Elmer McFarland finds himself in a mid-rise apartment in So-Ho, which bears little resemblance to the Planet Two. He is also brokenhearted.
But there’s cappuccino gurgling in the kitchen.
Subsequent to my uneventful and therefore successful transfer on Qantas, I became aware that Qantas trans-dimensional service is not yet available in most locales. Although the people of Qantas provide good service, with a friendly (though sardonic) attitude, I don’t recommend that you utilize your telecommunications device to inquire about their six-day Big Bang excursion. Inquiries through their WWW site (brought to you by All Bore,) is also not recommended.
Dirk Ex Machina
It was morning in So-Ho. We were high up in a building, surrounded by many buildings of such height, and buildings unimaginably high, visible to the south. I couldn’t help but wonder how many sheep you could fit in so many buildings.
The Stevens twins slept seductively in each other’s arms on what Dirk called a futon. It didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t willing to join in their lovemaking. Dirk was one of those few men able to satisfy more than one woman, or perhaps the sisters assisted each other in that venture.
Dirk handed me a cup. The top was full of sweet foam with sprinkles of a dark substance that I hoped was chocolate, because I didn’t wish to contemplate what else it might be.
“It’s hot,” he warned me a second after I had scalded the lining of my mouth.
“So what do you think of New York, Brother?”
“It’s very impressive,” I said. “I wish Ono could see it.”
Dirk made a dismissive gesture. “You’re better off.”
“Living here on your charity?”
“Only until we find you a place of your own.”
“And how will I obtain this place? I have no So-Ho skills. For what type of work am I suited?”
“Can you still do that trick with precious metals?” he asked.
“They’re very fond of precious metals here in New York. We’ll take a trip to Alaska or the Dakotas next week. You’ll have enough gold to get three places like this.”
I sighed. What he said was probably true, but I wasn’t really worried about that. I had thousands of years ahead of me – maybe in So-Ho if it lasted that long, or on any other place I wished once Dirk showed me the dial for trans-dimensional travel.
But was a long life such a good thing when it was empty? What was there to live for?
“Look Buddy,” said Dirk. “I know you’re down, and if you’re like me, you probably want all the bad news at once.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
Dirk laughed. “It’s just I’ve been holding out on you. You see I’ve been letting you believe that we’ve lived this long because we’re different from other humans, and it’s true we are, but only because I made us that way.”
“Remember my twenty-fourth birthday?”
I thought back. It was too long ago. I shook my head.
“It doesn’t matter,” Dirk told me. “What matters is what happened. I was out in Glaz’s tobacco field…”
“I remember Glaz,” I said.
“That’s good, Buddy. Try to focus. I was out in the tobacco field filching some tobacco to make a few home-made cigars.”
“That’s right,” I said. “You didn’t work.”
“And I had no money,” Dirk agreed. “But I wasn’t the only one stealing tobacco that day. There was this guy who looked like he was made out of shiny gold. He had a mop on his shoulder, and a shiny silver bag. He was stuffing leaves in the bag.”
“The Celestial Custodian?”
“Yeah,” said Dirk. “You’ve met him?”
“Recently,” I said.
“You must have made a mess in his kitchen. He hates that. His name is Dude.”
“The Celestial Custodian is named Dude?”
“Just let me finish, will you?”
“Okay,” I said, trying out the new So-Ho expression. Did I do it, okay? How often did one say, okay? Could okay be said sarcastically, or if from Pogo, sardonically? Did one strive to be okay, or was okay only achieved passively?
“Focus, Brother,” said Dirk.
“I said, okay!” I said plaintively, and found that I liked the sound of it.
Dirk sighed, but went on. “I guess Dude didn’t see me, and when his bag was full, I grabbed at it. I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean Dude could have vaporized me with his mop of glory, but he was busy at the moment traveling back.”
“To the school of amazing stuff!” I said, and almost shouted, ‘I knew it,’ but I certainly hadn’t known it and I was still feeling awkward about misusing that phrase earlier.
“That’s where we went,” Dirk agreed. “I went there because I had hold of his bag. Dude was pretty surprised when he saw me.”
“What did he do?”
“That’s the funny thing. I mean Dude could have done just about anything he wanted to me, but he was bound by the moral code of causation.”
“It’s kind of like the thirty-seven ideas in the world of the school of amazing stuff. I never would have gotten to the school if he hadn’t been stealing tobacco from Glaz, and so anything that came of that was his moral fault.”
“Anything you do?”
“Or you do too,” said Dirk. “You never would’ve gone to the school if it weren’t for me, and I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Dude. Dude tried to bluff me, but for a Celestial being, he’s pretty easy to read. I wasn’t sure what I had on Dude, but I knew I had some bargaining power and I used it.”
“What did you get?”
“Among other things, I learned how to be immortal.”
“So you weren’t immortal before?”
“No, just potentially immortal. It turns out that everybody is potentially immortal. We all have this switch in the back of our skull; it switches back and forth, immortal, not immortal. Here, I’ll show you,”
I followed Dirk to the sleeping Steven’s twins. He pushed one of the twin’s hair aside, and sure enough, there was the switch. “Why didn’t I see that before?”
“It’s a lot like the dials at the school,” said Dirk. “Most of the time, you can’t turn the dial unless you know what you’re looking at. The only reason you see this switch is because I told you I was going to show it to you.”
“You’d think barbers, or hair-dressers…”
“Yeah,” said Dirk. “and masseuses. I’m surprised they don’t trip the switch thousands of times a year.”
“Maybe they always do it an even number of times,” I guessed.
“Wow,” said Dirk. “That’s pretty good math for you.”
I didn’t know if I should be complimented or insulted, so I asked him, “so you flipped both of our switches?”
“I did,” said Dirk. “That’s why I’m forever twenty-four, and you’re forever twenty-six.”
“But Uncle Egbert was still alive then. Why didn’t you switch him?”
“It might have slipped my mind, I don’t know. It was a long time ago.”
“Why didn’t you switch Mom?”
“I asked her. She said being fifty forever didn’t sound like paradise.”
“Yeah. I kind of felt bad when she died.”
That sounded like an understatement, but while I’ve always been slow to think, Dirk has been slow to feel. Maybe seeing Mom die when he could have prevented it wasn’t as hard for him as it would have been for me. “Hold on,” I said, loud enough to make the twins stir. I staggered back towards the couch. “Wait a minute.”
“You’re catching on,” said Dirk.
“You said that we were more…”
“Durable,” Dirk finished.
“Lied,” he said. “But I did it for your own good. If it were up to you, you would have filled this apartment with every sad story on the planet Two. You probably would have rescued Uriculous and his Light Bringer.”
“I would have rescued Ono!”
“Yeah, and her buddy whose face disappears, and Swampy, and…”
“No,” I said. “That’s it. Just those three. Unless you were lying about Phasia.”
“No,” said Dirk. “I was straight with you about Phasia. So you know that Ono will be fine. The monk will probably take your faceless friend too, and you know Swampy will follow the girl, so everything’s fine.”
“Maybe not now,” said Dirk, “but everything will be fine when you get over the girl. You’ve lived long enough. You know you’ll get over her.”
“You’re right,” I said.
“And besides,” said my brother. “It’s not as if you can do anything about it now.”
“I can if you’ll teach me trans-dimensional travel.”
“I will teach you,” said Dirk, “but not until you’ve had a couple decades here in New York, or someplace else if this one self-destructs. The Light Bringer and the others won’t be kind to you if you try to help your friends.”
“They’ll just cast me out again.”
“They can’t do anything to you – at least not anymore than light your cigars or punch you in the nose.”
“All of it was you? You cast yourself out?”
“Haven’t you ever noticed how dreadfully dull Two is?”
“So I have nothing to fear from the Light Bringer?”
“I don’t know,” said Dirk. “He’s bigger than you – and he has a Showr Rinn monk with him.”
“Teach me trans-dimensional travel.”
“You have to!”
“Did that argument ever work?” Dirk gathered the cups. Mine was still full, though the sweet foam was gone, so I didn’t want it. “You’ll be fine, Elmer. You have plenty of time to get over her.”
Dirk left me alone except for the sleeping twins. I got up and started to pace. I was upset. I was angry with Dirk. I was worried about Ono. I wanted a cigar.
All these things were true, but there was something else. I didn’t know what to do about something else, so I automatically reached into my fanny pack for a cigar, even though I knew I didn’t have any.
I pulled out a fish stick. How did that get in there? Did Mage-e-not and Ono magically create it and put it there? But there wasn’t anything in the fanny pack to transform.
It looked like it might have been a pretty good fish stick yesterday, but not any more. I looked around for Swampy, but of course, he wasn’t there. I threw away the fish stick and thought about what Dirk had said.
What was memorable about his twenty-forth birthday?
Then I remembered. On his twenty-forth birthday, he gave me a present which is unusual for someone to do on their own birthday, and doubly unusual for Dirk. He gave me a fanny pack. He gave me this fanny pack!
My brain hurt, but I felt pretty strongly about one thing. I needed to talk to someone other than Dirk about this. In spite of the ban, I needed to find the Celestial Custodian. I needed to talk to Dude.
So many things explained.