(Note: Pretend words in all CAPTIALS are really in *italics*! )
N O W , L E T T H E S T O R Y B E G I N ! !
SEETHING with frustration after standing for over two hours
under the sweaty summer sun of southern France, staring at the
beckoning though blank canvas, but really aware of nothing but
the heavy pistol weighing down his pocket -- and his soul -- the
lean, red-bearded painter noticed the tall, mysterious stranger in
the distance bouncing along the road on a bicycle across the
beautiful, rolling, green French countryside... It was said the
stranger made all his purchases with impossibly pure gold and
flawless precious jewels. It was also said that he had murdered
a young local man -- somehow the scandal involved the affections
of some young and pretty French girl.
The painter was in no mood for an encounter with this
approaching man; the painter was in no mood to encounter ANYONE
ever again at all! He threw down his palette then jabbed his
hand into his pocket, grasping for the loaded pistol...
CHAPTER 1 - INFINITY CITY
Infinity City is an interesting place and not just because
it happens to be located in a black hole. Though, this of course
does affect the style if not the standard of living of the
natives. Infinity City is wonderfully interesting because
throughout its long existence its people have always maintained a
virtual Cult of Adventure due most probably to the excitement of
living within the FIRST EVENT HORIZON of a black hole. Adventure
dominates the lives of the men of Infinity City. Controlling
these men, to avoid the trouble their Galactic scale Adventures
usually cause, dominates the lives of Infinity City's remarkable
Infinity City is a romantic place. Death from aging has
been eliminated through the monthly ingestion of the PILL OF
LIFE, an hormonal protein inhibiting the human body's genetic
propensity toward immune system degradation. Love can last an
eternity! Feuds between some families smolder on and on. And,
without the natural process of aging, unbearable lives can last
forever. But, seldom do...
The WELL OF THE WISH, a mysterious brick cistern at the very
heart of Infinity City -- located above the sparkling point of
the black hole's second event horizon -- has been the scene of
many a tragic life's ending.
The WELL OF THE WISH! The final solution for those with
intolerable situations, unattainable dreams, unbearable
memories... Duels of incredibly macabre nature take place when
proud men fail to compromise over political power, business
judgments, and of course, the alluring women of Infinity City.
Ah, the women of Infinity City! They are free from the
looming threat of death from old age. Many find themselves
blessed with timeless beauty. But, they are still limited to
fertility's finite period. And, after that? After giving birth
and rearing as many children as are wanted (the now traditional
occupation of a woman's first 30-60 years) what follows? The
serene, graceful peace of female political control, for some.
Business, careers, enjoyment of riches, perhaps even Adventuring
for others. Many others follow children that have grown bored
within the confines of Infinity City and have sailed off
throughout the Galaxy to seek fame and fortune; the inhabitants
of Infinity City "sail" through the Galaxy aboard faster-than-
light GRAVITONIC SAILSHIPS; few other human worlds have the
sophisticated knowledge and intricate technology to allow this.)
All in all, the population has remained stable near one million.
With the Grand Dames firmly in control through intricate networks
of familial alliances, the forces of power, business, male
adventurousness, and female security are all maintained in
And so, on with the saga of a mysterious man given the
chance to live again in a mysterious world, another tale of
Adventure springing from this the most fascinating city of human
future history: Infinity City!
CHAPTER 2 - JOHN ONE
A young man, John One, received a generous offer from his
wealthy uncle to sail a small merchant ship up and out of
Infinity City, taking it back in time to the latter part of
Earth's second Christian-era millennium in search of general items
of artistic and rare value. John was tall and slim, clean-shaven
with short, light brown hair. He had the peaceful looks of
someone preoccupied with inward reflections, due to the deep
influence of his days at the Militia Academy. There, he had
developed a strong belief, even a passion, for discipline and
self-control. His warrior training had demanded he learn to be
constantly relaxed to conserve physiological energy before and
during battle; hand-to-hand or ship-to-ship. His high
aristocratic cheekbones and thoughtful looking gray eyes were
common in his family. All in all, he had the appearance of
someone you could have confidence in; someone you could trust
immediately. And, most people he met did!
He had just finished a five year commission with Infinity
City's Militia Guard. With his training and experience piloting
advanced scouting ships and even a few battle skirmishes with
hostile sailships, and with nothing better in mind, he accepted
the offer from his uncle the owner of the little merchant ship,
after a long, good natured negotiation over profit margin.
His uncle prepared and provisioned the ship for the journey
while John One was charged with the responsibility of gathering
the specifics he would need to get by in second millennia Earth:
Speech translator, automatic pistols, sophisticated first-aid
equipment, fabric and sewing equipment for making local
costumes... And, of course, a large supply of the PILL OF LIFE
anti-aging drug (though he was really not physically old enough
yet to require it). The technology for the production of the
PILL is unknown anywhere else in the Galaxy, the scientists of
Infinity City never successfully manufacturing the PILL outside
of the unique gravitonic radiation within the black hole.
Adventurers normally take a large supply in case they become
stranded and also for barter (though a given prescription works
for only one specific person and is worthless to anyone else
except, perhaps, as a souvenir). Unfortunately, the molecular
structures of the proteins making up the PILL are very complex,
giving the PILL a shelf-life of only about 25 years; if an
Adventurer is stranded even with a large supply he'll only stay
young for 25 years and then begin aging. The PILL cannot survive
A few days before his scheduled departure his uncle threw
the traditional party for a young man's first grand adventure.
Hundreds of family members attended. Wrapped up in his academic
studies, even at an early age John One never developed close ties
within his family, even with his brothers and sisters. In spite
of this, he had always taken his familial responsibilities
seriously, had a good reputation for being helpful and was graced
with the favor of the family's Grand Dame matriarch for always
supporting her position during the inevitable family squabbles
which in Infinity City, with the number and ages of the
individuals within a family, could become immensely complicated
affairs making or breaking personal fortunes and futures.
So he was surprised at the intimacy with which his brothers
and other male members would coach him regarding the delights and
techniques of seduction of second millennium Earth women. Any Grand
Dame upon hearing such conversation would steer him away and
lecture him on his responsibility to alter as little as possible
the events and objects in the time that he was about to find
At the end of the evening, on one knee with his head bowed,
various Grand Dames ceremoniously bestowed upon him ribbons and
medals of faith in his upcoming adventure. The family matriarch
Grand Dame Deirdre herself wearing her family crown and a formal
gown of sky blue with an immense ruffled collar presented him
with a thin ribbon with spiraling rainbow colored patterns.
After the party had ended, a somewhat stuffy and formal
affair, John One found himself excited and restless, so he
decided to take his favorite coup for a last drive around
Infinity City before his grand departure.
Infinity City lay spread across the top side of a disk-
shaped superstructure about 30 miles across and 2 miles thick.
It floated like a "big dime" (the actual nickname within the
venerable Militia Guard) in the middle of the black hole's egg-
shaped first cycle "pocket." Actually, it was not floating --
complex gravitonic engineering kept the world safely at
equilibrium with the gravitonic torrents pouring between the
first and second event horizons at the top and bottom of the
The same gravitonics also held an atmosphere as thick as
Earth's on Infinity City's life side. (Its other side underneath
the great disk was barren, but could be used in the future if
population pressure ever required expansion.) The atmosphere had
manually controlled weather and was natural enough to even allow,
with the help of an orbiting artificial Sun, open-air
agricultural -- the produce of which was far more popular than
the inexpensive though not-quite-natural fruits and vegetables
grown in oozing hydroponic vats.
John One had an urge to leave the central, metropolitan area
and head out to the open agricultural periphery of Infinity City
to have a final look at the family "farm" -- the Larsch
plantation, largest on Infinity City, a sprawling area of
thousands of acres.
He drove away from the family mansion 'Old Rumble' along
smooth, wide tree-lined boulevards within the aristocratic and
governmental confines of the Canterbury district where he had
grown up. Here and there were the halls of government, two or
three story buildings shaped from cubes of various sizes with
overly rounded corners, each a different shade of flat gray.
Also could be seen, at the end of fine, stately landscaped lawns,
were the mansions of Infinity City's greater and lesser
controlling families -- some were not even occupied but it was
tradition for each Grand Dame to maintain at least token
residence within the Canterbury district.
Leaving Canterbury, he passed beside the mysterious Old Town
at the very center of Infinity City. This section had been
constructed by the Original Builders themselves and still
maintained the same quaint style of architecture the Original
Builders had brought from ancient Earth. Something about the
area always filled John with uneasiness. Perhaps the Well of the
Wish at the center, the dangerous shaft which led all the way
down through Infinity City toward the tiny second event horizon
at the bottom of the black hole.
John One tapped a command at the luxurious little coup's
hand-held control unit ordering the onboard computer to generate
more energy from the cold nuclear pile which was converted to
angular kinetic energy through electromagnetic phasing directly
into all four of the independent wheels -- he had pressed the
FASTEST button -- the car smoothly shot forward. The little two-
seater luxury sport coup was the best money could buy, featuring
the latest in related technology. With magnetic suspension the
wheels were not physically connected to the car -- with no
vibration from wheels, the car seemed to float like a magic
carpet. Using four wheels with independent computer-controlled
suspension, the car was unaffected by Infinity City's sometimes
less-than-perfect road system. (The Family responsible for the
extensive road system throughout Infinity City complained that
they did not have the resources to handle the endless repairs
caused by the incredible variety of ground vehicles so popular
all over the City. Sky vehicles had been tried from time to time
during Infinity City's long history but were always eventually
outlawed in response to citizens uncomfortable with hundreds of
vehicles weighing several tons constantly swooping by overhead.
John headed down West Road one of the four main compass-
point roads that headed straight from City center, out past sub-
road turnoffs to the many large estate farms and smaller family
farm businesses, and out to the periphery road which circled the
perimeter at the edge of Infinity City. Along the periphery
road, at the four points of the Infinity City compass were the
four Militia Guard bases: North Base, East, South, and West.
And at periodic intervals along the periphery road were the
gravitonic control installations that kept Infinity City in the
center of the black hole, and maintained local gravity and
John One turned off West Road at the entrance to the Larsch
plantation with a sign that read "Larsch Farm" emblazzoned in
gold on a fancy overhead arch. Feeling an urge for solitude he
drove around without stopping at any of the plantation houses or
agribarns. It was late night and dark and all there was to see
was the tiny guide lights along the edge of the roads, the
striking and beautiful sprawling spot-lighted landscaping around
the many plantation houses, and night time lighting of the
robotic field harvesters slowly spiraling around the circular
farm areas. John One smiled remembering the many happy times out
here as a boy chasing around with his cousins aboard the farm's
many hoverbikes. He had a sudden urge to stop and lug one into
the storage trunk of the car and bring it with him to old Earth.
That would be fun, he thought excitedly, zipping around on old
Earth on a modern hoverbike, watching the natives stare in
wonder! But then he remembered admonishments of his Family
mothers warning him that travel into the past could be dangerous
to the fabric of the Universe and that it was best to disturb
things as little as possible -- the Universe quickly 'healed'
from the wounds of change caused by travel into the past but
there were theorists who constantly warned of too great an effect
on the past causing an irreparable tear that would affect the
future in some dismally cataclysmic way. John's male relatives
had winked at him and grinned, taking him aside to reassure him
that the women were over cautious, that the great Adventuring men
of Infinity City had been bouncing back to the past throughout
the long, long history of the City with hardly ever a
catastrophe. Nevertheless, John knew there were many Grand Dames
that had sworn to eventually outlaw travel into the past. And
when he thought about it, trips to the past were rare indeed;
there had not been one since he was born. If there was so much
money to be made -- as his uncle assured him -- why weren't
"back-bounce" trips to the past common?
John One left the family farm and continued heading west
toward the edge of Infinity City. To dispel the slight anxiety
he now felt over his impending trip into the past, he slid open
the car's large moonroof, took the car up to full speed, and
enjoyed the roar of the cool, night wind overhead -- the car's
computer diligently watching ahead with radar eyes for oncoming
traffic or obstacles in the road. Just before the gates to the
Militia Guard's West Base, John slowed and turned right onto the
periphery road that encircled Infinity City. He took the car up
to full speed again and sat watching the far away little lights
from all the distant farms. You could spend hours at night on
the periphery road slowly circling Infinity City watching the
multi-colored jewel-like lights of agribusiness and passing by
the great Militia Guard base complexes with the brooding snouts
of the huge defensive photonic canon rising upwards.
At night the road was popular among the younger set cruising
along on the prowl for rendezvous with their fantasies, and
romantic couples already living theirs. John passed other cars
from time to time and found himself remembering the young ladies
he himself had brought out to the periphery road for a 'spin.'
John grinned in fond recollection of a certain embarrassing
incident during his Militia Guard Academy days when his lecherous
older friend Jason had talked him into coming out for an 'orbit'
or two along the periphery road. He had shown up with two girls
and a large jug of local wine. The girls worked at one of
Jason's favorite lounges just outside the space port, and were
impressed almost to the point of swooning over one of the
Family's larger saloon cars John had borrowed for the drive. And
what a night that had been!
He continued curving from north to east along the periphery
road, the tiny far away lights of Infinity City to his right, and
to his left the blackness of space just off the edge of the Big
Dime. There were stories of adolescents modifying their cars to
exceed the computer controlled established speed limits along the
periphery road dangerously close to the edge of the great disk.
Some had lost control and gone flying off Infinity City, out past
its atmosphere, dying in the vacuum of surrounding space, to be
eventually sucked down through the second event horizon.
As he approached North Base John One thought of the Star
Admiral of all the Militia Guard who was headquartered there.
John's strong natural sense of duty took hold of him, he turned
to the right, off the periphery road, and onto the North Road
heading south back toward the center of Infinity City, back into
the quietly regal Canterbury District, and back home to 'Old
At the entrance to the Family's garage bays he left the car
and turned the car's hand-held command unit -- or 'key' as they
were referred to -- over to the garage bay supervisor who looked
inside the car then grinned over at John One and asked, "No
GUESTS tonight, Master One?"
John smiled. "No, Halvers," he had a knack for remembering
the names of everyone working for the Larsch whom he'd ever met.
"I just wanted to take a last drive around Infinity City."
"Yes, sir! We'd all heard you were leaving on an Adventure
tomorrow. Best of luck to you, young sir. But, don't be calling
it your 'last drive'! That's bad luck, I hear, begging your
"Very well," John called as he began walking away. "I'll
call it just my 'last drive for a while'!"
"Very good, sir!" supervisor Halvers cried merrily as he
tapped the return code for the appropriate garage bay into the
car's command unit and watched as the car slowly rolled off to
put itself away.
CHAPTER 3 - LIFT OFF
On the day of departure, his uncle, reclusive father, and
three generations of grand-fathers, all chauffeured in one of the
family's prestigious antique electric cars, delivered him to his
ship all the way out to the far end of the launch field reserved
for private astrogation -- last minute sage advice, tips, and
tricks of the trade flowed continually until John One, with a wan
smile, a nod and a wave slid fast the main hatch.
The ship was small, modern and shaped like a bullet with its
tip pointing toward Infinity City's sky. The sky was currently
the same shade as Earth's, though the color of the sky of
Infinity City was artificial and controlled by the Infinity City
civil engineers. An amendment to the Infinity City constitution
limited changing the color of the sky to only once a year, and
then only by popular vote. Over the centuries, this yearly event
has grown into the SKY COLOR FESTIVAL in which light-hearted
political "color parties" spring up trying to convince the
populace to vote for their color. Naturally, a great deal of
wagering goes on over the final outcome. The most popular colors
through the years have been Earth sky blue, soft lavender and the
breathtaking chromium yellow.
The ship had its engine room at the bottom, a cargo hold in
the middle and John One's combination living quarters and
piloting room at the top. The three rooms were about the same
size, though the walls of the pilot room converged together.
Going about his final checkout of systems and supplies, he felt
an unusual welling of incredible excitement within himself. He
thought about the riches he was bound to find and how proud his
family would be upon the announcement of his return and
discoveries in the "INFINITY CITY JOURNAL OF RECENT ADVENTURE."
For the first time he would be completely out of touch with
Infinity City and his family for, perhaps, several years. He
suddenly realized how much he dearly loved both.
John One strapped into the pilot seat, verified his
automated departure program with the on-board computer, gave the
computer the instruction to activate the launch systems, and when
all astrogation system telltales showed green he signaled launch
field control to request take-off: "Launch control, this is John
One piloting the EXCEPTION -- requesting launch synchronization."
The communication screen lit up with the crest of the family
that managed Infinity City's main launch field. A male voice
replied, "Acknowledged, EXCEPTION. Switch in your computer for
flight program verify." Partially covering the displayed crest,
a window now appeared on the screen with the title: "FLIGHT COM
STATUS" and below this, the flashing yellow message: "PROGRAM
John asked launch control, "Busy up there right now?"
Launch control answered, "Negative, EXCEPTION. Last launch
occurred 2 hours 23 minutes ago. None tentatively scheduled."
John realized he must be speaking to the launch control computer,
the human controller probably too busy with other duties to
bother with a private launch on a quiet day. John thought to
himself, it would have been nice to hear one more human voice
before passing out of radio range beyond the event horizon. He
asked, "How's your wife and kids?"
The launch computer replied, "I have heard that one before.
The controller suggests I respond with: Fine, how's your voltage
John chuckled. Soon the FLIGHT COM STATUS changed to the
green message "COMPUTERS LINKED. AWAITING GO..." and the launch
computer ordered, "Launch program now running. Launch field all
clear. Raise your sails."
John activated the overhead gravitonic launch arms that
would support the ship's launch sails between them. As the
launch arms extended above the ship, the whine of the gravitonic
field generator rose and then fell as the couplers received a
maximum charge for launch. Once the launch arms were extended,
he loosed the launching sail and leaned forward until he could
see it through the nose cone view port. And, there it was,
between the launch arms, unfolding, billowing, and shimmering in
Infinity City's artificial nuclear sunlight. The port he was
looking through was at least a foot thick but perfectly
transparent, though with liquid crystal doping for controlled
translucence and opaqueness. It was about one foot wide and went
all the way around the cone to form a ring shaped panoramic view.
After satisfying himself that the sail was secured to all of
the arms, John checked the flight board telltales for any
problems and seeing none he reported, "Launch control, this is
EXCEPTION. Ready for automated take off."
"Acknowledged. Initiating take off now." And, with that,
the communication screen changed to the message "COMPUTERS
LINKED. LAUNCH GO..."
Automated commands began to scroll across his on-board
computer's screen. The ship creaked and groaned as the sail
couplers sent a high energy burst of special sub-atomic
particle/waves of just the right characteristic to make the sails
react to gravitons. The gravitonic field generator rose to a
scream in response to the demand on it to overcome Infinity
City's local "storm" of gravitonic forces designed to simulate
Earth's gravity, contain a local atmosphere, and also provide
enough meteorological chaos to generate weather for agriculture.
John gripped the levers for manual gyro-override and as he
watched the commands flying across his on-board computer screen,
the ship lurched upward, rising in a straight line. Looking out,
he eye-balled the launch sails billowing with the peculiar
saddle-shaped launch configuration. Looking down, he saw the
launch field drop away; saw other merchant ships, mostly tear-
drop and bullet shapes of various sizes; and several Infinity
City crab-like men-of-war down for provisioning or refitting.
Soon, all Infinity City could be seen spreading out away
from the launch field. He could see the tall buildings of the
nearby metropolitan sector, the quaint and colorful dwellings of
the "oldtown" at the city core, and the grid-like structure of
highways leading out toward the geometric patterns of agriculture
with green, yellow, and russet crops, and the distant, spreading
estates of the large Families.
On the other side of the launch field the black barrier of
space at the edge of the blue atmosphere could be seen curving
around the horizon, merging with the blue artificial skies and
John looked down at his excellent view of the different
zones making up the immediate City. He could see municipal zones
with mixed single and family apartments and shops, one, two, or
three storys high; the nearby prestigious Canterbury zone with
mansions and gardened grounds of some of the most powerful
families; and the industrial zone of warehouses and automated
manufacturing plants. The closest thing to Utopia that anyone
knew of, John thought to himself.
He neared the boundary of Infinity City's controlled
gravitonic field and could see one of the huge suspension
generators that held up the egg-shaped envelope of protective
force, keeping at bay the maelstrom of gravitonic forces coursing
between the black hole's first and second event horizons, keeping
Infinity City forever floating right in the middle of the first
cycle of the black hole's infinite singularity wave.
He quickly began the procedure to extend the ship's mainsail
rigging. Manipulating controls, he sent the various mainsail
yards extending out in a crown pattern about the bow of the ship.
He energized the piezoelectric plates in the molecular
laminations of the sail yards causing them all to bend inward
until they all touched. Then, he ran up the mainsail field pump
setting its efficiency phase at 10% and backed off on the sail
yard piezopower unfurling the shimmering mainsail between all the
sail yards until a beautiful, gossamer crown-shaped mainsail was
spread before the ship.
Evenly, he switched the gravitonic generator's power over to
the mainsail. He then reefed the launch sail back in and
retracted its sail arms. The gravitonic generator was wining
loudly now as it filled the mainsail to its maximum thickness of
slightly less than a single millimeter.
John checked all systems for readiness. He was about to
leave the black hole for some point in Earth's second Christian
millennium. He took a deep breath. Then reported to launch
control, "This is the EXCEPTION. Ready for arc and vector." *1.
(See footnotes at end of chronicle.)
"This is launch control. Acknowledged EXCEPTION, your
request for arc and vector. Checking for previous conflicting
use of vector... None. Checking for traffic due... None.
Computers performing final vector program verification...
Completed. Awaiting your go, EXCEPTION."
And, John One said, "Go!". With that, he twisted the
microelectronic phase of the mainsail to maximum efficiency and
felt the familiar vertigo as the mainsail bit into the storm of
gravitons between the two event horizons and propelled the ship
into an arc, positioning it for the vector out through the first
event horizon point that would correspond with Earth's second
millennium. Manual guidance through the black hole's gravitonic
storm to an accurate vector was impossible by manual steering.
John began hearing sharp whines from the gyro as the
computer made automatic directional compensations for the
vagaries of the gravitonic storm. The static gravitonic field
left over from Infinity City was beginning to wear off slightly.
He felt lighter and checking the readout found it had dropped to
85% of 1G. But, there would be enough remaining until he was
well out of the black hole where he could spill some of the
mainsails gravitonic effects over the ship, giving it artificial
gravity. He preferred zero-G but it would be unhealthy for so
long a trip and he must be prepared for Earth's strong gravity.
John switched the on-board computer's display over to an
overview of his course. It showed a white curved line,
tangentially intersecting a short, straight line with a red dot
at the end, the first event horizon exit point. His ship was a
green dot moving along the curved line toward the straight line.
He was used to the rugged militia ships and felt slightly nervous
about the delicateness of this merchant ship. But, this was a
completely modern vessel, a model with a particularly excellent
reliability record. The sail yards were even equipped with
molecular piezo-laminants over-control to reduce the turbulence
of that final, wrenching transitional swap of the time-space of
the black hole into the space-time of the universe.
The little ship straightened out of its arc and was now
traveling along the vector, the angle of which, to the normal
line between the two event horizons, would determine the time he
would arrive at outside the black, though accurate only to plus
or minus about 500 years.
The red disk of the first event horizon grew brighter in
intensity through the view port. John One could now see the
strange black lines that meandered out from the center of the red
disk. Gravitonic turbulence and eddies of "uncertainty" -- due
to matter being crushed into a different kind of existence --
required periodic adjustments to the ship's controls. The launch
control comm. screen now showed a communication integrity
percentage that was decreasing. At 50%, the screen changed to
the flashing message:
EXCEPTION ON COURSE.
USE RETURN PASSWORD: 113322
IMPENDING LOSS OF SIGNAL.
LINK TERMINATED. GOOD LUCK!
Soon the red disk of the event horizon grew so intense that
the view port automatically began to opaque. At one second to
transition, John gripped the arms of his pilot seat, closed his
eyes, clenched his teeth, and held his breath. Transition struck
with the immediacy of a hammer striking an anvil. He felt
himself spread apart, but held on ignoring the feeling until
suddenly it vanished. He opened his eyes, checked the ship's
systems, and had the computer's screen report a simulated rear
view from the ship. The angry spiraling vortex of the black hole
was rapidly receding behind.
John now had the on-board computer begin scanning for
familiar landmark stars and patterns of stars. It only took the
computer a few moments to analyze and report the vector
coordinates of Earth and that the time was roughly the thirteenth
century. (The randomness of the intervening gravitonic currents
of space made back-dating planetary positions inexact.) John One
smiled in satisfaction. His ship had survived the transition
without damage and he would arrive at a time that was early
enough to sneak down to the surface of Earth undetected, but late
enough to have plenty of riches to choose from.
He spilt some of the mainsail fielding to provide artificial
gravity then settled down for the long trip to Earth.
Depending on the slowly ever-changing gravitonic currents, a trip
to Earth would take two or three months. He was about 20 degrees
off course for Earth, but he would remain that way for a day or
so until he was sure that no unfriendly force was following.
This was an Infinity City regulation to prevent any aliens that
might be lurking around in a past era from following an Infinity
City sailship to the home planet.
His great adventure had begun!
CHAPTER 4 - THE TRIP TO EARTH
The trip proceeded. John One spent much of his time
studying maps of Earth, the peoples of the various places and
eras within the second millennia, historical information
regarding ancient works of art, and the geographical locations
that would yield the greatest values for his uncle and himself.
Periodically, the gravitonic currents, along which his ship
was sailing, would begin to veer away from Earth. When this
occurred he would have to watch for gravitonic eddies which
indicated a nearby, usually turbulent, intersection to a current
branching off in a new direction. He would maneuver the ship
over to the current if its course was more direct to Earth than
the one he was in. Certain intersections were so turbulent, he
would miss them completely, and have to raise all sail, and tack
back and forth, back up the gravitonic current and try to make
the other current again.
Also, he used the on-board computer to coach him in
pronunciation of all the language allophones he would possibly
encounter. He would not need to really learn any of the major
languages since the on-board computer had the capability to
speak, understand, read, and write all the known languages of
Earth. This was a standard program for any merchant ship dealing
with Earth or any remote human colony. He would wear a remote
device inside each ear, like a hearing aid, that would be linked
to his ship's computer. In the event of lost communication, each
remote device had enough computer processing power to carry out
the translation of a single language and perform a limited set of
utilities. The remote devices also contained specialized sensors
to inform the wearer of location, heading, altitude, and changes
in the weather. They also were equipped with visual scanners
with infra-red capability for night vision. The wearer had to
turn his head sideways for the remote devices to "see" forward.
To John's surprise, he discovered a small weapons locker
containing a hand held explosive projectile weapon, or 'handgun'
as they were still called; an extremely destructive weapon
outlawed -- as were all hand weapons -- on Infinity City. John
marvelled at his uncle's disregard for Grand Dame law, but
understood the need Adventurers had for such weapons on the many
lawless worlds about the Galaxy.
Toward the end of the second month of the trip, the ship was
close enough to Earth so that it could proceed on a direct course
to Earth's solar system. John set all sails, brought the
sailship around and pulled out of the strong gravitonic current
it had been following -- progress slowed considerably as a
result. John, in his growing excitement and impatience, took the
helm for longer and longer periods each day, using his superior
human intuitive abilities to pilot the ship; seeking and
exploiting the mysterious transient gravitonic fields found
between the great, never ending main currents. John was reminded
of the soaring birds of Earth he had read about that would seek
thermal after thermal in their efforts to attain higher altitude.
Finally, Earth's Sun could be seen. The home star of the
home planet. A shiver of excitement ran through John as he
realized he would be visiting the original planet of human
evolution. Some of the people he would meet could even be remote
Day by day, as the Sun grew in brightness, John scanned the
solar system for planets. Scanning a circular area around the
Sun took several hours. Finally, two small dots appeared on the
scan printout on either side of the Sun and were labeled JUPITER
and SATURN, automatically by the computer. Now he was able to
calculate the angle of the solar plane. This allowed him to
limit the scan area to an ellipse, reducing the time required to
The following day URANUS and NEPTUNE appeared. A few days
later MARS. And then the next day, EARTH! The Sun's gravitonic
field was growing in strength. Setting the ship on a broad,
tacking course, he rapidly bore down on Earth. Three days later,
Earth was looming blue and bright before him.
John One was struck by the majesty of the "home planet."
Chills ran up and down his spine as he beheld -- through the nose
cone view port -- the wondrous planet he had studied and heard so
much about all his life. All the citizens of Infinity City
dreamed of visiting Earth. An adventurous trip to Earth was
always the most prestigious accomplishment of a Adventurer's
Sailing at a significant fraction of the speed of light,
John One had not been gazing at the Earth for long when the
computer issued a request for authorization to begin the
automatic braking maneuver that John One had setup earlier. He
typed it in. The computer automatically reefed in the sails and
John heard the whine of the gyros rise up to maximum -- the ship
slowly rotated about. The sails were then unfurled again.
He could have piloted manually but the gravitonic fields
about the Earth and its sun were mild and without turbulence so
there was little chance of any trouble. He could easily perform
manual override at any time. Also, he did not want to take his
eyes off the beautiful shining blue planet. How extremely bright
its colors were against the absolute black of surrounding space!
The continents were mysterious looking; veiled here and there by
bright white cloud patterns.
The ship slid smoothly into a polar orbit from which he
would be able to scan the surface for an optimal landing site.
The ice caps reminded him of tight fitting ancient Arabian hats.
He reefed in all the sails and ran the sail arms back in.
His artificial gravity began to dwindle so he initiated the
procedure to prevent this. Using the gyros to swing the ship
around he aimed it directly at the Earth. Next, he instructed
the computer to keep the gyros slowly turning in such a way to
keep the ship pointing at Earth's center. Then he let out the
small launching sail, setting its phase to artificially generate
equivalent Earth gravity within the ship.
But first, he had the computer scan the coordinates of
several known stars, comparing these with their locations and
velocities stored on file to determine his arrival time in local
units. The computer reported the Gregorian date 1887 plus or
minus four years. Looking through his families' secret list
(given him by his uncle) of time versus valuable commodities
which had been jealously accumulated by and handed down through
many generations of Adventurers, John decided to begin his
acquisition with late nineteenth century European art treasures.
He had decided on paintings. Since they were flat, requiring
less storage room, he could bring back more value in paintings
than other artifacts.
Using the computer, he determined that he would not be above
Europe until the night. He spent most of the rest of the day
preparing a local costume. The travel kit he would carry on the
surface he had prepared over a month ago -- he went through this
He felt excited about the adventure ahead, and also fearful
of the risk he would be taking entering a primitive human
CHAPTER 5 - DESCENT TO EARTH
He prepared his ship for the descent to Earth. Sails were
set and the orbit slowly braked back using the launch sail until
he hovered above late nineteenth century France. He decided to
begin his collection of rare art with works of famous early
French impressionists or whatever else of value he could find.
With launch sail reefed and landing sail carefully set he
began the descent. The power of Earth's trade winds vied with
the power of Earth's gravitational field, singing through the
rigging of his gravitonic sails. Descending aft first, he could
no longer see Earth from the nose cone view port. He would use
the computer view screen to find his way down. Though it was
nighttime the computer would amplify images until they were as
bright as day.
The clouds parted and he saw land, an adjacent large body of
deep blue water, and a complex coastline between the two.
He typed a quick command to the computer and names appeared
superimposed over the land and the water, different colors
representing bodies of water and rivers, land areas, and the
names of towns. The land was labeled FRANCE; the water
The image moved closer and closer. Soon, more names
appeared. The closest part of the sea to the land area he was
now above was labeled GULF OF LIONS. A river appeared which was
There were no clouds below him now and few above. Below, he
began to make out green forests and the artificial boundaries and
various colors of agricultural areas. Manipulating the viewing
angle he searched for somewhere safe and hidden to land finding
an outcropping of boulders at the top of a low hill. They formed
a convenient crown which would easily hide his ship.
Soon, the outcropping loomed below. A clearing toward the
center appeared and he slowly, gently took the ship down the
final distance and landed with a gentle thud.
He has arrived! His heart is pounding and everything seems
to be in slow motion as the wonder of what awaits him lifts his
spirit to heights he has never experienced.
On Earth! John leaps from the pilot seat with a surge of
youthful excitement and heads down to the main hatch. It is
night and he does not care about changing into local garments.
His gray coverall covers him from neck to wrists, to included
shoes. Enough. He wants Earth! To walk on the Original Planet!
The most prestigious adventure imaginable. The background of his
culture raises an almost religious fervor in his soul.
He reaches for the main hatch controls on the adjacent
bulkhead and pauses. The military trained part of his brain
automatically runs through possible dangers. There are no
diseases at this time in Earth history in France that his ship's
medical supplies cannot handle. However, he opens a supply
locker, unclips the explosive projectile hand weapon he had
discovered during the journey over, and prudently fastens it to
He then activates the automatic hatch cycle. The inner door
slides to the side and he enters the tight way between the inner
and outer door. When he is clear, the inner door automatically
closes. There is a pause as the hatch system equalizes pressure
with the outside. He forcibly unclenches his jaw. He finds his
mouth has dried out. His palms are damp. He hears the outer
lock begin its release cycle. His heart is now thudding like a
drum within him. He realizes that this is the biggest step in
his life so far. He pictures himself telling the story to his
grandchildren, great-grandchildren... Time has turned into slow
The outer hatch motors begin to whir and the thick outer
hatch begins sliding away. A moment later a gap pops into being.
A growing, black vertical line into the local night. John's
trained instincts take over and he crouches slightly, his eyes
widening, prepared for the unknown.
As the hatch slides all the way open, he feels a cool breeze
carrying scents from the meadows and local agriculture
surrounding his rocky hideaway. John steps out and down to the
sandy ground of the clearing around the ship. Earth! An amazing
feeling of safety and tranquillity sweeps over him. This is
home! And, he knows there will be no historic danger in this
region for many years. The air, the temperature, the gravity,
everything he senses seems perfectly natural, delightful, normal.
There is no moon. The night sky is only partly cloudy and
the stars he can see shine with a clean brilliance -- there is
not enough light for him to safely maneuver through the rocks to
leave the outcropping and explore. He could get his computer-
ears and have them guide him, but he decides to wait until
morning. He returns to the ship...
* * *
Too excited to get to sleep, John decided to put together a
costume to wear outside during his explorations. First, he
requested any information regarding clothing around 1887 A.D. in
France from the on-board computer. Before leaving Infinity City,
he had down-loaded from the Infinity City Library as much
information as his ship's memory could hold regarding his target
time on Earth. The computer spent only a few moments searching
then began displaying digitally stored copies of photographs from
late nineteenth century France.
The photographs were in poor shape, perhaps having been
handed down through Infinity City families for many centuries.
However, John One discovered an effective image enhancer in the
ship's software library which turned the poor black & white
images into sharp, colorful three dimensional representations, as
realistic as if he were looking into a hand-held window into the
Next, John brought out a sophisticated sewing machine,
supplied by his uncle, and a bolt of the generic synthetic cloth
specially designed for it. He placed both on the deck of the
pilot room. The sewing machine was a gray, rectangular plastic
box about three feet wide, one foot high and about half a foot
deep. He activated the sewing machine by pressing its only
button located on the top near the carrying handle. Its little
display screen on the other side of the handle showed the number
of the wireless communication channel and device identification
code that the sewing machine is "listening to" in bright,
blinking green numbers. John went to the ship's computer
terminal and typed in the channel number and identification code
of the sewing machine. He then instructed the computer to
download to the sewing machine the dimensions, color and texture
of the clothing in the photographs.
It takes over a minute for the two machines to work out a
mutually understandable communication format. When when they
eventually do, all the information regarding the clothing is
successfully copied to the sewing machine.
He then pulled up the spindle for the cloth and mounted the
bolt of cloth on the spindle. Next, he pulled open the plastic
front panel of the sewing machine revealing a long slot toward
the top of the front side for the raw material cloth and another
slightly wider slot for ejecting the finished product. John
inserted the synthetic cloth into the hopper slot.
Next, John looks the sewing machine over for a control panel
but finds none. He puts his hands on his hips as he leans over
the sewing machine frowning at it. He doesn't know how to start
it. There is no control panel, he has never used one before, and
it did not come with an instruction watch. *2. He presses the
activation button again but the display screen just displays
John asks, "Ship computer, how do I make this sewing machine
The computer replies in a flat voice, "Unknown."
John feels slightly guilty at having left on his voyage
without checking out this piece of equipment. He had been
excited about this, his first Adventure. Though, to those who
knew him back at Infinity City, he seemed as calm and cool as
He once again spoke, "Computer, ask the sewing machine over
its comm channel how to start it."
A few moments later the ship's computer reports,
"Communication acknowledged by the sewing machine, but no data
"Computer, ask it for instructions."
Another few moments, "Communication acknowledged, but no
"How do I start you?!" John asks the stubborn sewing
machine, as he looks it over once again.
He sits back and calmly strokes his chin while staring at
the silent gray box on the deck. He has never let uncooperative
behavior by computers anger him. He needs a local costume that
will "fit in" here and that means he has to get this machine
Suddenly, he yells, "Computer! Order this damn sewing
machine to start making the clothes!"
"Acknowledged," the computer says.
The sewing machine whirs into life and begins feeding in the
bolt of synthetic cloth. The bolt stops feeding then starts
again, then stops, then starts. This process continues
accompanied by all sorts of interesting sounds from the inside of
the sewing machine. John begins to smell a slight melted plastic
The sound of a little bell goes off and out of the bottom
slot for finished products slides a floppy, brown hat, just like
in the photograph. The machine whirs back into life, rolling in
more raw material synthetic cloth.
John watches with satisfaction as the machine produces one
by one: coat, trousers, socks, underclothes, a thin necktie, a
neckerchief, a belt, and boots. BOOTS! The boots are rather
floppy and more cloth-like than leather-like, but John discovers
they are big enough to fit over his regular foot-gear. Some of
the clothes are the same color. Some different. But, all
Amazingly, all the clothing fits just fine. Upon quizzing
his ship's computer he learned that it had initially sent the
sewing machine only relative dimensions of the clothing in the
picture, not knowing the exact dimensions of the pictured
clothing. The sewing machine had then asked the ship's computer
for the dimensions of the person who would be wearing the
clothing. The ship's computer had fortunately predicted that the
person would be John.
It had gotten quite late. John yawned, feeling very sleepy.
He would venture forth in the morning. He donned night clothes,
happily climbed into his bunk, and drifted into an exciting dream
about returning to Infinity City to the adoration of his family
with an incredible treasure he had brought back from France...
CHAPTER 6 - EARTH
In the morning, the ship glints in the new sunlight. The
outer hatch slides slowly open and a young man emerges, dressed
in ordinary (for the area and era) country clothes and a cap.
However, if anyone looked closely they would see a small, strange
object inserted inside each ear. These are his COMPUTER-EARS.
Miniaturized, portable computers that let him understand and be
understood by the local French and also let him maintain contact
with his ship.
His pockets contain pieces of gold, silver, and small
quantities of synthesized precious (for the time period) gems.
In a secret belt around his waist: emergency medical supplies and
food rations. In his pocket: the deadly explosive projectile
A little smile plays across his lips as he jumps to the
ground and jauntily sets off across the clearing. He picks his
way carefully through the rocks and finds himself in a grassy
wild meadow with small red and yellow wildflowers waving in the
vigorous morning breeze. The light scent of flowers, the AROMA
of Earth, almost intoxicates him.
A dirt road, almost a trail, can be seen a short way off.
In the direction in which the road leads he sees the geometric
shapes of agricultural divisions as well as some strange long,
low object in the indeterminate distance, perhaps part of a
village. John One decides to follow the road.
Just as he sets out through the gently waving grasses, he
looks back and sees the sun reflecting off the silvery nose of
his ship, conspicuously sticking up from amongst the surrounding
Nervously, he looks around expecting to see a crowd of
pitchfork wielding villagers descending on him. But, there is
nothing but the surrounding, rolling countryside underneath a
brilliant, clear blue sky and a few moving clouds. He hastens
back to his ship to take care of the problem.
Back at the base of the ship, John whispers to his computer-
ears the command to open the ship's main hatch. It slides open,
he jumps in, smacks the "CLOSE" button, and leaps up the spiral
stairway, two steps at a time. Once up in the pilot room, he
pulls down on a handle in the ceiling and a large section of it
tilts down to the floor revealing the inner cone full of the sail
control electro-mechanical systems. The back of the tilted
"ceiling" has ladder rungs allowing him to climb up into the
inner nose cone. Once there, he unscrews the restraining cone
"dogs" and deactivates the magnetic air seals. He then flips
open a small covered button located on a thick, power hinge and
presses the button. This causes the emergency nose hatch to
slowly swing open.
John cautiously peeks over the edge and begins turning
completely around. He sees nothing more than the surrounding
countryside, the rough road tangent to the small rocky
outcropping and the strange object on the far horizon. It is a
wall surrounding a large town! But, there is no sign of anyone
John then ducks back inside, backs down the rungs of the
"ceiling" ladder and goes one level down the ship's spiral
stairway to the storage hold between the pilot room and the lower
engine room. From deep within a storage bin of various
provisions for this voyage he pulls a coil of thick, dark green
tubing which is actually a sack for a sophisticated camouflage
device. He also pulls out its small, hand-held control box which
he leaves on a shelf beside the spiral stair. He quickly takes
the tube back up to the nose cone.
Once inside the nose cone, he finds enough room to brace his
feet on either side of the hole and stands up through the
emergency hatchway until he is halfway out of the ship. He
unwinds the spiral tube, dangling it down the outer side of the
ship until it is roughly straight, then carefully he smoothly
pulls off the dark green sack to reveal the camouflage mesh. In
the sunlight, the tiny interlocking links sparkle and reflect
like diamonds. The liquid crystalline structure within is in its
base state, which is transparency.
The mesh was doubled before it was rolled, like a piece of
paper folder over once and then rolled up. John separates the
two edges and then starts unrolling the mesh with one edge
draping down over one side of the ship and the other edge
descending down the other.
Once it is all rolled out from the top of the ship all the
way down to the ground, he carefully re-closes the escape hatch
not bothering with the mechanical hatch "dogs," but prudently
reactivating the magnetic air seal to keep out any rain. He
descends to the pilot room and tilts the ceiling ladder closed.
He makes his way back down the spiral stairway, grabbing the
camouflage mesh's control box on the way.
Once in the engine room, he smacks the main hatch's "OPEN"
button and waits for the hatch to slide open. Once open, all he
sees is the shiny glassiness of the camouflage mesh rustling
slightly in the breeze. It was "cut" to fit his ship back at an
outfitting shop in Infinity City, so he is able to grasp its
bottom edge just below the hatchway and easily lift it up and
He looks around at the surrounding clearing and the rocky
outcroppings jutting upwards. He lifts the camouflage mesh
control box. It is black and rectangular with a bulging circular
lens at one end, a display panel in the middle of one side, with
some buttons at the far end. The panel reads in black letters on
a white background: "Mesh Status: DEACTIVATED/TRANSPARENT."
Below that, in flashing green letters: "Press <1> and scan."
John, familiar with the operation of the device, through his
militia training, presses and holds the button marked <1> at the
end and walks all the way around the ship swinging the camouflage
mesh controller this way and that so the bulging lens can record
all the immediate colors, textures and shapes.
Once around the ship, the device is so intelligent that it
emits a soft chime letting John know that it has seen everything.
The small display panel now reads in flashing yellow letters:
"Touch to mesh and press <2>."
John holds the device up so that it is pushing the
camouflage mesh against the side of the ship and presses the <2>
button. The device begins transmitting the color and texture
data down to the camouflage mesh. Each crystalline, hexagonal
link of the mesh covering the ship has its own tiny microcomputer
with an individual identity. Each will be given a specific color
and texture program. The programs will even contain time
parameters to make the color and texture fit the slant of the sun
and nighttime conditions.
As this process takes place, John watches the little display
show percentage completion: "10%... 20%..." and finally "90%...
100%." There is another soft chime and the ship suddenly turns
into a hard, dirty yellow. John jerks back in surprise. Then
looks up and backs further away. His ship has become an
outcropping of rock! He smiles in satisfaction.
Going over to the "rock", he lifts up a fold of the mesh,
finds the main hatch, slides the control box inside and lets the
mesh fall back into place. He tells his computer-ears "Tell the
ship to close the main hatch" and hears this occur.
Walking all around the ship again, he satisfies himself that
it is safely camouflaged. He then leaves the outcropping of
rocks and walks over to the road. This time, looking back he
sees nothing but rocks. He smiles and heads off down the road in
the direction of the town in the distance whistling a brisk
march, popular with the Militia Guard of Infinity City.
CHAPTER 7 - ARLES
Surrounded by the rolling green hills, the bright blue sky
with billowing white clouds and the warm scented breeze, John
began to feel he was in some sort of enchanted land out of a
childrens' fairy tale. Birds wheeled overhead in the late
morning sunshine. He saw a rabbit run into its hole at the base
of a tree. There was a small cat in the nearby grasses pouncing
after mice. So much life everywhere! He thought how artificial
Infinity City was in comparison. A complete creation by man.
Beyond the wall, the structure in the distance grew larger.
It was round and the color of stone. Behind it, he also began to
see some of the town's church towers spring up. Curious, he
quickened his step.
The road went through a wide unguarded opening in the wall.
Once through the wall, he began to see people walking along a
road from the nearby town and entering the structure. He stopped
and stared. The structure looked like a large arena or coliseum.
It was made of stone. This was a Roman coliseum! There could be
no doubt. He asked: "Computer-ears, is the communication link
with the ship established?"
"Yes, normal function," it replied.
He turned his head so that one of his ears was pointed at
the coliseum and ordered, "Computer-ears, scan that building,
send the image to the ship computer and ask it if that is a Roman
"Acknowledged... Ship computer reports, 'Yes. Earth Roman
coliseum from estimated year AD 50 plus or minus 80 years."
John was struck with confusion. He must be in the time of
ancient Rome, but all his celestial calculations had indicated
the nineteenth century! He decided to investigate and continued
toward the coliseum.
When he was only a few hundred yards away, he stopped and
could see the details of the clothing being worn by the people.
He was relieved to see similarities to his own garb. He smiled
to himself at the excellent job of camouflaging both the ship and
Then he squinted and frowned. French peasants from the
nineteenth century entering a Roman coliseum? His eyes grew
wide. What if what the Grand Dames had been worried about had
come true?! What if the Infinity City Adventurers' meddling with
Time had finally had a chaotic effect? It was like universal
order was unraveling. Maybe different points in Time were
All the cosmological theories taught by Academy professors
had always seemed unimportant to John. But, faced with seeming
proof of a catastrophe beyond comprehension he wished that he had
paid more attention to the endless lecturers and late night
discussions during his Academy days regarding the chaotic effect
The last few people entered the immense structure and there
were no more. John frowned wondering what to do next. He
checks: "Computer-ears, is the French language translation
The computer-ears replied quietly, "Program ready," using
John's own voice.
John directed the computer-ears to slowly translate anything
he said into French. He would then repeat the phrases. He had
practised this on the voyage to Earth and had familiarized
himself with the current French allophones. He once again
chastised himself for not actually learning French on the way
over. But, he had disliked the few courses he had been required
to take in non-English languages at the academy and Infinity City
Adventurers swore by the usefulness of computer-ears which had
been around for centuries.
He said, "How do I say, 'What is happening here, today?'"
The computer-ears immediately responded in his own voice with the
French equivalent. He repeated the phrases, enjoying the
rolling, musical quality of the language. The Infinity City
accent of English seemed so terse in comparison.
"I think I'm ready," he said to himself. The computer-ears
once again translated exactly what he had said in French. He
smiled a little to himself and proceeded once again toward the
road leading to the structure.
He got to the road, which was just black dirt, hard packed
from years, maybe centuries of use and walked into the coliseum
through a tall archway of some ancient kind of wood. He was in a
passageway between the entrance behind him and a bright exit
before him to a sunlit area in the center of the building. The
building smelled very musty and primitive.
Suddenly, there was the sound of several horned instruments
through the sunlit opening. He also heard the sound of metal and
wood banging and then the cheers of a large crowd. He crept
At the end of the passageway, a man shorter than John stood
with arms folded peering over a wooden wall a few feet in front
of him. John looked around. Behind the wall, and curving around
in both directions, was row upon row of primitive seating
partially filled with people. There was also a large, shabbily
dressed man with an easel painting the scene not too far away.
John came up beside the man in front of him. He wore
peasant trousers and a soft, red official-looking jacket with
matching low cap. At his waist, was slung an ornate sword. The
man looked at him, nodding with a big grin then looked back over
the wall. John asked in French, "What is happening here, today?"
The man spoke without looking at him, "Bullfight, of course!"
Puzzled by the answer, John looked over the wall and was
shocked at what he saw! A man in a bright green suit, with
flashing sequins all over, wearing a square black hat, stood at
one side of the open area facing a gigantic black bull at the
other side of the area. A sword dangled from the man's belt. He
was just standing there holding a large piece of material the
same green color as his suit. The bull looked menacingly at the
man, its head lowered almost to the ground. It had been stuck
with several small swords which dangled from its sides. Blood
could be seen glistening in the bull's coat.
John looked around. The open area with the man and bull was
encircled by the wooden wall at about John's chest height.
Around this was row upon row of wooden benches, almost full of
people excitedly leaning forward, all eyes on the man and the
Suddenly, the crowd yelled and John looked quickly to see
the bull charging forward toward the man who was still just
standing there holding the piece of material. John felt panicked
and thought the man was going to be trampled. He reached into
his pocket for his handgun, but hesitated. If this was all some
chaotic problem with Time, he could make things worse by
interfering with a device from a different technological era.
The bull was closing the gap rapidly. Was this some kind of
sacrifice? But at the last second the man nimbly and with almost
formal grace stepped to the side without moving the large green
piece of material. The stupid bull roared toward the material
ignoring the man. The man quickly lifted the material just as
the bull went into it. Seeing the wooden wall just a few yards
away, the bull ground to a halt, coming to a stop inches from the
wall. The crowd roared with acclaim.
Immediately though, the bull pivoted around with amazing
agility and charged the man again who once more feinted the bull
with his piece of material.
This went on again and again. Charge and feint, charge and
feint, the crowd growing louder and more excited all the time.
Soon, the open area of the arena began to grow cloudy with the
dust the bull had been kicking up. The high sides of the
coliseum prevented the breeze from blowing the dust away.
The man in the arena led the bull to the opposite side where
he and the bull disappeared in the growing dust. John could hear
the cheers of the crowd from the other side rising and falling.
Suddenly, the man emerged from the cloud of dust, running along
the wooden wall to John's right. He looked scared and it was
clear that he had lost track of the bull.
Then, catastrophe struck! The bull came charging out of the
dust faster than John could believe any animal could run,
coincidentally heading straight for the running man. Its head
was down and turned slightly to the side, as if it didn't care
what was in front of it. But it saw the man and actually
increased its speed until its legs were a blur of flying hooves.
This was so close that John could now feel the rumble of the
mighty galloping bull through his feet. The man stumbled to a
halt and, with awe-inspiring bravery, raised the material
directly before him with his back inches in front of the wooden
And then, with almost magical swiftness, the man once again
skipped to the side. With a flash of bright green, the bull
burst through the material and smashed into the wooden wall with
an explosion of sound and flying wooden splinters.
The nearby crowd, seeing what had happened, cheered and
yelled in hysterical excitement and began to applaud. The people
on the other side of the wall screamed in panic. As the dust
cleared, John could see the bull only a few paces away actually
now stuck halfway through the old wooden wall. The bull was
snorting loudly and digging his hooves in the dirt, driving
himself forward. People in front of the bull were leaping off
the benches, climbing over each other in panic, knocking over the
benches and falling over until no one was getting anywhere.
An elegant older lady and a young girl sat on the bench
closest to the bull, staring at it with hands raised to their
faces, frozen in terror. The girl was closest to John. On the
other side of both of them, a small gentleman in a dark suit was
frantically pulling at the older lady. John could hear him
shouting, "Marian! Run! Run! The beast is almost free! Come
on!" He finally pulled the lady up and began dragging her into
the crowd trying to escape.
John realized with shock and greater confusion that the man
was shouting in English, though with a strange accent.
But, now the bull was pulling itself forward, out from the
planks of the wall, toward the poor frightened girl still staring
at the bull only a few feet away.
John took a step toward the bull, his fists clenched in
frustration. Should he interfere? Should he use a gun from
John was a man from Infinity City, a product of his family's
timeless honor and trained by the centuries old proud and brave
Infinity City Militia Guard. He could not stand there and watch
this girl get killed, even if this was the past where this had
John went into action! He spun around, grabbed the handle
of the sword worn by the guard, who was just staring at the bull
with a wide-eyed disbelieving look. John yanked the sword out.
The man mumbled something incoherent and stumbled away. John
turned toward the bull.
The bull lunged forward and people watching from the
panicked crowd screamed hysterically. Some women were crying and
John could hear a man chanting some religious sounding litany.
Some planks that had made up the top portion of the wall had
collapsed down, trapping the bull's hind quarters. It crouched
its hind legs and at the same time extended its front legs,
lifting up the front part of its body to tip its rump down and
out from the restraining planks. John saw his chance!
Bracing the sword under his arm, with the blade parallel to
the bull's ribs, he lunged forward. The sword stabbed cleanly
into the side of the bull's rib cage and John drove it in with
all his might. The bull bellowed a terrifying roar! John
slammed against his hands holding the hilt of the sword again and
again, burying it inch by inch through the beast's chest.
Finally, it came to a stop, pushing against the ribs on the
The bull was now standing quite still. John leapt back.
Looking down, he saw his handgun lying on the ground near the
bull. He had felt it bouncing around in his pocket while he had
been lunging against the hilt of the sword, driving into the
bull. It must have bounced out of the pocket! The bull turned
its head to stare at John with a stupid, almost indifferent look,
then collapsed to the ground, on top of the gun, its final breath
blowing up a small dust cloud from its muzzle lying in the dirt.
John turned toward the girl on the bench just as her eyes,
momentarily meeting his, began to close and she swayed to the
side. But he quickly reached forward and caught her before she
could fall from the bench. Lifting her slight form in his arms,
he looked around wondering what to do next. He found his
thoughts distracted by the warm, soft body he held -- he had
been away from Infinity City and female companions for a long
time. Her perfume filled his nose...
Some of the people around him began to clap and cheer. He
saw they were looking at him!
Now that the bull was dead, the panicked crowd began to
regain its composure. Men picked up their hats and shook their
fists threateningly at the motionless black body. People began
crowding around him. He was being clapped repeatedly on the
The man, who had been with the girl and the older lady, came
over from where he had found a place for the lady to sit down.
He turned to John and said something in French which the
computer-ears translated as, "That was a very brave act, young
John replied, "Thank you," in English, forgetting that he
only needed to whisper for his computer-ears to hear. They
whispered "Merci," but before he could mimic this, the man
surprisingly began speaking in English:
"Ah! You aren't French, you're English! Wonderful!" the
man said with delight. He continued, "That accent sounds
American, sort of. You just saved several lives, I believe.
Including perhaps, mine, my wife's, and her maid, there in your
arms. Here, let me gather up my wife and let us all leave this
barbarous old place." He left John, went over to his wife,
gently took her hand and led her back to John. "Come, young man,
out through the passageway..." He led his dazed and bedraggled
wife past John and into the passageway. John followed him, still
holding the unconscious girl.
As he followed the other two out, he looked down at the
girl. She was very pretty, and light as a feather it seemed to
John. She felt so warm against him. It was a nice feeling.
Once outside, the man speaking English led his wife and John
over to a tree where he and his wife plopped down in the grass
under the shade of the tree. As John gently lowered the girl,
her eyes fluttered open and she stared with surprise into his
face. She said something softly in French which John's computer-
ears translated as, "What happened? Who are you?"
The man said brusquely and in English, "No need for French,
Yvette. This is an American. He speaks English." And, then to
John he extended his hand and said, "How do you do, my gallant
young hero. I happen to be Edward Rothchild, England's
ambassador to France. Who might you be?"
John took the man's hand and the man moved it vigorously up
and down. Hand shaking was not an Infinity City custom, though
John had seen this ritual in old digitally recorded movies from
Earth, which his mother was fond of. A man of Infinity City
greets another man usually by reaching forward both hands and
taking hold of the other's hands or wrists, forearms, upper arms,
shoulders, neck, or head, depending on how familiar the two are
and how excited they are to see each other. The women of
Infinity City tend toward a more dignified embrace, with a gentle
kiss on the cheek or, with the immediate family, the mouth.
Between men and women there was no established custom. It was
left to the mood of the moment.
John said, "My name is John One." His computer-ears kept
translating in French, but quiet enough so that John did not need
to turn them off. "I'm a stranger here. I just arrived. Can
you tell me if this is Rome?"
"Rome?!" the ambassador said humorously. "Young man, I
think you had better sit down. You must be a little befuddled."
John sat down on the soft grass near the ambassador's maid who
was smiling at him.
John said, "I has trying to get to France," and he gestured
at the coliseum, "I came across this coliseum and thought I was
in Rome. But, you speak English."
"Hah! Young man, this IS France. This arena or 'coliseum,'
as you put it, was built centuries ago BY the Romans to feed the
locals, Christians of course, to the lions. They use it now only
for bull fighting from time to time. You don't have bullfighting
in America, do you?"
John mumbled, "There's no bullfighting where I come from..."
The Englishman chuckled. "What a mess we all are! Marian,
look at yourself. You look as though the bull got to you."
The ambassador's wife replied, "Oh, that disgusting beast!
These wretched French and their wretched customs!"
"Spanish, dear. Bullfighting is Spanish in origin, you
know," he admonished.
"Well, where ever it is from, I shall never attend again!
Barbarous! Typical of the Spanish, of course. Oh, Edward, let's
go back to your cousin's home and get cleaned up. Just look at
my dress! How could I ever have let you talk me into attending a
bullfight. A bullfight!" She gathered herself together and
stood to go. "Come along, Yvette!" she looked thoughtfully at
John. "Young man, why don't you come and call this evening after
we've all cleaned up? We are staying at the home of the
ambassador's cousin, the house just beside the little art gallery
on the main street of town. We shall expect you at eight
o'clock!" She looked toward her husband, raised her nose into
the air, arched her eyebrows in a regal fashion and said, "Come
along, Edward! I think it's high time for a nice pot of tea!"
And with that, she swirled about and headed off.
The ambassador looked at John and shrugged with a good-
natured closed-mouth smile that made his cheeks bulge out like
red apples. "Come by later, John! See you this evening." And
with that, he turned to follow his wife marching away with her
maid obediently following behind.
John said to himself, "This IS France! And, with a Roman
coliseum!" He chuckled and shook his head, relieved that there
was no cosmic catastrophe after all. He looked around. Some
people were milling around, but most were returning home toward
the town in the distance.
He decided to return to his ship and clean himself up. He
had an invitation from the English ambassador to nineteenth
century France. Amazing!
Then, John remembered their beautiful young maid. Yvette!
He hurried off toward the ship, delighted with his adventure.
What a dream come true! How proud his family would be when he
returned with all these adventurous stories!
CHAPTER 8 - FRENCH CAFE
The sun was high overhead when John reached his ship. He
slipped through the camouflage netting, entered the ship, went up
to the pilot room and living quarters, and began preparing
himself a lunch of ship's rations. Then he stopped, thinking to
himself, 'This is nineteenth century France! They must have
restaurants by now!' So, he put away the ship's rations, checked
the gold, silver, and gems in his pockets, then left the ship for
the local town.
He followed the same route as before. It was afternoon when
he walked past the coliseum where his bullfight had taken place.
No one was in sight. John, feeling great excitement, followed
the road into the little town nearby.
He found himself on a small street paved with rounded stones
and lined with a variety of shops, most with a second story
containing what looked to be living quarters. Here and there,
oldsters sat on rickety old chairs in the warm afternoon
sunshine, watching John walk past with mild curiosity. A black
enameled cart with bright red seats being pulled by a horse went
by. It was driven by a man wearing a fine white suit with a
wide-brimmed hat. To John, the cart made a great deal of noise
as it bounced along the stone street with its steel shod wheels.
He noted curiously that someone had nailed steel to the bottom of
the horses hooves. The man flipped the reins controlling the
horse. The horse flipped its tail and increased its speed.
All in all, it was a quiet town and no one paid him much
At the very next street corner, John found a little cafe
with three sets of tables and chairs outside on a covered porch
made of dark red painted wood. A thick, timber post at the
corner of the porch supported the roof and was decorated with
baskets of bright flowers: red roses, orange marigolds, white
lilies and soft blue irises.
At the far table, a skinny man with a red beard and close
cropped hair emphatically lectured another man who was nodding
sagely. Their voices were low, but John's computer-ears
translated bits and pieces of their interesting conversation.
John looked around wondering what the proper custom was
here. He decided to do what he would do at an Infinity City
cafe. He sat down and folded his hands on the table. He felt
self-conscious in spite of the fact that no one was paying him
any attention. He hoped his small ingots of gold and silver
would be negotiable so he would not have to figure out the value
of local currency.
Eventually, a portly middle-aged man wearing an apron and
wiping a glass came strolling out of the cafe. He turned to John
with a sleepy look, his thick black wavy hair hanging down and
dangling before his eyes. He began speaking in French with an
air of bored authority. John's computer-ears began translating:
"Yes, sir. Tell me what you want."
John looked down at the ground and mumbled to himself,
"Something for lunch, please." His computer-ears told him what
to say in French and he repeated this to the man who was the
proprietor of the cafe.
His computer-ears translated the proprietor's response: "Ah
well, sandwiches are very popular these days. I have several
already prepared for my afternoon guests. Would you like a
sandwich, a bowl of soup, a bottle of our delightful local blanc
"Yes, that would be fine," he replied, mumbling first to the
computers ears and then in French.
The proprietor tilted his head and squinted at John, "Ah,
you are an Englishman, no?"
John said, "Oui," but then thought he had better keep his
story consistent with what he had already told the ambassador.
"No, I am from America. Far away."
"Ah, America! My only son left and went away to New York
last year. We have just received a letter from him! What tales
he tells! Are they all true? They must be. He has no
imagination." He looked up into the sky, "Ah, if I were young
again I suppose that I, too, would wish to visit another world."
John looked up into the sky wondering what world the man was
The proprietor looked back at John, shrugged and asked,
"Well, I have not been young for a long time. I will continue
spending my days feeding people. And what brings you here to our
John could be honest, "I am looking for works of art to
purchase and bring back to... my home world."
"Ah, you are an art merchant! Well, well," he glanced in
the direction of the two other guests, lowered his voice, "Do you
see those two gentlemen over there? The one with the red beard
is a painter. The one with him is a doctor... HIS doctor." He
leaned close and whispered, "Stay away from the one with the red
beard! He is crazy -- a crazy Dutchman! He has been here since
the bullfight. I ask him who he is; he looks at me with eyes on
fire; and he does not even know! A crazy man! So I telephone
the insane asylum at St. Remy. You know what? THAT is where he
is FROM! They send a doctor, the man he is now with. CRAZY
DUTCH!" He shook his head, straightened and suggested, "For
marvelous works of art, go see Monsieur Raton! He is our art
dealer with a fine little gallery at the end of the street," and
he pointed the way.
John leaned forward looking in the direction he was
pointing. "Is the house just past the art dealer where the
English ambassador is staying?"
"Yes, yes! How did you know this?"
"I have an invitation for dinner there this evening."
"Ah! How lucky you are, my friend. My YOUNG friend. For
the maid of the house is the prettiest girl in all of Arles!"
There was something familiar to John about the name Arles.
"'Arles,'" he repeated. "Is that the name of this town?"
The proprietor looked at him in surprise, then with an
exaggerated gesture felt John's forehead for fever. "My young
friend, of course this is Arles! The fairest town in all the
south of France!" He winked and teased, "Maybe you are a little
crazy like that painter over there." And he jerked a thumb in
the direction of the two men at the other table.
John One improvised, "There's been so many towns I've
visited since leaving, uh, America that I just got confused."
"Understandable! Quite understandable for a young world
traveler such as yourself!" He waved a finger in the air, "But
first, a magnificent lunch for you, so you will have strength for
this evening should you chance to meet the fair Yvette." He
winked, turned and strolled back into the cafe.
John was in the town of Arles. He thought to himself. What
was it about this town that he should know about? He just could
Shortly, the proprietor re-appeared with a tray and laid
before John a plate of little sandwich triangles, a bowl of
steaming dark brown soup with the rich aroma of mushrooms, a
dusty bottle of white wine and a glass. He set the tray down on
the nearby vacant table, took the wine bottle in both hands, bit
down on the exposed portion of the cork with his gleaming white
teeth and with an experienced jerk of his head, popped the cork
right out of the bottle.
Next, he poured into the glass and while doing so amazingly
quickly lifted the bottle high above the glass and then back down
without spilling a drop. "Enjoy, enjoy, Monsieur!" He smiled,
bowed and went back inside the cafe.
John ate his meal while listening to the other two men
discussing art, as translated by his computer-ears. Eventually,
they both yawned, stretched and slowly moved off down the street.
The proprietor eventually came out and cleared away their table,
pocketing with surprise the generous number of coins they had
left behind. He nodded to John with a friendly smile as he
carried a tray containing the remains from the table back into
It was a lazy afternoon. The soft, French wine relaxed him
and made life seem to glow. He sat for a long, long time just
watching the simple easy life of the nineteenth century going by.
The proprietor drifted over now and then to see if there was
anything he wanted or just to chat. For a while, he saw many
people going by carrying baskets of food stuffs, long baguettes
of French bread sticking way up out of every basket. Then, there
was no one and the town seemed itself to fall asleep for an
Toward midafternoon a delightful turn of events took place.
Looking across the street, John spotted the ambassador's pretty
French maid: Yvette. She was strolling along slowly, as if out
for a walk. She looked over toward the cafe and saw John
regarding her. She came to a stop and smiled. Then, she turned
toward him, took a step, but then stopped and looked back down
Finally, she looked back at John and with a shy smile
proceeded to cross the street. She was wearing her maid's
uniform: short sleeved black blouse, short black skirt, white
frills all around with a large white bow about her waist, all
fluttering in the warm, floral scented afternoon breeze.
As she stepped up to the cafe's porch, shyly approaching
John, he rose to greet her. Taking her hand and gazing into her
soft dark brown eyes she seemed twice as beautiful as before.
She had a wide mouth with very red lips and an easy smile. Her
brunette hair was braided together in a circle on top of her
head, a pleasing style John had never seen before. Her little
maid's uniform complimented her exceptional figure. John
wondered if she were married...
In English, forgetting to use his computer-ears, he asked
her to sit down. However, she understood and immediately took
the chair he offered. He asked, "Do you speak English?"
"Oh yes, ever since I was a little girl!" she replied with
an exquisite, almost musical French accent to her English. She
went on to explain that her father's second wife -- her mother --
Then she asked him his name. "I'm John. John One", he
said, entranced by her beauty and simplicity of nature. Her face
was without imperfection and aristocratically pale though John
noticed a slight, naturally warm hue as if it was reflecting a
golden sunset. Her thick eyebrows, forming a straight black line
above each eye, were most alluring. "You are Yvette?" he asked.
"Yes," and she grew serious. "You were so brave.
I cannot believe what you did. That animal was terrifying!"
"I'm lucky that man with the sword was standing nearby!
What a strange activity?" He shook his head looking at the
table. Then, looking at her, "What were you all doing there?"
"What? It was a bullfight! You have not seen one?"
"Oh, but you could be the greatest of all bullfighters,
monsieur! Never have I seen such courage. You must be a
bullfighter already! You are teasing me!" And she turned her
head to give him a sideways glance and blinked the long lashes of
her eyes. John felt his heart beating strongly.
"No, I have never been to a bullfight!"
"Yes your accent is strange. You are a foreigner. You are
Her eyes lit up and she lifted her face with a broad smile.
"American! You are from America? Oh, America! Tell me about
it. I would love to go there!"
Now he was on the spot. He hated lying. However, the
Adventurers in his family had advised him not to tell people in
the past about Infinity City or anything that was beyond their
understanding. He tried to remember what he had learned of
America from school. In the Militia Guard Academy, they had
studied some American military achievements and of course the
constitution-based democratic government system; Infinity City's
own constitution, the original one itself written by the Original
Builders, was sealed in a glass chamber rumored to be the very
one that stored the original American constitution. There were
many ancient original documents proving that Infinity City had
been founded by the last of the Americans, fleeing from some
impending Earth disaster, long forgotten. But, the greatest of
all Infinity City mysteries was the nature of this impending
disaster. All electronic records of this time had been erased by
the Original Builders. Only a few secret paper-based diaries
mentioned it, and only with terrified generalities.
He tried to generalize, "Um, America is a wonderful place.
Very modern. They have a constitutional government, you know."
"Yes, but what does America look like? What city are you
"Well, um, I'm from Infinity City."
"Infinity City? I have never heard of it. You must be from
a small town, no?"
"It's not small. But, it is way out in the frontier. Are
you from this town, um, Arles?"
She sat back and sighed, "Oui, this is my little town. Here
I start, and here I stay. My father was killed in Africa many
years ago. I take care of my mother here. She has no family in
England. She lives with an old friend who is also a widow. We
have many friends here in little Arles..."
They talked about the different people around town. She
seemed to know the most amazing facts about everyone. The
proprietor of the cafe served them a bottle of light, festive
wine from Italy. John had paid for his lunch in nothing less
than gold, so the proprietor had decided that here was a customer
that would expect the best. Fortunately for John, the proprietor
had a weighing scale from an era long gone by and was able to
weigh John's small ingots of gold and exchange some for local
currency, keeping a modest 'exchange fee' for himself.
The wonderful afternoon proceeded. John gazed into Yvette's
eyes as she talked about Arles. She was happy to dominate the
conversation and enjoyed John's undivided attention. John felt a
strange excitement deep down inside and he realized that he was
falling in love with this lovely young French girl. His serious
side told him, "YOU CAN'T FALL IN LOVE WITH A GIRL THAT DOESN'T
EXIST ANYMORE!" But he thought to himself, "I AM AN ADVENTURER
NOW. AND, THIS FEELS LIKE ONE OF THE GREATEST ADVENTURES ANY MAN
FROM INFINITY CITY HAS EVER HAD!"
She was telling him of some little old man with an art shop
next to where the ambassador was staying and her hand was holding
a wine glass on the table. John, listening with half an ear,
reached forward and gently stroked her fingers. She stopped
talking and released the glass, allowing him to take her soft,
feminine hand in his. They looked deeply into each other's eyes,
knowing that each was enjoying the same feeling.
She smiled and said, "You are an interesting man."
"You are a beautiful woman," he said with sincerity and felt
his face flush.
She pursed her lips, her eyes twinkling, and asked slowly,
"You are not married, John?"
"No!" he said quickly, shaking his head. With a pang of
sadness, he thought of the girl he knew back on Infinity City
that he wanted to marry. She, however, was not the marrying
type. Would she ever be? But it did not matter now... He
looked up and said lightly, "I've never been married! I'm too
She laughed gayly, "Too young?! I was already eight years
old when Papa was the age you appear to be now." Then, she sadly
looked down. "That is when we received the letter telling us
that he had been killed on the frontier." She looked up and
sighed, "How nice it would be to have parents to take a young man
like you home to meet."
"I would love to meet your mother!"
"Ah, I would love for you to meet her, but you see, my
mother is bed-ridden and cannot be excited. After we heard about
Papa, she grieved too much. She took sick during a terrible
outbreak of pol... How do you say? 'Poliomyelitis.'" She
pronounced the difficult original term for 'polio' slowly. "I
took a young man home to meet her once and she became hysterical
with the fear that I would leave her. So, I can't do that now."
A young man? John felt his heart beating in his breast
again. "Yvette, is there another right now? Someone else?"
She slowly smiled. To John, it was like a brilliant
sunrise. "No. He is no more." She paused to watch the color
return to his face. She was delighted with such open interest he
showed in her. She patted the hand he was still holding her
with. "Ah, but let us not let things move too fast, my new
friend. It grows late, now..."
"Oh no, stay!" John beseeched her, taking both of her hands
"I would sit talking with you forever, but now I must hurry
away to help with dinner. It will be nice to see you again
tonight! Come early. They will not mind. I am so fond of that
silly old Englishman, and his wife is very kind to me and my
mother." And with that, she rose suddenly, and with a smile so
bright John felt his heart bursting in his chest, she leaned over
and kissed him on both cheeks then hurried off down the street,
in the direction she had come from, turning now and then to wave
and throw more kisses.
John thought to himself, "SHE IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL
FLOWERS. COULD I BRING HER BACK HOME?" He decided to put off
thinking about that and just sat basking in the wonderful
feelings warming his heart. He asked his computers ears for the
time. Finding out it was almost evening, he frowned realizing
that he would have to go all the way back to his ship to wash
himself and build new clothes (his present attire was slightly
soiled due to the altercation with the bull), then come all the
The proprietor noticed him frowning and perceptively asked,
"Monsieur, do you have a place in town as yet?"
John turned to him in puzzlement, asking, "A place?"
"Yes. To stay. If not, I have some very comfortable rooms
upstairs. I even have what I call my Suite Royale with its own
private bath. My brother works with the new lead plumbing!"
John slowly realized with all the gold, silver and gems his
uncle had synthesized for him, life would be very easy here. All
were molecularly accurate and no one in this century would know
they were of artificial structure. He said slowly, "I will need
some fresh clothing..."
"Ah! Our tailor is right next door! While you enjoy a hot
bath, I will purchase for you robes and another set of clothing.
Do I have your permission? Yes?... Good! The tailor will come
after your bath. He can perform miracles in the wink of an eye!
Wait right here for a short while. My wife will arrange your
room and I will prepare a hot bath for you by simply pumping hot
water up to your room from a tank of water that is being heated
beside our stove. Ingenious, yes? My brother will grow rich
with such ideas!" He winked at John, "You should take him back
with you to America!" After receiving, with great delight, a
generous payment on account from John in pure gold, he bowed
deeply then hurried off to make preparations.
John checked his pocket to make sure there was plenty more
Soon, the proprietor came to lead him to his room. The
proprietor's name was Custeau and this sounded familiar to John.
He seemed to remember this as the name of some famous Original
Builder with remarkable genius in creating the artificial
environment of Infinity City based on experience from ancient
Earth building... What was it? Underground or undersea cities?
Well, he could check with the computer later...
CHAPTER 9 - HOME OF THE AMBASSADOR'S COUSIN
It was a warm and pleasant quiet evening when John stepped
off the porch of Custeau's' cafe wearing fresh clothing that the
tailor had indeed custom fit at a moment's notice. He headed
toward the house of the ambassador's cousin. He carried a bottle
of wine as a gift that Custeau had insisted would guarantee a
He walked past several quaint buildings trimmed in glossy
red, yellow and green then finally came to the residence that had
been described to him as belonging to the Ambassador's cousin, a
rich land owner. A fine old two story house with white stucco
facade and a little walkway bordered with colorful flowering
bushes leading up to the doorway.
He was greeted at the door by lovely Yvette who took his
hand for a moment, smiling brightly up at him, and then led him
into the parlor where the Ambassador and his cousin were sitting
enjoying cigars and cognac. They rose and greeted him warmly,
the Ambassador introducing John as "Our dashing American hero!".
The ambassador was dressed in a business suit of the time, and
his cousin, as old as the ambassador, in a white uniform from
some branch of the French military service. He had cool,
piercing eyes and very short, rough gray hair.
Next, the Ambassador's wife Marian came sweeping into the
room wearing an informal pink dress. "Ah, our young hero!" she
said with a merry-cheeked closed mouth smile. She offered her
hand to John who took it and on impulse kissed it as he had seen
done in some old movie from ancient Earth. "And such a
gentleman, even though he is from America," Marian said looking
admiringly at John. She took his proffered bottle of wine.
"Thank you, John, but you didn't have to bring anything.
Especially wine. The basement of this house is well stocked."
The ambassador chuckled and said, "Just something to help
keep us warm during next winter." He chuckled and puffed up his
cigar until he disappeared behind a cloud of thick smoke.
Mrs. Rothchild made an exasperated sound then looked over at
Yvette who stood with a wide smile, blushing, eyes all a glitter
watching John. "Yvette! Open these windows and let out all this
awful smoke," and then to her husband: "Honestly, Edward, I
simply DON'T know how I put up with this foul smelling tobacco
habit of yours!" The Ambassador just chuckled.
They offered John a chair and a glass of cognac which he
accepted. They talked of pleasantries and the local doings, and
whenever the conversation turned round to where John was from he
generalized and evaded much description about America.
Yvette served a platter of little sweet treats at one point
-- she and John exchanging a warm glance. John was surprised at
how comfortable and close people could be from completely
different backgrounds. There was a small fire crackling in the
fireplace now. John noticed its reflection in the cognac glasses
and also the ambassador's spectacles.
Presently, the ambassador asked, "You are a very pleasant
and likeable young man John One. So charming in fact that you've
been here over one hour and I have not even asked you your line
of work." He gave John a penetrating look, reminding John of his
At least now John could be honest. "I'm purchasing art...
For sale in the... new world."
The ambassador leaned back satisfied, "Splendid! There's
such a market for the niceties over there in America. I've heard
they are even buying up pieces and parts of castles from all over
Europe. I'm not sure that even Buckingham and Windsor are safe!"
His cousin and wife laughed at this.
Then the ambassador's cousin raised a finger and exclaimed,
"Ah! Just the man you need to see is right next door."
The ambassador's wife said, "Of course! Monsieur Raton the
art dealer! Shall we send Yvette next door to fetch him 'round?"
"Splendid idea, my darling, splendid!" the ambassador agreed
and they sent Yvette next door to invite Monsieur Raton over.
After Monsieur Raton arrived he was introduced to John, and
provided libation, though he refused a cigar. John explained
that he was going to travel around France using Arles as a base
of operations and acquire works of art that he felt would be
popular back in the "new world."
The art dealer, a very lean and old man, burnt brown from
years of painting in the bright sun, asked pointedly, "What
exactly is your price range, young man? And also, how many
pieces can you manage back to America?"
"Well, as many as my ship will hold and as many as I can buy
with these..." and John brought forth a handful of shining, small
precious metal ingots from one pocket and a handful of sparkling
red, green, and transparent gems from another.
"Good Lord!" shouted the ambassador leaping to his feet, the
ash of his cigar cascading down the wide lapel of his smoking
jacket. The ambassador's wife gasped, her eyes wide with
John said, "I have much more -- back in my ship!"
The ambassador's cousin leaned close, then looked up at John
and commented suspiciously, "That is a remarkable fortune in
treasure you hold in your hands. Was it obtained legally?"
"Philip!" barked the ambassador. "He's not some
Mediterranean pirate. The integrity of this fine fellow is
unimpeachable. He saved our very lives today at the bullfight!"
Monsieur Raton the art dealer commented, "Yes, I heard of
that." He stared at John's treasure with envy, commenting with a
slight bitterness, "These rich Americans are all over poor Europe
these days. They're buying up our heritage and enticing our
youths to emigrate away." He then sighed heavily, "Still, I am
sure Monsieur One, though American, is an honest businessman."
John, taken aback by their reaction, quickly asserted, "Yes,
of course I am honest! My family is one of Infinity City's most
"'Infinity City'?" the ambassador's wife asked. "It sounds
like one of those gold-rush towns in far away California."
"That's where he's from!" cried Yvette, who had been peeking
in through the doorway to the kitchen.
Marian twisted around in her chair and directed, "Yvette!
The kitchen cannot possibly be cleaned up yet. Away with you!"
She waved her finger and Yvette disappeared back to the kitchen.
"Well, I hope SHE didn't see these treasures. She'll tell that
boyfriend of hers. I'm sure he and all his friends are thieves!"
"Now, now, Marian, my dear. She doesn't talk to him and has
nothing to do with him. HE just will not take no for an answer.
Had to chase the young fellow away from her window just the other
night. Remember, Philip? The young blade was prowling around
out back like a cat!"
"Yes, yes. There's so many like him these days. They
should all be pressed into the service!"
The art dealer had not taken his eyes from John's handfuls
of sparkling gems and gold and silver. John put them back in his
pockets and the spell was broken. Monsieur Raton looked up and
offered, "You must see my small inventory next door, young man.
I'm sure there will be something that interests you."
John responded, "Yes, I'll start there. Do you think I have
enough to pay for it right here? I have much more in my ship..."
"More!" exclaimed the ambassador.
The art dealer smiled at John, "My friend, you are so
wealthy! Not only do you have enough there in one handful for my
entire stock, but I must tell you that there is no need for you
to travel around at all. I can arrange to purchase the finest
works from all over France and have them sent right here. I
shall be discreet, of course, so that we do not suffer a plague
of amateurs harassing you day and night.
John looked at the ambassador and his cousin who both smiled
and nodded. He shook Monsieur Raton's hand. The ambassador
said, "Well, it seems a most equitable business dealing has now
been struck. Gentleman, and lady, let us toast to the good
fortune of both young John One here and our good friend Monsieur
Raton!" And with that, the ambassador's cousin Philip broke out
an especially dusty old bottle of local wine and the evening
proceeded in a jolly fashion.
CHAPTER 10 - AN ENCOUNTER
It was late when John finally departed the residence of the
ambassador's cousin Philip. It was a cool, brisk night and so
quiet and still. He headed down the little walkway and into the
street where he turned toward the cafe. He began walking. After
a few steps he heard the sound of a door closing and looked over
to see Yvette emerge from the darkness at the side of the house.
John was near a gas street-lamp. When Yvette had moved within
its cone of light, he saw that she was wearing a soft, olive
green sweater with her arms wrapped tightly around her to ward
off the chill night air. John instantly thought about putting
his arms around her to keep her warm. She walked up to him,
smiled happily up into his face and then began to shiver. He
slowly leaned forward and put his arms about her. She leaned
into him, her head contentedly against his chest.
She said, "Oh John, you are such a very nice friend to
have." Her hands had been clasped to each other, but now she
slipped them anxiously into his open coat and about his waist.
The sensation filled him with an almost electric flow of
pleasure. She was soft and delicate and so very feminine. He
could stand with her here all night long. He slowly, gently
began swaying with her, back and forth, and she let out a sweet
sigh of pleasure.
All too soon, she slowly pulled away, looked up into his
eyes and sadly said, "There are things I still have to do. I
must go now, John." With her eyes half closed, she gave him a
dreamy smile and drifted back to the house. His craving to stay
with her ached within him. Maybe to follow her into the house.
But, that would have been out of place. He watched her disappear
back into the gloom. The side-door of the house opened. He saw
her beautiful silhouette in the light from within, then heard her
lovely voice, "Good night, John!" And then the door closed.
John sighed and headed back to the cafe, thinking of his
cozy little room. He had experienced a wonderful evening with
these fine folk, especially with Yvette peeking in from time to
time to catch his eye. He was caught by complete surprise by
what happened on the way back to the cafe.
He walked slowly back along the main street the way he had
come. He had not had much to drink, disliking being in less than
complete control of himself. Some of the buildings along main
street were free-standing with narrow alleyways between them that
were inky dark at night. John moved to the smooth stone walkway
along a building to avoid the rough stones of the street and
peered into one of these alleyways after he thought he had heard
a rustling sound. Nothing. He continued on.
When he reached the cafe, he noticed a man at one of the
tables holding a glass. There was an empty bottle of wine before
him. A few lamps had been hung from the overhanging roof and
John could see him clearly in the flickering light. But the
man's dark cap hid his face. John proceeded toward the door of
the cafe. Then, he heard the man say, "Monsieur! Come here. I
want to talk to you!"
John turned slowly toward the stranger. The man was looking
up at him and appeared to be young, no more than John's age. He
motioned with the hand not gripping the bottle for John to come
closer. John's instincts raised the red flag.
John walked over to the table warily and asked, "Yes? What
can I do for you?"
"Monsieur... That girl. She is mine! Stay away. Stay
away from her!" He was slurring and obviously drunk.
He thought that the man must have mistaken him for someone
else. "You don't mean Yvette the English ambassador's maid, do
"Yes, yes, of course I mean her, you FOOL! Stay AWAY from
my girl. She is for me only!" His voice was taking on a vicious
John One was not a drinker and had little experience dealing
with drunks. He decided to try reasoning with him, "Yvette has
no relationship with anyone else right now, so she cannot be your
girl. You must have me mixed up with someone else."
Hearing John repeatedly mumbling English for his computer-
ears then speaking French, affected the man oddly. He twisted
his head and his face contorted into a disgusted look, "What is
wrong with you? You are mad! I think I should beat some sense
into you!" He rose slowly, weaving a little, and grabbed the
wine bottle with his right hand. He swung it backward, obviously
preparing a mighty blow for John.
John felt disbelief at how intimately circumstances were
turning out, even though he was thousands of years back in the
past, in an era that should already have been past and turned to
dust. However, he was a well-trained fighter with excellent
reflexes; a supreme warrior of Infinity City's Militia Guard.
John relaxed into combat mode as the man swung the bottle toward
him. He shot out his left hand in a lightening fast knife-punch
to the wrist of the man's arm that was wildly swinging toward
him. The man's hand sprung open and the bottle flew away,
shattering across the cafe porch.
The man snarled and then made a drunken lunge for John with
both hands. The table was already in the man's way so John
quickly swung his right arm up to the right side of the man's
neck and, pressing in, deflected the man's lunge so that he went
painfully crashing over the table which tipped over tossing him
down to the porch which he rolled off of, falling down into the
dust of the street.
There was a shout at the cafe doorway and the owner appeared
holding a lantern and waving a blunderbuss in a threatening
manner. "What is going on out here? Ah, Monsieur John One!
What is happening?" Then, he saw the young ruffian rising
shakily out of the street. "Louis Igrette! I might have known!
Causing more trouble I see. Monsieur One, are you all right?" he
said looking at John.
John replied, "Yes, I'm fine. I think he's drunk. He threw
a bottle at me. It seems he doesn't want me to be friends with
Yvette, the English ambassador's maid."
Custeau looked around his cafe porch, seeing the overturned
table and broken glass. He pointed the large gun at Louis
Igrette, "Off with you, young hoodlum, before I call the
gendarmes. You are lucky you broke nothing more than a bottle.
There are too many of you young trouble makers around these
The drunken Igrette ignored Custeau and made a clumsy leap
at John from the street, but smashed his shin against the edge of
the porch and toppled over to fall at John's feet. Custeau
shouted, "Tap his head a few times with your boot, Monsieur! He
cannot think straight!"
John reached down to the man and offered his hand, "Here,
now. You've had too much alcohol. You are inebriated." But the
man pulled himself painfully up, brushing away John's hand. He
shook his finger at John, "Just stay away from her, you fool!"
He turned toward the cafe owner, spat on the porch, whirled
drunkenly about and reeled away into the night.
"Young raging bull! Why doesn't he find honest work like
yourself, Monsieur One? Here, let me get you a relaxing
"No, no thank you, Monsieur Custeau. I'm very tired and
just want to sleep." He left Custeau to clean up the cafe porch
and went up to his little room where he tugged off the strange
fitting local clothing and fell into the bed, going to sleep
CHAPTER 11 - AT THE GALLERY
John saw Monsieur Raton's fine collection of paintings and
drawings the next day. Based on what John had learned from the
historical section of his ship computer's atomic memory regarding
ancient art, it was a fine collection. They discussed the
business of art collection until John had a clear idea of what he
was looking for.
Monsieur Raton now got busy contacting various dealers and
artists around the country. John found himself free to explore.
Monsieur Raton leant him a rickety but workable bicycle allowing
John to tour around the little town and the surrounding
countryside. It also let him discreetly quickly shuttle back and
forth between the town and his ship.
Every few days when something interesting would arrive at
Monsieur Raton's shop, John would purchase it, carefully roll up
the canvas artwork, wrap it in burlap, then ride off with the
bundle stowed in his bicycle's basket, storing the precious
ancient relic back in his ship. He told those that asked, that
his ship was docked at a secret place, not too far away
And he began to see Yvette regularly at the cafe each
afternoon during her mistresses' nap. Holding her hand at the
table, that soft delightful touch and her gay conversation, made
him feel alive in a way he had never felt before. When he would
look up and see her approaching the cafe smiling, his whole world
would burst into brightness, as if the sun had just come out from
behind a dark cloud.
He found himself trying to think of a way to be alone with
her. Unfortunately, between working at the ambassador's
residence and tending her helpless mother, Yvette was left only
an hour or two each afternoon.
One afternoon however, they were both over at the art
dealer's gallery and John was showing her some amazing new works
that had just arrived. The local telegraph boy rushed in with a
message for Monsieur Raton. It seemed that an important contact
in Paris had the chance to buy out an entire collection from a
gallery that was going out of business. The art dealer
translated the telegraph for John:
"'Dallet Gallery to go out of business. Dallet has
immediate opportunity abroad. Will sell entire collection but
only today. Will wait one hour for reply. -- Gaston.'" He
waved the telegraph in the air and spoke excitedly to John, "This
is a marvelous collection! I have seen it myself. But it will
be very expensive, Monsieur One. That fool Gaston! Purchasing
so many costly older pieces himself instead of selling on
consignment... I TOLD him it would one day be his ruin!"
John still had plenty of treasure left. So, making a suave
gesture with his hand he cried, "Buy it, Monsieur Raton!" He
grinned over at Yvette hoping she would be impressed, and found
her looking up at him with such open admiration that he felt
Monsieur Raton hurried out the door with the telegraph boy.
John and Yvette watched them go then looked at each other.
Yvette said, "So, we are finally alone, Monsieur One." And, she
tilted her pretty face up toward his and looked deeply into his
He took her hands in his and felt a hot burst of excitement
flash through his body. Her lips were full and inviting, and he
was so very much in love. He gently leaned down, touching his
lips to hers. They were soft and warm, and so very full and
yielding. The moment was a magic experience. They gazed into
each others eyes while they kissed. Her eyes slowly closed as if
she was being overwhelmed. He experienced the soft, sweet
moistness of her breath and felt intoxicated by this intimacy
that he had been longing for.
She pulled his arms behind her and he wrapped them around
and slowly tightened her up in his strong embrace. She moaned in
delight at being completely in his control.
She broke from the kiss and nuzzled into his neck where the
warmth of her breath sent electric shivers of pleasure through
him. Then they kissed again. And, again!
After a time, John thought of the little studio in the back
of the gallery with a couch used by Monsieur Raton's infrequent
He had just begun to lead Yvette in this direction when he
heard a cough from behind him. They both turned to find that
Monsieur Raton had returned. Yvette blushed with embarrassment
and announced that she had to go and help prepare dinner next
door at Monsieur Philip's. She slipped past Monsieur Raton and
Monsieur Raton announced that the purchase of the art
gallery had been made. He broke out a bottle of wine to
celebrate and John worked hard at acting pleased...
After the large shipment of paintings, drawings and frames
arrived from the Dallet gallery, John found himself very busy
carefully wrapping everything and transporting it out to his
ship. He was making so many trips a day that his route became
conspicuous to a certain undesirable observer.
Late one evening, the third day of his frequent trips to his
ship, he set out with one of the last loads. It was a warm humid
night and he quickly broke into a sweat as he maneuvered the
primitive bicycle along the rode to the ship.
He approached the dark gloomy shape of the coliseum and it
loomed up before him. He looked inside the archway entrance
remembering when he had first seen Yvette there, but he could see
nothing in the darkness. For some reason he suddenly felt
apprehensive and moved on, turning into the road leading through
the wall and back to his ship.
There were not many trees in this rural pasture-land and he
was approaching one of the few. Night had fallen, giving the
tree the appearance of a gigantic black mushroom against the
starry night sky. He had just passed the tree when he spotted a
log placed across the road. The primitive bicycle had no brakes
so John turned quickly to try to avoid crashing against the log.
He lost balance, but easily jumped off the bike still holding the
handle bars to prevent the bike from tipping and possibly
damaging his delicate cargo. Unfortunately, his foot caught on a
branch stub sticking out of the log. John tripped forward over
the log and had to let go of the bike as he hit the ground. His
reflexes turned the fall into a shoulder-roll, saving him from
landing on, and possibly breaking, his wrist.
But, as a he picking himself up, he heard a grunt from
behind and someone crashed into him, sending him smashing back
into the ground. It was a heavyset man who roared with delight
as he pinned his victim below him. John felt his left arm scrape
the road pretty roughly as he broke his fall. His right arm was
free so he gathered his strength and jerked it backward in an
elbow smash. It hit something soft and the man on top of him
gave a deep grunt. John twisted over and the big man toppled
John jumped up to find three other dark menacing shapes
encircling him. One said in a low, scratchy voice shaking with
passion, "We will see who is the best now, my friend. I warned
you! Now, you will pay me all that I want from you. Your money
and your life! My friends and I will say that we saw you sailing
away down the Rhone. But really, it will be your dead body
floating away!" John started to reach for his pocket, then
realized with shock and frustration that he had forgotten to
recover his handgun the day of the bullfight -- Yvette had so
filled his mind...
The scratchy voiced one was addressing his associates: "He
has gold and silver and jewels all over him, my friends. He is
ours for the taking!" With that, they were upon him!
John leapt to the right and smashed into the man closing in
on that side, surprising him. The man didn't lose his balance
though, and began to grab at John who quickly balled up his right
hand tightly and back-fisted the man in the face. John crushed
the man's nose. The man screamed, letting go of John to grab at
his face. John grabbed him about the waist and swung him around
between himself and the other assailants.
The remaining two just threw their cohort aside and jumped
simultaneously at John who was just getting his footing. They
grabbed at him. The one on John's left began pummeling John's
side. John heard "I kill you! I kill you, now!" as his
computer-ears dutifully translated each guttural yell from the
man who John now recognized as Igrette. The other man was
wrapping his hands around John's neck.
They were both in front and slightly to the sides of him,
and in so close that he could not get his fists free enough to
punch. The man on the right was beginning to squeeze John's neck
hard. John could not get his hands up to fight off the choking
grip. But his legs were free. He shifted his weight to his left
leg, lifted the right leg and snap-kicked down onto the top of
the man's foot. The man shook with the pain that burst up from
his smashed foot, though he held his grip around John's neck.
John's left side was going numb from the pummeling of the
other man. John suddenly arched backwards and lifted his knees
to unbalance the two attackers. It worked! They began toppling
over onto him. With incredible spit-second intuition, John
jerked both arms back then pushed his fists up against both mens'
solar plexi. They all fell over; as John's elbows came to an
abrupt stop against the grassy ground the full falling weight of
the men slammed John's rock-hard fists into the extremely
vulnerable soft spot in the middle of each chest, between the
diaphragm and the sternum. He heard both of them sharply exhale
a wet cough and each fell away from him, gasping for breath.
John leapt to his feet. The two that had fallen away were
moving slowly, coughing wetly and making horrible breathing
sounds. They would not have their breath back for many minutes!
The one who's nose John had smashed was kneeling a short distance
away holding his face and sobbing in pain. But where was the big
one that had first attacked him?
From behind him he heard a sickeningly gleeful voice, "And
now, I cut you, Monsieur!" John looked over his shoulder behind
him to see an arm raising a large throwing knife high in the air,
the blade glinting ominously in the moonlight and starlight.
John was dizzy from being choked; his body stiff from being
pummeled and fallen upon by two men. He tried to move out of the
way as the powerful arm sent the knife down on its swift decent
toward his back.
Suddenly, a tremendous explosion erupted with a fire-burst
from the side that momentarily lit up the big man's leering face
and hairy knife arm. Then, a terrible scream and John heard the
big man crash down to the ground on his other side. There was a
horrible choking, gurgling sound -- and then silence.
John turned toward the source of the explosion. Someone
turned up a lantern and John could see three other men. He
crouched and brought his fists up before him. Then he heard a
familiar voice shouting, "Monsieur One! Monsieur One, it is I,
Custeau!" And with over-whelming relief, John recognized
Monsieur Custeau standing in the lantern light, holding his still
smoking blunderbuss. John relaxed, took a deep breath and waved
at his rescuers.
"Monsieur One," Custeau cried. "Are you all right? Are you
John's throat was very sore and his side was bruised and
also sore, but he felt no sharp pains anywhere. "I'm all right.
These men were behind the tree there..."
Custeau came forward, "Yes, yes! My friends -- our two
gendarmes -- and I followed them all the way out here! I saw
them watching you today, all day long. And yesterday, also! I
knew they were up to no good. When I saw them getting together
tonight, I went out my back door with my blunderbuss and found my
two good friends Jacques and Paul here and we followed them,
perhaps almost at too safe a distance for you, eh? Heh, heh!I
never went to America, but there is still a little adventure here
in France, eh?"
One of the gendarmes held the lantern up and closely peered
at the big man on the ground. John saw a gory mess. The
gendarme grunted, "This one is dead. Good! One less to tie up
and send to the bastille."
The other added, "Monsieur Undertaker will be busy all night
building a big, big box for that one, huh?" The other one
chuckled and they set to work tying up the remaining three
But suddenly, Igrette leapt out of their grip, ran to the
corpse of the big man and yanked the big knife out of the dead
hand that was still clutching it. He turned toward the
gendarmes, his face a mask of vicious hatred in the lantern
light. "You turds, Jacques and Paul. You have always sickened
me. You parade around and act so righteous, fooling the girls so
that they always look at you! You! YOU!" His voice had risen
to an eery, high pitched scream. He began his attack of the two
gendarmes, who stood frozen in slack-jawed confusion.
Just before Igrette was upon them, there was another
explosion and burst of fire as the Custeau's mighty blunderbuss
went off again.
John heard one of the gendarmes exclaim something in a
whisper and John looked down to see the fallen body of Igrette
without a head. John looked over to where the remains of the
head were spread through the grass, and then quickly looked away.
He looked over at Custeau who smiled happily, began nodding and
said, "Hah! Look inside the bell of my blunderbuss. There are
two barrels!" He grimaced seriously. "So. No more trouble from
these worthless rats. Arles is no place for young no-goods."
One of the gendarmes said shakily, "Monsieur Custeau, you
make a lot of work for 'Monsieur The Undertaker' tonight!"
The gendarmes tied up the other two and led them away, one
limping with a broken foot, the other still holding his bloody
nose. John and Custeau followed them back to town.
* * *
John and Custeau sat on the porch of the cafe each with a
strong drink and indeed heard 'Monsieur Undertaker' in his
woodshop sawing and hammering late into the night.
CHAPTER 12 - THE PARTING
The incident with the young ruffians, and their resulting
deaths, caused John a great deal of inner turmoil. He was
causing an awful lot of change back in this time. What if it
resulted in some kind of cosmic problem like the Grand Dames
always warned the Infinity City Adventurers about? He began
feeling the urge to leave.
But there was sweet Yvette. What a pretty, delicate flower!
So full of inner music and love! He wanted to take her back and
had even began telling her, in general terms, how wonderful life
was in Infinity City, his home. Sensing the direction of his
thoughts, however, she would remind him that she had her mother
to take care of.
He thought about leaving the remainder of his treasures with
her mother, but even with her mother taken care of, how would he
explain to the authorities who Yvette was? Someone brought from
the past? That would cause extraordinary trouble. The Grand
Dames would be furious! And for what reason? LOVE?! Deirdre,
Grand Dame of his own family, would be greatly upset over such
irresponsible behavior from a Larsch.
One day, he was touring the countryside on the borrowed
bicycle pondering these dilemmas and also admiring the beautiful
country side of mother Earth. The brightness of the blue sky and
the puffy clouds. The lazy waving grasses of the meadows and
fields. A multitude of animals always here and there, up in the
sky and on the ground. He stopped to watch a farmer guiding a
team of horses pulling a shiny, steel plow. He paid John no heed
and just kept turning the ground over and over.
John's treasures had dwindled down and it was too late to
offer to support for Yvette's mother. With a deep sigh, John
realized that there was nothing he could do but tell Yvette it
was time for him to go, and time for them to break things off.
He heaved himself up on the bicycle and peddled for Arles.
It was the afternoon and as usual he waited for her on the
porch of the cafe. There was a huge welling of emotion inside
him. He thought about just taking her aboard his ship and flying
away to live on some other world. But at this time, no other
human worlds existed yet! To take her to another world, he would
have to sail back to the black hole to Infinity City, enter it,
then immediately leave again taking the 90 degree vector back
into the universe at the point in time of the ever unfurling
present; or even a different vector into the recent past. But
such a strange maneuver would arouse the Militia Guard to send up
fightercraft to follow, rendezvous and investigate... It was all
too complex for John who preferred life to flow smoothly and
He could stay here, but then his supply of the PILL OF LIFE
would run out -- he would 'catch' aging and eventually die. And
what was worse, he would have to watch sweet Yvette catch aging,
grow old and die. He shivered. How could they all live so
pleasantly with the inevitable prospects of aging and dying?
What a tragic time!
Then suddenly, strong feelings of discipline clamped down.
He thought about his uncle who was counting on him, and the other
Adventurers in the family awaiting his triumphant return. And
how triumphant it would be! His ship's hold was near to bursting
with valuable relics of the past. Also, the video scanners in
his computer-ears had recorded all the beautiful scenery and all
the interesting people and conversations, storing it all
permanently in atomic memory. John made a mental note to edit
these recordings on the way home, erasing away any foolish scenes
of intimacy that no one needed to see.
Yes, it was time to say good-bye to Yvette. He took a deep,
sad breath finally feeing at peace with his decision. But where
was Yvette? It was well past the time when she usually came by.
Why, it was almost sunset! He stood, walked to the edge of the
porch of the cafe and looked off down the street. Parked in
front of the residence of the Ambassador's cousin, he saw a large
coach with a team of eight horses swinging their heads and
stamping their feet. Footmen were loading trunks and boxes. Was
the ambassador going away?
John One hopped down to the street and began walking toward
the coach. The footmen were climbing aboard. Now, the
ambassador himself hurried from the house to coach, turned,
beckoned to the house rapidly with his arm and climbed inside.
From the house came his wife hastily followed by Yvette carrying
a satchel and some boxes.
John called out, but Yvette just looked blankly in his
direction and then followed the lady into the coach. Where were
they going in such haste?
John broke into a trot and arrived beside the coach just as
the coachman was settling himself into the driving seat, tugging
loose the brake lever. The stately coach was painted glossy
black and decorated with ornate brass fittings. The wheels and
spokes were bright yellow.
John looked into the open window nearest him just as Yvette
looked out. "John!" she said with a harried but sorrowful look.
The ambassador leaned over toward the window and raised his bushy
gray eyebrows, "My boy, a serious affair of state has developed
back in Paris and we must return immediately! Just received word
barely two hours ago. Don't know how long we shall all be gone,"
and he looked at Yvette significantly, then back at John. "Hope
to see you again someday. Nice to have met you and good luck
with your art!"
His wife also leaned forward, "If you are ever in Paris,
young man, do drop by the embassy!"
John stood stunned. This wasn't the way he wanted to say
good-bye. It was all out of his hands. He stammered, "Yvette,
Yvette looked into his eyes and whispered, "I know I won't
see you again!" Then her eyes filled with tears and she turned
The ambassador ordered, "Coachman, away!"
The was nothing John could do. He dug his hands into his
pockets, grabbed what remaining gold there was and cried,
"Yvette, take this!" thrusting what ingots he had through the
window. Yvette turned to him, her eyes blinking with tears. She
took the ingots. "Thank you, my good friend. I shall never
The coachman shouted at his team and cracked his whip. The
coach and sweet Yvette pulled away, loudly rattling off down the
street, the rear of the coach brightly ablaze with the reflection
of the sinking golden sun.
John waved his hand slowly and said aloud, "Good-bye,
beautiful Yvette, my love." His computer-ears reported, "No
audience detected..." And, John thought: 'Yes, there's no one
to listen anymore.'
He stood for a long time looking in the direction the coach
had disappeared. The sun had set. Stars came out. He looked up
and sought out the little constellation in which lay the black
hole to Infinity City. It was time to go home...
CHAPTER 13 - THE RESCUE
The next afternoon, John returns to his ship with a few
local works purchased with his few remaining silver pieces, all
strapped to the back of his primitive bicycle. The artists are
unknowns but he has become charmed by local works and believes
they will sell equally well back at Infinity City.
His bicycle bumps along the road toward the ship. The
afternoon sun is warm and the pastoral countryside is aglow with
life. Then, the nearby firing of a gun! He leaps from the
bicycle and rolls into the grass beside the road, again
instinctively reaching for his own side arm that he had forgotten
to recover after losing it under the bull! He curses himself
silently for not recovering the weapon. Why had he been so
Nothing is heard except the spinning back wheel of the
bicycle as it lays on its side and the rustling breeze through
the grass. The shot came from the left of the road. In that
direction he sees the meadow rise to a low nearby hill with a
broken down barn-like structure at the top.
History has been written and he knows he is not needed in
this time. This matters not to John who, with automatic youthful
compassion, jumps up and heads toward the hill at a crouching
trot, face grim, wishing he had his hand weapon. He is convinced
someone is being attacked and is in need of help.
He stops frequently and listens but hears no one. When he
gets to the low hill he looks all around but sees nothing
unusual. He begins circling, keeping his eye on the barn
structure. Then, on the other side of the barn he sees a
painter's easel fixed with a canvas and on the ground nearby a
crumpled, dark shape. A shiver creeps up his spine and the hairs
on his neck rise. He crouches lower looking all around him but
sees no sign of anyone else. John quickly looks to the barn.
Most of it is collapsed with thick green moss growing over the
shady side. No one could easily retreat inside. Most likely, if
the shape on the ground was someone who had been shot, the
assailant would have run off. Suddenly, John hears a barely
audible groan from the direction of the easel and the fallen
figure. He looks around then trots off toward the easel.
John finds a man on the ground. The man is large framed
though lean, almost frail-looking. His long legs are sprawled
this way and that. His face is contorted in pain. His hands
shakily clutch his belly. Blood can be seen between the
quivering fingers. The shabby clothing is soaked in it.
With a whisper John instructs his "ear computers" to begin
scanning for anyone else while he tries to help the man on the
ground. He crouches to his knees and reaches inside his shirt
for the medical kit in a belt about his waist. The kit is very
thin and light, but carries an astounding assortment of survival
items especially for medical first aid. He first takes a pain
relief crystal from its holder, presses it to a rapidly pulsing
vein in the man's neck and waits while the crystal's on-board
computer analyzes the man's body then administers a dosage of
pain killer. The man quickly relaxes into unconsciousness. The
cauterizing instrument in the medical kit begins chiming softly.
The pain relief crystal has broadcast its findings to the other
devices in the medical kit. As John removes the cauterizing
instrument, it begins speaking instructions to him in a high
pitched little voice. He pulls the man's hands away, unbuttons
the blood-soaked coat, revealing a deep ugly belly wound. As per
instruction, he lightly begins stroking the area of the wound
with the cauterizing instrument, back and forth. The blood
pulsing out quickly thickens into a solid, rust-brown covering
mass as the cauterizer introduces a chemical agent and irradiates
the wound after setting its operating frequency, phase and
intensity for sterilization and healing properties.
His EAR COMPUTERS, monitoring the medical kit communication
channel, inform him that the man has suffered fatal internal
damage and must be brought back to the ship for immediate
surgical attention and removal of the bullet. Deeply worried the
man will die at any moment, John hurriedly removes a stretcher-
net and its harness from the medical kit. He begins pulling out
the elastic struts of the netting this way and that. The struts
harden to the strength of steel with exposure to the air. He
pulls the netting over the struts until he has a thin but strong
white stretcher-net, long enough and wide enough to fit the man.
Gently, he moves the man onto the net. He is very thin and
frail for a man his size. John quickly stashes the survival kit
back in his shirt. Then he squats down, grabs the stretcher-net
harness, turns around and slips into it. When he laboriously
stands and the stretcher-net -- bearing the unconscious victim --
lifts off the ground behind him. Leaning forward, he marches off
down the road. Passing the easel his eye is caught by the half
finished, colorful work, but he has no time to think about it.
At the road, John begins trotting toward his ship -- at
least a kilometer away -- with the stretcher-net swinging
slightly in rhythm with his gate. With the will power typical of
the amazing people of Infinity City, John trots the whole way,
shaking with exhaustion as he picks his way through the rocks to
the ship, carrying the unconscious stricken man.
Through his computer-ears he radios ahead to the ship's
computer to open both outer and inner main hatches. He sets the
stretcher-net down, pulls aside the camouflage mesh, lifts the
stretcher-net back up, and staggers inside.
Getting the man up the stairs is a challenge. John fastens
all of the stretcher's body straps securely. He pauses to catch
his breath. Then, he tilts the man and stretcher up against the
stairs, climbs above, twists around until his back is to the
steep stairway, and begins lugging the heavy burden up to the
combination pilot room and living quarters. With great relief he
deposits the litter on his bunk. Quickly, he goes to a storage
locker, removes a portable medical surgical unit, and lugs it
over to the bunk. He fits it over the man's wound and activates
it. The unit, wider than a man, rests on the edges of the bunk
and covers the man from chest to crotch. Its display screen
comes to life and John hears mechanical whirring sounds as the
machine's robotic devices prepare for surgery. And the surgery
John pays close attention to the screen. For each step of
the surgery the machine displays the related details and then
requests manual authorization before proceeding. A medical
doctor would use his training, experience and intuition to guide
the machine, but John can only keep punching the AUTHORIZATION
button letting the machine's default programming handle the
Suddenly, the screen displays a cryptic medical question in
ominous, blinking red characters! It makes no sense to John. He
has no idea what the answer is! He hits the AUTHORIZATION
button, but the machine just displays a small line reading:
Frantically, he looks about the pilot room as if seeking the
consultation of a doctor. But of course, he is alone, except
for the unconscious man lying on the bunk, breath coming in
The machine begins chiming softly and John looks down at the
display to find another line displayed reading: 'DELAY OF
PENDING STEP NOT ALLOWED. PROBABILITY OF DEATH WILL BE GREATER
THAN 50% IN: 25 SECONDS.'
And, the display of seconds begins to count down. 24...
23... John looks at the patient whose face is now deathly pale.
He looks back at the machine. What can he do?! 15... 14...
The control panel! He looks closely at the key pad buttons
that activate special functions. There is one marked
RECOMMENDATION. John stabs the button. 5... 4... 3... "The
machine must be thinking up a recommendation!" he hoarsely
whispers out loud.
Suddenly, the screen shows a little window of text
containing instructions. 2... There is too much to remember!
1... He cannot type all that in! 0... The control panel! He
spots the familiar editing commands CUT, COPY, & PASTE!
The blinking red message above the text window changes to:
'PROBABILITY OF DEATH: 58% '
John presses the button marked COPY. The text window
disappears leaving the display as it was before, awaiting
instructions. 63%... He punches the button marked PASTE. The
display changes to: 'INSTRUCTIONS ACCEPTED. IMPLEMENTATION IN
PROGRESS. PROBABILITY OF DEATH: 75% '
John holds his breath. His heart beats so hard he feels it
from head to toe. He hears a rushing sound in his ears. He
stares at the display screen until the characters begin to swim.
The death probability is not changing! And then: 'PROBABILITY
OF DEATH: 63% '
And, a few moments later: 'PROBABILITY OF DEATH: 50% '
And then, no change for a great many seconds. This is
maddening! John clenches his shaking fists, lifts them slowly up
underneath his chin.
Then, the ominous messages on the screen disappear and it
returns to the old pattern of displaying details and
authorization requests. John quickly moves his finger to the
AUTHORIZATION button, presses it, and leaves his finger resting
on it so that he can grant authorizations as fast as possible.
The surgery continues for a long time...
Finally, the machine announced completion of a successful
surgery with a 100% recovery forecast! It also requested
immediate replacement of its surgical waste sack. John leaned
back with a great sigh. The surgery had taken over two hours and
John found himself drenched with sweat, stiff from his cramped
position crouched over the bunk, and exhausted. John wearily
replaced the machine's clear plastic waste sack, noticing the
shiny bullet in the disposed bag.
He looked at the man's face. The man was pale and so still
that John double checked the surgery machine's readout to make
sure he was alive. John took a deep breath and tried to talk
himself into a shower before a long sleep in the auxiliary bunk.
Suddenly, he jerks over to stare at the man's face again.
Short red hair. Red beard. The year is 1890, near Arles,
France. Could it be Vincent Van Gogh, the most famous ancient
artist of all time? VAN GOGH! Adrenalin blasts away fatigue.
Realization lifts his mind to a state of youthful excitement.
The shot! Van Gogh shot himself in the stomach in 1890 in a
suicide attempt. The village nearby was Arles. The easel. He
was definitely a painter. Paint was even smeared here and there
on his clothes!
It was impossible! To just happen to be nearby when Vincent
Van Gogh fired the shot that ended the work of the most famous
artist of all time!
But maybe this wasn't him. He had not seen any smoking gun.
Maybe just the victim of a jealous lover. He forced his sleepy
mind to think. Arles? Something was wrong with that. He tried
to remember what he had learned studying the annals of ancient
art on the voyage over. John's exhaustion seeped back into him.
He would have to wait for the man to regain consciousness. No,
this probably was one of France's many, nameless artists. He
pulled down the spare bunk, climbed in to sleep, foregoing the
CHAPTER 14 - AWAKENING
John awoke suddenly at the sound of an exclamation from the
opposite bunk where lay his rescued stranger. The stranger was
looking around in wide-eyed awe. But there was no fear...
John got up slowly so as not to frighten the man, raised his
hand and smiled. The man stared at him. Obviously, he was
recovering well from his wound and surgery.
John proceeded slowly to the machine over the stranger. It
reported excellent progress and could be removed from the patient
if the patient remained quiet. John had no intention of removing
the medical machine!
The patient asked John something in an awful sounding
language. John instructed the ship's computer, "Computer,
translate what this other man has said and anything he says in
The computer responded, "Acknowledged." Then, switching to
a likeness of the stranger's own voice, "What is happening here.
I don't know any of this."
John asked, "Computer, what language is he using?"
The computer replied, "Language called 'Dutch,' used by
indigent population of the country Netherlands and its colonies."
The man lying on the bunk lifted his head and said, "I speak
English. Who is the other? I cannot see him!" *3.
John thought fast. "He's in another room. We did not want
to bother you with too many people. How do you feel?"
He looked at John for a few moments then sank back into the
bunk and heaved a deep sigh. Looking straight above himself, he
said, "I feel I am not dead."
"No, you are quite well. I found you lying near a hill.
You had been shot... Can you tell me who might have shot you?"
The man now looked very tired. He stared at John, then
after sometime looked around and asked, "Where is this place? Is
John said, "A small one. A place to heal you. Can you tell
me what happened to you?" The man just stared at him again with
a tight-lipped burning intensity.
The medical unit signaled John with a soft chime. Its
display reported that the patient was undergoing stress and that
sedation was recommended. John pressed the AUTHORIZATION key.
After a few moments, the man was asleep.
John went over to the control console and said, "Computer,
show any pictures of Vincent Van Gogh, one at a time, for five
The computer paused, searching its atomic memory, then
slowly paraded two black and white boyhood photographs; several
self-portraits of the haunting, gloomy Vincent Van Gogh, some in
odd colors though all reflecting Van Gogh's mysterious genius;
and finally one more low quality black and white photograph
showing a tall man wearing a dark suit and tall black hat
standing in a field. John said, "Show and hold the very last
self-portrait he painted." The computer went back to this
picture -- the general features and characteristics looked like
the man on the bunk, though the portrait's eyes seemed larger.
Then John ordered, "Computer, show the last photograph again."
He stared at the rough image. "Computer, enhance image. Remove
inconsistent video data. Extrapolate any valid detail." An
instant later, the picture cleared up considerably though with
little added detail. "Zoom in and just show the face of the man
wearing the hat." The face expanded to fill the viewscreen. It
was barely a face at all with so little detail. John One had an
idea. "Computer, copy all facial details from the man lying here
on the bunk onto the face on the screen; filter out any details
that are inconsistent with the image already on the screen."
This time, the image turned into the face on the bunk, though
younger looking. John One nodded to himself.
Next, John spent several hours scanning any information
related to Vincent Van Gogh. He found a transcription of the
hundreds of ancient letters written between Van Gogh and his
family and friends, all stored in the computer's vast, archival
atomic memory. He then read over a biographical synopsis. His
cause of death was definitely from a pistol shot to the stomach,
just like the man in the bunk. Why he had shot himself was open
to speculation and most sources believed there were several
contributing factors, both psychological and physical. He also
learned that Van Gogh had died in a town called Auvers-sur-Oise
far away from Arles, clear on the other side of Paris! This
could not possibly be Van Gogh.
John had an idea. He went over to the medical unit and
requested a complete body scan of the man. A small panel slid
aside in the unit revealing a hand scanner. The display
instructed John to scan the body. John scanned the unconscious
head, still lying on its side, from several angles. The medical
unit chimed softly and the screen reported a massive left inner-
ear infection. A window of text was also displayed full of
complex medical terminology. Some of it he could understand.
"Other massive pan-cranial viral infections. Cirrhosis of the
liver. Massive buildup of various poisons and toxins. The
beginnings of emphysema." It was a wonder -- no, a miracle, a
tribute to his amazingly strong constitution, that the poor man
And then, he remembered the ear. The man's head was on its
side. The exposed ear was perfectly fine. John could not
remember anything unusual about the other ear when he had rescued
him, but then again, his attention had been on any possible
attacker and then the struggle of getting him back to the ship
for surgery. He gingerly turned the head over. Where there
should have been an ear he saw only a grotesque flap of flesh.
John thought to himself, "This IS Van Gogh! I know it!"
The history record must be inaccurate. He must have lost his
mind and shot himself outside of ARLES! With everything that was
wrong with him, especially the viral infections within his very
brain, it was no wonder he had become a madman. Then, a wildly
adventurous thought popped into his mind: "I could have the
medical unit cure the infections and then bring him back to
Infinity City!" He looked at what remained of the left ear and
felt sure it could be successfully rebuilt by synthetic surgery.
Why had he cut it off?! The historical facts he remembered were
vague; something about a woman... If he brought Van Gogh with
him, he would have the chance to ask.
Or, he could leave him here on Earth to continue his
painting. But once John left the universe, re-entering the black
hole to Infinity City, all changes he had caused back on Earth
would cease to exist -- phenomenally, all objects brought into
the black hole from the past would remain in existence. Van
Gogh, if left behind on Earth, would be alive one moment and then
as soon as John One entered the black hole's event horizon --
maybe even sooner according to some theories -- Van Gogh would
once again be dead and buried, exactly as if John had never come
to ancient Earth.
John One was the primary cause for all changes he brought
about in this temporal slice of the universe. The moment he left
it, all would be as it was when the ancestors of Infinity City's
population originally lived here.
One theory held that the universe began 'repairing' the
changes due to a time traveler before he left through a black
hole -- like someone tearing the fabric of a tapestry with a
knife and the tear magically mending itself just few inches
behind the ripping knife; the 'repairs' to the universe due to a
time traveler might only be a minute behind him, or a second, or
a day -- no one on Infinity City had ever dared any experiment to
prove the theory.
In any case, John imagined that a Van Gogh producing new
works back on Infinity City would be far more valuable than
anything else he could find here on Earth. He decided, as many
young men would, that any plan this exciting must be the right
one to take. Once he and Van Gogh passed into the black hole all
would be as it was back on that ancient Earth; Yvette would have
no more memory of John; the hoodlum Igrette would be alive again
to perhaps one day win Yvette's heart; all the paintings John
had purchased would again be back in their original art galleries
and studios. But Van Gogh would be alive again, on Infinity
City! And with his maddening disease cured and the PILL OF LIFE
available, he would go on painting forever!
He began giving the computer instructions to ready the ship
for ascent. By the time the man on the bunk was conscious again,
the ship would be in deep space sailing for Infinity City! He
quietly opened the hatch in the pilot room ceiling and went up to
begin taking in the camouflage mesh...
CHAPTER 15 - UP FROM EARTH
Up rose the struts! Out billowed the gravitonic sails! The
whine of the gravitonic field effect generator rose as it
overcame the tremendous gravitational mire of Earth. The
telltales on the computer display spun numbers up and down as the
computer automatically compensated for all the stressful affects
on the ship. Then slowly his beautiful sailship rose gracefully
into the sky.
Up and up, until the bright blue and fleecy clouds gave way
to darker indigo, then the brilliant stars and the stately
perpetual blackness of space. John One swung the ship around to
catch the sun's mighty gravitonic stream. Soon, the Earth began
to dwindle behind and he reduced power to the gravitonic field
effect generator as the rough affects of Earth's gravity well
lessened and the smooth steady flow from the sun sent the ship
flying out at greater and greater speeds. He left the computer
in control. It was programmed to head toward the nearby major
gravitonic current that would eventually lead him back to the
black hole to Infinity City.
For the next day and a half he worked with the computer now
interfaced with the medical machine to diagnose and repair the
maladies within his passenger. The medical machine kept Van Gogh
asleep as it injected dozens of biobots that swam through the
patient's body killing viruses, chemically pulverizing toxins
into inert constituents, and repairing what damage they could.
Back on Infinity City, John would get him an immediate
prescription for the PILL OF LIFE and then his own immune system,
working like he was only 20 again, would fix every thing up as
good as new. His teeth were in terrible shape; many missing,
even in the front! Fortunately, back on Infinity City there was
a reliable treatment for missing teeth. The control genes for
growing adult teeth were simple and easily stimulated. Any
missing tooth could be regrown as good as new, much to the relief
of many a brawling Infinity City Adventurer.
John realized with a shock that his own body must be
crawling with the viruses and bacteria of Earth. He quickly
injected himself with a platoon of the biobots and was releived
after a few hours when they reported to the computer that they
had found nothing. His own immune system, kept at maximum
efficiency by his youth (and in a year or two by the PILL OF
LIFE), had killed anything he had been exposed to.
The sailship's ventilation and cleaning system were designed
to filter and destroy any airborn microscopic threats.
Finally, the computer announced it was working on a solution
that would require cranial surgery. After several hours of
computation it signaled John that it was ready to perform an
operation with a 95% success forecast. John prepared the patient
as instructed by the medical computer, then moved the machine
forward until it was over the prone figure's head.
While the operation was carried out, there was little for
John One to do. The medical computer would signal if it needed
anything. John sat on the bunk opposite, thinking about how
amazing and wonderful this situation was. He went to the
computer and again began studying the biographical notes about
After an hour, he checked the medical computer's readout
which reported that the operation was 85% completed. This time,
authorization for each step of surgery was coming from the ship's
computer instead of John.
John wondered what he would do next. After the operation,
he was sure the medical computer would keep the man sedated for a
significant recovery time. But what to do once he awoke? John
suddenly snapped his fingers as a very logical idea popped into
Heading to a storage locker containing more of the works he
had gathered in France, he rummaged through the canvases until he
found some blank ones that he had planned to use himself on the
long journey back. There was a professional set of paints that
he had acquired in another locker along with an easel. He set
all this up behind the co-pilot chair, then swivelled the chair
around to allow anyone desiring to paint to sit comfortably.
The medical computer chimed softly. John One went over and
reviewed the report on the operation now displayed. Everything
had gone well. The infection had been eradicated and most of the
severe damage to his brain had been repaired using synthesized
tissue. The patient would remain sedated for another 12 hours.
It was sleep cycle time anyway, so John crawled into the
CHAPTER 16 - BACK IN SPACE
When he awoke, he went about his standard routine around the
ship, waiting for the man to recover. The medical computer
finally signaled him that it had begun the awakening process.
When the medical computer was finished, announcing complete and
safe recovery, John removed and stowed it back in its place. He
sat down on the opposite bunk the patient to await his awakening.
It was not long. The man stirred and blinked open his eyes.
He looked around, saw John, and his eyes began widening with
fear. John quickly said in a friendly manner, "Do not be afraid.
I am a friend. Do you remember me?"
The man, visibly calmed at hearing John's voice, said, "Yes,
I remember. A hospital, this is..." He looked away. "My head,
it is strange. It is lighter..."
"We healed a serious ear infection that you had."
"A disease, a sickness deep inside your ear. Did you used
to have headaches?"
"Yes, many. I would wake up at night. Again and again. It
was miserable... It is now gone from my head? It is all gone!
Yes, I can feel it! It... Feels fine. It feels fine!" He
grinned and slowly rose to a sitting position. Looking around he
said, "But, this hospital is so strange. Am I in Paris?"
"Not really. I will explain everything. But first, I have
a special favor to ask."
"A favor? From me?"
"Yes. In return for healing your ear, will you paint my
portrait? As you can see, I have some materials set up over
Van Gogh looked at him and asked suspiciously, "How do you
know I am a painter?"
John One thought quickly. "There were painting supplies
where I found you in a field beside a barn. There was an easel.
Your red beard. You are... Are you... Mr. Vincent Van Gogh?"
The man with the red beard looked away for moment. Then he
looked back at John and nodded. "Yes, I am Vincent Van GOGH," he
answered, stressing the correct Dutch pronunciation of is last
name. "But you can call me just VINCENT." Then looking
confused, he folded his hands before him and suddenly began
talking rapidly, "Monsieur, painting is the only favor that I
could possibly grant. I have nothing else. And, I was thinking:
Do you expect money to be paid by me? I have no money. But I
would happily paint. I feel very good. I feel better and better
as time passes. Maybe a miracle has happened." And a timid
smile came to his face. Then it vanished. He looked down at the
floor with a tragic frown. "My head was so hurting most of the
time. I had become so useless, such a burden on my poor brother
Theo. I kept thinking about the end. I DID end it." He looked
up at John in shock. "I do not recall coming to you. How did I
get here? Where was I before... before..."
John was stunned. It was indeed a suicide. This was
certainly Van Gogh. How could such a talented man commit
suicide? He answered, "I found you lying on the ground. You had
been shot. I thought someone else had shot you. Did you shoot
Clenching his fists, he shook his head with his eyes tightly
shut, "I do not remember! Such an act is horrible! But I had
been thinking of this many times. The pain had been unbearable!"
John tried to soothe him, "It is over now! Try to relax.
There will be no more pain." He improvised, "You must relax
after such a serious surgical procedure. Please, I set up the
easel for you to occupy your time while the surgery heals. Do
you feel like painting?"
Van Gogh took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh,
visibly calming down. "I would paint every waking hour, if I had
the time, and the energy. It is my life now. Yes, let me paint,
let me paint..." And with that, he stood from the bunk, looking
around at all the strange technology, shaking his head. "I must
be in a hospital for the very, very rich. This is all beyond my
means. Why did you help me?"
"It is God's will for man to help fellow man." John knew of
Van Gogh's strong religious background and convictions. His
father had been the pastor of a church.
"Yes, yes. You are English, not French... What a strange
chair. So much metal..." He sat slowly, taking up the unused
palette in one hand. With the other hand, he picked up a tube of
paint and deftly opened it. He inhaled from the tube deeply.
"You can smell color, you know. I always know exactly what the
color will look like when I am done, by the smell." He smeared
some of the pigment onto the palette, then frowned up at the
indirect lighting elements. "This light, it is pale. There are
no windows to let more light in?"
"I will bring more light." John went to the computer
console and typed in a command to bring the lighting up to
circadian synchronization intensity. "This is as bright as it
"Yes, it is so bright. Is there gas?"
"Gas. You know, to burn to make light."
"No," John answered. "It is electricity. Something very
"Wonderful. But I have heard of this 'electricity,'" He
squinted at John. "Please, lean against that wall... Fold your
arms. You can look at me, if you wish. This never bothers me!"
With that, he smashed the end of the tube against the canvas and
rapidly began creating an image.
Something occurred to John. "Mr. Van Gogh! You speak
English and very well. But you are Dutch, I thought." *4.
He was silent for a few moments while he painted. Then he
responded, "I went to England to learn." Then he mumbled
significantly, "...and I learned what I did not know I would
learn..." Then with irritation, "Now be still, young man, and
let me paint you!"
He switched to other tubes frequently, only using the
palette to check the color of the pigments, never using a brush.
After a while, he even set the palette down and held several
tubes in his left had, rapidly swapping with the active one in
his right. His vigor rose. His eyes blazed with tense urgency,
for he seemed in a great hurry. He constantly glanced at John
with short, sharp looks. His face flushed a bright red and his
lips moved as he muttered to himself. Sometimes, he would utter
short, terse comments in French -- John wished he still wore his
computer-ears to translate.
After about two hours, his pace began to slow. Soon, he no
longer looked at John, but would study the painting for long
intervals without activity, then suddenly make a sharp jab with a
tube here, or tilt his head back, squint and delicately enhance
there. Finally, he took the brush that had sat unused, looked up
with his red eyebrows raised high, and asked, "Your name, Sir?"
"John!" And he made some marks at the bottom. Beckoning, he
cried, "Come see. You may hate it; you may like it." He took a
deep breath and swivelled the easel around.
Before John was a blazing likeness of himself. Alive!
Motion without movement. The face held such relaxed confidence,
such boldness, yet with dignity. He was embarrassed by what he
saw and how it made him feel.
An intense shiver ran up his spine. There could be no
doubt. This was genius standing out like a super-nova. He let
his eyes move down to the signature... and more! A rare,
exclusive message with the signature: 'Thank you, John.
And John felt tears leave his eyes.
CHAPTER 17 - VINCENT
Yes, it was Vincent Van Gogh. The greatest artist of them
all was alive and well, had been rescued from time, and was now
heading toward a virtually immortal life of fortune and fame back
in Infinity City. After several days, John decided that Vincent
had healed enough to withstand the shock of hearing the truth.
So one morning after breakfast, during Vincent's third cup of
coffee, he announced: "I have some shocking news for you,
Vincent". John's military influence led him to brutal methods of
"Yes, John?" Van Gogh frowned from across the table.
"You are aboard my... ship, and not in a hospital. I did
this to save your life; to keep you from dying. We are heading
toward a land you have never heard of, but where your art is
already well known."
Van Gogh raised his eyebrows, then lowered them and frowned.
"Yes, I was sure I was no longer in the World. I feel alive, but
I must be dead and this is where I have gone. But this is not
Hell. You have shown mercy by making me well. God's mercy. You
must be an angel. I knew when I first saw you that you were no
ordinary man. You look too perfect. You act with such control.
You are taking me to heaven, I think." And he sipped his coffee.
"No, you are not dead. You were dying but I saved you. I
am not an angel. I am a human like yourself. But Vincent, I am
not from your world. We are in a sailship heading toward my
world. Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered
about the stars?"
"I have stared at the stars at night until I heard them
beckon to me. They are alive, I think. But what world are you
from? How can I go back to France?"
"Vincent, those stars are all other suns, with worlds going
around them, just like the Earth goes around the sun. I AM FROM
ONE OF THOSE WORLDS. I came to Earth in search of valuable art.
I was the man in Arles who was collecting all the paintings." He
paused to see Vincent's reaction.
Instead of shock, Vincent's eyes were sparkling with
delighted excitement at the realization that this man was a
wealthy art collector. He had, after all, always been looking
for a rich patron. He was just too much a burden on the meager
resources of his poor brother Theo...
John continued, "Anyway, as I was about to leave, um, Arles,
I found you... DYING!" At this point, John began a fabrication
he had thought up days before, "But, there is a tide between
worlds that I had to follow immediately or I could never return
home. I had to decide to either leave you to die in France, or
heal you aboard my ship on the way back to my world. You are
alive but you cannot go back to your world. The tide goes only
one way. The ship can only flow to my world now. But there,
your kind of art is greatly popular. You will have so much
Van Gogh looked at John One in amazement. Then, he looked
around the ship as if for the first time. He looked back at
John, squinted, and asked, "This ship we are in -- it is going
toward a STAR?"
"Yes! There are many ships that go between stars. Like the
ships that go between Europe and America, only much more
complicated, and much faster."
Van Gogh laughed a little nervously, "I am confused. But
only a little. I feel I understand. I heard this theory of
other worlds when I was in Paris once, at a little party in my
brother Theo's apartments... But I don't know how this is
happening. I remember thinking many times that I never belonged
to the world. Everyone else did. But I never felt right.
Sometimes I thought it WAS Hell and I had sinned in my real life.
You are not a demon or an angel?"
"No, I am an Adventurer. My uncle owns this ship. He sent
me to Earth to gather valuable art to sell back at our world. I
found you. You are very talented. I do not think you agree, but
just look at what you have painted! Look at it as if you were
not the artist. Vincent, look at it as if you were from another
And he did. Strangely, he cocked his head to the side, then
straightened and chuckled. "I painted and even lived with a
crazy man named Gauguin once. He said once that he was born in
the wrong part of the world and that he began painting to
discover where he really belonged. Was he from your world?"
"No, though I have heard of him. There is no one from my
world that you know. It is very far away, at another star. It
will take us a long time to reach it. But I have blank canvas.
Can you paint from memory until we arrive? There is not much
else to do."
"Yes, yes. I have seen you looking through that window at
stars. I have never seen the stars look that way. They do not
flicker. I find this inspiring!"
And so, the journey proceeded. Van Gogh did indeed paint
the stars as seen through the view port. When he grew bored with
this, he tried to paint from memory, but grew frustrated when
colors would not turn out the way he wanted. He resorted to
sketching the odd shapes he found about the ship or displayed on
the computer screen. John showed him how to simulate painting by
changing the glowing colors on a computer screen. But Van Gogh
was disgusted by colors that he could not touch or smell and
quickly lost interest.
Vincent was much interested in Infinity City. John told him
it was the capital of the "other world." To explain the
possibility of a non-blue Infinity City sky, John said the sky
would look strange "due to weather conditions."
From time to time the ship would near a junction in the
current gravitonic current and John would take the controls to
steer the ship along its proper course. Sometimes, gravitonic
turbulence caused the ship to swing or jostle. During these
times, Vincent would kneel and pray himself into a strange
trance-like state. When the turbulence was over, Vincent would
sometimes begin sketching with paper and pencil while still in
the trance-like state.
His sketchings always eventually displeased him and he would
angrily rip them or ball them up and throw them away. John,
however, would quietly gather them up and stow them away. Later,
when Vincent was asleep, he would take them out and look at them.
The shapes and movement he discovered were disconcerting and made
him think of a view from within a storm or a tornado. Still, he
considered them valuable and hid them away. Even an original
autograph from Vincent Van Gogh would be priceless on many of the
worlds within Infinity City's mercantile realm.
CHAPTER 18 - THE JOURNEY TO THE BLACK HOLE
Though there was not much space within the little sailship
during the long voyage, neither John One nor Vincent Van Gogh
grew bored. Both were single minded men who could spend long
hours on a single absorbing interest. While Vincent painted,
John studied with fascination the almost endless knowledge
contained in the ship's atomic memory. He was particularly
fascinated by the military history of the Galaxy. He strongly
felt his responsibility for the security of his home world.
Sometimes, Vincent would give John painting lessons. He was
extremely critical but always patient and fair. To John, it was
a little like military training.
John showed Vincent how to access the computer's vast atomic
memory so that he could learn about Infinity City. He was amazed
as Vincent voraciously absorbed all he could. His command of
English was stunning. He was a natural linguist, a brilliant
man, yet sadly born ahead of his time -- until now.
John One found enough room down in the hold to perform his
daily routine of vigorous exercises and training. He tried to
coax Van Gogh into a regimen but was lucky if he could just get
him to ride the fold-out exercise bicycle every few days. The
man existed exclusively in his mind. Except for one evening when
John was rearranging a locker in the hold to store Vincent's
finished works. He found a backpack he had worn when bicycling
to and from Arles. Inside was a bottle of local wine he had
purchased to share with Yvette on a picnic. But she had gone
Van Gogh spied the bottle and chortled with glee. John had
never seen him so animated. Vincent insisted that they at least
try to put together a meal from the somewhat austere ship's fare,
to do justice to the wine, which, with a rare smile, he assured
John was a good vintage. With the help of the ship's computer,
for neither had culinary talent, they prepared a meal that was
palatable enough and definitely satisfying in quantity. Then,
John ordered the computer to play some relaxing music and display
some pastoral scenes of Earth on the display. Vincent dumped a
mattress on the floor and sat down with the bottle of wine on a
small table that slid out from the wall. He brought forth two
glasses and -- enthusiastically rubbing his hands together --
asked John for a bottle opener.
John, sitting in the pilot chair close by, looked confused
and asked, "Doesn't the cork just twist off?" Van Gogh stared at
him. Then John remembered seeing the cafe owner Custeau using a
shiny screw-shaped device to open a bottle. "Wait a minute," he
said. He went to the medical locker, brought forth a an
extremely sharp surgical knife, and gouged through the cork with
it. He poured two glasses full of a strong red wine. Van Gogh
drank his down rather quickly. He sighed deeply with
Vincent looked at John with a very tender expression and
said, "John, my friend, I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I
am to you for what you have done. I feel myself again.
Completely! Gone are the voices in my ear. Gone are all the
dark depressions. As we head for your Infinity City, I feel like
I am being reborn. As if I had died back on Earth and now am
being reborn to a new world. Thank you again, my friend!" And
he lifted his glass in salute.
John touched his glass to his. This was a wonderful man, he
thought to himself. He had been apprehensive about how well they
would get along in the little sailship for such a long voyage.
But Vincent was always courteous and had remarkable self-control,
now that the maddening viruses and toxins and their damage
throughout his body had been removed. Also, using the threat of
jettisoning his painting supplies into space, John had forced
Vincent to begin bathing on a daily basis. Vincent had
Vincent looked thoughtful. "You know, I read the historical
account of my life today. Most interesting."
John stiffened. He had not told Vincent they would be
returning to the future or that Infinity City was located outside
the time dimension of the Universe, allowing time travel into the
past. Somehow he seemed to have discovered this for himself!
"Really? How much did you learn?" John asked nervously.
"I learned that I have been reborn in another time as well
as another world. It is a miracle! Perhaps the very miracle I
strove for in my youth. The historical account was shocking."
He looked down at his glass of wine, swirling it around. "I
learned that my poor brother Theo will die in only a few months.
And from a most disreputable disease. At this very moment,
according to the history file, he must be going mad with it and
attacking his poor family. Fortunately, no one will be seriously
hurt. My nephew even grows up and lives for 90 years! It is
such a pity we could not have rescued Theo."
"That would have been impossible," John hastily commented.
"Of course. I understand. This ship is very small, and
Theo and I have a difficult time living with each other, though
you must know that I love my brother very much. All of that is
now over..." He poured more wine. John only sipped at his.
Vincent continued, "The file described my suicide in Auvers.
But you found me near Arles. Your ship must have been located
between Arles, and Saint Remy where I lived in the asylum. Do
not look uncomfortable, John," he said, reaching across the
little table and patting John's arm. "We have been sailing for
weeks and I have not once felt an attack coming on. I feel
perfectly calm talking about all of this. It is fascinating! I
believe I am cured." He refilled his glass. "A toast to your
wonderful medical machine!"
After the toast he continued. "You know, I had heard of a
doctor in Auvers-sur-Oise who was adept at treating cases like
mine. Dr. Gachet. I had been thinking of traveling to see him.
But then, I began hearing stories of a wealthy American in Arles
who was buying every work of art in sight. Local artists were
working day and night producing pieces for him. I did not know
if I could manage it or not, but I just had to travel to Arles
once again to see if I could meet him. Perhaps he would have
financed a local artists' colony. Gauguin would have come
again, I am sure, in spite of what he did to my ear." While
John, greatly surprised by the statement, looked at him, Vincent
touched what was left of the ear. "And my old friend Bernard.
And many more I am sure." He smiled slightly, looking off into
the distance as he contemplated the fantasy. Then he suddenly
frowned. "Ah, but it was not to be. My last time in Arles had
been too traumatic." He shuddered at the memory. It had been a
beautiful day, just before I began hearing the stories of the
American. I foolishly went to a bullfight at the arena in Arles
to paint one more time. The bull broke through the wall! It was
terrifying! I remember being frozen with fear and watching the
bull try to free itself. Then someone stabbed it to death!" He
had become quite agitated, and sat back suddenly, as if waiting
for something to happen. Then he relaxed and smiled. "Nothing!
That old anxiety is completely gone! Anyway, I remember nothing
after that. My next memory was being back in the Saint Remy
asylum. And it was many weeks later. Imagine weeks of you life
disappearing like a puff of smoke from a pipe! Then, I remember
having found a pistol after they had removed the bull from the
arena. That day, I went outside the asylum to paint the olive
trees and suddenly remembered hiding the pistol among some rocks
at the base of one of the trees. This began to upset me very
much. Then... My memory is gone again. I remember nothing
more. I was here next. That was my very last attack, I hope and
pray. Yes! My last attack forever!" And he took a long gulp of
John One felt struck. It was HIS pistol! The one he had
lost under the bull. Vincent had found it and used HIS pistol to
shoot himself! Where was the pistol now? It must be lost back
in the grass where Vincent had fallen. Would it hurt anything to
leave an object from the future in the past? The way the
Universe worked, as he had been taught, anything changed in the
past would "heal over," and again revert to proper history. But
what happened to atoms and molecules left there from the future?
Did they just disappear? He would have to ask someone about this
upon their return. Then again, maybe he better not. If Grand
Dames found out, they would only raise the old fuss over the
danger of Adventurers traveling into the past. Later, during the
trip back to Infinity City, John One, out of curiosity would read
through the computer's historical records, discovering -- to his
great surprise -- that Van Gogh had actually committed suicide
near the town of Auvers-sur-Oise in northwestern France. It had
been John's strong effect on local time that had caused Van Gogh
to linger near Arles and attempt suicide there with John's own
Vincent had begun singing a bawdy barroom song in French.
John was glad they had only a single bottle. What would Vincent
be like back on Infinity City where there was plenty of wine.
And women, too. Infinity City women! He began, "Vincent, you
may meet many people back on Infinity City. Your art remained
popular throughout history." John, never a diplomat, had
difficulty finding the right words, so he asked bluntly,
"Vincent, what if you meet many women? Will you be able to
Vincent looked at him in surprise. "Ah, women! I have had
far more luck with art. But perhaps I will meet a nice girl, and
finally settle down like my brother did. My infant nephew was
quite precious to me. Yes, that is what I want. To paint and to
have a little family!"
"I hope you'll find just the right girl in Infinity City,"
John said hopefully. "Just be careful. They can be quite
sophisticated and won't always do what you want."
"Humph!" Vincent puffed up, elated by the wine. "I, too, am
sophisticated. I have lived in London AND Paris where the girls
are also too sophisticated. I will charm your Infinity City
girls with my magic paintings! My canvas shall become a magic
carpet to sail them anywhere I choose to go! I shall fill their
hearts with my bright and warm colors!"
John was slightly concerned that he was getting so elated,
but it was amusing. Vincent was very charming. "You'll have to
give all that up if you want to settle down and be a family man,
"I will do anything to have a little one again!"
"You have children?!" John said with surprise. He thought
he had read that Van Gogh was childless.
Vincent hung his head and said, "Almost." Then he changed
the subject and said as if to himself: "But if I were to marry
again, would it be in a church? There does not seem to be any
strong sense of religion in your world, John. At least not from
what I have read. I have seen only passing references to
something called the 'One True Belief.' What is this?"
What a question! John thought. Infinity City was so old
that all of its social institutions, including theology, had all
settled down to a state of equilibrium with each other. It was a
peaceful world. Anyone desiring extreme excitement was forced to
look to the Galaxy outside the black hole.
The One True Belief was a very basic theology all grade
school children were required to master. It was a theology of
convenience, there when it was needed: at birth, marriage, and
death; good times or bad. Some took great joy in it or relied
on it heavily and worshipped at the temples or prayed as often as
they desired. Some daily, some weekly, some yearly. Some
John One's family was the Larsch, and their Grand Dame
Deirdre was currently the head of the Great Council of Grand
Dames. As such, she was also nominal head of the state theology
and the final voice regarding any dispute over the interpretation
of the One True Belief. Fortunately, all the bugs had been
worked out of its theological system eons before, so it required
little of her time. But since the Larsch family was responsible
for ministering the One True Belief, its children received a
slightly stricter indoctrination than average. Even so, theology
was completely beyond John. In school he had done well
memorizing all the chants and hymns and sayings, but never truly
understood the purpose of it all. To him, there was Infinity
City, and his purpose was to preserve its security. He enjoyed
So now, he found himself straining to remember how to
describe the One True Belief. He took a bigger sip of wine.
"Vincent, that is a difficult question."
"Well, is it a Christian religion? Do you believe in our
Saviour, Jesus Christ?"
"Who? No. It's not a belief system at all. It's more of a
scientific theology, I suppose."
"How can there be no belief? My father was an ordained
pastor of a protestant church. There was so much we were forced
to believe. It was all for nothing. God turned his back on me.
In my depths of despair when the madness would take me, I had
nothing," he sadly shook his head of red hair. "Nothing. What
do you have? How does your One True Belief explain the universe?
Is it there for you when you need it?"
"We are taught it is impossible to refute because it is
simply based on universal logic and common human definitions."
In his own words there was no way he could explain. But John
remembered the chants from his childhood. Looking directly at
Vincent he quoted, "'What do you experience upon awakening?
Existence! your ONLY true possession. Second, your senses
reveal the patterns of a Universe that ITSELF desires to exist.
Third, you observe the patterns growing, for our Universe shall
FOREVER desire creation. Rejoice, for this you shall experience
upon EVERY awakening.' How does that sound?" Strangely, after
only a few drinks, John noticed the wine giving him a light,
"Profound! Simplistic yet irrefutable! And you quote as if
from scripture. Does the One True Belief have a divine book such
as the Christian Bible or the Islamic Koran?"
"The copy our Family has is version 5.00. The date of
origin is very, very old. Computer! Display the first three
edicts of the One True Belief for my friend Vincent here." The
computer displayed the text of what John had just recited on the
nearby computer screen. Vincent scrutinized this.
"John, what is meant by 'awakening'? Birth?"
"BIRTH?! No. Well, maybe. I mean, to me it means waking
up each morning. The first thing I know is that I exist. They
say, 'Suppose it was pitch black, and there was no sound, and
your body was numb,' et cetera, et cetera. You would only know
that you exist. Let's see, they also say 'suppose you didn't
know if your brain was inside a computer or still inside your
body and the computer was synthesizing reality. You would not
know if you were experiencing reality or not. All you'd know for
sure is that you exist.' How's that sound?"
"A computer? Like this one controlling your amazing ship?
You can place a human brain inside it?!"
"No, I don't think so. It's just a hypothreticral...
hyperthetrical... It's just a kind of story, okay?"
Vincent stared at the display. "Fascinating! Wonderful!
'Existence,... the only true possession.' Of course! That is
why the Christ chose poverty, to strip away the FALSE
possessions, all the foolish trappings of false value! I never
saw it that way! EXISTENCE is the highest value!"
"Poverty?" John asked with puzzlement, after wiping wine
from his chin after a big gulp. The bottle seemed to be endless.
He would have to study this optical confusion tomorrow. "Well,
maybe it means that. They don't talk about VALUE as much as they
talk about RELIABILITY. Everything you experience, except your
own Existence, has a certain probability of unreliability, doubt,
or unsurety. The One True Belief says, 'Take comfort! Your
existence shall always be there for you, at each waking moment of
your entire life. All else lies slightly in doubt.' It means if
you were captured by the enemy and held in a prison cell and they
gave you nothing and tortured you, then the one thing, the ONLY
thing they couldn't take -- or even touch! -- would be your
existence. It's at your core! You can FEEL it. I mean, it's
ME. It's the main thing that will always be truly me!"
Vincent smiled at John's rare display of passion. Then he
slapped his hand against his chest. "To me, that is my soul, my
"Ah, the spirit! The One True Belief says, 'Your Spirit is
your desire to exist.' It keeps you existing, okay?"
Vincent shook his head. "It is all very simplistic, but it
makes sense. If I was a miner working underground at the
Borinage back in Belgium from before sunrise until after sunset;
getting paid a pittance; only enough to stay alive; no
possessions; always the threat of cave-in or explosions; my own
existence would be the only thing worth clinging to. I wish I
could go back and tell them that, those poor people. No, it is
too black and white. Your belief is too simple."
"Hey, in bad times, Vincent, simple thoughts have the most
strength. How would you like to be out in a scoutship with one
of the Neighbors' destroyers bearing down on you, trying to stay
calm and get away knowing at any moment that a particle beam or
gravitonic torpedo could turn you into gas?! That's when the One
True Belief goes through your mind. I can tell you that, for
sure!" John drew back suddenly, surprised at his outburst. He
should not have drunk this wine. But he felt so free with his
thoughts. What a novel feeling!
Vincent was staring at the display. "It seems your One True
Belief regards the universe as God. I remember a similar
discussion with my father one evening. In Christianity, we are
taught that Our Lord is omniscient, omnipotent and
John gazed into his glass, mumbled, "Omnivorous?" and
chuckled to himself.
Vincent continued as if John was not there. "I asked Papa
'If God is everywhere, then is he not then everything?' Papa
just said 'It is not in the Bible so it is not an important
At this, John nodded sagely, poured another glass of wine
and consumed half of it at a gulp.
Vincent again looked toward the screen and read, "'The
Universe desires to exist. The Universe desires creation.'
God's desires? But with your belief, the universe IS God. So,
your belief says that God has desires regarding Himself. Never
have I heard or thought like this." He pulled thoughtfully at
his short beard. "If I were God, I suppose I, too, would want to
continue to exist. And to grow! God growing! What would He
"Tomorrow," John mumbled. "He grows into tomorrow." He
began quoting, 'The Universe is a wonderfully colored carpet
that is unrolling forever. It weaves itself, but only using the
threads that already exist; threads branching endlessly,
creating new patterns. It's DESIRE to grow moves the shuttle.'"
John leaned toward Vincent, winked significantly and said with
great seriousness. "We're the threads, you know."
Vincent grinned at his swaying, inebriated friend. "Perhaps
it is time to call it a night, John."
"Yes, I feel very sleepy. Did the ship slow down or
something? Computer! Status normal?"
The computer replied, "All ship functions normal. No
external or internal threat."
John rose unsteadily to his feet. "Whoa! I think we've hit
some turbulence. The deck's not steady! Vincent, I can't
Vincent jumped to his feet, well experienced with the
sensation. He put his arms around John's shoulders and led him
toward his bunk.
John smiled at Vincent. "I'm sure glad I found you and made
you live again!"
Vincent guided him down into his bunk and covered him with
his blanket. "From what I've read about myself, John, I shall be
eternally thankful that you found me, too. Tell me, does your
marvelous medical computer have a remedy for inebriation?"
"Ebriniated?! Who's Briniabrinated? Not me! I'm just
little bit tired. It's wine. It makes me little a bit tired,
that's all. Vincent, I wish you were my brother. This trip has
been so much fun. You are so different from Infinity City
people... I'm so sleepy..."
"Go to sleep, John. I am very happy to be your friend.
Without you I would not even be alive. You are my personal
savior! Good night." John One had already fallen asleep.
CHAPTER 19 - THE BLACK HOLE
As the time neared to pass through the black hole and return
to Infinity City, John One thought it best that Van Gogh be
sedated during the disconcerting passage through the first event
horizon. So he slowed the ship's speed just enough to have it
rendezvous with the black hole at night. On that night, he wore
his computer-ears and instructed them to silently awaken him when
it was time for him to take control and guide the ship through
After he awakened to the gentle chiming in his ears, he
removed a tube-shaped device from his pocket, left his bunk, and
crept over to the sleeping, snoring figure of Van Gogh. He
brought the device near Van Gogh's nose and during the next
inhale, a particularly loud one John thought, he activated the
device and Van Gogh breathed in a potent sedative.
After a few breaths of this, John held the device near
Vincent's temple and a green light blinked on the side of the
device indicating that the drug had taken effect. Van Gogh's
breathing became more regular, though still loud enough to drown
out the black hole itself. John turned Vincent's head to the
side and the snoring stopped altogether.
He went to the controls and switched the view to the
enormous, swirling black hole looming before him. Strange
ribbons of color would drift out from the center as various
elements were accelerated into oblivion, leaving behind only
bursts of multi-spectral radiation. What a thrill this operation
always was for him. His cool headed military training took over
and he deftly worked his computer and ship preparing to beat his
way in through the black hole's gravitonic storm, back to
He depolarized the mainsails to bring the ship to a stop
before the black hole and drew them back significantly, for great
speed would not be necessary. On all sides of the ship, he ran
out heavy duty struts to support the complex arrangement of
maneuvering sails necessary to guide the ship through the
upcoming torrent of twisting gravitonic currents. He started the
computer running final system checks while he went over to Van
Gogh to strap him in.
Back in the command chair, John harnessed himself then ran
up the gravitonic field generator to maximum output in
preparation for the rapid lateral course adjustments that would
be needed. He swung the ship around toward the nearest current
that, at the moment, was heading in toward the very center of the
black hole; the "eye of the storm"; the safe entrance to
Infinity City. Any other angle would mean the unknown fate:
John polarized the mainsails forward just enough to give the
ship movement to ease it into the entry-current. Once in the
small entry-current, the speed of the ship built up rapidly and
John reduced the mainsail polarity to yield power for just bare
On the screen, the computer automatically displayed the
nearby currents using different colors to denote their various
qualities and directions. Bright red for too rapid; fiery orange
for too unstable; flat black for undetectable which meant an
"oblivion vector"; dull white was a stable vector leading inward
but not directly toward the center of the black hole; bright
white indicated a stable vector that led to the center of the
black hole and out of the first event horizon. The thick border
displayed at the edge, framing the screen, indicated the status
of the current the ship was already in. It was now a dull white,
meaning they were on course. But they would need to maneuver
into a better current. The true center of the first event
horizon could only be traversed through a current indicated with
John would be astrogating by the screen, since what would be
appearing through the view port would make no sense at all.
Suddenly, the ship jostled to the side as their current
abruptly ended, to be replaced by a dominating unstable current
indicated by the border of the screen suddenly turning bright
orange. A few dim white currents adjoined the center of the
screen and John manipulated the power feeds to his maneuvering
sails to work the ship sideways through the unstable current and
over to the most promising looking dim white current. The ship
lurched this way and that. Back and forth. It would suddenly
shift rapidly toward the dim white current he was after, then
shift back away. Little by little, however, through quick
reflexes and cool persistence, John brought the ship over and
slipped into the stable current.
John was a superb pilot. He had to be. These currents were
too chaotic for a computer to forecast.
The ship's speed lessened as it matched the strength of the
stable current, now indicated with a dim whiteness bordering the
main display screen. John glanced at the ship's telltales at the
computer display and was pleased to find all system functioning
perfectly. He felt a sudden closeness to his uncle's taut little
A bright white current loomed in from the left side of the
screen. It was large and that meant it would remain stable for a
long time, maybe right through the center. But between it and
John there was a twisted rainbow of rapid and unstable currents.
Also, an oblivion current was ominously descending from the top
of the screen. It slowly meandered back and forth like a
serpent, indicating high instability. John would have to keep
one eye on that current. He continued his present course along
the stable current hoping to encounter another, closer bright
white current. However, the screen border grew dimmer and
dimmer, and finally began blinking which indicated that he was at
the end of the little current. The bright white current was
slightly closer but he would have to go through some undesirable
rapid and unstable currents to get to it. But there was no
choice. He sharply brought the ship over, leaving the dim white
current and plunging into the adjacent rapid, though fortunately
The ship jerked ahead violently. Wave after wave of
accelerating gravitons swept through the ship. The force of
John's internal organs pressing against each other in one
direction and then in another made him queasy. But he knew from
experience that he could take much more than this. Fortunately,
this current, though rapid, had no instability. Checking the
screen he found he was making good lateral progress through the
rapid current. The dim white current he had just left had
dwindled to a narrow line. Then, something happened that sent a
cold chill down John's spine.
The blank oblivion current still dangling above, but at a
tolerable distance began undulating rapidly, like a lariat being
spun around. The little dim white current compressed from a
curved line into a meander and also began undulating. Then
suddenly, it turned black, skipping the unstable phase and going
completely to oblivion -- right next to John's current!
Sweat broke out on his forehead as he realized the danger of
the present situation. However, his maneuvering sails were
already pitched completely over. One jerk of that adjacent black
meandering demonic current would slide it over and wipe the ship
right out of the universe!
He decided to take a big risk. Though the next current he
had to go through was unstable, he decided to use his mainsail to
get away from the oblivion current as fast as possible.
John ran the mainsail out to 50%, diverting power away from
the maneuvering sails. Rapidly, the little ship skipped through
its present current toward the unstable one and away from the
imminent peril of the black oblivion current.
The black oblivion current suddenly bent deep within the red
rapid current John was traversing, slicing down almost all the
way over to the orange unstable current, leaving only a narrow
curved red band. The effect was catastrophic. The power of the
gravitonic force within the rapid current tripled, slamming
against John's ship. The incredible force snapped against the
mainsail, pulling the ship sideways through the current, swinging
the ship around and plunging it straight along the narrow rapid
current. Fortunately, this threw the ship past the destructive
limb of the black oblivion current.
The alarm buzzer went off at the computer console. Yellow
telltales began flashing at the computer ship status display
indicating dangerous strains in different parts of the ship.
John heard the sickening groan of metal being torn and blinking
red telltales indicated damage to the mainsail strut supports and
control systems. John tried but could no longer control power to
the mainsails. The ship was careening out of control down a
rapid gravitonic current, heading closer to the black oblivion
current now dangerously dangling halfway down the screen!
John popped open a special panel in the bulkhead beside the
main display. Smashing open a glass safety cover, he exposed a
red button for explosively jettisoning the mainsail struts in an
emergency just such as this and jabbed his finger at the button.
A horrendous explosion vibrated through the ship as the mainsail
struts were simultaneously exploded away. Instantly, the
acceleration lessened. All of the yellow telltales indicating
strain winked out except one. Power was still being diverted
from the gravitonic field generator to the mainsails which must
now be just dangling cables shorting against each other and the
ship. But why had not the emergency circuit breakers cut out the
mainsail supply? Checking the display, he was sickened to
discover that even though the gravitonic field generator was at
100% output, the maneuvering sails were receiving less than 5% of
this power. The ship was virtually out of control, shooting down
a rapid gravitonic current toward oblivion within the black hole!
John would have to go aft and manually cut the wasted power
to the ruined mainsail struts. He smacked a large button to
switch the computer to audio control mode. The computer began
reporting: "Warning! Warning! Maneuvering power below red
critical limit. Mainsail unavailable. Gravitonic field
generator beyond yellow thermal limit. Warning! Warning!
Maneuvering power below red critical limit..."
"Computer," he interrupted as he unfastened himself from his
cockpit chair, "switch to exception reporting."
"Acknowledged. Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator will be required within 75 seconds to avoid entry
into above black oblivion current."
MY GOD! he thought to himself. DEATH IS ONLY A COUNTDOWN
AWAY AGAIN! He dashed to the back of the cabin, down the steep,
narrow stairway, down to the engine room. The gyroscopes began
wining as the computer automatically employed them -- in lieu of
the maneuvering sails -- to swing the ship around, aiming it once
again out of the rapid gravitonic current.
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 65 seconds." The computer was
now in "Mayday" mode. It would take any action it could to save
the ship. Yet, all it could do was warn the human running the
John stopped at the engine room looking around, not knowing
where the problem was.
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 60 seconds."
He thought hard. WHAT WOULD PREVENT THE MAINSAIL CIRCUIT
BREAKER FROM CUTTING THE POWER?! WHAT?! WHAT?!! The main power
buss went directly from the generator to the mainsail power
terminals. The circuit breaker was between the generator and the
main power buss. The mainsail end of the power buss would just
be fused metal after the jettisoning explosion. But the circuit
breaker was foolproof! It just could not malfunction. It was
too simple and reliable a design.
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 55 seconds."
John had never felt his heart beating with such intensity!
The ship was swaying this way and that. The sailship must be
nearing the unstable gravitonic current! His head was swimming.
He felt himself tottering on the brink of some blank mental
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 50 seconds."
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?!!
His vision was distorting. He could only see directly in
front of him. Everything was red!...
JOHN. JOHN. It was the voice of his family matriarch --
Grand Dame Deirdre -- softly inside his head! YOU ARE A MAN OF
INFINITY CITY. YOU ARE OF INFINITY CITY! INFINITY CITY... The
voice trailed away...
Yes, he was from Infinity City. His people had conquered
the black hole. HE would also conquer THIS black hole! He shook
his head and began breathing deeply. He shouted, "I AM A MAN OF
INFINITY CITY! I AM IN CONTROL!"
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 25 seconds." WHERE HAD THE TIME
GONE?! AND, WHAT WAS WRONG WITH HIS SHIP?!!
The circuit breaker control circuits! There had to be
something wrong with them. He opened the panel at the generator
end of the power buss. It was hot and buzzed loudly with the
abnormally high current expenditure. However, the circuit
breaker connection was secure. He could try physically rupturing
it, but that might ground-out the generator power right to the
ship's hull, blowing out the generator.
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 15 seconds."
The ship lurched violently to the side. John had to grab a
stanchion to stay on his feet.
If not the power buss end of the circuit breaker, then it
must be one of the control ends. The emergency mainsail cutoff
was supposed to have triggered the circuit breaker. It was right
beside the stairway leading up to the pilot room. He popped it
open and a pile of Van Gogh sketchings fell out rustling loudly.
What?! This was where he had hidden Van Gogh's sketchings that
the artist had been tossing aside. He had inserted them into the
metal instruction pamphlet envelope attached to the panel cover.
The rough jostling must have sprung the over-stuffed metal
"Mayday! Mayday! Maximum maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 10 seconds... 9 seconds... 8
He ripped out the remaining papers from around the control
board -- the last drawing was actually a little burnt. The
circuit board was very hot; its microprocessor must be
malfunctioning. It must still be reporting normal function to
the main computer! That would explain why no trouble was being
reported at the ship's status board.
He looked around inside, not being intimately familiar with
such an obscure circuit, and discovered a manual override button
on the back, brightly labeled: "WARNING - MAINSAIL KILL".
John reached in and pressed the button! Suddenly, a
hissing, crackling sound came from back over inside the opened
main power buss circuit breaker box. The breaker wasn't opening!
John raced over just as the ship lurched sideways again. He
was tossed against a stanchion, bruising his left arm and left
leg. He dove for the circuit breaker box.
Reaching in, he grabbed the extended manual wipe lever and
tried to yank it back -- it was fused!
Magic adrenalin fired through him. Time slowed down. He
felt he had all the time in the world. His hand tightened around
the lever. He braced himself painfully against the power buss
tube with his other sore hand and pulled back with every ounce of
physical strength; the band-iron lever cutting, slicing deeply
through his hand -- he cried out in pain and anguish... And
then, the lever gave! The arc from all 95% of the generator's
output suddenly exploded across the circuit breaker points,
blinding John with the flash and exploding the point cover which
went flying out, bouncing off John's skull, leaving a deep gash.
"2 seconds. Maneuvering sail power increasing. Now at
25%". GOD, he thought, THE PHASE HYSTERESIS TIME DELAY! WOULD
THERE BE ENOUGH TIME?!
"1 second... Maneuvering sail power increasing. Now at
50%. Mayday! Mayday! Maximum Maneuvering power from gravitonic
field generator required within 1 second... Holding steady at 1
second due to normal analysis error... Maneuvering sail power
increasing. Now at 75%. Mayday! Mayday! Maximum Maneuvering
power from gravitonic field generator required within 1 second...
Maneuvering sail power at 100%. Brace for unstable current
OH, NO! He thought. NOT WHILE I'M DOWN HERE! I'VE GOT TO
BE AT THE CONTROLS. NO COMPUTER CAN HANDLE A MANEUVER THROUGH AN
UNSTABLE CURRENT! He put his unbruised arm around the nearby
stanchion. His hand was wet with his own blood and he still
couldn't see due to the after image caused by the flash of the
exploding circuit breaker.
Then, the ship crashed into the unstable gravitonic current.
Gravitons smashed into the ship's maneuvering sails violently,
causing rapid deceleration back down from the perilous rapid
current velocities. John was flung around the stanchion, further
bruising himself as he crashed against its other side. The ship
swept up, then down. It twisted. Turning, moving, lurching
through insane motions. Through the noise of the gravitonic
generator, the gyroscopes and all the other noises he thought he
heard laughter coming from the stairwell. Van Gogh might have
awakened, he thought. The poor man must be lying there strapped
in thinking the ship is shaking apart. He must be going mad!
John dived toward the stairwell. He had to get to the
computer or the ship would be doomed. He felt for and grabbed
the bottom step just as the ship began yet another set of insane
motions. Now the laughing again! And louder than ever.
Suddenly, the ship twirled sickeningly and then faster and faster
until John couldn't believe he or the ship could take the strain
anymore. This must be the end. The end!
But it kept going on and on. He couldn't tell if it was
seconds now or minutes...
Then, instantaneously, it stopped! No more motion at all,
like it had never happened. His heart was pounding.
Quickly, John struggled up the steps. His vision was
returning, though blood from where the circuit breaker panel
cover had glanced off his head was now getting in one eye. He
felt nauseous, yet knew he could control it. He had to save his
ship. He must! He was an INFINITY CITY MAN!
He got to the top of the stairwell and lurched into the
pilot room. There in the pilot chair was Van Gogh, staring
intently at the main display screen. He was holding his finger
in front of him pointing toward the center of the display. Every
now and then he would jerk it slightly this way or that and say,
"This way... Now that way a little..." And the computer would
obey! Normally, it would only obey John, but the MAYDAY
emergency must have overridden this. Van Gogh had awakened and
gotten to the pilot chair. How could he have known what to do?!
And then, John looked at what was on the display screen. No
more orange unstable gravitonic currents. No more red rapid
currents. No black currents. Not even dim white currents. What
he saw were several curving bright white bands spiraling in
toward the center of the display. The border around the display
was bright white. They were safely on their way in!
He stood dumbly watching a nineteenth-century artist pilot
his sailship through a black hole. This couldn't be happening.
Hallucination? He felt lucid, though dazed...
Then, at the center of the display a white disk rapidly grew
covering the entire display until it was all white, indicating
that the ship was in the center and there was no where else to go
now. Van Gogh sat back and looked over at John with a curious
blank look. John said, "Close your eyes. We're about to enter
our... harbor." The transition through the first event horizon
made things look awful for an instant. Many found it
disconcerting. Van Gogh smirked and closed one eye. And then
they left the universe...
John had closed his eyes and when he opened them again, Van
Gogh's closed eye was open and his opened eye was closed and his
mouth hung open in stupefaction. John looked around and
everything was mirror reversed from before. However, he knew
this was an hallucination, a psychological phenomenon that often
happened during the transition; something about the subatomic
particle structure of the brain that processed visual data.
People usually got over this in a day or so. They would awake
one morning and everything would be back to normal...
This had been a strange voyage. But there on the display
screen before them, floating in the middle of black nothingness,
lay his familiar multi-colored Infinity City. More peaceful and
home-like to him than Earth itself!
"Mr. Van Gogh, may I present to you my world called Infinity
City." And then, John collapsed on the closest bunk and called,
"Computer! Hail Infinity City using password: 113322. Request
emergency grappling assistance... And medical care..."
And then he passed out for awhile...
CHAPTER 20 - WELL OF THE WISH
When John One awoke he was still lying on the bunk. A woman
in a medical uniform was standing next to him reviewing the
display of some portable medical device that had been wheeled
into the cabin. She looked up, smiled and said, "Welcome back
home, Adventurer! And how do you feel?"
He looked down at himself and discovered he was wearing a
clean and undamaged uniform. His hand was bandaged and not
hurting at all. As he raised his brow in surprise, he could also
feel a bandage on his head. He nodded and said, "I feel fine.
We had a rough entry. Am I okay internally?"
"Just fine," she said, patting his hand reassuringly. "No
major damage at all. I injected a minimal amount of synth-blood,
plus a few microbots that will fix anything minor. As a matter
of fact, I'm not even recommending hospitalization! If you can
stand and walk, I'll let you sign this release..."
John got up stiffly, walked around the cabin and smiled, "I
thought I was half-dead! How long have I been out? Do you know
if there were any problems getting us in?"
The woman was at the beginning of her mature years. She
stood, admiring John's youthful resilience, with that serene,
smilingly calculating look of the women of Infinity City when
they are contemplating how a particular man can add to the power
and security of their Family. She responded, "I was sent up with
the recovery team after your computer reported that your mainsail
was out. They decided to use a control net because repairs would
have taken too long. Once your ship was stabilized, I boarded
and found you and that other fellow. He was in passable shape,
but loaded with toxins due to mild immune system dysfunction,
understandable as behind as he is on his anti-aging. But,
nothing that couldn't wait until hospital and the Pill. I got to
work on you right away. Your friend sat and watched the whole
time. Strange fellow... Very concerned about you, though.
"I administered a sedative to keep you asleep, and with
nothing else to do tried to talk with your rather odd friend. He
just sat at the controls there with his arms folded, staring at
the display screen. Finally, he crawled into his bunk, stared up
at me with a strange look for a moment, then went to sleep. You
Adventurers bring in some strange cases from the colonies!"
John was thankful she did not know they had returned from
the past. He asked, "Where is he... Where are WE now?"
"Space port. As I said, they didn't want to repair your
mainsail system in space and said that this ship was such a
sturdy model that it would easily take the net, so they lowered
us that way. I even stayed on board, though strapped in, of
course. Your friend was quite startled when he awoke to find me
strapping him in. He said he didn't want a WOMAN touching him.
Is he from a gender-polarized colony?"
John said, "Yes, quite." And then teasingly: "Almost as
bad as you ladies keep it here."
She gave him a sideways look of admonishment, but still
smiled. "Oh, we keep you virtually roped down, don't we. I'll
bet YOU can't wait to go off on your next Adventure, young man."
She said YOUNG MAN in an interesting way, John thought.
"I've nothing planned, actually," and then ruefully, "I'll
be here in City for a while." And then thoughtfully, "Actually,
I've a very interesting cargo to dispose of. Where is Vincent,
"He's been out on the tarmac for hours -- painting the
ships. Is he an artist? His style is so awful! What world did
he come from?"
"'Awful'? You think so?! He's from a place called...
"Well, it's a place I'VE never heard of. New discovery?"
"Sort of. I better go find him before he wanders into the
City and gets lost. Where's that release form?..."
John signed the screen of her medical computer with his
finger, then called the control tower to request transportation
for himself and the medical lady. He changed his mind suddenly
and ordered regular ground transportation for the lady to take
her back to the hospital, requesting instead an excursion-skiff
for himself and Vincent.
Next, he checked the status display of his ship, made a
mental note of the repairs he and his uncle would have to
schedule, then wheeled the lady's medical device out of the ship
for her. He locked up his ship, then looked around for Van Gogh,
and found him off in the distance, near a huge interstellar
transport. Well, he'd let him paint until the skiff arrived.
He discussed local news with the medical lady, who kept
turning the conversation to men and women in what John suspected
was an almost flirtatious way. He had learned that a man could
never presuppose the intentions of one of Infinity City's women.
When her ground transport arrived, John stowed her medical device
into the little cargo space. She kissed him on the cheek
formally, smiled warmly and was off. All of a sudden, he felt
such joy to be home and realized that he loved his Infinity City
with all his heart.
Then, he felt frustrated that an officer of the Militia
Guard should have such sentimental feelings and resolved to be
off on another Adventure just as soon as Mr. Van Gogh was settled
and producing art for his uncle. At John's early age he had not
yet come to expect the inevitable revolting development that came
to every grand project...
Hearing a buzzing sound, John turned to discover an
excursion-skiff floating down, suspended below its colorful
billowing gravitonic sails. It partially resembled the hot air
balloons of Earth because passengers rode in a small, basket
allowing them to look out over Infinity City. But the sails
differed from a balloon in shape. They were tall and tapered,
and more like banana peels. They separated and opened when up or
down motion was required. This one's sails were bent all the way
open now as it gently landed -- like a sky-filling gigantic
flower. Then they slowly closed up to form a tall floating
stately tapered tower.
A chubby, balding man, whose head was tucked down safely
between his shoulders, was at the controls of the skiff. He
dramatically swung open its little door, jumped out and extended
his hand with a jovial manner. "Hello! I'm Ed Unity! My skiffs
are the newest in town and the smoothest you'll ever ride! Got
experience?" Then he noticed John's Guard uniform. "The Guard!
Well, there's nothing I can tell you! Except, I know how you
boys love to sail close to the edge. But if you get to the edge
of the City, and the rim alert goes off, don't get any closer or
she'll land automatically... The cost is only 300 Riyals per
hour. *5. Cheapest in town! Keep her out as long as you like --
just don't forget the meter's running!... What in the world is
that guy doing?" He pointing over John's shoulder, and John
turned to find Van Gogh eagerly setting up his easel a short
"Vincent," he shouted. "Come on! Come over here! I'll
show you something to paint!"
Vincent grabbed his gear up again and slowly walked over to
the basket, craning his neck up at the spectacular, multicolored
sails. He was very excited. "Balloon! Is this a balloon?"
"Yes, it is. Just like back in your world, Vincent," John
The skiff owner leaned over to John and muttered, "Where's
this guy from? Some COLONY?"
"He's from a far off land."
"Yeah? Hey listen -- you space boys gotta stop bringing
these guys in. They work for peanuts and put honest Citizens
outta work! My brother Sam had a cleaning service and a bunch of
Cetis opened up shop in the same area... Next thing you know,
Sam's living with me unemployed! Four more hungry mouths! But I
do all right. Best skiffs in Town, you know!"
When he was through with his rant, he opened the door to the
basket with a bow and a flourish. He admitted John One, Van Gogh
and himself, then snapped the door closed. He gestured to the
controls, "It's all yours, Commander. Just drop me off at the
South East corner of the field. Then, keep it as long as you
want. You want it overnight? Fine! No problem! It's cheaper
by the day."
John had flown the excursion-skiffs many times before,
usually taking members of the Family on tours during the
holidays. He looked around and sure enough, there was a small
snack and liquor vending machine attached to the wall of the
basket, halfway between the floor and lip -- liquor was illegal
for the pilot, of course.
"Commander! You want a drink to relax? No problem! Here
the first one's on me..." He started fumbling for a key, but
John interrupted, "No, no thanks. After we land, perhaps."
"Never touch the stuff when I'm flying, either." He belched.
The gravitonic field generator was already humming away at
idle to keep the sails floating aloft. John spun it up to lift
off power, checked the computer radar screen, eye-balled the sky
himself, then slowly unwound the sails. As the sails blossomed
out above their heads, they were shaded from the artificial sun-
source overhead out beyond the atmosphere; the sails were
translucent, changing the sky from its current bright blue to the
rainbow colors of the sails. "Astonishing! Astonishing!"
murmured Van Gogh, squinting up at the sails bending down. John
was secretly glad that the blue sky had not been "voted out"
while he was away.
As the skiff lifted off smoothly, they watched the space
port drop below. At a few hundred meters, John wound the sails
back up to their fixed altitude position, then eased over the
polarity of the sail, facing it toward the desired destination of
the owner of the skiff. The space port below began to slide by
in the opposite direction.
Van Gogh was clutching the lip of the basket staring wide-
eyed at the ground passing beneath. He looked over at John and
asked, "Please, could I have some... liquor?"
The owner said firmly, with a trace of condescension,
"Colonials have to pay for all drinks -- let's see your cash."
"Give him the drink you offered me," John suggested.
"Free drinks are for Citizens. Colonials have to pay!"
"Please put it on my Family's tab."
The skiff owner shrugged. "Sure, Commander. Whatever you
say." He brought out a notebook and stylus. "What's your name
and Family name."
"John One of the Larsch."
He looked up sharply. "The Larsch! Well, well. Well to
do, well to do. Commander, your wish is my command." He took
his key and opened the liquor and snack machine revealing rows of
small bottles and stacks of snacks. Cordially smiling and
spreading his hands wide, he asked Van Gogh, "What will be your
pleasure, Sir? A friend of the Larsch is a friend of mine!
"A glass of wine. Or schnapps or brandy, if you have that."
"Wine and brandy, we got. 'Snaps,' whatever that is, we
don't have. You want colony specialties, you bring 'em along
yourself, friend. How about a nice glass of brandy??"
"That would be fine, sir."
"...good manners for a colonial..." he mumbled while pouring
a goodly portion. Van Gogh took a good pull and let out a sigh
-- he seemed more relaxed already.
Mr. Unity pointed the way to his establishment. When they
were near the warehouse and several frameworks supporting Mr.
Unity's fleet of excursion-skiffs, John One depolarized his
steering sails, then unwound them for the descent.
When they touched down, Mr. Unity popped open the door,
hopped out, snapped it closed again, then backed away bowing and
gesturing. "Bon voyage, gentlemen! Have the time of your lives.
Go pick up some ladies; they love the sky; really thaws them
John waved at the man as they ascended away, amused at his
Infinity City was roughly disk-shaped. The main urban area
was in the exact center with the space port just beyond the
Eastern edge. He now swung the skiff to the West and brought it
up to a much higher altitude. There were rarely clouds in the
artificially maintained atmosphere. No weather in general. The
agricultural areas were sprayed with hydroponic liquids from mist
geyser fountain nozzles on the ground.
The sky was a constant bright sky-blue. The artificial sun
looked real enough. It was actually a nuclear furnace, directed
magnetically across the sky by drone sailships. During the day,
it would be ignited as it was magnetically dragged across the sky
from East to West. After "sundown" it would be shut off, then
dragged back, underneath Infinity City, to the Eastern edge of
Infinity City's disk to await "dawn" and a repeat of the cycle.
On special occasions, just before dawn, fine dust of colored
crystals would be blown up into the atmosphere near the Eastern
edge, providing a spectacular and glorious sunrise. Children
would be told that the black hole was smiling on that day.
Many streets and open terraces across Infinity City were
covered with translucent awnings of subtle colorings: pleasing
mother of pearl, light yellow, striking indigo. The public
transportation system was an above ground light-rail system,
termed the MOVER, whose cars were painted in subdued colors with
interesting patterns, very pleasing from an aerial view aboard an
Flying across these amazing tapestries of varying color and
shapes had a profound affect on Mr. Van Gogh. "Astonishing!
This city is a painting itself."
John had been waiting for a chance to bring up the subject
of having Van Gogh paint for his uncle and himself. "Would you
enjoy painting this city for awhile? You can paint down in the
streets, out in our fields, or you can come up here whenever you
"Yes, I would enjoy painting this amazing land very much,
but... How will I live here? Before, I lived from the charity
of my dear brother. But what will I do here?" A plaintive look
of fear began to spread across his face.
"Vincent, please, do not worry! You are the guest of my
Family. You were as soon as you set foot on our ship. Please
accept our patronage and support. In return, we only ask you to
do what you do best... Paint!"
"This is like a strange dream. But so my life has always,
always been. I will accept. I cannot go back to France, you
say? Well then, I will not require much at all. Just a little
room, some simple food, and painting supplies... Is there a
church, a Christian church that I may attend?"
"Well, the Grand Dames only allow the One True Belief. But
only officially. People from colonies are still allowed to
practise their own religions at home, as long as they don't try
to convert others. You'll at least FIND some Christians
somewhere, if not an actual church." Van Gogh nodded, satisfied.
The artist turned back to the amazing canopy of colors
sliding slowly below. They spent the next hour or two lazily
floating over Infinity City -- Van Gogh marveling at his new
world; John One marvelling at what a successful first Adventure
he had completed.
Another excursion-skiff floated past with a young couple
aboard waving and lifting champagne glasses. Out over the
agricultural fields, another skiff was floating stationary while
two technicians on board were scanning the crops below with
special cameras for monitoring overall growth characteristics.
They emphatically waved John away so the shadow of his skiff
would not ruin their findings.
Finally, they returned to the skiff ranch, where John paid
for their time -- hearing many a "Please come again!" from Mr. Ed
Unity. John ordered a rent-a-car and when it arrived they took
off in search of an apartment for Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, newest
Citizen of Infinity City.
The next days were spent familiarizing Mr. Van Gogh with
modern gadgets, transportation about the City, and dealing with
the people of the City. He was delighted with the amazing array
of gadgets for ease and convenience in his apartment and about
The Grand Dames appreciated a comfortable life-style
demanding intuitive, easy to use gadgetry. Also, public
facilities had to be easy to use by the colonial laborers. Any
gadget too complex to figure out would have a built in computer
with the ability to converse in English, the ancient language of
Infinity City -- a language so adaptable to cultural change, it
was difficult to give up. Van Gogh had very little problem
John One showed him how to get around the City aboard the
ubiquitous MOVERS, (though, John himself, preferred his own
electric car) and introduced Vincent to various shops and
To make purchases, Van Gogh was given a Larsch credit card
with a 500 Riyal-per-day purchase limit, and a few other
preprogrammed purchase limitations to keep him out of trouble.
When the painting supplies from Earth ran low, they both
went out one morning in search of a local supply. This was
challenging. In spite of the amazing variety of color, Van Gogh
did not care for the acrylic paints because he could not "smell
the color." He demanded the old-fashioned Earth pigments because
each one "smelled like its color." John One simply used the
computer terminal aboard a MOVER to tie in to the City's vendor
directory, finding a little shop that carried traditional and
imported art supplies. It was located in OLDTOWN, the only place
ODD little shops could afford to do business. Rent was cheap in
OLDTOWN due to lack of modern facilities. Reconstruction was not
allowed so as to preserve the first part of the City ever built.
It was here, in the dead center of the stasis between the first
and second black hole event horizons that the original Infinity
City founders had begun the City.
At the exact center, overlooking and dangerously open to the
second event horizon, they had built the WELL OF THE WISH
cistern. It was open to the public, though a circular wall of
about 100 meters diameter around it forced anyone desiring entry
to pass a single guard station. This was mainly to prevent
unsupervised children from entry. And, it had become quite a
formal rite of passage -- upon reaching one's sixth birthday --
to be finally allowed in to see down into the phenomenal second
After leaving the paint shop and moving off on the MOVER,
Van Gogh saw up ahead the strange circular wall with the well-
like structure in the center, and inquired to John regarding this
John said proudly, "That, Vincent, is the heart of our City:
The 'WELL OF THE WISH'."
"It looks very interesting. Please, let us stop and see
"Sure. But we can't stay long. You have been invited to
the Grand Dame's table this evening, for dinner, and we cannot be
They left the MOVER walked over to the guard station. John
waved at the old man sitting in the booth reading a book. The
old man looked up, squinted at them, and seeing John's Militia
Guard uniform, nodded, stood stiffly and saluted. Then, he waved
them through, and gratefully returned to his seat. John felt
sorry for the old man -- obviously one of those poor, unfortunate
souls whose DNA structure had some fluke making it immune to the
Pill of Life.
And then John made a remark to Vincent he would regret
"Actually, you can come here by yourself anytime. Just walk
on past the guard. He's just there to keep out the kids. People
come here to be alone, but not very often. They say that the
second event horizon soothes the spirit and will take away any
turmoil. See? No one's ever here... Eerie, isn't it."
Though the sun was overhead, a canopy of translucent white
provided a subdued, tranquil light. The smell of age was in the
place. Van Gogh went over to the black and dark red brick
cistern and slowly and carefully peered over the edge. His hands
had been behind his back, but suddenly with a sharp intake of
breath he flung them out sideways and leapt back, bringing his
hands up in front of him as if warding off something dangerous.
He took several steps backwards then turned to John, "Is that
"Maybe, to some. I've heard that a long, long time ago they
used to execute incorrigible criminals by tossing them in. It's
really just the second event horizon. Don't drop anything down
into it because no one knows where it goes, and some worry it may
bounce back someday... Anyway, we must go now so that we aren't
late for dinner."
They left with Vincent muttering, "I have seen my miracle!"
CHAPTER 21 - THE COMMISSION
John One's uncle was at first apprehensive of John's
enterprise and doubted the identity of Van Gogh. However, Van
Gogh had been painting every day since their arrival and the
authenticity of the stunning works he was producing could not be
doubted. Van Gogh's productivity was amazing. He had invented a
style of often painting directly from the tube, using it like a
pen and sometimes -- in fits of creative fervor and frustration
bordering on madness -- would swipe at the canvas, as if the tube
he was holding was a sword!
When his uncle voiced doubts about Van Gogh's sanity, his
nephew assured him that what he observed was mere artistic
temperament and that all the historical stories about his madness
were due to the ear infection, which John One had cured and which
the doctor on board their sailship had validated.
Van Gogh, grateful to his patrons and delighted with his new
world, began amassing a significant volume of paintings and
drawings; the paintings included landscapes from all over
Infinity City, portraits of anyone that caught his fancy who
would sit still long enough, and several works from his memory of
what he had seen during their voyage between Earth and the black
hole to Infinity City.
John's uncle finally burst forth his amazement and gratitude
to his nephew, "John, I'm convinced. It is almost unbelievable!
Truly you have worked a miracle! What amazing luck and perfect
execution. To not only have found and brought back your stock of
art treasures of Earth, but to have brought back one of the
greatest Artists of all time! If only your father were here to
take pride in his son's first and most esteemed adventure!"
At this, John's expression tightened and he looked away,
controlling the surge of emotions he always felt when the subject
of his unreliable father was mentioned.
His uncle, who often discussed with others the possible
whereabouts or fate of his younger brother each time he would
disappear, in the hopes of one day putting together a party to go
in search for him, changed the subject to spare John's feelings:
"John! We have a lot of work to do to fully exploit your
legendary artist. A gallery! I want you to open a gallery to
show his works. Rent one of the buildings down in OLDTOWN in a
busy location. We'll take advantage of all the people who
already go down there looking for oddities..." He offered much
more advice on how best to exploit their new artistic resource.
John found a spacious vacant store with a sizable back
warehouse. It was located in OLDTOWN along a street made popular
due to its proximity to the WELL OF THE WISH. The strange,
animated patterns that could be seen in the "WELL" often inspired
peoples' artistic fancies, which were easily gratified at the
curio and art shops along the thoroughfare. All in all, it was a
good location for an art gallery. There was even a nice little
cafe conveniently located at the end of the street.
John and Vincent were soon hard at work preparing the
gallery for opening. Vincent was amazed and delighted with the
electrical lighting that John supplied. Vincent would spend
hours, often most of the night, arranging the lights just so, and
then minutely adjusting their brightness, spectral content and
even subliminal phasing (the psychological effect of this still
largely under debate throughout the established art community of
Even before the gallery opened, people began dropping in,
drawn by the eye-catching works of art seen through the windows:
the ancient works John had brought from Earth, Vincent's recent
Infinity City work and his mysterious work from the sailship
journey; even the drawings he had made then discarded aboard the
sailship, uncrumpled by John. Van Gogh was inspired by the
fantasyland of Infinity City. His resulting works were amazing
Or, people were drawn by the rumors floating around Infinity
City that an Adventurer had "time-napped" a famous Earth artist.
John's uncle suggested keeping Vincent a secret until the
gallery's grand opening, giving the enterprise a dramatic
introduction to society, thus raising sales through the
legitimacy of such an admirable start. Though "Van Gogh" was no
longer a house-hold word, since the artists of Earth had to
compete with the artists of Earth's countless colonies throughout
the Galaxy, much of the art community of Infinity City still held
the artist Vincent Van Gogh in rapt regard, some believing him
the greatest painter of all time. Though most were unconvinced
as to Vincent's authenticity, many dropped by the gallery to see
Whether or not he was Vincent Van Gogh, his talent was seen
as genuine, and Vincent revelled in pride as connoisseurs and
other artists began dropping by to seek out this new, local
genius and to discuss various aspects of art. Often, John could
find Vincent at the cafe at the end of the thoroughfare, nearest
the WELL OF THE WISH, in heated discussions with one or more of
his growing league of admirers.
CHAPTER 22 - MANDY
One evening, while John was constructing partitions in the
gallery, the grand opening only a few days away, an old friend of
his entered the gallery. She secretly watched him from the door
for a few moments, admiring his large, well-muscled physique as
he lifted and moved the heavy wooden partitions. She walked
directly up to him smiling, tilted her head coquettishly and said
sweetly, "Hello, John!"
John slowly put down his work, turned around and stared.
Then delight spread across his face like one of Infinity City's
Celebration Dawns. "Mandy..." he breathed. "I never thought I
would see you again." He remembered why. He tentatively reached
out and took her soft, little hand in his. She resisted not in
the least; her eyes closing, she fell into his arms, "John, oh,
John One! How I've missed you. I love you! I love you so much.
It's been so long..."
He held her in his arms and old feelings were again there as
if they had never left. He had not seen her since he had
graduated from the Infinity City Militia Guard Academy and had
left for duty out beyond the black hole. He thought he would
never see her again and had disciplined himself to stop thinking
of her. But feelings do not respond to discipline...
She wriggled in his hold on her and looked up into his calm,
gray eyes. "Oh, John, to have your arms around me again! You
are so wonderful! My favorite ... favorite person in my whole
life. Don't let me go..."
The fragrance of her soft, flowing dark hair intoxicated
him. She was a head shorter than he and would often stand on
tip-toe as they held each other. Her eyes were the softest most
loving brown. And natural, too! All her beauty was natural.
Her dainty pleasing face with full lips quick with a winsome
smile; petite feminine figure, always exquisitely attired in the
latest styles, but never extravagant, just eye-catching and
always so strikingly female. Today, she wore a simple lavender
smock with a pretty sash, a bow tied at the side; the smock cut
above her knees -- exposing the irresistible curves of her legs
-- down to her delicate feet in slippers of matching lavender
with micro-hints of multi-colored sparkling liquid crystals. She
was his dream come true and would always be so.
"Oh, John, this is too much. Is there someplace we can go?"
"Wait," he breathed and bent his head down to slowly touch
his lips to hers. He relished at the warmth and softness that he
tasted. She gave a long soft mewing sigh and slid her hands up
his sturdy back to hold his powerful shoulders. Tighter they
held each other, lost in a spiraling rise of passion, familiar as
if they had never been apart.
He brushed his clean-shaven cheek against the softness of
hers, and they touched noses, smiling into each others eyes,
instantly knowing that each knew and felt and desired the same.
"Mandy, you are incredible!" he began in an inspired rush of
words. "You make me feel so much. I'm just a cold nothing
without you. You fill me with such... amazing feelings, like a
huge sail on an interstellar merchant ship."
"John, what a way with words you have! I feel just the same
about you. You're my knight in shining armor. While you were
out doing battle amongst the stars, I thought of you all the
time. Could you not sense my love for you?"
He smiled and laughed a little. "Let's go have a nice
little intimate dinner, right here in the gallery. I've fixed up
a nice private showing-room in the back of the gallery with table
and chairs and... nice furniture and... a nice couch... There's
a cafe at the end of the street. I'll order up something...
"You're a perfect host, my love!" she hugged one of his arms
to her like a favorite teddy bear, then stood on tip-toe, giving
him little kisses all over his cheek.
He gently disentangled himself, then slowly walked over to
the telecom, feeling as if he was walking on two awkward easel
legs. How strange that his feelings for Mandy were still so
torrid after so long!
He remembered sweet Yvette, though returning through the
event horizon had restored all he had affected in the universe
back to the way it had been. Like he had awakened and little
Yvette had been nothing but just a warm, loving dream. If,
however, he could ever find his way back to that exact time, it
COULD happen all over. But different each time he returned...
He dismissed such an improbable occurrence. He had Mandy again!
He touched the recognition plate and spoke, "Cafe, end of
The telecom hummed on and off as it rang the cafe. The
owner answered, "Yes, yes? 'Cafe of the Well'..."
John placed an order for a simple dinner for two. The
owner, old and wizened, was fond of John and Vincent, and
especially of all the increased business Vincent brought to his
cafe. He said warmly, "Ah, my friend. Good Vincent is out on my
corner lecturing yet another neophyte, so you must be
entertaining perhaps, someone special?..."
"Yes," he answered looking warmly over at Mandy, who was
staring with a puzzled look at one of Vincent's works hanging on
the wall of the private showing-room. "I have someone very
special over here that I haven't seen for many years. Please
bring us something appropriate. And, a bottle of your finest."
The owner was only too happy to oblige such an open request
by one of such substantial means: a Larsch! "Ah, your wish is my
command, my young buccaneer! I happen to have just acquired a
rare and dainty delicacy from the seas of New Rome off Rigel."
"That will be fine. Perfect, in fact! Will it be long?
Are you busy?"
"Not at all!" he lied, having a full-house, it being the
weekend. However, for an Adventurer from one of the top houses,
everything was Priority One. "I'll have everything there within
just half an hour! One must placate the mood, eh, my young
friend? Never fear! I am your man of the hour! The HALF
John and Mandy sat and talked, holding hands, occasionally
touching each other's cheek or stroking each other's hair;
laughing at witty little remarks; smiling at memories of their
long relationship during John's years at the prestigious Academy.
Soon, there was a knock at the door. John walked out
through the gallery and opened the door. There, suspended
gravitonically, was the cafe's delivery robot, good for local
deliveries within a street or two of the cafe. A display screen
lit up and there was the face of the owner. "Hello, John! I'm
'live' right now..." as opposed to his prerecorded advertisement
tape... "Wait till you experience the masterpiece I have created
just for you two. Tonight, I found myself as inspired at the
stove as Vincent at his canvas!
"I told the robot to stay until you sent him home. He's
great! Just ask him for anything. He'll clean up after you're
done. Send him home as late as you want. Have a good time, my
young friend!" He faded from the screen nodding and winking.
John led the robot into the showing-room and asked it to set
up. It was slow but understood commands easily without
requesting clarifications, and even made a few amusing, even
suggestive comments, undoubtedly set up by its owner, an old
romantic it seemed.
They ate the wonderful meal; savoring each morsel, glancing
into each others eyes, sighing; then winking; then laughing.
John felt she could be everything for him.
And, they drank from the bottle of an effervescent local
wine of an exceedingly delightful vintage. As the bubbles rose
in their long, fluted glasses, so did their youthful passions
until they soon found themselves in each others arms on the
couch, letting go all the energies kept in check so down low.
Such caring they felt for each other. Even with passions
quaking, fire burning within, making them shake and quiver with
explosive urgency, still they, especially John, were so gentle,
cultivating a glowing essence of love, living tonight just in
their own private intimate paradise.
Oh, he let the leash he held on himself go! How could such
an animal live within his high-caste, disciplined self? And yet,
she thrived on him, and gave herself completely over to him.
And, he felt as a gentle monster, his love for her exploding from
his energies and movements, ALMOST INSANE.
And on they voyaged through the night. He, exploring this
amazing, beckoning, inviting woman that was Mandy. She, yielding
herself happily, excitedly to this newly re-discovered awesome
young, conquering hero...
* * *
The next morning, very late the next morning, they found
themselves languidly enjoying a light breakfast that the robot
just happened to have stored within, having been prepared last
night with someone's uncanny foresight. He looked at her, but
strange! Maybe not so strange, she was not meeting his gaze like
she had the night before.
It was just like before, though he HAD hoped the years may
have changed her.
"Oh, Mandy! I still love you so. Be my wife! Join the
"John, I love YOU so. Sweet John, you ARE precious to
offer. But, my life is my life. I like doing whatever I want.
And you KNOW that I'm good at it! I don't want to become a busy-
body old Grand Dame! Meddling in everybody's lives. Trying to
be so perfect all the time. Always judging everybody else!" Her
eyes were flashing and John remembered her telling him once that
her mother had been or still was a Grand Dame with some obscure
Family. He wondered what family it was?
She collected herself, embarrassed at her momentary rant,
"Let's forget all this sort of talk. You'll see me again! And
now, don't you have a 'gift' for me???"
He hung his head at the thought of what was to come. She
had rejected him again, or at least his honorable offer, though
he could not say that he felt surprised. Maybe if he just gave
her more time. But, he wanted her so! "Yes... yes. Let me give
you one of Vincent's works. Here's one that was done on our
voyage home." He rose and reached for one of Vincent's dazzling,
incendiary scenes from space.
"A painting?" she asked, skeptically.
"Yes! Of course!" He grew excited at the thought of maybe
winning her over through Vincent's art. "It's a beautiful work
he did based on his perceptions of outer space... What he saw
through my ship's viewscreen. It will be priceless someday!" He
was struggling with the painting's wall catch. It wouldn't
"'Someday'? What's it worth NOW?"
"Well, the gallery hasn't even opened yet. He's not
completely accepted yet. But he will be! Then his work will be
in highest demand. He's so productive! We plan to open
galleries in all the older, established Galactic colonies. He's
really the greatest artist of all time, you know!" He could not
get the painting free from its catch, and though he felt like
breaking it free with force, he did not want to damage it, so he
dropped his hands at his sides and faced her as she stood
innocently smiling up at him.
"John, dear, I'm not interested in investments. I have
bills to pay. Why don't you just pull out that wonderful Larsch
credit card of yours and bestow a donation based on... my own
artistic achievements, of which I seem to remember you claiming
as the 'greatest ever'..."
John looked deep into her soft, dark eyes, but saw not what
he longed to see. With a deep sigh and eye-brows arched
philosophically, he pulled forth his huge wallet and withdrew his
Larsch card of ivory with its flowing designs and legends
embossed in gold. He tapped into the card's miniature keypad his
authorization code and an amount, then asked, "Where's yours?"
Smiling, she presented a simple utility card, drawn on one
of the long established Infinity City banks. "Here it is, my
generous friend. You are feeling generous today, aren't you?"
and she pulled the card back a little, suddenly pouting and
looking so helpless.
John could feel himself yielding to her charm. He was a
fool, he knew, to dearly love this kind of girl so. But, life
was infinite and he felt sure that someday he would win her over.
She was young, almost as young as he, in Infinity City terms, or
so he thought. "I'll always be generous to you, Mandy. I'll
always do anything for you that I can." This made her blush, but
she did not break from his sincere gaze. He paused, then added
another zero at the end of the amount, took her card, which she
was happily offering, and placed it beneath his so that they both
touched at the transfer point. Then, he pressed the button
marked TRANSFER to send an electronic voucher for the specified
amount from his card into hers, good at any local bank. He
slowly offered her back her card.
She took it daintily -- her dazzling smile returning -- and
looked at the amount of the voucher displayed in glowing
numerals. Her eyes widened. "You ARE feeling generous today!"
He said, with a little sulkiness, "That's nothing compared
to what one of Vincent's paintings will be worth."
"His stuff is really worth all that?" she asked
thoughtfully, looking around at Vincent's paintings all over the
private showroom, while then storing her credit card safely back
into her purse. She shrugged, stood once again on her tip-toes
to give him a peck on the cheek and said impishly, "Thank you,
Johnny! Now I'm 'off to see the wizard'!" And with that, she
skipped out the back door, which closed automatically behind her,
leaving a young man staring after; his feelings all astir; his
thoughts arguing amongst themselves. He seemed to recall reading
that Vincent had long ago suffered days like these...
The robot stirred and asked, "May I clean up the mess, Sir!"
He grinned ruefully, "Go ahead and try..." and stalked out
into the gallery, where he threw himself back into the work of
preparing for the grand opening...
During the next few days, John One tried several times to
get in touch with Mandy. Every time he called her apartment,
however, and told the computer who he was, it would repeat the
same disappointing message informing him that Mandy was all
booked up for the foreseeable future. Unable to bear the
rejection any longer, he gave up. She just did not want him to
be a part of her life.
CHAPTER 23 - FRIENDS MEET
It was a quiet evening at the CAFE OF THE WELL. The owner
Mr. Manfretti was standing within the wood-framed bar. He was a
plump man, average in height with black curly hair above a
receding hairline, glitterning dark brown eyes above an enormous
nose, and a large mouth usually smiling graciously. He was busy
dipping wine glasses fresh from the dishwasher into his new
glazing machine, which left each glass sparkling as if coated
with microscopic diamonds. Actually, the machine simply coated
each glass with a harmless layer of carbon only a few molecules
thick. Some believed this even improved the taste of wine.
Business was light, it being a weeknight, with only a single
family at an inside table and a few couples relaxing outside.
Mr. Manfretti was quite happy, though. Business in general had
doubled since Mr. Vincent Van Gogh had become a regular, almost a
fixture at the cafe. Sometimes Vincent would even bring canvas
and easel, then paint Mr. Manfretti's pretty little seven-year-
old daughter, dark-eyed Angelica.
He sighed happily at the thought of her, his newest
daughter, and her mother his newest wife, so young she was not
even taking the PILL OF LIFE yet. They had met, fallen in love
and married only four years ago. Mr. Manfretti was 255 calendar
years her senior. Though he was, of course, on the PILL, he
still looked much older than her, because he had not started
taking the PILL OF LIFE until he was in his calendar 50's. All
those years ago... He had immigrated to Infinity City from an
obscure planet colonized by ancient Earth; a planet with medical
technology that had not developed to the point of solving the
problem of natural aging yet.
However, his people WERE fantastic cooks and Mr. Manfretti
had wangled himself a berth on an exploratory sailship operated
by an Adventurer from Infinity City. After eating continually at
Mr. Manfretti's restaurant there on the planet, the Adventurer
could not bear to spend months and months in space eating
standard ship fare. Offering Mr. Manfretti the PILL OF LIFE and
a generous wage, he talked him into selling his restaurant and
hiring on as ship's cook. Mr. Manfretti's wife of over 30 years
had died a year before of cancer; they had been childless; and,
he was tired of all the memories the old restaurant caused -- he
gladly agreed and signed on board.
The sailship's doctor prescribed a saturation dosage of the
PILL OF LIFE. The very next time the sailship put in at Infinity
City, the Adventurer lived up to his promise and paid for the
expensive custom prescription. This was meant for people
starting the PILL late in life, already suffering from the
effects of aging. Unfortunately, due to the immune system's
inability to repair scar tissue, and other similar problems,
people Mr. Manfretti's age could only expect partial
rejuvenation, though they would age no more. He had been in good
health, a little heavy, and after a few months the doctor's
medical computer reported all internal organs had rejuvenated to
an acceptable level. He would never be a tennis star, but would
be up to any activity a healthy man of 45 could handle. He was
satisfied with that. MORE than satisfied!
His flesh got clearer; age spots disappeared; however, he
remained looking middle aged. The doctor offered plastic surgery
but Mr. Manfretti just chuckled and said, "I want to open up
another restaurant someday. Nobody's going to trust a young
looking cook to be any good, you know what I mean? Look at me...
I got a little paunch -- I eat well! I look a little old -- hey,
I been around. Good for business!..."
When the sailship returned to Infinity City after five ship
years traveling around the Galaxy, Mr. Manfretti had saved enough
from his percentage of the ship's profit to purchase his current
little cafe near the WELL OF THE WISH. He soon married his
second wife and had several children. Life could be so good!
What a paradise Infinity City really was!
Unfortunately, he fell victim to a strange problem that was
really a benefit for Infinity City. After his children grew up,
most grew bored with the 30-mile wide Infinity City, and one by
one each berthed out aboard whatever sailship was available --
"in search of new event horizons" (as the saying went). His wife
missed her children very badly and was not as suited to the life
of a restaurateur as Mr. Manfretti. Their relationship became
strained and they agreed to part ways; he continued with his
restaurant and she went off to live with her favorite son, who
had become a respectable banker on some obscure world up in the
This same pattern occurred with his third, fourth and fifth
wives, and would probably occur, he sometimes thought sadly to
himself, with his present sixth wife. "But," he would say to his
friends, "What can you do, you know what I mean???" Such a
philosophical man, Mr. Manfretti...
The Infinity City sibling-to-parent ratio was extremely high
due to its most modern of medical sciences and an extreme
cultural affinity toward children. However, the children
continually grew up, grew bored, and left. Some came back, but
most either settled elsewhere among the spreading planets of
human colonization, or were killed, it being a dangerous Galaxy.
So, the high birth rate of Infinity City was balanced by the
emigration rate. There was some immigration, like Mr. Manfretti,
but few people up in the Galaxy were interested in the idea of
moving into a black hole. Rarely did the Infinity City engineers
have to add on to the disk-shaped superstructure of Infinity
City, though the original engineers had obviously designed the
girder system for endless expansion, and there was actually
plenty more room between the black hole's first and second event
horizons for even more Infinity Citys.
Mr. Manfretti looked up to check on his daughter, saw her
peaking over the table at the posttemporal Vincent Van Gogh and
his partner, Mr. John One of the Larsch, who had just sat down.
They had been showing up every evening during the long days
readying the gallery for its grand opening. Mr. Manfretti
swelled with pride at the thought of his restaurant being the
haunt for these two, who had become the talk of the town.
Vincent was the strangest character he had ever known in all his
years of restauranting. Thoroughly likable, he was though. Such
a caring young man. So full of the passion of life. He should
marry and have many children, Mr. Manfretti thought. LOOK HOW HE
ADORES MY DAUGHTER. HOW MANY TIMES HAS HE PAINTED HER, I FORGET!
And, John One captured his imagination. This young man,
barely older than a cub, fresh out of the Militia, had such a
magnetism in his relaxed, quiet demeanor that made him seem
capable of anything. Such a handsome, trim-looking lad, too.
Mr. Manfretti often noticed girls at other tables eyeing John One
who never seemed to notice -- just had eyes for that brunette
that came by with him now and then. Easy to see why, though.
What a beauty SHE was!
Mr. Manfretti was certain John One was destined for the
greatest of all lives. Manfretti secretly fantasized about a
time several years down the road, when his latest daughter,
Angelica, was of age. Imagine John One of the Larsch sweeping
her off her feet and asking her to be a Larsh wife. And she
would rise up and become one of their Grand Dames, bringing the
most famous people of Infinity City to her father's little
restaurant. And then, he would extend the franchise all over the
Galaxy and maybe beyond, the first human restaurant in the
Andromeda galaxy, the Magellanic clouds, even! The WELL OF THE
"...Papa, Papa! Mr. Vincent and Mr. One asked me to ask you
if they can have a drink!" His pretty little daughter with long
brown hair and rich green eyes was pulling at his trouser leg.
He blinked his eyes as he put his frequent little fantasy back on
its mental shelf, and nodded and smiled over to Vincent and John
One. He began mixing their favorite drinks. He knew their
favorite drinks and favorite meals by heart. It was early
evening. The sun would set soon. Let's see, Vincent would be
famished, but John One never ordered dinner until after dark...
John One and Vincent were chuckling as they sat outside the
cafe in the high-backed, wicker chairs and watched little
Angelica Manfretti tugging at her father as he stood with his
elbow on the bar grinning up into nowhere. Leaning on the glass
topped bamboo framed table, from his high-backed bamboo chair,
Vincent said, "I am fond of that old man. I want to paint him,
but every day that I come to the cafe to paint him, I leave with
another portrait of Angelica. Her hair so many shades of brown,
some bordering so close to yellow that I go mad! Ah, but the
sweetest of all children!"
"Yes, she is," agreed John. "Looks like her father must be
thinking up some new delicacy. He's an incredible cook! The
restaurants of France back on old Earth were impressive, but I
wouldn't want to have any but this one next to the gallery. It
seems like this cafe attracts more people every day."
"Yes, his food has the richness and delight of the tastes
that I seek with colors on my canvas."
John looked at him, then scratched his chin and looked back
inside the cafe, "My uncle might be interested in franchising Mr.
Manfretti. He's been talking about franchising the gallery if
it's a success."
From behind them, someone commented: "Why not a combination
gallery and bar?! Get 'em drunk them sell 'em your crazy
paintings!" John and Vincent whirled around to find a young man
standing at their table with hands on hips, grinning down at
them. He was tall, solidly built, with messy dark blonde hair,
and blue eyes. He had a small but dashing scar on the left cheek
of his clean-shaven face (from his active Militia days), and a
face-splitting, mischievous grin.
John leapt to his feet. "Jason! It's you!" And he grabbed
the other's arms.
"In the flesh, old blast-off buddy." He began harmlessly
pummeling John's stomach with both fists.
John grabbed his wrists and looked around embarrassed.
"Come on, Jason. We're not in the Militia anymore."
"Okay, Mr. Serious ... Mr. Out-rank-me!"
"Hey, you always got higher marks on every Academy exam we
ever had together. You graduated at the top of the class!"
Jason waved his hand. "Bah! All that head stuff! What's
that matter out in space? You're the one that zoomed up the
ranks. You were amazing in the Belatorian Skirmish! I played
back your battle tapes. How can you think so fast? You got a
black hole in your head? Or are you outside of time or
"It was just the academy training, nothing more," he said,
grinning at the memory of his first, hot battle. "You could have
done as well, if you weren't so old!" John teased. Jason had
mysteriously avoided the militia draft until his late 30's. It
was a feat he had successfully kept secret for years and had only
confided in John One. Though Jason had been far older than all
the other school-aged plebes, no one knew since he was on the
PILL and looked just as young as all the others. Somehow Jason's
computer file had been doctored and even the Academy itself had
never been wise to his actual age. His secret advantage of much
greater age, maturity and experience resulted in him becoming the
ring-leader of his class. He had lead the rest of his young,
naive cohorts through year after year of mischievous, outrageous,
even scandalous activity, especially during that strange unusual
and never-to-be-repeated year when the Grand Dames had decided to
try a mixed class of young men AND women. If only they had known
that a lecherous man of 39 had been lurking in that year's
"Yeah, right..." Jason looked over at Vincent, who had been
delightedly observing the two old friends. "I've been reading
about your interesting little adventure digging up this fossil
back on old Earth."
Vincent adored listening to others interact and wanted the
two to continue. To Jason he said, "Your friend saved my life by
bringing me back here. I owe him everything."
Jason looked at John. "Grateful little bugger, isn't he?
I'm crashing your party," he said as he pulled up a chair and
sat down. Looking around he scowled, "How's a fellow get a drink
around here, anyway?"
"Don't worry, Jason," John said, sitting back down and
patting Jason's famous drinking arm. "Here comes the owner."
Mr. Manfretti came bustling up to the table, holding a tray
of drinks with one hand, a towel draped over his arm. "Ah,
gentlemen, my apologies for keeping you waiting!" He was wearing
a baggy, shiny satin yellow shirt, which ruffled impressively as
he swept his free hand about in flourishes, moving the drinks to
the table. John's was just a glass of the house wine. Vincent
had a glass of his favorite synthesized Chablis. And
unexpectedly, Mr. Manfretti plopped down a synthesized scotch on
the rocks for Jason.
Jason looked down at the drink, looked up at Mr. Manfretti
dubiously and asked, "Scotch?"
"Of course, young buccaneer! The favorite of all Great
Flattered, Jason smugly arched his eyebrows, smirked, wagged
his head smugly and commented, "Of course!" He took a thirsty
pull at his drink. "Ahhh! That's scotch, all right!"
Vincent and John roared with laughter. John slapped Jason
on the back and ordered, "Mr. Manfretti, don't let his glass
empty and you'll have a customer for life!"
They all laughed and Mr. Manfretti smiled, bowed and asked,
"Can I get you fine gentlemen something to eat?"
"I'm waiting for my friend Mandy to show up. I'll order
with her. But you two can go ahead..." John said looking at
Vincent and Jason.
Jason declined, frowning, "Nothing for me. I just had a
huge meal over at the space port hotel."
Vincent looked at John amusedly, "John, how can you go
another minute without eating. We've been working constantly
since this breakfast. And no afternoon meal! You people of
Infinity City with this 'big meal after the sun goes down'! This
is my only complaint. Please, Mr. Manfretti, my usual before I
"Certainly, Mr. Van Gogh! And, I know what you mean. On my
home planet, the biggest meal was in the afternoon. And then, a
nice nap. That's how to live life! But here: work, work, work!
Half my customers fall asleep during dinner."
"It must be the half that drink as much as Jason does,"
commented John One, gesturing at Jason's now empty glass.
Jason grinned and cocked an ear toward his glass, "Hey, do
you hear that?! My ice cubes are crying: 'Help! Save us!
We're drying out!'"
Mr. Manfretti threw out his hands in mock alarm. "Good
Lord, I let your glass get empty! I must be aging. Where's my
PILLS? A thousand pardons, young sir! I shall refill forthwith
and that first one is on the house!" And with that, he scooped
up Jason's glass and flew back to the bar, the three men
chuckling behind him.
John remembered that he had not made introductions. He
turned to Jason and gestured at Vincent, "Jason Jason, I would
like you to meet Vincent Van Gogh. Did I pronounce it right THIS
"Closer, my friend, you get closer every day," Vincent said
"I thought I had it that time. Oh, well... And Vincent,
this is an old dear friend I went to school and served with in
the Militia Guard: Jason Jason."
Jason quipped, "You can call me by my first name!"
John groaned, "How many times have I heard that one?!"
"Yeah, with a name like this, I never know if a lady's being
passionate or just courteous..."
John looked at Jason, his eyes wide, pretending he was
shocked and admonished, "Jason!"
Vincent frowned in puzzlement, then shrugged and asked, "My
friend, your full name is 'Jason Jason'? Is this a custom where
you come from?"
Jason was watching with concern as Mr. Manfretti walked over
deftly swinging the tray with Jason's drink in great arcing
loops; the tray actually upside down at the top of each loop,
yet not spilling a drop (250 years of practise). "Huh, my name?
Oh, I'm from here, but dad gave me his first name, so I took the
patronymic instead of my father's surname. Just my sense of
humor -- and I didn't want to be called 'Junior.'"
"He's lying, Vincent!" John put it, grinning, "Two different
names would have been more than HE could remember!"
Jason said smugly, "Hey, John, the ladies never forget."
They all chuckled some more, except Vincent. They sipped at
their drinks -- even Jason, who had been served his second.
John looked at Jason and inquired, "Jason, you're staying at
the hotel. On your way out or in or staying for awhile?"
"I've been in for a few weeks now. 'Wanna get going soon,
but Mom and Dad are having their 100th anniversary. Can you
believe it? I'm throwing them a party tomorrow night. Just
family and close friends -- there's a difference, you know! Why
don't you both come? Mom would love to meet you, Mr. Van Gogh.
She's just as excited as everyone else about you. I started
hearing about you on the newsnet, just in from the event
Vincent looked at John helplessly. John explained, "Jason!
Tomorrow's the grand opening of our new art gallery. I was just
about to invite you! We have to be there; it's business. What
a shame we can't make their 100th! Is it exactly tomorrow?"
"Yes! You know how traditional they both are. But, don't
worry! They won't mind."
"How soon are you off again?"
"Any day now. There's nothing new for sailships lately, so
I've got no refitting to do; the ship's in perfect shape. I'm
footloose and fancy free, especially regarding the ladies. And,
I can't wait to get back to work. God, I love space! Just want
to be back up there in my ship, sailing all over the Galaxy."
John shook his head, "Oh, Jason, what about your family?
You're visiting your parents for only a couple of weeks? You're
their only child, aren't you?"
Jason bristled, "I am no child! Can a child rescue a
reaction-drive cruise ship with 100,000 passengers?!"
"Whoa! Settle down! I'm just asking if your parents have
had any more kids."
Jason looked apologetic, "Sorry. No they haven't, and I
wish they would. They STILL treat me like I'm five years old or
something. Drives me nuts! Gets on me nerves! Every time I'm
about to blast out of here it's 'Oh, Jason! You're our only son!
Why can't you work with father at the store?! You'll get killed
trying to rescue everyone!'" He shook his head and looked at his
Vincent looked at John, then back to Jason, and leaned
toward him, "Mr. Jason, whom do you rescue?"
Jason just shrugged, rattled the ice in his glass and
answered simply, "Anyone."
John One explained, "Jason rescues disabled space vessels
that are stranded in space, Vincent."
Vincent was impressed and looked at Jason with surprise and
then puzzlement, "Back on Earth, the seas and oceans are vast. A
vessel in trouble has little chance of being found. I am told
that the space between the stars is billions of times larger than
an ocean." He shook his head in bewilderment. "How do you find
a ship lost in something so large?"
Jason shrugged, "It's the perpendicular time thing about
Infinity City. I have the library archive computer search
through news headlines from all the papers it has on file.
They've been getting electronic dumps from the colonized planet's
late periods for years now. When it finds anything about a
missing ship, like where it left from, where it's going, what
kind of propulsion system it has, then I up-ship, fly to its home
planet and follow its course, listening for radio distress calls.
I even went back in time, once, and followed a ship right from
its takeoff, so I'd know right where it broke down! It's a lot
of fun, exciting, and there's money in it. Grateful folks pay a
lot of money after being rescued. Also, there's trading in it,
"Like I say, I'll be going out again as soon as I can." *7.
He looked up, his eyes brightening. "You can't believe how many
lives I've saved! These people are so grateful. They all start
crying and promise the world if I even visit them on their
planets -- I've got millions of business cards!"
Then prodding John with his elbow, he leered, "And, oooh,
the ladies are so grateful." Something to the side caught
Jason's attention. "And speaking of ladies, look at what we have
here! Mm, mmm."
The three turned to see Mandy getting out of a robot cab a
few steps away. She smiled over at John, turned to the cab and
said, "Just charge the Larsch account."
The cab loudly announced, "Immediate authorization required
for verbal charges!"
Mandy pranced up to the table and asked sweetly, "Johnny,
would you be a dear and make this nasty cabby go away for me?"
John hastily got up, went over to the cab, and spoke in a
subdued voice, "Charge authorized by me, John One, Larsch son."
A moment later, the cab spoke in an equally subdued,
conspiratorial voice, "Identification validated. Charge cleared.
Thank you, sir, please choose our line again next time." It then
smoothly drifted off down the street.
Mandy, meanwhile, had taken John's chair. However, Mr.
Manfretti, almost telepathically aware of everything going on in
his restaurant, had already grabbed another high-backed chair
from an empty table and deftly planted it at their table before
John had walked back. With uncanny diplomacy, the chair had been
inserted between Mandy and Jason, with Vincent now next to Mandy.
John One sat hunched over with his arms folded on the table,
gazing at Mandy. Next to him, Jason was leaning forward with his
chin almost in his glass, smiling past John at Mandy from ear to
ear. Vincent maintained a dignified posture and was staring at
her intently out of the corner of his eyes, his face now a
frozen, serious mask -- never had he seen a woman of such
John said, "Hello, Mandy!" He wasn't sure if he should kiss
her in front of people she had never met before -- it had upset
her whenever he had in the past.
Mandy smiled at him, as if waiting, and after a few moments
sighed, "Dear John...," then looked around the table. "I see
everybody has drinks..."
John awkwardly stammered, "Oh, I should order something... I
should have had something waiting. I... I..."
Mr. Manfretti materialized. "Ah, an angel has ascended from
the second event horizon! My dear lady, it is indeed an honor,
yes it is, to have your lovely presence gracing my poor, little
establishment. May I serve you a liquorious libation, or are
angels forbidden anything that might 'loosen the tongue and make
us feel young' ???"
Mandy batted her lustrous eyelashes at Mr. Manfretti and
said, "Charming man... I would like..." and she tilted her head,
looked around the table, and seeing Vincent and his glass of
wine, said "Give me what he's having, but make it pink!"
VINCENT SAW HIS DRINK TURN INTO A PINK DOVE. IT ROSE
FLUTTERING FROM THE TABLE, TO CIRCLE AROUND AND AROUND OVER HEAD
WHERE A HUGE SILVERY SPACE SHIP, SHAPED LIKE A FAT WATERMELON,
FLOATED IN THE SKY. IT SUDDENLY SPLIT OPEN ITS FAT BELLY,
DISGORGING 100,000 MORE DOVES, ALL WHITE. THE ORIGINAL PINK DOVE
FLEW UP TO THEM AND LED THEM ALL AWAY TO SAFETY DOWN INTO JOHN
ONE'S GLASS. THEY ALL HAD HIGH PITCHED VOICES LIKE LITTLE GIRLS,
AND LAUGHED AND CHATTERED UNTIL THEY DWINDLED INTO NOTHINGNESS...
Still offering her hand, Mandy again said, "Pleased to meet
you, Mr. Van Gogh!"
Vincent took her hand. Where was Mr. Manfretti? He thought
he had been standing right there between himself and this lovely
lady. He mumbled, "Pleased to meet you, mademoiselle..." He let
go of her hand and stared down at his drink. He thought he saw a
dove BUT IT MUST BE JUST A BUBBLE...
Mandy folded her hands under her chin and sat thoughtfully
looking at Vincent. Jason, who had been looking at Mandy with
various thoughts on HIS mind, caught John One's eye, gave him a
playful wink and began swirling the ice around in his glass.
John smiled slightly. Then, sensing that Jason would start
teasing him at any moment, decided to head him off: "So, Jason,
where are you off to next?"
Jason leaned back, looking up into Infinity City's bright
blue artificial sky. "Oh, I think I've tracked down a big one,
this time. A famous, lost space-liner full of colonists from a
planet around Rigel. The 'Heaven,' it's called. Lost only eight
years ago. Search ships found nothing between its origin and
destination. No debris, no trace, no radio distress messages.
Must have gone off course. I have an idea of what happened,
though. Its course was near one of our main militia patrol
routes, around one of our dear NEIGHBORS, and also near," he
leaned forward, looking at everyone slyly, "near one of those
gravitonic whirlpools -- caused by anti-gravitons, if you believe
the theory. Anyway, the whirlpool is on our maps of the area and
I think it knocked them off course," he leaned back with a smug
look, tapping his fingers together. *8.
John asked, "How could anything be left to find?" He turned
to Mandy, "Anti-gravitons in a gravitonic whirlpool hitting the
gravitonic sails of a ship can cause a nuclear explosion."
Jason raised a finger, "That's just the dominant theory!
Some believe the gravitons may pop back out somewhere else in
space or time. Maybe within a Second Event Horizon! Anyway, the
HEAVEN wasn't even a sailship. It had some kind of primitive
nuclear propulsion. I think the whirlpool just tossed them up,
close to the speed of light, then shot them way off course. Now,
their local time is too slowed down for them to get things under
control. So I'll go out and rescue them. And I don't want to
just back-bounce. *9. I want my rescues to STICK." *10. The one
time Jason went back in the past to find a lost ship, he had
decided to rescue it anyway. Though he had returned to the
present and Infinity City with a huge reward from the ship, it
bothered him immensely that now, since the Galactic past would
have reverted back to the way it was, the ship would again be
John smiled and said, "That means CURRENT history reports
that you didn't find them. You'll be taking the Horizon Normal
route out and be looking in the PRESENT time. But, I can tell
you that there's nothing like traveling in the past with all of
history to help you out!" John looked significantly at Vincent.
Jason shrugged. He was more idealistic than his friend, and felt
leery about traveling in the past.
Mandy interrupted, "What in the world are you two talking
about? You men do nothing but talk about prowling around
history. The Grand Dames are right! You men are going to mess
around with Time one time too many and it's going to cause the
Great Contradiction. Then, the next time you go sailing out of
the black hole, you aren't going to find anything but nothing!"
Jason began shaking both of his index fingers in the air,
"Not 'nothing'! The theory is that the Great Contradiction will
cause EVERYTHING! It will all be white, everywhere!"
John added, "Unless there are black holes duplicated
Jason retorted, "But infinite black holes would reduce the
temporal dimension down to just a single point, contradicting the
Great Contradiction in the first place!"
John frowned in concentration, trying to imagine it all.
Mandy said, "Oh, this is all too much! Where is my drink?" She
began looking around just as little Angelica Manfretti arrived
with a small tray with Mandy's bright pink drink on it. "Here
you are, Ma'am," she said, as seriously as can be.
Mandy smiled down at her, "What a sweet little girl! Thank
you dear. Is the proprietor your father?" Angelica nodded with
her brown eyes wide and solemn. "Good! Go tell him we're ready
to order." Little Angelica ran off to find her father.
Mandy turned to Vincent who, with his hands behind his head,
was dreamily looking up at the First Event Horizon, which could
be seen as a small red dot, now that the sun was setting. She
said, "Well, at least YOUR excursion into Time was a tremendous
success, John darling." John One smiled with pride. "I read in
the INFINITY CITY JOURNAL OF RECENT ADVENTURE that you even saved
Vincent's life back there on Earth. Vincent, is this true?"
Vincent looked at her and his eyes grew wide...
VINCENT WAS SITTING ON THE EARTH, AS IF IT WERE THE SIZE OF
A DESK-TOP GLOBE; WATCHING ALL THE STARS IN THE SKY TURN INTO
BRIGHT RAINBOW COLORS, AND ONE BY ONE, DROPPING TOWARD AN INKY
BLACK HOLE. THE STARS WOULD THEN SWIRL AND DANCE AROUND IT UNTIL
EACH FELL INSIDE. WHEN THEY WERE ALL GONE, THE EARTH SUDDENLY
SLIPPED OUT FROM UNDER HIM, SPED TOWARD THE BLACK HOLE, BUT GOT
STUCK IN THE EVENT HORIZON, BEING TO BIG TO FIT THROUGH. VINCENT
WAS TERRIFIED AND TRIED TO GO RETRIEVE THE EARTH, BUT THERE WAS
NO GROUND FOR HIS FEET TO PUSH AGAINST. HE FLAILED HIS ARMS AND
KICKED HIS FEET BUT COULD DO NOTHING AND GO NOWHERE...
"...Mr. Van Gogh! John, what's the matter with him? He's
staring at me. Make him stop!"
John looked at Vincent, then at Jason who was looking at
Vincent with a puzzled expression. Then, John leaned across the
table toward Vincent and said, "Vincent? Vincent! What are you
doing?" Jason began snapping his fingers in Vincent's face.
They had all been staring at Vincent and had not noticed Mr.
Manfretti walk up to the table. When he brightly said, "May I
take your order, folks!" Mandy, who was staring at Vincent,
almost hypnotized by Vincent's wide-eyed staring, dropped her
glass in surprise, exclaiming, "Oh!" The glass fortunately did
not tip over, but did make a rather load bang.
Vincent noticed that Mr. Manfretti had mysteriously appeared
next to him and that everyone was now staring at him. He turned
to Jason quizzically, who stopped snapping his fingers, and then
turned to Mr. Manfretti, deciding everyone was waiting for him to
order. "My usual, Mr. Manfretti."
"Okay, Vincent," Mr. Manfretti answered. "One vegetarian
salad," He bowed slightly toward Mandy, "And, dear lady, my
apologies for startling you, and what would you like to order?"
"Well, I'm not that hungry, but I am in the mood for
something special. What would you recommend?"
"Ahhh! I have many specialties from around the Galaxy,
fresh off the sailships daily. Today, I have just received a
supply of a rare delicacy from a planet called Euclid. A
pheasant-like bird, that one sautes and serves rolled in
"Oh, that's called Monsha! I haven't had that in months!
That would be perfect."
"Ah, you are a lady of cultivated taste. Now, I must let
you know that coming from so far away the cost of such delicacies
can be surprising..."
Mandy turned toward John, opened her dark eyes wide and
tilted her head sadly. John, looking into their soft, brown
depths, found himself wonderfully charmed up and down, once
again. "My treat tonight," he said softly, still gazing into
Mandy's beautiful face. "And, I'll have the same..."
"Very good, Mr. Larsch! You both are in for a taste
experience you will not soon forget. And," he raised his
eyebrows looking at Jason.
Jason was grinning slightly, watching his friend John out of
the corner of his eye and sensing the obvious relationship. "Oh,
I want the rare delicacy, too. And give me a lot of it. And,
look!" he said, raising his glass and pouting. "It's empty
"Ah, I have been remiss!" cried Mr. Manfretti. "My good
sir, I shall make amends immediately. So, that's one vegetarian
salad and three Monshas. Mr. Van Gogh, would you like to try
Vincent watched John and Mandy gazing at each other. ON A
PLANET FAR, FAR AWAY, HE RAN THROUGH A FIELD OF LOW GRASS. HIS
WINGS WOULD NOT ENABLE HIM TO FLY. OTHERS COULD, BUT HE COULD
NOT. AND, AS HE WOULD APPROACH OTHERS OF HIS KIND, THEY WOULD
EITHER RUN OFF ALONG THE PILED STONE WALLS THAT ENCLOSED THE
FIELD OR THEY WOULD FLY UP TO LAND ON THE STONE WALL, STARING
DOWN AT HIM CURIOUSLY. HE JUMPED AND JUMPED, AND TRIED SO HARD
BUT COULD NOT FLY AT ALL. HE CHASED AFTER THE OTHERS AROUND THE
FIELD, BUT ALWAYS FOUND THEM ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE, GATHERED ALL
ALONG THE BASE OF THE STONE WALL, STARING BACK AT HIM, AS IF HE
WAS SOME SORT OF ODDITY.
"...Mr. Vincent, excuse me, my daydreaming friend..."
John interrupted, "Just bring him the salad, Mr. Manfretti."
Mr. Manfretti bowed, turned, and was away.
Jason leaned back, enjoying the warm buzz from his scotch,
and regarded Vincent staring off into nowhere again. "Our dreamy
friend here has come a long way, AND a long time from home.
How's he adapting to our little city?"
John also looked at Vincent and shook his head a little.
"Quite well, actually. He's very busy painting. He goes up in
the excursion-skiffs often and stays up there for hours, just
drifting around, usually painting. He comes to this place
everyday now, for most of his meals. Seeing him at a table
talking with other artists reminds me of when I back in his
Mandy added, "John and Vincent are opening a gallery, very
soon, patterned after old France. Isn't that right, John?"
"Yes, sort of. That was the original intention. But,
Vincent keeps bringing in more and more sophisticated lighting
equipment. The gallery is looking more like a laser store. He
has these multifaceted, reflective feedback lighting systems that
actually lets him fine-tune the colors of all of the paintings.
It's amazing. He didn't like the color of an excursion ship's
sail in one picture, so he actually changed it from orange to
yellow without affecting any of the colors in the rest of the
picture. At least I convinced him to let me mount the units on
the ceilings so our guests won't trip on them."
"These light machines give me so much more control over what
I want to show," said Vincent, no longer daydreaming. "The
technology here lets me do more than I have ever dreamed
possible. I do nothing but paint. When I have to stop to eat or
sleep, I think of nothing but painting."
Mandy said brightly, "John says they'll sell Vincent's work
all around the Galaxy and make a fortune!"
John shrugged, "Well, my uncle is very enthusiastic about
this. We've already sold a few pieces around the City. Vincent
has a good following here already. Once the Gallery is opened,
though, I really want to get back to space -- like you, Jason."
Jason sighed, "Yes, you can't keep me away from it for long.
Ah, the excitement of sailing the gravitonic currents!"
Mandy said, "John, how can you talk of going back to space?
Who'll guard poor Vincent?"
John looked at her quizzically, "Guard him? Guard him from
"From those guys, for example!" And, she pointed to a black
sedan that was now parked down the street on the opposite side.
They all looked over at it. The interior was darkened, but John
could make out several individual silhouettes.
Vincent nodded, "Yes, I have seen that car parked there
several times this week. Mr. Manfretti went over yesterday to
see who they were, but they drove away. He says he thinks it's
suspicious and will call the authorities if the car keeps coming
John chuckled, "Mr. Manfretti... They're just more of your
secret admirers, Vincent."
Jason murmured, "Looks suspicious to me! That's a rented
limo' from the space port. I rented my car from a yard that had
plenty just like it. Probably used mostly by off-worlders."
"Off-worlders that maybe are interested in enticing away
your art-producing gold mine," Mandy said with a narrow gaze
toward the mysterious car. "YOU go see what they want, John.
Are you armed?"
"Oh, Mandy, come on. Vincent has a good following, sure.
And, the Gallery will probably be a big success. But, I just
don't think it's all worth enough to attract any off-worlders."
He gestured toward Vincent, "No offense, Vincent, but you're
alive now. And, art just doesn't sell as much from a living
Jason laughed and said jokingly, "Hey, I know how you could
make a bundle. Just have Vincent jump down the WELL."
Mandy grimaced, "That's terrible! John, your friend is
morbid. And, Vincent won't have to jump down anything to make a
fortune because," and she smiled at Vincent. "he's the greatest
artist of all time."
Vincent looked at her beautiful face smiling at him and felt
his heart begin pounding in his chest. He was ashamed at what he
felt... THE SUN WAS BEFORE HIM. THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE AROUND.
THE BLACK HOLE BEHIND HIM HAD SUCKED IT ALL AWAY. THE SUN WAS SO
BRIGHT AND SO HOT. HE WAS SLOWLY FALLING INTO IT, BUT THERE WAS
NOTHING HE COULD DO TO STOP. IF HE TOUCHED THAT SUN, HE WOULD
BURN AND THERE WOULD BE NOTHING LEFT BUT ASH TO BE SUCKED DOWN
THE MAW OF THE BLACK HOLE. HE FELT LIKE HE WAS FALLING FASTER
Mandy took hold of John's arm. "John, dear, here comes the
waiter with our dinner. Please be a dear and make that black car
go away -- I just won't be able to enjoy my meal with those awful
people watching us!"
John looked into her dark, soft eyes and would do anything
she asked of him. "Yes, of course, Mandy." He got up out of his
As John began walking away, Jason asked with a tone of
amusement, "John! Shall I come along and assist?"
John shouted back over his shoulder, "No! I'll take care of
these guys. YOU stay there and guard Vincent from Mr.
Manfretti." Jason laughed and took a long pull from his drink,
then set it down and rubbed his hands together as Mr. Manfretti
laid down their plates with the steaming sauce-covered crepes of
Monsha; Jason's was a triple portion.
But, as soon as John set foot in the street to cross over to
the car, it quickly slid away from the curb, past him and the
restaurant, and on down the street, turning at the first
intersection and disappearing from sight. He shrugged and
returned to the table.
Little Angelica Manfretti was carrying over a basket of
dinner rolls and lifted it up to their table very carefully.
"Monsha is the best thing Papa makes," she said seriously. "Eat
every bite or he'll get mad and his face will turn red!"
"Angelica!" Mr. Manfretti admonished. "Go back to the
kitchen and help your mother!"
Everyone at the table chuckled, then set to eating. Except
Vincent, who was once again staring off up into the sky. Jason
reached over, took Vincent's plate of salad with vegetables and
fruits of all sorts of glossy colors, and lifted it up to
Vincent's nose. Vincent looked down at the plate, then around at
his companions. Avoiding Mandy's gaze, he murmured, "I was...
thinking of painting again. The beauty of it is always on my
Jason set down Vincent's plate and said, "John, this guy's
definitely an artist," He began wolfing down his Monsha.
"Good heavens, Jason!" cried Mandy. "Monsha is to be
savoured, not devoured as if you're some hungry beast that's just
made a kill."
Jason grinned up at her between mouthfuls. He swallowed.
"Hey, babe, the faster something goes down, the better it tastes!
This stuff's great! I'm gonna get seconds, for sure..."
Mandy sighed, "Some men have such amazing appetites."
John chuckled, "Back in the Militia Guard Academy, they used
to say 'Jason has the appetite of a black hole!'" They all
All enjoyed the meal immensely, finishing about the same
time, even though Jason had ordered "thirds." Mr. Manfretti and
his daughter Angelica were clearing the table and putting the
used plates and utensils on top of a serving robot, when suddenly
they all heard a great screeching sound, and turned to see the
mysterious black sedan come sliding to a halt in the street right
in front of them!
Both doors of the sedan opened on the cafe side of the car.
A single door opened on the car's other side. Three large men
got out of the car with one man remaining inside at the car's
controls, frowning out. Everyone at the table watched in
surprise. The serious looking men were all wearing dark suits,
not at all like the current fashions around Infinity City,
John and Jason both moved their chairs back and stood up
slowly, facing the men who were just a short distance away. Mr.
Manfretti quickly picked up Angelica and hurried back to the door
of the restaurant.
The three men headed toward Vincent. Jason, standing beside
Vincent, watched suspiciously. John moved from beside Jason,
around Mandy to stand on Vincent's other side. Vincent and Mandy
sat bewildered watching the approaching group.
The first two men, both with short dark hair were of
enormous build and came to a stop on either side of Vincent,
ignoring Jason and John. Vincent looked up from one to the other
in complete bewilderment. The remaining man came up behind them
and said, "Your car is waiting, Mr. Van Gogh. Come along!" And
with that, the others grabbed each of Vincent's arms and heaved
him erect. Vincent was dwarfed by the size of the two.
John could not believe what was happening. There was little
crime of any sort in Infinity City.
Jason narrowed his eyes and said menacingly, "I don't think
Mr. Van Gogh wants to go with you guys."
The third man said with a sneer, "Stay out of this, boys.
We have business with Mr. Van Gogh." He failed to realize that
John and Jason were not ordinary men; they were part of the
Infinity City Militia Guard, trained and even psychologically
conditioned to be warrior killing machines, to defend Infinity
City and its people against any threat, especially from the
unpredictable and dangerous Galaxy. Vincent, now a resident of
Infinity City, was under attack. John and Jason were
'programmed' to respond...
The strange man next to Jason, holding Vincent with his
right hand, brought his huge left arm back, then took a swing at
Jason, who nimbly jerked back out of the way. The man's fist
came swinging around over the table; he lost his balance and
brought his hand down on the table to steady himself. But, the
table was only supported by a center column and tipped over on
Mandy, tossing her back over her chair, with a cry, to the
ground, with everything on the table sliding and spilling down on
to her. John quickly knelt to help her as she struggled out from
under the table.
Jason said quickly, "John, I think I need your assistance."
Mandy looked up at the men pulling Vincent toward the car.
"Oh, John, I'm all right! But, look! They're taking away
John turned to see the two men brutally pull Vincent out of
his chair. The third was looking nervously back and forth at
John and Jason, and backing away. Jason was pulling at his chin
thoughtfully and frowning, as if contemplating a game of chess.
John looked down at what they had done to Mandy, then looked
back at them dragging the helpless Vincent away against his will;
John's anger started to rise. He felt his brows come slamming
together as he frowned and his teeth clench. His hands closed
into fists, as he rose from beside Mandy. He moved out from
beside the table step by step and felt incredible power rising
within him as he watched the men pulling the struggling Vincent
toward the car. Ignoring the third man for the moment, John
lowered his head and charged toward the other two like a tiger.
Jason shouted, "About time!" The man on Vincent's right
side took another swing at Jason as they passed him. Jason once
again tilted sideways to his right, avoiding the blow. But this
time Jason kicked his left foot forward, driving off his right
leg, heel first into the man's right knee, smashing it. The man
let go of Vincent as he lost the use of his right leg and began
falling over. On his way down, Jason helped him on his way by
slamming his left fist into the man's kidney from behind.
John was almost on the other man holding Vincent. He
slammed his fists together, leapt into the air and brought his
fists down on the man's head, slamming his body down on the man's
back. John heard something in the man crack and the man groaned,
let go of Vincent's arm and went over, crashing to the ground
with John's full weight on his back. When the man's head hit the
pavement, he went limp.
The third man swung his foot, giving John a savage kick in
the side. The man laughed and began delivering a second blow.
But John saw it coming and shot his left arm backward to deflect
it. The man began to stumble over John. John rolled onto his
back, braced his body with his right leg and shot out his right
fist, smashing into the man's solar plexus, driving
the punch as hard as he could up from his leg. The man gasped
explosively, was tossed up into the air like a rag doll, then
fell back down onto John.
John disentangled himself from the man and struggled to his
feet. He was breathing hard and his side ached. He found Jason
rubbing his hands together, grinning and commenting, "Amateurs,
John looked around, opening and closing his fists in rage.
The first thug he had jumped was out cold. The one he had
punched in the chest lay trying to breath. The one Jason had
knocked down had vomited and was holding his leg with the
battered knee, but slowly creeping toward the car. The man in
the car was now pointing a gun at them. He shouted, "Vincent Van
Gogh! Come here. Get over here or I kill your friends!"
Vincent had been backing away from the fighting, but now
began slowly walking toward the car, as if in a trance.
Mandy, crouching behind the table, began shouting, "Vincent
stop! Don't! They want to enslave you!..."
VINCENT FOUND HIMSELF APPROACHING A VERY DEEP, BLACK HOLE.
NOT AN ASTRONOMIC BLACK HOLE, BUT A FRIGHTENING LOOKING HOLE IN
THE GROUND, BIG ENOUGH TO SWALLOW A MAN. THE GROUND WAS WHITE
AND EXTENDED IN ALL DIRECTIONS. THE SKY WAS AN INTENSE BLUE. HE
COULD NOT GET AWAY BECAUSE HE WAS SURROUNDED BY A RING OF BLACK
CARS. THE CARS WERE DRIVING SLOWLY, THE RING TIGHTENING AND
TIGHTENING, AND VINCENT WAS DRIVEN CLOSER AND CLOSER TO THE
Mandy cried, "John do something! Don't let them take
The thug in the car shouted back, "Shut up, bitch, or I
start shooting!" He waved the gun threateningly.
John and Jason both stood crouching slightly, staring
intently at the man with the gun. They were both within point-
blank gunfire range. Neither was armed.
Vincent walked slowly between them toward the car. Jason
hissed through his teeth, "Vincent! Stop! You can't go with
him. Stand still, damn it. He won't dare shoot you. He wants
That gave John One the solution! He jumped behind Vincent,
wrapped his arms around his lean chest and lifted him off the
ground. He then began moving rapidly sideways to his right,
putting the windshield of the car between the gunman and Vincent
In the meantime, Jason started creeping to the left and back
behind the car, unnoticed by the gun-waving driver who was
bouncing up and down in the driver seat with frustration trying
to decide what to do.
John saw Jason inching behind the car. John knew Jason had
a lightening fast mind and also could move as fast as a cat. He
moved with Vincent until he was in front of the car; then began
looking around, pretending he was confused and didn't know what
to do next.
The man in the car smiled with vicious glee, popped opened
his car door, put the gun in his left hand, and stuck it out
around the windshield, shaking the gun at John and Vincent. Then
he stuck his head out, as if to get out of the car, but
hesitated, afraid of John. He shouted hoarsely, "Let him go!
I'll shoot you both! If I can't have him, no one gets him!"
Suddenly, the driver-side door of the car smashed inward,
the window delivering a stunning blow to the man's head, knocking
him back inside, the jam pinning and crushing his wrist. The gun
dropped from his hand to the street.
Jason let go of the back door which he had used to brace
himself for the full bodied kick that smashed the door shut. He
snatched up the gun. Jason opened the door, evincing a cry of
pain from the man as his crushed wrist fell from its pinned
position. He thrust the gun in the man's face and snarled, "Gee,
I wonder if this thing's loaded. Guess I'll test it out on your
The man cried, "No!" and began whimpering.
The faint sound of police sirens could now be heard. They
grew in volume, coming from different directions. Mr. Manfretti
appeared in the doorway of his cafe wringing his hands. He
shouted, "It's the cops, boys! I called the cops!"
John let go of Vincent, went around to the side of the car,
reached in, and viciously yanked the whimpering man out of the
car by the lapel of his dark suit; then roughly slammed him up
against the side of the car. "Who are you? What the hell were
you trying to do? Tell me right now, or by the time the police
get here, you'll be dead!"
Jason shouted, "John, don't kill him! You've got too many
accidental deaths on your militia record already. You've got to
stop killing anyone you're angry with!" He was just making it
John demanded, "What did you want with Vincent?! Answer
me!" He shook the man violently. The collar of the man's suit
suddenly burst open, revealing a small metal band around his
Jason stood next to John. Seeing the visa-torque, he
exclaimed, "An off-worlder! What do you want with Vincent Van
Gogh?" *11. Jason gave him a painful jab in a sensitive area. The
man, already holding his broken wrist, howled and closed his eyes
in renewed pain. "Answer!... All right, here comes another,"
Jason made a fist and cocked his arm back, aiming a blow for the
The man opened eyes, saw Jason's fist aimed at him and cried
in terror, "No! No more! No more!"
John shook him again and demanded, "Who are you? Where are
The man gasped, "My name is... my name is Axon Brice. I'm
just a space trader..."
John yelled at him, "What did you want with Vincent?"
Jason swung his fist in little circles, "Let me smash his
face a few times!"
The man howled in fear. John shouted, "What did you want
The man stammered, "To... to... to sell. To the highest
bidder. There's art guys... Rich art guys offering a fortune
for Van Gogh. News is all over the Galaxy about him. I couldn't
resist. Me and these guys were gonna share all the money. I
couldn't help myself!" He began sobbing, "I'm broke! I'm can't
make any money. My ship's falling apart. I haven't been able to
afford the PILL for months. Look at me! I'm aging! I'M DYING!"
John let him sink to the ground where he fell over sobbing
in pain and despair.
The sirens of the police cars were very loud now. At each
end of the street, police cars appeared with flashing multi-
colored lights on their roofs. The first came screeching to a
halt in front of the black sedan. The second came up behind it.
Police poured out of the cars, weapons at the ready, holding
bullet-proof shields before them.
Mr. Manfretti came running down to the street waving his
hands. "It's all over, officers! There's the hoods lying all
over the ground!"
Two more police cars arrived. An officer got out and looked
around appraising the scene. He walked between the black sedan
and the first police car and frowned at the thugs: one
unconscious; two writhing in pain; one sobbing hysterically.
"He said to his assistant who had followed him, "Fly in an
ambulance." Then he looked around, "Who made the call? Where's
a Mr. Manfretti?"
"Right here, officer!" Manfretti replied happily. "These
four thugs just tried to kidnap Vincent Van Gogh over there. But
these two friends of mine; both officers in the Militia; beat
the hell out of them!"
The officer looked around at Vincent, standing off to the
side, having moved back up onto the cafe patio to avoid the first
police car. "Are you Vincent Van Gogh the painter?"
"Yes, I am," replied Vincent quietly.
"Is this true? These guys lying around tried to kidnap
"Yes, they tried to force me into their car."
"And these two guys here..." suddenly the officer paused and
looked closely at John One. "Say, you're the Larsch fellow who
BACK-BOUNCED to get Van Gogh. John One, of the Militia?"
"Yes, officer," John replied wearily. The kick in his ribs
was hurting again. He winced and held his hand to his side.
Mandy had gotten up from behind the fallen table and, seeing John
One in pain, came up to help him.
She cried to the officer, "Get an ambulance for him right
away! He's a Larsch..."
John One held up a restraining hand, saying, "No, no...
It's just a bruise. I'm okay."
The officer turned to Vincent. "Mr. Van Gogh, these two
weren't part of the attempted kidnapping?"
Vincent's eyes grew wide and he shook his head, "No, no,
officer! These are my friends. They risked their lives for me!"
The officer looked down, "And the guys on the ground were
the ones trying to get Van Gogh?"
"Yes! Yes!" everyone agreed. Jason added, "Just a bunch of
scum spacers who thought they could get rich kidnapping someone
famous and selling him into slavery. But that won't happen on
Infinity City!" Mr. Manfretti and some of the police shouted
The officer agreed also, "You bet that won't happen in
Infinity City. Okay boys, round them up! Note down those off-
world torque numbers. Take them downtown and toss them in the
The officer supervised as his men got to work. Mr.
Manfretti shepherded John, Jason, Vincent, and Mandy over to a
nearby empty table. There wasn't anyone else out on the cafe.
The thugs had waited until Vincent and the others had been alone
Jason plopped into a chair, "I need a drink! Bring us all a
Mr. Manfretti purred, "Anything you want! On the house!
You boys were magnificent! 250 years I've served the public and
never have I seen anything like I saw today. And look at my
robot over there by the door. He scanned the whole thing. It's
all recorded. We'll all make a fortune when I start selling
copies! I'll need a release from you all first..."
"Later, Mr. Manfretti," John said wearily, "Later."
Mr. Manfretti bowed courteously, then hurried away while the
four silently watched the police check the thugs for weapons.
John leaned over toward Jason and whispered, "Jason! The pistol!
Do you still have it?"
Jason whispered back, "Yeah, of course. I'm keeping it.
You know how rare those things are?!"
"Jason! It's a weapon. They're illegal, you know that.
You should turn it in."
"No way. I need weapons like this for my line of work. You
know that they don't let any weapons into the City. I don't know
where that guy got it from -- if he brought it in or got it here
-- but I'm keeping it!"
John shrugged, to tired to argue, "Just be careful, Jason.
Don't get caught."
"Never! I'll be sailing off as soon as I can, anyway. This
place is just too wild for me!"
Mr. Manfretti brought them drinks and a tray of chocolates
and sweets. No one was very hungry, though. The four just
sipped their drinks and watched the police work.
The ambulances soon arrived and took away the off-world
thugs. All the police cars except the officer's, slid away one
by one. The officer came up to Vincent and asked him to verify
his written report presented on a clipboard.
Vincent looked very tired and sad, saying, "Always, I am the
cause of trouble for others." But he read over the report,
nodded without a word, signed it, and handed the clipboard back.
The officer thanked them all, complimented John and Jason on the
job they had done on the thugs, and winked at Mandy. He got back
into his car and sped away.
Mandy rolled her eyes and complained, "Why couldn't they
have gotten here sooner? We could have been killed!"
"Hey, Mandy," Jason said with a smile. "What do you need
cops for when you're around John and I?"
She ignored him. "John," she began, leaning toward him.
"You should start sticking closer to Vincent. Better yet, you
should hire a guard. Use Jason. He probably works cheap..."
"Cheap!" cried Jason, in mock outrage. "I know when I've
been insulted! I'm leaving!" And he got up to go.
John cried, "Hey wait, Jason! She was only kidding!"
"No, seriously, I really have to get some sleep. There's
some outfitting guys I'm meeting tomorrow morning. There may be
a lot to do to prepare for sailing. I want out of here. And
that space port charges too much per day for private craft...
I'm going back to my ship to bed!" He waved wearily, turned and
headed back up the street to his car.
Vincent shouted, "Good bye, Jason! Thank you, my friend!"
Then looking at John and Mandy, "And, to you, my friends, a good
evening. I, too, want to go home and go to bed... With my door
firmly locked." He rose and headed up the street toward the
Gallery, to use the couch in the showing-room.
John called after him, "I'll call Infinity City security and
have them program the visa-torque computer to monitor for any
more off-worlders that get near you. You'll be safe!"
Vincent turned around as he walked away, "Thank you, John!
You are my one true dear friend!" He turned back and headed
"Some friend I am," mused John. "I should have realized
this might happen. I should have had him monitored from the day
he set foot here."
"Come on, John," Mandy consoled. "You can't predict kooks
like those guys. Come on over to my place. I'll give you a nice
massage and make sure you get a nice, restful night's sleep."
John smiled at her, "Oh, Mandy. You're everything to me!"
She rolled her eyes, "Whatever you say, John. Now, whistle
for your hot new little car and let's get out of here..."
He did and off they went into the night, leaving behind Mr.
Manfretti, who moved outside to one of his tables, where he sat
late into the night worrying about what was ever to become of
poor Vincent Van Gogh.
CHAPTER 24 - GRAND OPENING
The sound of champagne bottles clinking against champagne
glasses along with an excited murmur of formal conversation
surrounded John One the night of the gallery's grand opening.
Vincent was surrounded by admirers and was emphatically lecturing
about his latest techniques using the local artificial paints he
had finally begun using, due to the scarcity and cost of natural
pigments. The gallery was subtly lit, according to Vincent's
meticulous taste. Soft, baroque music issued from a corner by a
trio clad in formal apparel. Caterers were sliding amongst the
many guests, serving sweet treats and filling champagne glasses.
It was a huge success. There was tangible excitement in being
surrounded by so many works of one of the most famous artists of
all time. And, to actually be in the same room with him! They
had received offers on nearly half the work, within only the
John's uncle, with eyes twinkling, was discussing sales
network possibilities with several off-world businessmen. He had
told John that he would be hiring an army of painters and
photographers to begin making second generation duplicates of Van
Gogh's present works, to be sold around the Galaxy through a
franchise of up-scale galleries that he and John would set up.
John's next mission would be to fly from world to world, starting
a primary sales network of "primary nodes" on each planet. John
was very excited about the prospect of visiting so many worlds.
His uncle was convinced that the income from the "Rebirth of Van
Gogh" (the name he had picked out for the franchise) would make
their family the strongest of Infinity City. Sometimes, when his
uncle talked of this matter, his voice took on a strange, hard,
chanting quality, and he would stare of into the distance while
predicting how great and powerful they all would become. This
sent chills down John's back, but he was one who found comfort in
following a strong leadership.
The gallery had been sectioned off according to Vincent's
subject matter. One section had his many 'scapes from the space
port. This drew the largest crowd. Vincent had a way of
capturing the mystery and urgency of a pending space mission,
with the sailships seeming to vibrate in anticipation of launch,
right there on the canvas. Another section had the works from
his rides above Infinity City in the skiffs. His aerial views
were mesmerizing. Van Gogh would twist and skew the perspective
in all sorts of mind-bending fashions. In one popular work, the
perspective was impossibly "inside out" tending toward four
corners, making Infinity City look like the inside of a box.
In another, he had done the same thing, but Infinity City
now looked like it was inside of the WELL OF THE WISH. This
painting had a peculiar effect on many guests. They would lean
toward the painting, trying to get the gist of the perspective,
then as soon as they saw the analogy with the "WELL," they would
pull back suddenly, sometimes with a slight gasp, and move away
to another section of the gallery. A puzzling reaction, thought
John. Sometimes, he noticed Vincent watching this reaction by a
guest; and then, when the guest would move hastily away from the
strange picture, John would see a funny little grin play across
the artist's face -- then, Van Gogh would then turn quickly,
engaging once again in conversation.
There were a few other amazing sections. Van Gogh had
redone his paintings from their Earth voyage many times.
Especially, the pictures of the black hole itself. This
warranted a section of its own -- one of the most popular. He
had done several portraits and some sketches -- these were
grouped in another section.
Yet, perhaps strangest of all were his paintings of the WELL
OF THE WISH, done from many bizarre angles and perspectives.
Perhaps it was the sacredness with which the people of Infinity
City regarded this, their "shrine," that resulted in this section
drawing no crowd at all. Ironically, though no one stopped to
regard these works for long, most that did had made significant
offers to John for these affecting works.
Before the opening, John had predicted to Vincent that
paintings of the WELL might make some people uncomfortable, but
Vincent insisted that his pictures of the WELL be given their own
section. And, towards the front of the Gallery, as well. John,
easy-going in matters not involving Adventure or battle, easily
acquiesced with a sigh. With his popularity had come ever
increasing assertiveness on the artist's part.
John looked over toward his uncle and found him
enthusiastically shaking hands all around with the off-world
businessmen. Then, his uncle turned toward John, smiled and
beckoned. John made his way over, working his way slowly through
the guests. Some congratulating him on the success of the new
gallery, and some introducing him to their unmarried daughters.
When he reached his uncle, the older man put his arm around
John's shoulder and introduced him to his associates.
"This is the young man who pulled it all off! What an
Adventure! Can you believe it? Someone from HIS generation
actually finding one of history's greats! Ah, it reminds me of
the grand old times when I was young! This could be the start of
another golden age for Infinity City. No one has successfully
brought back anyone from history in my lifetime. That's 250
years, friends. I tell you, we stand to make a fortune!"
One of the gentleman said to John, "Son, I hope you
understand what you've started here. That little friend of yours
has a God-given talent that comes along only once in a thousand
Another added, "You're going to be famous! You Infinity
City people have pulled off some wild moves before, but going
back in time to fetch famous people is mind-boggling! Now, how
come you can only ever get me back to my world with accuracy of
only plus or minus two Earth years! Good thing I raised a clone-
brother to run things!"
John was embarrassed by all these beaming admirers. "It was
mostly luck, really. I wasn't looking specifically for..."
His uncle quickly interrupted, "Oh, John, stop! You're too
modest. Listen, boy, we've struck an agreement on one of the
greatest business ventures of all time. I have something very
important for you to do. Take that hot sports car you just
bought, race over to our family solicitor's house, and find
Ockman... The Elder Ockman, not his son. I happen to know he's
working late at home. Grab him and bring him back right away!
He'll know what for..."
John smiled, happy to get away from all these eyes that were
bulging with greed. "Certainly, uncle. I'll return as soon as I
"Good boy, John!" He turned back to his associates. As
John turned away, he overheard: "And, this is only the start,
gentlemen! On his next mission, he has his sights set on
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. MOZART HIMSELF! We're all on the
ground floor of the biggest enterprise of all time!..."
Once outside the gallery, John found himself tingling with
excitement. The recognition he was receiving from the Family was
a dream come true. So much wealth and fame at such a young age
was rare. He suddenly wished, however, to be away in space
again. Thinking about "hopping" from world to world for his
uncle made him even more excited. Maybe Mandy would go with him!
How could she resist a tour of the Galaxy. He would show her
everything! She would fall so deeply in love with him that she'd
never want anyone else. He would show her how gallant a man of
his Family could be. She would want nothing more than to be his
wife! They would return triumphantly to Infinity City with
endless riches from the business and would announce their
infinite marriage. They would have the greatest marriage
celebration in Larsch history! He and she would have so many
children, they would found a new Larsch dynasty! She would be
his companion and friend and lover for ever and ever!
He now found himself traveling along one of Infinity City's
major radial transit arteries, not even remembering getting in
his car and keying in the Solicitor's house code into the car's
control computer. The houses and buildings moving past him were
darkened shapes of exotic angles and curves. Little lights were
twinkling in some windows and along the road; animated liquid
crystal billboards flickered eye-catching activity. He saw an ad
for Mr. Unity's excursion-skiff business, with Ed Unity in
flowing white robes, bowing and inviting a young couple into one
of his skiffs.
Along the road, on either side of the car, light strips
glowed brightly, extending off into the distance. Currently,
they were changing from white to a soft orange, a feature
designed in to the Infinity City road system for shear aesthetic
affect. Up in an excursion-skiff, the night view of all the
interlacing, ever-changing threads of color was stunning. The
patterns of color-change were controlled by Infinity City's
process control computer but could be overridden by a complex
control board that the designer had installed over 100 years
before. Each night found different "light artists" taking turns
orchestrating the City's complex traffic light coloring. Some
had particular talent, becoming quite popular with Infinity
City's younger set, who often went aloft at night for romantic
The weather was in summer-phase so John pushed a button that
made the plastic top slide back and recess neatly behind the back
seat. John put his hands behind his head and gazed up into the
wild night sky of Infinity City while the car automatically drove
on. The first event horizon of the black hole was a tiny, angry
red point directly overhead, with faint multi-colored streamers
of wrenched matter drifting down on all sides until out of sight
below Infinity City's horizon.
He thought of the many nights years ago, during his academy
days, when he and Mandy would go aloft in an excursion-skiff to
view nighttime Infinity City. She would get so excited by the
breathtaking panorama of twirling and twisting colored road lines
spreading as far as the eye could see. On one particular night,
a light-artist conducted veritable warfare, beginning by turning
off the lights across the entire City. Then, an army of parallel
bright green propagations began sweeping in from the West. From
the East, a similar pattern of bright blue. When the patterns
met, they caused explosions of colors, with expanding circles of
deep purples and rippling browns, with lightening bolts of bright
oranges and yellows... Apparently, he had maneuvered the
supervising engineer away from his post and had gained complete
control of the road colors.
Sipping champagne and exclaiming their amazement again and
again, they watched till the end of the show, then held each
other close and drifted around over the City for hours. Even
back then, John had tried to persuade Mandy to be his wife, but
she would always laugh gaily, acting as if he was joking, then
begin talking about something else.
He thought it might be pleasant to take Van Gogh hopping
from world to world, maybe after a few years. The artist loved
new and strange subjects for his works. And, John had grown
quite fond of the energetic, dedicated fellow. It would be he,
Mandy and Vincent Van Gogh, the toast of the Galaxy. What an
exciting vision this was developing into! What a wonderful
future there was in store for him!
The car now veered off the main route and into a residential
section, turning here and there until finally coming to a smooth
stop before a mansion-house covering an entire block. The entire
Ockman family resided here, and all were solicitors,
traditionally. That is, any young Ockman NOT choosing to be a
solicitor was asked to live somewhere else. The house was
separated from the street by only a narrow, neatly kept lawn.
The mansion-house was very old and constructed out of old-
fashioned dark brown and red earthen bricks with its windows
recessed deeply within, giving it a powerful, brooding
John leapt out of the car on the side toward the mansion-
house and proceeded up the main entrance walkway, between a pair
of ancient oak trees with gnarled branches holding up bunches of
tiny leaves. The major-domo, an old man who was short, thin and
bald with penetrating bright blue eyes and a sour expression,
opened the great door himself as John was walking up to it.
Then, leading John along a hallway, explained that his uncle had
called and the elder Ockman was expecting him. He was led into
an immense study with portraits of famous Ockmans along walls --
mahogany wainscotting covered the lower half of each wall -- a
thick, soft-pile aqua carpet covered the floor. Over-stuffed
chairs were set here and there before a huge fireplace burning
real firewood. The elder Ockman sat before the fire, and wearing
spectacles, was reading over some papers, frowning slightly.
When he saw John, he quickly got to his feet and extended his
Taking his hand John recognized the old man from several
previous Larsch family functions. The elder Ockman was a serious
looking gentleman, very tall, with a paunch indicating a
comfortable life-style. What was left of his hair had turned a
distinguished silver. He said, in a deep voice, "Hello, John.
Your uncle just called and expressed great urgency. We had
better be on our way..."
John agreed and they made their way back out to his car. On
the way back, the elder Ockman revealed that John's uncle had
been keeping him up to date regarding the whole Van Gogh
enterprise, from the day that John had first left Infinity City
for Earth until the present. The elder Ockman asked a great many
questions about Van Gogh, many seeming only to assure himself as
to Van Gogh's authenticity. He paused, then began asking
questions about how well Van Gogh was fitting in with Infinity
John responded that he felt Vincent was fitting right in.
The solicitor frowned at this response, as if unexpected, then
mused about how amazing it was that a man from nineteenth century
Earth could suddenly adapt to Infinity City, especially one
unstable enough to have attempted suicide. John could only shrug
CHAPTER 25 - DISTURBING DISCOVERY
By the time they arrived back at the Gallery, it was late
and all the guests were gone. They found John's uncle in the
showing-room with his business associates, sampling various local
wines and nibbling at cheeses and little cubes of sweetmeats from
a tray offered by one of the serving robots from Mr. Manfretti's
cafe. The little robot immediately rolled up to them to offer
refreshment. They both declined. The robot rolled off to
refresh a gentlemen who was beckoning and pointing to his empty
John's uncle saw them and rose to his feet smiling. "Ah,
you're back, John. Ahned! Good to see you! Let me introduce
you..." He introduced the various off-world businessmen, then
rubbed his hands together, "Ahned, do you have the papers
The elder Ockman replied, "Of course. Where's your network
terminal?" He was led over to John's desk where, using the
gallery's network terminal, he tied into his family's computer,
back at the mansion-house, and had the forms printed-out right
there at the gallery.
While the off-worlders were reading the forms and discussing
various legal questions with the elder Ockman, John commented to
his uncle that he was surprised that all the guests had left
already. It wasn't even midnight.
His uncle looked at him wryly and replied, "Well, I had
expected and hoped that it would go on all night, AND into the
wee hours, myself. It would have been the talk of the town if
everyone would have stayed until we toasted in the dawn. But,
one of your "friends" came by and, not finding you, she went off
with Van Gogh. With him gone, you gone, and me busy with these
guys, all our guests grew bored and one-by-one left. Young man,
I am not so old that I don't remember the urgencies of youth, BUT
please instruct your vixen vendors to stay out of your formal
John was extremely embarrassed and ashamed. He had
purchased a few relationships since he had been back, but had
never told any of the girls about the Gallery. He wondered who
it had been and asked his uncle.
"Oh, you're keeping more than one?! A regular harem you're
got going! Well, I didn't see her leave with Van Gogh, or I
would have stopped them, so I can't tell you who she was or what
she looked like. One of the guests just mentioned that a young
lady was looking for you, and then she left with Van Gogh. I
sure hope he knows what kind of girl he's getting involved with.
Didn't he have some kind of trouble with prostitutes back on
John remembered what he had read about Van Gogh's sordid
past. Moving in with a pregnant prostitute, contracting a
venereal disease from her, court records accusing him of
harassing prostitutes in Arles during his periods of madness,
and, of course, the horrible episode of cutting his ear (which
had been recently repaired by an Infinity City plastic surgeon)
and giving it to an Arles prostitute.
"Uncle, I'm worried."
"Yes, I am, too," his uncle agreed, frowning and rubbing his
chin. "You better find him and explain some of our less than
obvious customs here."
"But, I need to know the name of the girl!"
His uncle turned to the off-world businessmen, "Excuse me,
gentlemen. Did anyone catch the name of Van Gogh's lady-friend?
The one he left with?"
They looked at each other, shaking their heads. Then a
voice from the robot server spoke out. The cafe owner was tied
in to the robot and was taking an order for more refreshments,
"Mr. Larsch! I just overheard you asking about that pretty young
girl out with Mr. Van Gogh. They stopped by my cafe a few hours
ago and I served them myself, out at Mr. Van Gogh's usual table.
She was that nice young lady you had over here a few weeks ago
for dinner and, er, breakfast, and of course, yesterday, during
the incident with those off-world hoodlums. Hey, Mr. Larsch, I
don't want to cause any trouble or anything, but I don't know if
you and she are "one and no others," as they say, but she was
getting along PRET-TY well with Mr. Van Gogh, if you know what I
mean, and maybe you should look into things, or maybe things have
changed; I don't know..."
John exclaimed, "Mandy?! He was with Mandy?!"
"Yeah, Mr. Larsch, Miss Mandy. He was holding her hands in
his, saying her name over and over, and staring at her. Well,
'gazing' I suppose I should say. I hope she's no one special,
By now, all the off-worlders were listening to the
conversation. John looked around, then said quickly, "Special?
No, no, she's a professional. It was just a professional thing a
few weeks ago, nothing important. I, uh, gave Vincent her
card..." He winced inside at making such a flippant remark. He
looked over at the off-worlders. They had been staring at him,
but quickly looked back down at their copies of the legal
agreement, pretending not to notice him anymore. The situation
was growing very embarrassing. But, he had to find Vincent and
get him away from... Mandy. He looked over at the image of the
cafe owner on the robot's screen and asked, "Are they still
"No, no, they left hours ago."
"Do you know where?"
"I have no idea..."
John thanked him and told his uncle, "Please excuse me, I
have someplace to go."
"Yes, you certainly do. And John, let's get things
straightened out right away. You KNOW how much is riding on all
CHAPTER 26 - IN SEARCH OF VINCENT
John left the showing-room, made his way through the
darkened gallery, and left the gallery. He jumped into his car
and keyed in the navigation code Mandy's apartment: "01".
Expecting to visit her frequently, he had stored her code using
the two-key quick entry code, so that he wouldn't have to enter
her entire location ID each time.
The car wound through OLDTOWN, away from the gallery and the
WELL OF THE WISH section, then accelerated onto a main artery,
currently with its coloring a pulsating hot pink. John One
detected irony in this and felt irritated. After a short while
the car pulled off into an older though well-to-do residential
section and came to a stop in front of a high wall protecting a
court-yard that could be seen through a gate in the wall, which
formed a high arch-way.
John jumped out of the car and dashed up to the gate. He
pushed the button next to her name on the shiny, brass-framed
intercom panel and said impatiently, "John One to see Mandy!"
"Just a moment..." responded a computer voice. John waited
for an answer. There was a cool breeze that night and it rustled
the ivy leaves growing up around the archway. He heard subdued
laughter from the courtyard within the wall and gate. He looked
inside. It was dark, but ground lighting lit the walkways that
wound around the trees and fountains of the courtyard and
connected the apartment buildings surrounding the courtyard.
There were ornate benches here and there along the walkways, and
he could see the dim shape of a couple sitting and talking, not
to far away.
Finally, the computer voice reported, "Mandy welcomes you,
John! Come right in!" and the gate chimed softly and swung
John proceeded along twisting and turning walkways until he
was at Mandy's door, cream colored, circular and trimmed with
brass filigree. The door swung open and there was Mandy, wearing
a long, flowing blue silk robe with pleasant floral patterns from
neck to ankle. Her hair was braided in a long tail, starting
from the back and dangling over her shoulder in front, meandering
down to her waist. "John! Hello, darling. Come in!"
John looked over her shoulder, then back at Mandy, and
asked, "I'm not intruding?"
"No, of course not! My door computer would have said I
wasn't home. That's a little secret I'm sharing just with you
because you're so special. John, you look upset. Come in. Can
I get you a drink?"
She turned and led him into her parlor. Not anxious to
reveal why he was there John answered, "Yes, a drink would be
fine. Whatever is convenient for you to make."
"Well, I myself was just about to have..." she paused,
giving him a curious look with her head tilted to the side. Then
she whirled around and examined her liquor trolly. "I need
something strong! You look like you do, too." Then she looked
over her shoulder at him suddenly and squinted. "Maybe for the
same reason..." Then, she looked back and picked up a bottle,
examining the label. "Well, here's something interesting I just
picked up. An off-world brandy called... AL SIDIK. Hmm." She
poured two drinks, offering one to John, who took his, frowned at
it thoughtfully, then took a sip.
Mandy took a long pull from hers and leaned against an
armchair with one hand. She looked at John. "Well, you don't
look like you're in a romantic mood. Is there something you
would like to talk about?"
John took a deep breath and through clenched teeth breathed:
"Yes," He looked at her and suddenly felt very nervous, though
he did not understand why. She hadn't really done anything
wrong. At least not from her viewpoint. He took a good swallow
from his drink and began, "Well, this is embarrassing. I... Um,
did you... Well, I just want to know..."
"John," Mandy interrupted. She came over to him, took his
arm and looked up into his eyes. "You and I are good friends.
You can talk to me. Just talk."
"All right. It's about Vincent..."
Mandy suddenly let go, gave an exasperated groan, then
flopped down into an easy-chair. "Hey, HE'S the one who wanted
us to leave together. I don't care what he may have said to you,
HE'S the one who came apart at the seams. What a nut! I think
that guy is crazy, John. He's really CRAZY! You better watch
CHAPTER 27 - WHAT HAPPENED
John came over to her, went down on one knee in front of her
chair so he could look into her eyes, then said, emphasizing each
word, "Mandy, you must tell me what happened. We haven't seen
Vincent for hours... since he left with you."
"I left with HIM. And, I don't know where he went. And,
I'd just like to forget the whole thing," she said, turning her
head and looking up at the ceiling.
"Mandy, what happened?! Vincent has had problems with...
He can't deal with the kind of... He just has special problems!
Please, tell me what happened. We're worried about him."
"YOU'RE worried about your investment, I'd say." But she
looked at him, sighed and gave in, "Okay, I'll tell you. It
won't take long. And good luck trying to find the little goof.
Anyway, here's what happened...
"I came to the gallery to see how your opening was going,
but you weren't there. So, I went over to MR. Van Gogh to see if
he knew where you were. He took one look at me and obviously
wanted to fall in love. I had a free night and I assumed --
based on what YOU said, John -- that he was a man of means, so I
let him take me out for a bite and then we came back here.
"He really loved the game and played very deeply, but he
took it too seriously, especially after... Well, you know. A
'serious turn of events.' Anyway, after that, he wanted me to
move in with him. I declined. And then he wanted to move in
with me. I declined again.
"All of this went on for several hours and there was a lot
of talking, everything not coming out as fast as I'm telling you
about it. You know how conversations bounce back and forth and
go in loops sometimes." She was looking at the ceiling while she
told him the story, flipping her hand back and forth with an
attitude as if she were telling him about some trouble she had
had with a grocery clerk.
She took another sip from her drink and continued, "Well, he
got more and more agitated and I couldn't calm him down.
Finally, when I asked him to leave, his eyes bugged out and he
just stood there staring at me... Glaring at me! Then, his face
turned all red. And then," she looked at John. "Then, he turned
kind of white and started to shake all over. He started saying
that he 'wanted me forever. Wanted me and nothing but me.' All
that sort of thing. He even said he wanted me more than his art!
I told him you don't always get everything you want. I told him
that there's a lot of things I wish I could have had but never
got. I said, 'Wishes don't come true, Vincent.'
"And then... This is really creepy. This sent a chill up
my spine. He takes a few steps backward, with this really wild
look, and says: 'Wishes DO come true! If you have FAITH! If you
really believe enough!' Then he turned and stormed for the door.
He grabbed my car keys from the shelf. I was following him and
asked: 'Hey, where are you going?' He didn't have a car, since
we came here in mine, so I thought I'd let him take mine, drive
around, and cool off. I'd call the car from my terminal later
and tell it to drive itself home as soon as he parked it
"Anyway, he turned and gave me this really weird grin and
said, 'I'm going to make a wish!'... You know, that's the only
time I can remember him grinning. He never smiled the whole
night... Hey, excuse me! Where are you going?"
John had been struck by the story and knew all to well what
must be going through Vincent's mind. He was up and dashing for
the door. As he passed through Mandy's foyer he spotted one of
Vincent's drawings hanging on the wall. It was one of the
uncrumpled ones from the sailship, with several little burn
marks. John One stared. It was the drawing that had fouled the
sailship and caused their near disaster during re-entry. He
shook his head and headed toward the door.
He raced out through the courtyard to the gate, hammering on
it to open. It opened automatically, its computer voice telling
him to 'Be quiet! It is nighttime!' He raced to his car, jumped
in and ordered, "Go to the WELL OF THE WISH! Emergency priority
and speed." The car took off, wheeled around 180 degrees then
accelerated down the street. John added, "Car, load Militia
priority code," and he rattled off his private Militia Guard code
to be used only for personal life threatening emergencies.
The car shot down the road, swerving completely to either
side of the road as it went around curves as fast as it could
without losing control. When it gained the main traffic artery,
it accelerated to a terrifying velocity. He had never heard the
sound of the wind shrieking like this as the car roared along.
Soon, John could see the road lights for the turnoff for OLDTOWN.
He was almost past it and was worried the car wouldn't turn when
it suddenly slammed on the brakes and cut over onto the exit
Again the car raced through the streets, screeching around
corners, narrowly missing an old man on a street corner. The car
turned a corner; now he was tearing down the street of the
gallery. It flashed by on the left. Then he went past
Manfretti's CAFE OF THE WELL. Then around a final curve, and
there was the wall around the WELL, with the guard house outside.
John ordered, "Come to a stop right at the entrance!" The car
was still accelerating toward the wall! John's heart was
hammering in his chest. He was drenched with sweat. He felt an
empty feeling of terror.
The car suddenly slammed on its brakes and it ground to a
halt, only a few feet from the door. John leapt out, raced to
the entrance -- the old guard calling at him from the shack. The
entrance was dark, but inside somtimes at night, a ring of light
went around the top edge of the wall, about 10 feet from the
ground. Tonight, it was on.
John stumbled to a stop halfway between the entrance and the
ancient brick cistern of the Well. He looked first one way then
another. The light was very subdued and it was hard to see
through the gloom. He ran around the well, but saw no one. No
one! He looked toward the cistern and felt sick.
And then, he noticed an out of place object leaning against
one of the four ornate knobs on top of the cistern. It was a
small canvas! Freshly painted, for he could still see the glossy
gleam of the wet paint. He rushed up to it, took it, and turned
it this way and that until he could see it in the wan light.
It was a picture of the Well itself, just painted, obviously
done by Vincent with his rapid style. In the painting, on the
ground before the WELL, he saw several tubes of paint. John One
looked around, down at the ground, and there! Four tubes of
paint, uncapped, the glint of paint oozing out.
He looked again at the painting and noticed no typical
signature in the lower right corner. Vincent had signed the
painting on the wooden arch that went over the Well. John looked
up at the actual arch above the well, and there, painted on the
beam in red, was Vincent's signature.
John felt as if he was watching this all happen from a
distance. Everything would fall apart for him now! He leaned
over and looked into the WELL'S darkness. He could see the point
of the Second Event Horizon surrounded by mysteriously moving
little lights that twinkled in different colors.
But, what was that!? The inside of the cistern was very
roughly made and some of the bricks were large, jutting out from
the cistern wall. The gloom within the WELL made it difficult to
see, but there, sitting on a brick sticking out about one foot,
John thought he could make out the figure of a man.
John froze. He whispered, "Vincent? Vincent, is that you?"
He saw the figure move. John's eyes were growing accustomed
to the darkness. He saw the figure slowly look up at him. And
then it looked back down again.
John found is voice. "Vincent! What are you doing?! Stay
there. I'll go get help. I'll get a rope!"
"Why?" said the voice of Vincent Van Gogh sadly.
"Great God, Vincent! You're sitting above the Second Event
Horizon! You could get killed! I mean... Look, just don't
move. Let me get help!"
"John, my friend, you have been so good to me. But
everywhere I go, it is always the same. I can have nothing
without making life tragic for others." His voice began to
shake. "Back on Earth, I was such a burden on my poor brother
Theo. Another mouth to feed. I could not even afford to house
myself. Do you know why I first tried to take my life, John?
You have never asked me that."
"Vincent, don't talk this way. Just take it easy.
Everything will be all right. Just let me go get help. A rope!"
"My brother had just become a father again. My little
nephew was so beautiful." He paused and then John heard him
raise his voice for the first time, "WHY HAS GOD ALWAYS DENIED ME
BEAUTY! HE WOULD NOT LET ME NEAR IT! HE WOULD NOT LET ME
PRODUCE IT! NOTHING! Always nothing..." He let out a sigh,
then spoke with great despair in his voice, "And how did I reward
you, my savior, for saving my life? I tried to take your love
"No, Vincent! It's okay. Love is her business!"
There was a pause, then Vincent said very slowly, his voice
rising and beginning to shake, "What...do...you...mean? She is
a... a prostitute?"
"No! No, Vincent. It's okay here. I mean it's not the
same thing at all. It's just love!"
"I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IT IS! I HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN EXACTLY
WHAT IT IS! But for me there has always been something wrong
with it! Like painting scenery from the wrong point of view --
the wrong aspect. But, this magical well will change it all for
me." His voice took on an idiotic sound of glee. "I am in no
danger here! Love is eternal. I am full of love, so I, too, am
eternal and am in no danger here. But for me, love has always
been wrong. But it was really just the aspect! And this magical
well will carry out my WISH. It will change the aspect of my
love so that all the sorrow will finally be gone. I've been
sitting here thinking it all through. It is all so clear now! I
am in no danger," he repeated, his voice breaking hysterically.
"LOVE IS SOMETHING ETERNAL - THE ASPECT MAY CHANGE, BUT NOT THE
ESSENCE! AND, NOW I GO TO JOIN THE ETERNAL, TO GET MY WISH!"
And with that, Vincent Van Gogh, to many the greatest artist of
all time, slid from the brick he had been sitting on.
John shot an arm down to grab him, almost tumbling in
himself, his other arm grabbing hold of the lip of the cistern
wall. But it was too late. Vincent disappeared silently into
the gloom, falling down toward the oblivion of the Second Event
Horizon... and to peace.
John screamed, "VINCENT! No!! Nooo!!!"
And then, he suddenly noticed that the familiar pattern of
distant, little dancing lights around the Second Event Horizon
had changed. They had all become a bright white, with some
taking on the pattern of eye-catching swirls, like spinning stars
in the night sky of old Earth...
CHAPTER 28 - FINALE
John found himself slowly driving aimlessly around the
quaint streets of Infinity City's OLDTOWN district. Vincent's
last painting and his tubes of paint were on the seat beside him.
The car was on automatic, in random touring mode. John stared
down at the painting wondering helplessly how had everything gone
so tragically wrong so rapidly.
Vincent was gone. All his insoluble troubles with women and
life and love, he had finally ended forever. He was gone, as if
John had never rescued him in the first place. John felt so
He gave a heavy sigh and instructed the car's computer, "Go
back to the Gallery, normal speed." The car took the next turn
and wound its way back to the art Gallery, pulling up to the curb
directly in front.
All the lights were still on. He opened the door, got out
of the car and then aggressively slammed the door closed, not
really knowing why. He did not feel angry, just so very empty...
"John!" his uncle appeared in the Gallery doorway. He came
rushing forward, followed by his off-worlder business associates,
all looking anxious. "What happened? Where's Vincent?"
John looked at his uncle, not knowing where to begin the
ending. Then he looked up. Mandy was in the doorway. She came
slowly forward, staring at him with her dark eyes, the lights
from inside the gallery, so carefully placed by Vincent,
shimmering around the edges of her flat black suit like ghostly
glowing hands ecstatically caressing her.
Someone called and John turned to see Mr. Manfretti rushing
over from his cafe, wringing his hands and asking about Vincent.
They all stood around him intently asking questions, all at
the same time. Where was Vincent? Was he all right? Was he
coming back to the open house celebration? John raised his hands
in front of him, palms outward for silence and then said simply,
"Vincent chose the WELL." He slowly hung his head.
"WHAT?!" cried his uncle.
"Oh, no, no! Not that!" moaned Manfretti, slamming his
fists against his head.
Mandy just stood to the side watching John. Was there guilt
in those dark eyes? She was so hard to read...
Manfretti wailed up to the skies, "This is a tragedy!"
John's uncle reached forward, grasping John's shoulders.
"John, are you sure? Did you SEE him jump?"
John pushed his uncle's hands away and said with irritation,
"Yes. Yes, I saw him jump! It was sick. I don't know why he
did it! I tried to stop him, but he wouldn't listen to me!"
"This is the worst!" cried Manfretti loudly. "In all my
hundreds of years this is the absolute worst. Why such a loving,
kind man?" he ground his fists into his eyes. "Oh, Vincent, come
back to us!"
"Oh, shut up and get a grip on yourself," John's uncle said
angrily to Manfretti. Then, to John he emphatically asked, "Is
he gone?! Vincent Van Gogh is gone?! We had Vincent Van Gogh
and now he's DEAD?!" his voice was rising in anger. Mr.
Manfretti moaned out load, covering his face with his big hands.
John lowered his head and said quietly, "Yes, Vincent Van
Gogh is gone, uncle. I am sorry."
"Sorry? SORRY?!" his uncle balled his fists, ground his
teeth and started shaking. He looked around, saw Mandy, glared
at her and snarled, "YOU! YOU took him away from here! YOUR
kind are the worst trouble makers around Infinity City. Your
scum profession should be outlawed. YOU should be outlawed! You
monster! I'd like to throw YOU down the WELL!"
John's head snapped up, his eyes blazing. "Uncle!" he
commanded, his voice ringing with the authority of the GUARD,
"Enough! She did nothing. Leave her alone!"
His uncle whirled on him, his lips drawn back from his
clenched teeth in an insane grimace. "Oh, she did nothing, eh?"
he said in a low sinister voice, that John had never heard him
use before. "She has cost us everything! We have lost a
fortune! How could you be so stupid as to let a goddamned girl
screw you up like this?"
Then, the off-worlders joined him in deriding John, "Young
man, you have cost us all a great deal of money!" "You should
have been careful with someone so unstable!" "You don't let a
freaky artist go off running around by himself!" "Why don't YOU
dive into that Well after him, you incompetent boy!"
Even Mr. Manfretti sadly begged of John, "Wasn't there
ANYTHING you could do? Couldn't you stop him?"
Everyone was shouting at John One. Except Mandy, who looked
on at the crowd of shouting men with disgust. Looking at John,
the center of all the abuse, she sadly shook her head.
John just stood with his head once again lowered.
His uncle raised a shaking finger to John's face. "An
officer of the GUARD indeed! No real officer of the GUARD would
ever do anything so stupid! You've ruined everything! All my
plans. We could have been the biggest, greatest Family of all
time. We could have been..."
And from the doorway of the Gallery, a quietly low, feminine
voice said simply: "Enough. Silence now, you men." John looked
up to see Deirdre, the Grand Dame of his family Larsch, walking
slowly toward them all. She was wearing a long, flowing white
gown, highlighted with thin-lined silvery patterns. When and HOW
had SHE arrived??
Everyone had become silent at the sound of her quiet voice
of authority. Mr. Manfretti whispered, "The Larsch Grand Dame!"
He nervously bit his knuckles, then hurriedly scuttled back up
the street to his cafe. The off-worlder businessmen, familiar
with and wishing to avoid the adversity of a Grand Dame, bid
John's uncle a quick good-night, hopped into their rented limo',
and drove quickly back to their hotel by the space port.
Turning to John's uncle, the Grand Dame chidingly said,
"Zacharia Larsch, your greed is offensive. It is unbecoming of a
Larsch. We are DISPLEASED."
She turned to John and said imperiously, "We are aware of
the situation. You must know that Infinity City is great, but
there are greater forces beyond our control. Young man, did you
have any idea that this tragedy would occur?"
John respectfully went down on one knee, "No, Mother. I
still do not understand why it happened. He was so happy, I
"Some accuse you of kidnapping Van Gogh. How do you answer
John One had gone over this in his mind many times. It was
technically, at least, kidnapping -- though it had not occurred
to him until well away from Earth. He had taken Vincent aboard
his ship without asking him. Van Gogh, however, had never wished
to return. Besides, he would have died forever if left behind!
It did not FEEL like kidnapping. And it did not matter anymore
anyway. He looked up at her and answered: "Vincent came here of
his own free will."
She peered down at him for a moment, eyebrows arched high,
her soft, white face calm and unreadable. "We feel you are not
responsible," she judged. Turning to John's uncle she commanded,
"Accept this, Zacharia. Your nephew is not responsible for what
has happened. And neither is that girl. This is fate!"
John's uncle hesitated for a moment then bowed his head and
grumbled, "Yes, Mother. I accept your verdict. I... lost
control of myself. I was disappointed." Then, turning to John,
he said sheepishly, "Nephew, please accept my apology. You are
the finest of the finest. I know you did all you could do." A
complex look suddenly distorted his features. He turned, and
with head bowed and his hand covering his face, walked hurriedly
away toward his own car to drive away.
Grand Dame Deirdre said, "Very good!" Then she turned to
Mandy. "My girl, why do you waste your beauty and time at such
an unproductive... vocation? Seek the challenge of starting a
Family, a House! You may have Our assistance."
John was amazed at such a generous offer. But, Mandy said
angrily, "I don't need your CHARITY! And, I do not ever want
YOUR kind of life!" She stalked away.
Looking after Mandy, the Grand Dame commented, "Childish
girl. And yet, so spirited!" She turned to John and took a deep
breath, sighing: "Young man, take heart. Perhaps only the
aspect of this situation has changed. Perhaps the essence is,
after all, eternal!" She smiled ever so slightly.
Suddenly, John heard a sound behind him. The Grand Dame's
Imperial Excursion Skiff had just landed, its billowing white
sails floating above, the golden door to the luxurious salon
He watched as the Grand Dame walked in a stately manner
toward her beautiful skiff and boarded. The skiff lifted up into
the night sky, and she was gone.
John One rose to feet and stood looking after the dwindling
skiff, wondering and wondering. The Adventure was now quite
He locked up the gallery and looked in through the window at
all the wonderful works of Vincent Van Gogh. He shook his head.
He had had enough of art. He would let his uncle sell off
everything; the enterprise had been his idea anyway.
John One climbed into his car. Where to go? He instantly
thought of Mandy. But he could not face her now. Was she to
blame? He could not decide. Why could they never get along?
He set the car in manual pilot mode to get his mind off all
the recent dismal events and drove home to his Larsch family
And so, what became of the remarkable Vincent Van Gogh? Had
he discovered a new world where his reality-transcending artistic
talents gave him amazing new powers that Infinity City and the
entire Galaxy would eventually depend on for their very survival?
Or was he truly just dead?
And the devastated John One? Was this Adventure indeed over
for him? Or, would he and Vincent be once again united by a
shattering turmoil of such mind-bending multi-galactic scope that
the very foundations of the Universe itself would tremble from
the inescapable conflict?
What of Jason the Rescuer, and Mandy, and the Grand Dame
Deirdre? How would their lives and lusts all intertwine and
resolve the as yet undiscovered secret threat growing like a dark
storm on the horizon of Infinity City's destiny?
Read the next exciting book in the Infinity City series!
"JASON THE RESCUER" - Infinity City Book #2
1. Excerpt from "ELEMENTARY ASTROGATION - Course 1A" from the
Infinity City Militia Guard Academy...
"Time within a black hole's first event horizon is independent of
time outside the black hole, due to the reversed relationship
between time and space between the Galaxy and the inside of a
black hole. That is, Galactic time corresponds with black hole
inner space, and the Galactic spatial dimension corresponds to a
black hole's temporal dimension. When leaving a black hole, the
point in time at which a ship arrives outside is dependent upon
the angle between the ship's trajectory vector and the normal
line between the first and second event horizons, the Horizon
Normal Line. (Within the black hole, both of these horizons
appear as points.) The farther a sailship's angle of trajectory
from the normal line within the black hole, the farther back in
the past it arrives out in the Galaxy. The closer to the normal
line, the closer to the actual, unraveling Galactic present.
When returning from the Galactic past, a ship entering the black
hole always arrives back to the present time, though just as much
time will have passed within the black hole as passed on-board
the ship while it was outside (an interesting phenomenon
explained by the current temporal momentum field theory).
There is no known way to travel into the future, since, according
to all reasonable theories, and especially according to the One
True Belief, the Universe is constantly unfolding, but only in
the present time, and no future has been created yet. We are not
fatalists! The future is exclusively dependent on the present.
Your destiny within the Militia Guard is in the palm of your own
2. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Instruction Watch - Striving to do away with paper as a media of
data representation, Infinity City Law requires electronic media
for all consumer product instruction booklets. What resulted was
the development of little plastic instruction watches that
accompany all consumer products. The typical model consists of a
speaker to annunciate instructions, a small, color liquid crystal
display screen to show pictures and a microphone to receive
questions from the user."
3. Excerpt from "ASTON'S GLIB HISTORY" stored within the atomic
memory of John One's sailship...
"Vincent Van Gogh was fluent in Dutch, French, and English. A
voracious reader, he could read and write in these languages,
also. His fluency in idiomatic English was due to the time he
spent living and working in London, England ancient Earth where
he unsuccessfully tried to win the heart of a young pretty
English girl. One day, however, she announced her engagement to
another. Devastated, Van Gogh returned to Holland (also on
ancient Earth) where he learned the 'art' of borrowing money to
4. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Infinity City, like most modern worlds of the Galaxy desiring a
common language, adheres to the ancient standard for English,
beginning with strict teaching in early low school. Computer
feedback systems used the English standard to train children in
exact pronunciation, grammar, and syntax -- easily overriding
parental influence. The digitally recorded format is the exact
same as when first recorded back in ancient times."
5. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Riyal - The standard unit of Infinity City currency, sometimes
humorously referred to as the 'credit' (origin unknown). The
value is generally steady since the Infinity City Monetary
Council (composed exclusively of Grand Dames) closely monitors
and controls the size of the local money supply to maintain
maximum business productivity and efficiency. For ages, visitors
from the governments of other worlds have come to Infinity City
to learn the secret of such a stable fiscal system. Visitors
from male-oriented cultures usually leave in disgust at the
suggestion by their Grand Dame hosts that they implement the
principle of Political Gender Exclusivity; that is, put their
women in charge.
6. From "MCNAB'S EXCITING GALACTIC TOURBOOK"...
"New Rome off Rigel - One of the oldest of Earth's colonies, and
also certainly one of the most developed and cosmopolitan.
Covered mostly in ocean, the physiology of the denizens within
were not only edible to humans but irresistibly delicious and
7. Refer to Book Two of these Chronicles of Infinity City...
8. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"The residents of Infinity City refer to the few other cities
within black holes as their Neighbors. All have degenerated into
unstable regimens of tyranny. Without the political stability to
foment sophisticated biogenetic technology, they have no ability
to produce the Pill of Life. They continually raid Infinity City
merchant ships for plunder and also foolishly for the Pill, which
these ships carry in abundant quantities for their crew, though
each prescription of the Pill works only for a single person.
In the past, when the raids grew in daring and number, Infinity
City set up its famous Militia Guard to protect itself and its
main routes of trade."
9. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Back-bounce - Infinity City slang for a sailship voyaging back
in time and then returning with everything in the past reverting
to its exact original historical configuration by the time the
sailship re-enters the black hole, as if it had never left.
However, any object brought back remains in existence."
10. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Stick - Infinity City slang meaning any change to the universe
outside the black hole that is permanent, that alters the future.
Only possible if a sailship leaves the black hole along the
Horizon Normal Line, between the first and second event horizons
causing the ship to emerge in the present universe (the highest
point in time so far)."
11. Excerpt from "VISITORS' GUIDE TO INFINITY CITY VERNACULAR"...
"Visa-torque - A device put around the necks of non-VIP off-world
visitors to Infinity City, which constantly transmits their
location and visa identification code, allowing easy tracking of
their activities. The use of torques on Infinity City citizens
is forbidden, even if they have a known criminal past."