You are on page 1of 237

THE PLIGHT AND THE PLEASURE

By

FIACRE ORAFFERTY












2


Fistro Obrion opened his eyes just as he had done every morning
for as long as he could remember. He tugged a bit at the covers and
looked up at the television. It had been on all night. There were people on
a morning show saying something about immigrants. In the bottom right
hand corner of the screen there was a little digital clock: 9:23 it said.
Good lord, this is no time to be in bed, his own brain said. He pulled back
the covers and swung his legs and feet over the edge. He sat there for a
moment. The people on the morning show were arguing with each other
but he was not interested. He had more pressing business, such as pants
and shoes and breakfast.
He walked down the street to the caf on the corner, went in and sat at
a window table. Most of the caf was glassed, anyway, so you could
watch the cars and buses and pedestrians as you ate and drank whatever it
was that you ate and drank. A little visual hectic to get you going again in
the mornings. The squat, friendly waitress, who had probably been quite
good-looking once, before lifes things had twisted irony into her smile
and her uniform had gotten a little too tight, came over with a cloth in her
hand to say good morning. He ordered his breakfast and she brought it to
him. Once he had eaten, he ordered a brandy with his second cup of




3
coffee and stared absently at the movement outside. It was quite a busy
intersection, with poles and lights and clumps of people waiting to cross.
Go for it, cheered Fistro when the lights changed and the people surged
forward with their urban determination. He did not do this out loud. One
must maintain a sense of decorum. The group arguing at that other table
obviously had no idea of the concept he thought to himself. Noisy people
in the morning. The friendly waitress looked up to heaven as she passed
them and brought him his second brandy. Yes, irritation was on the rise.
Aliens? Fistro looked up at the huge television screen in the corner.
What were these morning show idiots talking about now? Did aliens have
the right to adopt human children? Fistro shook his head. The group at the
other table were now laughing and squealing and slapping each other.
Another waitress looked up to heaven and went behind the bar and threw
her cloth into the stainless steel sink with enough force that it splashed
the suds everywhere. The other waitresses patted her shoulder as they
went past her back out to the tables where, for the moment, there were no
aliens causing trouble. Some people on the morning show, with hair that
was far too stiff for any known purpose, were in a heated debate about
whether aliens had souls. God was mentioned. Fistro sipped his brandy
and looked through the glass of the window at the world outside. A
tottering, grey-haired woman with a cane was frantically trying to fish




4
back an ugly brown shoe that had somehow ended up in the path of the
huge black wheel of a bus. Fistro shuddered to himself.
That was enough of that pathos. He paid his bill and left. His first
session today was with Mr. Plant, a short tidy gentleman with intense
eyes and a black goatee. Though the sessions were ostensibly aimed at
the improvement of universal communication, a fashion that had been
sweeping the developed world ever since the aliens had arrived, Mr. Plant
preferred to use his two hours to talk about painting. The walls of every
room in his large comfortable apartment, kitchen and bathrooms
included, were covered with paintings of all shapes, sizes and ilks.
Sometimes Mr. Plant would insist enthusiastically that they do the session
as they visited one or other of the nearby galleries. This suited Fistro just
fine. The time passed pleasantly and he got paid for doing practically
nothing. Today, however, Mr. Plant was occupied so the housekeeper
apologized on his behalf and handed Fistro an envelope of money.
Perfect, he thought, with no guilt at all, and set off downtown to the old
part of the city. He knew that due to the discreet structures of this
universe he would later call up and postpone the afternoon session at TCT
Incorporated. Those sessions were pretty useless, anyway. Henders, the
division manager, was usually far too busy keeping the Chinese head
office happy to pay much attention to universal communication.




5
Attending the sessions was just another part of keeping the Chinese, as he
called them, happy. He would be more than pleased with the cancelling of
the session. Theoretically they would recuperate it another day and
payment would not be affected.
Fistro strolled down the wide, busy boulevard in the general direction
of the waterfront. He stopped at a news stand to have a look at the
headlines. He never bought a paper. He hadnt since he had gotten fed up
with the slovenly repetition and tiresome abstractions of the crosswords.
How dare they waste his time and try his patience like that. No, the
headlines were just fine, thank you. As he appraised himself, in the form
of large black print, of the riots in Paris and Los Angeles he was
distracted by a commotion at the intersection down the way. A few
hundred men in white shirts and flapping ties had taken to the street and
seemed to be bellowing angrily at the cars and buses. Office workers, he
realized as he watched still more streaming forth from the imposing
marble and glass entrances to the very tall office buildings on the corners.
Horns were honking in wild and angry blare. Then he heard it. The dull
tramp of running boots in step. The small Chinese newspaper vendor had
come scrambling out of his cubicle behind the pinned up magazines and
special offers and was shouting jiberish at him as he tugged down the
metal shutter. Of course, it wasnt jiberish to the small Chinese




6
newspaper vendor. To him it was a language that had flourished for
thousands of years and was quite intelligibly spoken today by over a
billion people. A billion people! Well never have enough chairs! Fistro
became aware, as the tramping boots got closer, that this was not the time
for such offhand whimsy. No. Better get out of the way. And quickly. He
glanced around to see what the structure of this universe had to offer in
the way of shelter from stamping boots and swinging clubs. Fine cakes
and pastries since 1953 it said on the glass. Perfect. Pastry makers had, so
far, not been singled out as a threat to security of any kind. He dashed for
the elaborate wood and glass door. He stopped as he put his hand on the
brass bar. Decorum. He was not fleeing. He was entering a very
respectable establishment that had been making fine cakes and pastries
since 1953. He entered casually and wished a good morning to all. The
girl behind the counter smiled back. She was young and pretty against the
high dark molded woods of the shop. The other two customers were a
squat, mean-looking woman beyond middle age and a slim older
gentleman in a grey suit. The mean-looking woman had him trapped by
the refrigerated display-case for the fresh cream cakes and was babbling
ignorantly about aliens and where would it all end. The man was plainly,
though elegantly, embarrassed. He looked to Fistro as though for a
lifeline. The obnoxious little woman kept up her gesticulating towards the




7
tumult outside and also her crude despotrication. Fistro looked at the back
of the womans head and was seriously tempted to grab her and toss her
out into the middle of the trampling and clubbing that was going on in
wild amok just meters away out there in the street. She obviously did not
deserve the cozy haven of this establishment that had been peacefully
making fine cakes and pastries for so many years to provide a quiet
pleasure for precisely such people as the gentleman in the grey suit.
Excuse me, sir, said Fistro, addressing him by way of a lifeline.
Are you next to be served?
Why, yes. Yes, I am, said the man and gratefully handed himself
completely into the attention of the smile from the girl behind the
counter. Fistro reared up his white steed and waved to the cheers in his
imagination. The nasty little woman turned around, opening and closing
her mouth with no utter. Fistro held her gaze for a moment and made to
turn away in his wonderful superiority but
No! Good god, no!
But, oh, yes. It was her, all right.
You! was all he heard as he dashed out the door. The melee was in
full swing outside in the street. Dammit! He crouched and ran, keeping
close to the fronts of the buildings. A helmeted figure took a swipe at him
with a club but he dodged, leaped over some poor devil bleeding on the




8
pavement, made it round a corner and was away. Whew! Just five blocks
away city life went on as normal. There were tables outside a caf. He sat
at one. He finally had time to be stunned and stare blindly into space. He
absently ordered a beer without removing the stun from his stare. It had
been a shock but he had escaped. If you can call leaving a quiet little cake
shop to throw yourself into the middle of a bloody riot, escaping. That
made him ponder a moment the foolhardy heroics of extreme cowardice.
Anything was better than facing the bilious onslaught of horrible little
Mrs. Arson. She vehemently hated life and the world and nothing fed this
irrational hatred so well as being able to focus it on one particular human
being. In this case, he, himself. The beer came and he relaxed in his
muse, lucky to be alive. The awful Mrs. Arson had been his landlady a
few years ago. Well, at least, she was convinced of that. The truth was
that he had only been renting a room from those crazy Irish guys who
were her real tenants and he hadnt even been there on the night of the
great disaster. These details are lost on mean scrabbling people like Mrs.
Arson. He did admit that the disaster had been not only extravagant but
quite thorough. The water damage to the other innocent apartments
hadnt helped things either. But on that particular night he had been far
away in another part of the city involved in very civilized copulations
with an Icelandic nurse. What did the woman expect, anyway? You can




9
overcharge those guys who work on the moon but dont expect them to
behave on their earth time off. They risk their lives, for gods sake, for
the minerals in all that alien technology you cant live without. So,
basically Mrs. Arson, screw you. The swallow of beer went down
pleasantly on that thought and Fistro sat back and smiled at the world in
general.
Two men in white shirts and burgundy ties came weaving through the
tables. One was limping slightly and holding a handkerchief to his head.
They sat at the next table. The pitched battle at the intersection by the
cake shop was probably over by now. Those things never lasted too long.
Flash riots that evaporated as magically as they had begun. It was best
that way, it cut down on casualties. The casualty at the next table put
away his handkerchief.
Alien bastards, he remarked to his companion.
Fistro knew that there was a general disgruntlement with the aliens but
what had that to do with clean-cut young office workers like these
suddenly swarming out into the streets at the risk of serious injury, arrest
or worse. He, himself, had no strong feelings about the aliens one way or
another. As far as he could see, they had a pretty reasonable attitude
towards humans. They had let it be known from the beginning that all
they wanted was a little air to breathe and some peace and quite. They




10
built their little colonies in isolated parts of the world and tried to go
unnoticed. In return they handed over bits of technology from time to
time. What the humans did with the technology was their own business.
That, Fistro mused, was probably the root of the problem. They were too
nice. They must be up to something. Also, the fact that they could slip a
millionth of a nanosecond into the future at will made them untouchable
in terms of aggression. You cant blow a shimmer to smithereens.
Personally, Fistro kind of liked their alien cool. Many others seemed to
have become irrationally resentful.
One of the men in the white shirts at the next table touched a finger to
the knot in his burgundy tie and began to speak. Alien technology. Fistro
still had one of the early models in a drawer somewhere. The cost of
using the damn things was, quite simply robbery disguised as service.
The general population, however, just kept on paying up so as not to be
left behind and, by way of complaint, blamed the aliens. This, of course,
was completely unfair. The gouging service providers were all too
human. Chinese, for the most part. They had beaten the Americans to the
adaptation of the alien technology to the massive production of things
like burgundy ties.
Hello, Maria, the man at the next table was saying to the air in front
of his face.




11
Yes, yes Well, thats just it. Ive no idea No What? It was
really weird, you know. Like all of a sudden there we were in the street
shouting and smashing things No, just a scratch Probably, but Oh,
come on, Maria, it wasnt my fault, I swear All right, all right. Look,
well talk about it later. Ok? He touched a finger to the knot in his
burgundy tie.
Mad? asked the other man.
Shell kill me.
He called over the waiter and slumped in pathetic despondency.
But what the hell did happen?
Exactly, thought Fistro. What the hell had happened? He knew that a
lot of these flash riots had no apparent explanation. 87.3 per cent of them
according to a recent headline at the news stand. Oh, well. Since when
had humans made any sense? He gracefully included himself in this
consideration. But really, the silly buggers seemed to be getting dumber
and dumber, grosso modo and generally speaking. He looked around at
the people sitting at the other tables. There you had it. A random
sampling of the pinnacle of evolution on planet Earth. And all, to a man
of them, woman of them or something in between of them occupied in
one way or another with the delights of an enveloping technology
designed to substitute, ameliorate or reconfigure the vagaries of basic




12
sensorial reality. To entertain endlessly and connect them instantly to god
all knows what. Fistro shuddered for the second time that pleasant, sunny
day. Oops, wrong universe? It could very well be. The two office workers
and occasional rioters at the next table were now both staring intently at a
point in front of them and flicking their fingers lightly and expertly at thin
air. They might be working or it might be some sort of game. It was
visible only to them. Fistro looked about in vain for a shop window with
frosted letters announcing a dedication to the elaboration of fine cakes
and pastries since the 1950s. In its stead, the intimate structures of this
universe can be quite playful, an older gentleman in a grey suit had
approached unnoticed and now stood before him gesturing for permission
to sit.
I saw you sitting here and felt I should thank you for the rescue from
that terrible woman, he said, taking a seat. From the way you went pale
and bolted from the shop I assume you have had dealings with her
before.
Fistro explained and the man laughed in understanding. There was
intelligence in his eyes. There were lines on his firm face. They
conversed.
You do not seem to be overly taken with the dazzle of all this
miraculous technology, if I may say so. Rare in a person of your age these




13
days, he said.
Its simple, really. Entertainment bores me, said Fistro.
The older gentleman raised his eyebrows slightly and
All hell broke loose. There was a vast, blood-chilling tearing and grinding
of the earth underfoot as though god himself were wrenching the
firmament. Glasses and plates jumped madly on the tables, lighting poles
and cables swayed like drunken scarecrows and huge chunks of building
smashed to the ground. Reality itself began to wobble. The streets ripped
open and cars and people fell screaming into huge dark cracks.
Quick, my hand! said the older gentleman, grasping Fistros own in
a sudden firm grip that was open to no questioning. Everything
shimmered and Fistro himself disappeared.
**********************************

Good morning, sir. May I see your identification, please?
Now, to a mind still in the throes of early-morning dreams, this
question or request or perhaps even demand is rather difficult to
comprehend. He gave that grunt that people give when their sleep is
disturbed.
Sir?
No, this was not part of the dream. He opened his eyes and looked up




14
from the enveloping comfort of the thick green moss where he was
snuggled against the trunk of a large tree. There was a man in some kind
of uniform standing in front of him. The situation was neither familiar nor
completely strange. The fellow appeared to work here and was diligently
doing his duty. There was a dull-brained earnestness to his eyes. He was
not looking at him, Fistro Obrion, in particular. He was looking at
anybody, no identity. Of course! That was why he wanted, insisted on,
needed, identification. Fistro felt more oriented now. He knew the mans
problem and could most probably help. A nice way to wake up, feeling
useful.
The name is Fistro Obrion, he said, A very good morning to you.
He stood and stretched with languid pleasure and faced the man who was
doing his job. A squirrel sat bolt upright on an overhead branch and
looked on in obvious expectation, as squirrels are wont to do.
May I see your permit, sir? The man with the eyes that looked at no
one in particular was very serious and the squirrel twitched nervously.
Fistro looked at him, up at the squirrel and then past the big tree and out
over the grassy plain that in some abstract way his mind seemed to think
he had crossed the evening before. He looked back at the mans face and
said, not without a certain aplomb,
What?




15
Your permit and your identification. The uniform was getting
nervous. Perhaps he had never done this before and wanted to get it right.
His hand lay on his holster but he did not exactly exude confidence. Was
it Fistros cool that was somehow upsetting him? Fistro looked steadily at
him while he wondered what the next step should be. Of course, he could
always pat his pockets as though trying to locate the documents that the
uniform so obviously desired that he exhibit for perusal. He knew very
well that he carried no such things but perhaps the man would appreciate
the old familiar pocket-patting routine and relax. What the hell, why not?
He smiled effusively and diligently patted and delved into the various
pockets scattered about his clothing. No, not here. Not in this one, either.
My, my, how strange. The uniform was not relaxing. In fact, the tension
in his body was becoming definitely more pronounced.
My dear fellow, said Fistro, I dont seem to have the documents
you require of me. But if I can help in any other way, speak, we are
among trees. Why was he talking like this? It sounded strange yet fitting
in a Wonderland kind of way. .
A gleam of triumph lit up the uniformed mans eyes. He finally had
one of these educated bastards at his mercy. For the first time in his bleak
life he was in charge and a twisted glee was upon him. He spread his feet
and put his hands on his hips just like he had seen in the movies. He held




16
this pose until some subtle reflection in the strangers eyes sent a flash of
the ridiculous to light up his basic insecurity. Authority, no matter how
alluring it might seem in his humid daydreams, was still far too large for
his limited capabilities so he reverted to the more comfortable role of
uniform obeying orders. He was still in charge but he wouldnt have to do
any extra thinking.
Im afraid youll have to come with me, sir, he said in a professional
tone that he had learned in the training course. The squirrel scampered a
little way along the branch to get a better perspective, stopped, and sat
bolt upright again. The man in uniform looked up at the sudden
movement. Fistro looked up. The squirrel looked down at the two of
them. He hadnt meant to interrupt but he was a squirrel.
Afraid? asked Fistro with polite interest.
What? The uniform was momentarily perplexed but recovered.
I mean that I have to take you to the command post. You are an
unidentified person in a restricted area. If you would kindly proceed in
that direction, sir. He pointed into the woods, away from the grass plain.
Fistro looked in the direction indicated by his finger and noticed that the
sun was playing happily with the light and shade of tree and leaf. A
lovely morning. You could almost imagine a large badger trundling
through those two trees up ahead.




17
A large badger came trundling towards them through the two trees up
ahead. Its back was almost up to their knees. A large badger indeed. The
uniform stiffened as the woodland creature approached. He licked his
lips. Perhaps it was the interruption. First the squirrel and now this. No
wonder his wife ignored him. Neither of the two men moved in the
direction that had just a moment before been so firmly indicated by the
power vested in the uniform, if not in the wearer of it himself. The badger
had stopped squarely in the way. The uniform was nonplussed. Fistro was
delighted.
A very good day to you, badger, he said, talking strange again.
The animal raised its head and looked at him with woodland frankness.
And a very good morning to you, too, he replied. His voice was
grave but agreeable. Uniform looked from one to the other,
expressionless and slack-faced. It was what his body usually did when his
mind didnt comprehend. A very honest body he had on him there. A
saving grace.
I see you have already met the one who keeps us all safe from chaos
and mayhem, said the animal, not without a certain conspiratorial
sarcasm. Too bad his wife never pays any attention to him.
Uniform winced slightly at this but was far too enthralled by the whole
scene to react openly. The squirrel scampered back and forth along the




18
branch and then sat bolt upright, observing. After all, he was a squirrel
and, quite frankly, it was all wonderful early morning entertainment.
I take it then, said Fistro, that you are familiar with our uniformed
friend here. He has kindly invited me to accompany him to some sort of
post that commands. At first I thought he might be dangerous, armed and
all that but he shrugged.
Now, see here!
It was uniform. He had finally found his voice and desperately wanted
to regain control. How had he lost it, anyway? He was the one in the
uniform of the greater powers.
This is an official The badgers sharp hiss cut him off dead. All
right, fine, his brain murmured, let them have their little talk. When they
got back to command theyd see just who was who.
Well, I must be on my way, said badger. Its been a pleasure.
While you are in our woodland, tread with open thought and enjoy the
smells and quiet dapple. Perhaps we shall meet anew. So saying, he
trundled past them, ignoring uniform completely. Perhaps, thought Fistro
to himself as he watched the badger trundle out of sight. A fine trundle on
that fellow, no doubt about it. He turned back to he who was now, in
effect, his host for the time being. He politely gave gesturally to
understand that he was ready to proceed. Uniform grunted and did not




19
stamp his foot in frustration. They set off in the direction he had indicated
in the first place. While Fistro openly enjoyed the simple beauties of their
surroundings, uniform tramped along in a frown. The squirrel watched
them go from his upright position on the branch. The sun played dappled
games with leaf and shadow. Insects buzzed about their business.
As they wound their way along the path through the trees, Fistro
decided that it was time to put things in some kind of order. First of all,
where the hell was he? He checked with his mind. It was completely
blank on the subject. Given the structure of this universe, the most
probable explanation was that he had been drinking that synthetic rubbish
again. Ok. But what was he doing out in the middle of the country? The
fact that this particular piece of country was restricted did not surprise
him, only his presence there. Or here, he corrected himself. Not to worry,
it would come to him. He vaguely remembered crossing the open
meadow the previous dusk and settling down for the night on a mossy
bed under the tree. How he happened to be strolling across a meadow out
in open country was a piece of information that his mind was, for the
moment, keeping to itself.
They eventually came out into a large clearing with a few cabins and
some rustic fencing. All bare wood, national park kind of stuff, a camp.
Uniform led the way to the building in the center, they climbed the steps




20
to the porch and he knocked on the door. There came a growl from inside.
Uniform hesitated, noticed Fistro looking at him, summoned up a
semblance of composure and opened the door. They entered.
I discovered this gentleman in violation of the perimeter, sir. He has
no I.D. and no permit.
The officer behind the desk stared hard at Fistro, the perimeter
violator.
Thank you, Feathers. That will be all.
Feathers? That didnt seem quite fair, thought Fistro, insult to injury
kind of thing.
Brandy? said the officer standing up from behind the desk with that
devilish smile of his as the door closed behind Feathers.
Molloy, you crazy fucking bastard!
They laughed and shook hands with real clasp. Molloy produced two
generous brandies. There were a couple of leather armchairs over by the
window. They sat without speaking for a moment. How long had it been?
Quite the gentlemens club you have here, said Fistro, placing his
snifter on the round table between them. What happened? Get sick of the
moon?
Fuck the moon, said Molloy cheerfully. It breaks your heart in the
end. No matter how good the money is there just comes a time when




21
youve got to give it up if you want to stay sane. He caught Fistros grin.
Well, you know what I mean.
We dont really hear too much about it down here. Apart from the
promotional crap. Nobody pays attention any more. So long as theyve
got their toys, said Fistro.
Yeah, I know. Every time I came back down things were a little
screwier than the time before, said Molloy. Things just might be
coming to the brink for the whole mindless lot. Do you know who Im
working for now, Obrion, old son?
Some parks service, maybe? said Fistro.
This is no park, Obrion, old tootle. Surely the talking badger made
you stop and wonder for a minute. And that poor creature, Feathers, said
Molloy.
To tell you the truth, I was more wondering what I was doing here. I
have absolutely no idea. Zero.
Right, right. Of course. Another brandy? He got up and brought
back the decanter. Finely cut crystal, long neck and wide flat bottom.
Waterford? asked Fistro. It was something solidly normal to
comment on. He was beginning to realize that he was far too adrift.
The best. Picked it up on my last visit. But, Jesus, Irelands changed.
Gone nuts. Chinese and Arabs everywhere. Barely a bogman worth the




22
name. He sighed for the past imagined magic of Erin. But I think Id
better get you straight on a few things.
I think youd definitely better. Fistro Obrion was all ears.
Well, he thought, when Molloy had finished explaining. The discreet
structures of this universe were no slouches. No, indeed. It was like this.
After Molloy and his friends had perpetrated the disaster on Mrs. Arsons
apartment they had gone back up to the moon. Just another boring two-
month stint. But things started to go wrong. Accidents, deaths, suicides,
systems failures. Company big-shots flew in to find out what the hell was
going on. They were losing huge amounts of money, Chinese money.
Shortly before the end of his tour the gloom and stress and jitters were
getting to everyone. He made up his mind. He quit there and then, he
wasnt going back. Then it happened. It was technically impossible for
any given part of any of the extraction clusters to crack open to the void
outside. When section 29 did exactly that, the impossible killed over
thirty men and women. When you are in space, science is what stands
between you and death. Hard science. There had been no human error in
section 29. No. Hard science itself had cracked open like an egg. At any
one time there were some thirty thousand people on the moon. The
company simply couldnt afford for them to start deserting. So they
dropped their pants and asked the aliens for help.




23
You have to hand it to them, theyre cool buggers, those aliens, said
Molloy, the brandy now warming up to its job of winning hearts and
minds. They turned up one day, maybe six or seven of them, and just
kind of wandered about poking their noses into this and that. Couldnt see
any method to it. Just wandered about. Talked to anybody, cooks, maids
or the bloody base commander. Didnt seem to make any difference to
them. Then a couple of days later they casually announced that
everything was ship-shape again. They gave the engineers some kind of
gadget with all the details and politely asked about the next bus to Earth.
Just like that.
Goodness, said Fistro. He loved an appropriate opportunity to say
goodness. A harmless, if profoundly silly, conceit.
You can say that again, said Molloy, eyeing him with a tease and
waiting. He knew something of Fistros conceits.
Just bugger off and get on with the story. Fistro had not only not
been born yesterday, he was no longer sure of what yesterday, in fact,
was.
Right. Anyway, Molloy went on. I fell in with a few of them on the
bus back and we had a few drinks. I guess I got a little drunk and, what
with them being aliens and all, I launched into my repertoire of wild
Dublin stories, literary reminiscences and the legends of old.




24
Most of those valiant epic sagas, interrupted Fistro, are about a
bunch of drunk people running over hills to steal each others cattle.
I know. I know. But these guys were aliens and I felt I had to impress
upon them, in the living flesh as it were, that there was a time not so long
ago when this planet had had its different cultures with their different
stories and songs. And yes. Yes, I did. You cant beat a good Irish song
on an earthbound bus, now can you?
Their glasses clinked and for no reason at all Mrs. Arson flashed
before Fistros mind. In two-dimensional caricature, thankfully.
Why thankfully? Molloy wanted to know. She was a decent
enough bitch at times. I remember once when she didnt call the cops on
Jerry when he was out of his lump and banging on her door stark naked at
three in the morning. Funny that, now I think of it.
Did you ever pay her for the damage? I only ask because shes been
avid to get her claws into me over the whole affair. Well, did you? asked
Fistro. Molloy filled both their glasses again. A stall. Some dark ancestral
defense ploy, supposed Fistro.
Of course I did. Every penny, you doubting old scum plunger. After
all, I am a man of wealth and no meanness whatsoever. But, bless her,
what can she do? Bitching is her only way of connecting with the rest of
the world. So, I confess that I did, out of sheer generosity, leave her just a




25
tiny bit short. And it worked. I gave her happiness. Now she lies awake
dreaming of sawing your balls off with a dull knife. What greater gift?
said Molloy with satisfaction, pride even.
For such an unrepentant swine, I must say that you can certainly
silken the sourest ear, said Fistro.
They sipped their brandy and went on with this banter for a while.
Only natural in the circumstances. Then they got back to business.
Two questions, said Fistro. What the hell am I doing here? And
what the hell are you doing here? Simple enough?
Yes, quite. Hum. You may have noticed recently that human society
all over the planet, with a few notable exceptions, has been beating itself
into a kind of moronic porridge, ne cest pas?
Ne cest pas? exclaimed Fistro. For christs sake!
Sorry, the brandy. But you get my thrust.
He did. And it was a saddening and terrible thrust.
And? he said, without thrust and no trace of sadness. Other peoples
madness he could do nothing about.
Well, you see, those alien chaps on the ship down to Earth were quite
honest with me. Seems they like a bit of the old devil-may-care and such.
Anyway, they asked me along to one of their camps, colonies, whatever. I
dont think they were used to twelve year old single malt, if you see what




26
I mean. Now, dont get me wrong. We didnt have sex or anything. Well,
not at first.
Molloy!
Ok. Ok. The long and the short of it is that I am the only human
being who has ever been with them at home, so to speak. He paused as
he rummaged around in his brain for a way to express something.
Something he was so childishly avoiding. Maybe the aliens did have
some inconfessible secret after all. Did they eat humans? Sautee them in
exotic sauces? Were they the outriders of some vast fleet that was on its
way to enslave mankind? No. Surely nobody was that stupid. Fistro told
his mind to stop wandering off like that. Why was Molloy being so
exasperatingly roundabout?
Stop right there, buddy, said Fistro. If this isnt a park, is it an alien
camp? His tone was as no-nonsense as he could make it.
Well, is it or isnt it?
Relax, Obrion. I apologize. Of course it is. I was just messing around.
Forgive me. He was serious.
Thank you. Its a little unsettling to not know where, when or even
why you are, said Fistro, nerves showing a little. Molloy smiled a little
less devilishly. Chill time. Yes, about the fourth of February. Oops. Stop
it, Fistro ordered his mind.




27
Obrion, old tinker, said Molloy, Shut your eyes for two seconds.
What harm could it do? He shut his eyes. Then he opened them again.
Of course. Why not? Right there in front of him, holding Molloys brandy
and sitting in the same chair, in the same position, was a familiar older
gentleman in a grey suit.
I only wish I could say, ah, so that explains it, but I cant, said
Fistro.
Not to worry, said the older gentleman. His voice was soothing. Ill
explain it. Bear with me a few moments.
Fistro listened. This better be good after all that Molloy crap.
However, when the man was through Fistro had to admit that he was
more than satisfied. It all made perfect sense. Yes, the older gentleman
was indeed an alien and he had saved Fistro from the earthquake with a
joint time-jump. Out of pure empathy. These joint jumps are generally
discouraged as they can go slightly awry. Thus Fistro had been plunked
down a little off target, both temporally and spatially. His present
confusion was only normal for a human. When they had located him not
too far off, Feathers and the older gentleman, whose name was Norton,
had set up their woodland pageant using clippings from Fistros own
brain. They thought he would be amused. Aliens get a great kick out of
amusing their guests. And here he was in the alien camp safe and sound.




28
The intimate structures of this universe had not been altered in any
fundamental way.
Of course, this is between you and me, said the alien known as
Norton.
Of course, said Fistro and the two of them raised their glasses.

************************************

As Feathers accompanied him across the clearing to his lodging, Fistro
noted that he now wore a well-cut grey suit and had none of the insecure,
craven, weakling attributes of the uniform. He enquired.
The thing is, said the alien known as Feathers, we are all pretty
terrible actors. Its great fun, though, hamming it up with all those human
foibles and ticks.
When they got to the door of his cabin, real curiosity got the better of
him so he asked the fellow.
What was that with the talking badger? It was great. Very Alice in
Wonderland.
Im not really sure. A little literary extravagance on my part. I
confess I was a little worried at first but it worked out trundlingly, if
youll excuse the inelegance.




29
Trundlingly, agreed Fistro. He opened the door and noted with relief
that there was a completely normal bed with pillows and eiderdown. His
body craved the horizontal pleasure of gravity. Sweet dreamsjust a
minute. What sweet dreams? He went back and pulled the door open.
Feathers, he called out.
The alien known as Feathers turned around in the middle of the
clearing.
Yes, sir?
What time is it?
Almost two thirty, sir.
Thanks, Feathers.
My pleasure, sir.
Fistro went back inside and closed the door. Sir? This Feathers was
turning a bit Jeeves. Had they snipped that from his mind also? He shook
his head. He sat down in the appropriately placed armchair and took off
his shoes. Then he took off his socks. He wiggled his toes. He had to do
something to get himself back to some kind of normalcy and toe wiggling
was about as normal as you could get. The great men of history, he was
sure, had all wiggled their toes in those quiet moments before the
undertaking of great, momentous ventures. Mulling over the dropping of
atomic bombs or attacking Wellingtons flank. In those moments of doubt




30
and soul searching, toes must surely have been wiggled. Wiggle, wiggle.
Boom, boom. Knock, knock. It was the door.
Come in.
The door swung open and the older gentleman in the grey suit, whose
name was Norton, motioned to Fistro to be still. He stepped in to one side
and made a slight bow and hand movement of presentation. Fistro stared
at the empty doorway. The real Jack Molloy strode into the room. He
beamed at Fistro and slapped Norton a little too heartily on the shoulder.
Whats all this I hear about you defecting to the aliens?
Fistro looked at Norton as one who is not about to fall for the same
trick twice.
No, I assure you, Mr. Obrion, this is the real Molloy. And he dashed
from the room. Such a facile pun certainly deserved a hail of rotten
cabbages but there never seem to be any handy when you most need
them.
Yes, its really me, old snickers. No alien impersonation, the real
Molloy, as the man says, said Molloy, shutting the door.
Mind? he asked as he went behind the built-in bar.
Fistro, or Obrion, or snickers or whoever the hell he was, just
shrugged his shoulders.
I know how you feel, lad. Too much info. Earthquakes, screwed up




31
time slip, talking badgers. Takes it out of you. But relax, relax. This is the
real me.
Fistro stared at him. Then he looked down at his feet and wiggled his
toes. He was tired. He was weary. He didnt need any more aliens or
Feathers or badgers or
Whisky?
Oh, yes thanks.
Molloy handed him the glass, a fine heavy-bottomed tumbler, and sat
on the edge of the bed leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He
grinned at Fistro.
Get off my bed, Molloy.
Molloy obligingly pulled up a chair and they spent the afternoon
filling each other in on recent events. Faced now with the real Molloy,
Fistro realized that Nortons impersonation had not really been all that
perfect. A great performance but, the nuance, thank god for the nuance of
the real. As it turned out, much of Nortons story of Molloy and the moon
was quite true. Right up to his presence here. Until Fistros arrival he had,
indeed, been the only human invited to an alien colony or camp or
whatever. And he had really quit his moon job.
Ive got plenty of loot stashed away and, lets face it, up there in
those domes and chambers, looking out on that dead vacuum, what are




32
you? Youre a fucking goldfish is what you are, Obrion, old bottle, a
goddamn fucking goldfish. Gets on your nerves. And those Chinese
bosses with their money count. Now, Im not a racist but What the
fuck, of course Im a racist, they drive me crazy. Or they did. Not any
more. Give me these fun-loving aliens any day. In fact, I think Im a
racist about the whole human race. Thats about as racist as you can get.
He sat back in obvious satisfaction at this reasoning.
A most democratic bigotry, Molloy, most democratic. But, tell me,
what do you really know about these aliens? Ive got no reason to
mistrust them, thats not the point. I just know nothing about them. I
mean, Norton saved me from the earthquake because I saved him from
Mrs. Arson. I get plonked down accidentally a few miles from here, we
go through all that theatrical shenanigans and now here we all are in
happy camp alien. If you see what I mean.
Beats me, laddie. All I know is, we get along just fine. As for info,
like real info, a great big galactic zero. Interesting point, though. The old
where do they come from and all that, said Molloy.
Exactly. I mean, shouldnt they point to Alpha Centauri or
something? Or have a story about getting lost and crash landing. Im just
curious, I suppose. They were silent.
Lets see whats on TV, said Molloy. Silences were not up Molloys




33
alley. Theres still a great big fucked up world out there. He flicked his
finger at the big screen in the corner and it came to life. He flicked for
News Central and let it run on random. Neither of them was in the mood
for picking and choosing. It was funny, sitting there in the alien camp
they felt a little like aliens themselves, watching the news of an alien
race. All very alien indeed.
Earthquakes, wars, tsunamis and assorted floods and forest fires were
the most popular lead items. There was a touching human interest story
about the miraculous survival of a cake shop in a devastated city. The
plate glass window had come through completely unscathed much to the
delight of the announcers and the on the scene reporter, Debbie Pankle.
The camera followed her into the shop and she interviewed a smiling,
pretty girl behind the counter.
Yes, everything shook and the whole city just kind of fell down. We
were very lucky, said the girl.
Do you think it was the aliens? asked Debbie Pankle.
Oh, no, said the pretty girl behind the counter in the cake shop, It
was God.
The connection returned to the studio where Tom turned to the woman
beside him in journalistic commentary.
Well, there you have it, Darlene, another eye-witness account of




34
pitiless alien destruction.
It certainly is, Tom, but it doesnt stop there. Reports are coming in
of massive alien flooding of the Rhine, in Germany. Lets go now to
Fistro flicked to a game show. He didnt need the stress of world
calamities. Molloy loved game shows. He prided himself on answering
before the contestants. Berlin, 1923, he would shout or carbon
dioxide! He was never right. He had a method, you see, he confided to
Fistro. He always had his answer ready before the question was asked.
Thats stupid, Molloy. It doesnt make the slightest bit of sense.
Thats the beauty of it, said Molloy, his eyes bright with private
delirium. And it never will, dont you see, until that one day, that
magical moment when, against all logic, against all the sacred teachings
of science, I do get it right! Otherwise its no fun, Obrion old fluter.
Youd better have another drink, said Fistro and went back to
musing about the aliens.

**********************************

Fistro Obrion opened his eyes just as he had done every morning for as
long as he could remember. He squirmed a little to squeeze that last bit of
comfort out of a good sound sleep. Through the window he could see that




35
it was a fine bright blue day. He pulled back the covers and sat a moment
on the edge of the bed. Day two in happy camp alien. Now, what about
breakfast?
The knock on the door was somehow a little too uncannily
synchronized with that last thought.
Come in, Feathers, he called out. If there was to be early morning
clairvoyance going on, he might as well play along. The door opened.
Good morning, said Feathers, bright and cheerful. Would you like
to join us for breakfast?
Be right there.

They sat around a table in the same room where Norton had greeted
him as Molloy as some kind of officer. All semblance of office had
disappeared in favor of normal comfortable cabin. All in all it was a very
fine breakfast, lavish and aromatic. Molloy was one of those large fellows
who in such circumstances tucked in, all the while his eyes roving over
what he might have next. Fistro wondered if the setup had been snipped
from Molloys mind. When they were done a pleasant woman came in
and cleared the table, leaving them to their coffee. Purpose hung in the
air. Norton, Fistro, Feathers, Molloy. One on each side of the table.
Whatll it be boys? Scrabble or bridge? Fistro stopped that train of




36
thought and decided to have a brandy with his coffee. It was a habit he
had picked up in Spain back in the times of different cultures and he was
sticking to it. Molloy grimaced, too early. Norton took out a cigarette and
lit it. A smoking alien, thought Fistro, incredible. Dont mind if I do. The
purpose that had hung in the air now settled on Norton. Of course, who
else? Dont be like that, Fistro told himself. Wait and see. For whatever
wild reason, you are a guest here so at least try to be patient.
Humanity, Im afraid, said the alien known as Norton, is finally
becoming unhinged.
Oh, no! You cant be serious! cried Molloy in shock and horror.
Fistro smiled and looked out the window.
I am indeed, Molloy. All too serious.
But surely, Norton, said Molloy, a man like yourself, with all your
galactic wisdom and insight. You must have noticed. It must have
become apparent at some point that, hinged, what you could call really
hinged, has never been one of our strong points. If you see what I mean.
Through the window Fistro noticed two tiny black dots appear against
the blue of the morning. They grew rapidly larger. Approach would be
the term, he decided. They got still bigger. Yes, approach.
Two fighter jets flew straight in low over the building with their
characteristic crockery rattling, deafening roar. They all looked up at the




37
roof of the cabin. Just like people in bomb-shelters, instinctive. You know
that you cant see through the roof but you look up anyway.
A fly-by, said Molloy perkily. Used to fly one of those buggers
myself. Indian Ocean. Off aircraft-carriers. Nasty things really. Cant see
what youre killing. Remote control vivisection I told them. Couldnt do
it. Bastards took away my pension. He looked around at the others.
Right, sorry.
There were two more fly-bys. Then stillness.
The pleasant woman came in with fresh coffee. If she had noticed the
screaming airborne intimidation tactics, she gave no sign. They thanked
her for the coffee and Norton continued.
Theyve been locating our camps all over the planet, no matter how
remote. And letting us know it. Its our own fault, I suppose. We really
can be such nave twats at times.
Chinese I suppose, said Molloy in disgust.
Not this time, said Feathers. This time its every nation on the
planet. Well, not Bhutan, Vanuatu or Togo and the like, of course. More
coffee, Mr. Obrion?
Please. Fistro couldnt help noticing the Jeeves-like deference.
Later, he told himself. For now, there just might be some kind of
interstellar conflict brewing. Right here in Rivercity, as it were.




38
What exactly is the situation, he asked.
A sort of slobbering alien hatred and madness run amok and affecting
just about every man, woman and child, as far as we can make out. Its all
their fault. Death to the aliens. Weve got to stop them before its too late.
That sort of thing. And I must say, were in a bit of a quandary.
Cant you just grab some of that world renowned alien technology of
yours and blow the bastards out of the sky? said Molloy. He paused as
they looked at him. No, no. Oops, I mean, of course not. Thou shalt not
blow thy neighbour etcetera. Good thinking. I will have a brandy now,
Obrion, buddy boy.
It wouldnt do any good, anyway, said Feathers. In an open
confrontation we would have only one possible course of action. And
thats out of the question. I mean, how could we look at ourselves in the
morning, how could we get any enjoyment out of life if we just wiped out
a few billion people? No matter how beneficial it might be for the other
species on the planet. No. The intimate structures of this universe simply
have not inclined us thither.
Thither? thought Fistro, that was a bit Jeevesish.
Thither? exclaimed Molloy. Feathers, you cant go around talking
like that. Specially with a name like yours. You would get your alien ass
kicked in some quarters for just The others were looking at him again.




39
Right, right. Thats what this is all about in the first place. Alien ass on
the line and so forth. He beamed about. He enjoyed his own babbling.
Always had.
Yes, but you have that time slipping thing, said Fistro.
That would be the easy way out, said Norton. You see, we were
just a tiny bit too generous with our technology.
Sloppy, would be the word, said Feathers.
Absolutely, agreed Norton.
Let me see if Ive got this right, said Molloy. You people sort of
wandered out into the playground and gave the kids a load of brightly
colored mental hand grenades to play with, as it were.
Did the alien known as Norton and also the alien known as Feathers
really hang their heads in shame for something like a nanosecond?
I couldnt have put it better myself, said Norton appreciatively.
Yes, well put, said Feathers.
Oh, for gods sake, thought Fistro. Molloy sat there grinning. You
couldnt not like the guy. Perhaps, though, given the seriousness of the
situation, they should all, for the sake of mankind and alien alike, have a
good toe wiggle. He didnt suggest this out loud, of course. After all,
there was no stiff-uniformed Napoleon here stabbing a finger at maps
spread on the table nor a tortured president alone in his office with his




40
head in his hands.
So you see, said Norton, We feel kind of responsible. And it would
be unthinkable for us to shirk this responsibility and just walk away. They
wouldnt last another year, two at the most.
So, they are right after all, you alien bastards, said Molloy. Well,
well just have to exterminate the lot of you. Where do I start?
They only gave them the technology, Molloy, they didnt know that
they were going to use it to drive themselves nuts. Its easy for us, weve
lived here all our lives, said Fistro, Just think about it. Imagine
whizzing about between the stars, or whatever, and stumbling upon the
likes of us with no warning whatsoever. How could they know?
Precisely, said Norton. Its not that we lack imagination but there is
a limit.
You see, said Feathers, we really didnt care what they did with the
bits of technology we gave them. If they wanted to use it to make ever
more mind-invasive toys, well, that was really none of our business. We
were only trying to be polite. We did manage, quite early on, to grasp the
fact that humans are very possessive about what they consider their real
estate, even the bits they never use, so we thought it only fair to give
them a little something in return. The problem, it seems, is that they just
took it all too far. They couldnt handle it. And the upshot of the whole




41
thing has been a sort of planetary psychotic breakdown. So, their leaders,
who are not entirely unaffected themselves, have come up with the
brilliant idea of persecuting the aliens. They have demanded that we
surrender. Surrender! How the devil are we supposed to surrender? Its
like going to the Antarctic and ordering the penguins to surrender. How
does a penguin go about surrendering? Norton shook his head slowly in
wonder.
Fistro looked around the table. Lets go outside, he said, Its a
beautiful day.
The afternoon sun warmed the wood of the front porch. The odd insect
buzzed by on some inscrutable errand. The woods around the clearing
seemed happy enough in their standing green and shade. High up in the
sky jet planes were making white vapour trails. Military, they all agreed,
commercial airliners didnt fly in groups. Molloy had rustled up the
fixings for mojitos and there was nothing much to do in happy camp alien
except sit around and wait for the opportunity to surrender to present
itself. None of them had ever surrendered before and they wondered what
the procedure might be. They couldnt throw down their weapons
because they didnt have any. Perhaps a white flag would be in order.
Feathers went off and soon returned with a most respectable white flag he
had fashioned from a broom handle and a large napkin. They all admired




42
it and agreed it would do the trick. They drank their mojitos and whiled
away the time in easy conversation. Fistro soon found to his
disappointment that there was no point in quizzing the aliens on their
origin or the whys and wherefores of their presence on the planet Earth.
We quite frankly dont know, said Feathers. One day we just found
ourselves on this pleasant little planet of yours.
And you dont wonder? You dont care? said Fistro, with a natural
human incredulousness.
Not really. Said Feathers. Do you worry about it, Norton?
Not at all. The cosmos is the cosmos. It makes no difference which
part of it you occupy at any given moment.
I like that. I often feel that way myself even though I live here, said
Fistro, sipping his mojito. Nothing like a good |Buddhist approach to the
mysteries of life.
Well, thats just great! said Molloy. Fine and bloody great!
What ever is the matter, Molloy? said Fistro. Personally I think its a
fine approach to existence.
Existence? Look, you cretinous, philosophizing clods. Exasperation
was the word that occurred to Fistro. Any minute now the tanks are
going to come rolling in, the helicopters are going to spew out squads of
special forces in battle armour. For all the surrendering we do, there will




43
be questions! To those bastards, an answer like, I dont know, is just a
provocation, an incitement to the most vile forms of torture and
mistreatment. No, no, my lads. Youll have to think up something a little
better than alien amnesia.
Good point, said Fistro. Youre right, we need a plan. Besides, it
would give them something to do while they waited. It was all quite
exciting for the aliens. It held the promise of pageantry. They bandied
ideas about and eventually decided on their plan. They sat back and
nodded to each other. It was a good plan.
What time is it, Feathers? asked Fistro.
Three twenty-six, sir.
Jeeves again. He really would have to have a quiet word with the alien
known as Feathers.
At exactly three twenty-six a large black limousine with tinted
windows drove into the clearing and came to a halt a short distance in
front of the porch where they were sitting. Molloy scoured the skies. Not
a thwacking rotor blade to be seen. No tanks crashing through the trees.
Just one long, lone, black limo. Molloy spat out a piece of crushed ice in
disgust. He was disappointed. What about all their elaborate planning? It
was almost insulting. But he shut up.
There was one of those wonderful moments when absolutely nothing




44
happens. The big black car just sat there. On the veranda the two humans
and the two aliens held their mojitos unsipped in expectation. The air
hung in the air.
So, where the hells the badger? said Molloy, with his natural
aversion to pregnant silences. The company relaxed.
The car still just sat there. Black and silent. Feathers decided to act.
After all, the plan they had decided upon relied largely on improvisation.
He descended the steps, once again in uniform, and approached the
vehicle. He pulled a pen and notepad from his breast pocket and made a
note of the license plate and shook his head in a disapproving fashion. He
walked to the door on the drivers side and knocked on the tinted
window. He looked casually away as he did this as though dealing with a
minor nuisance. The window slid down.
Im afraid you cant park here, sir. No motor vehicles are allowed
within the camp.
The three on the porch exchanged appreciative glances over the rims
of their drinks. Not a bad opener, at all. They looked on in the relaxed
mojito sipping manner of some colonial rubber plantation owners in
Borneo. Fistro had suggested that, given the circumstances, this would
give them the advantage of incongruity. They had prepared it for
Molloys prophecy of full-scale military intervention but it seemed just as




45
fitting for the, rather puny for Molloys taste, one car invasion that had
actually transpired.
Feathers took a step backwards as the drivers door opened and a huge
black man stepped out. He wore dark glasses and the great bald dome of
his skull was a wonder to behold in the afternoon sunlight. Ignoring
Feathers, he looked around in quick professional inspection of the
surroundings. Satisfied, he shut his own door and opened the one for the
passenger in the back. Having done so he stood back and clasped his
large hands in front of him. He became completely immobile. Expectancy
oozed from the air itself. Two deer came stepping on their hooves out of
the trees at the edge of the clearing. One stooped to munch some sweet
shrubblings that were there. The other held its head high and sniffed the
air for the presence of danger. Deer have learned over the years that they
are a little bit too delicious for their own good. They stood guard. A
squirrel scampered out on an overhanging bough for a better look. The
badger was nowhere to be seen.
Norton, my friend, said Fistro, I do believe that the intimate
structures of this universe are about to earn their keep.
We shall see, Mr. Obrion. The suspense is a good sign, though, said
Norton.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph! said Molloy. Will somebody do




46
something, for christs sake.
Obligingly, a short, well dressed Chinese gentleman stepped out of the
car to fill the expectation. He looked around with disdain. Feathers
motioned him to follow and they climbed the steps to the porch. Fistro,
Molloy and Norton stood up politely, a chair was placed and they all sat.
A mutual nodding passed around. Silent greeting. Molloy was grinning
devilishly. Dont you dare, Fistro glared at him. Molloy shrugged. He
would behave himself for the moment.
Norton looked equanimously at the Chinese gentleman.
Speak. he said, now in obvious representation of all aliens on planet
Earth. Speak and explain. Fistro was quite impressed.
The Chinese gentleman spoke.
My name is Deng Ouch Oh, Secretary of Alien Affairs for the World
Coalition. My mission here is to establish some kind of contact that is
mutually profitable. He looked at Norton through the half closed eyes of
one who sees only inferiors and underlings. This was not a good start.
How nice, said Norton. Can we offer you some refreshment?
The pleasant woman appeared with a tray of teas and cakes. She
placed it on the table before the Chinese guest. He snorted in impolite
refusal of such trifles. He was here on serious business. He spoke in
representation of the entire world, he had not dropped in for tea. He had




47
not dropped in for Molloy to grab him from behind in a choking
headlock. The huge black bodyguard remained immobile by the car. The
aliens had frozen him there. The Chinese gentleman was turning purple,
his eyes bulged.
Please, Molloy, said Norton with a wave of his hand. We dont
want to strangle our human guest before we even begin, now do we?
Hes right there, Molloy. I mean, what would we do with the body?
said Fistro.
Once released, Deng Ouch Oh, Secretary of Alien Affairs, pulled at
the neck of his shirt, shook his head and regained his composure. He was
wearing a burgundy tie, Fistro noticed. He shifted himself a little and
quite successfully recovered his professional calm. He realized that he
could not lord it over these people and so chose the more diplomatic
approach.
My excuses. Of course I will have some tea. You are very kind.
An excellent choice, said Molloy, looming over his shoulder. He
smiled at their guest and poured him a cup of tea. He carefully chose a
pastry with a tongs and placed that also before the man.
And so, to the point. said Norton, once again alien in chief or
whatever. What can we do for you?
You may be aware that the Coalition has successfully located and




48
destroyed every other alien base on the planet. All the aliens themselves,
however, escaped, for obvious reasons. This camp is the last holdout. So,
being a civilized race, we have decided that you no longer pose a threat
and that we should come to you and discuss the terms of a surrender,
said the Chinese gentleman, apparently completely himself again.
We accept, said the alien known as Norton.
What? said Deng. Nonplussed, I think is the word I would use here,
thought Fistro.
We accept, repeated Norton. We accept the unconditional
surrender of Earth and all of its human inhabitants. Other species are, of
course, exempted. Anything else?
Displeasure and contempt raged across Dengs features as he sat
forward, very much meaning business.
You have brought this upon yourselves, he said, and touched a
finger to the knot in his burgundy tie.
Molloys prophecy came true. Thwack, thwack, thwack went the rotor
blades as highly trained soldiers slid down cables and dashed to take up
strategic positions. Tanks came mauling through the trees, churning up
dirt and skidded to a halt in the middle of the clearing as were they metal
beasts of old. Orders were barked and stooping soldiers ran this way and
also that way all over the camp. They took up positions about the main




49
cabin, where mojitos were still being calmly sipped, but did not pay it
excessive attention. They absently kept a distance while securing the
camp.
Deng surveyed his forces. The smirk on his face was radiant as he
went to stand. Molloy clamped a hand on his shoulder and squashed him
back down into his chair. Deng struggled and called out to his troops that
stood about in great alert all over happy camp alien. None of them paid
him the slightest attention. He shouted. Nothing. It was as though he
wasnt there.
What do you say boys, shall we cut his balls off? asked Molloy
cheerfully.
No, no, please! Deng Ouch Oh understood nothing. Yet there they
were, sitting on the veranda a millionth of a nanosecond in the future
watching the dust settle. Deng sat quietly in his chair, restrained as much
by his own acceptance of his captivity as by the unnerving proximity of
the large smiling lunatic. Out in the camp the invasion seemed to have
been a great success. No aliens had been captured but the camp was, in
military terms, secure. The large black driver had been released from his
enforced stasis and sat once again behind the wheel with the door open.
The soldiers paid him no attention. The law stated clearly that no one
could go within three meters of such a car or interfere with it in any way.




50
The drivers name was Alistair, Al to his friends. At the moment he was
slightly confused. And that was not professional. He had lost his client
and that was not possible. Something very strange was going on here and
whatever it was, he would have to sort it out. His reputation was at stake.
He tried to concentrate. He paid no attention to the soldiers milling
around. Monkeys. Where the hell was his Chinese dignitary? He delved
into his mind. The fog caused by the alien immobilization dissipated
somewhat. His job had been to drive a Mr. Deng to an alien camp. Good.
Some kind of official had told him he couldnt park here. Good. There
had been some plantation owners sipping drinks on a stoop. Mr. Deng
had accompanied the official. Then nothing. The next thing, soldiers all
over the place. He stared straight ahead to where he was sure there had
been a building. There was nothing there. Impossible. He got out of the
car and walked a few paces in front of it and squinted his eyes. Was that a
faint shimmer. He waved an arm.
Oh, look, said Feathers. Its the driver. We completely forgot about
the driver.
Well, we cant just leave him out there, said Norton. Better go
bring him in. Hes probably starving.
Um, said Fistro. Do you think I could do it? You know, for the
experience. I mean, were invisible to them right now, in the time slip,




51
right? Id just kind of like to
Norton and Feathers conferred a moment.
Certainly, why not? said Feathers. There shouldnt be any problem.
Just make sure that you have hold of some part of his body to bring him
in. A good hand clasp normally does the trick.
Fistro felt a childish thrill. Alien magic. He stood and walked to the
top of the steps and looked down at the impressively large driver standing
in front of the car and peering kind of blindly in their direction. The
soldiers around the place apparently had no interest in the driver. He
walked down the steps. It all had the faint feeling of a scuba diving rescue
mission. He took a step towards the man who was still peering as though
into a fog.
Good afternoon, said Fistro.
The man did not react.
Mr. Obrion, called Feathers from the veranda, You will have to
move forward just a little more, sir.
God, theres Jeeves again. He took a few more steps. His heart was
beating.
Hello? A little tentative, he was not accustomed to not knowing if he
was visible or not.
Alistair, the driver, took off his dark glasses and grinned. Then his




52
whole wide smile. He had never seen anything like it in all his life. A
man had just stepped out of thin air not two meters in front of him.
Good afternoon, said Fistro.
Holy shit, said Alistair.
Quite, said Fistro. They stood grinning at each other. Alistair
stepped forward and they shook hands.
Get that man! yelled an officer who happened to be looking in their
direction. Fistro found himself being jerked off his feet and thrown onto
the hood of the big black car. He flew through the air and the wind was
knocked out of him. Boots tramped as soldiers ran to positions around the
car and pointed their weapons. They did not, however, violate the three-
meter perimeter zone. Indoctrination drugs brooked no exceptions to the
rules. The officer who had raised the alarm stepped to the fore of his men.
His demeanour was no-nonsense military.
Alistair helped Fistro off the hood and steadied him.
Sorry about that, he said, But the bastards almost got you.
Fistro stood panting beside the huge black fellow who had somehow
become his saviour. He looked back at the cabin. It wasnt there. Oh,
god!
Oh, god, he said to Alistair.
Relax, said the big black man. The monkeys cant touch anything




53
within three meters of this car. Their heads will explode or something.
Als the name, and he held out his hand for the second time. Complicity.
Obrion, Fistro Obrion. They shook hands again and, an impromptu
little band of rebels, stood to face all comers. The officer addressed
Alistair, Al to Fistro.
That man is wanted by the authorities and I must insist that you hand
him over immediately.
Get in the car, Mr. Obrion, said Al.
Fistro obeyed. Some form of shelter seemed to be in order. Alistair,
the driver, drew himself up to his full two stories. He looked at the officer
without speaking, turned his broad back and himself got into the car. The
officer did not stamp his foot in childish frustration. Not out loud.
Norton, Feathers and Molloy looked on from their invisible position
on the veranda. So did Mr. Deng, Secretary of Alien Affairs.
Youve got to hand it to him, said Molloy. Couldnt have screwed
it up better myself.
Interesting situation, said Norton, What do you think, Feathers?
A curious turn of events. Mr. Obrion seems to be safe enough for the
moment. That driver, bodyguard fellow appears to prefer his company to
that of the soldiers, or monkeys, as he referred to them. The inviolability
of the car and its surroundings seems quite as effective as our own slight




54
non-existence in their world. So, no problem there. All we have to do
now is bring them both in.
Splendid, said Norton. A little pageantry?
A wonderful idea, said Feathers with alien cheer. Mr. Deng, if you
would be so kind? He motioned him to stand. Deng, now feeling more
like a prisoner than the secretary of anything, rose in compliance.
Just a minute, said Molloy, picking up the butter knife, What about
his balls then?
Not right now, Molloy, said Feathers. Mr. Deng, please excuse my
friends sense of humour, its nothing to worry about. I can assure you
that you will be leaving here with your testicles intact. Now, to work.
And he handed their Chinese guest the broom handle with the white
napkin affixed.
All you have to do is hold it up and wave it back and forth. Go on, try
it.
Deng held it up awkwardly and shook it. Pathetic. It was perfect.
That should do splendidly. Now that only leaves the bushes, said
Feathers.
Bushes?
Thats right, Mr. Deng. When we walk out of here you will be
waving the white flag of truce and you will be a large round bush. Dont




55
worry, I will be right beside you. I will also be a bush. We will both be
bushes, explained the alien known as Feathers.
Dengs askance was greater than his capacity to contain it. He had done
many things in his life to work his way through the webs of power but he
had never been a bush. These aliens were obviously crazy and capable of
anything. He would go along, he would try to be a bush. He was not at all
comfortable, in fact, he was sweating the sweat of one who is perspiring
and very, very worried.
Pull yourself together, Deng, said Molloy. You dont actually have
to be a bush, you silly clump. Just go out as you are and wave the flag.
You will only be a bush for them. A little alien playing with reality, thats
all. So dont worry. If you need a little pruning, just ask. Molloy at his
charming, pep-talk best.
This way, Mr. Deng, said Feathers, inviting the man to accompany
him down the steps of the porch. Deng had not really been put at ease by
Molloys little talk but it didnt matter. The first thing he had to do when
he was out was to find the commanding officer and take charge. He did
not want, however, to be a bush as he went about it. Bah! Nonsense.
These people would be sorry they had crossed Deng Ouch Oh. All he had
to do was to follow this Feathers fool out of this alien warp or whatever it
was. They would see who they were dealing with.




56
*****************
Well, Mr. Obrion, I got the impression that you wanted to see me
when you came walking out of thin air just now, said Al. Does it have
something to do with my passenger, Mr. Deng?
My god, this is comfortable, said Fistro, feeling the plush seat. He
had never imagined that a car could be so luxurious. And this was just the
front seat, the servants quarters as it were. Concentrate. Ah, yes, Deng.
He is, I suppose you could say he is our prisoner.
Al, the professional driver and bodyguard, observed him steadily but
without animosity.
And where is he now? Ive never lost a passenger before. Im
responsible for the little creep, you see. Al smiled. He was quite aware
that the rules had somehow changed in a fundamental way. For the
moment, however, he still had a job to do.
As far as I know, hes still there, said Fistro, pointing through the
windshield to where he hoped the cabin still was. He thought he could
detect a faint shimmer but he really wasnt sure.
The aliens kind of fiddle with reality a bit. You neednt worry about
Dengs safety, if thats what youre thinking. The aliens may be a little
playful but theyre basically nice people. In fact, they asked me to come
and invite you in. They considered it rude to leave you standing around




57
by yourself. He glanced at the soldiers. Well, you know what I mean.
A large part of my work consists of just that, said Al. Standing and
sitting around for hours. I dont mind it and I get in a lot of reading.
Look. He flipped open the lid of the genuine oak and silver compartment
between the two seats. Fistro looked. It was quite a neat little library of
real paper and print books.
I guess I just prefer the feel of them, said Al, closing the lid.
Fistro sat staring at the closed lid. He was not sure if his mouth had
actually dropped open but the mouth in his mind most definitely had, in
full agape. Fistro had not thought of the book for years. It was the last
thing he expected to find in the private little library of Al or any other
driver of armoured limousines. He shut his mouth, if it had been open at
all, and looked at the large black man. Al sat there behind the wheel
smiling at him all the way from his white, white teeth to the gleaming
curvature of his great bald skull.
The Plight and the Pleasure, by F. Obrion, he said, with something
like the pride of ownership of a rare object. A great little book. You can
just kind of pick it up and open it anywhere.
I must say, Al, at this stage I really thought only the aliens could
surprise me. What with reality tweaks, real and false Molloys, talking
badgers




58
Talking badgers?
Oh yes, but thats another story. As far as surprises go, you really do
take the cake, the biscuit, the whole damn shop, said Fistro. I was sure
that that little book had fallen irretrievably between the all too eager
cracks of literature.
The mud is full of surprises, said Al.
Chapter three?
Exactly.
They sat in their bomb-proof luxury and just enjoyed the moment for a
moment. Fistro was pretty sure that Al, the limo driver who read real
paper and print books to pass the time, was quite as aware as he himself
that F. Obrion was not the most brilliantly original writer to ever walk the
planet. Still, it felt good.
There was a stirring among the soldiers who surrounded the car
outside the three meter no-interference zone. They moved away. There
was another objective. They turned their bodies and their weapons in the
direction of the place where the cabin had been, was, should have been.
The officer also advanced in that direction, his boots strode a confident
military stride.
Al watched them from inside the car, Monkeys, he said, with no
particular emphasis.




59
What have you got against monkeys? asked Fistro.
Nothing, said Al, the limo driver and they both looked through the
windshield to see what it was the soldiers were so interested in. It was a
bush. A large round, well trimmed bush had just appeared out of thin air.
It had small tight leaves and it was waving a white flag.
Fistro sat up and grabbed the dashboard. He had a hunch. An alien
hunch.
Turn on the radio, Al.
Feathers voice came from the softly modulated speakers.
Mr. Obrion, we have disposed things so that you may simply drive in.
We have also provided a little diversion.
Al turned on the ignition and edged the car ever so slowly forward.
These cars made absolutely no noise detectable by the human ear. In any
case, the soldiers and their officer were now occupied with a frankly quite
puzzling bush that was frantically waving a white flag and babbling
incoherently. The car disappeared into the same thin air that Fistro had
stepped out of and appeared on the grass in front of the porch. Alistair
and Fistro got out of the car and climbed the steps to join the others on
the deck. They joined the others watching the spectacle taking place a
reality sliver away, right there in the clearing in front of them.
Biblical in a way, isnt it? said Molloy, The bush and all.




60
Fistro noticed Al looking around in search of his passenger. He caught
his eye and indicated the bush.
Im afraid so, he said.
The huge black driver did not seem in the slightest put out by thru fact
that his charge had, through some alien magic, been transformed into a
large shrub.
He has not been harmed in any way, explained Feathers, He only
looks like a bush. He doesnt even perceive himself as a bush.
No indeed. The furthest thing from the mind of Deng Ouch Oh was
that he might be a piece of well-groomed vegetation. His mind was
angrily bent on other matters. That sneaky alien had somehow sneaked
away leaving him alone but now he was free and ready to take charge as
Secretary of Alien Affairs. He looked at the flag he was holding and
threw it violently away in disgust. The sudden movement made the
soldiers tense and take aim. The officer held up his hand. He considered it
prudent to see what this bush had to say. He had always thought of
himself as a competent officer but dealing with aliens was new to him
and he was aware of the responsibility attached. He looked at the bush. It
was shaking itself so that its leaves rustled wildly, all the while emitting a
kind of high pitched squealing. The squealing was obviously some form
of language. Highly agitated, but language. He addressed the bush.




61
I advise you to drop this disguise and show yourself in the open. You
will not be harmed. I am obliged to inform you, however, that we are
authorized to use lethal force.
The bush became quiet. It seemed to have got the point. Somewhere
inside it Deng Ouch Oh was tearing at himself with impotence. He was
not a bush! He didnt feel like a bush. He held his hands in front of him.
He looked down and inspected his legs and feet. Everything was normal.
His soft belly, his wobbly chin, his stubby fingers, everything! He looked
furiously back over his shoulder in search of something to demonstrate to
this cretin of an army officer. It wasnt there! He looked about for his car
and his bodyguard. Gone! He was completely alone. As the full
implications of the situation finally sank in, his deeply ingrained
cowardice came to the rescue and saved him from total mental collapse.
I surrender, said the bush, a pitifully defeated piece of vegetation.
What? said the officer. Youll have to speak up.
I surrender! repeated the bush. And he meant it. His bluff was gone.
His carefully constructed sham was shattered. The bush began to sob
fitfully. A couple of the highly trained special forces men, who had never
been trained to seriously immobilize ostensibly well-tended garden
plants, began to snigger. You really couldnt blame them. The officer
himself was at something of a loss. For the moment he told his men to be




62
quiet. He was not sure where humiliating a bush that had just surrendered
fit into his rules of engagement but he could not let discipline slip. And
another thing, how should he go about detaining the bush? Was it deeply
rooted in the ground? Should he have his men dig it up and stick it in a
pot? Perhaps a wheelbarrow? The bush shook slightly as it continued
sobbing.
There is, however, mercy in this universe. God had said something
about it in one of his best-sellers. The alien known as Norton decided that
Deng, the once arrogant Secretary of Alien Affairs, had had enough. They
did not want to destroy the man and he had already served his purpose as
a diversion. And the bush was no more.
The soldiers blinked at the Chinese gentleman slumped on his knees
sobbing inconsolably. It was not an edifying sight.
Mr. Deng! exclaimed the officer and stepped forward to help him to
his feet. The sobs subsided and Deng looked up slowly. He did not appear
to be focusing at first. Then he snapped back. A switch had been thrown
deep in the engine rooms of his rage and bile. He stood and brushed
angrily at the knees of his trousers.
Put down those guns, you idiots! he spat out at the soldiers. They
glanced at their officer. He nodded. Deng was in effect the maximum
authority of the entire operation.




63
Up on the deck of the cabin Fistro Obrion observed the scene that was
taking place not a stones throw away. He looked around for a stone.
Disgusting, he remarked. I dont suppose, Norton, that you would
reconsider your policy on wiping out billions of people. Any race that
grants power to someone like this Deng character should quite simply be
shot.
Just a minute there, said Molloy. Im part of that race.
Ok, said Fistro, Everybody except Molloy.
However, joke as they might, there was still some reorganizing of
galactic relations to be tended to. First of all, Norton addressed Alistair,
the driver.
If you wish to resume your duties with Mr. Deng, please feel free to
do so. You are our guest, not our prisoner. And dont worry, it is not a
matter of taking sides, rather one of your own convenience.
Very reasonable, Mr. Norton, said Al, very reasonable. I have a
contract with Mr. Deng and his office. Thats true. And the government is
very touchy about breach of contract. However, as soon as Mr. Obrion
here took me prisoner that contract was void. Small print. As he says in
his book, Nobody will ever be back in five minutes.
The alien known as Norton and the alien known as Feathers froze.
Then they broke into idiot grins. They slapped their thighs, they jumped




64
up and hugged each other and danced about in a most extravagant way.
Molloy, Fistro and Al, the driver, looked on with some astonish. What
had happened to all that alien cool? Their outburst subsided and the two
aliens sat down again. There was a great satisfaction upon them but they
were no longer leaping about. Molloy was relieved. If the aliens went
bonkers that would leave only him and Fistro to sort out this war of the
worlds. Sure, Al could drive the limo but what good would that do?
Besides, what had set them off in the first place?
Composure returned and the late afternoon sun and the late afternoon
breeze and the late afternoon rested nicely indeed on the porch in front of
the cabin.
Now, where were we, Alistair? said Norton.
What I was getting at is this, said the huge black driver. Im open
for you to contract me as driver and bodyguard, limo included. I guess Id
like to stick around and see how all this works out. Deal?
Deal, said Norton.
Molloy was, once more, clearly exasperated. Its what happened to
him when people around him were too calm. Fistro waited for the
outburst.
Just what the friggity shovel is going on here? He looked from one
to the other as though trying to decide which one to punch first. I want to




65
know what it was that sent these aliens all bloo-hoo. Those are real
soldiers out there and were in here in some kind of reality spasm that
these guys control. They turned that puffed up little fart into a bush. Then
they let him loose again. Out there most of the world has driven itself
nuts with technology these guys gave them. I just dont want to be around
if they go nuts, too. He grabbed his glass dramatically. It was empty.
Just a minute, he said.
Me too, said Fistro, holding up his glass.
What is that, anyway? asked Al.
Oh, sorry. Mojitos. Would you like one?
Love one, said Al.
Better make that three, said Fistro.
I heard, I heard, said Molloy with his back to them as he squashed
the fresh mint leaves. Galactic civilizations could come and go but there
was a trick to a good mojito.
Im curious myself, said Fistro as soon as everyone was seated and
served. Al, who was the newest comer, was the most intrigued. He had
the feeling that somehow, as had happened many other times in his life,
his simple presence might have played some part in things. He had an
inkling. Molloy drummed his fingers impatiently. Norton and Feathers
were their cool alien selves.




66
Its the beauty of the cosmos, said Feathers finally.
Trepidantly so, agreed Norton.
Fistro noticed that Molloy was about to stand up and pound some
sense into someone. You couldnt help but like the guy. Fistro spoke to
the aliens.
Right gentlemen, what the fuck is going on?
Its you, said Norton.
Its you, said Feathers.
Its you? exclaimed Molloy.
I had a feeling it was him, said Al.
Fistro looked at his feet and although he couldnt see them, he wiggled
his toes. Apparently it was him.
Hey, boys, said Al, I hate to break up the party but look.
They looked.
Things had not been idle out there in the clearing of happy camp alien.
Mr. Deng was hard at work. Now he stood in the centre with the officer.
The tanks had been drawn up, their guns aiming at the cabin. Two very
nasty black helicopters armed with banks of missiles held position not a
hundred meters away. Groups of soldiers squatted with shoulder mounted
missiles. There was nothing friendly about any of it. There was enough
fire power to blow away a small city. And all of it was aimed at what




67
could only be described as an empty space. The officer was not at all sure
that this was good tactical deployment but orders were made to be
obeyed. If the short Chinese gentleman who was the maximum
government authority insisted on blowing the shit out of nothing at all, it
was not his place to question such a decision. He could, however make a
suggestion.
Mr. Deng, are you sure it is to our strategic advantage to expend our
very expensive ordnance on an objective which, according to all our most
advanced sensors, does not exist?
I will not have my orders questioned! Deng was livid with his power
and the open sore of his recent humiliation. He gathered up his fists and
yelled out his revenge at the top of his lungs.
Open fi
Enough of that, said Feathers and froze the whole lot. Soldiers and
machines were struck like stone. Even the helicopters were stuck where
they were in the air. He left the officer and Deng unfrozen just for fun.
Why spoil a good afternoon?
Norton, he said, what do you think if we slip back into their time?
The officer was just getting used to being completely unused to having
his forces frozen like in a movie andWham! A large building appeared
out of nowhere in exactly the placement Deng had insisted upon blasting.




68
There they are! shouted Deng, pointing and flapping with the
excitement of revindication. He pulled at the officers sleeve.
Yes, Mr. Deng, said the officer, but you may notice that we do not
have any troops. They are all in some kind of stasis. He glanced up at
the helicopters stuck impossibly in the air, shook his head and continued.
Its obviously some kind of alien ploy. We should proceed cautiously
until we know what we are up against.
He advanced slowly towards the steps up to the porch. He stood alone in
the face of what seemed to be a group of people relaxing on a cabin deck.
His military training had certain lagoons in this respect. He counted the
people on the deck. Five. That cretin of a Secretary had mobilized an
entire division to detain five men. He heard Deng hopping and squealing
behind him but continued forward to the bottom of the steps.
Come on up, said Molloy. And bring up the Secretary of Shrubbery
with you. Hes our favorite actor.
The officer climbed the steps, stood up very straight and said in a
measured professional voice, That gentleman is my civilian commander.
Please show him due respect.
Have a seat General, said Norton, offering a wicker chair with thick
cushions.
General? said Molloy, Wheres all the gold rope, then?




69
I assume you realize that you are our prisoner, General, said Norton
with even seriousness, ignoring Molloys foolery. Fistro was impressed
with the way he slipped so easily into the role of alien-in-chief. The
general did not need to look around to take in the situation. The two
helicopters frozen in place in the sky had been quite eloquent.
So it would seem, he said with no particular emotion. However, I
must insist that Mr. Deng be accorded the respect due his position.
Right away, General, said Molloy and leapt off down the steps to
return a moment later dragging a certain Mr. Deng by the collar. Deng
resisted like a puppy.
Please, Molloy. Where are your manners? said Norton. Let him
go.
The general did not raise an eyebrow. He wanted to speak of serious
matters and this civilian fool of a Secretary no longer had his confidence.
He watched the man slink into a seat and shuddered. Who the hell do I
work for?
Al sipped his mojito and observed the generals distress. Thats what
you got for being a monkey.
Norton stood up. General, could we speak inside for a moment?
They entered the cabin and closed the door behind them. Fistro
watched them go. Nobody will ever be back in five minutes. What was




70
there in that sentence to explain the alien outburst of silliness. Sure, it
might look ok on a t-shirt. In fact, the whole book was full of t-shirt
phrases. So what had tickled the aliens so? Fistro looked over at Feathers.
He looked out at the petrified military array. When he wasnt being
Jeeves, the alien known as Feathers had some other exceptional talents.
Fistro addressed him directly.
Dont tell me youve read it, he said.
Read what, Mr. Obrion?
My book. From the way you and Norton reacted to Als quotation
from it, I mean, for gods sake.
Oh, yes. Weve all read your book, said Feathers.
Well, that is a pleasant surprise. When you say weve all, who
exactly are you talking about?
Us, said Feathers. All of us.
Fistro thought about this. He wondered. A kind of childish vanity got
the better of him.
And just how many would all of us be? he asked.
Frankly, Mr. Obrion, we dont normally count ourselves. Fifty , sixty
billion. Its hard to say precisely, said Feathers. Why do you ask?
Well, it may have been a long time ago but I did write the thing, said
Fistro.




71
You most certainly did, Mr. Obrion, and that is exactly why we are
here. The alien known as Feathers smiled broadly.
Molloy and Al exchanged glances in the way that people do when they
have been following a conversation and it stops. Al had read the book and
he had an intuition. Molloy was just simply delighted. His buddy Obrion
had written a book.
Obrion, you surreptitious scribe, Im proud of you. He stood and
held out his hand. Not every man writes a book.
It was a long time ago, said Fistro shaking the congratulatory hand
and sitting down again. And still understanding nothing again. Damn
aliens.
At that moment the cabin door opened and Norton and the general
came back to join them.
Where is Mr. Deng? the general asked, looking around.
It was true. Deng was nowhere to be seen. The last they had seen of
him he had been slumping in that chair over there. The chair had not
moved. They looked about rather in the way that people do when
someone says they have lost a contact lens.
There he is, cried Molloy, pointing to a figure retreating at
stumbling speed across the clearing, dodging immobilized soldiers and
looking frantically back over his shoulder. They watched the figure




72
recede and disappear into the trees.
That, I think, is your Mr. Deng, General, said Norton. But, please,
have a seat. We are about to have supper.
They ate their supper as the darkness grew dark, first in the trees and
then in the clearing crowded with military paraphernalia and soldier
statues until finally it crept around the corners of the cabin. It became
difficult to see each other. Lamps were brought out and hung from the
beams of the roof of the veranda. When, at length, the knives and forks
were put down and the plates pushed away Norton sat up.
Mr. Obrion, we owe you an explanation. Your book first came to our
attention some three hundred and sixty million years ago. Dont worry
about the physics of the thing, its a bit of a boggle. To cut a long story
short, we loved it. We were , in fact, sent here specifically to find you.
Somehow we got distracted and forgot completely all about it. When
Alistair, here, quoted that phrase from your book it all came back to us.
Like entering a code if you will. In any case, as it turned out we must
have done everything right because here you are.
I see, said Fistro, Sixty billion of you read my book and liked it so
much you decided to come and see me. You set up little camps all over
the planet and then completely forget why you were here. Curious
method. Well, here I am. What can I do for you?




73
The reason we are here, said Norton, is that we are organizing a
little commemoration of the first finding of your book and we were
wondering if you wouldnt mind popping in for a bit to say hello.
Nothing too formal. You wont have to make a speech or such. It will be
more a sort of mingling affair.
Couldnt you just have phoned?
Quite, said Norton. Feathers, could we simply have phoned Mr.
Obrion?
Naturally. I have his number here somewhere, said Feathers. He
stood and they all looked at him; Molloy, Al, Fistro, Norton, Deng.
Deng? Yes, life in the wilds was apparently not his cup of tea and he had
slunk back in under cover of darkness. You couldnt blame him. He
shouldnt have run off like that in the first place. Now he was looking at
Feathers along with the others.
Mr. Obrion, its simple. Would you have believed us? Before we
arrived, aliens were a lunatic fringe thing. No, we had to make our
presence here on the planet seem normal. Then events could run their
course. And, as you can see, it has worked.
You mean you have disrupted an entire planet just to invite me to this
little bash of yours? said Fistro.
Yes, said Feathers. It seemed the best way to go about it. He sat




74
down.
Fistro was on the point of being speechless. His own personal alien fan
club. The casual way the aliens mobilized military forces all over the
planet against them. Here he was distracted by activity out in the clearing.
He pointed. Molloy and Al, the driver, were going around the clearing
turning on the spotlights of the different military vehicles and lighting up
the frozen soldiers in their stark beams. They were doing it tastefully,
artfully.
General, did you give them permission to do that?
No, I didnt, Mr. Obrion, though I must say the effect is quite
stunning.
Al and Molloy stood back and inspected their improvised theatre. The
helicopters had turned out especially spectacular, sitting up in the night
air lit to lunar black and light, menacing and mysterious. The soldiers cut
in stone of dark shadow. Broken white beams sliced the scene in cold
glare. They adjusted a light here, a light there and when they were
satisfied that this shadow here played off well with that bright metallic
glint there the two men walked back up the steps to the veranda.
We have lit the monkeys, said Al, the limousine driver.
Very dramatic, said the general honestly. He meant it. It was a work
of art. Fine military art. He could feel the drama. But what was that about




75
monkeys?
Alistair, why do you refer my soldiers as monkeys? Theyre good
men.
Al sat down across from the general. Fistro noticed once again how
big the man was. But, unlike Molloy, who couldnt care less about
knocking over glasses, Al moved about the world with an elegant sense
of space that took the hulk out of his bulk.
I suppose its because they obey orders, he said. I mean, look at
yourself. Just a while ago you were obeying that Deng, excuse me Mr.
Deng, even though you knew he was a complete fool.
Yes, but thats the structure. We couldnt function without it, said the
general.
l know, said Al, so I kind of imagine you all scrambling around on
that structure. Monkeys. No offence.
Give me back my monkeys!
It was Deng. Recent events seemed to have taken a toll on the poor
man. He blurted this out and then went back to staring at nothing. Molloy
felt sorry for him.
Cheer up, Deng old snivel, or I really will cut your balls off, said
Molloy, placing a drink in front of the man and smiling. Deng picked it
up slowly, all the while eyeing Molloy over the rim of the glass, watching




76
nervously for the trick. The poor fellow was not at his best.
Alistair, said the general as he looked out over his well-lit, frozen
troops, The truth is that I am not allowed to wonder.
Well, I am, said Fistro. and Im wondering what kind of
arrangement you and Norton have come to about our little war of the
worlds here.
Nothing special, Mr. Obrion, more my status as prisoner and things
like that. The aliens have no interest in keeping my troops or myself
prisoner, they have a slightly more open philosophy. In fact, Mr. Norton
was kind enough to invite me to the celebration. The fact that I do not
have a dress uniform with me will be no problem, sort of an informal
mingling affair, said the general.
Fistro noticed Molloy grinning at him. It was a big grin. It said see?
Fistro looked but he was not sure if he saw. He had somehow become a
best-selling galactic author and the indirect cause of the aliens giving the
humans the technology to totally screw themselves up with god only
knows what catastrophic consequences. And here were Norton and the
General discussing what they would wear! Which reminded him, what
should he wear. What did one wear to go mingling informally with a 350
million-year-old fan club? And what about transport?
What about transport, Norton, how are we going to get to your little




77
bash?
I cant see anything wrong with Alistairs limousine, said Norton.
Fine. But there is one thing. Where did you ever get hold the book in
the first place? I couldnt find it anywhere, asked Fistro.
That is the crux of the matter, said Norton.
The crux, agreed Deng from down the table. It was an improvement.
He seemed to be recovering a little.
Norton, please, said Fistro. Just tell me.
The alien known as Norton was an alien and inclined to help out in
any way he could. So Norton told him. The others listened too.
There are fortuitous events in this universe. Completely random
configurations of not only energy but of the very fabric of being itself.
You, Mr. Obrion, are the epicenter of one of them. Norton stopped to
watch the information soak in. Fistro nodded in appreciation. Everyone
else about the table also nodded thoughtfully. They were a most politely
interested audience sat about in the porch lamp-light. All about them, out
there, was the enfolding mystery of the dark and the woods and the night
sky. Norton continued.
At some stage Mr. Obrions book was transformed into
electromagnetic impulses. It became an instant success as soon as our
people deciphered it. Basically, Mr. Obrion, as soon as the cosmic curves




78
and slides had placed your book before us, we loved it.
What can I say? said Fistro in the manner of one who does not know
what to say but who is not a complete idiot, either. Its a knack.
I respect your modesty, Mr. Obrion.
So do I, said Deng from down the table. He really was improving.
Molloy patted him lightly on the shoulder.
Now Al held up his hand for attention. It was a large hand. He felt he
should speak. After all, he was the one with The Plight and the Pleasure
in his private library right here on Earth.
Its just a book, said the large black driver. I can go get it from the
car, if you want.
At that, the alien known as Norton and also the alien known as
Feathers jumped up and hugged each other and danced around like idiots.
Then they stopped as suddenly as they had started.
Chapter three, right? said Fistro.
Thats right, said Al, the driver of bomb-proof limousines.
They both looked on as the aliens regained control of themselves.
They really did dance about in a very foolish manner. Al wondered at
this. Every time he said anything related to the book these crazy aliens
jumped up and danced around. He had better not mention another word
from F. Obrions book. These aliens were capable of mounting a musical.




79
What was it about the book that made it so important for them. He had
leafed through it a hundred times but he had obviously missed whatever it
was that the aliens saw there. Especially that thing that made them jump
and dance about like idiots. He read it all the time and he had never gone
dancing off like an idiot.
Youre right, Alistair. It is just a book, said Norton. But a book is a
structure and for some reason when this structure interfaces with our
reality something special clicks and it makes us act a bit silly. Thats what
we love about it.
The first law of cosmic silliness, said Molloy. Well that explains
everything. So, off we go. The alien book club. Cocktails and mingling.
Sort out the mess tomorrow. Right?
In effect, said Norton.
Fistro was thinking other thoughts. Like frozen armies in your front
yard. Artfully lit, without question, but still an army in the yard.
I imagine, General, said Fistro, that you will want to release your
troops from their enforced stasis at some stage.
Naturally. Just as soon as we solve a slight technical problem, said
the general, nodding to include the two aliens in the we part.
Uh, oh. Said Al.
Uh, oh, indeed, said Feathers.




80
What exactly do you mean by uh, oh? asked Fistro.
Well, said Al, I would say that the problem is that when you come
out of this alien stasis you are kind of stunned and confused for a few
moments. Now, take a look at them.
They all sat on the veranda and took a look at them. The excellent
lighting job accentuated the drama. All of those men and arms and tanks
and helicopters had been frozen in the middle of the order to open fire. As
soon as they were released they would start blasting away in a stunned
and confused kind of way. They would most probably end up massacring
themselves. The general could not allow this.
So, Feathers, freezer of the fighting forces, any ideas? said Molloy.
Not a single one, Im afraid, said Feathers.
No problem, said Al, all weve got to do is
At that the two aliens jumped up and hugged each other and danced
about. Al looked at them .They were neither clowns nor monkeys, they
were obviously galactic. But they kept interrupting him. When they
settled calmly down once again, Al stood up. He looked at Norton, he
looked at Feathers.
Will you two stop doing that!
At that the two aliens jumped up and hugged each other and danced
about like idiots. Then they stopped . It was kind of unnerving. So sane




81
and yet so crazy. But Al had had enough, he leaned his hulk over his
knuckles on the table. He caught them with his eyes.
Look, he said, Every time I open my mouth you two go all crazy
and leap around. Just try to control yourselves. Would you mind doing
that before it drives me nuts?
Not at all. Aliens are built to be agreeable. They agreed. They would
no longer jump up and act silly just because Al quoted bits of a book he
had in his car.
Quite seriously, General. What do you think? said Fistro.
Well, its not going to be simple. The fire-power is impressive. The
deployment is massive. Normally, no problem. However, a stunned and
confused use of all this armament would be a disaster. There wouldnt be
nearly enough civilian casualties to justify the losses. The press would
crucify us. No, we must defuse this quietly, said the general with
professional deformity.
How long can you keep them frozen like this, Feathers? asked Al.
It doesnt matter, there is no time involved in stasis. Weeks, months,
years. No limit really.
What about millionths of nanoseconds? asked Al, limo driver now
contracted to the aliens.
Absolutely no problem, said Feathers.




82
Well, theres your solution, said Al.
The general tried to look as though he understood something.
Dont worry, General, said Deng. Deng?
These devils are clever. They tried to eat my shoes. I will assume
responsibility for all decisions from this moment on.
He stood up with his plump body and placed his stiff-armed fists upon
the table. A fine sight and a fine little speech. It got their attention so they
waited. Molloy was reminded of rat poison that simply never worked.
You put it out but they just kept coming back for more. So here was Deng
back again and taking over the world.
Mr. Deng, said the general, feel free to scamper off into the woods
again if you wish. If not, please, shut up. In the present circumstances I
feel no obligation to treat you as a superior.
I believe you are right, Alistair. It just might work, said Feathers,
ignoring the little power struggle down the table. They went to work. As
far as Fistro could make out, the two aliens were going about under the
generals supervision stuffing nanoseconds down the barrels and up the
buttons of the arrayed weaponry. These nanoseconds would avoid
disaster. The details were far too alien to understand but apparently the
soldiers would now come out of stasis, fire their weapons all around and
nothing would happen. The triggers could be pulled, the buttons pushed.




83
All was under control. The only thing left was for Feathers to actually
unfreeze them. There was expectation on the veranda. Feathers undid his
alien magic and the entire war apparatus came to life. There was no
blasting, no bombarding. Just a lot of confused soldiers wondering why
they were pulling useless triggers. The general quickly and professionally
took control. He was a general. A few pertinent well directed orders and
the whole military machinery retired from the field, or the clearing, or the
camp or whatever. In a few minutes it was gone. The general waited until
the last vehicle had disappeared into the dark. Then he turned and walked
back up the steps to join the others. He was satisfied.
Youre quite the head monkey, General, said Al.
Thank you, Alistair, but it was your idea. In any case, the troops are
back in their base. My first duty is to them and they have nothing to do
against these aliens. I cant send my men against nothingness.
A laudable sentiment, your generalship but we have a party to go to,
said Molloy.
They sauntered down to the limousine and stood around for a while
with the doors open. Norton was explaining the route to Al, the driver.
The physics of the thing were once again extremely alien. Al got it, they
climbed aboard and off they went.
With the roof open, the back of the limo was quite comfortable. Fistro




84
and Molloy stood up leaning into the dark wind. The playfulness of it got
the better of Fistro and he ducked back down for a moment. He looked
around the softly lit compartment where the others sat in tan leather
comfort and stood back up into the blowing air beside Molloy.
No girls, he said.
Ha! said Molloy, Wait till all those old biddies get their galactic
literary claws into you.
When they arrived at their destination, Al, the driver, crunched the
tires of the long heavy car slowly up the gravel to the great wide steps.
The entrance was high and wide and marble pillars. They descended and
climbed the steps to the great white and glass gleaming doors. The
interior was high arches and tastefully lit ceilings. There were aliens
everywhere in casual groups drinking punch. Norton and Feathers began
greeting people in the natural flow of entrance into a mingling. Fistro
grabbed Molloy and pulled him behind a pillar.
This is stupid, Molloy, he said with a bit of a panic upon him now
that he was actually faced with this alien public he knew nothing about.
Yes, but its your stupid, buddy boy.
Im serious, Molloy. Look. There must be a thousand aliens out there,
all in their best evening wear, all tingling to catch a casual glimpse of me.
All because of a stupid book I wrote 350 million years ago. Oh, god.




85
Listen to me.
See your point, lad, said Molloy. Good thinking.
What do you mean? said Fistro.
Just this, said Molloy, If you go out there you will be admitting
you are F. Obrion, some kind of alien idol, right?
Right, said Fistro.
Well, Mr. F. Obrion, get your scribing ass out there and mingle.
With that Molloy headed off straight for the tables piled high with food
and drink. Feathers appeared back out of the multitude with his best come
with me there is someone you really must meet. What the hell.
Outnumbered, Fistro decided to give it his best mingle. He mingled off in
the wake of Feathers, who was himself mingling. The faces smiled and
said nice things until he was quite mingled away in a blur where he was
soon completely lost in a sea of polite smiles and nods. He looked up at
the distant ceiling, how could he get out of this? No one stared, they
merely glanced at him in a friendly fashion. It was an extremely polite
gathering, mingling at its best.
Good evening, Mr. Obrion, said the pretty young woman from the
cake shop. She was really quite attractive in the ivory and gold light of
the hall.
Good evening. I saw you on the news, he said. You were very




86
lucky.
And so are you, she said with a wonderful smile. She took his hand
and led him off into something like a dream. Basically, she pulled him by
the hand out into the night gardens, threw him down on the grass behind a
hedge, pulled down his trousers and screwed the living daylights out of
him. Then she had jumped up laughing in delight and run off across the
lawns, back up the steps into the bright hall.
Fistro lay there on the dark grass for a while. His idiot grin the clearest
reflection of his soul at that moment. Then he got up and ambled back to
the outpouring light on the steps up to the high French doors, stunned but
smiling. He shook his head slowly as one does in the face of the
manifestly extraordinary. When he got to the top of the steps he looked
down into the glowing hall. They were still there. A mass of very polite,
well-dressed people moving about casually with drinks in their hands.
The F. Obrion Literary Society. He shook his head more seriously.
Preposterous. Absolutely preposterous. Slipping around in peek-a-boo
realities, turning armies to stone, things like that were weird but they
werent preposterous. He flicked some bits of grass from his sleeve as he
stood rather undecided in the doorway. A rustle went through the crowd
on the floor. He looked up. Norton had taken the dais in front of the
orchestra and he began to speak. The bastard promised me no speeches,




87
just drop in and mingle. Come to think of it, that had been a damn fine
mingle out there on the grass behind the hedge. Where is she, anyway?
Ill have to spank her. Oops, I mean thank her. Interesting oops all the
same. He scanned the crowd. They really were a happy lot. They
certainly werent overtly drooling insane. So what was this whole crazy
thing about his book?
Nuts.
It was Molloy slapping him on the back. Nice people though.
You have no idea, said Fistro.
What do you mean, no idea, old tumbler. Take a look.
Fistro took a look and noticed for the first time that there was a large
screen between the pillars at the end of the hall. What it showed left no
doubt. There on the screen, high above the crowd, in perfect resolution
were Fistro and the pretty young woman from the cake shop bouncing in
carefree abandon on the damp night grasses.
Buddy boy, said Molloy placing his hand on Fistros shoulder as in
commiseration with one who is about to climb the steps to the gallows.
It seems this little book club has plans for you.
Norton at this point stood to the front of the dais raising his arms for
silence and attention.
Yes, my friends, it is true. This is F. Obrion mating with our Angela.




88
All eyes in the vast hall turned upon F. Obrion where he stood in the
doorway. With an encouraging pat on the back Molloy ducked away
leaving him to face his fame alone. Fistro stood there. He didnt move for
a long moment. Alien adulation, no matter how well intentioned, can be a
bit intimidating. He looked out over the heads of those gathered and
started slowly down into the crowd. There was a rustling and a shushing
as they stood aside, leaving a passage for the most famous writer in the
galaxy. Moses at the Red Sea must have felt something like this, mused
Fistro to himself as he made his way forward through the receding crowd
to where Norton stood on the stage in front of the orchestra. Totally
alone. Except, of course, for the polite applause and smiling and nodding.
The bible says nothing of any kind of ovation for Moses. It was a long
walk but he was glad to see that he did not falter, in spite of the cowardly
inclinations of his legs. What was this, anyway? A Nobel for Chemistry?
An Oscar for best special effects? It didnt really matter. The intimate
structures of this universe were up to their old tricks. The girl from the
cake shop, Angela to the aliens, was entirely attractive as she came down
to take his arm and lead him up to the stage and Norton and the waiting
microphone. She adjusted his mike and disappeared. He really would
have to give her a good spanking. Oops.
Mr. Obrion, said Norton, coming up beside him, I know I promised




89
no speeches. A slight deception on my part, please forgive me. in any
case, here you are and here is your audience. Try to keep it short and to
the point.
To the point? What point?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you F. Obrion, author of The Plight
and the Pleasure. Norton stepped back with a bow.
Fistro stared at the round bulb of the microphone. It waited for his
words. Lesson one in public speaking: there is no way out. There was
something missing, though. He turned and caught the eye of the orchestra
leader. The man understood at once; something light, just dont leave me
out here in silence. A soft melody wafted out and someone dimmed the
lights high up on the ceilings. He gathered his wits and his posture and
his breath.
This is preposterous, he said with all the aplomb at his disposal.
The uproar was considerable. The entire hall jumped up and hugged
each other and danced about like complete idiots. The sheer scale of it
was unnerving. He looked around to Norton for help. Norton stepped up
to the microphone.
Please, let us try not to indispose Mr. Obrion with our silliness. He is
only human, after all.
This is completely preposterous, repeated Fistro. He paused. Good.




90
Any hugging and dancing around had been discreet and quickly covered
up.
I am very happy to be here
Out on the floor the people turned away and picked up their
conversations. Fistro was left standing there. On stage. Ignored. A most
uncomfortable feeling. Norton came over smiling.
Mr. Obrion, I realize that we might be imposing on you but please
try to limit your discourse to phrases from your book. These people have
a very short attention span when it comes to speeches. They are aliens.
You know, weird.
I see, said Fistro. He was tempted to point out that none of this was
his idea but he did not want to be publicly impolite. Besides, he did have
his pride. They wanted his book, he would give them his book. He
addressed his audience.
Turtles pay absolutely no attention to baboons, they have no time for
scampering mammals. The edge of the world is not as sharp as it used to
be. Reality does not join clubs. There is no such thing as no such thing
and nobody will ever be back in five minutes. Thank you.
The applause was general and refined. The band had not stopped
playing at any time and Fistro nodded his thanks to them as he walked off
stage. He bumped straight into Molloy. They strolled out into the crowd.




91
Ive got to get out of here, Molloy, said Fistro.
Right on it, laddie, said Molloy and beckoned to someone. The
extremely beautiful young lady from the cake shop made her way through
the crowd, took him by the hand and led him off to the rest he needed,
wanted, craved, whatever. Fine cakes and pastries since 1953. There was
nothing more to be said and they did not say it.
***********************
Fistro Obrion opened his eyes just as he had done every morning for
the last 350 million years. The pillow was warm but she was not their. He
was not surprised at all. He himself was reclining on a great pile of soft
perfumed bedwear that spilled over the edges of an enormous four-poster
bed. Directly in front of the bed was a high white double door. There was
a brisk, chirpy knock. Of course. Who else?
Come in, Feathers, he called out.
Feathers swept in all cheerful good-morning and swishing back
drapes to let in the morning sun. A waiter pushing a trolley of aromatic
breakfast delights who, in turn, was followed by Molloy followed him.
The waiter positioned the trolley by the bed and Molloy was tucking in
almost before the lids were off. He had pulled up a chair and he meant
business.
Molloy, youre a pig, said Fistro.




92
He is indeed, sir. Shall I have him removed? It was Feathers.
Dont be silly, Feathers. This is Molloy. You cant remove him, hell
just come back. And whats all this Mary Poppins bit with the curtains?
And why am I being waited on like this, even if Molloy is eating it.?
Well, its your first day, Mr. Obrion, said Feathers. Pure Jeeves. Ok,
two can play that game.
That will be all, Feathers, said Fistro dismissively.
Feathers left, tucking the doors neatly closed behind him with grace
and elegance. As soon as he was gone Fistro sat up and scrabbled about
looking for his clothes.
Over there, said Molloy, pointing with a fork. I guess they figured
you needed new duds.
Fistro dressed in the extremely comfortable new clothing and faced
his friend.
Right, Molloy, what do you know about all this?
Let me put it like this, said Molloy, You remember having a good
mingle last night much to the delight of our alien friends, right? Well, as
far as I can make out you are now the new king of the aliens or
something. Father of their future generations. Along those lines.
Fistro strode over to one of the tall windows and looked out. The boots
felt good. He wiggled his toes.




93
Feathers!
Molloy looked up.
Feathers came in.
I trust the clothing is satisfactory, sir.
What? Oh, yes, especially the boots. But I have a few questions. First
of all, what the hell is going on here? Molloy tells me Ive been made
king and proclaimed father of the nation. Be reasonable. I mean, I went to
your little bash. I popped in, I mingled and I gave my speech. Isnt that
enough?
You are too modest, Mr. Obrion, said Feathers.
Just answer me, Feathers, said Fistro. He was not in the mood for
sparring with Jeeves.
At a rough guess, said Molloy, I would say that you have mingled
not wisely but too well.
Mr. Molloy is not altogether mistaken, said Feathers. To put it in a
nutshell, last night you bedded the beauty of the aliens. You, F. Obrion,
our favorite author, have mated with the aliens and we are all very
pleased. Your offspring will populate the stars. That is why you are now
our supreme leader. We are honored.
Fistro cut a fine figure in his new clothes by the bright garden
windows. He looked at Feathers. He looked at Molloy. He made up his




94
mind. Lets all be sublimely ridiculous.
Fine, he said, You want a supreme leader, no problem. Look no
further.
Everyone will be most delighted, said Feathers and left the room.
Molloy, you dont happen to know what that young womans name
was, do you?
I do indeed, your majesty. Her name was Angela. Lovely girl. Used
to work in a cake shop. As for the rest of it, the what the hells going on
of it, dont ask me. Youre the supreme ruler for gods sake.
Right.
In spite of his bravado, Fistro did not feel like a supreme ruler. He
wasnt really sure what he felt like. One thing was certain, it was too late
to feel like breakfast. Molloy had taken care of that. Perhaps he should
read up on Genghis Khan or Xerxes. Or the captain of the Titanic. The
aliens were nice people but they could really screw up your sense of
common sense. He sat on the edge of the huge bed. Perplexed would be
the adequate term he decided. Great. First day on the new job and all his
worries intact.
Dont worry, said Molloy, Im your manager as it were. Ill look
after the details.
How can you be my manager if Im the supreme ruler of




95
everything?
You know what I mean, kind of a counselor, said Molloy.
Its not that I mind the job, said Fistro, but what am I doing sitting
here dressed like Peter Pan? Where the hell are we? Do they really expect
me to sell this? Its ridiculous. Stupid alien twits.
Well said, said Norton. He was just there. More alien magic. You
are exactly the person we are looking for. Your mating last night with the
pretty woman from the cake shop was the clincher.
That part, I admit, was most agreeable, said Fistro.
That, Mr. Obrion, is general knowledge.
Oh, wonderful, thought Fistro, general knowledge. Which reminded
him, where was the general, anyway?
Where is the general, anyway?
Out on the lawn I believe, Mr. Obrion, said Norton and walked over
and opened wide a pair of glassed doors that gave onto the lawns. Fistro
followed him out. It was a brilliant morning of high blue sky with lawns
and rolling fields and stands of trees off into the distance itself. The
aristocracy is back and Im it, thought Fistro. Splendid was the word that
came to mind. Absolutely splendid. If the aliens had a penchant for P.G.
Wodehouse that was fine with Fistro.
The generals hands were placed firmly with the fingers spread on the




96
white metal garden table. He sat up straight and stiff and he was staring at
the hole in the middle of the table. The hole was meant for the pole of an
umbrella but at the moment it was empty. It took him a moment to come
out of his thoughts and notice Fistro and Norton.
Morning, General. Mind if we join you?
The general rose to his feet.
Good morning, gentlemen. Please.
They all sat and a waiter appeared. Rather too promptly, Fistro
thought. Still, he was hungry. Molloy had seen to that.
Ill have some strong coffee and some cakes and pastries, he said.
Would you like an earthquake with that, sir?
Norton and the waiter were taken by fits of laughter and they had to
wipe the tears from their cheeks. The general narrowed his eyes. He had
no idea what it was all about. These aliens were definitely peculiar.
Its a long story, General, said Fistro.
They chatted easily as the morning wore on. Norton assured them that
the gathering the evening before in honor of F. Obrion and his 350
million year old book had been a great success. The aliens couldnt have
tickled themselves pinker. The general had also been well entertained and
looked after. It had reminded him a bit of an embassy do. However, he
had a query.




97
What was all that with the big screen? he asked Norton.
Oh, that was Mr. Obrion and little Angela from the cake shop. Mr.
Obrion was assuming the role of supreme ruler of the aliens. It was very
gratifying, explained Norton.
I see, said the general. He looked at Fistro and noticed the elegant
new clothes. This could complicate things. There were still serious
matters to be discussed and it was his duty to see that the best interests of
Earth were served. It was time to negotiate a reasonable deal with the
aliens.
Lets get down to business, he said.
What business? thought Fistro. Oh, right. Most of the human race
gone bonkers with alien technology, the war of the worlds, etc. This man
was, after all, a general who had recently attacked an alien camp and been
taken prisoner. Manager of hostilities as it were.
Well, Id better be off, said Norton and stood to leave.
Just a minute, said the general, We have some important matters to
discuss.
Precisely, General, and I assume you want to speak at the highest
level. Mr. Obrion here is our supreme leader. There is no higher
authority. So saying, he left.
Fistro wiggled his toes and took a bite out of another fine pastry. The




98
general looked at him.
He cant be serious.
Im afraid he is. It seems I am the supreme leader of the whole alien
outfit. Some sixty or seventy billion, I gather. Fistro smiled. Perhaps he
would have something to do in his new job after all. The general stared at
him.
But Mr. Obrion, youre a human. I need to negotiate with the aliens.
About what? Fistro was beginning to feel the part.
We are technically at war with these people.
Thats not the real problem, General. You can surrender at any time
you like, no conditions. You may have noticed that conflict is not high on
their to do list. Besides, the whole thing is silly. They couldnt care less
about your armies and weapons. What they are worried about is the
crazed state of the population. They feel somewhat responsible, Fistro
told him.
Crazed? What crazed state of the population? The general frowned.
How do you think your mad alien hunt got started in the first place?
said Fistro.
I do not question the political decisions of my civilian superiors, Mr.
Obrion. We discuss the strategy and I design the tactics. That is how it
works.




99
Even if they ordered you to go to the Antarctic and demand that the
penguins surrender?
That was General Metcalfs mission. A mere precaution.
What? said Fistro, his flabbergast showing. But thats stupid!
I really dont see why you are so surprised, Mr. Obrion. You must
have some notion of history. Do you think Belasaurius questioned why he
had to destroy Carthage? Did Rommel contradict Hitler? Did?
General, I get the idea, said Fistro, interrupting the history lesson. It
was too nice a day to dwell on the idiocy of blind obedience. He was
almost feeling supreme.
Feathers! he called out.
Sir?
Fistro jumped. How did he do that?
Feathers, I need some advice. I hereby appoint you advisor to the
supreme ruler, said Fistro.
I will do my best, sir, said the alien known as Feathers.
The general looked from one to the other with a puzzle pinching his
brow. He had not been trained to deal with this. His orders from the
Coalition had been to defeat the aliens using all means at his disposal. His
forces had located and destroyed every alien base on the planet except for
the last one that was still intact. No aliens themselves had been captured




100
or killed due to their time slip technology but, he had suffered no losses
either. There was no question of Earths military superiority in spite of
the freeze trick the aliens had employed at the camp. For the moment he
was their prisoner but he still had his duty to do, no matter how unusual
the negotiations might be. These aliens didnt seem to grasp the
seriousness of the situation. If this Fistro character was in fact the alien
representative, the human factor might be to his advantage. He observed
him for a moment and then spoke frankly.
Mr. Obrion, he said, In light of our overwhelming military
superiority I think we should discuss the terms of the complete
withdrawal of all alien presence from our planet.
Just a moment, General, said Fistro. Feathers, Im not at all
comfortable with this. I mean, Im the supreme ruler, right?
Right, asserted Feathers the advisor.
Well, I cant have people calling me Mr. Obrion if you see what I
mean. I need some kind of title that people can use. What is the normal
term?
We dont actually have one, sir. This situation is as new for us as it is
for you but I am sure we can come up with something. Feathers looked
thoughtful. Fistro joined him. The general stared at the hole in the centre
of the table. It was dark and round and empty. He sighed militarily.




101
Morning, General, Feathers, your Holiness, boomed out Molloy,
pulling up a chair. Hows the old Treaty of Versailles coming along?
Waiter! Poof! The waiter appeared. Bloody Marys all round, and he
sat back.
Ah, Molloy. Right on time, said Fistro. Perhaps you can help.
Were trying to come up with some formal way people can address me.
Any ideas?
The general listened but kept staring at the hole. It was round and dark
and empty. It was securely in the centre of the table.
Keep it simple, said Molloy. How about Your Greatness?
What do you think, Feathers? said Fistro.
It does have a certain ring to it. Yes. I think it will do nicely, sir.
Right, General, where were we?
The general would have preferred to keep focusing on the dark, round
empty hole. It made more sense. However, duty first.
Mr. Obr began the general.
Both Feathers and Molloy wagged a smiling finger.
Ah, Your Greatness, he corrected himself, we really must discuss
the total and complete evacuation of your forces from Earth.
Forces, said Fistro. What forces? We dont need no stinkin
forces.




102
Molloy grunted in disgust. The general stiffened in real disapproval.
Sorry, General. Just trying to lighten things up, said Fistro. But you
see, there is no war. There never was a war. Your people merely went to a
lot of trouble and expense to blow the shit out of some perfectly harmless
buildings. What ever gave you the idea that the aliens were a force? At
the very worst they are a bunch of tourists. You can obey all the orders
you like but the simple truth is that you have been chasing smoke. The
real problem on our hands is how to mitigate the havoc the humans have
wreaked upon themselves through their aggravated hedonistic application
of some perfectly good technology donated to them by the aliens. They
have addled their brains. They may still be functional but they are
slipping fast. Think about it, General. When was the last time you
received a sensible order from this Chinese-led coalition?
The general thought about it. Things shifted in his mind, lining
themselves up, sliding into place. He was an intelligent man and he could
recognize a conclusion when he saw one. This Obrion man was quite
right. He realized now that he had noticed something but, living as he did
in the rarified atmosphere of the military man, he had paid it no attention.
After all, he was trained to focus and control violence and killing to
achieve those ends prescribed by the politicians. Nothing more. But if
those same leaders really had lost it, then what was he? An unwitting tool




103
of lunacy?
Molloy and Feathers and Fistro, sitting around the table sipping their
Bloody Marys, could read all of this quite plainly on the generals face.
Dont feel so bad, my war-mongering friend. You are not alone.
There is a general hoodwink going on, said Molloy, Cant be helped.
The fat, said Feathers to no one in particular, We hadnt counted on
the fat. Feathers, apart from playing his little roles, also mused quite
naturally about things. There was something about the fat. It had
somehow interacted on a deep molecular level with the alien technology
to precipitate the unrestrained imbecility that was stalking mankind.
You mean all those ten ton women wobbling around the shopping
centres? said Molloy. Some of them need fifty meters to come to a
complete stop. Nearly got killed by one.
Something along those lines, said Feathers.
If what you suggest is correct, said the general, we should go back
to Earth and wipe out the exceptionally fat in order to restore some
semblance of sanity.
Its always an option, General, but apart from the mess there are the
moral implications, said Fistro.
Quite right. Good thinking, said Molloy. Boom goes fatso,
splattered all over the place. Cant have it. Goes against basic principles.




104
Well, something must be done, said the general. And assuming that
your assumptions are correct, it would seem that we are the last surviving
sane people. It is our duty to act.
Lets not get over-enthusiastic, General. This sanity business is very
relative. Take Molloy here, for instance, said Fistro.
Thank you, Your Greatness, beamed Molloy.
Sanity, Your Greatness, said Feathers, is merely the ability to
understand the dialogue between that which exists and that which does
not exist.
Oh great, said Molloy, Philosophy. Thats all we need. We might
as well start a fucking religion.
A silence fell upon the table. Movement was stilled as eyes sharpened.
There was a general leaning forward and placing of elbows on the table.
Religion. There was nothing like religion for crowd control. Combined
with alien technology it just might work.
First of all, General, you will have to tell us where your allegiances
lie, said Fistro, the supreme ruler of seventy billion aliens.
At the risk of sedition and given the circumstances, I am with you all
the way. History will vindicate me.
Good, said Fistro, Lets put together a religion.
What they needed was a religion that would grab the minds of the




105
people so that they could tell them what to do. Then they could wean
them off their drug-like addiction to the alien technology and once free,
let them go on about their business in the old traditional fucked up human
manner. All they had to do was work out the details.
Im afraid, said Feathers, that we aliens are not very familiar with
religion.
Dont worry, said Molloy, weve all had it up the ying-yang since
we were kids. Know how it works. Fistro, my Greatness, what we are
going to need here is nothing less than a great big god coming out of the
sky. No holds barred. The whole shebang. Norton and Feathers can take
care of the special effects, right boys?
Wed be delighted, said Feathers, We can create a show of
proportions unthinkable or really big, if you prefer. Something so
convincing that there will be no escape from its reality. A cataclysmic
wave of awe sort of thing.
Perfect, said Fistro, Now, can we infiltrate ourselves subliminally
into all that alien technology so people will be ready and waiting, soften
them up?
No problem, said Feathers, Its our technology.
Good. Now all we need is the religion itself.
The floor was open. First of all a figure would be needed. An




106
embodiment. Someone to scare the living daylights out of everyone on
the planet, regardless of race or creed, and at the same time win them
over. Narcotics were considered but discounted as too unstable. No, it had
to be mystical yet head-bangingly real. Who among them could play such
a vast and powerful role? It was time to choose.
Ill do it, piped up Deng, holding up a finger.
Where the hell had he come from?
It turned out that he had tailed along to the festivities the night before
and had been creeping around unnoticed until this moment. The general
looked at him askance.
So did the Fistro.
So did Molloy.
Feathers asked the waiter to bring Mr. Deng a drink.
Deng! exclaimed Molloy, grinning from ear to ear, Ive missed
you. So, youd like to be god for a while, would you? What are your
qualifications?
Deng stood up defiantly.
Im Chinese. We practically own the planet. I am also the highest
authority here.
Sit down, Mr. Deng, said Fistro. Im afraid you are a little late.
Besides, Molloy here will cut your balls off at the drop of a hat.




107
Not if Im god, he wont. Deng was being defiant.
Point taken, said Molloy. Cant go round cutting off gods balls.
Bad form. How would it look?
Your Greatness, said the general, Mr. Deng is a complete idiot. He
is an embarrassment. He incarnates everything that is wrong with Earth.
We cant seriously recognize his authority in these circumstances.
Fistro liked the way the general had so naturally addressed him as
Your Greatness. One was flattered.
Quite so, General. But perhaps we need an idiot for this mission.
Hes already been a bush, why not a god? A Chinese god, just think of
it.
Thank you, Mr. Obr
Both Molloy and Feathers coughed an admonishing cough.
Thank you, Your Greatness, said Deng, using the correct formula.
Sorry, Mr. Deng. Just pulling your leg. Your avarice and jealousy are
too tight upon your person to even consider you for this role. Its nice to
have you back but there is a limit. When we are finished, however, you
will be free to enjoy your political status. Thats about all I can offer
you, said Fistro, Lord of the aliens.
Deng smiled with a slight bow. He was furious. Come to think of it, he
had been furious all his life. It had worked to climb the rungs of the




108
administration and it would work again. He would bide his time.
Now, where were we, continued Fistro, Ah, yes, an idiot to come
down out of the sky and dominate humankind. In the circumstances I am
the obvious choice. The whole thing is, after all, my fault. I wrote the
book which brought the aliens which etcetera, etcetera.
Obrion, your unquestionable Greatness, said Molloy, I do believe
you are getting the hang of this supreme leader thing. In one fell swoop
you have accepted responsibility for the cock-up of an entire species,
asserted your authority and given yourself the chance to be the biggest
god damned god the world has ever seen. Not bad for a beginner.
Thank you, Molloy, said Fistro. He had to admit that the prospect
was really quite exciting. To come blaring down out of the sky and save
the world. Was it megalomania or mere vanity? It didnt really matter at
this stage as that was exactly what would happen. Now they had to work
out the how of it, the pageantry, the Arezzo. The aliens were good at that,
they had talking badgers. It was a tall order, all the same. It was also
almost time for lunch. The details of how they would usurp the role of
god and dupe an entire planet would have to wait.
As they sat about in after-lunch satisfaction gathering their thoughts to
place them at the disposal of their immediate problem, Al the driver
wandered up to join them. He had not been polishing the limousine. No.




109
Rather, he had been entertaining some of the girls who saw to the smooth
running of the manor house. Contentment radiated from his large
presence.
Have I missed anything?
Nothing much, said Molloy. Armageddon, day of judgment, things
like that.
Al raised an eyebrow and Feathers filled him in. He had no opinion
one way or the other. He was paid to drive. Interesting people, though.
Heres how I see it, said Fistro, The first part is simple. We
infiltrate this virtual reality they are all so tangled up in with your basic
god is coming message so they will be receptive. Subliminal all the way.
Then we move on to step two.
The atheists will love that one, said Molloy.
That will be no problem, said Norton. Once again, he was just there.
Every person will perceive the message in accordance with their own
beliefs or lack of them. The point is that they will be prepared for
whatever crap we throw at them, if youll pardon the expression.
Exactly, agreed Fistro. Part two, however, is another kettle of fish
altogether.
Fish? piped up Deng somewhat confused.
Molloy whacked him good-naturedly on the side of the head.




110
A little restraint, Molloy, said Fistro, equanimous ruler of billions.
If Mr. Deng wishes to discuss fish he is perfectly at liberty to do so.
Most judiciously put, Your Greatness, said Feathers the advisor.
Sorry, Deng, said Molloy, What were you saying about fish?
I wasnt saying anything about fish, protested Deng, Mr. Obrion
mentioned them.
Hes right, Molloy, I did. Fair is fair
Well, what did you want to say about fish, then? said Molloy. The
sooner they got this fish thing out of the way, the better.
It was more about kettles, really, said Fistro, Kettles of fish. Why
anyone would want to put fish in kettles is beyond me. A complete
mystery.
Al, the driver, was greatly amused by the generals obvious
exasperation at this turn in the conversation. The ludicrous was not the
generals strong point. Norton and Feathers smiled their alien delight. The
cosmos was rolling along just fine.
But we digress, said Fistro, There are a few kinks in this god in the
sky thing which we really should work out.
Much to the generals relief, they put their minds seriously to the
matter. First of all there was still an estimated 29.4 percent of the
population of Earth who were not caught up in the sticky virtual web.




111
This consisted mostly of those who were so desperately deep in the throes
of poverty that the world simply passed them by. They were concentrated
mostly in Africa, for the technology had even penetrated the sprawling
suburbs of misery that ringed the gigantic metropoli around the globe.
Then there were those who, like Fistro himself, had simply opted out. All
of these, they decided, would probably be impressed by the spectacle in
itself. There was nothing they could do about the moon, while the nine
men and six women en route to Mars had been receiving unsettling news
from Earth for some time now. Purely marginal. Then there was the
pageant itself. The imagery would be of the utmost importance.
I think, said the general, that first of all we should decide exactly
how much fear we want to instill.
My dear General, I can assure you that I have no intention of
instilling fear into anyone, said Fistro. The idea is more dazzle and
awe. Persuasion rather than rifle butts, if you see what I mean.
Youre shooting way too low, holiness old buddy, put in Molloy
earnestly, Youre going to be god for gods sake. God doesnt persuade.
He goes down and says Its like this so just do it! Be as entertaining as
you like but thats the bottom line.
Of course, dazzle them while you squash them, mused Deng
appreciatively.




112
Fistro shook his head and Molloys whacking hand stopped just short
of the side of the annoying little mans head.
Mr. Deng, everyone, lets have one thing perfectly clear, we are
trying to fix a problem not take over a planet, said Fistro, the fair ruler.
Wouldnt dream of it, said Molloy, looks bad. No point in it. No
sane person would take over Earth. Except for Deng here but thats a
different story.
Something I was wondering, Mr. Obrion, said Al, the driver who
cavorted with maids. He was not privy to the Greatness silliness. What
are we going to do when the trumpets stop?
What do you mean by we?
Well, said Alistair, if youre going to be God coming down out of
the sky youre going to need a chariot of some kind. And Im the driver
around here, right?
Good point, agreed Fistro. A nice chariot of light should do the
trick. What do you think, Norton? Youre the special effects man.
Mr. Obrion, you are the human, you know the ways of your kind. We
will provide whatever you consider adequate. From ripping back the sky
to drying up the oceans. You name it. I would, however, venture to advise
a certain caution. We gladly place our unique capabilities at your
disposition but we would appreciate a modicum of good taste in the




113
whole affair. Both visually and conceptually, said Norton.
I agree, Norton, good taste all the way. None of that Hollywood stuff
or those horrible paintings from the renaissance. No, we have to do better
than that, said Fistro.
Greatness, my dear, said Molloy, dont be so nave. That
Hollywood crap is exactly what we do need. Were dealing with the
human race here. Lets try and cheat. Hollywood with taste. For example,
the ripping back the sky thing and the chariot thing, myself and Al can
handle the general luminosity. Taste up the old trouser leg but none of
your arty farty stuff. You saw what we did lighting that frozen military
scene.
Indeed, said Norton, that was a splendid job. If Alistair doesnt
mind adding to his driving duties.
Not at all, said Al. How the hell could he mind?
Theres still Alistairs original question, what do you do once you
have appeared? said the general. He was slowly getting drawn in. It was
difficult not to.
Ive no idea, said Fistro, I thought Id just play it by ear. You
know, feel the crowd. Remember, Im going to be God, Ill have a little
leeway. But if any of you have any ideas, Im open.
There was no rush of suggestions.




114
In that case, said Al the driver, Id like to check out the chariot,
have a look at the controls, see how it handles. Knowing our alien friends,
Im sure its sitting in the garage right now.
This way, said Feathers. Alien simplicity at its best. The huge black
man and the alien known as Feathers walked off across the afternoon
lawn. And then, wouldnt you know it, there she was, walking on the
grass away in the distance. The pretty girl from the cake shop waved
through the bright afternoon. Fistro waved back. She definitely needed a
good spanking.
Im afraid that was a once in a lifetime affair, Mr. Obrion, said
Norton.
Well see, said Fistro wistfully, wondering how he might wrangle
another meeting. Supreme leadership itself would not get him all the way
over the lawns before she disappeared behind the hedges. He was left
with a wistful thought and a glad and distant image. A good spanking.
Back at the table.
Norton, my old buddy, this is going to be the greatest show humanity
has ever seen so we better do it right, said Molloy. His brain was alive
with possibilities.
If you explain more or less how you would like it, said Norton, I
can assure you that we will make it so all-enveloping that we may even




115
surprise ourselves.
Right, Molloy was in hunker down mode, How about this? For
starters, we rumble the sky. Daytime, nighttime, clear blue, doesnt
matter. We rumble the shit out of it. Just to get their attention.
Earthquakes are one thing but vast skyshakes are something else entirely.
See what I mean? We use your alien technology to shudder the heavens.
The wild creatures will stand still, even the humans will not remember to
scrabble for their cameras. They will stand gasping with the weight of the
air. The imperceptible vibrations will root them to the spot.
What do you think, Norton? said Fistro, Can we do this in a way
that satisfies your desire for good taste?
Not only that, said Norton, I have a feeling that it will inspire us to
some of our finest work. I particularly like the rooting to the spot. It will
save the humans much chaos. They may wave and blather but they will
not be able to run amok and harm each other. We have never understood
why they do that in the first place but so much the better if we can avoid
it. Rattle and shake the skies, no problem.
Yes, definitely a good background, said Fistro, and the whole lot
strap-footed and struggling to have their feet come off the very ground
that holds and binds them fast. I can just see it. There are, however, a few
groups which should be exempted from this foot stuck to the floor




116
routine. Im thinking of the different isolated peoples. Why should they
pay for what has nothing to do with them. Let them take it all as they see
fit. Fistro was, after all, a wise and circumspect supreme ruler and he
was getting to like it. Perhaps he could do something worthwhile for a
change, do some good for others. And if he was shortly to be God the
possibilities were endless. Why he could even
No, said Norton, Your intentions are laudable but Im afraid youre
getting carried away. We aliens simply do not get involved in that kind of
thing. Humankind is basically on its own and our present intervention is
directed at eliminating our previous intervention. We had no idea that our
fascination with your book could lead to so much harm. Harm which we
are more than willing to undo as far as possible. Nothing more. Humans
are quite free to run around doing whatever it was they were doing before
we came along. While, as our supreme leader, you may decree what you
wish, I would suggest that you do not interfere with their basic set-up.
Lets limit ourselves to taking back our technology.
Yes, but Im going to be God, protested Fistro, I should be able to
help them in some general way.
Obrion, you old saint, said Molloy, Forget about saving mankind.
Its been tried before, it doesnt work. No point in it. Do the job and get
out. Keep it clean.




117
But just think about it, Molloy, if Im God and they all have their feet
frozen in place I could do something to make things a little better.
There is another slight problem, said Norton. The cosmos allows a
certain amount of bending but be reasonable, god or not, you cant
change an entire species overnight. They must be left to continue as they
were. Such is the structure of this universe. They must be left to fight
their fights, to ravage their planet, to slaughter each other, to starve their
children and extinguish the wildlife. The poor fools. Perhaps we could try
to mitigate things just a little. Just this once.
Fuck right off, said Molloy. This man will be God in a couple of
hours. God! He doesnt need any of your save the humans crap. Forget
about plans for the weekend, God is in town. Obrion, dearest
omniscience, when it comes down to it, all we have to do is go down and
whack them on the side of the head and tell them to stop chewing gum in
class.
I really dont know what I would do without you, Molloy, said
Fistro, grateful for his friends succinct assessment of things. Ok, lets
get back to the complete interruption of life on planet Earth. Everybody,
except the penguins, will be looking up and expecting God to say
something. If I say the right thing they will all go back to being whatever
they were. If I say the wrong thing, anything could happen. Perhaps we




118
should work on the script.
Dont look at me, said Molloy, Youre the supreme honcho and
godhead and king of everything in sight. Use your super powers.
Feathers! called out the worried supreme ruler.
Feathers appeared.
What the hell am I going to say when I come bursting out of the
sky? Fistro asked his top advisor. A good opening is essential if you
want to keep their attention.
Why not start off with a pleasant good morning to all. Our pageantry
will be vast and overwhelming so the contrast should be most effective.
Got you there, chum, said Molloy, Awe and understate. Good
move.
Yes, I agree, agreed Fistro, Thatll do for openers but then how do
I convince them to give up their mind-fuddling technology? Theyre all
addicted.
Thats the beauty of it, said Feathers, advisor to the supreme leader,
You wont have to convince anybody. You just have to tell them. Warn
them, if you will. Their alien technology privileges will be revoked
within forty-eight hours. It will be hard for them to digest but remember,
you will be some sort of god to each and every one of them.
Fistro mused on this. He liked it.




119
Ok, lets design the show.
It was decided that the general should be in charge of the actual
ripping open of the sky. He had the warrior stance and portment. And,
with a great pair of wings, not physical but of mesmerizing light, he
would cut a fine figure pulling back the curtains of the sky. The warrior
angel of God, he who announced happenings of great portent. The
general was completely satisfied. He had been wondering what his place
in the whole affair would be. However, he had a suggestion. Shouldnt he
be carrying a blazing sword or some such symbolic artifact? They
considered this. Al the celestial chariot engineer returned from his
inspection. He was immensely pleased with his new vehicle. He picked
up their conversation and debate about the generals advocation of
ceremonial weaponry.
A spear, he said, It should be a spear.
Fistro looked across the table at him, his impressive black cranium, the
bigness of his graceful frame. This man actually carried with him a paper
copy of the book that was more or less responsible for the whole affair
they were engaged in trying to resolve. He seemed reasonable and agile
in his thinking.
Why a spear? he asked.
Al just shrugged and smiled his great smile. After all, he was just the




120
driver. They were the gods and angels and aliens.
The theatrics of the thing, said Molloy, The spear, the staff. Pound
it on the boards to get attention. Blazing swords, my dear general, are not
the thing for this job. Too commercial. Well have the aliens make up the
spear to end all spears. Right, Feathers?
With great pleasure, said the alien known as Feathers, No problem.
It will dazzle and hypnotize and when you thump it on the boards we will
make sure that the booming inside their skulls resonates in accord with
each and everyones cosmology and where required, with their idiocy.
You will get their total attention.
It was agreed. Fistro was happy with the way the meeting was going
so far. They moved on to the next item, God coming out of the sky. This
is not something you want to be slipshod about. They put their minds to
it. Obrion would be coming down through a great hole in the sky in a
heavenly chariot of splendor driven by Al. Every person on Earth would
perceive it, tinged and tinted to fit in with whatever personal concepts of
gods and celestial goings on they might have.
And to fill things out, said Fistro, I think Norton and Feathers
should be floating and shimmering in the background. How would that
suit you?
The alien known as Norton and also the alien known as Feathers were




121
delighted to be included in the pageant.
And, Molloy, I have an idea for you, said Fistro, And also for you,
Mr. Deng.
Upon hearing his name, Deng looked up and stiffened. What were
these radicals up to now? Though deep inside, his dark secrets seethed in
their own fantasies, he was still a miserable coward.
I think you should stand station on my right hand, Fistro explained
to Molloy. The aliens can see to the physics of it. Pick your own
wardrobe. Its a sort of Gods right hand man routine. Youll look great.
Also well need the balance.
Balance?
Mr. Deng, said Fistro, addressing him across the table. I would
appreciate it if you would accompany me on the left side, much in the
fashion Molloy does on my right.
I would be honored, accepted Deng, seeing himself aloft in splendor
before the whole world. A political windfall if he ever saw one.
Wonderful, said Fistro, the officiating Greatness and stage manager.
To the dressing rooms and, everybody, break a leg!
Thus it was that God came to Earth in a blaze of glory with a hand-
picked crew. As the moment drew near, there were, of course, the usual
last minute jitters and adjustments. Al had decided on a kind of Egyptian




122
skirt of white linen and silver ornaments for his muscular black body. He
stood before the others showing it off. Pure archetype. Yes, they all
agreed that God himself would surely employ no less a driver. The
general wore his battle fatigues and a pair of wings woven of pure light
that waved with a motion of their own. He carried the very spear of
providence. The workmanship was magnificent with encrusted gold and
gems. It was guaranteed to get attention. His boots had been polished and
he was ready to act as soon as the order came. Norton and Feathers had
both chosen light grey business suits and would kind of waver in the
background in a slightly subdued brightness, like bureaucratic angels in a
celestial fog. Molloy had been a little more difficult to wardrobe. The old
archangel Gabriel thing wouldnt work, too hackneyed. As for the old
right hand of the lord routine, none of them had any idea what that meant.
Al, who together with Molloy had done a splendid job on the lighting,
noticed that Molloy was at that moment wearing a shirt with the sleeves
rolled up, light slacks and loafers.
Just stick a halo on him, he said. A great shining halo.
He was obviously right and there was no further discussion. Poor Mr.
Deng, however, was not at all pleased with the role that fell to him. He
was transformed into a short, rather chubby demon with little horns and a
spiked tail. All of him bright red from head to toe. This was the balance




123
of which Fistro had spoken. He had figured that any God worth the name
should have a captured devil to exhibit. Kind of a warning to real or
potential sinners. To Deng it was just another humiliation. The others
gamely tried to assure him that there was nothing personal in it, the
demands of the script, nothing more. As he literally had no way out, he
went along. Fuming. His anger and seethe added a certain depth to his
character. It was perfect. At last the hour was at hand, time to get the
show on the road and shudder those skies.
When the skies shudder human beings react rather like deer caught in
headlights, they freeze and stare. Sort of like the husband caught in bed
with someone else. Humanity froze, rooted to the spot and looked up. The
general with his great wings stepped into the sky. Alien magic was
incredibly clever and it provided that every single conscious human being
on Earth saw him as he did so. Even those deep in the mines or any other
recondite places, even submarines, could miraculously see the open sky.
It was all irresistibly compelling. Also, every single observer on the
planet had the impression that what was taking place in the sky was
taking place directly in front of them. It was addressed to them,
personally.
The general thumped the shaft of his great spear upon the very boards
of heaven while his wings of light played across the sky. As promised,




124
people were rooted to the spot. They could not pick up their feet even if
they had had enough wits to want to. The ball was rolling. The general
did not say anything, he had been given no lines. His part was pure
presence, visual spectacle. He reached out and ripped back the very
foundations of the sky. Humanity gasped. And God entered. And it was
indeed God. All doubt is swept aside when you contemplate the
fierceness of raw existence where it shimmers behind the sky. Fistro had
been counting on this. Soften them up.
Ok, Al, he had said and Al had stood to the helm of the glowing
chariot of God. He was smiling widely as he drove it into the sight and
vision of a trapped and stupefied human race. Definitely the best driving
job he had had to date. Fistro was tall in the centre of the celestial vehicle.
He was God so he was enormous and blinding in the eyes of men. On his
right hand was Molloy, in casual wear but with a halo so bright that it
would surely have driven real saints to sin with envy. On his left hand
was little demon Deng. They had had to chain him to the chariot from a
collar round his neck. He was being most persnickety and could not be
trusted to keep formation. In the background in a very fine grey-suited
aplomb hovered the alien known as Feathers and also the alien known as
Norton. They wavered in cool attune to the coming of God. Fistro himself
had adopted no costuming. It was in no way necessary. He was God.




125
Good morning, he said, I am your God and I have a few things to
say to you.
Molloy, on his right hand, was keeping a sharp eye out for
troublemakers. There will always be a few. And sure enough, there was
one right there in Nebraska. The self-styled Reverend Timothy Neals was
telling his Jesus loving congregation in his Church of The Heavenly Deal
that he had personally arranged with God the whole thing in the sky and
surely it was worth another fifty bucks. Molloy was indignant and when
he spoke his voice was celestial and scary.
Be quiet and stop your swindling, Mr. Neals. Dont make me come
down there and whack you, he boomed for all to hear.
Then the penny dropped. He had just interrupted God. It wasnt in the
script. But as he looked down he saw more of them, all trying to make a
buck for bringing God out of hiding with their own particular special
connections. It was disgusting. He leaned over and said something to
Fistro. The entire world saw the figure on the right hand of God dip his
halo to his Lord.
Dont worry about the protocol, said Fistro, it doesnt matter.
Right, your godship. Carried away. Silly of me. Trying to be right
hand and all that.
God laid a hand on the shoulder of he who stood at his right hand and




126
many an impersonator of a holy man, though unfortunately still rooted in
one place, was taken with a most gushing and explosive form of diarrhea.
A smiting of full biblical-intestinal wrath. Then God spoke to mankind
again.
I dont often come down here. That sort of thing is best left for
thousands of years ago. But just look at you. The lot of you. You cant
even see the mess youre in. I dont know why I bother.
Now, this was not the voice of Fistro Obrion, it was the very voice of
God and it made them tremble. They had no defense.
Mr. Obrion, said Feathers under cover of general glowing
celestiality, Do try to be a little less the vengeful, nagging God and get
to the point.
Right, said Fistro. God spoke again.
But I am a just God. I have seen that you have a problem and I have
come to fix it. You have accepted treasures from strangers, that they did
give into your hands and you have bent them to vile purposes. Your devil
toys shall fall limp in your hand and become useless. The fruit grows fat
upon the vines yet no servants come forward to harvest them. You shall
no more tease yourselves with magical visions, that wasteland is revoked.
You are
Dont listen to him, he is an imposter!




127
Deng leapt about and tugged at his leash. It was the awesome sight of
a bright red demon blaspheming and straining against the chains of God.
Though he tried, Molloy couldnt reach him across the chariot to clout
him. The people loved it. They would have pulled up chairs but they were
rooted to the spot. Feathers and Norton conferred with Fistro and released
the feet of seven billion people. It must have been getting uncomfortable
and they had no wish to cause undue discomfort. People were now free to
stand or sit or adopt any other posture they wished though they were still
enthralled by the goings on in the sky. There were a few people the aliens
did not release immediately. Those who had been in the middle of
outright acts of violence against their fellows, for example. They were
left stuck in place. Under normal circumstance they would have had vile
things done to them by their would-be victims but for the moment
everyone was too busy staring into the sky, God-struck to the core.
I am the Secretary of Alien Affairs. Do not listen to these people,
insisted Deng, pulling at his tether and jumping about. In spite of his
experience as a bush, Deng did not realize that what the peoples of Earth
saw was a miserable red devil flapping around looking for attention as he
said tasteless things about God. This behavior surprised no one, he was a
demon.
Fistro was quite glad of the interruption. His godness was running out




128
and he was beginning to feel at a bit of a loss. He really should say
something sensible. But what? He turned to Molloy.
This sucks, Molloy, he said.
Of course it does, snagglepus. You wont let me pick out the worst
ones so you can smite them. Its no fun. We need more action. Youre
dying out there.
And it was true. No matter how captivated they had been, the audience
was beginning to falter. He had to pull this together in a way that made
some sense. It was the least you could expect from the coming of God.
His mind was a blank. Zero. Al the driver looked back over his shoulder
with his hands on the controls.
Why dont we take a spin in this baby and give your worshippers a
thrill? he said to Fistro, God for the duration. He pushed a button and
two comfortable jump seats popped out on the sides of the chariot.
Youre coming along, Molloy. You too, Deng. Climb aboard.
Molloy wasnt sure how his halo would stand up to acceleration but he
wasnt going to miss the ride. Deng was completely terrified and
scrambled into the seat only because he didnt want his head yanked off.
Hang on, said Al, master of divine chariots. He went through the
antics one would expect of the driver of God. This was no ordinary
chariot. When it flashed by you it could swell to fill all perception or it




129
could disappear into a tiny dot and then explode back huge above you in
appalling scream and roar. Al gave the people a great show. They
particularly loved his skid stops when he actually tore up chunks of
existence and sent it flying. When he was done he swooped back down to
where the general stood with his spear beside the hole he had torn in the
sky.
Jump off, boys.
Molloy and Deng jumped out of the jump seats.
Fistro knew that now God must speak. He also knew that he was not
God. The situation was hopeless. Vast and well staged but hopeless. He
had nothing to say so he said it.
Nobody will ever be back in five minutes.
It was as if a switch had been thrown. Heads dropped back down to
earth no one paid any more attention to the divine spectacle in the sky.
They shook their heads dumbly and began to wander off about their
business. The enchantment was gone. Norton and Feathers stepped
forward from the background. They stopped wavering.
I would say, Alistair, that it is time to go home, said Norton. They
drove back to the cabin in the limousine and were seated to dinner in no
time at all.
Fistro was disappointed and puzzled.




130
Molloy was looking for his halo.
Deng was relieved to be back in his own clothes.
Al had done his job.
Norton and Feathers could barely contain themselves with satisfaction.
Mr. Obrion, you will be pleased to know that you are relieved of your
duties as supreme ruler, Norton informed him. Everything has worked
out splendidly so Im afraid we aliens must be off.
What do you mean? said Fistro, They turned their backs on me and
walked away. And I was God.
Exactly, Mr. Obrion, said Feathers, We pulled it off.
What did we pull off?
Patience, Mr. Obrion. It will all soon become clear.
And where is the general?
He is over there with his troops. He is a general, after all.
I still dont see how we fixed anything, said Fistro. He was grumpy.
All that trouble for nothing. He didnt see anything becoming clear. He
had completely lost his audience with one sentence from his book. The
same sentence that had made the aliens jump up and dance around like
idiots. He was not about to let the aliens slip away without a better
explanation.
Just a minute there, he said when he saw that Norton and Feathers




131
really were standing to leave.
I think you will admit that you owe me something for my trouble. So,
please, sit down both of you.
The two aliens sat down again.
We will help in any way we can, said Feathers. There is no hurry.
Good, thought Fistro. Now, what is it exactly that I want to know? If
the aliens said it was all fixed, it probably was. They had a knack for
being right. Now they were leaving. Was that it?
Well, he just lost his job, said Molloy with something between an
excuse and a rebuke. Both of them, in fact. How would you feel? One
minute youre his Greatness, Supreme Ruler of billions of aliens and the
next, plain old Obrion. Bound to get to you. Ego and things. Harder they
fall.
That part cant be helped, Im afraid, said Norton. It was just
another one of our fanciful inventions. We thought youd all enjoy it and
it was a useful tool for arriving at this most satisfactory conclusion.
No, said Fistro, Its not the job or even the girl from the cake shop.
More the let down of taking part in planet moving events only to end up
understanding nothing.
See your point, laddie, said Molloy, King for a day, God for an
hour. Aliens skulking off. Bad business.




132
Just a moment, everyone. It was the angry voice of Deng. The
political tentacles of his mind had grasped an inkling that things were
returning to normal. Normal, where he was a man of real power and
influence. He would have his revenge at last. All the humiliations would
be paid for. His eyes gleamed. He had always known that he, Deng Ouch
Oh, would win in the end.
The game is over, he said, rising to his full, though unimpressive
height. You shall all pay for your treason. You will be tried and treated
as terrorists. For that is what you are.
He glared around the table at each one in turn. His full authority and
his petty meanness a cocktail of dangerous stupidity. The stupidity of one
who is once again magnificent in his own small eyes. His bluff and sneer
were back and it felt good. These small people, these insignificant fools,
would soon learn the ways of real power, especially Molloy. Hatred
would be the term decided Fistro.
Perhaps, said Feathers, we should explain a few details before Mr.
Deng gets completely carried away, although it is a shame to spoil the
surprise. The way we have arranged things, we will quickly slip from
human memory, about a week, at most. There will be a little confused
shaking of heads, then nothing. The presence of aliens on this pleasant
little planet of yours will return to the fringe, to the realm of conspiracies




133
and blurry photographs. You, of course, will all remember, even Mr.
Deng here. That, however, will place him in a rather peculiar position as
no one else will have any idea what he is talking about should he feel the
desire to mention our adventures together. Everyone will most probably
consider him quite mad. I hope that point is clear to you, Mr. Deng. It is
not our intention to ruin your career or otherwise cause you distress.
Believe me, all evidence of our stay here, television, newspapers,
conferences, memories, everything which refers to us will corrupt, fall to
dust and quite simply never have been. Poof! Alien magic.
I would say thats a polite invitation to sit down and shut up, said
Molloy, Be a good doggie.
Deng sat. Secretary of Alien Affairs. No more aliens. Poof! Never had
been. Poof! All gone. He hung his head.
Also, Mr. Obrion, said Norton, We thought it only fair to pay you
royalties for our use of your book. It is all deposited in different banks
around the world and you are now by a good distance the richest man on
the planet. You see, not only did billions of us read your book, we also
used it for all kinds of entertainments. We are merely being fair. Dont be
alarmed, we were very careful. As far as we can tell we have not upset
the normal financial condition of the planet. I hope we learned our lesson
with the technology fiasco.




134
Fistro looked at him. There was really no point sulking over things
that would soon be history. A deliberately erased history, at that. He
picked up a bottle and poured himself a drink. He also poured one for
Molloy, for Al, Norton, Feathers and for Deng. He did not pour one for
the general because the general was seeing to the last details of total
withdrawal from the area. What Norton had said a moment ago gave one
room for thought, though. Gave him room for thought, in fact. He had
never had much dealings with money. He knew it was there, of course, in
places like banks, all over the world.
How much are we talking about? he asked.
Billions. Many, many billions.
Billions, said Fistro. I am now a man of many, many billions.
Hows your business acumen, Molloy? Seems Im going to need a
bulldozer to make change. Want a job?
Ive always wanted to play with billions of dollars, said Molloy with
a big grin. Count me in.
How about you, Al? I could use a driver of your talents.
Al, the driver, was once again in his dark suit and wearing his
sunglasses. He had greatly enjoyed driving the chariot of God but now he
was at a loose end.
I dont see why not, Mr. Obrion. Consider me hired.




135
And you, Mr. Deng, I cant offer you a job but how would a million
dollars suit you? You can even consider it a bribe if that makes you feel
more comfortable. Fistro just couldnt resist the idea of giving Deng a
million dollars for no reason at all. Fighting meanness with generosity?
Who knows?
Deng had been on a roller coaster and he was still a bit dizzy. These
people had humiliated him, turned him into a bush and then a red demon.
Every time he had thought he could gain control he had been slapped
down. His nerves were not the best and he was feeling a little paranoid.
Why do they play with me like this? Obrion was looking at him frankly
and openly. Deng was stumped.
Cheer up, you idiot, said Molloy, Take the money. We wont tell
anybody. And its not crooked. What are friends for?
All those around the table looked at Deng. They had really quite
enjoyed the part he had played in the whole thing. Just the thought of
giving him a million dollars was wonderful in itself.
Deng raised his head slowly. He looked all of them, not just at Fistro.
A look at the bastards. The bastards of humor and decency. Difficult
concepts. He placed his hands on the table and pushed himself to his feet.
Make it two and we have a deal, he said.
The whole table broke into a smile. The whole table shook its head.




136
There was joy in Moville. Deng had made a joke.
Deng, old choppers, whatever has come over you? said Molloy.
Fistro watched Deng sit down. A man relieved. But still Deng, of
course. Everyone needs to be a little human at times, if only for the
relaxation of it, but that didnt change basics.
Only one per person, Im afraid, said Fistro. By the way, what will
you do with a million dollars?
Show me the money first, Dengs suspicion was not going to just
evaporate.
How do you want it, in unmarked twenties? said Molloy. He was on
the brink of not much liking the Chinese gentlemans attitude.
I will not trust you. I will not be duped and mistreated again.
Mr. Deng, he only asked you what you would do with the money,
said Al, The aliens say hes got the dough.
Deng pondered this for a while. It didnt help. Where was the trick?
He noticed the others looking at him. Ok, let them have their laugh. It
was clear to Feathers that Deng was genuinely distressed. He picked up a
black leather briefcase and placed it on the table in front of the man. The
clasps were silver and Deng clicked them open with a practiced hand.
Politics is not barren of its own manual dexterities. He opened the lid,
scanned the contents for something like a second and snapped it shut.




137
How many bribes has this man taken, anyway, thought Fistro, almost in
admiration of the mans speed. Deng had never considered them bribes.
Why should he?
Thank you, Mr. Obrion.
Well, Croesus, old chum, what are you going to do with it, said
Molloy.
Im going to use it.
Their lack of surprise surprised no one.
Good for you, said Molloy, Dont forget to wave when you get
there.
What about the general? Fistro asked Norton.
He will also forget. This is best. That way he wont have to pretend,
Hardly seems fair, the way he ripped open the very meaning of the
sky and all, said Fistro.
My thoughts exactly.
It was the general. He had tested his silent commando tactics and was
now standing in the doorway of the cabin. Was this an emulation of
Nortons way of just appearing? Tactical pride? They all rose and offered
him a seat. He sat down and spoke.
I consider myself lucky to have been in action with you very odd
people. I would, however, strongly object to simply forgetting everything




138
that has happened since I first rode into this clearing at the head of my
armor.
An excellent objection, General, said Feathers. We aliens can be
far too presumptuous sometimes, we can be quite clumsy. You are
excluded from the mind-out.
Im also well aware of the futility of talking about our little alien
invasion here to anyone in the outside world once they have all forgotten
about it. I would be counted with the delusional and delusional generals
are a dime a dozen. And I can see no tactical advantage to it. If all the
deployment of Earth forces that was undertaken never occurred, no
strategic balance has been altered. Ill be on my way now.
Ah, General, before you go, said Fistro, Could I offer you some
money? Im afraid its all Ive got at the moment. For a short time there
you did form part of our little troupe.
The general looked about the veranda and then out over the clearing as
though appraising a situation.
Just doing my duty. We saved the human race, that is enough reward.
Good bye.
So saying, he turned without further ado, walked down the steps and
climbed into the jeep that had pulled up. He drove away. Those on the
veranda watched hum go. It was only polite. None of them had any idea




139
of who the general was. They waved. There was a sudden flurry of
movement as Deng scrambled down the stairs and went running off after
the general shouting and waving his arms.
Mr. Obrion, sir, said Feathers, If there is nothing else?
You do a remarkable Jeeves, said Fistro.
Thank you, sir, said the alien known as Feathers.

*********************

Fistro opened his eyes. He looked out through the window of the cabin
into the morning sky. Happy camp alien was his now, a few satellite
phone calls and he had bought the whole place, woods and all. Well,
Molloy had. He swung his legs out of the bed and plonked his bare feet
on the wood floor. Then he placed his elbows on his knees and held his
head in his hands, rather like a crucible. It was a good posture for
thinking. Now what, you billionaire bastard? He said to himself. He had a
problem. It was called being a billionaire bastard. He knew that the aliens
had meant well but they still hadnt learned to get their generosity in
proportion. If you are the richest man in a world where money is a
voracious animal you cant just ignore what is going on in the big bad
world, can you? Damn those aliens and the book they rode in on. He went




140
to join the others for breakfast. As he walked up to the main cabin he
noticed Als limo was missing. He went in and the room was empty.
There was a note from Molloy on the table. Back in five minutes. He
went back out on the veranda. The aliens had left as casually as they had
come. He was alone. Two deer came out of the woods on the far side of
the clearing. They lingered and nibbled the low shrubs with their usual
choreography of one on guard, the other eating. He would have liked to
feed them some apples but he didnt have any.
***********************
Gainsworth Protoplasm pulled his craft into parking orbit. It was good
to drive in real space again. It hadnt been easy finding a parking space.
The quantity of abandoned junk whizzing by at different speeds was
extraordinary. The planet itself looked quite pleasant and from what he
had read, it had some pretty good food. He wasnt sure what instinct had
brought him here but here he was. Once he was safely parked, he
examined the mass of junk that ringed the planet. What could possess the
population of a planet to create such a useless and dangerous thing. Better
take a look at their communications. He asked the kitchen to prepare him
a drink.
Would you like to try one of the local drinks? asked the kitchen.
Sure, said Gainsworth, What do they go for?




141
They seem to favor alcohol and have treated it very artistically, the
kitchen informed him.
Good. What do you suggest?
Try a mojito.
As he sifted through the morass of signals of all kinds he stopped at
one called television. He was amazed. The way the inhabitants of this
planet portrayed themselves to each other. He drank his mojito and let the
screens run on. After a while he said, What do you think, kitchen?
I dont see much to worry about, said the kitchen.
Youre right, said Gainsworth, draining his drink. I think Ill go
down and take a look.
He got into his suit. The best suit this side of the big bang, nothing
could get through it. It was bright red with silver boots and silver gloves.
The helmet was a clear bubble. He loved it. With this suit he could move
casually through the atmosphere of whatever planet he visited. With that
suit he could actually pass through the centre of a sun. He had never done
so, the need had never arisen. He preferred to be practical. So, in a
practical fashion he floated down through the earths atmosphere to the
spot he had chosen.

***************************




142

Fistro Obrion was sitting on the porch of the main cabin. The camp
was practically deserted except for Elena and her husband who occupied
one of the smaller cabins. Al, the helicopter driver, was off on one of his
chores. Fistro never asked what chores. And Molloy? Probably stuck in a
bar in the Solomon Islands. How long had he been gone, anyway? An
insect buzzed by in manic persecution of something or other. The odd
coots and calls came from the different feathered creatures that dwelt in
the forest. Fistro felt a certain empathy with the animals of the vicinity.
This, however, was no impediment to his tucking into pieces of their
carcasses when adequately prepared and presented at table. The
benevolent philosopher carnivore.
A figure in a bright red suit with silver boots and gloves with a bubble
on top floated slowly, casually down out of the afternoon air and landed
in the clearing in front of him without so much as the bend of a knee.
Fistro was only vaguely surprised that he was not at all surprised. The
figure approached and stood at the bottom of the steps. Fistro motioned
him to come up. Politeness was the norm in happy camp alien. The aliens
had long since departed but he still liked the name.
Come on up, he called out.
In spite of his recent dealings with aliens he had no idea of galactic




143
fashion but he guessed that a bright red suit with silver trim and a bubble
was probably a personal extravagance. This turned out to be correct.
The man in the suit at the bottom of the steps did something and the
suit disappeared. Poof! Gone. Gainsworth, now in ships casuals, climbed
the steps and took the offered seat.
Gainsworth Protoplasm, he said.
Fistro Obrion. Drink?
Mojito, if you dont mind, said the newcomer, remembering his
kitchens advice. He looked out over the camp at the camp. Elena was
already in the cabin doorway and had heard. The mojito appeared.
Please excuse the intrusion but your little camp looked inviting, said
Gainsworth. He was a tanned, confident looking man. There was
something professional about him.
Anyone who comes floating down like a carnival balloon is always
welcome though I must say you pose something of a mystery. You dont
look like an alien. What are you? asked Fistro.
Technically, Im an Advocat but these days Im more of a traveler.
An avocado! It was Molloy, back from the wars. He had obviously
come in through the kitchen. He loved Elena. Now he leaned in the door.
There was a sudden blur on the veranda.
Molloy, now look what youve done.




144
And it was true. Gainsworth Protoplasm was once again tightly
secured inside his bright red suit, bubble over his head and all.
Little jumpy, is he? said Molloy and knocked lightly on the bubble.
The suit disappeared.
You must excuse me, Mr. Obrion, said Gainsworth. I like to keep it
on sensitive response. No offence.
None taken. It doesnt surprise me at all that it reacted to Molloy like
that.
Molloy shook the visitors hand and went back to the kitchen to bother
Elena. He was hungry.
The two men sat there at the table on the deck. They didnt speak for a
while. There was no hurry. Some distant clouds said nothing either. The
hoot of an owl came from the woods. There is enjoyment in some
silences.
So, what brings you to these parts? asked Fistro after a while. He
was playing for time. Floating down in a bubble. He tried to imagine it.
What kind of person are we dealing with? No alarms had been triggered,
though. Always a good sign.
The truth is I didnt want to land smack in the middle of the
civilization you have going on your planet. They seem a little unstable,
said the man who had come floating down.




145
We have the market cornered on instability, Mr. Gainsworth. Im not
sure if you made a wise decision choosing happy camp alien but at least
you are welcome. We dont get many visitors. Naturally, Im curious,
said Fistro.
Exactly, bubble man, what is your story? said Molloy.
Gainsworth sat back and gazed out over the clearing. There was a
moment of silence. They all saw the two deer come out of the woods on
the other side of the camp. They watched them stop and stand perfectly
still and cock their ears where they stood in the low brush. A squirrel
scampered along a low branch and sat bolt upright. The afternoon seemed
reasonably pleased with itself.
Please dont be an alien, said Fistro to himself. How much more could
they screw up?
Mr. Molloy, at this moment I am sitting across the table from you.
The story, as you call it, is rather cosmic. If you wish
Are you another fucking alien? interrupted Molloy. Nothing
against aliens, understand. Nice people. Couldnt have said good-bye to a
finer bunch. Still, could be trouble.
Good question and most politely put, Molloy. However, Mr.
Gainsworth, are you another fucking alien? asked Fistro.
Gainsworth Protoplasm activated his suit and took off out into the air




146
above the clearing. He flashes here, he flashed there, up and down, blurs
and sudden stops and the eye could not follow. Then he returned to his
seat on the deck and the suit was gone.
No, he said, I am not an alien.
Good. Will you stay for supper? said Fistro.
Love to.
Over supper, Fistro got Molloys report. It was succinct.
Bit of a mess at first, bumping into things and that. But the alien
technology disappeared, all right. Slick job. Distract the baby, take away
the toy. Confusion but no tears. Back to normal. No better, no worse.
And they dont remember a thing?
Not a fishbone,
Out of curiosity, Molloy had decided to go out and take a look at how
the human race was getting on with their dealienization. Besides, a little
jaunt around the world never did any harm. With free access to the funds
of the brand new Orion B Foundation, a kind of all purpose
philanthropical organization they had set up with Fistros newly acquired
wealth, he had hired a private jet, stocked it with the indispensable
comforts of world travel and set off on a planet hop to check on the post-
alien situation. All traces of the aliens and their technology just seemed to
have gradually dissipated like the vague memory of a dream. The




147
electronic evidence had become scrambled junk that no one thought twice
about. Molloy decided to call in on the Reverend Timothy Neals in
Nebraska for a first hand of the halleluiah factor. When he drove up to the
little white church there was a for sale sign on a stake on the tidy front
lawn and the Reverend himself was loading boxes into the back of a pick-
up. It turned out that his congregation had deserted him. It wasnt that
they remembered the reprimand from the sky or the explosive diarrhea
incident but the pastor had somehow suddenly lost his charisma. This did
not pose any real spiritual problem for the faithful. Two miles down the
road the Holy Church of the Lords Discount more than satisfied the
longings of their souls. All was well in the land of idiot belief. In fact, the
whole damn bunch of homo sapiens was back to reasonable levels of pre-
alien delusion, deception and desire. Molloy was satisfied.
Fistro and Molloy now turned their attention back to Gainsworth. He
seemed a nice enough fellow but he had come floating down out of the
sky. What had he been doing up there in the first place? Obviously some
intergalactic thing. Did he have any connection with the aliens? Did he
take brandy with his coffee?
Brandy? asked Fistro.
Please.
So youre an Advocat and a traveler, then?




148
Thats right. Gainsworth sipped his brandy.
And what exactly is an Advocat? asked Molloy.
Well, originally our job was to go around taking note of what was
going on in the different slip-realities that make up the cosmos and bear
irrefutable witness. Kind of notaries of existence, said the man with the
incredible red suit with the bubble on top.
But not any more? asked Fistro.
Hardly at all. After a few hundred million years everyone sort of lost
interest. I mean, who really needs all that information and verification? It
just stopped making sense. So now those of us who are still active just
kind of wander around the cosmos. Oh, were still on the payroll with full
status and power and we send in the odd report but nobody pays any
attention. Everybody is too busy scrabbling about in their own realities.
The old ideas are dead.
They were silent for a moment out of respect for the dead ideas. They
studied the motion of the liquid in their glasses. A small requiem for ideas
that no longer walked among them. Ideas which, in fact, they had never
met. However, politeness was the norm in happy camp alien.
Nasty business, said Molloy. Realities, ideas kicking the bucket.
Down the drain, whoosh! You can almost smell it.
Molloy had an innate aversion to pensive silences no matter how noble




149
the reason. Why think when you can talk? It wasnt that he was an idiot in
the negative sense, he just liked thought to come out in the rough and
tumble of talk.
Molloy, you cant smell ideas, said Fistro.
That is the least of our problems, Obrion old bank. We have a
population to manipulate. Remember?
I beg your pardon? said Fistro.
To help, I mean. Population to help, of course. Helpful manipulation,
kind of thing, Molloy corrected himself. Nothing out of line or
psychotic. Keep it clean. All above board.
Perhaps we should not discuss this in front of our guest, said Fistro,
ever cautious in his new role as man of money, uncomfortable amounts of
money.
On the contrary, of course we should, said Molloy. This man is a
million year old avocado and hes got a bubble.
Well, I cant argue with that, said Fistro.
Id be more than happy to offer any help I can, said Gainsworth.
But first, tell me about these aliens.
So they told him about the aliens. There wasnt that much to tell. The
aliens had come, set up a few isolated camps and waited a couple of years
until they remembered why they were here. In the meantime, they had




150
given the humans bits and pieces of alien technology as a sort of payment
for any inconvenience their presence might cause. That had backfired
royally. The humans had taken this really quite useful technology and
used it almost exclusively to make ever more mind invasive toys and
thingies. Pretty soon they had not only become completely addicted but
their minds began to fall apart to the point where their erratic behavior
became a real threat to their survival. Anyway, through a series of
fortuitous circumstances and some rather silly antics the aliens had
managed to neutralize the technology and at the same time remove all
memory of their presence on Earth. Then they had simply left.
And thats about the size of it, said Molloy. In fact, Ive been out
checking on the results. A one. No complaints. Its all back to before.
What aliens? I kind of liked the bastards, though.
So it was those aliens, said Gainsworth. Yes, Ive run into them. A
playful bunch. They have this crazy book that He looked at Fistro. F.
Obrion? Well, Ill be damned. So they finally found you. Im almost
tempted to send in a report. In some parts of the universe your little book
is considered extremely subversive.
Good lord, said Fistro, glad of an appropriate opportunity to use the
phrase. How many galactic civilizations knew about his book, anyway?
Here on Earth, except for Al, the helicopter driver, he had never met




151
anyone who had even heard of it. Not even Molloy.
Obrion, you old subversive. From object of alien devotion to galactic
troublemaker, said Molloy. We better get you fitted for a beret, right
away.
I dont wear hats, Molloy, said Fistro.
How about a revolutionary bubble, then? I can already see the
t-shirts.
Gainsworth could see how these two had got along with the aliens.
However, as they had been obviously exempted from the memory
blackout that the aliens had imposed, they were probably not
representative of the general population of the planet. And this Molloy
character had mentioned something about manipulation. Perhaps there
was more to this peaceful little camp in the woods. His Advocat instinct
was roused. After all, he had traveled the galaxies and had slipped in and
out of the strange doors between realities. He knew when something was
going on. Not that it mattered especially. It was just that being at a loose
end, he was intrigued. Also, it was indeed true that certain galactic
elements did consider F. Obrion to be dangerously subversive. In such
circumstances he was the closest thing these people had to a cosmic
advisor. Those silly aliens really could be quite disruptive in their happy
go lucky way. What had they done this time so that these two humans




152
could be sitting in this isolated camp talking about manipulating the
population of the planet? Never mind the fact that he was an Advocat,
any intelligent traveler would be interested. So he asked.
Generosity, explained Fistro. The aliens have an exaggerated sense
of generosity. Before they left they made me the richest man on the
planet. Billions. It was a kind of royalties payment for the book.
They didnt screw up the financial system of the planet, did they?
asked Gainsworth, pouring himself another brandy from the crystal
decanter.
No. In fact, they were very careful about that. They didnt want a
repeat of the technology disaster. In any case, the upshot of it all is that I
now control a huge chunk of the worlds wealth, said Fistro.
Gainsworth considered this as he studied the facets and refractions of
the exquisitely cut crystal of the decanter.
Quite a responsibility, he said.
Its more of a goddamn bitch of a king-size problem. Thats what it
is, said Molloy.
Do you know anything at all about our planet, Mr. Gainsworth?
asked Fistro. Mr. Gainsworth?
The visitor was completely absorbed in the cut crystal decanter. He
couldnt take his eyes off it.




153
What? Oh, I am sorry. Your planet, no, practically nothing, although
the ring of garbage you have orbiting it is a little unorthodox.
You should see the heaps of crap we have down here, said Molloy.
We dump our shit everywhere, on land or sea or in the air. Toss the old
beer can out the car window, kind of thing,
So you are some kind of garbage worshippers?
Quite the opposite, said Fistro. We hate the stuff. It just kind of
happens.
Happens, repeated Gainsworth absently. I see, I see.
The man was once again fixated by the decanter and only half
listening. When he moved his head, the light danced in fascinating
prismatic colors. He reached out and picked it up by the tall graceful neck
and balanced it on the tips of his fingers and thumb to examine the squat
flat base where the liquid was held.
Remarkable, he said, quite in a world of his own.
Fistro and Molloy looked at each other. What was the matter with the
fellow? They were trying to have a sensible conversation with him yet
here he was engrossed, enthralled, mesmerized even. Molloys
implacable patience kicked in and he leaned over and plucked the
decanter from their guests hand and put it back on the table. That seemed
to break the spell. Gainsworth sat up as though a spell had been broken.




154
You must forgive me, he said.
Its not about forgiveness, my friend, said Molloy. Its about trying
to have a little chat with a bubble man from the sky, if you see what I
mean.
The bubble man from the sky couldnt help smiling. He was getting to
like these people. A little impatient, perhaps, but then he did have
millions of years on them.
You must admit it is a fine piece of work, he said.
Ill tell you what, said Molloy. If you stick around Ill take you to
the place where they make them and you can have your pick. After all,
we own the place.
We? said Fistro.
Right, sorry. Carried away. His mogulship here owns it. Im just his
manager really.
Manager? said Fistro.
You know what I mean. Chief privy idiot. Hows that?
They laughed and the clinking of their glasses rang around the clearing
in the falling dusk. Gainsworth had the feeling that he had landed in the
right place.
Before they had time to pick up their conversation again, something
else landed in the clearing in front of the deck where they were sitting. It




155
was a large sleek helicopter. It had come in without a sound and settled
without disturbing even the blades of grass. No thwacking rotors, no
screaming engines. Light as a feather and a fine machine to look at. A
huge black fellow jumped down out of the front of it and sauntered
towards them. The light from the veranda gleamed off his large black
skull.
Ah, company, he said as he climbed the steps.
Allow me to present Mr. Gainsworth Protoplasm, said Fistro.
Gainsworth, this is Alistair, our driver.
My pleasure, said Al, shaking hands and making himself
comfortable. Elena was already at the door of the cabin with a huge
sandwich and a jug of lemonade. She loved Al. He kissed her hand
graciously and she giggled.
Get rid of that husband of yours and I will fall helplessly at your
feet, said Al.
Its a deal, Mr. Alistair, she said and went back inside.
We were just explaining to Mr. Gainsworth something of our
dilemma, Al, said Fistro. He landed here this afternoon. Hes from up
there somewhere. He pointed up.
Al looked at the visitor a moment but said nothing. Then he picked up
his sandwich. He was paid to drive.




156
Let me see if I have this right, said Gainsworth. You have found
yourself with all this financial power and not the slightest idea of how to
use it. Would that be correct?
In a word, said Fistro. The whole thing is incredibly complex. I
have no use for all the money but how do I get rid of it and do some
general good at the same time? Its too vast.
His mind boggles, said Molloy.
So does mine, said Al. And Im only the driver. He had finished
his sandwich and lemonade.
They sat and discussed the problem and Elena came and went with
coffee. Hyper-money was actually a very difficult animal to control.
Fistros first inclination had been to just give it away, like Santa Clause.
Wrong. The dogs of money simply did not allow that kind of carry on and
had effective mechanisms to thwart it. Conventional donations to
charities was about the limit. Fistro would have to be sneaky and work
the system from his anonymous position within it. All in all, a great big
headache. It was a good thing he had Molloys sense of piracy to spice
things up. They considered their options. At one stage Gainsworth
popped into his suit to consult his ship for more detailed information
about the planet. When he popped back again, all he said was,
Uff!




157
Which is precisely what were dealing with, said Fistro.
Nice suit, said Al.
My own design, said Gainsworth with a touch of pride. Not another
one like it in any known universe.
I had a hat once, began Molloy.
They all looked at him askance.
No, no. Of course not. No comparison. Just a hat. Sits on the head.
None of your popping in and out. Pass the brandy, Gainy old bubble. He
smiled generously around.
Frankly, Mr. Obrion, said Gainswurth, returning to the subject, I
would say you have your work cut out for you. The financial system on
this planet is quite extraordinary, its link to reality is questionable, at best.
I wish you luck.
It all makes me feel so useless, said Fistro, feeling useless.
Cheer up, Obrion. No point sulking over spoilt billions. Lets go find
this spanking new yacht of yours, said Molloy cheerfully.
Al looked up all a question. It was the first he had heard.
Dont worry, said Fistro, it has a helicopter pad.

************************************





158
Al loved his helicopter. His flying limo. It had been a little parting gift
from the aliens before they left. They had taken his original bomb-proof
limo and turned it into this. You couldnt beat the aliens for ingenuity.
Alien ingenuity. It had the shape of a large conventional helicopter but it
had no rotor blades and made no noise whatsoever. It was undetectable
by radar or missile and it handled like a dream. That way he didnt have
to bother with aviation authorities of any kind. Free airman Al. Its outer
skin was covered in microscopic camouflage cells that made it practically
invisible to the human eye if he so wished. The arms moguls would have
butchered each other to get their hands on it but they never would. It was
totally personalized to Al, the limo driver. In anyone elses hands it
would be just so much very elaborate inert junk, a work of modern art at
most. Al had thanked the aliens very much. They had told him not to
mention it. It was their pleasure.
Molloy and Fistro lounged in the main cabin. Soft light and leather
and luxury. Elena and Francoise, her husband, were in the back, dim-lit in
their own intimacy. Fistro had offered them the camp but they had
preferred to stick with him. What the hell, Francoise had said, I used to be
a sailor.
So just what kind of a boat have you bought us? Fistro asked Molloy
after a while.




159
The best, buddy boy, the best, said Molloy. Fresh off the slip. One
of the biggest, most luxurious yachts in the world. Built for the Sultan of
who knows where. Dipped into your money bucket and offered him
double what he paid. Now its yours. Made a few changes inside. Got rid
of gold taps and that nonsense. No need to be stupid about it.
Thank you, said Fistro. Spurious ostentation was not really up his
alley. It was bad enough being rich, he didnt need it rubbed in his face
every time he took a dump.
What do you make of our friend in the suit? asked Fistro. The man
from the sky had not joined them for the trip to the find the boat.
Bubble top? Fine fellow. Intergalactic. Got to keep up our cosmic
contacts. Never know what might happen.
Yes, but, the aliens go away. He shows up. I dont know, mused
Fistro.
You worry too much, Obrion. He seems a sensible chap to me.
There was a knock on the window. Of course, thought Fistro, what
else? He pressed the intercom.
Al, can you open the door to let someone in?
Sure, Al came back, Just let me reduce speed and go down a bit
and hover. This he did.
The door slid open and the man in the bright red suit with the bubble




160
on top stepped in. The door slid closed. The suit disappeared and there
was Gainsworth with not a bother on him. He took a seat.
Evening gentlemen. Hope I didnt startle you, said Gainsworth. I
thought I should catch you up. There is news.
Fistro wasnt at all sure if he was in the mood for news. It had a
tendency to come in one of two kinds. However the man had gone to the
trouble of finding their, or rather, Als helicopter in mid-flight in the dark.
Good news or bad news? he asked. He wasnt too hopeful about the
reply. Good news seldom went chasing through the skies.

*********************************

George Stockton leaned back in his ergonomic chair and gazed up at
the stars. He never got tired of it. How could you get tired of everything
else that existed out there where the blackness of space had no meaning
because it was full to the brim with all kinds of light. The dome over his
head was a fine piece of engineering. It had been made in orbital factory
6 and was indestructible as well as optically perfect. He took that for
granted. The disaster in section 29 had been one of those freaks of
impossibility. Here in traffic control things were sealed down tight. He
barely gave it a thought. Staring up through that perfect dome he sipped




161
his coffee and smiled to himself. A kind of peace. Moon work was like
that. He couldnt really complain. At most he had to deal with a couple of
dozen ships a watch. Two or three busses from Earth and the rest were
clunkers full of minerals, pure routine. In they came and out they went. It
left him lots of time to contemplate the universe as it showed itself in any
direction he cared to look. The company psychologists spent most of his
obligatory sessions with them trying to convince him that perhaps he
should spend his free moments less on the outer reality and more on the
very well designed entertainment programs on the screens in front of him.
Too much stark space could make him dysfunctional. That didnt bother
him. He knew that the station psychologists were full of shit. All you had
to do was look at them. Sad really, but the company had its rules so he
went along. And the money was not to be sneezed at.
A blip brought his eyes back to the screen. Nothing was expected, in
or out, for another fifty minutes. He dropped his cosmic reverie and sat
bolt upright in professional attention. This blip should not be there. He
pressed a button and called command.
Osborne, here, came the reply. It was commander Osborne.
I have an approaching object, sir. It is not scheduled and displays no
identification.
Well, call them up and see what they want. Protocol 3. Commander




162
Osborne was tired and not in the mood for dealing with wildcat tourists.
They might be legal under section 43 but they were a pain in the ass.
Moon Minerals paid his salary and he was due to be relieved in 64 hours.
George Stocton sent out the usual identification demands on all
frequencies. There was no reply. The blip on the screen grew bigger. That
in itself was unsettling. Blips simply did not get bigger unless you were
dealing with the dangerously enormous. And that did not happen. Not
only did it not happen, it was not happening right before his eyes even as
he watched the gigantic craft come into orbit above where he sat in his
dome and blot out most of the stars he had been so peacefully
contemplating just a moment before. George, however, was a
professional.
Unknown vessel, his voice instructed on all frequencies, Please
adopt the orbit you have already adopted. He was not going to argue
with the impossible. Personally, he had never had any opinion about
aliens, one way or the other, but whatever that great big huge thing sitting
in the sky above his dome might be, it was not from Earth. It was too
shudderingly big. What the hell. His job was to direct traffic not question
it. If some unknown alien race wanted to park in orbit around the moon,
well, whatever their intentions, there wasnt much he could do about it.
Might as well do his job and leave the details up to the people in charge.




163
Unknown vessel, please establish contact with moon base.
We will eat you for breakfast and spit out your bones, came the
hoarse reply. George considered a moment. This was not protocol and it
was definitely not friendly.
Negative, unknown vessel. We are not in the food chain. As a first
line of defense against alien aggression it was the best he could come up
with on the spur of the moment. There was silence on the radio speakers.
There was silence in space. George stared up at the strange craft where it
blotted out most of the sky and waited. The minutes passed. Dammit,
thought George, how dare these bastards come waltzing in here out of
nowhere and threaten us. Theyre screwing up my watch and blocking my
view.
Unknown vessel, he broadcast on all frequencies, Please move
forty-six degrees down planet axis, youre blocking my view.
The gigantic ship did not move but a great cackle of laughter came
over the speakers. George did not now it at the time but he had just saved
the moon colony. The next day the same ship was in orbit around the
Earth in a much more serious manner.

****************************





164
Well, Mr. Protoplasm, why should we shit our knickers down on this
particular occasion? asked Molloy.
Fistro was lounging back in the soft, supple leather of the seats in the
main cabin of Als helicopter-limo not wanting any part of this but
suspecting that all of it was his, just the same.
Gainsworth looked at both of them and said, Its the beasts. Theyve
come for Mr. Obrion.
Well, wed better get you saddled up straight away, my dear Obrion.
Seems the devils on his way, said Molloy.
Apart from that, said Fistro, sitting up and addressing Gainsworth.
What the hell are you talking about?
These are cosmic matters, my friend, and like it or not, you are
involved. Very much involved. The beasts, as many of us call them, are
simply another galactic empire. They do, however, have a tendency
towards extreme paranoid, unpredictable violence. And their Overlord
has declared you a dangerous subversive, if you follow me. To be
captured at all costs and made an example of. And they are here, orbiting
the planet, searching for you. It seems that they managed to trace the
aliens.
Fucking aliens, said Molloy. Nice people, though.
Quite, Mr. Molloy. However, their obsession with Mr. Obrion and his




165
book has led the beasts right here to this pleasant little planet of yours,
said Gainsworth.
I see, said Fistro. Sitting there in the luxury of Als helicopter-limo,
he really didnt see at all but it seemed the appropriate thing to say. Being
chased across the universe by some kind of bloodthirsty minions of a
distant empire seemed a little out of proportion for the sin of having
written a rather mediocre book in his youth. He mentioned this to
Gainsworth.
It matters not, my friend. Just as the aliens made you their hero
because of the way the structure of your book interacted with their reality
to provide them a source of great silliness, so the beasts consider you
their arch enemy, explained Gainsworth.
But that makes no sense at all, objected Fistro, nursing the hope that
sanity would somehow peek its timid head out of wherever it was hiding.
No, it doesnt, Mr. Obrion. That, however, is not the point in
question.
So, were dealing with assholes, said Molloy.
Precisely.
Fistro flopped back in the comfortable soft leather of the seat. On the
run from some kind of interstellar Nazis. Great. He pressed the intercom.
Al, how far are we from the ship?




166
Bout twenty minutes.

*****************************

The whole planet was in a flap. The fox was at the door of the coop.
The feathers were flying in the corridors of power and alerts of every
kind were red hot and smoking. The fringe cult believers in everything
from the rapture to the number eleven were almost as ecstatic as the
morning show hosts and the news executives, while the average planetary
punter was more or less confused. There was an alien spaceship about the
size of Manhattan up there in the sky orbiting the Earth for no
comprehensible reason. Apart from the brief exchange with the moon
there had been no communication. The silence was unnerving. It had
been three days now and speculation was wild on the airwaves, in the
bars, in the pulpits and in the secret emergency meetings at the highest
level. What were they waiting for? Did they really eat humans for
breakfast? Were they waiting to be served? Like at a drive-in? Fighter jets
screamed back and forth across the skies of every nation on the planet.
The baboons were scampering in confused defiance and showing their
teeth. No one was sure where to send the aircraft carriers but they were
deployed anyway. Ground troops were assembled to protect strategic




167
positions. Nuclear arsenals readied. The generals pretended they knew
what they were paid to wear their funny hats for. Political leaders adopted
grave demeanors as they vied to turn the situation to their advantage. The
looting hadnt started yet but nervous police forces in body armor and
boots smoked cigarettes on the street corners of the major cities. Mrs.
Clare Burke in Marrion Bridge, Nova Scotia, decided this year to double
the amount of preserves she usually made and carefully packed the jars in
the basement cupboards. A million and a half gnus and zebras began their
annual migration across the African plains as instinct, or perhaps just
habit, set them gradually in motion. Whatever was going on, it clearly
had nothing to do with them.
And still the huge alien craft just sat there in total silence. They
bombarded it with all sorts of communications. They tried everything.
Mozart, mathematical equations, the Roadrunner cartoons. Someone
suggested porn but there was an immediate outcry. Theyll never get our
women! It was useless. The alien craft could not be coaxed into
conversation.
George Stocton, the moon traffic controller, was the man of the day.
After the incident on the moon he had been whisked back to earth on the
first bus. The coalition big shots wanted to talk to him. He was the only
human being who had had any sort of communication with whoever




168
manned the unknown ship. There was serious debriefing. The traffic
control tapes were analyzed from every possible angle.
We will eat you for breakfast and spit out your bones?
Yes, sir.
And then you asked them to move because they were blocking your
view?
Yes, sir.
That takes balls, son.
There was nothing much else to be gleaned from his testimony so he
was released with the assurance of receiving full honors at a later date. It
was decided that there was no point trying to keep his encounter from the
public in general. It had been all over internet for days. The media were
drooling to get their hands on him. George was a practical guy. If the
world got blown to shit or enslaved or whatever, there was nothing he
could do about that but if in the meantime he could make a few bucks,
that was fine with him. He had been working on the moon long enough.

*******************************

Captain Angus was every inch the captain that Fistro could have
imagined. He stood tall and straight with his whitened beard and that




169
touch of distant ice in his green eyes of one who has spent a long time
searching the horizon. He was on deck to welcome them aboard. Two of
the crew went to the helicopter to get their luggage. Al held up his hand.
Sorry boys, no cargo. Were traveling light.
Aye, sir, they said and set about securing the aircraft. Al supervised.
They knew what they were doing.
Mr. Obrion, said Captain Angus, As soon as you are settled into
your suites, perhaps we could all meet in the dining room?
Suites? said Fistro, Yes. Yes, of course.
Molloy was practically dancing about as the crew led them to their
cabins. He was like a kid with a new toy. Al looked back over his
shoulder at his limo as they left the deck. You could barely see it sitting
there on the pad in the warm Mediterranean night. He had activated the
cells. Just in case.
The noble wood of the dining room was delicately carved and curved.
Hong Kong, Molloy had explained with a somewhat misplaced personal
pride. They sat at the table with the captain presiding. Fistro had insisted.
You are the captain of this ship and you will preside the table. It was
childish of him but he had always wanted to sit at the captains table.
Elena, on the other hand, had insisted on serving.
I really prefer to do something, Mr. Obrion, she had said and headed




170
down to take over the kitchen. Francoise her husband didnt seem to have
a problem one way or another.
The food was served and they talked. There were things to be
explained and to be understood. It turned out that Captain Angus had a
long experience on different kinds of vessels, from salvage tugs to
corvettes to container ships.
So, what is your opinion of our little pleasure palace, Captain? asked
Fistro.
Shes a fine ship, Mr. Obrion. Fine trim, fast and well armed. I would
take her into the toughest waters with complete confidence. Very well
built, said the captain.
What do you mean, armed? said Fistro.
Didnt Mr. Molloy tell you?
No, I didnt, said Molloy, Didnt really come up. Slip of the mind.
You see, Obrion, it seems this sultan I bought it from was a little
paranoid.
How paranoid, Molloy?
Oh, surface to air missiles, surface to surface, lasers, a couple of
machine guns. Bit of defense. The high seas can be a little dodgy at times.
Pirates and things. All came with the package. Well hidden. Wont be a
problem. Just equipment. Molloy was pleased with himself.




171
For gods sake, Molloy. Who are we at war with?
Well, those bastards in the sky just might be good candidates, my
peace loving friend. We dont have any alien magic to protect us any
more and the beastie boys are looking for you, in case youve forgotten.
Ah, right. There is that, conceded Fistro.
Captain Angus leaned forward and looked at both of them. He took the
security of his ship very seriously.
It would seem that there is something I should know. As captain of
this ship, he said firmly.
Hes got a point there, said Molloy. Go down with the ship and all
that.
Fistro explained the situation as best he could. The captain, of course,
had no idea of the aliens little sojourn on the planet. The memory
blackout had been quite thorough. As he listened he showed no sign that
he thought his new boss might be seriously unhinged. Fistro wondered if
he was just humoring them as part of his job.
Hmm. I see, said the captain when Fistro had finished. He did not
seem particularly surprised.
The thing is, Captain, when we bought this yacht and hired you, we
had no idea that these beasts, whoever they are, would show up like this.
So, we may be in for more than a pleasure cruise, said Fistro.




172
Quite, said Captain Angus. He did not have a pipe clamped
judiciously between his teeth but he might as well have.
At the end of the table, Francoise put down his glass and spoke up. He
had listened with great interest to the whole story. Fistro realized for the
first time that they knew almost nothing about him apart from the fact
that he was Elenas husband and that he used to wander off into the
woods for days on end.
I think, Captain, I may be of some use to you all in this situation. I
was a gunnery officer in the navy. All computerized. I have practical
experience with the kind of armament you have on this ship, he now
said.
Did you ever see combat? asked the captain.
Francoise laughed. A kind of pleasant chuckle.
It was the Canadian navy, Captain.
I understand, said the captain. Ill have the mate show you to the
control room. Have a look and report back to me.
The mate appeared in his crisp white holiday cruise uniform and took
Francoise off to inspect the controls of the ships hidden death machinery.
Fistro was pleased to see that his being saved from the beasts in space
was being taken so seriously. He wondered about the rest of the crew.
All ex-moon men and women, said Molloy. Know them all




173
personally. Stout bunch. We pay them well. No problem on that street.
Ill explain the score.
Mr. Obrion, said Captain Angus, Youre the boss. At the moment
we are cruising a few miles off the island of Menorca, off Ciutadella, to
be exact. What are your orders?
I havent the faintest idea, Captain. I had been looking forward to a
nice relaxing cruise. Now weve got this. A bunch of space bastards
hunting me down. Its disconcerting, to say the least. What do you think
Molloy?
With you all the way, buddy boy. Fight them on the beaches. Cut
their balls off and tie them up in ribbons, said Molloy.
Al, the helicopter-limo driver, nodded and said, The way I see it, for
the time being were just another luxury yacht in a sea full of the things.
Pretty good camouflage.
So they talked strategy. Basically, hide and seek with monsters from
another galaxy. They had no real idea of what they were up against. The
capabilities of the beasts to seek out and capture someone on earth. To
find one person among seven billion. They were obviously way ahead in
technology but that could mean anything. It was agreed that Fistro should
stop being F. Obrion. He would need a new identity, become just another
millionaire on just another yacht. That would do for the moment. Perhaps




174
Gainsworth could shed some light on matters. Where was he? He had not
joined them for supper. Off in his bubble somewhere, no doubt.
The mate came in and had a private word with the captain.
This will interest you, gentlemen, said Captain Angus. He pressed a
button and a portion of wall slid aside. The screen was huge and the news
was on. Tom was there, as in Good evening, Tom. And Darlene was
there, as in The images speak for themselves, Darlene. They were
sitting behind a desk and intensely exited about this particularly historic
piece of news casting. The rock-like immobility of their hair
arrangements did not easily lend itself to a reasonable explanation.
I think we can say that this is definitely a first, Darlene, said Tom
turning to his female companion.
It certainly is, Tom. In a few moments we will have direct visual
contact with the occupants of this mysterious ship that has been orbiting
the planet in complete silence for four days now. Well be right back.
There was an ad for a very ecological car that would make the whole
family happy.
Jesus! said Fistro. Why do they do that?
Gotta keep the old assembly lines rolling, Obrion, old chuckers, said
Molloy.
No, I mean the hair, said Fistro.




175
Hair? exclaimed Molloy, leaping to his feet. Hair? The whole
human race is about to be shaken out of its boots and youre worried
about hair?
Sit down, Molloy, said Fistro. Lets maintain some sense of
decorum.
Quite. Quite. Decorum. Of course. No point flying off the old door
handle. Hair, right. On the head. Stiff as a brick. Molloy sat down with a
big smile. Al, the driver, laughed. Molloy as Molloy being Molloy. They
clinked their glasses and then the fate of the world brought their attention
back to the screen. Tom was telling the viewers not to miss this historic
moment. Another image filled the screen.
We have no interest in your insignificant planet.
It was a great fat man with rolling chins and drooping eyelids. He did
not blink. Not the kind of person you would trust or invite to dinner.
We are looking for the dangerous criminal F. Obrion, the author of
the heretical book The Plight and the Pleasure. Hand him over to us and
we will leave you unharmed. The transmission ended.
Well, there you have it, Darlene. I would say the ball is on the World
Coalitions roof, said Tom.
It certainly is, Tom. Lets go to Coalition headquarters in New
York.




176
The image switched to a bank of microphones on the steps in front of
a very impressive building. A rather short, overweight Chinese gentleman
stood behind them, a fully uniformed general to his left. Expectancy was
rampant. The whole planet was glued to the TV screen. Well, not the
whole planet. There were some people who didnt have TV. They just
continued splashing about in muddy rivers while the women scolded the
children and made a fire for the evening meal and the men returned with
the meat of small animals. The rest of the planet, however, was tuned in
to the broadcast that was about to take place.
Mr. Deng Ouch Oh, the newly appointed Secretary of Alien Affairs,
is about to address the world in his capacity as spokesman for the World
Coalition, said Tom. What do you make of the staging, Darlene, given
the intergalactic implications?
Impeccable, Tom. As it could only be on such an occasion. But lets
see what the new Secretary of Alien Affairs has to say as he speaks to a
waiting world.
Not only the world, Darlene. If unconfirmed reports are true, these
galactic newcomers may be retransmitting our very words to distant
galaxies even as we speak, said Tom with professional enthusiasm.
Darlene maintained her smile but did not reply. She had put up with
this jerk for too long. The world was on the brink of god knows what and




177
all he could think of was the usual empty banter. Once she had been a
serious journalist. Damn their ratings. Damn their teleprompters. Damn
their hairspray. Still, she had a job to do.
Citizens of the world, began Deng in a voice of high pitched self-
importance. In my capacity as Secretary of Alien Affairs let me assure
you that your leaders have the situation completely under control. There
is no cause for alarm. At this very moment
A loud crackling of jagged interference sizzled across the screens
around the world. When it cleared, the fat man from space once again
filled his flabby presence into the eyes of viewers everywhere. His gaze
from behind his half-closed eyelids was steady, liquid and bored. Like
some nasty ancient idol. His lips moved with calculated smack and pout.
What part of we will eat you for breakfast do you not understand?
This puny man who speaks to you with his puny arrogance should know
that our cooks could work wonders with his juicy hams and succulent
limbs. Make no mistake. Its very simple. Give us F. Obrion and you can
go about your petty affairs uneaten.
The screen split in two. The fat man in space on one side and
Secretary Deng behind the microphones on the other.
On his half of the screen Deng gaped, speechless. His jowls wobbled.
The last thing he had been prepared for was to be treated as some kind of




178
battery chicken. He represented the whole planet, mankind itself.
However, being the indefatigable Deng he recovered quickly. Vanity
first, at all costs.
It is you, fat man, who will fry in a wok with chestnuts and bamboo
and pineapple. It is your sluggish brain that will be minced with cabbage
and stuffed into spring rolls to be fried in your own fat. We eat dog, we
eat monkey and we will be delighted to taste fresh alien meat. Deng was
quite carried away with the indignation of his rather ethnocentric culinary
threats. He would show this alien blubber who would cook who. Dengs
idea of diplomacy.
A twinkle came into the eyes of the fat man in space and a great laugh
shook his multiple chins. He wiped the tears from his cheeks. The planet
looked on in disbelief. What the hell was going on? Was the fate of
humanity was to be reduced to a gastronomic squabble? Where was the
joke? On the split screen the close-up of the alien and that of Deng, side
by side, were not all that dissimilar. The chins, the lips, the eyelids. It was
uncanny.
Aboard the Willy Nilly, Molloy had picked the name, those at the
table who were familiar with Deng were not at all surprised. He had
perhaps climbed the rungs of power since they had last seen him but he
had not changed in the slightest.




179
Just look at the little bastard, said Molloy. He may be worth the air
he breathes, after all.
Fistro, whose fate it was that lay at the root of all this, was a little less
than comfortable. He did not see how Dengs outburst helped, apart from
being a show of planetary macho. Personally, he had no desire himself to
be served for lunch to the Overlord of a distant galactic empire, no matter
how well condimented and tastefully presented. An ignominious fate. A
vulgar victim of gluttony. It was time to think seriously.
Molloy, can this boat be traced to me?
Impossible. Anyone looking for the real owner of this little ferry
would have to go through six countries and uncountable companies. Even
then your name does not appear. Were as safe as crocodiles. He
grinned.
Back on the screen Tom and Darlene now had their own little square
at the bottom between the fat man and Deng. Their expressions indicated
that they were intently following the planet-shaking dialogue. A scrolling
banner rolled across the top of the screen exhorting the wise investor to
buy into food supply in order to send their kids to college and retire with
very white smiles. The fat man was speaking.
You speak well for a puffed up little fart, man of Earth. Perhaps we
may dialogue and save your planet much suffering. Let us meet.




180
So you have a brain, after all. A wise decision. By all means, let us
meet, said Deng Ouch Oh, spokesman for the human race, visibly puffed
up with himself.
Both sides of the split screen popped to nothing and Tom and
Darlenes little square grew to fill the empty space. It was time to revel in
speculation. Fistro asked Captain Angus to turn it off. The wall panel slid
back into place. The spell was broken.
Looks like our Mr. Deng has found a soul mate. Who knows, it just
might take one psychopath to deal with another, said Al.
Or Deng may decide that it is in Earths best interest to hand me over
skewered on a bed of lettuce, said Fistro gloomily. Deng might have his
good points but trustworthiness was most definitely not one of them. No,
Fistro corrected himself, the man had no good points. He was one of
those rare specimens that was truly miserable to the core. A valuable
asset in some circles.
For the moment, Mr. Obrion, no one knows where you are, said
Captain Angus. And I suggest that we stop calling you Mr. Obrion as of
this very minute. Security and stealth will be our best weapons.
They all gave this a good ponder and bandied about different
identities. Except for the captain. He had a ship to run and was not much
given to parlor games. In the end they settled for Smith. Hiermonious




181
Smith, the multimillionaire. Fistro liked the simplicity of it. Molloy was
delegated to inform the crew who, up to this point, had not even heard
Obrions name so there was no chance of a leak from that quarter. Elena
and Francoise would be no problem. That only left Gainsworth
Protoplasm but he was hardly likely to give anything away.
Where is old bubble top, anyway? said Molloy.
Right behind you, Mr., Molloy, said Gainsworth, entering the dining
room. Good evening, Captain. Alistair. Mr. Smith. He sat to join them.
The captain was introduced.
Ive been up on my ship doing a little research. You would be
surprised what the kitchen on my craft can do. It seems that this beastie
vessel is merely one of their pleasure craft. The commander caught a
whiff of the aliens and thought it was his great opportunity to ingratiate
himself with the Overlord. Capture F. Obrion and retire in splendor. His
ship is not an armed battle cruiser. Its all a bluff. You can consider
yourselves lucky on that count, said Gainsworth. Hes just using fear
and ignorance and hoping for the best.
Youre sure of this? asked Fistro.
Does a bear shit in the woods? He noticed their amusement. My
kitchen tells me it is one of your expressions and I must admit that it has a
certain ring to it.




182
Molloy slapped his hand on the table.
Well, that settles that. Were back to being a regular old indecisive
billionaire and company. For a while there we were on the run and not
making any sense. Wonders of the bounce and skitter of this, our daily
deal.
Im afraid its not quite that simple. Mr. Molloy, said Gainsworth.
They still have the means to make things quite uncomfortable for Mr.
Smith here. The danger has by no means passed.
Fistro listened. He wiggled his toes and said nothing. He closed his
eyes.
I imagine you are referring to our inimitable Mr. Deng, he said at
last and opened his eyes.
He already has his minions out looking for you. Of course, he cannot
openly betray you but from what my kitchen tells me, he is an
accomplished schemer.
Captain Angus wondered at these references to a kitchen but refrained
from asking. It did not concern his ship.

*****************************
Deng sat in his penthouse office on the hundred and second floor. The
god-like view through the floor to ceiling glass fed his ego in a most




183
satisfying manner. He had summoned the general. He was indeed bent on
finding Obrion. It was a simple matter of bargaining power with the fat
man from space. He did not offer the general one of the plush seats in
front of the desk. He liked to keep his soldiers standing.
General Howards, it is imperative that we find Mr. Obrion. He is in
grave danger. His voice was as slick as the oil from a broken tanker.
When I meet with the fat man from space I want the advantage of
knowing that Mr. Obrion is safe. These new aliens are powerful and
dangerous. Use the secret services, use satellites, just bring him to me.
only we can protect him.
We must be cautious, Mr. Secretary. We cannot launch an overt
search and risk these new aliens snatching him from under our noses. We
now nothing of their strengths and capabilities, said the general.
The details are up to you. Just find him.
The general was more than happy to leave the little creeps presence.
Could it be sedition to consider your civilian superior a creep? No, he
decided as the elevator plummeted down to the street. Not as long as he
obeyed the orders. He was aware of the grumbling among the other chiefs
of staff but he himself had no interest in politics. If the World Coalition
was an infighting mess, that had no bearing on his duty. He would find
Obrion and ensure his safety. Deng, high above in his office behind his




184
smirk, was sure that he would. What wonders of technology would the fat
man pay for the detested author?

*******************************

Whores! exclaimed Molloy.
Where? cried Fistro, sitting up in alarm. They were reclining in deck
chairs by the pool on the forward deck. To Fistro, in his sun bathing
reverie, it had sounded like some seafaring call to arms.
Relax, Hiermonius, old startle, said Molloy, waving away the two
crewmen who had leapt onto the deck at Fistros cry brandishing
submachine guns. Good security.
I mean, look at our little setup here. Its all wrong. What would the
casual observer think? All this money and no skin. Its not the way things
are done. Downright suspicious.
Fistro considered this. He supposed that Molloy was right.
Appearances were part of their evasion strategy.
What do you suggest?
The employment office of course. And off they went.
Fistro sat at the great oval bar. He watched with admiration as a very
healthy naked young woman performed a surprisingly athletic routine on




185
the upright bar on the platform above the brightly lit bottle shelves in the
centre of the oval. She had come down out of the ceiling in a glass
elevator and proceeded to remove her clothing. Fistro was aware that the
show was ostensibly aimed at masculine sexual arousal but as he watched
he found himself more impressed by her supple gymnastic expertise.
Greek statues came to mind. It could have been an Olympic sport. Five
point nine, he voted silently.
Molloy and Al were off on recruitment. It shouldnt be too difficult to
find a few girls who would gladly trade this neon drenched roadside
brothel for a luxury yacht. Fistro trusted their employment criteria. Good
character would be essential. After all, not everyone was cut out for
whoring on the high seas.
Fistro was polite to the different lightly dressed women who came up
to him and bought them drinks as he turned down the generous offering
of their very desirable bodies. Sex was not his most pressing problem at
the moment. He knew that there were two crewmen close by acting like
regular punters while never letting him out of their security range. He
wasnt sure if he liked or resented all this protection. He shrugged. There
was a fat man in the sky. There was also a commotion in that corner over
there. He swiveled his stool for a better look.
Sure enough it was Molloy. He seemed to be having a disagreement




186
with a couple of Slavic gangster types. One of them reached out a hand
towards him. A moment later the man was firmly face down on the table
with his arm twisted up behind him. As the other man moved in a huge
black hand closed around his neck from behind and snatched him up like
a kitten. His legs dangled and kicked. Al plonked him in a seat. Molloy
released the first man and politely invited him to join his friend. The man
rubbed at the pain in his wrenched shoulder. His eyes were cold. Molloy
sat down with a big grin.
Now, before we start killing each other and scaring your customers,
lets try and sort this out in a civilized manner. And tell your boys to
relax.
Molloy handed him the earpiece with the mike which had come off in
the brief struggle. The man spoke into it but did not put it back in his ear.
He placed it on the table and stared at Molloy.
Who are you? It was a quiet, flat threat. This man lived in a world
where the killing and severe mistreatment of other human beings was a
matter of course. For the moment, however, he was curious. Al stood
over the table immobile with his hands clasped before him. Al the
bodyguard was back.
Im a talent scout and Im interviewing some of the girls. Any
objection? said Molloy casually.




187
These girls cost me a lot of money, the man said simply.
Money, said Molloy. Nasty stuff. I know, Ive got garbage bags
full of it. Tell you what, mafia mug. Ill take the lot off your hands. Name
your price. The slave market is open.
The man thought a moment and then named an exorbitant price.
Molloy laughed.
Greedy, greedy, greedy, he said. Bad for your soul. Dont bother to
wrap them.
Al went out to the car, made a call and came back with a large black
garbage bag. The money was counted onto the table. Everyone relaxed.
Raw money works wonders. Al, the new slave master, called the lightly
clad girls about his imposing grinning presence.
Get your things girls, were going for a ride. The limos are outside.
And indeed they were. Three black limos sitting in a row. Fistro
watched the girls milling around the open doors. For the moment all they
knew was that they were off to a private party on a big yacht. Molloy
crossed the street and spoke to someone in a parked car. Then he came
back and got in beside Al in the first limo. As the convoy pulled away
from the curb in all its tacky ostentation, men in suits converged on the
club. Molloy still had contacts as well as a devious mind. Al and the
crewmen had thoughtfully stashed generous quantities of high grade




188
cocaine in different nooks and crannies about the club. The money, of
course, was confiscated. Men were led away in handcuffs. The cleaning
lady got home early that night. Out of a job but early. She didnt know it
but the next morning she would receive a visit from a well dressed young
man bearing a certified cheque that would make her legs give way and
only the young mans reflexes would keep her from falling. Molloy had
decided to look after the collateral damage. The creeps who ran the club,
on the other hand, were predators and in need of a lesson. You can never
get rid of their kind but sometimes you get the chance to screw up their
weekend.

******************************

The smooth gleaming bow of the Willy Nilly cut the bright blue
waters into roils and splash-white coils which bounced like squealing
laughter in the carefree swish of the bow wave. Up on the forward deck,
lounging in his deckchair, Fistro wasnt sure if he felt more like an
ancient Phoenician trading potentate or some porno movie producer.
There were bikinis and sun tans all over the place. They seemed to be
enjoying themselves. At least that was working out.
In the end, only nine of the fifteen girls from the club had signed on




189
for active service. Some of the others had children, others had personal
things to deal with. Fistro offered them money, enough so they could
forget about being sex slaves ever again. It was the least he could do. The
ones who did sign on had been called together before Captain Angus.
First of all, I would like to formally welcome you aboard, ladies. I
have a few things to say to you and then you are free to enjoy the
amenities of the ship. He stood straight and serious. Some of the girls
giggled nervously. While you are on this ship do not forget for one
moment that you are guests and friends. There are no whores on this ship.
The second thing is, do not worry about hanging your colorful knickers
out to dry on the halyards. I find it quite cheerful. If there is anything
special you would like, feel free to ask. Captain Angus was getting the
feel of things. So the girls had settled into their cabins and walked around
in bikinis. Well, at first. There was no particular dress code aboard the
Willy Nilly.
Fistro sipped his drink and surveyed the scene about him. Everybody
seemed happy enough, splashing in the pool or sunbathing or playing
shuffleboard. The crew joined in, too. He felt good, whatever his role.
And so you should, Hiermonius, you old master of the seas. Mission
accomplished. Now the casual observer will see exactly what he expects
to see. And the girls are a lot happier. Stands to reason. No more shit




190
from unscrupulous assholes. Luxury cruise. Go for it myself. But Im not
sure I like this just sailing along while the bad guys are moving whatever
they can to catch you, old crumple. Or do you want to just run around the
oceans like a rabbit? said Molloy, pulling up a chair. Weve got to fight
back.
Fight? Now I know youre completely insane, Molloy.
No, Im serious. Ive been thinking. All we have to do is get the fat
man.
What exactly do you mean by get? said Fistro.
Why, here! Right here on board. His fat ass amidships, kind of
game.
Youre enthused, Molloy, said Fistro.
Only a bit. Practically nothing. Hardly noticeable. Cool as a slap,
protested Molloy.
But you may have a point, said Fistro. They considered the
possibilities. The mood on the boat was one of general high spirits. They
were days of fair sailing and thoughts of orbiting threats tended to fade.
That is not a good strategy when you are a galactic fugitive.
That night Fistro called a meeting in the salon. Everybody came. It
was like a church meeting. The reverend Obrion outlined the situation,
the fat man in the sky, the threat from Deng. He had to reveal his true




191
identity but he suggested they maintain the Mr. Smith sham for security
reasons. He considered it only fair. It was a trusting ship. Molloy took
over.
If any of you want to leave, just say so. You will be thrown
overboard to feed the sharks. It is the tradition of the sea, said Molloy.
No hands went up.
Be serious, Molloy!
What? Oh, right. Just kidding. Al can lift you off to shore with the
full payoff. But make up your minds. We are about to invite the enemy
onto the ship and god knows what will happen. So speak up.
Nobody spoke up. They were passing bowls of peanuts and going
back and forth to the bar. It was a relaxed ship. They did not worry about
fat men in the sky.
What we really have to do is get to Deng, said Fistro. Im sure hes
practically drooling to get his hands on me.
Wendy raised her hand. Since she had come aboard she had taken an
interest in things, a kind of secretarial interest. It gave her something to
do.
I can get the phone numbers right away. Would you like me to make
the calls?
Id appreciate that, Wendy. Put him on the speakers when you get




192
him. Lets all hear it. And put up the screens.
Aye, aye, sir, said Wendy. What her short, bouncy blond hair and
her cheerful eyes had been doing in a roadside brothel is one more story
in the thick volumes of the annals of misfortune and disgrace. However,
all of that was fast slipping away, carried off by the warm sea breezes and
the lazy loopiness aboard the Willy Nilly. There is also good fortune in
this universe. She was a natural organizer and had Deng Ouch Oh,
Secretary of Alien Affairs, on a visual link-up in twenty minutes. Fistro
took it on the forward deck. He was in no mood for niceties. Deng came
eagerly on the screen. The girls splashed in the pool. Fistro wiggled his
toes, picked up his drink and addressed the Spokesman for the World
Coalition in his best billionaire just lounging tone.
Mr. Deng, I believe you are looking for me. He said this with
composure but he was startled. What were they feeding this guy? How
many chins were mathematically possible? He really did look like the fat
man in space.
My dear Mr. Obrion, replied Deng in the slimy tone that that he
used for natural and friendly. I am so glad to see that you are safe.
Deng, you old foreskin. Ive missed you. Running the world must
really give you a hard on. Screw the screwable, what? It was Molloy
over Fistros shoulder.




193
Deng twitched. He hated Molloy for making him twitch.
Deng, said Fistro, Lets not fuck around. You want me and the fat
man in space wants me. Youre both invited to a bar-b-q on my ship. We
will send you the details.
Mr. Obrion, I assure you that we are all working in your best interest.
I will pers
Deng, said Fistro, Just be there. Both of you.

********************************

High in geostationary orbit in a ship the size of Manhattan the fat man
was watching. The fat man was listening. The fat man was grinning. The
boat had not been located but he now had an image of F. Obrion, the
heretical writer. He would attend the bar-b-q. This human was obviously
a fool. What could make him so important to the Overlord? He was
creating his own trap. Fine, less work for the fat man. He was feeling
expansive as he squirmed with anticipation of great honors and riches
when he brought back this long sought after prize. Perhaps he would roast
up one of these human creatures, after all. Providing they were not toxic.
But these were mere idle musings. There was a job to do first. He had a
fly to catch.




194

*******************************

Fly catching on earth, however, had its own idiosyncrasies. The
hundred and second floor of the office building that housed Dengs plush
and most satisfying suite was a good example of this. He sat there behind
his desk in a kind of manic complicity with himself and squinted at the
general. Deng enjoyed squinting at generals in general but at this one in
particular. He was one of the few people who had witnessed his
humiliation in the alien camp that no one else even remembered. That
was why he had kept the general close to him as he rose to power. He
knew that the general was completely incorruptible and honest people
made him nervous and were not to be trusted. A basic rule of survival.
The general, for his part, was more than familiar with the slippery
conceits of his overweight Chinese superior. The question at hand was
Obrions invitation. Deng was furious. His chins were furious.
How dare he! he squealed. He has brushed aside all coalition
authority and made me look a fool. A bar-b-q! These aliens could be
extremely dangerous. And I represent Earth civilization! He has
absolutely no right to open negotiations of any kind. Its unheard of. The
man is a fool. Perhaps he really is a dangerous subversive, after all. He




195
stopped his little tirade and looked accusingly at the general.
Why havent you found him? he practically screamed. He was on
the outer fringes of extreme agitation.
Sir, the only clue we have is that he is on a boat somewhere. The
oceans of the world take up some one hundred and fifty million square
miles and there are millions of vessels of all kinds. Analyzing satellite
photos on that scale takes time. Even then hed have be on deck taking
the sun. As far as conventional espionage goes, he has left no trail we
have been able to detect. The bar-b-q is in three days. Frankly, I doubt we
will find him before that.
Deng considered this. He had wanted leverage with the fat man in
space in order to bargain for technology. Even a fraction of their obvious
space traveling technology would be worth billions. Now he would have
to take a different tack. Alliance perhaps.
That will be all, General
As the elevator plummeted to street level the general decided that the
upcoming get together on Obrions boat held promise. He would be there.
He would bring potato salad.

********************************





196
Right, Molloy, lets have it, said Fistro.
They were sitting at the table on the after deck, the white wake of the
Willy Nilly streaming out from under the stern in a long straight line
towards the horizon of a sparkling blue Indian ocean. Al and Wendy and
Francoise were there, too. It was time to find out just what Molloy had in
mind by getting Fistro to invite the fat man aboard. They were all
intrigued. An intergalactic enemy is not to be taken lightly. Some of the
other girls and crew also gathered round. All eyes were on Molloy where
he stood, pointer in hand, by the large pad of paper on the easel. He
motioned over one of the girls, Janice, to be his assistant in her lovely tan
and yellow bikini. She took up position on the other side of the easel,
prepared to turn the pages on request. Tania came over and sat down
beside Wendy. She loved Molloys antics.
Mr. Smith, boys and girls. I know rumors have been going about the
ship. Nasty thing, rumors. Never know what they lead to. Panic and
mayhem. Not good. The edge of the world, the Kraken, there be
monsters
Molloy! admonished Fistro.
Right. Oops. To the point. Order of the day: fat man in space. Janice,
please. She turned the first page. This is the enemy. He has apparently
come galloping across the galaxies for the vile purpose of kidnapping our




197
beloved Mr. Smith on trumped up charges. There were the appropriate
tut tuts and mumbles of disapproval. Al spoke up.
Molloy, the page you are pointing to is completely blank. Just an
observation.
Molloy looked at the page. Pure white, not a mark on it.
I see what you mean, Al. What do you think, Janice?
Its hard to say, really, she said, stepping back for a better look.
The conceptual implications are interesting but
Then there is the pointer to be taken into account, put in Wendy,
ever practical. The whole point of a pointer is to point so there really
ought to be something to point at.
This brought some thoughtful nodding.
Why dont you just throw it away?
Throw what away, Francoise? asked Molloy.
The pointer. No pointer, nothing to point at. Problem solved, said
the acting armaments engineer.
Fistro looked around at what he had come to consider his team. With
briefings like this, Deng and the fat man didnt stand a chance. He sat
back and waited.
I have a better idea, said Janice and she picked up the green felt
marker from the little tray on the easel. A dozen clean, sure strokes and a




198
very neat likeness of the fat mans head and shoulders now filled the
page.
There, she said.
Approval and admiration was general.
Well done, said Molloy and pointed the pointer at the original object
of its pointing.
The enemy from space, he said. Tomorrow at fourteen hundred
hours he will be landing on this ship as our guest. He will be arriving in
the company of Mr. Deng and an Earth general. All go on that front,
Wendy?
Aye, sir, said the personal assistant.
The bar-b-q itself will be set up on the upper fore deck. Francoise
caught a good size swordfish yesterday (they had all witnessed the titanic
struggle which had lasted over an hour. It was quite a feat, the Willy Nilly
was far too large to be maneuvered like a professional deep sea fishing
boat.) so we will be serving that. There will also be lobster and quail and
hamburgers for the more carnivorous of us. Elena has invented a special
punch for the occasion. Any questions? No. Good. Molloy sat down
totally satisfied and pleased with himself.
What about the dangerous enemy part? asked Mr. Smith. My fate is
somewhat hanging in the balance here. What are your plans in that




199
direction? It was a reasonable enough question, given the circumstances.
Oh, that. I thought wed just play it by ear, if you see what I mean.
Well have them on our own turf. Somethings bound to come up, said
Molloy with a big grin.
Molloy, I dont want to call you a complete idiot in front of
everybody but whats my alternative?
Nincompoop, suggested Al without hesitation.
How about, brainless twat? said someone else.
Or cretin?
I like dimwit, said Wendy.
Molloy positively beamed.
Fistro Hiermonius Obrion Smith rose to his feet and looked about at
those gathered.
My dear friends, I couldnt be in better hands.
He turned towards the steps that led up to the bridge where Captain
Angus hopefully had something sensible to say. Fistro liked the bridge.
The captain standing before the great curve of glass observing the ocean,
stolid, reliable. The crewmen sitting at their incomprehensible
instruments. There was an air of sanity about it. A reassuring contrast to
the general unreality of day to day life aboard this marvelous ship of
itinerant souls. You could never tell when a bit of sanity might come in




200
handy.
Ah, Mr. Smith. I was just about to send for you. Here, take a look.
Captain Angus handed him the binoculars and pointed ahead slightly
to starboard. After a moment, Fistro managed to focus on the two
launches with large outboard motors bristling with men and guns.
Pirates, said the captain. Ive ordered full action stations and sent
everyone below for their own safety. Their mother ship is laying off
fifteen miles due east. I daresay, we must look a most appetizing prey.
What course of action would you like me to take?
Pirates? said Fistro. Well, so much for sanity. The intimate
structures of this universe definitely had a sense of humor.
Youre kidding.
Not at all, Mr. Smith and I can assure they are very dangerous.
Theyll be abeam of us in about ten minutes. I should point out that they
probably have at least one grenade launcher so we shouldnt let them get
too close.
Molloy! Fistro called over his shoulder. He knew when he was out
of his depth.
Right behind you, Bismarck, old buddy. Repel boarding party and all
that. At your disposition, Captain. I could man the bow gun. He said this
last bit seriously, militarily. With all his goofing around, Fistro tended to




201
forget that other side of Molloy that had once flown jets off aircraft
carriers.
Captain Angus pushed one of the buttons on a panel in front of him.
Down below on the bow, a section of clean white deck slid aside and a
large gun rose silently out of hiding. Molloy was at its side almost before
it stopped moving. He pulled down the seat and strapped himself in. He
slipped on the phones.
Forward gun to bridge, came his voice over the speakers. Armed
and standing by, Captain.
Good. Maintain standby. The captain turned to Fistro.
So, Mr. Smith. Its up to you. How do you want to play it?
Fistro was not at all sure he was comfortable with this new Lord
Nelson role he had been plonked into. The possibility of killing and
bloodshed had been the last thing on his mind just a few moments ago.
What are the options, Captain?
Its a question of degree, Mr. Smith. We could sink the mother ship
with a missile and Molloy could blow those two launches out of the water
quite easily from this range. That would be maximum response. Its
perfectly legal.
Fistro couldnt help wondering what effect blow them out of the water
would have on the flesh and blood and bones of those directly involved in




202
receiving such treatment. Even the hostile and murderous should only be
physically eliminated as a last resort was about what his philosophy of
naval warfare amounted to. Given his utter lack of experience in such
matters coupled with his natural humanitarian leanings, this was
understandable if not specifically helpful.
It does seen rather drastic, dont you think, Captain? he said. How
about something a bit less extravagant?
I thought you might feel that way, said the captain. It isnt easy to
just scare them off. We have to disable them. With your approval, I will
carry out my own plan and try to keep casualties to a minimum.
By all means, said Fistro, relieved to shift the responsibility to the
competent hands of this man of the sea who now had a strange glint in his
eyes. He was sure Molloy was in his element , too. Pirates!
The captain gave orders and they changed course and bore directly
down on the attackers. This maneuver took the drugged black men in the
launches by surprise. They jabbered as they hung on in their bouncing
craft. It was no longer a chase and the bloodshot whites of their eyes were
large in frowning suspicion.
Molloy, report when you have hostile craft in range to pick off just
the engines, said the captain. The bridge was silent, all eyes on the
bouncing launches speeding closer.




203
Ready, came Molloys voice.
Put two rounds into the engine of the first launch, ordered the
captain.
Thwump! Thwump!
Bits exploded off the back of the first craft and it came to a stop,
bobbing helplessly.
Do you have the second launch, Molloy?
Aye, sir.
Two rounds.
Thwump! Thwump!
The engine of the second craft flew to bits. The men in the stricken
boats stood, waving their guns in frustrated anger as they drifted farther
apart in the light swell of the pleasant Indian ocean afternoon.
Nice shooting, Molloy. Stand down, said Captain Angus. He turned
to Fistro. I dont believe anyone was seriously injured on either launch.
They wont be bothering anybody for a while.
They changed course away from the pirates who now sat cursing and
spitting in their floundering craft. The mate was dispatched to quietly
cancel action stations. There are no disturbing bells and sirens on luxury
yachts. Molloy came bounding up the steps.
Thats it? asked Fistro.




204
That was it so they retired to the aft bar for bloody marys. Brian the
bartender mixed them cheerfully. Fistro recognized him from the
whorehouse security detail. They nodded.
I wouldnt have thought it possible, Molloy. How did you do it? So
surgical, said Fistro.
Ah, I wish I could take credit for it. It was all the gun. Pick a target,
push a button. Paranoid sultans buy only the latest. Still, bit of action,
what?
Cheers.
Cheers.
Fistro laid his drink on the dark polished wood of the bar. He was
thoughtful. Speaking of action.
So, you really have no plan for handling the fat man?
Patience, buddy boy. Patience.
Afternoon, gentlemen. Gainsworth pulled up a stool and ordered
whatever the two of them were having. Nobody had seen him for a while.
That was his nature. He sniffed the red liquid before he sipped it. Brian
the barman left the girl he was chatting to down the bar and came over to
make sure everything was in order. Gainsworth was sure it was, the drink
was new to him, but he had news for Mr. Smith.
The fat man has landed, he said. He has somehow become a




205
visiting dignitary.
Deng scoring points, I suppose, said Fistro.
A complete media coup. He is probably, right now, the most
important person on the planet. He received the fat man with all the pomp
of one civilization to another. Deng, the scheming bureaucrat and the fat
man, a tour operator. Its a farce. Human beings seem to have a weakness
for manipulation. By the way, the fat mans passengers are all dead. If he
returns home empty handed, he will most certainly be cooked and eaten.
Thats why he needs you so badly. Youre his only hope.
How did all his passengers die? asked Fistro. He didnt eat them,
did he?
No, it was a simple question of the wrong planet. Originally it was
one of what they call their Paradise Chain, temperate to tropical planets
with lots of water, kind of like Earth without humans. Very popular
destinations with the beasties. There is nothing a beastie likes more than
to sit around a fire on the beach in paradise with the wife and kids
chewing on roasted meat. In any case, it was only after he had
disembarked about a hundred thousand all over the planet that the fat man
realized his mistake. It was the wrong planet. The place was full of a
rather nasty, air borne parasite that destroyed its host in a matter of hours.
Instead of lifting off the passengers and saving those he could, he locked




206
down shuttle return and abandoned them to a particularly gruesome death
in paradise. He panicked. Now hes in serious trouble. No matter how
cruel and stupid the beasts may appear to other species, they have laws to
protect their own kind. Basic evolutionary sense.
Bless your gravy kitchen, Gainy, said Molloy. Just what we need.
Information. Know your enemy. Arms. Firepower. The fate of the world,
sort of thing. What are we up against?
As far as my kitchen can make out, they have no offensive armament
at all. Most of their shuttles were left behind with the passengers. The
hundred fifty odd crew have fled into the bowels of the ship. Apart from
his own personal guard, he is alone at the helm, as it were, said
Gainsworth. Advocates, while neutral, were free to give information as
they chose.
Perfect, said Molloy. Fistro, you old Smith, we have ourselves a
plan.

*******************************

Molloy had a plan but planet Earth was no longer the same. Face to
face meetings with another galactic civilization took time to assimilate.
How would it affect the markets? Merchandizing, of course, ran straight




207
in and plastic statuettes of the fat man with a light inside his belly were
shipped off with t-shirts and assorted effigy-bearing junk and popped up
instantly all over the planet. How this was achieved at a speed that came
close to defying the laws of physics was one of the best kept Chinese
secrets. As for the threat, the media simply never mentioned it again. Hail
to the fat man. Even the guy spearing fish knew that a great fat man had
come down from the sky. Maybe some kind of god. The Sheer Falls
Evangelical Church knew beyond any doubt that he was the Antichrist
and cleaned out the supermarkets for miles around. It was best to face the
end of the world on a full stomach. Cardinal Agnelli swept down the
marble corridors of the Vatican to the chambers of the Pope. The non-
human creature had been on earth for two days and the Pope had not yet
addressed the faithful. They couldnt let it seem that they were being
caught off balance. The Muslims couldnt write it off as some new
western heresy, either. On the other hand, Mohammed had not mentioned
it so it was not the work of Allah. The Dalai Llama just kept bowing and
smiling. And so on down the line. The average worldwide consumer
followed it on screens and pods and waited for someone to indicate how
they should take it all, one way or the other. Governments tightened
control around themselves in a knee jerk reaction. Top secret installations
that had been dormant for decades came to life much to the surprise of the




208
forgotten men in charge of them. No, the planet was definitely not the
same. While some jumped for joy others ran for cover. The guys spearing
fish saw that the baskets were full and headed back to the village. It
would be a good supper. Urban life stayed indoors. They did not fish,
they watched the television where conjecture and expert opinions and
people with unnecessary hairstyles were all jumbled up in a technically
slick entertainment package. Nobody knew that Molloy had a plan.

*******************************

At precisely fourteen hundred hours Al came swinging in for a feather
soft landing on the helipad of the Willy Nilly. He had picked up his
charges at a top security base in a controlled if not overwhelmingly
friendly desert. That had been part of the protocol that Wendy had
insisted on. She was determined to make it as difficult as possible to trace
the whereabouts of their boat. Al would fly in invisible and pick up the
fat man, Deng and an earth general. They would exit in the same manner.
Was that clear, she had wanted to know. It was no problem, instructions
would be followed. Of course there would be fighter planes buzzing
around all over the place but that was only to be expected. Als limo was
equipped with the best alien evasion gadgets so the trip had been




209
uneventful. He opened the doors and extended the ramp. He had a choice,
steps or ramp. Given the plodding weight of the two main passengers, he
had opted for ramp. And out they waddled. Deng and the fat man side by
side.
Both Captain Angus and Fistro had been more than willing to leave
the reception details in Molloys hands and so, bare breasted girls waved
palms over the heads of the visitors as they descended in dignified
weighty steps onto the deck. Garlands of white flowers were placed
around their necks by the likes of Mina, the Romanian girl who had been
tricked and beaten and dominated but who, after a few weeks on board
was proud of herself again and now took part playfully in the pageant
they had all contrived.
The surprise, as everyone hoped, was fat man. He was as tall as Al
and waddled with the contemptuous step of one who is used to
obedience. In contrast to Dengs business suit he wore a kind of sumo
wrestler loincloth and a silver jacket. A fine alien presence, Fistro had to
admit as he bowed to his enemy and guest. No hand shakes had been part
of Wendys conditions. Deng came alongside and was treated in like
manner. The mate came forward in his immaculate whites and led them
to the deck area where the festivities were to take place. No one seemed
to notice the general come striding down the ramp with a large bowl




210
covered in plastic wrap.
General, called out Molloy, coming over in apron and spatula. Nice
to have you aboard.
Molloy, good to see you again.
Molloy took the bowl out of his hands and they followed the others to
the waiting bar-b-q.
Potato salad?
Potato salad, answered the general as he took in the brightly colored
awnings and cushions set out for the special guests. He followed Molloy
over to the fire where the fish was roasting and watched the goings on
with the dignitaries. Wendy had guaranteed their safety on the basis of a
diplomatically worked out take it or leave it. The powers had decided to
take it on the word of the man who was now the shipboard host.
Thank you for coming, said Fistro.
F. Obrion, the most wanted man in certain galactic circles sat in a
canvass deck chair facing his guests. He was dressed in strict deckwear
and his flowered shirt flapped lightly in the Indian ocean breeze. Wendy
stood beside him in the uniform of the day, short linen skirt and the
taught tan rest of herself. She held a clipboard and a pen. Tania sat on the
other side in equal tanned splendor preparing drinks on a low table. The
white tassels of the high blue awnings danced as though in response to




211
the sparkling of the rolling waters through which they were sailing. Host
and guests faced each other. There was a touch of ancient Egypt in the
bright air. As if to stress the point, Al came over in his huge body of
sculpted black muscle and a white linen skirt and stood behind Fistro. He
and the girls had talked it over and it was white skirts all round. The fat
man from space had adopted a cross legged menacing idol posture. Deng
sat there stiffly in his business suit with his hands on his knees. His
newspaper black and white was a perfect contrast in the general exotic
atmosphere. Fistro was waiting to be immensely pleased with the way
Molloys plan was working out. So far, there was no sign of it. Lunatics.
Why did he trust lunatics?
Fat man, he said, The swordfish is awfully good.
As indeed it was. Molloy wielded the spatula with expertise and flair.
Platters of the roasted slabs of the beast from the seas came forth. Elenas
punch ran wild and red. The whole ship joined in. It was casual, it was
flip-flops, it was squeals of laughter by the pool. It was great fun but it
didnt quite seem to work. The alien idol sat aloof and stared with dull
eyes at F. Obrion, his cross-galactic prey. It was obvious that human
beings did not impress him. Fistro looked at the fat man across the plates
of untouched food and hadnt the slightest idea what to do next. So he did
it.




212
How dare you come here threatening our planet, to say nothing of my
own person. What do you have to say for yourself, fat man? said Fistro
in his best interplanetary voice. I hope you can swim, he added
theatrically.
I protest most strongly, interrupted Deng. We are here under truce.
You have promised our alien guest diplomatic safe conduct.
Deng, Deng, Deng. When will you ever learn? said Molloy. He had
just come from the pool and was still dripping.
The fat man drooped a look in his direction.
Exactly, my posturing friend, he said. You threaten our planet? No
problem. Tell you what, why dont you destroy New York? Feel free.
You want to take prisoner this idiot billionaire friend of mine. Go ahead.
Molloy, said Fistro, not quite reassured. Is that your plan? To dare
the bastards to blow up New York?
Only part of it, said Molloy. Ill throw in London and Cairo.
The world was following Molloys rather devil may care attitude
towards the existence of major cities with mixed feelings. This
transmission had been one of Wendys conditions. She had imagined that
it would make history. Viewers in major cities around the world had the
uncomfortable feeling that they were about to take part in history.
Molloy, himself, was not worried. Nobody was going to blow anything




213
out of anything. The fat bastard hadnt a weapon to stand on. Molloy was
ready.
What do you mean by ready? asked Fistro.
We top old adipose armpits, of course.
Stop right there, Molloy. Since when do we threaten to kill our
guests? Fistro had a certain sense of decorum.
Since the bell rang, buddy boy. Since the bell rang on your running
for your life, said Molloy. He turned his attention to the evil idol. By
the laws of diplomatic practice, we can not take you prisoner. Shame,
really. We can still have some fun , though.
Fat man drew himself up even further into his idol presence. He had
something to say.
You earthmen are such fools, said the fat alien from space. Perhaps
we will not wipe out your favorite cities. We do not need to prove our
cruelty. But, you, F. Obrion, will be taken back to face the wrath of the
Overlord.
For Molloy, this was the limit. He had never particularly liked
overweight assholes but direct threats to his friend were out of order.
He nodded and two crewmen jumped out of nowhere with submachine
guns and fired a rousing burst into the air. They stood to ease on either
side of Fistro. It was simply a point to be made.




214
Do we have your undivided attention? asked Molloy in a pointedly
unfriendly, friendly manner.
The intergalactic idol froze the smile on his huge lips. These humans
might be more difficult than he expected.
At precisely this wavering moment in time a figure in a bright red suit
with a bubble on top came floating down to land effortlessly by the
contending parties where they sat in the open comfort of the ship. Not
even Shakespeare had the balls to thread such a coincidence into one of
his dramas but it had actually happened in the real world. Fistro
appreciated the point. The Advocat appeared full suited on the deck. He
placed a yellow star on his breastplate and said, I declare I am an
Advocate. Then the whole suit disappeared again. Poof!
An Advocat! exclaimed the fat man and blinked for the first time
since he had come aboard. Mr. Deng, this was no part of our agreement.
You may forget the technology transfer. You are a fool. You are a
human!
Deng could not refute the charge of his humanity and he was almost
ready to privately accept his foolishness so he kept a straight face and
said nothing. He would wait for a more favorable turn of events. What
was this Advocat rubbish?
I thought an Advocat would give the proceedings a certain




215
intergalactic flair, said Fistro, putting down his drink. The breeze ruffled
the flowers on his shirt.
I see, said the fat idol from space looking not quite like an Easter
Island souvenir. He did not seem overly happy in his immobility. No, he
seemed worried.
Gainsworth pulled up a chair.
Gainsworth Protoplasm, Advocat. Endowed and sanctioned, he said
for all to hear. I am now acting officially. What seems to be the
problem?
The fat man was not too clear on what the Advocats authority
consisted of. He did know enough to know that they could speak directly
to rulers such as the Overlord. Did this one know about the passengers?
He would have to use his cunning. This devil Obrion was proving to be
more resourceful than he had imagined.
Ill tell you what the problem is, said Molloy, coming back over
from the bar-b-q with a spatula in his hand. A tirade was coming.
Mr. Molloy, said Wendy, You have charcoal smudged all over
your nose.
He stopped automatically to dab at it. He was not a baboon.
Thank you, Wendy, said Fistro. Have you written that down?
Oh, yes. Its all here. Look, even the spatula.




216
Molloy laughed at himself.
Well done, darling, he said. Pants down. Cant have Molloy
buggering up everything. Too impulsive. Doesnt think. Go for the throat
and all that. No diplomacy. He tossed the spatula overboard and went to
sit beside Tania. She was mixing a jug of her special bloody marys. The
worst that could happen there, was a dispute over celery salt.
Fat man, said Fistro, Perhaps this is a good time to declare the
purpose of your visit to our planet in front of the Advocat, just so
everything is official.
The fat man did not blink. No one expected him to. Some animals had
the same ability, they just kept staring no matter what happened.
I have come to take the criminal, F. Obrion, into custody and deliver
him into the presence of the Overlord. He is a dangerous terrorist. The
fat man spoke flatly and simply.
It is duly noted, said Gainsworth Protoplasm, the Advocat. He
popped into his bright red suit for a moment and then popped out again.
I must inform you that you have no jurisdiction where humans are
concerned. In fact, you have been relieved of duty and arrested by your
own crew on charges of genocide. Wendy, could we have the connection
with his ship?
They all looked as the big screen came to life. The head and shoulders




217
that appeared were a good likeness if not an exact copy of the fat man
they had on the deck before them. Were they all some kind of overfed
clones? Or was it a more anthropological, they all look the same to me?
Fistro was reminded of the Chinese. Of course, they were all as different
as anybody else, it was just the initial impression, the other tribe. There
was absolutely no
Commander, we have taken over the ship and you are under arrest.
We order you, in the name of the Overlord, to return to the ship at once.
We will be leaving orbit in six hours. It is your sworn duty to be here.
This time the fat man from space reacted. He exploded in his blubbers.
Mutiny! he cried. You will all be eaten! The whole alien idol of
himself shook with fury where he sat.
On the contrary, replied his look-alike aboard the rebellious ship,
We have all the documents duly witnessed by an Advocat. The screen
went dead. All heads turned to fat man. He relapsed into immobility, a
kind of alien catatonia. His eyes remained half open but deeply empty.
Deng, for his part, was seething. His chins were seething. He had
personally and with great pomp paraded this alien before the media of the
world. Now he turned out to be a criminal against his own species. How
could he save the situation? He would be a laughing stock. No alien
technology, no nothing.




218
Mr. Obrion, you must believe me, this evil extraterrestrial has tricked
us all. My only concern is your welfare, said Deng, almost in a panic. He
noticed Molloy smiling at him. His panic was no longer almost. He
needed protection from this lunatic.
General! he cried.
What is it, Mr. Deng?
The general came around from behind the cushions where the
Secretary of Alien Affairs sat in his discomfort. He was barefoot, in
shorts and a t-shirt. Deng was shocked.
Where is your uniform, General? he demanded with all of his
authority.
In my cabin. Why? said the general.
Your cabin!
Yes, its like a hotel room but on a boat, explained the general.
Deng sputtered.
Everyone laughed. It was just plain funny. Well, almost everyone. Fat
man was still lost in his own alien worries. These did not outwardly
include laughter.
Mr. Deng, you really should pay more attention to the papers
crossing your desk. My resignation has been fully effective for over
twenty-four hours. I merely shared the helicopter with you and your alien




219
friend here. Mr. Obrion is my new employer, said the general in a matter
of fact way.
Deng pushed himself up from the cushions and onto his feet. Things
were bad enough without being at a lower level. Something must be
saved from this situation.
Bring me a cha
Janice shoved an upright deckchair in under his plump posterior
before he could finish the sentence. It was a friendly ship. If someone
wanted a chair, they got a chair. Empathy at its best. Deng sat with a kind
of plumpf. At least now he was not reclining. He glanced in disgust at the
immobile alien fat man who sat cross legged on the cushions. The great
weakling from the stars, he had expected more, needed more. His
reputation had ridden on it. He looked around. How had it all gone so
wrong? He had been within inches of clinching the world presidency. All
those millions in bribes. The media circus with the fat man. Now here he
was all over again facing Obrion and that maniac, Molloy. He smiled
graciously at his hosts.
It seems to me that we have won the day, he said with a spacious
vacuity that not many could achieve. Deng was at his best when he was
scrabbling for position. His instinct told him that whatever an Advocate
was, it might be handy. He turned to Gainsworth.




220
Is that not so, Advocat?
As the fat man has been stripped of his power, the contention
between him and F. Obrion is void. I so witness. My official function
ends here. Gainsworth popped into his bright red suit, removed the
yellow star from the breastplate and popped back.
Please, consider me just another guest from now on. That lobster
smells awfully good, Molloy.
He strolled over to where Molloy and the general were cracking the
bright red shells on a table by the rail. Deng watched him go. The
scrupulous cosmic cretin. How dare he snub Deng Ouch Oh.
The fat man stirred on the cushions. The life came back into his half
closed eyes.
No, he said out in flat statement. I refuse. I will not go back to be
cooked and eaten. The fat man looked around with his customary droop-
lidded lack of interest in what others might think.
Uh, oh, said Molloy.
Oh, boy, said Fistro.
According to the laws of the sea, the fat man was their guest. If he
decided to defy his own people up in space, where did that leave them?
When your alien guest causes trouble, you have to get him out of there
somehow. Fistro addressed Deng.




221
Mr. Secretary, it would seem we have an alien affair, he said
pointedly.
Deng opened his mouth and then he closed it again. He had no more
idea about aliens than he had about hats. He confined his knowledge to
scheming and such practical arts. Secretary of this or secretary of that, it
made no difference. The point was to be important, results were to be
bought and nicely packaged. Previous humiliations at the hands of these
people skittered uncomfortably about in his memory. He needed time to
think. Somehow he had to turn this fat man fiasco to his advantage so he
could come out shining for his political public. For the moment this
brilliant idea was not occurring to him but he had to say something. He
was
The mate came across the deck in his white holiday uniform and said
something to Fistro. They conferred. The large screen came to life.
Commander!
It was the alien ship. On the screen was the same very similar fat man
look-alike with a couple of others looking over his shoulder. They all
looked the same.
Commander, we detect that you have not returned to the shuttle. We
give you six hours. You know the rules.
May you roast and take the wide bite. I will not leave this planet.




222
Take your slugs and be gone. Fat man was obviously being rude in the
manner of his kind.
Commander, continued the other alien fat man on the screen, This
is your last chance to surrender peacefully. We have located the floating
vessel where you are at this moment and we have four armed shuttles
standing by. The screen went dead.
Fistro looked at Gainsworth.
I thought you said they had no weapons.
It depends on what you consider weapons. They have no planet
threatening capabilities. They do, however, have small shuttle craft which
are armed rather like your own fighter planes. I suppose this could cause
some concern to the earth military, said Gainsworth. It is difficult to
tell.
Fat man, said Fistro, I believe we can consider our meeting
concluded. You are no longer welcome aboard this ship. In fact, you are
now a problem. Alistair can fly you back to where he picked you up. Al!
Al was not there. He was racing across the helipad and up into the
cockpit of his limo. He had spotted the two fighters coming in low from
the west. He hit the camouflage cells and was airborne in seconds. Alien
technology at its best. Now he would be undetectable. He had no idea
what might happen with these fat aliens and the earth military but the




223
helicopter limo would be safe and hovering invisibly at hand. Things
might get a bit dodgy.
The two jets screamed in low over the Willy Nilly. The girls by the
pool waved. The pilots made a wide circle and came back around for a
better look. You couldnt blame them. Then they flew off with a playful
wing salute. Some things still slip between orders.
From a military point of view, said the general, I think we may
consider ourselves located.
It was time for a meeting. Captain Angus came down from the bridge
and Wendy took notes. It would soon be dark, the fat man was not
budging and there was no telling how the earth military would react to
armed alien craft in earth airspace. And there they were smack in the
middle. Would things all go boom? Who would blow the shit out of who?
Fistro was not in the mood to argue over a whom. The two crewmen with
the machine guns still stood on either side of him so he could have easily
backed up any grammatical claims by force but recognized the idiocy of
where these thoughts were leading him and tried to concentrate on the
brewing interplanetary strife, instead. It seemed that he personally was no
longer the prime target. This solved nothing, however, as the prime target
sat in his fat-lipped idol imitation just two feet away across the deck.
Ships have been sunk for less. As they bandied about these ideas, more




224
and more aircraft appeared in the darkening skies above them. Even the
clouds had a shattered look. Captain Angus informed them that warships
from all over the Indian Ocean were converging, including two aircraft
carriers. Earth military were indeed touchy about earth airspace.
We have been ordered to come about and cut engines, said Captain
Angus. I must obey.
Molloy stood to the fore, as was his wont, and spoke.
No problem, children, he said brightly, We just hand over fat man
here, and Bobs your uncle. Maybe we could even throw in Deng.
Molloy, said the general, In ten minutes these alien craft will enter
the atmosphere. They will receive three warnings. Its a question of
planetary sovereignty. If they do not retreat or surrender, they will be
attacked. Military logic.
You earthmen are fools.
It was the fat man. His eyes were bright behind his heavy lids.
You have shown us your power. It is puny and laughable. It is only
good for killing each other. You swallowed our little comedy about a
mutiny. No. We are here to apprehend F. Obrion and we shall so do. Your
forces cannot even scratch our armed shuttles. The fifty more that we
have in the hangars are more than enough to subdue the entire planet.
The fat man smiled. He was pleased. He sat there on the deck under




225
the blue awning confident that he had won the day. The others, the girls,
the crew, the richest man in the known world, were a little taken aback.
And it was all transmitted live. Could this be a bone fide alien invasion?
Fistro wasnt so sure. He was the main target but all they had sent at him
so far was a mean lump of lard. He was trying to figure this out when the
big screen came to life.
Commander, we await your orders. All earth bases are located and
their armament is pitiful.
Send four shuttles. I will await them in forty five minutes. You will
destroy all opposition. The fat man smacked his lips and sat back.
Just a minute, said Fistro, addressing the fat men in space, I am F.
Obrion, the rebel who sneers at your pathetic Overlord. Your fat man is
on my ship. As of this moment he is our prisoner. If any earth craft is
destroyed he will be thrown overboard into the sea,
There was a shocked silence. They all loved Fistro and admired his
balls but was it a good idea to provoke an obviously technologically
superior species?
Commander? said the voice from the screen.
Fat man thought for a moment.
Agreed, he said, Do not retaliate to their attacks. They can do no
harm and they will learn how futile it is to oppose us. Send down the




226
craft.
The screen went dead again. Fistro smiled like an idiot. It was what he
did when he understood nothing. Had he won or had he lost? Was Earth
still a safe place to build strip malls? He did not know
So, Obrion, old tufter, we take them on? exclaimed Molloy.
Relax, Molloy. These bastards are only invading us because of the fat
man, said Fistro. Both of them looked at the alien in his own mounds of
flab and realized there was not much they could do. They would wait for
the alien craft to show up and take it from there. Captain Angus, ever a
man of caution, suggested that the girls go below but they would have
none of it. They had signed on just like the rest. They did, however,
decide to change to evening wear. Dusk had begun to make its presence
felt and light music wafted out in delightful chords on the good ship
Willy Nilly. Deng stood up to say something and Molloy whacked him
on the side of the head. This was not very polite but he really would have
to learn to butt out of alien invasions that he was too incompetent to
handle. The aliens had declared their intentions and the hardened crew of
the boat that carried the fat man looked at the great lump of flab and
wondered what they should do. He was their guest, enemy, prisoner. The
destiny of the human race was in their hands. Out in the distance on the
edges of the darkening sea some small lights began to appear. The first




227
ships. Captain Angus went back to the bridge to deal with them. Not all
of them were military. Many pleasure craft had picked up the exchanges
with the aliens and were also homing in. Al hovered invisibly with the
helicopter a few miles off. He was paid to drive.
Here they come!
It was Molloy, pointing up into the dark sky. They were still far off
but very bright. As they got closer there were explosions all around them.
The shuttles came on through the hail of fire. They were being attacked
by earth forces but the missiles were exploding off harmlessly into the
sky. All those on deck were enthralled. Gainsworth Protoplasm, however,
thanked them all very much for a lovely afternoon and popped into his
bright red suit, floated up into the sky and greeted his kitchen. He had to
maintain a certain distance from the turmoils and conflicts that he
encountered. They nodded polite good-byes.
As the four bright alien craft got closer, they could hear the explosions
of the earth missiles bouncing off. They could make out the trails of the
missiles as they left the wings of the attacking planes. Still the alien craft
came on unperturbed. There were great flashes out on the sea as one
warship launched its fusillade. Then more and more and more. The
explosions got bigger and bigger but did not deter the alien shuttles. The
attacking earth planes were now turning in the air over the Willy Nilly to




228
get back into the fray.
Just look at the bloody fools, said Fistro as he watched the alien
shuttles get closer. Theyre bringing all that shit right down on top of us.
Captain Angus, get on to them and warn them. He yelled this last over
the nearing explosions.
The captain leaned down from the bridge.
Its no use, Mr. Obrion, we have been declared expendable.
Molloy leapt to his feet. The whole aerial killing field was getting far
too close.
Obrion, old buddy, arm the ship! Those idiots are going to kill us.
But theyre our own people, Molloy.
Ours? You heard the captain, were expendable. Well, I say we just
show them the meaning of expendable. Crap hugging pilchards.
Fistro looked around. The girls were terrified. Deng was crawling
under the cushions and showing the soles of his shoes. What the hell,
well go down fighting.
Captain, he called out, Defend the ship. Anything that launches a
missile endangering us is an enemy target. Get Al to come in for the girls
and the crew.
The captain saluted from the bridge. He was a grim captain.
Get everyone to the helipad, he ordered and went to call Al in for




229
the pick-up. There was a movement towards the aft part of the ship but,
Fistro noticed, it was casual, no panic. You couldnt sail the seas with a
finer troupe. Deng crawled out from under the cushions and made to
follow. Molloy grabbed him by the back of the collar and threw him
down beside the fat man, who was just sitting there on the cushions
ignoring them all.
Cant have you missing the best part, now can we? said Molloy with
his most winning smile.
Deng shriveled and gaped at his lunatic tormenter. Behind his bulging
eyes his mind raced but got nowhere. He slumped. The fat man from
space remained motionless. Wendy came up beside Fistro where he sat in
his deckchair.
Whisky, Mr. Obrion? she said, handing him a glass. She had not left
with the others.
Better bring the bottle , darling. And a glass for yourself. How about
you Molloy?
Molloy pulled up a chair for Wendy and one for himself. He fished in
the bucket she had not neglected, fished out some ice, took the bottle and
poured. The three of them raised their glasses in the deafening flashes of
the approaching explosions. But they did not toast. They stopped in mid-
movement. There was an utter silence. Two men walked towards them




230
across the deck. The incoming craft were frozen in mid-air. The light of
the exploding missiles stood still in the sky. Jet fighters were stuck dead
in their full attacking swoops. The night was frozen solid. Wind and wave
and canvas flap.
Good evening, said the alien known as Norton.
Good evening, said the alien known as Feathers.
Feathers! exclaimed Molloy brightly. Up to your old tricks. Freeze
the buggers. Nick of time. Sitting ducks and all that.
There were greetings all round and Wendy was introduced. The
newcomers were served and they toasted. Old friends to the rescue.
We really must apologize for all this mess, Mr. Obrion. He glanced
at the fat man where he sat immobile. These people are such bullies. I
see Mr. Deng is still keeping your company.
Hes sort of like a pet at this stage. Follows us everywhere, said
Fistro. So, here we all are again looking into the maws of another
petrified attack. I imagine you have some plan. Wendy thought he
sounded a little dubious.
Shall I take notes, Mr. Obrion? she said.
I have a feeling this is best left off the record. Am I right, Norton?
Quite so. But first of all, lets get this ship of yours out of this killing
frenzy. Feathers, would you do the honors?




231
The dark waters gleamed like solid glass in their uncanny stasis but
did not resist the movement of the Willy Nilly and they were soon at a
safe distance. On the way, Norton did some explaining. It seems that the
F. Obrion Observatory had picked up a message flashed from the fat
mans ship to the Overlord containing a reference to Fistro. That was its
function. It automatically registered anything to do with F. Obrion
anywhere in the universe. As they felt responsible for giving away
Obrions whereabouts, they decided to come back in case they were
needed. The fat men were not to be trusted. He nodded towards the frozen
battle scene hanging in the night sky.
Good thinking, boys, said Molloy. Shit in the frying pan, alien
invasion and that. Full stop for the moment. Now, whats next? For one,
what do we do about Genghis Khan here? He indicated the fat man.
Interesting point, Mr. Molloy, said Norton. What do you think,
Feathers?
Well, we really should try to avoid bloodshed on either side. This
situation is quite a bit more difficult than the last time in happy camp
alien. We are really better at causing these messes than we are at solving
them, Im afraid. Feathers looked about rather guiltily at the little group.
Thanks anyway, said Fistro. For the moment youve saved our
butts and the war of the worlds is on hold. Thats something. Another




232
drink?
Wonderful! Great! exclaimed Molloy in a fine burst of exasperation.
Lets all just sit around here and get plastered till hell freezes over.
Norton and Feathers exchanged a meaningful glance. The others
noticed and Wendy giggled. She seldom drank whisky.
Youre kidding, she said.
Not at all, said Norton. I can assure you that if this hell of yours
exists, it is at this moment well and truly frozen. You see, when we
exercise this stasis, it is just easier to include everything. Less disruptive
of the intimate structures of existence. Exceptions, like yourselves, are
much easier to handle.
They fell into thoughtful silence. Molloy resisted the urge to get up
and pace about. Wendy looked at the four men. They obviously had a
history she knew nothing about. Her own two bosses had long since
ceased to surprise her but these two well dressed aliens were something
else. They seemed to be able to quite casually shut down the workings of
the universe at will and yet here were the four of them completely
stumped about what to do next. She asked them about this.
The problem is, explained Feathers, that when we unfreeze them,
everything picks up exactly where it stopped. Alien invasion, missile
attacks. Nothing is solved.




233
But you can move people and things around while they are in this
stasis of yours? she asked. They had just moved the boat.
Absolutely no problem, said the alien known as Norton. However,
if we just make these fat men disappear off to the other end of the
universe, if thats what youre thinking, the psychological effect on the
population of you planet would be devastating. They would come out of
stasis into complete confusion. And we cant use the mental blackout
again so soon. This is part of our quandary.
Wendy knew that these men were not stupid but right now, with the
world on the brink, they werent exactly earning points, either.
Listen, she said, sitting forward. Heres what you do. First, you
send this fat man here back up to his ship. He gives me the creeps. Then
transport the crews of the attacking shuttles back to their mother ship and
turn off their defense shields or whatever. Then cancel the stasis for
everything except the mother ship. Then she drew it out, giving them
a chance to redeem themselves. Their eyes lit up.
Then the brave fighting men and women of Earth blow the shit out of
the alien invaders. A lesson to all, said Fistro.
Then its whoops and hollers all round, added Molloy. The home
team wins. Earth macho right off the Richter. Dog in a shed. Hands
down.




234
Exactly, said Wendy. But you leave the mother ship frozen up
there for a while like they were having second thoughts. Just long enough
for it to register. Then you make them disappear, too. Beaten and fleeing.
Nobody gets hurt. Its perfect.
She smiled round at the four admiring men. She was too basically nice
to be smug but she was proud of herself.
And it was done just as she had said.

********************************

Deng protested vigorously, gesticulating and shouting threats as the
life-boat was lowered away.
Just a minute! cried Molloy, rushing forward to the rail.
He placed a basket with a bucket of ice, a bottle of champagne, a
glass, a cooked lobster with implements, a choice of sauces and also
napkins into the descending boat.
After all, we are not monsters. He gave Deng a big smile.
The general tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a bowl of
potato salad.
Of course, how careless of me.
He took the bowl and held it down to the now speechless Secretary of




235
Alien Affairs. Deng took it from his hands and stared at it numbly. The
life-boat touched the water and was released. Those aboard the Willy
Nilly stood along the rail waving good-byes as it bobbed away on the
light swell of the Indian Ocean with its reluctant passenger. No one
worried about the fate of the castaway, there were dozens of ships of all
descriptions in the vicinity.
There goes a profoundly useless human being, said Fistro with a
tinge of sadness in his voice.
A terrible sport but a great playmate, said Molloy. Now, I suggest
we get this crew of ours to dry land for some well earned shore leave.
My feelings exactly. Captain Angus, he called up to the bridge,
whats the nearest landfall?
The Maldives, Mr. Obrion, the captain called back.
The Maldives it is, Captain.
It was easy sailing at this time of year and the Willy Nilly made good
way. A bit of dry land would do them all some good. Adventures on the
high seas require punctuation. There was a fine mood of gaiety aboard
and Wendy was the star of the show. She had, after all, just saved an
entire planet. Norton and Feathers had accepted the invitation to remain
on board a while longer. Fistro still wanted a quiet word with them.
Oh, look! cried one of the girls, pointing up into the pulsing blue of




236
the ocean sky. They looked. A bright red suit with a bubble on top came
floating down through the warm sea air and landed lightly on the deck.
The bubble top disappeared but Gainsworth Protoplasm, the Advocat,
kept on the red suit and placed a yellow star on its breastplate. This was
official business. The whole ship gathered round to see what business it
might be.
Wendy of Earth, come forth and be recognized by the Advocat,
called Gainsworth in a voice that brought a tingle to the back of the neck.
Wendy stepped forward.
You are a Woman of Cosmic Presence, we thank you.
So saying, he went down on one knee and kissed her hand. An
enthusiastic cheering and clapping broke out among the girls and crew,
startling a seagull which had been about to land on the upper deck rail.
The Advocat has spoken.
With that Gainsworth restored his clear helmet, stepped back, saluted
the ship in general and floated back off up the way he had come.
Everyone was delighted and gathered round Wendy with kisses and
congratulations. Fistro and Molloy leaned back on the rail watching.
Obrion, old buddy, said Molloy, I love a happy ending. Pity about
all those billions of yours.
You heartless bastard, Molloy, said Fistro. Get me a drink.




237
As he watched his friend head for the aft bar, he smiled. Then he
looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes. The discreet structures of
this universe could relax. For the moment.

THE END

Related Interests