the wasted
air of a stim-addict.
"Okay, Sondra," said Harry, "turn off your ray." Harry was taking
chances, too many chances. I decided to break things up.
"Wait a second, Sondra. Just hold it right there. Before this goes any
further, I think the three of us had better have a talk. What time is
"It's ten-thirty," said Harry, glancing at his watch. "Okay, now,
"Will you just let me talk? It's ten-thirty. Does that mean we have
one and a half hours left?"
"Yeah, that's right. Thursday noon here matches Sunday midnight in New
Brunswick. Everything backward, simple as pie."
"From Thursday noon to Sunday midnight it's three and a half days
either way, so..."
"Will I still be able to fly after twelve?" interrupted Sondra. "And
will I still look like this?" I turned away from Harry to watch her
talk. The movement of her red lips. Her breathy voice. Her platinum
hair. "Because I'm getting used to it, and I think I could do a lot of
good for Scientific Mysticism. We have to be sure to go back through
that magic door before twelve, Harry darling." She batted her eyes at
"Yeah," said Harry, slipping his arm around her waist. "The changes
will stay, but the magic doors will stop working. Keeping them open is
like a constant series of wishes. We could get stuck in this
looking-glass world if we're not careful. But don't worry, I'll
teleport us all back to the door in plenty of time."
"How about now?" I demanded. "While we're still alive and everything."
"You are so uptight, Fletcher. Don't you like it here? I'm having
Something dawned on me then. "This really is the perfect world for
you, isn't it, Harry? Of all the possible worlds in superspace, this
is the one you'd pick even if you knew what you were doing."
"That's right," said Harry, grinning broadly. The bright sun made his
face look like a black-andwhite photograph. The roof was tiled, with a
waist-high parapet. There was a staircase set down into the roof's
center. "What's the good of having superpowers if you don't have a
world to save?" Harry went on. "Sometime during the next hour and a
half we're going to get to that God-pig Gary Herber and assassinate
him. The people here will thank us forever. I've never seen a religion
that wasn't basically evil."
"Gary Herber's the one that preacher was talking about on the car
radio. He's some kind of big prophet here. I figure everything bad
here is Herber's doing."
Gary Herber. I turned the name over in my mind. Of course. It was all
beginning to make sense. "I guess you realize who Gary Herber really
is, don't you, Harry?"
"Harry Gerber!" squealed Sondra. "Gary Herber!"
Harry looked a little unsettled. He hadn't realized. "Uh..."
"It's your mirror self," said Sondra. "Your other nature. You've
objectified the repressed side of your personality so as to do battle
with it. How Jungian!"
Harry looked more and more uneasy. "Damn. I hope this Herber guy
doesn't look too much like me."
It made me feel better to see Harry look so worried. "You know the old
line, Harry. Inside every fat man there's a thin man fighting to get
Gary Herber's probably real thin. And clean." My mouth framed a hard
"Our Harry's not dirty," squealed Sondra, slipping back into her blond
bombshell routine. "Are you, honey?" She gave a shrill giggle and
pinched Harry's cheek.
"You can turn off your ray now, Sondra."
Sondra lowered her pretty pink pistol, and the gaunt man started
talking. "I need my hat." His thin-lipped mouth formed a faint,
gentlemanly smile. "The sun's mighty bright up here."
I held the hat out of reach. "Just wait a minute. What's all the
circuitry in the sweatband for? And why were you throwing rocks at
"I've got to have my hat, mister." His voice was papery and far away.
Still I hesitated, and his faint smile twitched into an agonized
rictus. His whole body began to shake, though his flat, burnt eyes
stayed calm. "I'm not making it too good."
"He's a wirehead," said Harry. "His hat's a stimunit. Let him have it
I handed the gaunt man his fedora. With precise, twitching gestures,
he got it snugged down on his bony skull. His eyelids dropped and the
"Seeing with my mouth," he murmured. "Should take off more often.
Running out of lobes." He got his eyes back open and fixed me with a
hard stare. "You're coming on real tiresome."
"Can you help us?" asked Harry. "We're from another world and we think
we want to kill Gary Herber."
The stranger chuckled slowly. "Kicks, man, kicks. But Herber's awful
big. Used to be he was just a yahoo and a brain full of truth. But
ever since they electrocuted him..." The man in the hat chuckled
again, and went off on a tangent. "I had a booth selling pieces of the
electric chair. 'Relics of the Scionization,' you dig, all splinters
smeared with rancid ghee." He paused to give me a look of unwholesome
flirtation. "I threw the rocks because you look so rave."
I cleared my throat. What kind of guide had Harry dreamed up for us?
"I'm Joe Fletcher. And that's Sondra and Harry."
"Joe." He touched my face with his cool fingers. "It's a rare pleasure
to meet an intelligent man. I'm Tad Beat."
"How about a drink?" asked Harry. "Do you have any whiskey?"
"I have enough to get you boys country drunk. Let's make my pad."
We followed Tad downstairs. His apartment took up one very large room
on the building's top floor. His floor and walls were covered with
Oriental carpets. A narrow bed, some boxes of food, and a desk with
papers and a typewriter completed the furnishings.
"Stap my vitals," muttered Tad, rummaging under his bed. "Just what
the old doctor ordered. Keeps the slugs off, too." He took out a clear
glass bottle of oily liquid.
Harry drank from it, wiped his mouth, then passed the bottle to
Sondra. She shook her head and gave the bottle to me. It was
moonshine, sharp and with a bitter undertaste. I spit out half the
mouthful I'd taken and gave the bottle back to Tad. I didn't trust
"Tell us more about Herber," I requested. "Did he start a religion, or
what? You say they electrocuted him?"
"You're really elsewhere," said Tad. "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere. Scope
this, age levels five through thirteen."
He handed me a color comic book, the kind of thing that a child might
bring home from Bible school. On the cover was a soft giant brain with
a halo. That was Gary? Crowded all around the brain were laughing
children with humps on their backs. It occurred to me that I'd seen a
lot of roundshouldered people on the streets here. Why would being
saved make you into a hunchback? Beginning to sense my answer, I sat
down and read the comic book frame by frame. The writing was
mirrorreversed, but I got used to that soon enough.
1. Gary's parents were scientists. Two clean-cut people in white
smocks. She holds a test tube, he holds a Geiger counter.
2. Their world was full of trouble. Weapons, broken liquor bottles,
bloody faces, a background of psychedelic music symbols.
3. And God had been forgotten. A drunk sleeping on the steps of a
4. God spoke to Gary's parents. They stand in a roomful of machines,
staring up into streaming light.
5. And told them what to do. She leans over a microscope, while he
handles some radioactive material with tongs. Her belly is swollen.
6. Gary Herber was born on June 25. The parents lean over a radiant
cradle. The cradle contains a naked brain with a spinal cord.
7. Gary's brother, Seth, was scared. The brain floats in a tank of
nutrient. A dirty, unattractive boy peers at it from around a
8. God told Seth to share. Seth kneeling next to the brain's tank, his
face blank with religious ecstasy.
9. Seth and Gary grew together. Gary is riding the nape of Seth's
neck. Seth is clean and happylooking, writing answers on a blackboard.
10. They began to teach God's Laws. Lean and charismatic, Seth is
standing on a soapbox preaching to a crowd. The naked brain is hidden
beneath Seth's coat.
11. These are God's Laws. A stone tablet with three laws chiseled in:
God's Laws I:
Follow Gary II:
Be Clean III:
Teach God's Laws
Tad thrust the bottle at me again. Reluctantly I looked up from the
comic. The bottle was almost empty and Harry was drunk. He was sitting
on Tad's bed with his arm around Sondra. They were kissing.
"No thanks, Tad." I turned my attention back to the comic. "Is this
"They omit to mention where Gary wig and drink all a woman's spinal
fluid. She croaked and the Herbers got the chair."
I read on.
12. Gary's disciples shared him. Smiling Seth is setting Gary down on
an attractive woman's naked back. Many cheering faces in the
13. But there were enemies. Three swarthy, lowbrowed men sitting at a
table with money and whiskey. One shows a legal document to his
14. Seth and Gary were arrested. Faceless police officers in riot
helmets drag humpbacked Seth away from weeping women and children.
15. The public electrocution. Seth is strapped into an electric chair.
A special wire leads to Gary, naked on Seth's back. A crowd is
16. The Blessed Scionization. Seth is dead and smoking. But Gary is
much bigger than before. He bulges out like a cauliflower, and pieces
of him are splitting off.
17. Soon Gary was everywhere. An army of men, women, and children,
each with a naked brain riding on his or her back. They are
constructing a palace.
18. Don't you want to share? The tablet of God's Laws, the electric
chair, and a cheerful brain float together in a space of light.
19. Come to the Palace this Thursday! Two happy children, a boy and a
girl, walk up the marble steps of a splendid white building.
I closed the comic and looked up. Tad and Sondra were arguing. Harry
was really out of it, and Tad had just given him another bottle.
"Why do you give him so much to drink?" Sondra demanded.
"It's like the sight of someone about to flip excites me," Tad said,
reaching up to fondle his hatband. "I like to crack them open and feed
on the wonderful soft stuff that ooze out."
Sondra looked at Tad with real dislike. "You're awful! A wirehead, a
drunk, a gay..."
Tad leered at her, forming his face into a caricature of heterosexual
lust. "What are these strange feelings that come over me when I look
at those tits sticking out so cute? No, no!" He held his hand as if to
shield his face, then sidled over to drape his arms across my
shoulders. "You and me could really exist, Joe."
Harry was taking this all in with drunken relish.
"We don't have very much time," I said, fending off Tad's advances. He
was a real old-time degenerate.
Harry chugged from the new bottle and tossed it back to Tad. I didn't
see how they could stomach the stuff. I felt sick from the one taste
of it I'd had.
"Just tell us where to find Gary Herber," said Sondra. "And we'll be
on our way."
"It's not going to be as easy as we thought," I told her. "Herber is
all over the place. He's a sort of parasite that grows on people's
backs. But what was that about a palace, Tad?"
"Gary's palace," said Tad, smiling loosely. "Ten blocks east of here.
The palace is for the boss slug. The king-size Herber that grows the
buds. Granpaw brain. We'll hold him still with that pink gun and work
out. Do it hard TV so's the citizens down home can share the harvest
plenty." Tad seemed almost as drunk as Harry.
Sondra and I exchanged looks of concern. It was well past eleven.
"We really have to get moving," I repeated.
"Don't you want to try on my hat, Joe? It has a left-brain/right-brain
feedback loop. Feel real wiggy."
"No!" cried Sondra. "Let's go before it's too late!"
We clattered down the stone stairs to the street, Harry leaning
heavily on Tad and me. Sondra flew down ahead of us.
"Do you want me to drive, Harry?"
"Naw, naw, I'm shuperman. I'll shober up when I hafta. You wanna gun,
Tad? Look in the glove compartment."
Tad found himself a heavy .45 automatic. We all got in the Cad. Both
of the windshields were broken...the police laser had broken the back,
and Tad's rock had broken the front. Harry gunned the engine up to a
chattering scream, and peeled out into a teleportation jump.
WE were speeding down a broad boulevard, a tropical allee with rows of
royal palms: tremendous palm trees each with ten meters of bare trunk
topped by a luxuriant green frizz-bop of swordy leaves. The pavement
was smooth marble. There was quite a bit of traffic: official
vehicles, merchants' vans, tour buses, commuters. But there was no
real congestion...everyone drove according to the book. The cars moved
like cautious ants, and the pedestrians marched back and forth like
Far ahead of us, tiny in the distance, was a cordon of white-uniformed
palace guards. Beyond the guards lay bright ornamental gardens leading
to the palace itself, a vast, minaretted structure something like the
I was in the back seat with Tad Beat. He twitched his head this way
and that, keeping a restless eye on things. Harry, in front, lolled
drunkenly in his seat, pawing at Sondra's exposed thighs and
protesting in slurred tones each time she slapped his hand away. Our
Cadillac lurched through the traffic, narrowly missing several
"He's juiced," Tad said to me, jerking his head toward Harry's
slumping shoulders. Tad kept one hand on his hat, holding it tight
against the slipstream of air that whistled through the car's two
broken windshields. "That's the cool way to be around the palace. The
slugs can't handle juice. You, Joe, you're nowhere. You'll end up dead
or a Herberite, I'll tell you now."
Tad's words sent a chill through my veins. With Harry so drunk, what
chance did we stand against those guards? If I died here, would I
really be dead? This was really just a kind of dream, wasn't it? Yet
what if you have a dream so bad that you die of a heart attack during
the dream? Perhaps every time someone dies in his sleep of a heart
attack, the attack is in fact coupled with a dream of overwhelming
power in which the person experiences death in great detail. Who can
The palace guards were only some fifty meters ahead of us now. They
could see there was something fishy about us. As we drew closer, they
raised their weapons and aimed.
"All right," said Harry in his normal voice. He'd willed himself
sober, just like that. He sat up straight and stepped on the gas.
"Beam them, Fletch. You can shoot over my shoulder."
I dialed my disintegrator ray to maximum fan and blasted away. I was
already a murderer from smashing that supermarket manager's
spine-rider. Kill one, kill twenty. Most of the palace guards turned
to dust. The survivors took to their heels. I retched up a mouthful of
stomach acid. Killing wasn't something I could learn to enjoy.
Harry kept the hammer down, and we smashed through a set of ironwork
gates. There were marble stairs up ahead. We took them like we had
square wheels. The lovely gardens were all around us, fountains and
geometric beds of flowers. Some pretty women with bare backs were
lounging on the lawns.
A hot beam of red laser light speared down from one of the palace's
slim watchtowers. The beam burned a hole in our Cadillac's hood, and
then the engine died.
"I'll handle that," said Harry. He aimed his timereversing ray gun at
the distant laser cannon. Our engine started back up, the hole in the
hood sealed over, and the laser energy returned to its source. Smoke
poured out of that slim minaret...smoke and screams.
Our car stumbled up a last marble staircase and coughed to a stop. The
four of us jumped out, guns at the ready. We were standing under a
huge, pillared portico. Before us was the palace entrance, a Moorish
arch with massive bronze doors. The doors were open and unguarded.
I felt weak and sick, but Harry's drunkenness was miraculously gone.
Master of space and time.
Sondra was in high gear. "What's your anti-self going to look like,
Harry? Tad and Joe say it's a giant slug. Let's be sure to steal some
jewels after we kill it. I guess you know it's already eleven
twenty-five? We better hurry. I can't wait for my friend Donna to see
my new look. Maybe I'll go on TV. Do you think Dr. Bitter will
"That big Gary Herber's in the central courtyard," said Tad. "Let's
hang real tight."
He went in first, then Harry and Sondra, then me.
Something dropped onto the nape of my neck just as I walked through
Oh, no! The soft moist Herber-slug slid down between my shoulder
blades and plugged itself into my nervous system. I felt a wild
"Duck into the next doorway," said a little voice in my head. The
voice of the parasitic glob that had just taken over my will. I
struggled to yell to the others, but instead I whipped in through the
first doorway we passed.
"Fletch?" called Harry from the hall. "Where'd he go, Sondra? HEY,
I was running as fast as my legs would carry me. Through a cloakroom,
out into a courtyard, through a door, and into a bedroom. There was a
woman, a naked odalisque on a big mound of cushions. She had jet-black
hair and lily-white skin. Almond eyes, a long straight nose, large
nipples, heavy-duty thighs. I burrowed under her cushions like a rat
taking cover. It felt nice down there: the silky cushions, the woman's
odor and weight. I tried to wriggle into a position where I'd be able
"be still," said the voice in my head.
I stopped moving and thought a message back: "who are you?"
"i'm a scion of gary herber. thank you for your body."
"i wasn't really done with it yet." For some reason I was kind of
enjoying this. The parasite kept a pleasant tingle going all through
my nerves, "you'll have to release me, i'm from another world."
"i know, we want to go there."
"no! you can't! it's"
Footsteps sounded in the courtyard outside. Fat Harry, weird Tad, and
sexy Sondra. They'd never find me here. I should have been screaming
for help, but instead I felt like giggling. The slug had really taken
"Uh, excuse me, miss, have you seen my friend?" Harry's voice.
The odalisque shifted about, but she didn't answer.
"She won't pick up on you," said Tad. "Herber's dollies don't talk to
"What would a giant brain want with slave girls?" asked Sondra.
"What Gary wants with women? He milks them, like. GABA fluid from
their spines. You dig that plastic coupling down on her back?"
"Oooooo! Awful! Well, read her mind, Harry. You can do telepathy,
"Stap my vitals!" exclaimed Tad. "Telepathy!"
"Yeah, I can do it," rumbled Harry, "but that would be too..."
"Harry, in less than half an hour, our magic door out of this place is
going to disappear. And now something's happened to Joe. Use your
goddamn telepathy or I'll..."
"Oh, all right."
"... cushion ..." was all that me and my rider were thinking. A
masquerade. We held our joint consciousness in the mind-set of a "...
The odalisque must have some kind of block up too. After a minute
Harry stopped scanning. I could feel the difference. "I don't find him
anywhere, Sondra. But I think he's hiding somewhere nearby."
"Why would he hide?"
"Oh, Fletcher's weird. He's weirder than you realize, Sondra. People
always say that I'm crazy, but Fletcher is much worse. He's sneaky
about being crazy. The guy needs help, I mean it."
"... cushion ..."
"Well, what are we going to do?"
"Let's go ahead and kill that giant brain," urged Tad. "You've got to
do that for us before you leave."
"But what about Joe," protested Sondra. "We can't just forget about
"... cushion ..."
"If he gets stuck here, it's his own damn fault. He's hiding from me,
I tell you. He's got a telepathy block up, and this woman has one too.
I can't read anyone's mind but yours and Tad's, Sondra."
"Oooooo! What are we thinking, Harry?"
"You don't want to know. Tad, which way is it to the central
courtyard? I'll teleport the three of us there. Maybe Gary Herber can
tell us where Fletcher is."
"That's cool," said Tad. "Joe's probably wearing a brain on his back
right now. The courtyard is... that way, about one hundred meters."
The voices disappeared. I crawled out from under the cushions and sat
up. The big odalisque licked her lips. She had a large tongue and a
cruel mouth. I sighed and laid my head down on her shoulder. She ran
one hand over my face, and with her other hand she drew a few drops of
spinal fluid out of the tap at the bottom of her back. Gently she
rubbed the fluid into my spinerider. I shuddered with pleasure. This
was really living.
"where is the door to your world?" The slug's sudden question caught
me by surprise.
"i can't tell you that."
A silent struggle ensued. The spine-rider probed at my thoughts,
trying to winkle out the precious secret. I sought to hide the secret
in jingles, in emotions, in hebephrenic repetitions of random fact.
But the parasite was too strong for me. In less than a minute I was
beaten. The image of the street where we'd arrived formed in my mind.
The spine-rider goaded me to my feet.
"Please call a taxi," I heard myself telling the handsome dark-haired
woman. "And make sure the driver has a Herber scion."
She picked up a telephone and began dialing.
"And take this disintegrator ray," my voice added. "It may prove
useful in the fight against those three intruders."
The woman took my gun and spoke softly into the phone.
"that gun isn't going to help against Harry," I thought to the bad
brain on my back, "he's master of space
and time, if he gets mad he'll wipe out big Gary and every single one
of you scions."
"all the more reason to send one of us over to your world, now, run!"
Iran back out the palace the way I'd come in Some humpbacked guards
were out on the portico, but since I too had a spine-rider, they let
me pass. I ran all the way down to the street. I was exhausted and out
of breath, but my scion wouldn't let me stop.
Just as I got to the curb, a taxi pulled up. I jumped in the front,
and we took off. The driver was a tall, muscle-faced man with round
shoulders. Instead of addressing him directly, I pulled up our shirts
and let our Gary-brains touch. Once the driver got the picture, he
really stepped on the gas.
Looking out the window I tried to tell which of the pedestrians wore a
scion on his or her back. Only about one in ten. Yet the others were
so beaten down by Herber's rule that they might just as well have had
one of the parasites plugged into their nervous systems. No one
smiled; there was no sense of play. This was a city of statistics, of
interchangeable bodies carrying out Gary Herber's tasks. I felt like a
cockroach in an anthill.
Yet all the while the tingling in my nerves continued to fill me with
a sort of secret pleasure. I may have looked like a zombie, but on
some level I was having fun. It was perhaps a little like being a
wirehead. I watched the scenery whip past and tried not to think about
what came next.
The taxi pulled up to the spot where this whole adventure had started.
There was the mirror image of Harry's shop. The driver and I hurried
inside. The copy of the blunzing chamber was still there: a big metal
box, two meters on a side.
"send him through and then destroy it!" said the voice in my head.
Send him through? I took a good look at the driver. He was a strong,
mean-looking character with short black hair. Send him through and let
the Herber-scions invade Earth? "no," I protested, "please not that."
A lash of pain swept up my spine and into my skull. I fought it as
long as I could and lost again. Numbly I watched myself open the
blunzing chamber's door. Over on the other side I could see
upside-down Antie, still waiting for her master.
The Gary-brained driver took a running jump and leaped through the
magic door. He flipped, landed smoothly on the other side, and took
off at a run. Tears welled out of my eyes and streamed down my cheeks.
My arms swung the door shut.
"now let's smash it," said the voice in my head, "i want my brother
brain to be safe from harry."
My body hurried across the room to pick up a sledgehammer I'd noticed
before. My arms put all their strength into the first blow, and the
hammer smashed a hole in one of the chamber's sides.
It was the side that led into the Microworld. A pseudopod lashed out
from the hole I'd made and ingested the head of my hammer. When I
managed to pull it free, my sledgehammer was just an axe handle with
an acid-charred end. The giant Microworld amoeba pushed another
pseudopod out of the hole and felt around. My spine-rider and I backed
off in some confusion.
Just then there was a pop and a rush of air. It was Harry and Sondra.
I raised my axe handle and charged at Harry. My Herber-slug wanted me
to smash Harry's skull in. But Harry and Sondra had been expecting
trouble. Sondra raised her pink demotivator ray and froze me in
"It's Fletcher!" exclaimed Harry. "My worst enemy? Here we've been
over at the palace killing that giant brain and here's my so-called
pal Fletcher trying to tear down our magic door!"
Harry walked around behind me, careful to stay out of Sondra's beam. I
felt my shirt slide up.
"Wearing a brain, sure enough," Harry rumbled. "Well, I'll just..."
A wave of, murderous agony began to build inside my skull. That bad
brain was going to kill me with it. I prayed a last prayer and
prepared to merge into the One. But then...phht...the pain and the
spine-rider were all gone. Harry had simply willed it out of
"Turn off the ray, Sondra. He's clean."
Slowly I arched my back. My body was my own again.
"Oh, God, Harry, it wasn't my fault. That...thing was part of Gary
Herber. There's thousands of them all over the city."
"It's eleven fifty-six," Sondra called tautly.
"It's okay, Fletch, I know it's not your fault. Too bad you had to
give that Arab-looking woman your disintegrator ray, though. She
killed poor Tad, and almost got Sondra and me, too."
"But you took care of the big brain?"
"Yeah. And now I'm going to get all the little ones." Harry reached
into his coat pocket and took out the thumb-sized "echo" of himself
that the blunzing chamber had produced. He snapped the little fellow
in the air like a handkerchief, and an endless swarm of smaller Harrys
appeared as well.
"Okay, boys," said Harry. "Search and destroy. I want every single
Herber scion on the planet to disappear in the next minute."
"Roger!" piped the tiny ones, and teleported themselves away.
"And meanwhile I'll fix this." Harry beamed his time-reversal ray at
the hole I'd made in the side of the blunzing chamber. The giant
pseudopod slid back, my sledgehammer was whole again, and the rent in
the chamber's side healed over.
"It's eleven fifty-nine," said Sondra.
She pulled the magic door open. The view was as before: hyperspace
below, moon robots above, microorganisms on the left, and endless
hills to the right. There on the other side was our own world,
seemingly upside down, and with good old Antie still waiting.
The zillions of tiny Harrys came suddenly swarming back, chattering
like schoolchildren. They'd done their job: this world was clean. Tad
Beat had not died in vain. The cloud of Harrys settled down on big
Harry like flies on cowflop.
Somewhere a bell was tolling twelve. Time to go. Sondra and Harry
grabbed me under the arms and flew me through the door.
I crashed to the floor of Harry's real workshop and shuddered with
relief. The bell outside finished tolling midnight, and then the
blunzing chamber was just an empty, copper-covered box.
"I can still fly!" exclaimed Sondra. Blond and shapely, she was
floating in midair.
"Sure," said Harry. "It'll last a few years. I changed the quantum
responsiveness of your atoms. As they're replaced, in the normal
course of things, you'll slowly lose the power."
"And my money?" I couldn't help asking.
"Don't worry. It's under your bed. I suppose I could have gotten
myself something too, but I guess I didn't want to."
"Don't you know what you want, Harry?"
"No. Do you? Does anyone? What's good today is bad tomorrow, and this
year's disaster is next year's golden opportunity. I got what I
needed...an exciting adventure. I saved that whole planet from the
Suddenly I remembered the driver. "Harry, the experiment had one
lasting effect you don't know about. A man jumped through to our world
just before you..."
"Yes, a man with a spine-rider. With one of the Gary-brains on his
back. I wanted to stop him, but..."
"Dr. F.'s right," volunteered Antie. "A man came through the blunzing
chamber just before your return. He ran out onto Suydam Street."
"Joe!" Sondra wailed. "How could you?"
"I it wasn't my fault. Do those special guns still work, Harry?"
Harry threw his ray gun on the floor. "No, I unwished them at the end.
I thought they'd be too dangerous to have around. But we've got to
stop that man before his slug can reproduce! They could take over our
whole world!" And then, shockingly, Harry began to laugh, first in
high squeals and then in sloppy guffaws.
I stepped forward and shook him. "Don't get hysterical, Harry. Sondra!
Call the police!"
"I'm not hysterical," said Harry, still chuckling a little. "I'm just
excited. You're a real pal, Fletch. Who else but you would have found
a way to bring Gary Herber back with us?"
"It's not a game, Harry. This isn't some wild fantasy anymore. Your
superpowers are all gone! Do you have any kind of gun?"
"There's a flare ray by the cash register," said Harry, sitting down
and wiping the laugh-tears from his eyes.
I found the flare ray and ran out into the street, hoping to spot that
taxi driver. The sleazy New Brunswick street was empty, save for a
drunk leaning against the wall outside the Terminal Bar.
"Did you see anyone go by in the last five minutes?" I demanded. "A
big strong guy with round shoulders?"
The drunk gestured vaguely at the door to the bar. I braced myself and
went inside. There were a few drifters and a lady of the night, but no
trace of the man I was looking for.
"What'll it be?" said the bartender, a stocky man with a gray
"I'm looking for a big guy with round shoulders," I said. "He just
came in here a minute ago."
The bartender favored me with a look of contempt. "He's already found
his friend for tonight. I think they went to the john. And I'm just
trying to run a decent place to drink."
"Thanks," I said, and headed for the men's room. There was a good
chance I'd find two men with spine-riders in there. I held my flare
ray at the ready.
But the men's room was empty. There was nothing moving except the air
that swept through the open bathroom window. I jumped up on the toilet
seat and wriggled out. There was an alley back there, an alley leading
out to the main drag. I ran out the alley as fast as I could, but I
got to the street too late. A gray car with two roundshouldered men in
it was just pulling out. I chanced a shot with the flare ray, but a
flare ray's not much good on plastics. The car sped off, headed toward
I hurried back to Harry's. Sondra was still on the phone. I yelled the
gray car's license number to her and jumped into my Buick.
"Hold on, Fletch, let me come too." It was Harry.
"You. You think it's all a big adventure. Well, it's not, Harry. If
you had children you'd understand."
But Harry got in my car anyway. He had a hunting rifle, probably his
father's. I floored the gas and sped off after the gray car with the
two spine-riders. Was the nightmare ever going to end?
Porkchop Bushes and Fritter Trees
THE gray car got away. At first I could glimpse it up ahead of us, but
then I couldn't find it anymore. We tried the side streets, but the
gray car was nowhere to be seen. After a while we heard sirens and saw
some cop cars speed past.
"Sondra must have convinced them," Harry observed. "Why don't you just
drop me off at my shop, Fletch, and then go on home to Nancy. Leave
the chasing to the police."
"They don't realize what they're up against, Harry. Those
Gary-brains...they could take over our world."
"Ah, look, tomorrow we'll blunze you with the rest of the gluons and
you can fix everything. Don't worry so much."
"Maybe you're right. But listen, I know what it's like to have a
spine-rider. It was inside my thoughts.
It's horrible." Another worry occurred to me. "The slug on my back
talked to the slug that the taxi driver brought over here. So it might
know where I live." I turned a corner and pulled onto Suydam Street.
"What'd you think of that odalisque woman on the cushions?"
"She was nice," said Harry. "But she killed Tad. Sondra's much
"You better hope Sondra doesn't realize she's too neat for you."
"Oh, it won't sink in for a while."
I pulled up in front of Harry's shop and sat there in silence for a
minute, trying to sort it all out. Sondra flew out to see what we were
"I called the police," she said, leaning in my window. "But it was
hard to know what to tell them."
"So what'd you say?"
"I said the two men were wireheads. I said they had stim-units on
their backs and that they'd tried to rob me."
"I hope you told the cops to be real careful. If the Gary-brains take
them over, we're really going to be hurting."
"Hey, look, Fletch," said Harry, "if you're so worried, why don't you
just get blunzed right now and fix it?"
"No, no. Not now. No more craziness right now. I'm wiped out. If the
brains don't spread too fast, it might be good to wait a few days to
see if there's any other bad side effects coming up."
"Well, all right. Good night, Fletch. And thanks a lot. This has been
a weekend to remember." Harry got out.
"Goodbye, Joe," sang Sondra, hovering next to Harry. "Say hi to Nancy
"Sure thing. Talk to you tomorrow." I kept worrying as I drove back
toward Princeton. How much about Harry and me did the invaders know?
Wouldn't they want to come kill us as soon as possible? Or at least
take us over? I drove faster.
The lights were on in my house, and the front door was unlocked.
Serena was sleeping peacefully, the TV was on, but there was no Nancy.
Before doing anything else I went to look under our bed... the money
was there, stacks and stacks of bills. I stuffed a few thousand
dollars in my pants pocket and went back out to the kitchen.
I noticed then that the back door was ajar. I was glad I'd kept
Harry's flare ray.
"Nancy?" I called, sticking my head out. "Are you out there?"
"Joe! Come see!" It sounded like her mouth was full.
When I stepped out the back door I smacked into a tree that hadn't
been there before. The whole yard seemed to bristle with exotic
vegetation...very strange, as this morning we'd had nothing but
crabgrass. I got back to my feet and spotted Nancy in a patch of light
spilling from our livingroom window. She was crouched down by a bush,
"What are you doing, Nancy? What's that bush?"
"It's a porkchop bush," she said, waving the greasy bone she'd been
gnawing. "And there's a fritter tree right next to you! You really
came through for world hunger!"
I glanced at the tree I'd bumped into. Sure enough, there were thick
bunches of golden fritters hanging from its branches. I picked one and
bit into it. The fritter was sweet and crisp on the outside, moist and
doughy in the middle. Porkchops and fritters had been Nancy's favorite
meal when she'd been growing up in Virginia. No wonder she was out
"But where did they come from?" I asked.
"I was lying in bed reading when all of a sudden...it was about ten
"All of a sudden a little box popped out of nowhere. I knew that you
and Harry were up to something, so I thought it might have jewels or
something precious in it. When I opened it, there were just a bunch of
seeds. I was in a bad mood, so I threw them out the window and kept
reading. But then a few minutes ago I heard leaves rustling and I came
out here to see what it was. It's food plants, Joey! It's the solution
to world hunger, just like you promised me. You're wonderful!"
"Don't you want to hear about my trip?"
"Just taste one of these porkchops!"
I felt around on the porkchop bush till I found something fat. I
snapped it off at the stem, a perfect little porkchop, grilled to a
turn. I got myself another fritter and filled my stomach. Each fritter
had a seed like a cherry pit in its center. The porkchops bore their
seeds nestled against their bony stems. I pocketed several seeds of
"This really is good, Nancy. And they grew in just two hours?" I
looked around the yard. There were five or six of the bushes and three
of the trees. "I'm glad our trip did some good after all."
"What do you mean?"
I told Nancy about our trip to the looking-glass world, about Gary
Herber, and about the parasite that had made it back to Earth. She
made me show her the spot where the brain had bitten me, and she said
that she hoped I wouldn't have to get blunzed. I agreed...the idea of
a big needle in the skull didn't sound too appealing...and told her
how I was worried the slugs might come after us tonight.
Just then Serena appeared in the back door. "Wet."
"You wet your bed, honey?"
Nancy and I went in, changed Serena, looked at our five million
dollars, made sure the front door was locked, then took Serena out
back for a fritter. "Taste this, Serena."
"Yes," urged Nancy. "Mommy used to like them when she was little."
Serena bit, chewed, swallowed, and approved. "More."
Just then I heard the sound I'd been half waiting for. A police siren.
"Nancy, I think that might be the slugs coming to get us. We better
"That's just the police, Joe."
"But they might have been taken over by Garybrains. Quick, let's head
for the woods."
"There's bugs in there, Joe, and snakes."
"Please." The siren was drawing closer.
"Oh, all right."
I picked up Serena, and we ran for the woods.
Thick and viny, the woods came right up to the edge of our housing
development. It was kind of swampy in there, and the built-up land the
tract houses were on sloped down at the edge. We slid down the slope
and stared back at our house.
Sure enough, a motorcycle and two squad cars with flashing lights were
pulling right into our driveway. Five cops with riot guns...they all
had round shoulders. Serena started to ask a question; Nancy stuffed
another fritter in her mouth. We crouched lower, barely daring to
Bang, bang, bang. Pounding our door. One of the cops circled around to
our backyard and noticed the kitchen door open. He went right in and
opened the front. They stomped around in there for a while, shouting
my name. I wondered if they'd gotten Harry yet. This was bad, this was
"You think they have those brains on their backs?" whispered Nancy.
"What can we do?"
One of the police cars was driving around on the grass now, shining
its lights this way and that. We pressed ourselves down into the
underbrush. Serena started to whimper. I got my mouth against her and
whispered to her. "Be quiet, honey. The bad men are after us. Be quiet
like Mommy and Daddy. Real quiet."
She obeyed. The police tried pounding on some of our neighbors' doors.
No one knew where we were. An hour went by before they finally gave
up. The cop with the motorcycle stayed in our house and the others all
"Why don't you shoot him through the window," suggested Nancy. She'd
noticed my flare ray.
"Killing a cop is a pretty serious crime. If people don't understand
about the Gary-brains, I could end up in jail."
"Couldn't you focus it to just kill the slug? I don't want to stay in
the woods all night. The mosquitoes are eating me alive."
A plan occurred to me. "Okay, Nancy, let's try this."
A few minutes later we were at our back door. Nancy laid the sleeping
Serena down under a porkchop bush. I peered in the kitchen window.
There was a tired cop with a sawed-off shotgun in his lap. He had a
big bump on his back under his police shirt, and he was staring
blankly at the front door.
"Excuse me," I said, walking right in. "We'd better have a
conference." Nancy had stuffed a lot of leaves under my shirt, so it
looked as if I too had a spine-rider.
The policeman whirled and started to raise his gun.
"Take it easy," I said, smiling and walking forward. "I got my
Gary-brain already." I would have been scared to chance this if I
hadn't known that Nancy was right outside the window with our flare
ray aimed at the cop's head. "Come on, slide your shirt up and we'll
let the masters talk."
The policeman nodded and began pulling his shirt up. He had to set his
gun down to do it. I came closer, pulling at my own shirt. Now the
cop's back was exposed, a big, strong back with the parasitic brain
nestled between the shoulder blades. I made my move.
With one swift gesture, I slid my hand up under the brain, caught hold
of the soft probes where they sank into the policeman's spine, and
ripped the thing free. The policeman screamed and slumped forward. The
loose Gary-brain twisted and tried to sink its tendrils into my arm.
Surprisingly strong, it was more than just a brain; it had muscles. I
tried to fling it across the room, but couldn't get it free of my arm.
It began slithering up toward my shoulder and I cried for help.
Then Nancy was in the kitchen with me. Aiming carefully, she sizzled
the Gary-brain with our flare ray. It released its grip on me and fell
to the floor.
"Is he going to be all right?" Nancy asked, jerking her head at the
policeman. There was a raw, bloody patch on his naked back.
"I don't know." I got some water and poured it over the man's head.
He moaned a little and then sat up. "What happened?"
"You've been under the control of a mindparasite. How did it happen?"
"I... I haven't been myself. We were chasing a gray car, and when we
stopped it, Muldoon started acting funny. He stuck his head into the
gray car and something happened to him. I went over to see, and
the...it got me." The man broke off to stare at the dead brain on the
floor. "It was one of those. They kept splitting and getting more and
more of us. They must have everyone down at the station house by now.
Are you Joseph Fletcher?"
"That's right. They're after me and Harry Gerber, I think."
"Gerber, yeah. Some other guys went off after him. What are we going
to do, Mr. Fletcher?"
"If I can think of a way to get to Gerber, I can fix the whole thing.
Right now I'm going to hide. Meanwhile, why don't you go to the state
police, officer? The parasites can't have spread very far yet. Go get
in touch with some higher-ups."
"But what shall I tell them?"
"We're being invaded by an alien life form. If they don't believe you,
show them your back and this dead spine-rider. We don't have a minute
The policeman sped off on his motorcycle. I filled a shopping bag with
money from under the bed and locked up the house. Then Nancy and
Serena and I got in the Buick and took off. The main thing I wanted
right now was a chance to sleep.
I woke to the sound of Nancy's and Serena's voices. We were parked on
a back road some fifteen miles south of Princeton. It was as far as
we'd been able to come last night before falling asleep. Fortunately
I'd remembered to throw some seeds out the window before dropping off,
so there was a nice little stand of porkchop bushes and fritter trees
right by the car. Nancy and Serena were having breakfast. I joined
"How much money did you bring?" Nancy asked.
"A few hundred thousand at least. Whatever's in that bag I put in the
trunk. These fritters are really good."
"They sure are. If it wasn't for the Herberbrains everything would be
"Let's see how it's going." I turned on the radio.
"... invasion," intoned a drunk-sounding newscaster. "New Brunswick
has been cordoned off, with reports of alien activity in some of the
surrounding areas. An unconfirmed report states that the New York Port
Authority Bus Terminal in central Manhattan has been taken over by the
aliens. One of the most effective weapons against them seems to be
good old-fashioned alcohol. These brainlike creatures are extremely
susceptible to alcohol poisoning, and all soldiers in the cordon have
been put on double-grog rations. Any listeners who are near the combat
zone are advised to remain intoxicated for the duration. I certainly
"Thank you, Greg. Bottoms up. First reports of the invasion began
trickling in last night in the wee morning hours. A number of police
officers have fallen under the control of the parasites who call
themselves Herberites. Their objectives at this time remain unclear,
although some of the individuals under alien control have spoken of
converting people to God's Laws. There is no question that these
organisms are extraterrestrial in origin, although..."
I turned the radio back down. "Sounds like things won't get out of
control. I hadn't realized that Gary is that allergic to alcohol."
"Do you think that people are going to blame you and Harry?" asked
"Well, the brains are all thinking about us. So anyone who
recovers...like that cop last night...is going to know we did it.
Yeah, we're going to get blamed." I turned the radio back up for a
"...was caused by two eccentric scientists, Joseph Fletcher and Harry
Gerber. Authorities continue to seek..."
"You see?" I turned the radio off entirely.
"They won't be mad at you once they find out about the porkchop bushes
and the fritter trees," said Nancy soothingly.
"The government won't like free food. What about all the people who
just work to get enough to eat? People with menial, subsistence-level
jobs. Those people will drop out of the work force if they got some of
"They deserve a break," said Nancy forcefully. "I think our mission is
to drive all over the country giving out the seeds. And then let the
seeds spread to other countries as well. We could drive to Mexico!"
"The police will be looking for this car," I observed. "And I can't
just leave Harry."
"We can buy a new car. And Harry can take care of himself."
"Well, all right."
We stripped the fruit off the bushes and trees we'd planted, and got
out the seeds. Each plant yielded some one hundred seeds. If we could
get some helpers, it wouldn't be hard to turn one seed into one
million seeds in the course of a day. A hundred times a hundred times
a hundred. There was no limit to it.
We decided to leave the Buick with Alwin Bitter and get a new car. I
headed back to Princeton.
Old Bitter was sitting on his porch, reading the morning paper.
"Hi," I called from the Buick. "Remember us? Joe and Nancy Fletcher?"
Bitter smiled and waved. We got out of the car and joined him on the
"Have you heard all the news?" I asked him. "About the alien invasion?
Didn't I tell you Harry was going to be master of space and time?"
"I don't really see the point," opined Bitter. "All for excitement, I
suppose. Everyone is supposed to get drunk?"
"The brains don't like alcohol," I explained. "They have three
teachings, just like you."
"I hadn't heard that."
"Yeah, they're called God's Laws. Follow Gary, Be Clean, Teach God's
"A thought virus." Bitter chuckled. "A parasitic system that
propagates itself. And what else did you accomplish?"
"We have special seeds," said Nancy. "Two new kinds of plants. Look."
She threw a fritter-tree seed and a porkchop-bush seed off the porch.
As soon as they hit the ground you could see little shoots growing up.
"They make food," explained Nancy. "Joe and I want to drive all over
the country and give them to poor people."
"That sounds reasonable," said Bitter. "But where will all the extra
I glanced at Nancy. She shrugged. "There's room. It's a big world."
"And the extra pollution?" probed Bitter. "What about that?"
"Look," said Nancy, "we're going to help people get enough to eat.
There's no way you can argue with that."
"Who's arguing?" Bitter smiled. "What do you want from me, my
"I just wanted to leave my car in your garage," I explained. "I think
the police might be looking for me. I want to drop out of sight for a
week or two."
"Do you have any money?"
"Give me some."
Bitter agreed to keep our car for a thousand dollars. He took the keys
and promised to put it in the big garage under the church building.
We walked down to a GM dealer's lot and bought a Corvette right off
the floor. We bought it under Nancy's maiden name: Nancy Lydon. The
salesman was kind of surprised to see us pay cash out of a shopping
bag. But not too surprised to take the money.
Nancy wanted to drive...she said if it was in her name, then it was
her car. I didn't care; I tilted back my seat and went to sleep. There
was a space behind the seats big enough for Serena to roll around in.
When I woke up, the car was stopped and Nancy was talking. "Just plant
these," she was saying, "and you'll have plenty to eat."
"Thank you kindly," said the thin black woman Nancy was talking to.
"What kind of seeds these be?"
I sat up and looked around. We were on some crummy back road, stopped
in front of a brokendown farmhouse. It was too cloudy to tell exactly
what time it was, but I figured it was about noon. Nancy was talking
to a frail gray-skinned woman with a large brood of children. The
ground around their little house was packed bare dirt.
"Let's plant them here," proposed Nancy, scratching two holes in the
clay soil. She put a seed in each, and called for water.
"Get the bucket, Cardo," said the old woman. One of her skinny sons
"Hello," I said getting out of the car. Serena was already up,
standing at Nancy's side. "We have a new kind of plant we're giving
away," I explained. "They grow fritters and porkchops."
"Now that's a fib, I know," said the black woman. "Is you folks
Cardo came back and poured water on our two seeds. The green shoots
started up, and some of the children gathered around to watch. I went
over and gave Serena a hug. This was more fun than working for Susan
Lacey at Softech.
"It'll take about an hour, Mrs. Johnson," said Nancy. "Do you mind if
"I don't mind. With Luther gone, I'm happy to have some grown-ups to
"Luther was your husband?"
"He say." No more information was forthcoming. Well, so what. The
seeds were for everyone... nobody was going to need to fill out a form
to get them. Free food. The more I thought about the idea, the more I
Mrs. Johnson's children took a liking to Serena. They showed her how
to swing in their tire swing, and one of the little girls brought out
a greasy rag doll for Serena to play with. The clouds broke up and let
the warm autumn sun beat down. There was a horse chestnut nearby, and
Serena set to work collecting shiny buckeyes.
In an hour's time the porkchop bush was the size of a big spirea, and
the fritter tree was eight feet tall. The bush had shiny reddish
leaves and fat little white flowers. Bees buzzed from blossom to
blossom. Now the petals dropped, and the fruits began to grow.
In another half-hour it was harvest time. I reached up and plucked the
fritters, big and bright as oranges. The children gathered around for
the treat, and Nancy showed them how to snap the porkchops off the
"Be sure to save the seeds," I cautioned. "You can give them to your
As soon as the plants had been picked clean, they started to bloom
again. There seemed to be no end to their productivity.
"Cardo," Mrs. Johnson called, "go get Emmylou and the Curtises, too.
Tell them we're having a picnic."
Cardo ran off down the road, yelling with high spirits. By the time
the next crop of fruit had appeared, there were twice as many people
milling around the dirt yard. Someone had thought to bring Kool-Aid; I
took a long drink.
A number of the kids had dropped seeds on the ground, and these were
shooting up too. The more we ate, the more plants we started. And the
more food there was, the more mouths there were to eat it. Pickups and
big battered sedans lined both sides of the road. Nancy and Serena and
I were the only white people there, but no one seemed to mind. Mrs.
Johnson kept telling everyone that we'd invented the magic seeds.
"I think we can move on now, Joey," said Nancy. "It's off to a good
"Okay. Can I try driving?"
Over the course of the next week we handed out seeds all over central
Jersey. Sometimes we ventured into the towns, but mostly we stuck to
the back roads. You'd be surprised how rural New Jersey can be. What
with the new depression, there were plenty of folks out there who
didn't have enough to eat.
After a few days they started talking about us on the radio. Some
people thought the new plants had something to do with the invasion of
the Gary-brains. Others thought we must be communists. The authorities
in general didn't like the idea of free food. Extensive tests were
conducted on our plants, but the fritters and porkchops were just what
they seemed: good, wholesome food. What with people passing the seeds
around, the plants had pretty well covered the state before long. The
Department of Agriculture obtained a court order for our arrest. But
nobody wanted to tell them where we were.
Welcome, Joseph Fletcher
"NANCY, I've got to go back and see about Harry." We were slowly
cruising downtown Trenton, looking for people to give our seeds to. It
was dusk and there was an autumn crackle in the air.
"Wait, there's an old bum." Nancy pulled over next to a man lying on a
park bench. I bounced Serena on my lap while Nancy showed the man two
seeds and put them in the ground next to his bench. He seemed more
interested in her breasts than in the prospect of free food.
"He's heard of us," said Nancy, getting back behind the wheel. "He
said some of his friends already had the seeds."
"Face it, honey, everyone in the state's going to have our seeds
before long. And it's spreading to New York and Pennsylvania."
"Then we should drive down south before winter sets in. Mexico's where
they really need food."
"Can't you just mail some of the seeds to your do-gooder friends? I
want to get back up to New Brunswick and see how Harry's doing. Those
Garybrains may not be spreading, but who knows? Maybe they're getting
ready for a big assault." The setting sun gleamed coldly on the state
capitol's gold dome. Winter was just around the corner.
"Oh, all right, Joe. I'll take you up there and drop you off. Do you
think it's safe to go home yet?"
"No. They're after me for helping Harry, and they're after you for the
seeds. You shouldn't have told so many people your name."
"Well, I like to get a little credit, too. And they aren't really
after us. They just want to ask us questions. I wouldn't mind
answering some questions in the proper setting."
"You mean you'd like to get on TV."
"Well, I don't see why I shouldn't. I could be on the cover of Time
magazine, Joe. I've found the solution to world hunger."
"Can't argue with that."
We powered out of Trenton and onto the Jersey Turnpike. "I'll drop you
off in New Brunswick," said Nancy, "and then I'll mail seeds to hunger
contacts all over the world. And tomorrow I'll show up at the ABC
studios in Manhattan."
"Fine. Meanwhile, do you think we could stop for some supper?"
"At one of those crummy turnpike restaurants?"
"Ah, why not. I'm kind of sick of porkchops and fritters."
We stopped at a Savarin. Not surprisingly, the day's special
was...porkchops and fritters. Even the merchants were getting hold of
our plants now. I had soup and a salad instead. According to the
radio, our fritters contained every vitamin known to man, but I still
felt the lack of green veggies. Serena ordered ice cream.
As we got closer to New Brunswick, the turnpike became more and more
congested. There were numerous army trucks, but what was more
surprising, there were lots and lots of school buses, most of them
with crosses on them. "Killeville Christian Children's Crusade," read
one. "Shiloh Baptist Old Folks Home," read another. "Shekinah Glory
Gospel Fellowship," "Sunshine Open Bible Network," "Women's
"What are all these nuts doing here?" I wondered. We reached the New
Brunswick exit and crawled off amidst troop trucks and buses. The
actual road into town was barricaded. An unsteady sergeant with two
flares waved us toward a parking area.
"It must be that stuff about God's Laws," remarked Nancy. "People are
so into religion these days."
"I can hardly believe it. They didn't say anything about this on the
radio." A big light-blue bus lumbered into the space next to us.
Elderly seekers began swarming out.
"I'm going to leave before someone baptizes me or something," said
Nancy. "Look out for the brains, Joe. Get yourself some whiskey."
"All right, baby. And be sure to hire a good lawyer before you go on
television. Just in case. There's still a lot of money in the trunk.
This week has been fun, hasn't it?"
"It has. It's been like a honeymoon."
"A frittermoon. I love you, Nancy."
"I love you, Joe. Say bye to Daddy, Serena."
I kissed my two girls and then they drove off. I walked back to the
parking-lot entrance and asked the sergeant where I could get some
booze. He was a swarthy kid in his early twenties.
"There's a liquor-store someplace out that way," he said, waving one
of his flares vaguely. He seemed quite drunk.
"Can I just buy some from you? I don't have a car, but I've got lots
The sergeant glanced around, looking for officers. "You ain't a
looter, are you?"
"No, man, I'm a tourist. Here's fifty bucks."
The sergeant pocketed my bill and handed me the flares. "I'll just be
I directed another bus into the parking area, and then the sergeant
was back with a canteen full of grain alcohol.
"Government issue," he said, smiling broadly. I took a swig, retched a
little, then took another.
"Thanks, sarge. This stuff keeps the brains off?"
"For sure. Gary don't like it."
"What are all these groovers doing here?" I jerked my head at a group
of flower-print ladies doddering past.
"They started coming in a few days ago. The evangelicals got some idea
that Gary is the new Messiah. We can't stop 'em from going in, and so
far none of them has tried to get back out."
"You know it, brother."
I handed him back his flares and joined the throng marching toward New
Brunswick. I fell into step with a pale-faced little man in a red
windbreaker. It said "Virginia Beach Rescue Squad" on the back.
"Would you like a drink?" I offered.
"Praise Jesus, no," he said. His voice was sweet and reedy. "It'd be a
shame to meet the Lord all messed up, now, wouldn't it?"
"The Lord's not here," I countered. "It's a bunch of brains from
another dimension. They're parasites."
"Gary Herber's here," said the man stubbornly. "I seen him on TV.
Gary's come to roll out the scrolls."
"What... what does Gary Herber look like?" I asked. I had a pretty
good idea of what the answer would be. "Does he look sort of like a
toad? A short fellow with ropy lips?"
"That's right, friend. And he has an angel with him. A blond angel
what really flies. Our minister brang us up here to join salvation."
At the edge of town there was a welcoming committee, round-shouldered
young men with wholesome smiles. They herded the new arrivals into a
big building and...presumably...slapped Garyslugs on everyone inside.
I sidestepped this action by stuffing my sweater under my shirt and
saying I was already saved. The whole scene seemed amazingly
disorganized on both sides. The Herberites didn't give much more of a
damn than the soldiers did. If you wanted a slug on your back, you
could have one, and if you didn't want a slug, that was fine, too.
I walked up Suydam Street, wondering where I'd find Harry. His
apartment seemed like the logical place to look first. He'd either be
there or at the local TV station.
There were a lot of people in the street, all of them wearing brains.
Despite the chill, most of them had their shirts off so that the
Gary-slugs could touch each other and converse. I hung onto my canteen
of booze and enjoyed staring at the women's tits. Weird to see so many
of them at once.
When I was still a couple of blocks from Harry's, a cry went up from
the people around me. "The angel of the Lord! Gary's angel!"
It was Sondra, stark naked and with a Garybrain on her back. She flew
about fifteen feet overhead, staring down at us with a glassy smile. I
covered my face lest she recognize me.
"These are the last times!" bellowed a woman next to me. "Praise
Jesus!" I took another drink and pushed my way forward. I hoped the
blunzer would still work. I had to undo this madness.
The closer I got to Harry's, the denser the crowd got. It was like
Mardi Gras...except everyone was high on slug-stim instead of booze.
Some zealot ripped my shirt off, exposing my naked back. Herberites
rubbed up against me so their spineriders could split onto me, but by
now I had enough booze in my system to be unpalatable.
"Follow Gary!" chanted the crowd. "Be Clean! Teach God's Laws! Follow
So far they'd been totally nonviolent, but I was getting more and more
nervous. I kept pushing forward, smiling a lot, and occasionally
splashing a little alcohol on my back. It was hard to see why the army
didn't move in and clean up this mess. I guess they were too drunk.
Finally I was in front of Gerber Cybernetics. There were some guys
guarding the door. One of them was really big. I lurched forward and
made my request. "Can I go in? I'm an old friend of Harry Gerber's."
"Thou art not saved," stated the big black-haired guard, frowning down
at my naked back. He looked vaguely familiar.
"I'm a mystic," I said ingratiatingly. "I love you people too."
"What is thy name?"
"Behold!" exclaimed the guard. My name seemed to mean something to
him. "It's the prophet's herdsman who hath fed the kine. Welcome,
"WELCOME, JOSEPH FLETCHER!" roared the crowd behind me.
I couldn't resist turning to bow and wave. And then the guards let me
"Dr. F.," said Antie, hurrying forward, "I'm so glad to see you. I
don't know what's gotten into all these people. My Harry's not been
"Where is he?"
"Upstairs in the throne room."
"He gets sillier every day."
I followed Antie upstairs. Sure enough, the dining table had some rugs
and a chair on top of it. This was Harry's cathedra. To my relief he
was pacing around the table instead of sitting on it. He had his shirt
off, and he wore a huge brain in the center of his back. Aside from
Antie, we were all alone.
"Grab him, Antie, it's for his own good."
"Check, Dr. F."
Before Harry could say anything, Antie had him in a double hammerlock.
Moving quickly, I poured a half pint of booze over the the big brain
on Harry's spine. Shocked by the poison's contact, the brain drew
itself together. I slid my hand under it and pried it loose like I'd
done with the policeman's Gary-brain. The heavy alien plopped to the
"Stomp it, Antie."
"WOOD," groaned Harry. He was leaning on the dining table and shaking
his head. "I feel like everything's made of wood. God, and you stomped
my poor brain, Antie? Help me, Fletcher, I'm hurting bad."
"You want a drink?" I handed him the canteen. Harry tilted it up and
worked his throat for a while.
"Plastic," he sighed, finally lowering the canteen. "At least now
"How long have you been under Gary's control?"
"Ever since the night we came back. The brains got Sondra and me while
we were sleeping. What day is it today?"
"Monday again. It's been a week."
"Time goes fast when you're having fun." Harry twisted his head
around, trying to get a look at his back. "Did it leave much of a
"I'll get a bandage," volunteered Antie. "And some germ cream. Don't
worry, Harry dear." She bustled off to the kitchen.
"I...I was on TV," said Harry. "Sondra and I were sort of starting a
"Sort of? You've seen the crowds outside, haven't you?"
Harry laughed and shuddered at the same time. "It's perfect, isn't it?
It just goes to show that everything I've ever said about religion is
true. The sky's the limit when it comes to religious stupidity. Here
we have a race of alien invaders, and the evangelical true believers
are flocking here to get taken over. And meanwhile..."
"Before you get too snotty, Harry, just remember that you're their
leader. Did you like wearing the brain?"
Harry shrugged, finished my canteen, and padded out to the kitchen for
more. We passed a bottle of Scotch back and forth while Antie bandaged
the raw spot between Harry's shoulders.
"Sure I liked it," said Harry finally. "You've been through it.
There's the constant nerve stimulation, and even more important,
there's the feeling of working for a larger whole. Normally I never
have any real reason for the things I do. Believing in Gary felt
good." Harry fell silent for a moment, then went on: "What's the
public reaction to all this? Aside from my...followers, I mean."
"I don't know, it's kind of weird. The army's got New Brunswick
surrounded, but they don't seem ready to move in. Last week everyone
was very excited about the invasion but now...now they're all talking
about the food plants. Since the Garybrains aren't doing much of
anything, people have sort of lost interest."
"Food plants? You mean those seeds I made for Nancy?"
"That's right. Porkchop bushes and fritter trees. Nancy and I have
been handing out the seeds all over the place. That's one wish that
really seems to have worked out well. But speaking of wishes, what
about Sondra? I saw her flying around naked outside. We should try to
get the slug off her back."
"My angel," said Harry in maudlin tones. The booze was hitting him
hard. "My poor fallen angel."
"Do you know where she is?"
"She roosts here with me at night. In my bedroom."
"So Antie and I will get her slug off when she comes back. Or maybe I
should get blunzed and make all the Gary-brains disappear at once?"
"I used the rest of the gluons up," muttered Harry. He seemed to be
having trouble staying awake. "And it didn't work, did it, Antie?" He
pushed off from the counter he'd been leaning against and lurched
across the room. "Need to lie down. Look out for Sondra."
Antie and I stretched Harry out on his bed and prepared to ambush
Sondra. Holding a big tumbler of straight booze, I stood pressed
against the wall next to the window like a forties gangster listening
to the cops outside. Antie stood against the wall on the window's
other side. We passed the time by chatting a little about the past
Apparently Harry and Sondra had tried to crank the blunzer up again.
Gary wanted the door to his universe reopened so that some of him
could go back there. And he'd wanted a few changes made in our world
as well: slugs everywhere, a centralized dictatorship, no booze, et
cetera. Antie and Sondra had run through the sequence just like
before, but when the hotshot table jabbed Harry, nothing had happened.
"I was glad," said Antie. "I think Gary would have gotten rid of all
the robots too."
"Did you sabotage the blunzer, Antie? Is that why it didn't work?"
"No, no, I was scared to. Last time it almost killed me, you remember?
There were still enough red gluons, but they just didn't work."
Suddenly I remembered something. The strangely familiar voice I'd
heard on my car radio when I'd been in the infinite regress in the
Softech parking lot that last Friday after work. "The red gluons only
work once," the voice had said. "Use blue gluons the second time."
Blue gluons? I wondered if Stars 'n' Bars would have them. Could the
voice on the radio have been my own? Perhaps I was destined to take my
turn as master of space and time.
The sound of wild cheering snapped me out of my reverie. The crowd
outside was really getting excited. Peeking out the window's corner, I
could see that most of the people had taken off all their clothes.
They were writhing around with all the Gary-brains splitting and
sliding from back to back. I guess you would call it an orgy. And
hovering above the worshipers was their queen: Sondra Tupperware,
lovely as Marilyn Monroe, weightless as a cloud, naked as a wet dream.
"She'll come any minute now," said Antie. I took a little taste from
the glass I was holding. Harry's steady snoring filled the room.
Finally the yelling outside came to a peak...it sounded like everyone
climaxing at once...and our blond angel came floating in through
Harry's open window.
I scored a bull's-eye with the glassful of booze. Before Sondra could
even peep, we had the Garybrain off her back and under Antic's metal
"Joe!" she exclaimed, covering her breasts. "What are you doing here?"
Then she noticed that her breasts weren't all there was to cover. She
dove for the closet and found herself a robe.
"You better let Antie put a bandage on your back," I suggested. "If
modesty doesn't forbid."
"Oh, Joe, I've..." She stepped over to the bed and felt Harry's empty
back. "How long have we been..."
"It's been a week. They got you the first night back. They came for me
and Nancy, but we got away."
"Was that whiskey you threw on my back?"
"That's right. Gary's allergic to it, remember?"
"I... I'd better have a drink. And some food. The spine-riders don't
bother to feed their hosts very often."
There wasn't much of anything in the fridge... Antie said the stores
were almost out of fresh food...but there were a few things in the
freezer. Antie microwaved Sondra some fried chicken with mashed
potatoes, and I poured her a big glass of white wine.
"I want to use the blunzer," I told her.
"It doesn't work," said Sondra. "Thank God."
"I think you just had the wrong kind of gluons," I explained. "Harry
told me once that gluons come in three colors: red, yellow, and blue.
I have a hunch that each color just works once."
"You mean the blunzer will work exactly three times?"
"Just like in all the fairy tales. I think it's about time for our
second round of wishes."
"You'll get rid of the Gary-brains?"
"Don't you think I should?"
Sondra pulled the oversize bathrobe tighter around herself. "Yes, of
course. Though the people they're attracting are so stupid that..."
"They're better off this way? That's a thought. Maybe that's why the
army is letting them keep coming in. Anyone who'd volunteer for alien
domination doesn't really deserve to have his or her freedom. It's a
"But this is still just stage one. As soon as people stop coming to
New Brunswick, the Gary-brains want to break out."
"You know that for a fact?"
"Didn't Harry tell you?"
"He didn't say much of anything before he passed out. You better get
some sleep too, Sondra. I'm going to need your help tomorrow."
"I'm scared." She poured herself another glass of wine. "I'm scared
the brains will come back while I'm sleeping. Will you get in bed with
"What a question! Have you looked in a mirror lately?"
"Oh, don't be like that. Underneath, I'm still plain Sondra, you know.
I wish I could get my real face back."
"Tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll get some blue gluons and I'll fix everything
up. Why don't you finish that wine and then we'll go to bed."
Sit on My Butt
THE phone woke me up. It was just getting light outside. I had a Type
III hangover: wavy jello and cold pain. The phone was next to our bed.
"Joey! You're all right?" It was Nancy.
"Yeah. Yeah, baby, I'm fine. Are you in New York?"
"That's right. I called the network and I'm going to be on the Brad
Kurtow show this morning. I'm staying at the Plaza Hotel."
"Class. I'm sleeping in a double bed with Harry and Sondra. I got the
brains off their backs, and today I'm going to try and get blunzed."
"What do you mean you're in bed with Sondra?"
"Just to protect her, Nancy."
"Well, let her protect herself, that blond cow."
"It's not her fault she looks boss. As a matter of fact, she wants me
to change her back to the way she was."
"You're really going to get blunzed?"
"I think so. I'll get rid of the Gary-brains and...I don't know. Is
there anything else I should wish for?"
"Get us a penthouse on top of the Plaza, Joey. I like it here."
"I want to be able to fly, too. Like Sondra. Why should she get
everything? I'll flit in and out of our penthouse like a dove."
"That sounds nice. And I'll wish for ten million more bucks while I'm
"No, no. I don't want to live forever. Death's the only thing that
keeps me going."
"Well, don't forget the other things. Good luck, darling. I have to
catch a cab now."
I set the phone back down on its cradle and felt around on the floor
for the Scotch. Normally I don't drink in the morning, but today I had
a good excuse. Several of them.
The taste of the stuff made me cough and retch so loud that it woke
"Wood," groaned Harry. "Everything's cheap splintery beige and
I handed him the bottle.
"I don't have to drink that, do I?" asked Sondra.
"Not really," I said, taking another hit. "You and me will be flying
out of here before any brains can bother you. You'll be able to carry
me, won't you?"
"Sure she can carry you," said Harry. "She's been flying me to the TV
studio every day. It's her atoms they're all made of null matter in
EPR synchronicity with her state of mind."
"What does that mean?"
"My body moves whichever way I will it too," said Sondra. "If you sit
on my butt I can fly you anyplace."
"We need to get to Stars 'n' Bars," I said, trying not to think too
hard about Sondra's butt. How would it feel to have a body like
that?'"I want to get some blue gluons."
"McCormack won't have them," said Harry. "They're much harder to
isolate then the red ones are. What do you need blue gluons for
anyway? You planning to play scientist?"
"Antie told me you tried using the red ones again and it didn't work.
I was thinking maybe there's some sort of exclusion principle: each
color of gluon will work once in this universe, and that's it."
"Fermi statistics," said Harry musingly. "It makes a sort of sense.
But blue gluons, Fletch? I doubt if there's more than two or three
grams of them in the whole world. And guess who has them?"
"Someone we know?"
"You remember Professor Baumgard?"
"Oh, God. Him?" Dana Baumgard was a bigtime establishment physicist
who'd hated Harry and me for years. The feud had started when we beat
out his lab for a weapons contract...it was for a special beam that
would make the enemy's water supplies radioactive. What made Baumgard
so mad was that although Harry and I had put together a working model,
we'd been unable to explain how or why it worked. As far as Baumgard
was concerned, I was a sleazy carnival barker and Harry a dangerous,
tinkering geek. I didn't look forward to visiting him.
"Where's the professor these days?"
"He's the head of the Super Intersecting Proton Loop out in Iowa. SIPL
is the only facility in the country that can reach the energies needed
to produce blue gluons."
"It's nice and flat. Makes it easier to build the loop, which is in
the shape of a figure eight, ten kilometers long. One loop of the
eight holds protons, and the other loop holds antiprotons. The
particles circle and circle around their loops till they get up to
speed and then someone throws a switch to make the two beams collide."
"Can you fly me all the way to Iowa, Sondra?"
"Can't you take a plane, Joe?"
"You can do it, Sondra," said Harry, sitting up on the edge of the
bed. "I'll build you an electronic windfoil."
"Joe has to promise to change my body back if he manages to get
blunzed." Sondra was trying to scoot out of the bed without having her
robe flap open. "I'm tired of everyone staring at me all the time."
"Anything you want, Sondra. I'll get breakfast while you get dressed."
I went into the kitchen and got some stuff out of the freezer. Ham
steaks and frozen waffles. Antie set to work heating them up.
"I'm going down to my workshop," called Harry. "I want to build that
windfoil for you two."
"Hold on," I shouted, hurrying out into the hall.
I could hear some of the guards moving around downstairs. I grabbed
Harry and put my lips to his ear. "Put something under your clothes so
they think you still have a spine-rider. Otherwise..."
"Gotcha," murmured Harry. He rummaged in the hall closet and found a
small knapsack to wear under his sweater. There were a lot of pretty
dresses in the closet; apparently the spine-riders had let Sondra do
some clothes shopping. I reached into the closet and touched the
prettiest dress of all: a red-and-white-candy-striped number.
"I'll be right back," said Harry. He clattered downstairs and called a
bright hello to the guards.
Sondra stepped out of the bedroom, looking great in tight jeans and a
frilly white top. I reminded myself to stop staring at her.
By the time we'd finished breakfast, Harry was done with the windfoil.
It was a little box with a parabolic antenna on top. The box was
supposed to generate a kind of special ray that would force the wind
to streamline around us instead of beating our faces. Harry showed me
how to turn it on and adjust its dials.
"Where exactly in Iowa is the SIPL?" I thought to ask.
"Just north of Ames. Follow I-80 west to Des Moines and turn
right...you can't miss it."
"And what happens when Baumgard refuses to sell me the gluons?"
"You kill him." Harry handed me a sawed-off shotgun and a handful of
shells. "You blow his stinking head off."
"That's illegal," chimed in Sondra. "We'll go to jail!"
"Listen," said Harry, grinning and holding up his hand for silence.
"This morning Fletch the thief kills Baumgard...big trouble. But this
afternoon Fletch the master of space and time resurrects Baumgard non
habeas corpus! No body, no crime."
I couldn't stop myself from chuckling. What a plan!
"Well, I guess so," said Sondra. She turned and walked into the
bedroom. She bellied down across the bed, her face toward the open
window. "Come on, Joe. Sit on my butt."
I sat on her butt. It was big and hard, but not too hard. Once again I
caught myself wishing that I could have such a beautiful body myself.
I pocketed the shells and put the shotgun and the windfoil in my lap.
I was on Sondra like a rider on a horse. To fit through the window I
had to crouch down like a jockey in the stretch, but then we were out
over the street. It was raining. The Herberites cheered when they saw
us; they must not have noticed that our backs were flat.
We followed the Raritan River out of New Brunswick. There were troops
on most of the bridges; some idiot even took a shot at us. We gained
altitude and headed west.
The wind was starting to tug at my face now, and the rain was hurting
my eyes. Gripping Sondra's waist with my knees, I sat up and adjusted
the windfoil. I diddled the knobs until an invisible energy net
reached out in front of us to wedge a break in the wind and rain.
"Isn't this great, Sondra?"
"Yeah, I really love to fly. It's been a lifelong dream of mine. Could
you stop squeezing me so hard? If you do fall off, I can always catch
"Oh. Sorry." I let up on the knee pressure, and Sondra angled upwards.
Now that the wind had stopped, there really wasn't much danger of
slipping off. "When I change your body back to looking the old way,
you still want to be able to fly, right?"
"That's right. That's what I wanted in the first place."
We were up above the clouds now, and the air was clear and cool. The
hot morning sun beat on my back. Now and then through a rent in the
clouds I could see Pennsylvania. The trees had all turned red and
yellow. From the air, the wrinkled hills looked like rucked-up carpet.
Then came flat Ohio, scuzz Great Lakes, and checkerboard Indiana.
"I-o-way!" I shouted as we crossed the Mississippi. "I've never been
"I have," said Sondra wearily. "And I hadn't planned to come back."
Why Things Exist
THE Super Intersecting Proton Loop looked like some primitive
earthwork: a giant figure eight in the midst of empty cornfields.
There was a glass and metal building where the rings intersected. We
touched down in a field nearby.
"When were you in Iowa before?" I asked Sondra.
"In the fifth grade. My father took some horticulture courses at Iowa
State so he could grow better marijuana. But then they expelled him
for not paying any bills. We lived in the marriedstudent housing in
Ames. Quonset huts. It was a long time ago." She stumbled on a
cornstalk and caught my arm. "Don't you think you ought to hide that
"Right." After checking that the safety was on, I slid the barrel of
the gun down under my waistband and pulled my shirt over the stock. I
set the electronic windfoil down at the edge of the cornfield.
Though it was only about nine in the morning, Iowa time, Baumgard was
in his office. For a moment he didn't recognize me.
"I'm Joe Fletcher, Professor Baumgard. Harry Gerber's friend?"
"Oh, Lord. Fletcher and Gerber again. I hear that you two are
responsible for those mindparasites invading New Jersey. I don't
suppose you can tell me how you did it?"
The guy was a real square. He had long, greasy gray hair and a beard.
A microcomputer in the pouch of his sweatshirt. And...ugh...Beatles
music playing softly on his radio.
"I can try." I started to tell him about the blunzing chamber and the
way the vortex coil could churn the gluons into Planck juice and . . .
"That's enough, Mr. Fletcher. That's quite enough gibberish for
"Our machine worked, didn't it?" My voice was rising. Baumgard really
knew how to get under my skin.
"How should I know if your machine works or not. I don't even know
what it's supposed to do."
"It grants wishes. Look at her. Harry gave her the power of flight." I
pointed to Sondra, who'd been standing quietly to one side. "This is
Sondra Tupperware, by the way. She's a minister in the Church of
Scientific Mysticism. Could you float in the air, Sondra?"
Sondra hovered halfway between floor and ceiling. Baumgard looked away
in disgust. "Have you come here simply to show me your parlor tricks,
Mr. Fletcher? Have you brought a deck of cards as well?"
"No," I said, trying to control my voice. "I've come to ask for your
help in stopping the alien invasion."
"Oh, my. How exciting. Why doesn't Gerber reinvent his inertia-winder
and fly the bad monsters away?" Baumgard was referring to a sort of
rocket drive that Harry had come up with a few years back. Somehow
we'd forgotten how to build it...the conclusion of the affair was a
little hazy in my mind and we'd ended up losing a lot of money.
"I need some blue gluons, Professor Baumgard. Give them to me and I'll
make your dreams come true."
Baumgard leaned back in his chair and laughed. "Make my dreams come
true. You should work in a carnival, Fletcher. You should be the
barker for a freak show." Abruptly the savant stopped laughing. "And
I'm asking you to leave. Must I call Security?"
It was time to get out the shotgun. I turned away, maneuvered the gun
from under my clothes, then spun back to level the short barrels at
Baumgard's face. "Harry says that if I kill you now, we can probably
bring you back to life with the blunzer. You want to try it?"
"You'll never get away with this, Fletcher."
"Where have I heard that line before?"
"You'd better give Joe the blue gluons," Sondra piped up. "I think he
wants an excuse to kill you."
That wasn't true at all, but Baumgard seemed to believe it. The guy
really had a low opinion of me.
Just thinking about it made me wish I had an excuse to kill him.
But now he'd unlocked one of his cupboards and he was getting out a
little magnetic bottle. "There are three and a third grams of blue
gluons in here."
Still keeping the gun aimed at him, I unscrewed the bottle's lid and
glanced in. Ink, sky, sea, my heart. It was the genuine article. "What
do you want for it?" I asked, tightening the lid back on. "You can
have anything you want, Professor Baumgard."
He tried to tighten his face into an ironic smile, but he couldn't
quite pull it off. Whether he liked it or not, he knew there was a
chance I could deliver.
"I'd... I'd like to understand the universe," said Baumgard huskily.
"I'd like to know why things exist and what matter really is. I'd like
to understand how things can be the way they are." For a moment there
was a childlike hunger on his face. "Take the gluons. I'll give you
ten minutes and then I'll call the police."
"Thanks. That's more than fair. I'll do what I can for your wish. You
might have your answer by tonight."
"Sure I will, Colonel Fletcher." All at once Baumgard's voice had
turned high and sarcastic. He regretted having bared his soul. "I'll
look for the answer right next to the two-headed calf and the half-man
half-woman. Say hello to your geek friend for me."
Sondra and I hurried out of Baumgard's glass and metal building,
picked up the windfoil, and took off. We didn't talk much till we
stopped at a McDonald's in Geneseo, Indiana, for lunch.
"I liked his questions," said Sondra, biting into a Big Mac. "Those
are good, heavy mystical questions. Why do things exist? How can
things be the way they are?" Men all over the restaurant were staring
at Sondra, but I'd gotten used enough to her appearance to be able to
focus on what she was saying. She tore open a catsup and squeezed it
onto her fries. "I didn't realize that a groover like Baumgard could
think about questions like that."
"Yeah, the guy's not all bad. I just hope I'll be able to make the
right wishes for everyone. Old Bitter sure wasn't much help when I
"Do you remember what he said?"
"First he turned the question back at me. I'd asked what I should wish
for if I was master of space and time. And Bitter replied, 'What does
God have in mind when He makes the world?' Then he said that this
world was just fine."
"This world? With Gary-brains and fritter trees?"
"I mean the old world, the way it was before Harry made his wishes.
Though this is the same world, really. It's just later in time."
"What about the looking-glass world?"
"All the worlds are part of our superworld. But, like Baumgard asks,
why do these things exist? Why is there something instead of nothing?"
"It is nothing," protested Sondra. "That's enlightenment, noticing
that nothing exists. And then not noticing."
"God." I sucked hungrily at the bottom of my Coke. "What the hell are
we talking about anymore?"
Sondra laughed and sipped her coffee. "How long will you be blunzed,
"He just gave me three and a half grams. When Harry took a hundred
grams, it lasted two hours. So my trip should last a thirtieth of
that. Four minutes."
"That's not much time."
"I'll make a list to make sure I do all the right wishes. I have to
send my voice back to my car ten days ago, and eliminate the Garys,
change your body, and Nancy wants a bunch of stuff too. And there's
Baumgard's answer, and I want some more money."
"Money? That's all you care about?"
"Well, God, at least you can count it. And you don't have to decide
how to use it right away. I'm going to ask for ten million dollars."
"It's counterfeit money, though, isn't it, Joe?"
"You call this counterfeit?" I pulled out a crumpled twenty and handed
it across the table. "It's flawless."
"But money has to come from somewhere, Joe. It's supposed to stand for
something that someone did. Caught a fish, made a shoe, told a story."
"Well, I'll say I stole blue gluons and shot them into my head. And
that I made wishes for a lot of people. I call that doing something."
In my excitement my voice had risen again. Everyone in the place was
staring at Sondra and me. Our conversation and appearance were kind of
unusual for Geneseo, Indiana.
There were two college kids at the table next to us, a bearded fat boy
and a pimply girl with glasses. The girl was staring at me so hard
that she didn't notice when my eyes met hers. It was as though she
were watching television.
"Can we have some wishes too?" asked the boy. He smiled to show that
he was kidding if we were.
"No way," I snapped. "I got my hands full already."
"Don't be like that," Sondra reprimanded. "Charity cleanses the
heart." She shot the beard a Monroe tooth dazzler of a smile. Her
lips, her dimples, her spit. Oh, Sondra, I thought, I'd give anything
to look like you.
"I think," said the beard in his wet, nerdy voice, "I think I'd like
some marijuana ice cream."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said his date, tittering and rocking back and
forth in her seat. "With cocaine whipped cream."
"And an LSD cherry," whispered the boy.
"Beautiful," I said, getting to my feet. "Mellow." Other people were
pressing toward us. I had half a mind to unlimber the shotgun and
commit Midwest mass murder. I didn't like for strangers to make fun of
me and rip me off at the same time. "You coming, Sondra?"
"When I'm ready." She took out a little pad of paper and licked her
pencil. "Can you two give me your addresses? Joe will send you each a
special cone. Won't you, Joe?"
There was a state trooper sitting at a table not too far away. He was
looking at us like he'd heard the drug words. If it kept up much
longer, I figured to shoot him first.
"Sure, Sondra. Anything you say. Give her your addresses, kids."
"You first," said the boy to the girl.
Somehow we finally got out of Indiana.
I Wish I Had a Wish
THE clouds over Jersey had cleared off, and I could get a good look at
the countryside. Unlike those in Pennsylvania, most of the Jersey
trees and bushes were still green. At first I thought they must all be
pines, but then a chilling thought hit me. The porkchop bushes and
fritter trees had taken over!
"Could you fly a little lower, Sondra? I want to see something."
Sure enough, the trees were heavy with orange fruit, and the bushes
were greasy with meat. These mutant plants seemed to actually be
undermining the other vegetation; as I watched, a stately elm tottered
and crashed to the forest floor. The fritter trees had eaten its
"What are those big plants?" Sondra asked. "Are those the food trees
you were talking about?
"Yeah. Let's land and take a look."
The porkchop-bush thickets were so dense that we couldn't reach the
ground. Instead we perched in the fork of a two-hundred-foot fritter
tree. From below you could hear the porkchop bushes growing...they
made a steady rustling. In the distance, a mighty oak went crashing
"Like kudzu," said Sondra. "The vine that ate Dixie."
"It's a Japanese vine they brought into the South to stop erosion. It
stopped the erosion, but pretty soon it covered all the other plants
up. Not really all of them, but..."
"Well, these things are killing all the other plants. They're tearing
down the other trees and eating them!"
"It's really out of control," said Sondra. "You feel how this tree is
Indeed, our tree was lifting us upward like a slow-motion Jack's
beanstalk. Peering down through the leaves, I saw a deer that had been
strangled by a porkchop bush's runners.
"These things are going to take over the whole planet!"
"Looks like you've got another wish to make, Joe."
"Oh, brother. Nancy's going to be sore about hunger. Nothing is
working out the way it was supposed to. You see now why I just ask for
money? It's the only safe wish."
I remounted Sondra and we flew back up into the sky. Here and there
were a few remaining patches of real trees, but the green stain of the
mutant food plants was spreading steadily. A few isolated farmhouses
had been taken over as well. I wondered if the farmers had been able
New Brunswick looked the same. Troops all around it, and the streets
full of Herberites. We whisked in through Harry's bedroom window and
hurried down the hall.
Harry was passed out at the kitchen table, his face in a plateful of
candied yams. Antie was busy keeping Harry's followers from coming up
to visit the throne room.
"Our leader is meditating," she called down the stairs to them. "He is
"Looks like he received a whole fifth's worth."
"Oh, Dr. F., I'm so glad you're back. Those vulgarians keep asking for
"We'd better pour some water on him. I'm going to need his help to get
the blunzer going."
"You found the blue gluons?"
"Yes," said Sondra. "And we didn't have to shoot anyone."
Sondra and I drank a little vodka to keep the Gary-brains off, and
then I got to work.
"Harry," I crooned, dribbling a glass of water over his scalp. "Wood,
Harry. Wooden thoughts, wooden moods, wooden sensations." I reached
down and began pinching his cheek. "Dry martinis, Harry. Cold beer.
Fried chicken. Naked women. Come on, you fat slob, wake up!"
Slowly he righted himself. There was a big orange smear of yam around
his mouth. "Those brains," said the mouth. "They won't get me again."
"I have the gluons, Harry. Three and a third grams."
"Four minutes' worth," he said, brightening. "Do you know what to wish
for?" He dabbed daintily at his mouth with a filthy handkerchief. "I
seem to have dropped off for a minute."
"Here, Harry," said Antie, proffering a mug of sweet coffee. "Drink
this to clear your head." Harry slurped down the coffee while Sondra
and I knocked back a little more vodka.
Finally our leader lurched to his feet. "Let's do it."
"What about the disciples?" fretted Sondra. "They'll smell the liquor
and try to..."
"Fletch'll kill them," said Harry. "Did he waste Baumgard?"
"I don't kill anyone," I protested. "I'm no gunsel."
"Then give me the shotgun. Lead the way, Antie."
Antie told the disciples to leave, but one of them wouldn't budge. It
was the big fellow I'd spoken to yesterday, the jerk with the
stained-glass vocabulary. Suddenly I realized where I'd seen him
before. He was the chauffeur who'd carried the first Garybrain over
"Behold," he intoned, walking toward us with open arms. "The flesh of
our Lord's udder hath been milked to anoint the Father's wen."
"Beat it," snapped Harry. "Or I'll blow your stinking head off."
"He likes that expression," whispered Sondra with a giggle.
"But, master, surely it is written that the oxen low. And where His
hoof hath sucked . . ."
The shotgun blast was very loud in the small store. Fortunately Harry
was so ripped that only a few pellets struck his looking-glass
disciple. The fellow took off like a whipped dog. A lot of people
pressed their faces against the store window to peer in. Antie locked
the front door.
"We better go in back," I urged, taking Harry by the arm. He was
trying to reload the shotgun. I had the gluons in one hand. "Come on,
Harry, don't antagonize them."
"It is the Anti-Gary," the big disciple was wailing outside. "His milk
is sour!" An angry mutter swept through the crowded street. The people
looking in the window could see we had no slugs on our backs. Harry
was leaning over now, trying to pick up a shell he'd dropped.
"Goddamn, Harry, come on!"
Sondra and I dragged him back into the workshop. Antie had already
started the blunzing chamber's refrigeration unit.
"Okay, Fletcher," said Harry. He was suddenly sober. "Give me the
gluons and go on in there. Just lie down on the hotshot table and put
on the breathing mask."
With difficulty I made myself hand Harry the bottle of gluons. I
couldn't believe it was already time for me to get blunzed. I hadn't
even made up my list of wishes. But the crowd outside was increasingly
noisy. Someone was hammering at the back door. They'd be breaking in
"Does the needle hurt much?" I wanted to know.
"Turning chicken?" snarled Harry as he clicked on the microwave
cavity. "Would you like me to get blunzed instead of you?"
"Don't let Harry go again," cried Sondra. "It has to be you, Joe.
You're the only one with enough sense."
"All right," I sighed. "But I wish I had something I really wanted. I
wish I had a wish."
"Maybe you'll think of something," said Sondra soothingly. "I'll try
to help you." Lord, she was beautiful.
"Antie, get the gluons," said Harry. "Well, go on, Fletch. Go on in."
The street noise had grown to a steady roar. I opened the blunzing
chamber's door and peered in at the grim death table. Flakes of frost
formed in the frigid air.
"Is there anything you want, Harry? Any wishes for you?"
"Just get Gary Herber off people's backs. I've had enough excitement
for a while."
"Don't forget about me," called Sondra. "Or the fritter trees."
There was a crash from the store's front. They'd broken the big
"Here goes," I said, and hurried into the blunzing chamber. It was
cold and dark. I lay down on the hotshot table and slipped the
breathing mask over my mouth. Sondra slammed the door shut, and then
one of them energized the chamber's copper sheathing. The
electrostatic field set most of my hair on end. As my eyes adjusted to
the dark, I could see faint glow-discharges at the tips of my fingers.
Now came the singing sound of the gluons merging into the microwave
field, and then the crash blast of the gluons being fed into the
vortex coil. There were yelling voices in the workshop...the
Herberites. Harry's shotgun roared; the voices drew back.
The vortex coil grew louder, so loud that the struggle was drowned
out. The hotshot table shook with the chatter scream. I braced myself
for the instant when the long needle would plunge down through my
There was a heavy thump. Agony in my ears, chamber at vacuum, the
swift crunch of needle through bone. I tried not to scream.
The Planck juice was in my brain now, I could feel the white heat of
it. My whole body felt prickly and soft. I was a hologram made of pure
The needle slid back out. I sat up. Copies of me twisted off like soap
bubbles from a bubble wand. It was still dark in the blunzing chamber.
I could see perfectly. I felt no need to breathe. A crowd of tiny
Fletchers flew around me. My little echoes, correction terms to the
blunzing process. This felt good. This felt good.
I wished myself out of the chamber, and there I was, out in the
workshop. A terrible fight was in full progress. Five of the
Herberites had broken in. Harry had killed the big looking-glass one
with his shotgun, but just now one of the others had slashed Harry's
throat open with a machete! Covered with blood, Harry was lying dead
on the floor!
Seeing me, Sondra began screaming for help while the Herberites with
the machete charged at me and...
I WISH EVERYTHING BUT ME WOULD STOP MOVING. The trick for stopping the
world is basically to turn your time axis at right angles to everyone
else's. It's nothing for the master of space and time.
The room around me grew still. The struggling people were like so many
I WANT A DIGITAL DISPLAY OF THE TIME I HAVE LEFT. Purple numbers
appeared in my field of vision: 3:50. Only ten seconds gone so far.
Good. Now what? First bring Harry back to life... he'd done the same
I glanced over at Harry but that's not quite correct. I could see in
every direction at once, all the time. When I say, "I glanced over at
Harry," what I really mean is that I focused part of my attention on
him. A few hundred of the little Fletchers flew over to transmit my
wish. I healed up his wound, and as an afterthought, got rid of his
headache. Now it was time for the real work. Too bad I'd had to hurry
into this half-cocked.
I WISH I HAD MY LIST OF WISHES.
God Goes Trans-Sex
1. Send voice back.
2. Sondra's body.
3. The Gary-brains.
4. Ten million dollars.
5. Plaza penthouse.
6. Power of flight for Nancy.
7. Porkchop bushes and fritter trees.
10. How the blunzer works.
THE list, in my own handwriting, seemed to be complete. I tucked it in
my shirt pocket and got to work.
As I've mentioned, I was able to see in every direction at once. More
than this, I was also able to see through any obstacles. In ordinary
vision, what one does is to combine various two-dimensional retinal
impressions to build up a three-dimensional mental image. But now that
I was master of space and time, the whole world around me was somehow
contained in my head. I could see everything that everyone was doing.
But this was not all. By a slight effort, I was able to see not only
the present world but also the worlds of the past. Normally such an
influx of information would be staggering, but to me it was as
pleasant as the sea is to a fish. It was no trouble at all to fix my
attention on my Buick in the Softech parking lot, ten days ago. I
could see the little images of Harry on the dashboard, and I watched
as he warped my past self into a doubly infinite regress. When my past
self turned on the radio, it took only a touch of my volition to make
the circuits speak my piece. I didn't need to send my body back like
Harry had. It sufficed to send my will.
"THE RED GLUONS ONLY WORK ONCE," I informed my past self. "USE BLUE
GLUONS THE SECOND TIME."
A bit more chitchat and my first task was done. Sondra's body was next
on the list. By keeping part of my attention on the past I was able to
use her original body as a model. I turned her hair back to a kinky
brown, flattened out the proud mounds of her breasts, thickened here
and thinned there. End of second task.
Now the Gary-brains. Here the little Fletchers
came in handy. Just as Harry had done, I sent my little echoes out
into the world around me to seek out and disintegrate each
Herber-brain they found. As an additional precaution, I teleported the
five Herberites back out into the street. I didn't want them to attack
on sheer momentum when I reentered their timestream. My little helpers
came flying back all the aliens had been destroyed.
The Plaza penthouse was the hardest wish yet. First I had to find
Nancy and read her mind for the plans. Rapidly I scanned all over
Manhattan till I found her. She was...I was surprised to learn...in a
jail cell downtown. They'd busted her at the studio. I sent the
thumb-sized Fletcher to reassure her and look into her mind. Once I
could see what she wanted, I had to will the penthouse into
existence...furnishings and all. And on top of that I had to create
the paper that went with: titles, deeds, variances, and tax records.
Not only did I have to create them but I needed to place them in the
proper bureaucratic file cabinets. When I finally had the thing done,
I plucked Nancy out of jail and moved her into our new home. For the
finishing touch, I plopped ten thousand thousanddollar bills down in
front of her. Whew!
Over a minute I'd wasted on that! What else did I still have to wish
for? My mind seized up in panic. I got out my little list. Five down,
five to go. Next was Power of flight for Nancy.
I didn't quite understand how Harry had gone about giving Sondra the
power of flight. I recalled him saying that he'd done it by turning
her atoms into "null matter in EPR synchronicity with her state of
mind," which may or may not have meant something. Instead of trying to
think it through, I just looked back in time and copied the mind-state
that Harry had when he did it. Holding the strange, Gerberesque
thought pattern steady, I applied it to Nancy's body. Good.
Now for those food plants.
My tiny echomen came in handy again. I sent the endless flock of them
out to scour the planet for porkchop bushes and fritter trees. This
took some doing, as Nancy had mailed the seeds far and wide. That was
what she'd been arrested for, apparently: a slew of customs
violations. I found and destroyed all the documents relating to her
case while my echomen repaired all the damage the plants had done.
Indiana. Get serious. Those stupid kids could just ... I stopped
myself. It behooves a god to be merciful. I located them and shoved
the desired drug confection into each of their stupid faces.
Baumgard. That was the really tough one. I was a lot more powerful
than I'd ever been, but I wasn't really much smarter. What had he
asked to know? Why do things exist?
I tried looking into the future in hopes of finding a book with the
knowledge Baumgard sought. But the future was not accessible to me. As
far as I could tell, it didn't really exist. Trying to see into the
future was like looking at a page of movie ads. Lots of pictures, but
no way to be sure which one you're going to visit. Why do things
Instead of looking forward, I tried peering back through the eons.
There were the dinosaurs...I sought till I found some small mammals,
our ancestors. Before that, the great empty seas...I brought some
molecules together into a double helix. Further back. Great disks of
dust slowly clumping into planets and stars. I nudged them to make the
lumps show better. But I needed to look much further, back to the very
My vision shook with the effort. I held to the task. Back, back, back
through the billions of years. Almost at the start now. Space filled
with radiation, utterly symmetrical. The symmetry has to break, I
thought, and made it happen. Further.
Energy-filled space. So small, so big. Earlier. Where did it come
from? Why do things exist? Someone had to put it there. But who?
I focused all my energy on the initial moment of our universe. I drew
strength from all the space and time around me, and funneled raw
existence back to...make our universe begin.
Why do things exist? Because I created this universe. Baumgard wasn't
going to like the answer.
There was a tenth item on the list: How the blunzer works. Tell Harry.
I didn't recall having wanted to make any wishes like this. But better
do it. I still had time.
I stared at the blunzer next to me and let myself merge into the
essence of its workings. Then I flipped back through time to feel its
action as it blunzed me, and earlier, Harry. I understood it then, I
understood it totally. But I couldn't quite put my understanding into
With part of me still in the past, I reached out to the resuscitated
Harry on the floor next to me and read the physics terminology off the
wrinkles of his brain. Now I had it. Now I really knew how the blunzer
But there was still one last part to the tenth wish. Tell Harry. Why
tell him when he already knew? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks.
Harry hadn't always known how to build a blunzer. When I'd asked him
on that Saturday how he figured it out, he'd told me he got the the
idea in a dream. A dream he'd had the night before.
I scrambled back to the night of Friday, September 21. As I'd been
doing all along, I sent only my consciousness, not my whole body.
Harry's whole song and dance about having to send your body back and
send a lizard forward was easily avoidable. My will could reach back
in time and do whatever was needed.
My immaterial eye found Harry peacefully asleep in his double bed.
Plain Sondra was next to him, snuggled against the soft curve of his
fat back. I'd come to the right place, but how was I to get into
It was easy. I reached into his mind as before, but this time I did
more than observe his thoughts. I altered them. I set up a feedback
loop between my thoughts and his; it felt as if I'd stepped right into
In the dream, Harry is sitting by a river with a beautiful girl. She
is his anima, a projection of subconscious goodness. They have a
picnic basket, and they are throwing all their food into the river. A
duck is eating the food...a strange duck that walks on the surface of
"Harry," I said, tapping him on the shoulder.
He gave a hoarse cry of surprise, and the anima disappeared. "What are
you doing here, Fletcher?"
"I've only got a few seconds. I've come to tell you how to build the
The duck and the river had disappeared now, too. Still in the dream,
Harry and I were sitting face to face at a long table. In the space of
an instant, I took everything I knew about the blunzer and coded it
onto Harry's brain.
:10, read the clock. I snapped back to my body in Harry's workshop. I
tried to understand everything I'd just done, but it was too much for
me now. I twisted my time line back parallel to the world's. The
people in the room with me started moving again.
Harry felt his throat gingerly, then sat up and grinned up at me.
"Thanks, Fletch. I needed that."
"Oh, Joe," exclaimed Sondra, looking down at her flat body, "it's
Seeing Sondra so dull and plain again really bothered me. I could
still see into the past, and I feasted my eyes one last time on the
way she'd been.
At the same time I looked over my list again, making sure I hadn't
left anything out. I had a feeling there was one more wish I wanted.
Sondra and Harry didn't realize I'd been out of
their time for four minutes. They thought I was just beginning. I
could see it in their minds.
"Don't you have any deep, hidden desires you're going to ask for?"
Sondra was saying.
Suddenly I realized what my real wish was.
"I WANT TO BE A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN!" I cried. "I WANT TO LOOK JUST LIKE
The numbers disappeared. My field of vision narrowed back down to what
it had been. Something was hanging in front of one of my eyes. I
reached up to touch it.
Long, blond hair.
Men Are People Too
"WHAT a homo!" exclaimed Harry once again. "I can't believe it."
I ignored him and continued to stare down at my new body. I still had
on the same clothes as before. "If you don't mind, Harry, I'd like to
go to the bathroom."
"I bet you would. Can I watch?"
"Forget it. I'm happily married."
"Do you know where we can reach Nancy?" Sondra asked.
"She's in a penthouse on top of the Plaza Hotel. Call the operator,
it's a new listing. Or just wait a minute. I can tell her myself."
I walked out of the workshop and up the stairs to Harry's apartment.
The bathroom was right off his bedroom. I was eager to look myself
over in privacy. I was having trouble grasping what I'd done.
As I passed the bedroom window, I looked out to see how the stupid
groovers were doing. Still shirtless, most of them, but all their
Gary-brains were gone. Thrown back on their own limited mental
resources, the zealots didn't seem to have much to say for themselves.
I locked the bathroom door and took all my clothes off. It was a
nightmare, a dream come true. I was a woman as beautiful as Marilyn
Monroe. I pressed my hands between my legs. My big breasts slid this
way and that, jiggling with every motion. My hips and butt stuck out
I was horrified, yet of course I was thrilled as well. Whatever
regrets my conscious mind may have had, my subconscious was in
ecstasy. I got into the shower and soaped myself all over, getting to
know my new body.
Someone knocked on the door as I was toweling myself off.
"Who's there?" My voice was sweet and melodious.
"It's Sondra, Joe. Do you want one of my dresses?"
"Yes, thanks. That candy-striped one? And a bra and stockings."
"Unlock the door."
I held the towel up over myself while Sondra brought in her new
clothes for me. They fit perfectly. Acting like a friendly sister, she
showed me how to put on lipstick and mascara.
My new face didn't look exactly like Sondra's had. Somehow you could
vaguely tell that it was still Fletcher.
"I want heels, too," I said, brushing out my long
hair. "I might as well do the whole number. And can you give me a
little handbag with some money in it?"
"Call me JoJo."
"JoJo, what are you going to do now?"
"Get the train to New York. I want to look at our new penthouse."
"I called Nancy, JoJo. She's pretty upset."
"Oh, she'll be glad to see me."
"I'm not so sure."
I left Harry's shop soon after it embarrassed me to try to talk to him
while I looked like this... and walked down to the train station. Now
that the invasion was over, I figured the passenger trains to New York
would be stopping in New Brunswick again.
My heels shiny red ones were a little tricky to manipulate, but I
found that if I walked slow and swayed a lot it wasn't too hard. The
volunteer Herberites in the street seemed pretty disoriented; most of
them were drifting back out to the parking lots at the edge of town.
The men all stared at me, of course. I was careful not to meet their
eyes. This quickly became a real drag having always to look at the
sidewalk or the rooftops but I certainly didn't want some ugly bristly
man to try to pick me up.
This probably takes a little explaining. You'd think that any man who
wants to be a woman is basically homosexual. But at least on the
surface this didn't seem to be true for me. My wanting to look like
the blond Sondra was really a heterosexual impulse: the craving for a
supreme merging with
the object of desire. But what was I going to do now...spend all my
time looking in mirrors and taking showers? More and more, I was
realizing how badly I'd blown it.
There was quite a crowd of people up on the train station platform,
most of them just regular citizens happy to be free of the slugs. The
stationmaster assured me that a train for New York would be stopping
in twenty minutes. I sat down on a bench outside the waiting room.
"Hi," said a man, sitting down next to me. He was nicely dressed and
had a polite expression. "I'm sure glad those naked brains are gone."
"Me too," I said. "I hope things will go back to normal now. The
mutant plants are gone, too, aren't they?"
"That's right. Those guys Fletcher and Gerber are really going to get
"Uh ..." I tried to cover my confusion. I'd forgotten about that
angle. As long as the Garybrains had run New Brunswick, Harry had been
safe from the authorities. But now ...
"Would you like a cigarette?" He drew out a pack of menthols and
offered me one.
"Thanks," I said, accepting the cigarette and a light. His fingers
brushed against my hand.
"My name's Brad. I'm a stockbroker in the city."
"I'm JoJo. I... I'm starting a new life."
"You don't have a husband?"
"I'm surprised someone as gorgeous as you isn't married. Are you a
model?" Brad smiled at me, his eyes flickering over my voluptuous
curves. "I love your dress."
"Oh, I was in computers." I felt increasingly flustered.
"Brainy, too!" Brad grinned and slapped his face in mock astonishment.
"Look, JoJo, I know this is kind of sudden, but I'm going to be
leaving the office at five, and if you'd like to have dinner..."
"No, no!" I squeaked. "I couldn't possibly."
Some cigarette smoke went down the wrong way and I went into a
Brad watched, smiling patiently. As far as he was concerned, anything
I did was wonderful. "Can I get you some water, JoJo? A Coke?"
"No, I'm afraid I..." I lurched to my feet and gave him a smile. "I
have to go."
"Well, all right. Another time, maybe. I'll be looking for you."
Feeling suddenly unsteady on my heels, I teetered into the waiting
room. It was three-thirty. Ten more minutes until the train. I went
and hid in the ladies' room.
The train, as it turned out, was filled with state troopers. They had
come to make sure New Brunswick was really secure. Watching them get
out, I realized that one of their first tasks was going to be the
raiding of 501 Suydam Street, home of the mad scientist Harry Gerber.
For the moment I was glad not to look like Joe Fletcher.
Fortunately my admirer didn't get in the same train car as I. I
plumped myself down next to a cute brown-haired woman with big
glasses. Her clothes were kind of tattered.
"Isn't it wonderful to be able to leave New Brunswick?" she said to
me. "I feel like the last week has been a long bad dream."
"Do you live here?" I asked, ready for some pleasant girl talk.
"No, I was just visiting my boyfriend at Rutgers. He's a graduate
student in engineering. My roommates must think I've been killed!"
"Yes," I said. "It's been awful. Did the aliens make you do anything
"I don't want to think about it," the brunette exclaimed. "And all
those rednecks showing up. I'm going to see my gynecologist as soon as
possible. I bet they got after you too, what with your figure and
"Yes," I lied. "Gary Herber made me go out in the streets at night.
With the brains sliding around and everyone grabbing each other..."
"Men are so awful," said the woman next to me, her face momentarily
close to tears. "Those brains were like men, the way they glue onto us
and try to use us. Even my Tommy's like that, a little bit."
"Men are people too," I protested. "They just want to be happy like
"Don't kid yourself, sister." My companion's voice took on a hard
edge. "Men and women don't want the same things at all. When's the
last time any man did something really romantic for you...without
wanting to get paid back the same night?"
"You have to think about the genes," I said. I'd heard a theory about
this. "Basically all a person wants is to perpetuate his or her genes.
The best strategy for men is to have lots of children with lots of
different women. The best strategy for women is have children and make
sure the father stays around to help take care of them."
"Ha!" snapped the woman next to me. "Some man must have told you that.
All a person wants is to perpetuate their genes. Boy, is that stupid."
"Well, yes," I said after a time. "I guess it is."
I got a taxi at Penn Station. "The Plaza Hotel," I told the driver.
"Sure thing, little lady."
I sat back and watched the buildings sweep past. People, people,
people. And all of them thinking, all of them just as conscious as me.
When I'd been a kid I'd always thought of grown-ups as a race apart
big meat robots, really. Then once, when I was in my twenties, my
father had said something funny to me. We were playing golf behind a
foursome of businessmen in colored trousers and billed caps.
"Look at them, Joe," my father had said. "They really look like they
know what they're doing. I'd always thought I'd be like them someday.
I'd always thought I'd get to be a grown-up. But I'm not. I still
don't feel any different. I'm sixty and I still don't know what I'm
As the years passed, I'd come to understand what my father meant. Even
though I was almost forty, I still didn't feel like a grown-up. I
didn't really feel much different from how I had in high school.
And now in the taxi I was thinking that the same thing is true for men
and women. As a man I'd always assumed that women are somehow not like
real people. Of course I never put it that baldly, but the feeling had
been there all along.
Yet now here I was, with the tits and ass and lipstick still just a
person. The woman on the train I'd never quite talked to a woman that
way before, without the sex game somewhere in the background. As she'd
unselfconsciously told me about her boyfriend and her job and her
roommates, I realized something that I'd only seen in flashes before.
Everyone is just a person trying to be happy. Everyone is really
What a liberation to know this! What a burden!
Strictly from Detroit
"Do you expect me to have sex with you?"
"Well, sure. I'd rather do it with you than with anyone else."
"The way I feel now, Joe, I'd rather do it with anyone else but you.
How could you pull this on me?" She paced back and forth across the
enormous living room. Outside the big French windows lay the wonderful
clutter of Manhattan. "We could have been so happy." There were tears
in her eyes.
"Come here, Nancy. Come sit on the couch with me."
"No. And you killed the fritter trees, too."
"They were taking over. You know that. That's what you got arrested
for: distributing dangerous, nonapproved seeds."
"I suppose the police will be coming for me again?"
"I don't think so. I repaired the damages, and I erased all the
documents relating to your case. With no documents and no more fritter
trees or porkchop bushes, I don't see how..."
Someone was pounding on the door. It was the police, two of them.
"Hello, ladies," said the older of the two. He was a white-haired man
with a weathered face. "Is this the residence of Joseph Fletcher?"
"Yes," said Nancy. "But..."
"He's not here," I interrupted, getting up from the couch and
swiveling over to the cops.
"Do you mind if we take a look around?" asked the old cop, giving me
an appreciative once-over. "You see, we have a warrant for his
"Come on in, boys," I cooed. Nancy look disgusted. I winked at her and
sat back down on the couch. I was too tired to stay standing.
The police left after a while, and Nancy finally came over to sit next
to me. The sun was going down. I wished we could go to bed, but I knew
better than to suggest it. We held hands and the silence deepened.
"I could have you declared dead," Nancy said after a while. "And then
"You can not," I snapped, letting go of her hand. "Joseph Fletcher may
be missing, but without a corpse he's not legally dead."
"Serena needs a father."
"Where is Serena, anyway?"
"I left her with Sybil Bitter."
"Alwin Bitter's wife?"
"That's right. I went back down to Princeton before coming to New
York. My TV interview was really exciting, Joe, you should have seen
it." As the room darkened, Nancy was finding it easier to talk to me.
"They arrested me right on the Brad Kurtow show. I was in jail all
day, and then suddenly I saw this thumb-sized little man who looked
"That was me, all right. An echo of me." "And then I was here in this
wonderful penthouse. I still haven't looked at all of it yet. And I
can fly, Joe. I've only tried it a little but..."
"Would you take me flying with you now? It's dark and no one will see
us. We could fly over to the World Trade Center and back."
"But you can't fly, can you, Joe?"
"I can ride on your back. I did it with Sondra."
"Well .. . take that silly dress off first."
In the bedroom there was a dresser that looked like mine. The top
drawer was filled with money... Nancy had stored all our money in here
for me. The other drawers were filled with Joseph Fletcher clothes. I
selected a pair of corduroys and a flannel shirt. Stepping into the
bathroom, I noticed a pair of scissors. I took them and cropped my
long hair short. Then I used a washcloth to get the makeup off my
Nancy was in the living room, hovering above the floor. She smiled
when she saw me, appreciative of the gesture I'd made
"That's much better, Joe. You look almost like your old self. I was
just thinking...with all our money, maybe you could get surgery to...
She flew down and hugged me. "Oh, Joe, why did you do it?"
I gave a quick shrug. "A subconscious desire. I've always wanted to be
a beautiful woman."
"Me too," laughed Nancy.
"But you are."
"Not the kind that drops men in their tracks. I thought those
policemen were going to pass out when they saw you."
"Hey, let's go flying. If you really want me to be dead, you can just
drop me on Times Square."
"You'd make quite a splash."
We opened a big French window and flew out into the night. Nancy's
wiry body felt nice between my soft thighs. The cool air beat against
us as the staggering city perspectives swept past. We looped around
the Empire State Building, zoomed along a cable of the Brooklyn
Bridge, and finally alighted on the flat top of one of the twin towers
of the World Trade Center.
"You fly well, Nancy."
She closed her eyes and let me kiss her. The kiss felt just like it
"Are you still my same Joe?" said Nancy after a while.
"I'm still the same. I'm still the same inside."
"Then let's go back. Let's go back to our new house and try to be
I'd like to be able to say that we had a steamy night of all-girl sex,
but it didn't work out that way. I ended up sleeping on the couch.
When it came right down to it, Nancy couldn't face the thought of me
sleeping with her. Ever again.
The morning TV news was bad, too. Harry Gerber had been arrested and
charged with criminal negligence in the deaths of seventeen people who
had died of shock when the slugs got them in New Brunswick. His
laboratory was under heavy police guard, and Sondra Tupperware had
been arrested as an accessory. Joseph Fletcher was still being sought,
but charges against Nancy Lydon Fletcher had been dropped. All the
mutant food plants had disappeared, and their depredations had been
undone. Some scientists speculated that perhaps the fritter trees had
been a kind of mass hallucination brought on by the Gary-brains.
Someone was pounding on our door again. Nancy was still asleep. I went
to look through the peephole. Newsmen, with video cameras.
"Go away," I fluted. "I don't want to see anyone."
"Please, Mrs. Fletcher," shouted back the reporters. "Just a few
I went to the phone and called Security. After a while the noise at
our door died down. Nancy was up now, and I made us breakfast.
"Sooner or later, one of them's going to talk," I said over the eggs.
"Sondra and Harry. Sooner or later they'll tell the police that I've
turned into a woman. And then I'll get arrested, too."
"Arrested for what?"
"It was on the news. Seventeen people died from having the
spine-riders on them, and they're charging Harry with criminal
negligence. Sondra and I are supposed to be accessories. And I bet
Professor Baumgard is going to charge me with armed robbery."
"You'd better call Don Stuart. The lawyer I hired yesterday."
"Oh, lawyers... There must be a better way to fix all this. Don Stuart
isn't going to give me back my sausage, is he?"
"Well, with plastic surgery..."
"I want my real body back. This just won't do. I want to have more
children with you, Nancy. And I want poor Harry out of jail."
"What about Sondra?"
"Oh, she'll get out. The first time they put her in an exercise yard,
she'll fly away. If they handcuff her to a guard, she'll just take the
guard with her. You don't have to worry about Sondra, Nancy. It's just
Harry and me that are getting screwed."
"Not literally, I hope." Nancy smiled and ruffled my spiky hair. As
long as we weren't in the bedroom she felt able to act affectionate.
We took our coffee out on the terrace and stared down into the chunked
canyons of Manhattan. This was really a neat place to live. If only .
"Why don't you use the blunzer again?" asked Nancy suddenly.
"Didn't I tell you about the red and blue gluons?"
"Yes, but you said there were yellow gluons, too. If you find some
yellow gluons, then the blunzer should work one last time, shouldn't
"It's a thought. But I don't think anyone has yellow gluons. They're
even rarer than the blue ones. If I could only talk to Harry..."
"Well, you can. Find out where he's locked up and go visit him. No
one'll recognize you."
"They don't let just anyone off the street come visit killers, Nancy.
I'd have to be a relative."
"So get a fake ID. Say you're his sister. Does he have a sister?"
"Yes! I've heard him talk about her. Sister Susie. She lives in
"Good. That means she's not likely to be here yet."
"Right. But where do we get a fake ID?"
"You're the criminal, Joe, not me."
"All I can think of is Eddie Match." Eddie was an old friend of ours
who lived way uptown. He made a generally honest living as a
photographer, but he did know a lot of criminals. I'd heard him talk
about forging IDs. "Let's take a cab uptown to see Eddie."
"Okay. Wait here while I get dressed."
"Can't I watch?"
She went in the bedroom and closed the door. I really hoped we'd find
those yellow gluons today. It had been uncool to use a gun on
Baumgard. This time I'd use money. I found a big purse in the hall
closet and stuffed it with a little over two million dollars' worth of
Nancy was still dressing. I decided to phone up Alwin Bitter to see
how little Serena was doing. His wife answered the phone.
"Hello, Mrs. Bitter?"
"This is . . ." In sudden panic, I realized I didn't know how to
finish the sentence. "How's Serena?" I blurted.
"Serena is fine. Who am I speaking to, please?"
I hung up.
I had on my Joe Fletcher clothes from last night. I looked in the hall
mirror and wondered whether to put on makeup. Just because Nancy was
so uptight didn't mean I couldn't get a little fun out of my new body.
My hair was a real mess.
"Hey, Nancy," I called.
"Hold your horses, I'm not ready yet," she shouted through the closed
"I'll be downstairs in the beauty salon."
I left before she could protest. I'd spent my whole life waiting for
women to finish dressing; now it was my turn to get back.
The hairdresser was chic and in his twenties. He cluck-clucked over
the way I'd butchered my hair.
"Whatever possessed you, dear?"
"I thought someone would like me better with short hair. Can you fix
"Of course, dear. He'll love the new you."
"She. Not too much off the sides and make it spiky on top."
They did my hair and nails, and then they fixed my face. I told the
makeup girl I wanted to look like I was from Detroit. She got the
picture. When they were done, I looked even better than I had
yesterday. Except for the clothes. I wondered if I should go back
upstairs and . . .
"Come on, Joe," said Nancy, stomping into the beauty salon. "I've been
waiting and waiting for you."
We hit the street and caught a cab. Nancy didn't want to get our
Corvette out of the hotel garage. On the way uptown we stopped to buy
me a tailored tweed suit in earth tones. I was starting to look kind
of butch. But from Detroit, strictly from Detroit.
"OPEN up, Eddie." I could see his eye staring out the peephole in his
steel-covered door. "It's Joe and Nancy Fletcher."
"You're not Joe Fletcher." His voice was slow and amused. He was kind
of a wirehead. "If I let you in, will you..."
"Here," said Nancy, pushing me aside. "You recognize me, don't you,
"Who's your girlfriend? Does she like men?"
"Open the goddamn door, Eddie!" I could hear someone coming up the
stairs after us. This was a terrible place to be standing around with
two million bucks in my purse.
Eddie let us in just as the footsteps reached our landing. Instead of
a mugger, it was a neighbor, a young professional like Ed. I wondered
where all the weirdos I'd seen outside lived. What a crowd!
Wireheads, she-males, black'n'whites, oz-drippers, and God's own
number of gunjy mues.
Eddie ushered us down his long hall and into the living room. His two
big dogs were barking.
"Tasp?" he offered, holding up a little machine the size of a
flashlight. It was a remote stim-unit: if you beamed it at the base of
your skull you'd get colors and a pleasure flush. Usually I didn't
indulge, but right now I really needed a lift. Nancy had been
cold-shouldering me ever since the beauty parlor. She'd waited in the
cab...fuming...while I'd visited the dress shop. I guess it was all
kind of freaking her out. She's just a person too, I reminded myself
as I raised the tasp to my head. A person who wants to be happy.
I pressed the button and things got better real fast.
"What's your name?" Eddie was saying, smiling at me and holding out
his hand for the little pleasure machine.
"It's Joe, Eddie, it really is." Nancy refused Eddie's offer of the
tasp and kept talking. She was here to do business. "Yesterday he was
Marilyn Monroe and today he wants to be Susan Gerber. We want for you
to make him some ID."
Eddie zapped himself again and wandered over to the window. "Come
here, Joe, look at this." Now that Nancy had confirmed it, he didn't
seem to have any trouble accepting my changed appearance. He'd been
living uptown for a long time. "Look at those dead cars," said Eddie.
I tasped myself once more and looked down at the cars Eddie was
talking about. There were three of them on his block, cars with
headlights, tires, chrome, and engine parts all gone.
"Picked clean," I chuckled.
"Check," said Eddie. "I'm always looking at them and thinking about
valet parking. A salesman from Iowa, right? He leaves his car with the
valet at the Sheraton, and this is how the car looks the next day. The
one up at the corner was mine." He was laughing so hard now that he
had to lean on the windowsill for support. "What'd you say your name
was? How'd you get in here, anyway?"
"I came with her." I jerked my head at Nancy.
"Oh, right. Joe Fletcher. So you went trans-sex?"
"Yeah, basically. And I need ID. Susan Gerber from Detroit."
"Check. Hold on to this and don't let me have it back till I finish."
Eddie passed me the tasp. At least he didn't have a socket yet. Once
you got the socket in your skull you were pretty well done for.
"Nancy and Joe," said Eddie, sitting down at his desk. "Wow. Would you
throw me that tasp, Joe?"
"You just told me not to."
"Check." Eddie turned on the desk's screen and put his fingers on the
keyboard. "Susan Gerber from Detroit? Got a street address?"
"You'll have to look it up."
"Okay." He punched a few buttons and got the information. "105 Madius
Street. You got a picture of the lovely new you, Joe?"
"Okay we'll do that next." Eddie hit some more buttons and the screen
displayed three different ID cards, front and back. The thing had a
typesetting program built in. Another push of the button and a hard
copy of the cards slid out onto the desk. "Now we get the pictures and
paste these up. Could you just hand me that tasp?"
"I'll take the tasp," said Nancy, snatching it out of my hand.
I followed Eddie into his photo room and we got the shots. He had a
videoscan still camera, so there was no waiting for the prints. I
studied one of the pictures, trying to believe it was really me. I was
still light-headed from the stim, and it all seemed pretty exciting.
"I could do with one more pulse," I told Nancy as we came back into
the living room.
"Check," said Eddie. "Me too."
With both of us standing over her, Nancy gave in. We each took a
couple more pulses before she got the tasp back from us.
"Where were we?" Eddie asked.
"IDs," nagged Nancy. "If you guys are going to keep getting blasted,
you could at least offer me a drink or something, Eddie."
While Eddie was getting the beer, Nancy took the opportunity to chew
me out. "You're going to go right down the drain in a hurry, Joe, if
you don't get your real body back. It's not like you to be using stim
"What do you care? You don't love me."
"I do too love you, Joe. Who else would put up with you?"
"I'm not so hard to get along with. I'm just a person who wants to be
happy. A person just like you."
"That's your big insight from having a woman's body?"
"It's true, isn't it?"
"As far as it goes. But the surest way to be unhappy is try to be
happy all the time."
"That sounds like something your father told you. What a redneck."
"At least he has a penis."
"I'm going to see Harry, Nancy. I'm going to see Harry for the gluons
Eddie returned with three beers. "ID," he said, reminding himself. "We
still have to do the hard part." He had full-color paper replicas of
each of the three cards, front and back, made out to Susan Gerber and
with my picture on each one. "First, sign these, Joe. Michigan
driver's license, federal citizen card, and a cash key."
"Write Swan Gerber," Nancy reminded me, as if I didn't know.
I signed the flimsy papers, and then Eddie took them down the hall.
The dogs started barking again.
"Come on, girls," called Eddie, "I'll show you my machine."
"Which one?" I asked cautiously.
"Look." He had a plastics molder and...most important of all...a
selection of official plastic blanks. If your card didn't have the
right field patterns, you could forget it. The fields were like
invisible seals of validation. One by one he laminated the graphics
onto the plastic blanks.
"Did we talk money yet?" Eddie inquired.
"Whatever you say." I took the fresh IDs and admired the
"Call it five thousand."
"Check." I took out my wad and peeled off the bills.
"Can I have my tasp back now, Nancy?"
"Sure," said Nancy, handing it over.
Eddie and I passed the tasp back and forth for a while. Pretty soon I
was laughing harder than I'd ever laughed before. And then I was in a
taxi again. Robot driver. There was a person next to me. Nancy.
"Where are we, Nancy?"
"We're going to Rahway. You are. I'll get out there and fly to
Princeton. I want to get Serena."
"Stop acting like a wirehead or I'll leave you flat."
I clammed up and looked out the window. Ugly, ugly. It seemed stupidly
wasteful to take a taxi all this distance. But we had money to burn.
Can money buy happiness? It still seemed worth a try. I wondered how
much a tasp would cost...in case this yellow gluons thing didn't work
"MY cell window's right next to a metal roof, and all day there's a
bumblebee out there. He's beautiful, Susie, he's just like a
comic-strip bug: a big dot for a body and a lazy eight for wings. He's
always patrolling his territory, you know, going around in a sort of
polygonal path, but if he sees another bug...zow!" Harry threw his
hands in the air, trying to show how fast the bumblebee could move.
"I'm not really your sister," I hissed, "I'm Fletcher! We've got
something important to discuss." We were sitting at either side of a
long table with an armed prison guard at the end. The guard looked too
bored to be listening to us...but that could have been an act. Harry
chose to ignore my whispers.
"So what I've been doing, Susie, is tricking the bumblebee. I wad up a
piece of toilet paper and throw it out through my bars. Zoom, he's
right on top of it. I did it a lot a lot a lot until he started
getting mad. He figured out where all the fake bugs were coming from."
"Please, Harry." I leaned forward, trying to get his attention. "You
have to help me find some yellow gluons."
"Then I filled up my mouth with water. For squirting. Because I knew
the bumblebee was going to come for me the next time I threw out a
piece of paper. And he did! I tell you, Susie, he looked as big as big
as a dog, coming at me like that."
"Did you get him?" I sighed. Harry may or may not have known it was
me, but right now he needed to be talking to his sister.
"I sure did. Remember those great water-gun fights we used to have
with the neighbors?"
"You mean the Fletcher kids? Joe and Nancy?"
Harry shot me a look of understanding. "That's right. We had three
special guns, remember?"
"I sure do. I wish I had one of them now. I wish I had a lot of
things. Oh, Harry, I hate looking like this. I didn't know what I was
"I wish I could help you. I'm not too crazy about being in jail,
either. The feds keep grilling me, but I haven't told them anything.
One of the FBI guys told me I'm going to get twenty years."
"Wow. I've got money, you know. I'll get you the best lawyer."
"Gee, thanks. You want to hear about the cockroach under my bed?"
"Come off it, Harry." We were both leaning across the table, with our
faces almost touching.
The guard was definitely not paying attention any more. "I want to try
running the blunzer again. Where can I find yellow gluons?"
"I've been racking my brain. Someone at Princeton might have some. Do
you know any of the physics guys?"
"Beautiful. But do you think you can operate the blunzer? You don't
really understand how it works, Joe."
I felt like laughing in his face. "I don't understand? I happen to be
the one who told you how to build it, Harry."
His face clouded over in sudden anger. "You? Don't try to hog the
credit, Fletcher. I designed and built it. It's my invention."
"Sure it is," I sneered. "Where did you get the original idea though,
"In... In a dream. But it was my dream, and..."
"It wasn't your dream, Harry. I fed it to you. When I got blunzed
yesterday I went back in time and gave you the dream about how to
build the blunzer." Harry was shaking his head and holding his eyes
squeezed shut. "It's true, Harry. Remember the river with the duck
that walked on water?"
Harry's eyes snapped open. "Oh. Oh, my. Didn't you have to trade some
mass to move back like that? The way I had to move Zeke forward to go
see you in the car?"
"I just sent my image. You don't really have to trade mass. You just
did it that way so you could make a Godzilla."
"This is confusing." Harry glanced over at the guard. The guy was out
on his feet. "Assuming Bitter gets you the gluons, what are you going
to wish for this time? You'll only have a second or two."
"I'd just like things back the way they were. Of course I'll keep my
Harry studied my face for a minute. "You're still the same underneath,
Fletch. You're the one who's really crazy. That's what I always tell
people, but they never listen. Have you gotten laid yet?"
"I'm scared to."
"What about the answer to why things exist? Weren't you going to find
that out for Baumgard? You rushed off so fast yesterday that I never
got to ask you."
"You didn't have to keep calling me a homo."
"Well, face it, Joe, anyone who..."
"I don't want to talk about it. I'll tell you about Baumgard's
question. Why things exist. What I did was to look way, way back in
time to try to see how it all started."
"How far back?" Harry's eyes widened with interest.
"I went all the way back to the Big Bang."
"I caused it."
"You caused the Big Bang?"
"It was like nothing was happening and I got impatient. I was spread
out all over space and time, so I just took energy from all over and
focused it back on the starting point."
Harry's eyes glazed over in thought. "The universe as a self-excited
system," he said slowly. "I like it. It makes sense."
"So in a way I'm God, aren't I?"
Harry gave me a look of mingled pity and amusement. "Sure you are,
"Well, look, if I was the one who..."
"I. Who invented the blunzer? Nobody did, Fletch, it invented itself.
It came out of no place and told us how to make it. I put the parts
together, you got the shot. . . Can't you see it was just using us?
The universe was using us to help excite itself. There's probably lots
of these sort of drains where energy gets fed back through time. We're
the guys who help hook up the pipes, is all. Spacetime Plumbers."
We'd been talking too loud. The guard was paying attention again.
"I guess I'd better be going," I said, leaning back in my chair. "It
certainly was nice to see you again, brother Harry. Though it's a
shame it had to be like this."
"Well, Sis, God works in mysterious ways."
They processed me back out of prison. It took half an hour. So many
doors, so many walls. Nancy had flown on ahead, but our robot taxi was
still waiting for me. The meter was up to seventy-two dollars.
On the turnpike I tried to think through the course of events thus
far. I felt like making notes. It had all started on Friday afternoon,
September 20. I felt in my pockets for pen and paper and, finding
none, asked the driver for writing utensils.
"Lllookkk in the storage comparrtment," the machine intoned. I turned
around and snapped up the lid on the storage compartment behind my
seat. It held a first-aid kit, some cans of food, a flashlight, and a
type-screen. The type-screen was like a child's slate, with a keyboard
at one end. You could type onto the screen and, if necessary, produce
hard copies. I set the thing on my knee and made a list.
9/20 I see Harry in Buick. Harry dreams he sees me.
9/21 We shop Stars 'n' Bars. Godzilla.
9/22 Go to church. Harry blunzed. Trip to Looking-Glass World.
Monday 9/23 Gary-brains invade. Start trip with Nancy.
Monday 9/30 End trip with Nancy. Slugs in New Brunswick.
Tuesday 10/1 Fly to Iowa. Nancy arrested. I get blunzed. Manhattan.
Wednesday 10/2 Today.
Thursday 10/3 Tomorrow.
I stared at the list for a while, and then erased it. I'd get those
yellow gluons from Bitter today. Since I was Harry's sister and Nancy
was Fletcher's wife, the police would let us into Harry's shop to look
around. We'd say we wanted to inventory the valuables. And then I'd
get blunzed. But if yellow gluons were as scarce as Harry said, I
wouldn't have much time to maneuver. I'd need to pack everything into
one fast wish. I groped for the best way to put it.
Make everything be just like it was on the morning of Friday,
No, that wouldn't work. That would just throw us all into a horrible
time loop. If everything was just like that Friday, then it would be
that Friday again, and the whole crazy string of events would happen
over again, ending with me wishing us back to that Friday again...no,
thanks. Try again.
Undo all the wishes that Harry and I have made up till now.
That would be stupid! Just for openers, I'd lose my money. Not to
mention the fact that Antie... and maybe Harry too...would be dead.
And I wouldn't get to do my part to start the universe. No, no. I had
to get more specific.
Make my body be like it used to, and have the governor pardon Harry,
Sondra and me.
That seemed fine. I made a hard copy and folded it into my purse. I
fell into a light doze and dreamed about Harry and the bumblebee. I
was the bee.
I sat up and looked around. We were off the turnpike and nearing
Princeton. The robot driver was talking to me.
"Do you need instructions?"
"Nnno. The otherrr llady gavve me the address."
"Of Alwin Bitter?"
"Well, what do you want, then? I was sleeping."
"I'm bored. Do you knnow anny logic puzzles?"
I glanced at the meter. A hundred and sixtyseven dollars now. Two
hundred bucks and I was supposed to entertain the driver as well?
"No, I don't know any logic puzzles." The robot made such a
disappointed sound that I relented.
"Well, maybe I do. What about this one. A genie promises a man that he
can have exactly one wish come true. Now, what if the man's one wish
is that he gets all the wishes he wants?"
"He willl get all the wishes he wannts."
"But remember! An initial condition is that he is allowed to have only
"I ssseee. So he willl get nno wishes."
"But he was supposed to get one wish."
"Butt perhaps the mann's rreal wish was that he get nno wishes at all.
He does gett his wissh."
"But then he doesn't."
"I ssee. Thannk you forr the puzzle. I willl ponderr it."
Levels of Uncertainty
"WOULD you like some iced tea ... Mr. Fletcher?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Bitter. I would."
The four of us were sitting in their living room. Five of us, counting
Serena. She was sitting on my lap, though she didn't understand who I
was supposed to be. I took her little arms and clapped her hands
together. She laughed gaily; at least I could still make my daughter
"So the wishes haven't worked out well?" Bitter asked me.
"Not entirely. I'm stuck in a woman's body, and we're all in trouble
with the police."
"Nancy was telling me a little about the machine that you and Harry
Gerber built. How did you two come to invent it?"
"Well .. . that's a little complicated." I paused, trying to think how
to say it. "The plans for the blunzer came to Harry in a dream. He
dreamed he saw someone who told him how to build it. So he went ahead
and built it, and later I got blunzed. I didn't understand the
machine, but after I got blunzed I was able to figure out the plans by
looking at the machine and reading Harry's mind. So then I went back
in time and put the plans in Harry's mind while he was dreaming. I was
the person he saw in his dream to begin with. It's a circle. The
universe made it happen, is what Harry says. He says the universe was
using us to excite itself."
"Like a writer reading his own dirty books," sniggered Nancy. She
didn't take me seriously anymore.
"More like a fountain that recycles its water." I frowned. "Or a
battery that runs its own recharger."
"The self-generative Absolute," said Bitter noncommittally. His wife,
Sybil, came back from the kitchen with four glasses of iced tea on a
tray. She was a slender lady whose tall body shaped a graceful
S-curve. She kept giving me curious looks...as if I were some kind of
"I've come to ask for your help," I told Bitter.
"Harry says that with your connections here you might be able to get
me some yellow gluons. Each color of gluon just works once, and we've
already used the red kind and the blue kind. I need the yellow gluons
so I can activate the blunzer one last time and"
"Dr. Bitter's the one to ask?" Nancy exclaimed.
"I hadn't realized. What a wonderful coincidence! Will you help us,
"I don't know if I should. Things aren't perfect for you now but they
could, after all, be much worse."
"I'll do the wishing," proposed Nancy. "I won't ask for anything
stupid like Harry and Joe did."
"What would you ask for?" I demanded angrily. Serena left my lap for
"Just leave it to me, Susan."
"No way! I've thought this through, Nancy, and I know just what"
"I will try to get you the gluons," interrupted Bitter. "On the
condition that Nancy be the one to make the wish. I like Nancy."
Nancy and the white-haired old man exchanged a smile. Sitting here in
my tailored tweed earthtone suit I felt like a fool. I needed help and
these people were playing games with me.
"I don't think you understand what kind of forces we're dealing with,
Dr. Bitter." I rapped out his name like a curse.
"Call me Alwin. Let's all be friends here. What kinds of forces are we
dealing with, Joe? How do you and Harry think the blunzer functions?"
"Why do you ask? If you're so enlightened, you already know all about
it. You just want to laugh at me, don't you?"
"No, please!" Bitter made a placating gesture with both hands. "I'm
simply asking for information. It is obvious that your machine works.
I'm curious about the method. Tell it to me as best you can."
"A person gets blunzed by having the value of
Planck's constant change in his brain tissue," I began.
"Her brain," interrupted Nancy.
"The person's brain," I snarled. "Can you shut up and let me explain
it just one time? The idea is to treat the gluons so they become an
utterly featureless fluid known as Planck juice. This fluid is in what
might be termed a second-order quantum state. It is doubly
indeterminate. Not only is there the usual indeterminacy at the scale
of Planck's constant, there is a second-order indeterminacy: an
indeterminacy in the actual value of Planck's constant." Harry and the
blunzer had taught me well.
"So this Planck juice is, so to speak, unsure of the value of Planck's
constant?" asked Bitter.
"Correct. It is fed into a one-meter-long subether wave guide leading
to the subject's brain. In the wave guide, the field symmetry breaks,
and the Planck juice becomes the carrier of a new value of Planck's
constant 'seeing' the wave guide's one-meter length, the fluid chooses
that for the new Planck length."
"One meter," said Bitter, measuring the length out with his hands.
Instead of ten-to-the-minusthirty-third centimeters. "That's a very
"One hundred decillion fold," I confirmed. "When the fluid is injected
into the subject's brain, the entire brain becomes arbitrarily
indeterminate, for the brain's size is now less than the one-meter
Planck length. The personality associated with the brain becomes able
to do anything whatsoever."
"A third-order uncertainty," mused Bitter. "An ingenious device. And
you say that you invented it?"
"No one invented it, I tell you. I got it from
Harry and Harry got it from me. It made us build it."
"Yet it only wants to work three times," said Bitter, sitting back in
his chair. "What do you think of all this, Sybil?"
"I think you're right to let Nancy have the third wish," said Bitter's
wife. She had lighted a cigarette and was holding her head tilted back
to keep the smoke out of her eyes. "It's like a fairy tale. Do you
remember the story of the magic fish that we read, Serena?"
"How does it go?" asked Nancy.
"Like this," said old Sybil. "A poor fisherman catches a magic fish.
The fish says, 'Put me back in the water and you can have anything you
want.' So the fisherman throws the magic fish back in the water. When
he gets home to his little hut, he tells his wife. The wife says she
wants to live in a mansion. So the fisherman goes back to the ocean
and asks the fish for a mansion. Fine. When the fisherman gets home,
there's a mansion, but his wife isn't satisfied for long. 'This isn't
enough,' she says. 'I want to be a queen in a castle.' So the
fisherman goes back to the ocean and calls to the fish again. When he
gets home, his wife is a queen in a castle, but she still isn't happy.
'I want to be empress of the sun and the moon,' she says. Well, the
fisherman goes back to yell for the magic fish again, but this time
the fish gets mad and takes everything away."
"It was the wife's fault!" I exclaimed. "It was the wife's fault that
they ended up with nothing."
"It wasn't the wife who kept going back to bother the magic fish,"
said Sybil, looking at me through a haze of smoke. "The fisherman
should have thought for himself. I know another three-wish fairy tale,
"I've heard it," I interrupted. "'The Peasant and the Sausage.'"
"Yes," said Sybil. "And I suppose you blame the wife in that one too,
don't you, Joe?" She was just backing up Nancy because they were both
"Of course it was the wife's fault. If she hadn't asked for that
"And what if the husband hadn't been so mean? They would have had two
good wishes left. A husband should think for himself and keep his
I was going to yell something back, but Bitter interrupted me. "Don't
try to argue with Sybil. It's hopeless. I'll try and get you the
yellow gluons, Joe, but Nancy will have to be the one to get blunzed."
"All right," I sighed. "But what are you going to wish for, Nancy?
Make sure you get me back my right body, and get Harry and Sondra and
me out of trouble with the law."
"I'll wish what I like," said Nancy tartly. That Sybil was a bad
example, a real troublemaker.
"I made a big wish once," said Alwin suddenly. "It was a long time
ago. I was involved with a dangerous experiment...an experiment even
more dangerous than yours, Joe. It gave me endless power, but the
world was being destroyed. I had to use my power to renormalize
reality. I had to use my power to get rid of my power."
"Do all the wish stories have to end that way?" protested Nancy. "With
everyone back where they started?"
"One could argue that the world is perfect just as it is," said
Bitter. "The world is the sum of all our wishes about it. And all of
us are aspects of the One."
"I understand," said Nancy softly. "I understand, Alwin."
"Well, I sure don't," I said, rising to my feet. My skirt was rucked
up awkwardly around my waist. I patted at my big hips, trying to
smooth the fabric down. "Come on, Dr. Bitter, less talk and more
action. Let's go get those gluons."
"All right. I'll make a phone call first."
Nancy and I said goodbye to Serena while Bitter made his call. Sybil
kept staring at me in curiosity. She seemed fascinated by the idea of
a man trying to move a woman's body around.
"Don't you like being a woman?" she asked me finally.
"No, it's too hard. There's a fairy tale about that too, isn't there?"
"That's right," said Sybil. " 'The Farmer Who Would Keep House.' " Her
soft eyes were dancing and her broad mouth was amused. It was hard to
stay mad at this woman.
"Can you watch Serena just a little longer?" asked Nancy.
"I have to go meet a friend," said Sybil. "But my daughter Ida will be
home from school soon. She'll keep an eye on Serena. Make a good wish,
"It's all set," said Bitter, coming back into the room. "Tri Lu has
some yellow gluons you can have for one million dollars."
Alwin and Nancy and I set out on foot. Lu's office wasn't far.
I Do It
TRI Lu had big teeth, a skinny yellow face, and an unruly shock of
dry, black hair. It was love at first sight.
"Ah Joe Fletcher you?" Long, jerky laughter. "You very lucky!" More
laughter. He stuck out his thumb and pinkie and put his hand to his
ear... miming a telephone call. "I talk Dr. Baumgard. He very angry
"Has he called the police?"
"He want information you promise. He want right away. You sit my lap
now, Joe. I call." He was laughing again, pulling in lungfuls of air
between each spasm. Hohawhaha-gasp-hohawhahahagasp. Finally it turned
into a coughing fit and he buried his face in his hands. He was
embarrassed by how much he wanted me.
"Are you sure this is the right guy?" I asked old Bitter.
"Yes. He's our finest experimentalist. If he can't help you, no one
"I don't like the way he looks at you, Joe," said Nancy.
Nervously I reached up to ruffle my hair. Tri Lu had recovered now. He
was watching me. He was ready to eat me alive, drumsticks first.
"Why don't you two wait outside," I told Nancy and Alwin. "Dr. Lu and
I will work this out."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Please leave us alone till I call you. Go for a walk or
They went out and I closed the office door. I leaned against it, hands
behind my back, and gave Tri Lu my biggest smile. He smiled back.
"Come here, Joe. I dial."
I went and sat in Lu's lap while he dialed Baumgard's number. It
seemed like the easiest thing to do. Hell, I had nothing to be scared
of. I had twenty pounds on the guy, easy.
"I hope I'm not too heavy for you, Dr. Lu."
He handed me the receiver and threw his arms around me. "Good fat
American cowgirl. I love."
"Hello?" quacked the little voice on the phone. "Baumgard here."
"Dana. This is Joe Fletcher." Lu had his hands on my breasts. The
nipples were starting to tingle. It was hard to concentrate on the
secret of the universe. "I'm in Tri Lu's office, and he said I should
call you, so . . ." I broke off in a squeal as Lu's hungry Vietnamese
fingers dug too far into my ripe American flesh.
"You sound odd, Fletcher. Has something happened to you?"
"I'll say. Never mind. I wanted to call you about the reason why
"The experiment was a success?"
"Yes. The universe is a sort of perpetual motion machine. It funnels
energy from the future back to the past. The universe is a
A pause. Then, "That's not enough, Fletcher. Where does the whole
system come from at all? The world-snake bites its tail...fine. Where
did the snake come from?"
Lu was trying to force his hand between my thighs now. I had my knees
pressed tight together, but I could feel myself weakening. This skinny
little guy was awfully cute. "What did you say, Dana?"
"Where does the self-generating universe come from?"
"Uh... I don't know. I didn't ask. I just looked at the Big Bang. I
helped the universe make the Big Bang."
"This won't do, Fletcher. I'm in trouble over the missing gluons. I
should call the police and..."
"Would you take a million dollars?" Lu was straining his face upward
toward mine for a kiss. I let him have one. He tasted nice. I noticed
I still had the phone in my hand. Oh, yes, Baumgard. "I'll give you a
million dollars," I repeated and hung up.
I made sure the office door was locked, and then I let Tri Lu take off
all my clothes. He swarmed onto me like an excited tick. I was huge
and beautiful. We made love. I was glad to finally do it. I was glad
to be a sexy woman.
An hour passed, maybe more. The office windows had Venetian blinds,
and the afternoon sun was striping us with shadows. I sat up,
remembering Nancy. Time to get dressed again, time to cover up.
I watched Tri Lu stepping awkwardly into his underwear. I loved him.
He was a person, a person who wanted to be happy. I was happy, but I
still wanted something more. I wanted yellow gluons.
"I have two million dollars," I said, taking the packets of bills from
my purse. "One for you, one for Dana."
"Silly paper. Not worth like good love me you." He gave me one of his
all-purpose smiles. His long hair stuck straight up from the top of
"Oh, Lu." I hugged him one last time. "Thank you so much."
"I thank more. Soft cowgirl." He kissed his fingers and touched my
breasts. I patted his cheek and then took out my compact to check my
makeup. Hopelessly smeared. Nancy would know. Well, let her. I had to
use my femaleness at least once, didn't I?
We left the money on Lu's desk and took the elevator down to the
basement laboratory. There was a giant linear accelerator there, a
silver tube stretching off down a tunnel leading out of the basement.
Our end of the accelerator...the business end...was surrounded by a
thicket of machinery. To one side
of the machinery was a table littered with papers and rubber bands.
"Quark and gluon," Lu said, stepping over to the table. "Look, Joe."
He handed me a little model, a single band of rubber with
rubber-cement globs at either end. The blackened globs were the size
"Like quark," said Lu, pointing to one of the globs. "Gluon connect."
He strummed the rubber band.
I toyed with the little model for a minute. As long as the quark-globs
were near each other, they experienced no particular attraction. But
if you tried to pull them apart, the connecting band stretched tighter
and tighter, drawing the quarks back together.
"If cut here," said Lu, pointing at the middle of the band, "make two
If the gluon was a band holding the quarks together, the quarks could
be thought of as the ends of the gluon-band. Cutting the band would
make two new loose ends, two new quarks.
"Instead I pinch off," said Lu, handing me a different model. It was
like the first one, except here the connecting gluon-band had been
folded back to meet itself and form a loop. If you pinched the loop
free, you'd get a circular gluon-band, a free gluon with no quarks
"Two year work," said Lu, starting to laugh again. He was handing me a
little magnetic bottle from a cabinet by the accelerator. "One
thirtieth gram yellow gluons. Million dollar." His laughter slid into
another coughing fit.
I opened the little bottle and looked inside. The gluons were yellow
as the sun in water, yellow as Lu, yellow as an ear of corn. Hot,
golden yellow. I put the bottle in my purse.
We said our goodbyes and I left the physics building to look for
Nancy. I found her with Alwin on a stone bench a few hundred meters
off. Leaves were blowing around, and the bright air was like cold
"You're a mess," said Nancy. "What took so long?"
I didn't answer. Instead I held up the gluons. "Here they are. Enough
gluons for two and a half seconds. Have you figured out your wish?"
"I want to know what you did to smear your makeup like that, Joe."
"You know. I had to. I had to do it, Nancy."
"God, you're disgusting." She turned her face down and picked at a
spot on her pants. Suddenly we were both in tears.
"I'm sorry, Nancy. I'm sorry I'm so twisted up. But the gluons will
make everything right again. I'm sure they will." I sat down on
Bitter's other side. "Tell her, Alwin. Tell her I love her."
"You tell her," said Bitter, getting to his feet. "I'm going home."
So I told Nancy that I loved her. I told her I wanted things to be the
same again, only better. I told her I'd only let Lu have me so he
would sell me the gluons. After a while Nancy believed me. A little
longer, and I believed it too.
"So what are you going to wish for?" I asked when we'd finished making
"I was talking to Alwin and I think I have an idea," said Nancy. "But
I want to make sure I do it right. Could you explain about the Planck
"The Planck length is ordinarily about 10-33 centimeters," I said.
"Much smaller than an atom or an elementary particle. The Planck
length is the size scale below which ordinary physics breaks down.
There's no cause and effect for things smaller than Planck length.
There's total uncertainty down there, and anything can happen. Now,
the idea behind the blunzer is to magnify the Planck length all the
way up to one meter. When you get blunzed, the Planck length will get
that big in a region around your head. So for a few seconds you'll be
in a zone of total uncertainty. Anything you want to have happen will
"What if the Planck length blew up to ten meters? Couldn't several
people get blunzed at once then?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Only one person really needs to get the injection.
The brain acts as a kind of amplifier."
"The final stage of getting blunzed is where a needle jabs in through
your fontanelle...you know, where Serena had her soft spot?"
"Right on top of my head?" Instinctively Nancy raised her hand to her
scalp. "Does it hurt?"
"No, not really. You hear a sort of crunching, but it doesn't hurt.
And then you're blunzed."
"You say I'll only have two seconds?"
"Two and two-fifths, actually. Now will you tell me what your wish is
going to be?"
"No. Alwin told me not to. He said you might try to change my mind."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with you," I sighed. "Just make sure I
get my body back. Shall we fly to New Brunswick?"
Nancy lay down on the ground, I sat on her butt, and we took off.
WITHOUT a windfoil, Nancy couldn't fly as fast as Sondra had. We got
up to a few hundred meters and followed the turnpike north to New
Brunswick. When we were about halfway there, I spotted a big black dot
approaching. A hawk? A guided missile?
No, it was Sondra, fresh out of the Carteret Correctional Center. She
cruised up to us and we hovered there together for a minute.
"Isn't flying fun, Nancy?" said Sondra. Her face was flushed with
excitement. "They let me out into the exercise yard and I took off.
I'm going to see Alwin."
"We just saw him," I said. "He helped me get some more gluons."
"And I asked him what to wish for," added Nancy. "I get to make the
"Why don't you just wish for lots of wishes?" Sondra suggested. "Wish
for all the wishes we want."
"That's too vague," I protested. "I don't think wishes about wishing
"It's just a machine," said Sondra. "Not a leprechaun or something.
Nancy ought to ask for a hundred wishes."
The two women were hovering side by side. With the bright sun, I felt
like a bather on a float. There were fields below us and, off to the
right, the Jersey Turnpike, with cars crawling like ants.
"Don't worry, Sondra," said Nancy. "I'm going to ask for something
really big. I think my wish is the real reason the blunzer made
"What's your wish?" I asked again. But Nancy still refused to tell me.
"How's Harry?" Sondra asked me.
"I saw him this morning. He's in the Rahway prison. He wants to get
"I just wish those seventeen people hadn't died," said Sondra. "I feel
bad about them. If I could wish one thing, I'd wish for them to be
alive again. Nancy, do you think..."
"She's only going to have about two seconds," I interrupted. "And the
main thing is to get my body back. She'll try to fix up our legal
troubles too, but..."
"Leave it to me," said Nancy. "I know just what to do."
Some schoolchildren in the fields below had noticed us. Their tiny
shouts floated up on the gentle autumn breezes.
"You know," said Sondra, "I keep having trouble believing I can fly. I
really have to concentrate
to keep from falling down. Like in a flying dream. Don't you feel that
"Hey," I interrupted anxiously. "That's no way to be thinking right
"...and just drop like a stone," Nancy mused. "If suddenly you forget
how. Yeah, I can really feel that, Sondra. How about you, Joe?"
"Hey, look, girls, this is..." A farmer drove his pickup into the
field beneath us and got out with a rifle. There came a faint popping
We said a hurried goodbye to Sondra and flew the rest of the way to
New Brunswick. Nancy came in low and touched down in a parking lot
near Harry's place. At first I thought no one had noticed us, but then
an old bum came stumbling over.
"Take me for a ride, angels." He had the weatherbeaten skin of a
sailor. "Take me out to sea." He seemed deranged, albeit strong enough
to cause serious trouble.
"Go away," I said curtly. "Leave us alone." We started out of the
parking lot with the bum tagging along after us.
"Give me something," he begged. "I need money to buy a pet fish."
"Here." I drew a ten-dollar bill out of my handbag and gave it to him.
"Now beat it."
"Thank you, fish angel."
The windows of Harry's store were boarded up. There was a shiny black
car parked in front. When Nancy and I tried the shop's door, it flew
open, revealing a fit-looking man in a black suit. He held a pistol in
one hand. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Susan Gerber and Nancy Fletcher," I said. "We want to make sure you
don't steal anything from our men."
"I'm Joseph Fletcher's wife," amplified Nancy. "And this is Harry
Gerber's sister. We'd like to get a few personal effects and make an
The man gave a sharp whistle and pulled us in. The door slammed shut
behind us. Inside was another man in black. He'd been guarding the
back door. Both of them were armed. They said they were from the
"Why won't your brother talk?" the first man asked me. "His device has
an enormous potential to enhance our national security."
"Harry never tells me what he's doing," I simpered. "Not that I could
understand it anyway."
"And what about you?" the second man asked Nancy. "Where is your
"I bet it's somewhere hot and wet," said Nancy. "My husband loves that
kind of place. Some overgrown delta at the mouth of a river. Who
knows? You're the cops, not me."
"I could use a tropical vacation myself," said the second man in
black. "I'd like to be in the Bahamas." He turned to his partner. "How
about you, Jack?"
"If I had my druthers," said the first man in black, "I'd be camping
out in the Rockies right now."
They'd fallen for our story and had loosened up a little. I kept
giving them nice smiles.
"Can we look around now?" I asked. "We'd like to start upstairs and
then check over the workshop."
"We'll have to search your purses for weapons."
"Fine." I opened my purse. There was my com-
pact in there, the Susan Gerber IDs, some more money, and the magnetic
bottle of gluons.
"What's this?" asked the first man in black, picking up the bottle.
"That's... that's my deodorant."
They let us go upstairs alone; it was the workshop they were really
interested in guarding.
"How are we going to get rid of them?" Nancy whispered.
"Maybe we should get knives from the kitchen?"
"No killing, Joe. You'll just get us in even more trouble. And those
men have guns."
"So what do we do? Seduce them?"
"Why don't we start a fire up here? They'll run up to put it out and
then we can lock ourselves in the workshop. Does it take long to start
"Not that long. If we can get ourselves locked in the workshop, we'll
have time before they break in." We wandered into the bedroom.
"Let's light Harry's bed," suggested Nancy. "It's nice and greasy."
"You don't like Harry, do you, Nancy?"
"Why should I? He doesn't like me." She found a half-empty bottle of
over proof vodka and poured it out on Harry's pillow. "This ought to
help. Can you find a match?"
I found some matches in the kitchen, and another bottle of vodka. I
brought a bunch of newspapers as well. Nancy had a whole plan of
action figured out now. It sounded good to me.
We got the bed sluggishly burning. It gave off a lot of smoke. Nancy
flew up to the ceiling by the
bedroom door. She was holding a thick broom handle.
When the smoke started to trickle down the stairs to the shop, I
ripped open my blouse and began screaming. "There's another Gary-brain
up here! Oh, help me!" I stood at the head of the stairs looking
"I'll save you!" shouted one of the men in black. He came surging up
the stairs, and I pretended to stagger backwards into the smoke-filled
bedroom. Nancy was waiting right overhead, broomstick at the ready.
When the man in black came in, I embraced him and held him steady so
Nancy could whack him on the top of the head. It took three whacks to
knock him out.
I got the gun out of his hand, shoved it under my skirt's waistband,
and ran downstairs. I ran right into the other man in black. "One of
those brains is loose up there," I cried. "I think it got Mrs.
The man pushed past me. I hurried into the shop and locked the door to
the stairs. Then I went to open the front door. Nancy was waiting out
there. She'd flown down from Harry's bedroom window.
We ran into the workshop and got that door locked, too. Antie was in
the workshop, turned off and lying on her side. I switched her power
on and we got to work on the blunzing machinery. You could hear the
footsteps of the men in black running around upstairs. They were busy
putting out the fire.
"Go lie on that table in the blunzing chamber," I
told Nancy. "Put on the breathing mask and get ready for the shot."
"I'm scared, Joe."
"Do you want me to go instead of you?"
"No. I'll do it." For the first time today Nancy kissed me. "I'll make
a better world, Joe."
"The microwave cavity is ready," called Antie.
"Get the gluons from my purse!" I shouted. "Good luck, Nancy."
Now Nancy was in the blunzing chamber. I switched on the sheathing
field. Antie poured the gluons into the microwave. There was noise out
in the shop. I fired a random gunshot through the door. Antie fed the
gluons into the vortex coil.
Noise and confusion took over. For the third and final time, someone
got blunzed...but not just Nancy.
Everyone got blunzed this time, everyone on Earth. For that was
Nancy's wish: that the Planck length be ten thousand kilometers big
for the 2.4 seconds that her gluons lasted. Everyone got to make a
wish at once.
THE guards were gone and it was raining outside raining fish. The big
rain-fish would hit the pavement, flop a little, and then melt into
"You really did it," I said to Nancy. I had my arm around her, and she
was leaning against my long, lean frame. I was back to normal.
"Where's Harry?" asked the old woman behind us. Antie had turned
herself into a flesh-and-blood copy of Harry's dead mother. The
blunzing had even affected her. Nancy's little echowomen had flown out
of the chamber and helped each of us make our wish. Antie's had been
to be just like Harry's mother. I wondered what kinds of wishes
everyone else had made. The rain-fish were probably the idea of the
crazy old sailor we'd seen. Everyone had gotten what they wanted most.
"Where's Harry?" repeated Antie.
I waited for Nancy to answer, but she seemed too drained. Her feat had
taken a lot out of her.
"I don't know where Harry is," I told Antie. "He probably got himself
out of prison. Maybe hell turn up here soon."
"You ought to hide," fretted the old woman. "Now that the police can
recognize you again."
"That's all fixed," I reassured her. "After I changed my body I got us
all pardons from the governor. And I bet Sondra brought those
seventeen dead people back to life."
"That's right," murmured Nancy. "And the men in black took their
vacations. One to the Bahamas and one to the Rockies."
A man-sized beetle marched past, the rain of fish beating on his
iridescent green back. What a weirdo he must have been. Leaning out
the door, I could see that it was sunny down by the railroad station.
A fish struck me on the head and splatted onto the sidewalk.
"Let's find an umbrella and take a walk." I suggested.
"I'm waiting here for Harry," said Antie stubbornly. "And I have to
clean up the mess in his bedroom."
"Fine. Nancy and I'll go out alone."
We got an umbrella and went outside. There was a startling roar as a
race car shot past, its tires throwing up sheets of fish-water. It
looked like an Indy 500 racer...which is what it probably was. A block
away from the store I spotted the old sailor, staring up into the sky
and catching fish in his mouth. Another block and we were in sunlight.
I folded up the umbrella and looked around.
The train station had been transformed into a graceful lacework of
metal and glass, a veritable crystal palace of transportation. A fine
steam locomotive was just pulling in.
"Isn't she a beauty?" yelled the engineer, leaning out and waving.
"I've always wanted to run one of these!" We smiled and waved back.
The Terminal Bar across the street had become a huge old saloon of the
same period as the locomotive. You could hear a honky-tonk piano
inside. The mustached bartender stood in the door, grinning and
holding an inexhaustible schooner of beer. He gave us a happy salute.
It was almost like being in Disneyland...except everything was real.
"Did everyone make good wishes?" I asked Nancy.
"Yes," she smiled. "I made sure they did."
"I sent out my echowomen. I sent one to watch each person on Earth. If
I could see a mean wish in someone's mind, I reached in and made them
change it. And if two people's wishes conflicted, I made one of them
Farther down the street was a sidewalk cafe... formerly a scuzzy
German coffee shop. I recognized the owner sitting at one of the
tables and eating a roast chicken.
"There's a buffet inside," he called to us. "Help yourself. I'll make
out the bill later."
"Are you hungry?" I asked Nancy.
She nodded and sat down at one of the sunny tables. I went into the
cafe and filled two plates. I brought them out and then fetched some
white wine and soda.
We ate in silence for a minute. It was the best food I'd ever tasted.
One of the things on my plate was a crisp white veal sausage. I held
it up for Nancy to see, remembering the fable.
She laughed and patted my hand. "You see, Joe? It's not so bad to ask
for simple things."
"Do you know what each person wished?"
"No, not anymore. While I was blunzed I knew, sort of. I sent my
echowomen everywhere, like Alwin said I should. I made the Planck
length big enough to cover the whole Earth, and I helped everyone make
his or her wish."
"Do people know it was you? You'll be treated like a queen!"
"No, no. You know how small most of the echoes are. People couldn't
see me. And I wouldn't want them to know it was me, because then
they'd ask me to do it again."
"Yeah. And we can't do it again. There's only three colors of gluon,
and each color only works once." An attractive young couple floated
down out of the sky to sit at a table nearby. Glancing up, I could see
a number of people flying around overhead. The power of flight seemed
to be a fairly common wish.
"I wonder what Harry wished for," I mused. "Do you know?"
"I meant to check, but he was already gone by the time I got to him.
He was like you...he knew right away he'd been blunzed, and he acted
"He wasn't in Rahway anymore?"
"He left our space, so far as I could tell. Look at those two!"
Another couple had joined the crowd at the cafe a beautiful red-haired
woman and a man who was only three inches high. The man was perched in
the redhead's decolletage like a prince on a balcony. It looked like a
good place to be.
More and more people were out in the street now, everyone chattering
and looking around to see what the others had done. There were many
more beautiful men and women than was normal for New Brunswick; beauty
was obviously a wish even more popular than flight. Lots of people
wore jewels as well, and I noticed several men drawing out big wads of
"All my money's going to be worthless," I suddenly realized.
"Everybody and his brother must have asked for a million dollars."
"Yes," said Nancy. "But we've still got our penthouse."
"But what are we going to live on? I can't go back to working at
"Go back in business with Harry," suggested Nancy. "If you can find
"Yeah, that's a thought." I was distracted again by a passerby, this
one a man running at what must have been thirty miles per hour. "Look
at that guy go!"
"A lot of beauties, a lot of millionaires, a lot of great athletes,"
said Nancy. "Can I have some more wine, please?"
A giant breast rolled past, followed by a man with four arms. Shiny
cars...antique and futuristic alike...buzzed this way and that. In a
doorway across the street lay a man slumped in some interminable
ecstasy. In the distance I heard music playing.
"How about Alwin Bitter? What did he wish for?"
Nancy's eyes danced above her tilted wineglass. "Alwin... Alwin is an
altruist," she said, setting down her glass. "He wished for this all
"But the blunzer made itself. It was a cause-andeffect loop with Harry
and me in it."
"Even so, you and Harry and the loop had to come from somewhere. Alwin
wished you into existence."
"I don't believe that, Nancy, do you?"
"I don't know. What's important is that now everyone will be happy for
quite a while, and maybe later...even if the changes all wear
off...people will still remember how to be happy. I thought it was
worth a try."
A machine that seemed to be a flying saucer zipped down the street and
hovered by our cafe. A hatch opened and family of little green
"Martians" hopped out. They talked with New Jersey accents.
"This sure is fun, Nancy. Did you happen to notice what Serena wished
"A pet rabbit and a box of candy."
"Sweet. Maybe we better fly down to Princeton and pick her up. You can
still fly, can't you?"
"Sure. You'll feel better to me with all that girl fat gone." Nancy
reached under the table and squeezed my thigh. I drank a little more
wine and smiled at her. Everyone in sight looked happy. It was like
some magic Christmas party.
I waved the cafe owner over for the check. "How much?"
"I dunno. You got a lot of money, don't you?"
"Sure. Here, take a hundred." I fished the bill out of the purse I'd
been using and handed it over.
The cafe owner looked at the bill with a frown. "Is this real?"
"Was the food?" I countered.
"Okay, a hundred," grumbled the owner. "But I don't like it. Why
didn't / think of asking for money instead of a new restaurant?"
"You're better off with the restaurant," I assured him. "There's going
to be inflation like you won't believe." The whole financial system
was going to have to be reworked. It was going to be a mess. People
wouldn't stay happy for long. The cafe owner stomped off to the lovers
from the sky and charged them a cool grand for two cups of coffee.
"Maybe you should have tried to change human nature," I told Nancy as
we stood up. "Make people nicer and more generous."
"Some people did wish that for themselves," Nancy responded. "There'll
be a lot of saints around."
A man in the shape of a motorcycle went zooming past with a
fur-covered woman on his saddle. Glancing after them, I noticed a
building made entirely of meat: a skin-covered orifice building with
people plunging in and out of its portals. I was beginning to wish for
a less frantic scene.
"Well, come on, Nancy, lie down and..."
Two hands suddenly appeared in front of me. Familiar-looking hands.
They grabbed me by the shoulders and yanked me into the unknown.
Rudy Rucker is Watching You
You could say that everything went black, or you could say that
everything went white. I was . . . elsewhere.
But not alone.
"Hey, Fletcher," came the familiar voice, "you have to help me."
"Harry? Where are we?"
"What's superspace?" I felt around for my body and couldn't find it.
"Thoughtland, Fletch, the cosmos. Pure mentation. Abstract
possibility. Infinite dimensions. The class of all sets. God's mind.
The pre-geometric substratum. Hilbert space. Penultimate reality.
"Cut the crap, Harry. I was having a good time till you butted in. Put
"You don't want to rush back there. This is much cooler. This is
eternity, Joe, this is the secret of life."
"Oh come on, Harry. I'm not interested in the secret of life. I just
want to go home and be with Nancy. She and Sondra are going to be at
"Hold it." Contrasts appeared in the black-orwhite void around me.
Streamers, clumps, hazy patches. "Can you see it now?"
"I can't see anything. I might as well be looking at clouds."
"You see clouds? Wait." The fog folded in on itself. Colors appeared.
Definite forms began to congeal. One of them was Harry, and one of
them was me.
"That's better," I said, tentatively moving my arm. The arm
"Your arm's in another dimension now," Harry explained. "We're in a
three-dimensional cross section of infinite-dimensional superspace. If
you try, you can get your arm back."
I tried. And then my arm was back, though the hand was still missing.
I examined the stub where my arm ended. It looked as if my hand had
been chopped right off. I could see the bone and its marrow, the
muscle tissues, and the round mouths of the veins. Yet no blood was
"Flip your wrist," urged Harry.
I flipped my wrist some funny way, and suddenly my hand was back. This
was pretty interesting. I gave Harry's head a push, and watched it
disappear. Peering down into his neck, I could see the insides of his
lungs and stomach. But then his head snapped back.
"Where's our universe?" I asked Harry. Our two bodies seemed quite
definite now, though nothing else did. Everything else was just
shifting patterns of colored light.
"It's that spot there," said Harry, pointing at a small, egg-shaped
blob of hazy white.
"What are all the other spots?"
"Other universes, of course. I've been here before. Briefly. When I
got blunzed the first time, I came here to find the Looking-Glass
World." Harry indicated a reddish patch of light near the white one
that was home.
"Why are they so small?"
"That's from our position on the size axis. There's an axis for
I floated closer to our universe and peered at it. The hazy white
light was patterned into whorls and dots. Galaxy clusters.
"Right now we're in a space parallel to our universe's time," said
Harry, taking my arm. "But we can turn sideways."
He yanked at me and everything changed again. Now our universe egg was
striped like a watermelon, filamented like a gooseberry. Bright lines
stretched from one pole to the other.
"The Big Bang is down there," said Harry, pointing at one end. "See
how some of the loops lead back? That's what you were doing when you
got blunzed. Leading them back."
Looking more closely, I could see that our universe was really made up
of a single tangled thread, a bright line that wove forward and back
and in and out. It was like an endlessly knotted wire, a tangle of
yarn, the Gordian knot. I looked at some of the other universes,
knotty eggs all around us. We were really behind the scenes.
"...different axis for each property," Harry was saying.
"Can we change the scale? I'd like to be able to see Earth."
"Sure." Harry tugged my arm again, and things changed like images in a
kaleidoscope. I felt dizzy and longed for something to stand on.
No sooner thought than done. We were standing in a hallway with
peeling yellow walls. The universe egg floated in front of us, an
infinitely detailed image in a crystal ball.
"Is this real?" I scuffed at the dirty floor. Spit, cigarette butts,
"This is the transport axis. We see it our own way. I think we can get
a scale change up ahead."
Walking down the hall, we passed several closed doors. I wondered who
or what lay behind them. I wondered, but I didn't want to know. I kept
having the feeling that we were being watched by some cool, detached
intelligence just out of sight.
At the end of the hall were some rotten-looking stairs. When I put my
foot on the first step, the wood broke through and scraped my leg. "We
better hug the wall," I suggested. "That'll be more solid." I had the
feeling that something was following us. Surely Harry and I were not
the only beings to have entered Superspace.
We hurried up the decaying staircase as best we could. The universe
egg stayed always a few meters ahead of us. With each step, the detail
in it grew finer. I could see individual stars now, and one star that
I imagined to be the Sun.
The staircase stopped abruptly. Peering over the edge, I could see
down into the light-patterned chaos of before. There was a frayed rope
dangling over the abyss. I reached out and pulled on it. Slowly the
board we were on began to rise. It was as if we were on a painter's
Harry helped me pull at the rope, and we rose up and up into the
cluttered dark, the universe egg always just above us. You could see
Earth now, North America, New Jersey...my hand slammed into a rusty
"I don't think it goes any higher, Harry." Our platform was swaying
and my footing began to slip. I was sure I could hear someone
breathing nearby. "Get us out of here, Harry, something's after us!"
"Wait, I'll imagine a way out. Yes!" He yanked me sideways and I heard
a great creaking. A kind of bench came floating over to us. Crumbling
metal struts led from the bench to some distant machinery. It was like
a giant carnival ride, a cross between a roller coaster and a Ferris
wheel. We both jumped for the bench, and the scaffold's rope snapped.
For a moment I thought we weren't going to make it. Hanging there for
that split second I finally found the courage to look over my
There was a man behind us, a run-down man with short hair and lambent
eyes. He had the taut features and heavy stubble of a drifter. His
lips were slightly parted to show his crooked teeth. Seeing me notice
him, he gave the barest flicker of response...a twinge of gloating, a
pulse of lust. His cool, hungry stare filled me with horror. I reached
out for the now-receding bench with all my strength...and made it.
The bench was cast-iron with a leather seat. I grabbed it so hard that
my tendons crackled. Harry was next to me, blandly enjoying the ride.
The bench bore us higher into the gloom and the universe egg hovered
before us, ever-changing. I was scared to look back again.
Princeton was in the egg, and then Alwin Bitter's house. Our bench
lurched this way and that, and the house's age jerked back and forth
through time. Then we were sailing along smoothly, and I could see
Alwin Bitter sitting on his porch.
"Move your head," said Harry, lolling back in his seat. "Move your
head and you can see him all different ways."
Following Harry's example, I turned my head this way and that. Alwin's
body warped and shifted, split into cross sections and rejoined. From
one angle he was no longer a flesh-body, but rather a luminous egg
like the universe itself. Inside this Alwin-egg I could sense the
bright cascade of his mental processes, a fleet torrent that
threatened to wash my selfhood all away.
I twitched my head again and saw Alwin one hour earlier, at the moment
when we'd all been blunzed. He was thinking of me and Harry, and
making a wish...a strange, unbelievable wish. It was like Nancy had
said...Alwin Bitter was wishing us into existence! He was making Harry
and me be born and live our lives the way we had! Staggered and upset,
I snapped back into an awareness of our bench.
We were on rails now, clacking through the dark like a fun-house car.
Still the egg with Alwin's porch floated before us. I glanced around,
anxious lest something horrible leap out at us from the dark. Fun
houses have always terrified me. In my mind's eye, I kept seeing the
terrible hungry face of the man who watched. Perhaps Alwin had dreamed
me, but that man had dreamed Alwin.
"Let's go home, Harry. What are we here for anyway?"
"When Nancy got me blunzed, I thought the best escape would be to come
here to Superspace. This is the Cosmos, not just some little universe.
I like it here. It's like looking inside a radio or going down under a
city's streets. You get to see how everything works."
"But a lot of it's imagination," I insisted. "The stairs and the
scaffold and this bench. We're just making it up."
"That's right," said Harry with sudden venom. "We're making it up and
not Alwin Bitter."
"You saw his wish?"
"He thinks he dreamed us up. That just..."
"Don't worry so much, Harry. There's level after level." Alwin's porch
was beginning to fade. I jumped to my feet, and the bench swayed
dangerously. "Come on, Harry, we're going back!"
He tried to twist away from me, but I had a good, solid grip on his
hand. I leaped at the universe egg before it could change again.
Can It Ever Be Over?
AND crashed down on Alwin Bitter's porch. I was holding Harry's hand,
but the rest of him wasn't there.
"Help me, Alwin," I cried. "Help me drag Harry back."
Bitter grabbed me around the waist. We strained with all our might.
Slowly the rest of Harry appeared: first his arm, then his shoulder,
then his angry face. Finally his whole outraged body stood there:
lumpy, ropy, wise old Harry. When I let go of his hand he leaped
backwards, but only succeeded in falling off the porch.
"Nancy!" called Alwin. "Look who's here!"
Nancy and Serena came running out of the house. Serena was toting her
new pet rabbit.
"Oh, Alwin," said Nancy, "I've been so worried. Is it all over now?
Can it ever be over?"
I hugged her tight and Serena wormed in between our legs. "It's all
right now, baby. Everything will be all right."
Harry was stuck in Alwin's shrubbery. It took the three of us to help
"You're not the real Master of Space and Time," fumed Harry when he
saw old Alwin's face. "You're not the one who made us and the blunzer
"I never said I did," said Alwin equably. "I just did my best to help
things along. We all did it. No one did it. Our universe is an
"I bet you don't know what the Cosmos looks like," taunted Harry. The
fact that he'd never even finished college made him feel defensive
around real scientists. But old Bitter kept his cool.
"The Cosmos? It's like the story of the blind men and the elephant,
isn't it? No one person sees the whole thing. The One is unknowable,
Harry. The Cosmos does not...in any intentional sense of the word...
"Where's Sybil?" I interrupted, not wanting the argument to drag on
forever. "What did she wish for?"
"She's upstairs," said Alwin happily. "She's writing a book. That was
Sybil's wish, to write a good book."
"Wow," I said, impressed. "All I wished for was money and..."
"The old monetary system has been suspended," said Alwin. "Money and
good looks and strength are all pretty much a drug on the market right
now. As they should be. Everyone's going to have to get by on their
"That's what Alwin was hoping for," Nancy explained.
All the changes were too much for me to take in. I turned to my best
friend. "What are we going to do, Harry?"
Harry was already on his way into the house to look for Sondra. "What
will we do?" He paused for a moment in the doorway, blinking in at the
dark. "More of the same, I suppose."