Our editor published The Geonomist which won a Californian GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g., TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC’s Planning and Markets), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland’s mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to the Forum on Geonomics. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in America’s Pacific Northwest.
The Vast Flow of Payments for Owning or Using some of Nature
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Test Your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) - Quiz 5
How much society spends for nature, for land and resources, is immense, more than people spend to reward other people for their contributions of labor or capital. Show what you know about this spending, which economists call a surplus, and so could become our common wealth to share.
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When negotiating a lease, how much of the value of the oil in the ground (as measured by a percent of world price) does Alaska get? This one of the United States gets 12.5%. According to a University of Wisconsin publication, how much does Malaysia, a foreign government, get?
To take without paying is sometimes called stealing. Oil companies take oil from public land without paying, owing the US (according to USA TODAY) how much in back royalty?
Who’s the 400 pound gorilla in the industrial world? Of FORTUNE 500 earnings between 1978 to 1980, a Congressional report cited by Greenpeace found oil companies getting what percent?
Kuwait pays its citizens a dividend from oil royalties – which is why citizenship for foreigners is so hard to win. Paying its residents a share of the royalty from just this one resource, oil – not from other resources or from surface sites – how much does Alaska pay out as a dividend each year on average? Over
How much rent is there? The Washington, DC Metro system by 1981 had spent $3.5 billion on plant, equipment, and land acquisition, yet according to Walt Rybeck, aid to former Congressman Henry Reuss, had increased land value by:
Building a nine mile stretch of New York highway cost $125 million in 1995 then according to researcher Bill Batt added how much value to adjacent land?
Hong Kong funds 4/5 of its budget with ground rent, yet does not collect all the rent available. Were Hong Kong to collect, it could fund all of its budget plus pay dividends. How much rent, figures a Lincoln Institute study, does Hong Kong collect?
It’s the location, remember? If in 1979 you had enough money to afford all of Japan, how much America could you buy:
How much rent is there? For the UK, Prof. Ronald Banks in Costing the Earth (p 40) estimated that as much as what fraction of national income is rent:
In Aspen (CO), where housing costs have gone ballistic, to qualify for their housing subsidy, your income, according to the NYTNS in 1998, must be no more than:
Affordable describes Pittsburgh’s housing. This feature, plus other advantages, won the Steel City Rand-McNally’s “Most Livable Award” twice. Pittsburgh’s property tax – which falls mostly on land, not buildings – collects how much per capita compared to other neighboring big cities?
a lot less
a little less
a little more
a lot more
It’s not all theory. While nowhere is it fully in practice, some places use geonomics partially (collect, even share, some rent; cut, even end other taxes). Which of the following does not now:
The father of geonomics was the 19th century reformer, Henry George. His followers founded common-ground colonies. Which is not a Georgist colony?
New Town (TN)
Free Acres (NJ)
Incomes leak. There’s: taxes, the collateral damage of taxes (lost invest-ment, lost time hassling with extra bookkeeping and forms, etc.), privatized rents, the collateral damage of privatized rents (higher land costs, lower wages, etc.), and inflation. If we plugged these leaks – ended taxes, shared rents (the policy of geonomics) – that’d be equivalent to how much of a pay raise for the average worker, now making somewhat under $20,000 per year?
50% to $30k
75% to $35k
100% to $40k
125% to $45k
Average family income is about $35,000 in 1998. Average household giving to charity is about:
Donations from corporations, figures GIVING USA (1993), are between what percentage of their pretax income?
The twenty-five richest foundations, worth well over one third of total foundation assets, according to GIVING USA (1993), give what percentage of total foundation giving?
During the depths of the Industrial Era, the workweek got as bad as 80 hrs. – children, too. During the Middle Ages, after a plague wiped out enough people to put labor at a premium and good land at a plethora, the workweek, according to Thorold Rogers of Oxford (1862-1868) was less than:
Must Baby Boomers work so much? Harvard’s Juliet Schor wrote that from 1949 to 1989, the average US worker doubled his output yet did not halve his workweek. If productivity increases were applied toward a shorter workweek rather than to widening the gulf between haves and have-nots, by what year, had we started in 1990, would the workweek be 6.5 hours?
Bucky Fuller calculated that to produce our basics – food, clothing, shelter, medicine, transportation – we could take the required time and divide it by the adult work force, leaving each of us with a workweek whose hours total:
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Economies vs. Eco-system
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Test your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) — Quiz 4
Show what you know about how our spending for land influences whether we spoil or spare the earth.
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Economies are part of the whole eco-system, some economists do acknowledge (e.g., Herman Daly in For the Common Good). Both the subsets (economies) and the supra-set (the ecosystem) use similar rules to accomplish similar goals. For example, to keep balance, nature uses the prey/predator cycle and markets use the pricing cycle (aka, the law of supply & demand), while both feedback loops follow the same pattern. Consider these 12 features used by complex systems – a system may: grow, wean, climax, do so periodically, recycle, self-regulate, vary infinitely, honor hierarchy, evolve, have components that compete, that cooperate, and interact with symbiosis. How many of these features do both sub-system (economy) and supra-system (ecology) share?
The footprint of the First World exceeds that of the developing world how many times? (albeit the tropics don’t need winter clothing). The London standard of living, if enjoyed worldwide, would, according to WorldWatch, require how many more Earths?
Of Pacific Coast air pollution, according to the University of Washington in 1999, how much originates in China?
At risk of extinction, according to the World Conservation Union in 1998, is over what percent of the plant world?
Which kind of road, says Seattle’s Northwest Environment Watch, stretches for more miles – 350,000 – in the Pacific Northwest than all others combined?
We join groups and pay dues to solve problems that by paying taxes and thus subsidies we create. Figures from Cornell University’s Duane Chapman show each full-size (1000 megawatt) nuclear power plant (when in operation) receives how much subsidy from the US per day?
By paying taxes, environmentalists fund environmental destruction. When taxpayers compensate flood victims, we generous citizens often bail out the same landowners, flood after flood, who don’t relocate from the flood-prone area – an ideal spot for a wildlife refuge – to a dry and safe place. Compared to the value of the home, the dollar amount of the public’s rescue is often, according to the Seattle Times, 1996 July 21:
The annual cost of eco-ploitation – pollution and depletion – to society in crop damage, building damage, health costs, lost work time is enormous; how much society charges polluters and depleters, trying to internalize these costs, is not so much. Such fees, taxes, and fines were less than what fraction of the damage in 1987 which the American Lung Assoc. put over $20 billion?
GreenPeace figured that if we abolished the tax subsidy to oil corporations – especially the military budget (free chastisement of overseas suppliers) – then the US price of gasoline per gallon would drive motorists to ride alternatives, rising up to:
Car companies, tire makers, road builders, and other powerful interests formed a consortium that bought up and ripped out the trolley systems of most US cities during the first half of the 1900s. Some cities sued during the 1920s. The case was finally heard in the 1940s, after the damage was done. The defendants pled no contest and were fined, except for GM which had to pay $1000 (while reaping billions), how much a piece?
Friends – one can’t have too many. How many does one have, if living on a busy street compared to if living on a quiet street? (from a late ‘60s study of San Francisco by Donald Appleyard in his Livable Streets, p 22):
According to the Urban Land Institute, in US cities the surface area allocated not to humans but to cars averages:
How much city land is vacant or under used? How much suburban sprawl is “necessary”? According to the Nat Tax Jrnl (’87), Joe Dimasi wrote a computer model of Boston that replaced the conventional property tax with one that taxed locations three times as much as buildings. The outer ring of development then moved:
Recycle sites. Replace buildings of low utility with best use. Using land efficiently precludes sprawl. The city with the fastest site recycling rate in the world was Johannesburg, South Africa, when they taxed land, not buildings. It found the best use for sites, said the Assoc. of Incentive Revenue Research, in a little longer than every:
New York’s city council, not comprised of famous greens, routinely denies permits to build in Manhattan’s Central Park. Building luxury condos in the park would raise the value of the former park land but lower the value of the land that fronted the new building. An area’s market value is highest when its sites are used to the:
One of the richest countries in Asia, land-taxing Taiwan, imports what percent of its raw materials?
Each year, the amount of metal the US throws away, compared to the amount it mines, is:
On a level playing field – one without taxes and subsides – which is cheaper, says the Conservation Law Foundation: to extract, or to recycle, and by how much?
extraction by $10-12/ton
recycling by $10-12/ton
extraction by $23-35/ton
recycling by $23-35/ton
Five developed nations now burn half as much coal as they did 15 yrs ago, noted WorldWatch’s Seth Dunn (’99 Sept/Oct); they cut coal subsidies:
Lately, how many European nations have begun to shift taxes from goods like income to bads like pollution? (says Wuppertal Inst.)
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Humanity’s Blind Spot toward Land
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Test your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) — Quiz 6
Economists –- and most people -– have a blind spot when it comes to realizing the role of land in creating our comforts. Show what you know about what the vast majority just can't seem to see. The first couple queries are just for practice.
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How much is the production cost of land?
Question 1 Explanation:
Zero. Nobody produced it. It cost nobody anything for land to be here. Why we pay for land is not to compensate anyone, as we do when we pay for goods and services, but rather to get the right to own or use that particular location.
How high can a prime location’s price go?
The sky’s the limit.
Question 2 Explanation:
As long as population grows or ambient income grows or technology progresses or the quality of life rises, people will keep bidding up how much they pay for a site with no end in sight!
When was the workweek the longest? In the:
Early Industrial Era
Question 3 Explanation:
Work-hours/week were 15 in the Stone Age (Sahlins, Stone Age Economics), 14 in Middle Ages after a plague (James E. T. Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages), and 40+ now. Labor-saving devices have not really saved much labor yet, have they?
The GINIs of land in Nicaragua, Portugal, America, and Uruguay were in the:
Question 4 Explanation:
In the .7s, from bad to worse in the order given (FAOSTAT, UN, 2009), putting the US second from worse of these four.
The biggest sector in the US GDP – whether it’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance, & Real Estate), energy, whatever – is what part of GDP?
Question 5 Explanation:
FIRE is biggest, twice as big as runner-up manufacturing (US BEA).
How many trillions do Americans spend for land & resources yearly?
Question 6 Explanation:
$4 trillion to $6 trillion, depending on what resources and privileges you include.
If utilities paid downwind health costs, due to the damage done to living things by their pollution, their costs would rise by:
Question 7 Explanation:
30% higher utility costs (European Commission’s Research DG press release, Brussels, 25 July 2001)
The physiocratic first French Republic funded how much of its 1798 budget from its tax on land?
Question 8 Explanation:
80% of French budget from land rent. (Vincent Renaud in Lincoln Institute monograph #82-3: “Land taxation and land use”, Laconte, editor)
Followers of popular economist Henry George around 1900 founded how many surviving colonies?
Question 9 Explanation:
3 geoist colonies – Fairhope AL, Arden DE, and Free Acres NJ – thrive as local jewels.
Some places recover land rent yet don’t tax buildings. Which of the following does burden buildings?
Question 10 Explanation:
Melbourne's suburbs used to tax land alone but now they levy a conventional property tax; Sydney uses a land tax; Australia’s capital, Canberra, owns its land and leases it.
After a generation of taxing land, 1950-1970, Taiwan’s birth rate fell:
Question 11 Explanation:
40% less population growth rate in Taiwan (William Rich, Overseas Development Council, Communique #16, 1972 April).
In Hong Kong, where all land is publicly owned, mass transit operates on what percent of subsidy?
Question 12 Explanation:
0% as in none – Hong Kong mass transit needs no subsidy.
In 1980 Pittsburgh raised its rate on land; it met the cost of renewing its downtown with what percent of subsidy?
Question 13 Explanation:
0% as in none – Pittsburgh’s redevelopment needed no subsidy.
When New Zealand taxed land, not buildings, its (non-fudged) employment rate, 1966-1975, averaged:
Question 14 Explanation:
If you like jobs, 99% employment (Kiwi Local Government Statistics).
In the 1970s recession, the number of manufacturers in the Australian towns that taxed land, not buildings, changed by:
Question 15 Explanation:
If you like manufacturing, 10% more startups – in a recession yet! (Australian Bureau of Statistics, publication 8203.2, 1986 October 15).
The amount of built value in Australian towns, 1990, that taxed land compared to towns that taxed land and buildings was:
Question 16 Explanation:
If you like quality construction, 50% more built value! (Ken Lusht, “Site-Value Tax & Residential Development Patterns”, Lincoln Monograph Series, 1992).
How far would sprawl be rolled back by raising the property tax rate on locations, not on buildings?
Question 17 Explanation:
More than a half a mile of contraction if the rate on land is triple the rate on buildings (Joseph DiMasi, National Tax Journal, 1987 December).
To qualify for Aspen’s housing assistance, which is funded by a quasi land tax, you must make p.a. no more than:
Question 18 Explanation:
Aspen started with a ceiling of $120,000 p.a. but lifted it to an annual salary of $150,000 (Cindy Christensen, Operations Manager, Aspen Housing Office).
To qualify for Alaska’s oil dividend, you must make less than p.a.:
Question 19 Explanation:
No limit. Earn as much as you can, Alaska still pays all residents a share of oil revenue.
If the US shared the payments for its land, how big would be a Citizens’ Dividend each month?
Question 20 Explanation:
$1000/month, if all the natural revenue went to registered voters as a “Citizens’ Dividend”.
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Taxes and Subsidies.
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Test your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) — Quiz 3
Show what you know about the impacts of paying taxes and winnings subsidies.
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1) To pay off all their obvious and hidden taxes, the average American earner, according to the US Dept. of Commerce, must work from January 1 to:
Americans born in 1900 paid a lifetime tax rate of 23.6%; born in 1940 are paying 31.9%; in 1970 are paying 36.5%. At the growth in tax rates by 1994, Laurence Kotlikoff, economist for federal budgeting in the Christian Science Monitor, predicted those born in 1992 will yield over how much of their earnings to the state?
Is the tax code a scoop with a few holes in it? If so, expect collected revenue to exceed exempted revenue. Or, is the tax code a trap line whose loops snare small incomes while letting large one lumber by, mostly thru mortgage interest deductions and “capital” gains (which are in large part land gains)? If so, expect exempted income to exceed collected revenue. What do IRS figures for 1992, a typical year, show? With $560 billion collected, the amount exempted was:
Can the very rich avoid the income tax? Completely? They can and do, say Pulitzer Prize winners Don Bartlett and Jim Steele in America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? (1994). After every tax “reform”, does the number of millionaires legally exempt from the income tax rise or fall? After the Reagan reform of 1986, its number went from 659 to how many by 1989?
According to James L. Payne in his Costly Returns, for every dollar that the US IRS collects, the cost of its collection and the payer’s paying (mostly bookkeeping cost) is another:
How much bigger would GNP be, figures VPI’s Nic Tideman, were state and federal taxes not levied?
Taxes tend to make products more costly. The US tariff on imported cars raises the price of all new cars how much per unit?
Taxes tend to make products more costly. A tax on never-produced land makes its price:
rise then fall.
neither rise nor fall.
Solar energy was midwifed by tax credits? Really? When the US quit giving credit for going solar, the price of solar equipment for homes:
rose by an amount equal to the credit.
fell by an amount equal to the credit.
stayed the same.
went to zero as the industry died.
Comparing the cost of the same service, which provider is cheaper: the state or a private entity? Gordon Tullock, William Niskanen, and David Friedman say when the state provides, the service costs:
twice as much.
As a “professional courtesy”, governments do not tax interest received by the buyer of another government’s bonds; i.e., interest earned on state bonds is exempted by the IRS. Is it legal for government to give this tax-exempt status to bonds sold by private corporations?
The 1872 Mining Law still limits how much the feds can charge “prospectors” for claiming public land to $5 per acre. In 1994, one mining company paid the public treasury some $10,000 for about 1,800 acres containing gold worth up to how much?
In most fiscal years, the budget of the USDA is larger than the total income to farmers.
According to World Resources Institute, the USDA gave 15% of its largesse to 70% of farmers, those who need help the most. To the top 5% of “farmers”, those who need it least (many of whom live not in Kansas but in Beverly Hills), it gave what percent?
The Pentagon employs how many people, noted columnist Molly Ivins in 1996, selling and servicing weapons to foreigners?
Corporate welfare each year worldwide comes to, according to both WorldWatch and the International Institute for Sustainable Development:
During the 1920s in most US cities, the amount of construction doubled except in one major city, New York, which exempted new buildings from taxation, leaving the levy on land alone. So in the Big Apple, new construction, without any subsidy:
stayed the same
In Pennsylvania, where it’s constitutional for cities to tax land and buildings at different rates, how many cities in 2000, including Pittsburgh, tax land higher than buildings?
Compared to their neighbors, two-rate Pennsy towns attract how much more construction, calculates VPI’s Nic Tideman, that otherwise would likely have become sprawl?
In Australia, the towns taxing land, not buildings, have more built value per acre, found Penn State's Ken Lusht. How much more?
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Ownership of Mother Earth.
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Test Your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) -- Quiz 2
Show what you know about how many or how few of us Earthlings actually own or control Mother Earth.
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The US abolished slavery in 1864. Since then, people have been caught and found guilty of enslaving workers. In South Carolina, some orchard owners enslaved some peach pickers and had to pay fines. In Southern California, some factory owners enslaved some garment workers and had to pay fines. When did these events occur?
Of the world’s hungry, how many are not farm owners but farm workers?
How concentrated is land ownership? While India, Brazil, and the developing world are known for land hoarding, according to the USDA’s Gene Wunderlich (1978), 3% of the US population own how much of the privately held land:
Was your food grown by a weekend gardener, farmer, farm worker, or corpo-rate contractor? (For farmer-grown food, try a farmer’s market.) According to USDA statistics for 1996, for the first time since the early days of the republic, less acreage was cultivated by tenants than by occupants.
It’s a trend spreading to other cities. In Portland, OR and Sta. Barbara, CA, tenants outnumber homeowners.
By “leaks in the local economy”, localists refer to payments for such imports as energy, food, materials, and manufactured goods. A 1998 study of Oakland (CA) found that the two biggest leaks by far are:
energy and food
food and cars
energy and materials
taxes and mortgages
Of the Forbes 400, most, are:
employees like upper managers
investors in capital
holders of privilege (deeds, patent licenses, etc)
inheritors of old money
Is there a ruling elite in America? What percent of US families, according to sociologist G. William Domhoff at UCSC in 1983, hold a controlling interest of land and capital, and thus labor and government?
The richest fifth of humanity, according to a UNDP 1992 report, receive over what percent of total world income?
Does free land make people free? Back when the sun never set on the Brit-ish Empire, Prince Albert returned to England from a tour of the realm, the largest the world has ever seen. A member of the reception committee asked how his highness had enjoyed the vast and beautiful wilderness of Canada. The Prince replied he hated it. “There was so much free land,
even I felt small and insignificant."
I pitied the settlers for the work before them."
I couldn’t find a man to shine my boots."
an investor must wait decades for a decent return.”
The Congress, stewards of our public lands, sell or lease our pastur-age, timber, water, oil, electricity, and national park concession, according to the 1994 House natural Resources Committee, at amounts that, compared to market value, are:
a little below
Is size a result of favors? Could corporate giants have gotten that way with-out the help of government? What help did they get and still get? Undervalued leases yields titans like Exxon. Unbidden broadcast licenses yields conglomer-ates like Time-Warner. Limited liability yields behemoths like DuPont. Free patents yields monoliths like Microsoft. Protective tariffs yields giants like General Motors. Repealing this bias would not only preclude most unearned income, it’d also cut these giants down to size and let many smaller competi-tors spring up in their place – at least in theory. What happened in practice? When government required owners to pay more to hold onto land titles (Den-mark in the 1790s, California in the 1890s, Taiwan in the 1950s, Vermont in the 1970s, etc.), what happened to land ownership? More land fell into the hands of
those who already had too much.
those who til then had too little.
One nation in the Americas has a relatively stable economy, a large middle class, a functional democracy, no army, and the broadest distribution of land in Central America. It, Costa Rica, also has the lowest murder rate in the hemisphere, said the Organization Panamerican of Health in 1997. The rate of the second place country (Uruguay) is greater by:
The lowest crime rate of a big US city (at least a million in the metro area) belongs to Pittsburgh, America’s lone major land-taxing city. The second place city has a rate 50% higher. Tho’ Pittsburgh was the 18th largest city in 1994, its crime rate ranked in the:
In the US, which is greater by half?
the homicide rate
the suicide rate
Before the Mexican Revolution (the one early in the 1900s), often one man owned a ranch bigger than a typical US county. Part of the peace accord end-ing that war was a constitutional guarantee of land for all. California, after utilizing a land tax in the 1890s, engendered hundreds of farms, becoming the “Breadbasket of America”. Before then tho’, in the 1880s, the biggest rancher, Henry Miller (a German immigrant nee Heinrich Mueller), owned how many acres by himself?
In 1944, Walter Goldschmidt studied two of California’s Central Valley farm-ing towns of roughly equal size, Arvin and Dinuba. The main difference was Dinuba had many owner-occupied smaller farms while Arvin had few large farms with two thirds of the population as hired help. Dinuba scored higher in quality of life than Arvin – more parks, libraries, schools, citizen participation – but how did it do by the bottom line? The ratio of the volume of business in Dinuba vs. Arvin was:
While Taiwan has thousands of farms now, before they began taxing land in the late 1940s, how many families owned the entire island? Less than:
In capitalist countries, there are parks on public land, and even parts of cities, such as the Port District of San Diego (which charges the Yacht Club an annual rent of $1.00). But do entire major cities exist on public land?
Australia’s capital, Canberra, exists on public land. So does Hong Kong. In Fortune Magazine’s rating of cities for business, Hong Kong usually comes in:
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How economies work – and don’t
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Test Your GQ (Geonomic Quotient) -- Quiz 1
Show what you know about how economies work, why they fail, and what you can do about it.
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While cost influences price – the seller won’t happily go below it – there is a commodity whose production cost is zero and whose exchange value reaches toward infinity; it’s:
The old joke goes, “What’s the three most important things in real estate? Location, location, and location, or all the above. It’s also an actual question on the California Realtors Exam.
In the US, the ratio of site value from downtown to the boonies is typically:
In Hawaii, the average home costs over $320,000, except when it’s on native land (free for a lucky few). Then the same size house costs:
After proximity to downtown, what, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, pushes up site value the most? Proximity to a:
Improving your site raises the value of:
only your site
only your neighbors’ sites
all sites in the neighborhood
none of the above
In the US, regional differences in the cost of living are determined by population size, population density, average ambient income level, and degree of unionization. One of these drivers ups the cost of people-made products. The other drivers up the cost of land – made by none, needed by all. Which factor does not augment the value of locations?
Using constant dollars shows that the cost of living is actually falling. Since we actually use debased currency, prices rise relentlessly. Even a low inflation rate – say 2.5% – means prices will double in less than
Do wages really rise over time or does it just look that way? Correcting for inflation shows that average wages (for non-supervisory workers) in 1993, $10.83, according to John Abell of Randolph Macon Women’s College, are the same as they were in
in 1959 at $2.02
in 1963 at $2.28
in 1978 at $5.69
1982 at $7.77
Of the fastest inflating commodities, the one leading all others is:
Historically, in response to taxes (a) on fruit trees, people chopped them down, (b) on fireplaces, people bricked them up, (c) on windows, people wouldn’t build them, and (d) on building frontage, people built narrow, long homes. How many of these accounts are true?
Inflation is inevitable? When Denmark in 1957 increased their land tax rate, inflation went from 5% to just under:
When, a few years later, Denmark repealed its increased land tax, inflation went to:
Late in the 1960s, Denmark announced that, due to a switch in government accounting practices, for one year, any increase in income would not be taxed. So for that year, the Danes went all out. They doubled their growth rate, halved their inflation, and generated enough jobs for any who wanted one. They also increased both savings by one quarter and investment by:
one and one half
Down Under, many more jurisdictions taxed land more than buildings compared to the US. In New Zealand by 1986, what percent of towns tax land alone?
In New Zealand during the decade before the oil shock hit (1964-74), employment averaged what percent?
More bankruptcies than business start-ups is one way to define a recession. In Australia by the end of the last downturn in the late 70s, early 80s, the number of businesses in towns that levy the conventional property tax had fallen by a fifth (-20%). In the towns that tax land alone, not buildings, the change in the number of businesses was:
Before capping their property tax (on both land and buildings), California and Massachusetts had two of the healthiest state economies in the US. Afterwards, they sank to the bottom. One state, New Hampshire, relies entirely on the property tax, getting twice as much land rent as any other state; their economy always ranks in:
1st - 5th
6th - 10th
11th - 15th
16th - 20th
Taiwan holds the world record for fastest development. Some years, growth in GNP reached over 10%. Within a generation of implementing a tax on land, Taiwan led the world in economic development every year from 1970 to:
Besting big-name outfits, the Center for Public Economics at San Diego State University has a computer model that predicts the business boom-and-bust cycle relatively accurately; it incorporates:
the land price cycle
the stock market
the inflationary curve
the tax rate
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This 2013 excerpt is from the AP on Oct 23 by Robert Burns
Air Force officers entrusted with the launch keys to long-range nuclear missiles have been caught twice this year leaving open a blast door that is intended to help prevent a terrorist or other intruder from entering their underground command post.’
Why is that signifcant? At least one of the officers was napping at the time. Airforce officials said other violations like this have undoubtedly occurred and gone undetected. Yeesh.
‘The blast door violations are another sign of trouble in the handling of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The AP has discovered a series of problems within the ICBM force, including a failed safety inspection, the temporary sidelining of launch officers deemed unfit for duty, and the abrupt firing last week of the two-star general in charge. The problems, including low morale, underscore the challenges of keeping safe such a deadly force that is constantly on alert but is unlikely ever to be used.’
PlayList of Songs With Geoist Themes For Earth Day
1) Antonio Vivaldi Concerto for Violin in E major, Op. 8 no 1/RV 269 “Primavera”: 1st movement, Allegro 1725
2) Johann Sebastian Bach Suite for Orchestra no 2 in B minor, BWV 1067: Badinerie 1738
3) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Concerto for Horn no 4 in E flat major, K 495: 3rd movement 1786
4) Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano no 5 in F major, Op. 24 “Spring”: 1st movement, Allegro 1801
5) Modest Mussorgski Pictures at an exhibition: no 9, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks 1874
6) Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Les saisons, Op. 37b: no 4, Avril “Perce-neige” 1876
7) Christian Sinding Rustles of Spring 1896
8) Jean Sibelius Suite for Violin and Strings, Op. 117 1929
9) Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves 1934
10) Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring: no 2, Allegro vigoroso 1945
1) Billy Bragg Blake’s Jerusalem 1804
2) Woodie Guthrie This Land Is Your Land 1940
3) The Yardbirds Shapes of Things 1966
4) The Beatles Taxman 1966
5) The Turtles Earth Anthem 1968
6) Bob Dylan Dear Landlord 1968
7) Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi 1970
8) Spirit Nature’s Way 1970
9) The Guess Who Share the Land 1971
10) Kinks Sunny Afternoon 1971
11) Ten Years After I’d Love to Change the World 1971
12) Carole King A Quiet Place to Live 1973
13) Isley Brothers Harvest for the World 1976
14) Pretenders My City Was Gone 1982
15) Big Country In a Big Country 1983
16) Genesis Land of Confusion 1986
17) U2 In God’s Country 1986
18) Midnight Oil Beds Are Burning 1987
19) Simple Minds This Is Your Land 1989
20) B-52s Revolution Earth 1991
21) R.E.M. Ignoreland 1992
22) Dave Matthews One Sweet World 1993
23) Jonathan Larson Rent (musical) 1994
24) Midnight Oil Common Ground 1996
25) Narnia Revolution of Mother Earth 2001
26) Libera I Vow to Thee My Country 2006
27) Billy Bragg This Land Is Your Land (UK) 2006
In Europe, Green Parties have led ten countries to shift taxes from income to byproducts that harm the environment. The growing list includes Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Italy. England, Holland, Spain, and Slovakia may lower other taxes to balance their green fees. Such a shift motivates both producers and consumers to choose processes and products that eschew pollution.
Making polluters pay is part of the Great Green Tax Shift. Others parts are to make depleters pay and make land speculators pay. Shifting taxes from goods to bads mirrors the green subsidy shift, from bads to goods, i.e., from corporate welfare to the general welfare.
A, Property of whom?
Subsidizing somebody raises the issue of whom government serves. Taxing something raises the issue of to whom the levied item belongs – if to anyone at all. Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac (1949) “when we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man.”
How might we belong? We could own land in common. Writer Ivan Illich refers to the environment as “the commons”. Another way is to share land rent in common.
B, Recognition of the Man
If Rent is to be shared, it must first be collected. The champion of collecting Rent by taxing land is Henry George (1839-1897; see our “101 Famous Thinkers on Owning Earth”). Since taxing sites motivates owners to use them efficiently, his Property Tax Shift finds favor with greens.
1. Ebenezer Howard, known for his, “Nothing is gained by overcrowding,” “derived much inspiration from Progress and Poverty.” (Howard, Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1945) But Ebenezer thought persuading the public to adopt George’s idea of replacing taxes with the collection of Rent would take eons. A faster way may be to entice private investors to buy up land and develop it efficiently. So Britain’s father of city planning founded the Garden Cities about a century ago. His followers went on to establish land-use planning as a movement (#43), discipline, and body of law.
The next generation of Georgists included some of the earliest greens who also blended land reform with money reform.
Ralph Borsodi, grandfather of decentralism, founded the School of Living whose newsletter is GREEN REVOLUTION (begun in 1944). He developed George’s land tax into the ever more popular land trust (the legal structure of The School). Today’s members promote both forms – land tax and land trust.
The Schumacher Society, which also exists on a land trust, promotes the minimalist philosophy of E. F. Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful). Their outreach literature: “In his book Progress and Poverty Henry George shows how the ability to monopolize land … can create prosperity … and lead to increased poverty.”
Both the public land tax and private land trust have crossed oceans. Down Under, many cities tax land, not buildings (see our “Where a Tax Reform Has Worked: 27 Case Summaries”). In 1994, Urban Ecology Australia put a city block in Adelaide, South Australia’s capital, into trust in order to create an eco village. Plans include zero traffic, roof gardens, water recycling, and solar energy.
Marion Clausen, a director of Resources for the Future (which employed Georgist Dr. Mason Gaffney who received some Ford Fdn grants, as did RFF), listed three remedies for slums: “lower (the real estate tax) generally, or make it a flat rate on the land only irrespective of how it is built up (the line advocated by Henry George and his followers), or, less radically, place a lower rate on improvements… A system of this kind is credited with part of the success in urban renewal (notably downtown Pittsburgh).” (The Land System of the United States; 1968; p 123)
6. Besides the land trust and dual-rate tax, another variant is the land gains tax. Peter Barnes, former West Coast Editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC and founder of Working Assets, advocates the land gains tax in The People’s Land (1975) which he edited, as does the next entry. Barnes also founded Common Assets (#125) to promote a “sky dividend”.
7. John McClaughry, former Vermont legislator and White House aide, director of the Institute for Liberty and Community, and co-convenor of the first US Green Assembly, in the above book (#5) said: “To finance land reform, tax the increase in land value. Since it is unearned by the land owner, society has a right to claim it. The classic argument for the site value tax, advocated by Henry George in his Progress and Poverty (1879), is equally applicable to the land increment value tax. The difference is that George’s argument applied to the total value of the land; the increment value tax applies only to the rise in value experienced during the time the land has been held by the current owner, and is imposed only at the time of transfer.” Perhaps the land gains tax would ease the transition to ongoing land dues.
Six green authors have endorsed George’s idea to recover Rent for Earth in lieu of taxes on effort.
Kirkpatrick Sale, New York Greens founder and a NATION columnist, in his Human Scale (1980, p 385): “The Georgist principles provide a way for a community to secure its financial interest in a rational economy of usufruct.”
Jonathan Porritt, cofounder of the British Green Party (#130), in his Seeing Green (1984, p 181): “the Liberals have given up trying to get across the ideas of Henry George. And that’s a pity … the only way to break the monopoly of landownership (is) some form of land tax.”
Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia, wrote us (1988): “if I’d heard of Georgism before publishing (his classic), I would have incorporated Georgist tax policies into its economic system.”
Paul Ekins with Mayer Hillman and Robert Hutchinson in The Gaia Atlas of Green Economics (1992) (foreword by Manfred Max-Neef of Chile who also proposes the term, geonomics) on page 151 says, “taxes need to be shifted away from labor and on to the use of resources and the environment. One such tax, first proposed by the American reformer Henry George more than a hundred years ago, is land value taxation.”
Mike Nickerson, author and operator of Canada’s Sustainability Project which with members of parliament promoted the “Well-Being Measurement Act”, wrote us (2000 Jan 10): “Writing another book will have to wait. The Georgian perspective will be included without doubt.”
13. Brian Czech in Shoveling Fuel (2000) cited both the tax shift (p 100) and the social salary (p 102). Later he added, “If I had read Dr. Mason Gaffney’s Corruption of Economics prior to writing Shoveling Fuel, I also would have had a lot more to say about Henry George. After reading Corruption and a paper by Bill Batt from New York, I can see the connection of Georgist to ecological economics.” (2000 July 15 e-mail to fellow geoist Adam Monroe)
Three green religious researchers have warmed to Georgism.
Matthew Fox, founder of creation spirituality, in A Spirituality Named Compassion (1979) said, “Henry George sees his movement as an alternative… By taxing land more than we do and in a special way, we will be able to tax work and income derived from it considerably less…”
15. Doctor of theology John Hart, in The Spirit of the Earth (1984; p. 144), wrote “Another possibility for a land tax … might be some development and application of the single tax idea of Henry George… Were such a tax developed, it should … tax at a lower rate agricultural, scenic land, or home-occupied land.” Actually, such preferential treatment, opening up a host of bureaucratic nightmares, might not be necessary. Once taxed, urban areas should draw almost all development. Plus, a rural jurisdiction could require ecology security deposits and restoration insurance.
16. Theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. with Herman Daly (#s43, 115, 116, & 121) in their For The Common Good (1989), wrote (p 256, 259; 328): “(George’s) specific proposal about taxation can be supported on the basis of a shared rejection of the idea of land as only a commodity… Since this tax would rise as the value of the land rose, or would fall as it fell, there would be no basis for speculation in land… farmers would have no reason to oppose zoning that kept taxes on agricultural lands appropriate to the profits that can be realized from farming… Whereas a higher tax on buildings encourages holding land unused or allowing buildings to deteriorate, a higher tax on land encourages efficient use of the property.” Two years later, Cobb underscored these points, citing George, in an interview on Canadian TV with David Pollock of the Anglican Church.
In the mainstream press, five environment-friendly columnists have cited George favorably.
David Hapgood in THE NEW REPUBLIC (1979): “The land tax would encourage the more intensive use of less land, reduce suburban sprawl, revive our ailing cities, lower the cost of shelter and, if uniformly applied, end the senseless wars among communities caused by the property tax. (Here again many traditional economists agree with George.)”
San Francisco CHRONICLE environmental columnist, Harold Gilliam (1989 Aug 20): “Another way out of the (land) cost dilemma might be to look for some variation on the proposals of that 19th century San Francisco economist and prophet-ahead-of-his-time, Henry George, author of the classic Progress and Poverty… Why not a land tax–paid when the land changes hands–to capture some portion of the increase in value resulting from population growth? And why not channel that revenue into incentives for affordable housing?” (¿Such as de-taxing homes?)
Molly Ivins wrote (1995 March) “Henry George must be in his grave spinnin’ like a cyclotron. We, the people at large, make the land more desirable; and then the landowners want us to pay them because we won’t allow them to poison the air or to pollute the rivers.”
James Howard Kunstler, former Rolling Stone editor and contributor to New York Times Magazine, in his Home From Nowhere (1996; p 206): “Reform of our property tax system along the lines advocated by Henry George is a straightforward means for restoring the economic health of our ailing towns and cities – no smoke, no mirrors, no voodoo.”
20. The Utne Reader, inlisting Pittsburgh among its “Ten Most Underrated Towns in America”, noted that the city’s “unique tax system, inspired by 19th-century economic theorist Henry George, assesses land at a higher rate than buildings, thus encouraging historic preservation, discouraging downtown parking lots, and reducing sprawl.” So that’s why geonomists rave about it! (The Georgist News <email@example.com> Jan 15, via Alanna Hartzok)
The Institutefor LocalSelf-Reliance (#69 and #99): “Can a land tax reduce sprawl and strengthen urban economies? The evidence is persuasive though not conclusive. Political economist Henry George first proposed a land value tax over 100 years ago, as a way to eliminate land speculation and make more land available for production.” www.newrules.org/environment/landtax.html> 1313 Fifth St SE Minneapolis, MN 55414; tel: 612-379-3815; fax: 612-379-3920 http://www.ilsr.org
The Tellus Institute (with #75), which once corresponded with us, and
the Environmental League of Massachusetts (with #99) put out their joint table-top lit, “Taxes that Work for Our Environment and the Economy”. They acknowledge help from Redefining Progress, which once contracted with us. They endorse Land Value Taxation, relying heavily on Henry George. They warn against using LVT in the countryside, worried that it’d spur new construction on pristine sites. Yet LVT does not increase development beyond demand; it relocates development to the most appropriate sites and makes it more compact, less auto-dependent.
C, Collect Site Rent: Tax on Land Value, not on Built Value
The first green party, actually older than Germany’s, the Values Party of New Zealand, got it half right. Their Manifesto 1975 recommended both taxing farmland and de-taxing farm income, yet taxing urban income and de-taxing urban land. Yet both incomes – earned by farmers and city dwellers – are earned; society has no right to tax them. While rent – for farmland and for urban land – belongs to society and, when recovered, spur owners to use land efficiently. At least in the early 90s, one of their candidates, Dr. Peter Whitmore (publisher, engineer, and economist) campaigned on “resource rentals” (see Section D) and a “resource dividend” (see Section I).
24. Q 2000 Youth Campaign for Sustainable Sweden spotted the problem with half the property tax in a 1997 UN document: “If you improve your house for environmental reasons, e.g. install a heat pump, you have to pay more taxes. That gives house owners the wrong signals and prevents adjustment to a sustainable society.”
Several Green Parties have endorsed site-value taxation (SVT):
25. The Green Party of Finland,
the Green Party of Scotland,
and the Green Party of Marin County, California (1992 Green Voter Guide; p 10) advocate SVT. So did the GP of the whole state, too, until it grew leftward. The Green Party of Britain (#8 & #130) in their Manifest for a Sustainable Society (1988): “Without this (tax), the economic pressures of the present land system (including land speculation) will defeat all attempts to remedy ecological and allied problems.”
The Green Party of British Columbia leader, Tom Hetherington, in spring 2000 said, “Our tax shift program is built on five points: by taxing pollution we would scrap small business taxes; by taxing resource consumption we would slash income tax; by taxing land values we would control urban sprawl; by taxing high energy draw development projects we would encourage sustainable town centers; by taxing automobile use we would ease grid lock and encourage public transit.” ww.greenparty.bc.ca/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The Green Party of Ontario Canada also endorses the geonomic platform.
Older “green” groups also endorsed taxing the value of land, not buildings:
America’s New World Alliance (1981),
Friends Of the Earth-Scotland (1982),
the 1984 North American Bioregional Conference,
the Planetary Initiative For the World We Choose,
The Other Economic Summit (1985), and
the Youth Section of the Brundtland Commission‘s second annual (1990) meeting in Bergen, Norway.
“The Sierra Club supports the split-rate tax (also known as the land value tax) as a measure to promote urban redevelopment and discourage sprawl development at the municipal level.” (adopted 1996 June). Such was their spokesperson’s testimony at a public hearing. At the national club’s website is a milder endorsement <sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/solutions.asp>. Club Director Carl Pope wrote “Reclaiming the Commons” (SIERRA magazine, 2002 September/October) on the moral basis for sparing Earth which also applies to sharing Earth.
Friends of the Earth US (between #69 and #70), with the rest of
38. the Vermont Fair Tax Coalition, suggests passing “legislation that would enable cities and towns in Vermont to use land value taxation.” (“Tax Reform that Agrees with Vermont”, 1999 March)
1000 Friends of Maryland, which includes the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (1996, modeled after the original 1000 Friends of Oregon), seeks legislation that would also “enable counties to adopt the (land) tax system.”
1000 Friends of Pennsylvania supports Philadelphia’s effort to shift its property tax from buildings to locations.
The Washington, DC-based Regional Network for Livable Communities campaigns on this issue, preparing excellent literature for handing out to the pubic.
GEO (Grassroots Economic Organizing) Newsletter, a left green bimonthly from Pennsylvania (1999 Jan-Feb): “Replace ineffective property taxes … tax land but not improvements and thereby penalize speculative land holdings …”
The National Neighborhood Coalition (NNC), based in Washington, DC, whose members include not just environmentalists but also advocates for housing, development, labor, civil rights, and faith-based groups, in their Smart Growth Tool Kit (2002) recommend splitting the property tax into two rates, taxing “land more heavily than what is built on it. (this) encourages landowners to develop their property more intensively than traditional property tax systems, which can promote land speculation or abandonment. Although local economic development has been the primary rationale for the tax – most notably in several Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh – the split-rate tax also shows promise as a component of a broader anti-sprawl program.” (Thanks to Walt Rybeck)
Three big educational outfits worried about Earth publicized the Property Tax Shift in their publications.
The UK’s Town and Country Planning Association, a legacy of Ebenezer Howard (#1)proposes the Property Tax Shift and their journal published research on the potential of land value taxation by Tony Vickers (Vol. 69, Part 5, 2000).
The American Planners Assoc. showed how LVT reduces land consumption in their Journal (1999 Winter) and in their Public Investment (June), a special edition of their Planning Advisory Service Memos, reprinting “Financing Community Redevlopment Through Value Capture”, both by our friend Tom Gihring, Ph.D., consultant on a project that won a 1999 Nat. Award for Planning, and a worker in war-torn Bosnia.
The International Society for Ecological Economics, another Daly (#s 15, 43, 115, 116, & 121) product, in their newsletter (1995, April) ran a cover story by Josh Vincent of the Henry George Foundation titled, “No Left, No Right, Only Green and George”. It said in part, “Study after study in this country has shown that land use efficiency and ‘recycling’ of urban properties is a result of the Land Value Tax. Why not give it a whirl on a larger scale?”
Four governmental commissions recommended the Property Tax Shift.
The Oregon 2000 Commission, appointed by then Governor Vic Atiyeh, listed Site Value Taxation (SVT) as a growth and cost control measure in their Preliminary Report (1979).
The US Department of Transportation issued a report by Erskine Walther at the Transportation Institute at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and Lester A. Hoel of the University of Virginia et al (1990) who pointed out mass transit could be funded in part from the increase in site value around transit stops. Enticing people to ride rather than drive helps clean the air and makes in-fill, rather than sprawl, feasible.
British Columbia’s Victorian Transportation Policy Institute, run by Todd Litman (who manages to win government contracts), includes in his Online TDM Encyclopedia (www.vtpi.org) “Smart Growth Policy Reforms”, which has a long section on shifting the property tax, and our bibliography of over 70 entries on funding transit from rent arising around their transit stops.
The Oregon Governor’s Growth Commission recommended using the rise in site value after expanding the Urban Growth Boundary to fund new infrastructure (1999 Jan).
Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board in its “Smart Signals: Economics for Lasting Progress” said the current property tax discourages urban redevelopment. The agency recommended increasing taxes on land values and decreasing taxes on buildings, thus lessening the penalties for structural improvements (Tax News Update, Vol 12, No 12, Dec 21, www.sustainableeconomy.org)
Four bodies of elected official recommended the Property Tax Shift or tried a variant.
The Assoc. of Washington Cities, citing its eco-benefits, called upon their state legislature to study the property tax shift (1993).
The Maryland Municipal League endorsed the system as a way to promote revitalization.
The Green Mountain state, Vermont, in 1973 passed a tax on speculative gain from dealing land.
Natural Resources Council of Maine introduced a similar bill in 1988.
Lately, green writers have coupled the property tax shift with ending subsidies to growth.
Green Party presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, Ralph Nader (#59): “We subsidize the use of automobiles with highway budgets and tax subsidies for parking facilities. We also pay for automobiles with military expenditures that ensure the flow of oil from foreign lands and underwrite the cleanup costs of gasoline and oil spills that harm the ecosystem… Unlike traditional taxation – which rewards developers who put up cheap, tacky housing and strip malls – site-value taxation gives developers the incentive to build gracious, durable buildings. Allowances for affordable housing, however, need to be part of site-value schemes.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1998 May 12, thanks to Adam Monroe) So how about a Housing Voucher funded from site value paid to all residents? After Ralph broke bread with geonomists in Philly, in his subsequent speech at U of Penn, he stressed the property tax shift. (GroundSwell, Mar-Apr)
The magazine, The New Colonist, ran an article, “Affordable Housing and the Land Value Tax Perspective: a letter to Asheville, North Carolina” by architect and Geonomy Society member Albert S. Hartheimer which extols the Property Tax Shift. The magazine keeps the article archived in their website under tools for fixing cities.
Eben Fodor (next) in his Better Not Bigger (1999), while focusing on how subsidies pave the way for sprawl, among his remedies lists several taxes including (p. 130): “a land tax can be used in urban areas to encourage density and discourage sprawl. By taxing land rather than buildings, there is an incentive to develop each parcel of urban land to its fullest potential.” If a jurisdiction does that, there is little development left to spill over onto suburban land, hence society need not restrict the land tax to urban areas. Many other measures may not be needed either, since collecting land Rent de-motivates growth. As Fodor noted earlier (p. 30): “The engine of the growth machine is powered by the fortunes resulting from land speculation and real estate development.”
In Taking Its Toll: The Hidden Costs of Sprawl in Washington State, published by Climate Solutions and Sierra Club Cascade Chapter in Olympia (WA), Patrick Mazza (former Portlander) and Eben Fodor (current Oregonian, previous) write, “eliminate property taxes on buildings altogether and tax land exclusively. This would encourage property owners to make improvement, while discouraging speculative holding of land …”
Alternatives to Growth Oregon’s President Andy Kerr writes in their “25 Actions to End Growth in Oregon” (2000 Aug) among other excellent ideas: “6. Shift the property tax on land and improvements to a tax only on land.” AGO, 520 SW 6th Av, Ste 930, Portland OR 97204-1513.
Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly (#572, 1999 Oct 14, Editor Peter Montague, www.rachel.org) praised a booklet by Sustainable America (#103), the organizer’s tax kit. One chapter (which we edited) urges both the end of subsidies to sprawl (funds for new infrastructure from taxes on everyone rather than from fees paid by users) and the shift of the property tax from buildings to locations. Penalize land speculation and make buildings less costly to build, operate, buy, or rent, encouraging urban development.
D, Collect Resource Rent: Fees for Depletion, not Taxes on Production
As taxing sites halts sprawl, taxing resources delays depletion.
NEW YORK TIMES columnist James Reston (1970 August 9): “the economic approach to conservation is important: don’t reward but punish the destroyers. But this requires a much larger proportion of the American people to get a new philosophy of values about the land, property rights, and man as only one part of the living community.”
62. Public Citizen (founded by Ralph Nader, #53) in their booklet, The Road to Trillion Dollar Energy Savings: A Safe Energy Platform (1984; p 22) added the untaxing half of Henry George’s remedy: “Reduce taxes on people and increase taxes on nonrenewables”.
Get America Working, founded by an ex-Carter Administration EPA official, Bill Drayton, at their website say, “By eliminating the payroll tax entirely, and replacing it with a tax on our natural resource wealth, the economy will grow by leaps and bounds.”
Several Washington, DC-based groups, while not mentioning the de-taxing of useful production, do call for reversing from loopholes to fair fees for extraction. Together and with a few others,
Defenders of Wildlife,
National Parks & Conservation Assoc., and
the Wilderness Society authored The Environmental Solution to the Deficit Dilemma (1986).
Michael Jacobs in his The Green Economy (1991) suggests that to control air pollution, do not wait and tax carbon emission but begin by taxing oil extraction. Jacobs reminds other green taxists that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However, there may be no overlap of the jurisdictions willing to tax upstream on resources and the locations of said resources. Then downstream taxes on transactions and emissions, coupled with rebates, may be necessary.
Many major DC-based groups meet regularly to discuss not so much adding new taxes as fixing old ones. In the summer of 1995,
69. Essential Information and
the Community Nutrition Institute called a meeting to address “unfair tax breaks and loopholes.”
USA TODAY urged Congress to not just go get the over $2 billion in back royalties owed by oil companies who pumped public land but also close existing loopholes (1998 Aug 27).
72. Besides nature’s surface and subsurface, society can also tap the supra-surface. The airwaves offer Rent, noted David Morris, founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (#20 and #98) and a writer for the St. Paul PIONEER PRESS DISPATCH, in his The New City-States (1982; p 68). “Governments could license the broadcast spectrum at full market value.”
Besides collecting the various Rents, society could staunch the hemorrhaging of public funds. With tax loopholes, subsidy abuse also favors eco-ploitation. Friends Of the Earth (#36) wields their “Green Scissors to cut anti-environmental spending and … to close 15 tax loopholes given to polluting industries.” Coverage of their annual reports began with the likes of the Northwest’s Seattle Weekly and Willamette Week.
Zero Population Growth in their brochures call for “an end to government subsidies that promote wasteful consumption.”
The Environmental Working Group of Washington, DC reported (1995 Mar) how agricultural payments do little for poor farmers yet much for rich investors living in Beverly Hills.
Island Press published Perverse Subsidies: How Misused Tax Dollars Harm the Environment and the Economy by Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent (2001).
Before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in South Africa, Worldwatch (#104) issued “From Rio to Johannesburg: Mining Less in a Sustainable World”, by Payal Sampat, which called for an end to subsidies to extractors. (WW Policy Brief #9)
E, Collect Lost Rent: Tax on Pollution, not on Production
Besides delaying depletion, taxes may also prevent pollution. The collection could be a tax or auction; government could require emitters to bid for permits. To this pollution solution of some kind of a new levy, many add the removal of an existing tax. De-taxing is the other half of Henry George’s remedy.
The Alliance to Save Energy,
the American Council For an Energy-Efficient Economy,
the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Tellus Institute (#21), and
the Union of Concerned Scientists in “America’s Energy Choices” (1991), page 21, wrote “Shift some of the tax burden from income to pollution.”
80. Francis Cairncross, Environment Editor for Great Britain’s THE ECONOMIST, in her Costing The Earth (1991): “to raise more revenue from (pollution) taxes, and less from taxing income and capital, would be a farsighted thing for a government to do.”
79 to 88, the ten Euro Green Parties who actually did win this shift in their home countries (above).
89. The Energy Foundation, a fund of the U.S. oiligarchy (the oil-owning families), while silent about sharing natural Rent, suggested (1993 REPORT) a partial form of the green tax shift: “tax reform could build environmental damages into the price of fuels” (p 9) and lift the property tax burden off alternative energy improvements (p 13).
The Atmosphere Alliance, a project of Earth Island Institute (founded by FOE founder Dave Brower), in its Life Support! (undated) addressed both taxes and subsidies (p 24): “(1) End welfare for polluters, (2) Tax pollution, not people.”
Future Harvest, instead of the usual tax-it reaction, issued a report, “Carbon Emission Trading Can Bring Worldwide Benefits” (2002 October 18), which showed creating a market in permits can be a win/win for poor villagers and big business, besides slowing climate change. (The Progress Report)
F, Twinned Tax Shift
More people are realizing that George’s tax on natural values can discourage both depletion (the wasting of resources) and pollution (the leaving behind of waste), plus make possible a reduction of other taxes. They urge a more complete tax shift.
The Global Tomorrow Coalition (1990) said: “ECE governments (Europe) should begin to shift the burden of taxation onto activities that deplete natural resources or result in environmental damages. This implies restructuring tax systems by reducing taxes on labor and capital.”
The World Resources Institute (1992) wrote, “taxes fall mostly on just those activities that make the economy productive: work, savings, investment and risk taking. A better system would place more of the tax burden on activities that make the economy unproductive: resource waste, pollution, and congestion.”
Paul Hawken (next), winner of a socially responsible businessman award, in his Ecology of Commerce (1993) wrote, “The whole key is to shift from income and payroll taxes to taxes on pollution, environmental degradation, and nonrenewable energy consumption.”
The team of Amory and Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute with Paul Hawken (previous) in the Harvard Buisness Review (1999 May-June) penned “A Road Map for Natural Capitalism”, saying: “In nearly every country on the planet, tax laws penalize jobs and income while subsidizing resource depletion and pollution.”
Joe Kresse, former trustee of the Foundation for Global Community, head of its Economics Team set up to judge business by impacts on people and planet beside profit, in an address he gives around the country, “Business as if the Earth Matters”: “We ought to shift from taxes on income to taxes on carbon, the use of virgin materials, and the production of waste and pollution. It ’s a no-brainer. Why would you tax people for working? You want people to work. If you got rid of income and payroll taxes, you could employ more people because the cost per employee would be lower for every dollar of take-home pay.” (Timeline, No.55 2001 January/February) Before wishing that sort of work on the masses, he should try it first.
Willis Harman, visionary author of popular titles such as Global Mind Change (1988), wrote us (1996/2/28): “There is no doubt you’re correct about our presently taxing the ‘goods’ and subsidizing the ‘bads.’ Changing that is one of an entire pattern of interventions that will be necessary if we are to make the transition to sustainable society with any degree of smoothness.”
While Under Secretary of State, Timothy Wirth critiqued taxes and spending at the Audubon Society’s Road From Cairo Conference on Population in Miami (1994 Oct). He said: “Instead of taxing the things we do want, such as goods and services, levy a tax on things we don’t want, such as pollution and depletion. The new majority in Congress wants to cut spending. Let’s put their sacred cows, too, on the chopping block: subsidies for sugar, tobacco, western water, the whole lot.”
99. Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a coalition that includes ISLR (#20) promotes the green tax shift in general, notes its power to curb sprawl, but des not specifically support the green Property Tax Shift. me3.org/projects/greentax/. The Environmental League of Massachusetts (#22) offers lots of useful info on the green tax shift in general and the property tax shift in particular. James R. Gomes, President; 14 Beacon St, Ste 714, Boston, MA 02108; (617) 742-2553; fax: (617) 742-9656;email@example.com
G, Total Tax Shift
More people are realizing that George’s tax on natural values can discourage not only depletion and pollution but also speculative withholding of good land. Plus, his shift makes possible a reduction of even more harmful taxes. The heads-up groups are:
100. The Center for Global Change at the University of Maryland was drafting a detailed position on shifting taxes from goods to bads and subsidies from bads to goods (1997).
Alan Durning and Yoram Bauman of Northwest Environment Watch, a spin-off of WorldWatch (#105), wrote Tax Shift (1998), the best treatment to date of the tax shift.
The Center for a Sustainable Economy of DC co-organized the first US conference focusing exclusively on the green tax shift in Seattle (1998 Dec).
Their cohorts, Sustainable America of New York (in #58), offer a tax kit explaining the various shifts, including the property tax one.
The Oregon Environmental Council introduced into the 1999 session of the state legislature a bill to study the complete tax shift, including the property tax shift. Their op-eds, and those of their co-author, Alan Durning (#101), appear often in the Northwest press: The OregoniaN, The Daily Journal of Commerce of both Portland and Seattle, The Olympian, and Vancouver, BC’s The Georgia Straight.
The WorldWatch Institute publishes several articles, booklets, and books on shifting taxes and subsidies. Their best exposition to date, which also includes the Property Tax Shift is The Natural Wealth of Nations (1998) by David Roodman. Publication #156, City Limits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl by Molly O’Meara Sheehan in the chapter “Erasing the Incentives to Sprawl” also has the property tax shift.
Lester Brown, who founded Worldwatch (#105 above), in his latest book, Eco-Economy, argued for shifting taxes and subsidies. He agreed with the need for the PTS after his talk to the Canadian Society of Ecological Economists in Montreal, 2001 August.
National Wildlife Federation, at its Annual Meeting assembled March 16-18, 2000, in Seattle: “support the concept of Environmental Tax Shifting as a potentially useful tool to discourage activities that contribute to climate change, degradation of wildlife habitat, and pollution of the land, water, and air” and to urge federal and state governments to adopt it. Over a decade ago, they had also lined up against harmful subsidies. (800) 822-9919. Caron Whitaker, Coordinator, Smart Growth and Wildlife Campaign, advocates “a split taxation system (also known as Georgist taxation) whereby the land (not buildings) is taxed in cities and urban areas, where growth is desired, and buildings (not land) are taxed and/or conservation tax incentives are implemented in rural and outlying areas where development is not desired. Taxing land instead of buildings in cities spurs more efficient use of land. In rural and undeveloped areas, it is better to tax the buildings instead of the land, giving land owners an incentive to not develop their land, or have to pay increased taxes. (http://www.nwf.org/smartgrowth/join.html) While true, not taxing country land rewards speculation and inefficient use there, too, just as in the city. Plus, if cities are made to absorb development, pressure on the country is eased.
Friends Of the Earth – England, Wales, & Northern Ireland, “to modernize the economy and industrial activity, and improve living conditions for poor people, thru environmental improvements, four central planks should underpin the taxation (and revenue) side of that strategy and its sustainability objectives: (a) carbon/nuclear based taxes (energy), (b) virgin minerals/raw materials (resources), (c) toxic chemicals (environmental quality), and (d) land-value taxation (land). LVT would be a powerful incentive to reuse, redevelop, and refurbish land and buildings on a sustainable basis. It would remove the tax exemption from landowners who left land derelict and provide an incentive for clearing and decontaminating land.” (2001 Spring, Land & Liberty, London, UK)
The Environmental Taxation Worldwide Website, www.greentaxes.org/, keeps track of progress on the total green tax shift front. Got any information on pending legislation? Please submit it at the state level to Prof. Julie A. Lockhart, Department of Accounting, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Austrian Green Party (below in “From Taking to Sharing”) advocates the Environmental Tax Shift and a social salary.
H, From Taking to Sharing: the Dole
Decades back, Buckminster Fuller noted that taxation in general becomes unnecessary and impossible once society shares natural abundance: “Big government can see no way to collect taxes to run its bureaucracy if people are served directly and individually by daily cosmic-energy wealth income.” (Critical Path, p 219, 1981). While not explicitly a Citizens Dividend from recovered rents, at least Bucky was headed in the right direction.
Some who advocate green revenue reform worry that green taxes may be regressive and another subsidy for the poor would be needed. The Austrian Green Party (#110) joins the English and Irish GPs (#s 130 & #131) in pushing for a social salary, tho’ not necessarily from rent. In the Austrian debate on income security, the Greens are joined by the Left-Liberal Party. (US Basic Income Group Newsletter No. 10, Jun/Jly).
Europe’s Business Council for Sustainable Development in their Changing Course (MIT Press, 1992) critiqued spending and added, “Revenue raised (by charging users and abusers) above and beyond funds needed to finance a given (restoration) program can be recycled for other purposes, such as reducing taxes on such things as employment, investment, income, and savings. Where instruments prove regressive, affecting the poor disproportionately, then part of the revenues can be used to correct this effect.”
Philip Shabecoff, founder of Greenwire, the environmental news service, in A Fierce Green Fire (1993; pp 63, 290): “A challenge to giving away publicly owned natural resources to individuals or corporations seeking to enrich themselves was made by the journalist Henry George… In recent years there have been an increasing number of proposals to restructure our tax system by partially replacing taxes on wages and profits … with taxes on pollution and resource depletion. Such a policy would have some problems – a pollution tax would be regressive and require rebates to lower-income families. But it would also raise revenues by taxing harmful things …”
David Suzuki, the British Columbia geneticist and TV show host, authored an article distributed thru-out Canada (1995 Feb 11) that seconded Herman Daly (#s 15, 43, 116, & 121): “Raise the bulk of public revenue from taxes on thru-put either at the depletion or pollution end. Keep progressivity by taxing very high incomes and subsidizing very low incomes.”
Yet taxes on depletion and pollution may not necessarily raise prices. A tax on taking resources does not add to the price but subtracts from the profit. For example, while Alaska charges extractors 12.5% of the world price for its oil, Malaysia charges 90%, yet the world price is set by neither seller but by demand. (Greater competition among extractors would drop the price even lower.) Thus taxing extraction changes not how much one pays but to whom. Taxing contamination, on the other hand, does impose the cost of acquiring and operating control equipment. Yet passing on these costs makes the non-polluting processes and products cheaper in comparison. To save money, producers and consumers would switch to the soft path. As the volume of green trade grows, green prices fall.
Not only is the collection of Rent not regressive, but the disbursal of Rent is inherently progressive. How much residents pay in would differ according to the value of the nature they claim, yet how much each gets back would be the same.
Rather than rely on a market that self-regulates organically, Michael Jacobs (#65) urged some controls to go with taxes. Social ecology founder Murray Bookchin in Remaking Society advocated localized communism (municipalism) and paraphrased Karl Marx (p. 172; 1989): “The earth can no longer be owned; it must be shared. Its fruits, including those produced by technology and labor, can no longer be expropriated by the few; they must be rendered available to all on the basis of need.”
Yet is free exchange the problem or is biased policy? The Business Council for Sustainable Development (#113) noted the market “has never been given a real chance to work for the environment. The use, exploitation, and degradation of nature has not created signals of scarcity because those who ‘own’ nature and its services – society, expressing its wishes and intentions thru government – have tended to give away environmental resources and services for free.”
Echoing Henry George, Paul Hawken (#94) noted tax reform “does not depend upon a transformed human nature but extends to commerce the interwoven, complex, and efficient models of natural systems … so everyday acts of work and life accumulate into a better world as a matter of course, not conscious altruism.”
I, From Taking to Sharing: the Universal Dividend
Not only production, but consumption too, could select for efficiency, were income secure. Warren A. Johnson contributed “The guaranteed income as an environmental measure” to the 1973 anthology, Toward a Steady-state Economy (p 175-189), edited by Herman Daly (#s 15, 43, 115, & 121).
Some assume common ownership is a prerequisite to public sharing. German Green Margrit Kennedy (#128) in Interest And Inflation Free Money (1988, p 32) elaborates: “a combination of private use and communal ownership would be the most advantageous solution for achieving social justice and allowing individual growth… (society) would buy up all its land and lease it out to its inhabitants… The constitution of … Germany describes land as an asset which carries a ‘social’ responsibility.” But why buy the land? If society is to compensate landholders, why not the landless?
The Australian aborigines, many of whom lived in harmony with nature, testified at a British Parliament hearing in 1988: “our land claim doesn’t take one piece of land from anybody.” How? They instead claimed a share Rent – from which they could restore their culture.
Midnight Oil, the rock group whose lead singer, Peter Garret, ran for the Australian Senate as the nominee of the Aussie green party, the anti-nuclear party, promotes the aborigines’ remedy.
Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), first head of the US Forest Service (under Teddy Roosevelt who once lost a race to Henry George yet later began the US Park system), in the early 1900s challenged the logging of public land, which was infamously corrupt. He said: “The earth … belongs of right to all its people and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power… The people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all… with equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none.” (Breaking New Ground; 1947; p 509-510)
New America Foundation publishes “Public Assets, Private Profits” by David Bollier in which he writes: “ explore innovations in private law and technology that can keep the commons healthy and intact. (Tho’ we should do that not just for common property yet for all Earth.) Fostering the commons requires … a larger cultural vision of community and personal fulfillment… create stakeholder trusts that pay dividends to all citizens from collectively owned assets; and capture capital gains from public infrastructure.” Yet we’re all entitled to the Rent from all nature, not just the part held in common. email@example.com NAF, 1630 Connecticut Av NW, 7th Flr, Washington DC 20009, Andrew Harig, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ex-World Bank Economist Herman E. Daly (#s 15, 43, 115, & 116) in Steady-State Economics (1977; pp. 64, 68): “the windfall Rent from higher resource prices would be captured by the government and become public income – a partial realization of Henry George’s ideal of a single tax on Rent. Using Rent to finance a minimum income could substitute for a considerable number of bureaucratic welfare programs.”
With support from Margaret Mead, John McConnell founded the first Earth Day on the vernal equinox (proclaimed by the City of San Francisco in 1970 and UN Secretary General U Thant in 1971). Since 1980 he has pushed his Earth Bounty Program. “Those who own land, oil, gold, or other minerals should pay a 2% royalty to a fund that will provide the homeless a stake in their planet. Afterwards, distribute royalties equally to shareholders worldwide.”
Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the “Alternative Nobel Prizes” (the Right Livelihood Awards), who wrote us for more info, speaks for many when he says, “without fair compensation, all talk of the ‘global commons’ or the ‘common heritage of mankind’ will be seen by the poor as another attempt to expropriate their resources.”
The German Institute for Economic Research, contracted by Greenpeace, concluded in their Economic Bulletin (v 31, n 7) that “an energy tax returned to firms as a reduction in employers’ social insurance contributions and to private households as a per capita allowance (“eco bonus”) would be feasible in legal terms and have positive effects even if implemented in a single country.”
Common Assets promoted a “sky dividend” paid to citizens from fees collected from corporations for using the atmosphere as a dump. AKA the Sky Trust Initiative, it’s a project of the Corporation for Enterprise Development. (CED, 777 N. Capitol St. NE, Washington DC 20002. Email: email@example.com, www.skytrust.cfed.org) Conceiver Peter Barnes (#5) spelled out the moral principle perfectly: “from each according to their use of the commons, to each according to their equal birthright.” (YES! 1999 Spring).
126. Redefining Progress had a cover article in The Atlantic Monthly (1995 October) on its two main programs: (a) “correct the GNP to account for social and ecological costs” and (b) “replace taxes on labor and enterprise with ones on natural resources.” And with taxes on sites, too, they later added in their 1999 report.A former writer for the Christian Science Monitor and for Redefining Progress, Jonathan Rowe (2002 April 30) gave the moral basis: “The commons, the heritage of us all, includes the gifts of nature, such as oceans and atmosphere, wilderness areas, and the quiet of the night.” The founder of Redefining Progress, Ted Halstead, added the capstone in “A Politics for Generation X”: “America could raise trillions of dollars by charging fair market value for the use of common assets – the oil and coal in the ground, the trees in our national forests, the airwaves and the electromagnetic spectrum – and the rights to pollute our air. Charge fair market value for the use of common assets and return the proceeds directly to each American citizen.” (via Caspar Davis.)
127. Rather than give away pollution permits for free, why not auction them off? Better than a fine or tax or set fee, requiring bids would charge industry before they pollute and let them decide how to reduce their emission. Auctions even let environmental groups bid on permits. An auction could raise $100 to $500 billion each year for carbon permits alone. Americans for Equitable Climate Solutions suggests using one quarter of that in towns dependent on oil and coal to ease the transition to a clean economy and three quarters to fund a dividend which could be as much as $800 per American per year, a la the CED Sky Trust (#125). (Christian Science Monitor, 2000 Nov 24)
Besides supra- and sub-, there’s the more familiar surface sources of Rent. Dr. Margrit Kennedy (cited above in “Property of whom?”) claimed that the increase in German land and building value from 1950 to 1980 was enough to give every German DM800 a month for life. One wonders how much the dividend would be from only the land value.
Robert Gilman in his magazine IN CONTEXT (1984 winter, now YES!): “George claimed that his land tax would be sufficient to pay for all the costs of government. (Yet) the benefits from government programs are generally unevenly spread. (So instead) distribute (Rent) directly to people as a Common Heritage Dividend (about $4,000 per person per year in the US).”
The British Green Party‘s (in #26) platform (1986) claims, “Rent should never have been allowed to fall into private hands… it should now go back to everybody: it should reduce the burden on effort-based taxes in financing social services and the Basic Income Scheme.”
The Irish Green Party‘s Manifesto (1989) states, “The land tax, used together with energy and other (‘sin’) taxes (and user fees) as a source of funding of guaranteed basic income, is a means of ensuring that everyone shares in the wealth of the land by virtue of citizenship.”
Ex-British cabinet economist James Robertson of TOES in his Future Wealth (1989; p 105-6): “tax the site-value of all land in its unimproved state. This tax was first proposed by the 19th century American economist Henry George. We should envisage the eventual removal of all taxes on incomes and value added, savings and financial capital. Taxes will take the form of Rents and charges reasonably paid in exchange either for the use of resources that would otherwise be available for other people, or for damage caused to other people.” In his 1994 essay, “Benefits & Taxes”, he argues the feasibility of a basic income in lieu of other entitlements (“enticements” is more like it).
Some taxes and subsidies are better than others, yet all are fatally flawed. They distort price, the DNA-like carriers of information, noted Michael Rothschild in his Bionomics (1990). Alter genes, mutate offspring; alter price, mutate output.
133. William Ashworth (author of eight titles including The Late Great Lakes) in his The Economy of Nature (1995; the first book published by the Sierra Club on economics) noted that were we to replace taxes and subsidies, we’d quit distorting price. We could replace taxes with fees and subsidies with dividends. Responding to precise prices, economies could then harmonize with the rest of the eco-system.
This list keeps growing. If you hear of someone promoting some form of geonomics – sharing Rent in lieu of taxing effort – before we do, please, send us the clipping. We’ll add them to the list. Soon as the number of geonomists reaches critical mass, then the environmental movement will win geonomics for all people, for the whole planet.
Usually, a “reform” of taxes fails to live up to its advance billing. Yet there is one reform, albeit little known, that has an unbroken record of customer satisfaction. For whatever accidents of history, some peoples have tried it; and wherever tried, to the degree tried, it has worked. It is the collection half of “geonomics”, of the policy to replace taxes with Land Dues and replace subsidies with Rent Dividends. The application of geonomics most widely used is the Property Tax Shift: shift the tax off buildings, onto locations.
1, France, 1790s. Back when the noble savage and natural law and natural rights were all the rage, the in philosophy was physiocracy, the idea that economies could run best by themselves, sans state interference, and government should sustain itself off the Rent people pay for nature. In 1798, the nouveau Republic of France paid for 80% of its budget out of collected land Rent. Might this tapping into the flow of Rent, as much as any other revolutionary reform, have motivated Europe’s monarchs, whose fortunes were little more than concentrations of land Rent, to attack France en masse? If the monarchies had left France in peace, might the Revolution have been less bloody? In 1807 Napoleon’s government crafted a tax on the increase in land value to be levied when parcels were sold but never applied the law (probably due to war, also why England never applied its land tax law a century later). By 1830, Rent as revenue was down to 25%. In 1980, France still collected enough Rent to fund 13% of its budget, more than do many other far less successful nations. (Vincent Renaud in Lincoln Institute monograph #82-3: “Land taxation and land use”, Laconte, editor)
2, Denmark, 1840s. One crown prince was so convinced of the rightness of physiocracy that he impatiently overthrew his uncle, the king, in 1784. The new King Frederick then ended serfdom, proclaimed tenants’ rights, and helped peasants become owners. He also proposed reforming the land tax so that its amount was geared to site value, not size (as was traditional thru-out Europe). His reform finally became law in 1844. Denmark went on to achieve the widest distribution of titles to farmland in Europe. (Michael Silagi, American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 1994 Oct)
After the physiocrats, the best-known proponent of this tax and property reform was the American Henry George (1839-1897), author of the classic Progress and Poverty (1879). An inspiring speaker, George toured most of the US and British Empire, planting the seed of reform. He left a legacy we can measure today.
3, California, 1890s. Back then, many farmers and miners went without water because cattlemen like Henry Miller owned 1,000,000 acres of land. Miller could drive his herds from Mexico to Oregon and spend every night on his own land. In 1886 Miller won full rights to the water of the Kern River.
Some people concerned with justice figured the cattlemen had gone far enough. The state government passed the 1887 Wright Act, which allowed communities to create by popular vote irrigation districts to build dams and canals and pay for them by taxing the resultant rise in land value. Once irrigated, land was too valuable to use for grazing, and the tax made it too costly for hoarding. So cattlemen sold off fields to farmers and at prices the farmers could afford.
In ten years, the Central Valley was transformed into over 7,000 independent farms. Over the next few decades, those tree-less, semi-arid plains became the “bread basket of America”, one of the most productive areas on the planet. (magazine of the Historical Society of California)
4, Georgist Colonies, 1900s. Followers of Henry George after his passing (1897) founded three country towns: Free Acres (New Jersey), Arden (Delaware), and Fairhope (Alabama). As trusts they leased land, collecting Rent for public goods. Compared to other towns in their counties, they are cleaner, enjoy more services at lower costs (parks, libraries, and schools) and make decisions in town hall meetings. Fairhope, whose Quakers resettled in Monte Verde, Costa Rica to avoid the draft and taxes of the Korean War, was one of only four towns on the Gulf of Mexico recommended in the 1980s for retirement by Consumers’ Guide. Tho’ a small town, it became wealthy enough to afford a modern hospital in the 1990s. (Andelson, Robert V., ed. Land-Value Taxation Around the World, 3rd Edition. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Fdn, 2000)
5, Kiaochow, China 1900s. The German Imperial Commissioner for Kiaochow (by the Yellow Sea, also Chiaochou and now Jiaoxian) was Ludwig Wilhelm Schrameier, also a member of the German Land Reformers. Having read the works of Henry George, at the founding of the colony (about 200 square miles in Shangdong, formerly Shantung) in 1898, Schrameier established a land-value tax. At 6%, this levy prevented land speculation, collected about half the land Rent, and funded government services until the Germans lost their colony at the outbreak of World War I. Sun Yat-sen (below #10) was impressed by the results in Kiaochow whose main city, Qingdao (also Tsingtao) had modernized. (Adapted from www.progress.org by Fred Foldvary, after Michael Silagi in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1984 April)
6, Australia, 1900s. While some towns Down Under were born taxing land (late 1800s), some states adopted the idea in the wee 1900s (New South Wales in 1905), and the federacy did so in 1910. In 1920 the continent’s capitol (designed by a Georgist) was established on public land. Canberra owns and let its land to residents and businesses. The biggest city, Sydney, levies only one tax – on land. Neither Sydney’s tax nor Canberra’s lease recovers all the land’s Rent, so these cities also get revenue from the federal government. But the poorer sections of both cities bear no resemblance to the degrading slums of nearly all American cities. (Woodruff, A. M. & Ecker-Racz, L. L., “Property Taxes and Land-Use Patterns in Australia and New Zealand”, in Land and Building Taxes, ed. Becker, Arthur P, 1969, U Wisconsin)
In the state of Victoria around Melbourne, in over 20 elections from 1965 to 1989 to determine how to tax property, the proposal to exempt buildings and recover ground rent won by an average margin of 2 to 1. Dr. Ken Lusht, visiting from Penn State, found towns taxing site values have 50% more built value per acre than those that tax both land and buildings (“Site Value Tax [SVT] & Residential Development Patterns”, Lincoln Monograph Series, 1992). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (publication 8203.2, 1986 October 15), from 1974 to 1984 (last year the government released these statistics to the curious public), coinciding with some recession years, the number of manufacturers in Victoria decreased by 20%, yet in the SVT towns it increased by more than 10%. Thru-out Australia, of the towns taxing both, 39% support over 40 shops; of towns taxing land alone, 61% support over 40 shops. (“The Effect of Rating: a compendium”. BENNETT, John. Site Rating Group, Melbourne. 1996)
7, New Zealand, 1910s. Around the turn of that century, the earliest settlements in “Kiwi Country” began with taxing land, not buildings. By 1982, 90% of municipalities had chosen, usually by popular election, to tax land. The levy raised 80% of local government revenue. For a while, even the nation levied land. Employment averaged 99% from 1966 until 1975. When the oil shock hit, making their export goods too expensive since they had to be shipped so far by oil-burning freighters, employment dropped to a true (not fudged) 94%. Then the federal government repealed the national land tax, leaving Rent to localities, who did not always pick it up. Now, less than 2/3 of the jurisdictions tax land, not buildings. (Local Government Statistics, no longer issued, via Bob Keall, Resource Rentals for Revenue, Auckland, NZ)
8, Western Canada, 1910s. As they came into being, many towns of the prairie provinces decided to go with the collection of site Rent exclusively. Generally they outgrew and out-served their neighboring towns. Besides the surface, British Columbia recognized living nature as a legitimate source of public revenue, too. Royalty from forests funds much of BC’s budget. (ex-BC Assessor Ted Gwartney, Incentive Taxation, ’87 March)
9, England, 1910s. Impressed by George’s argument but skeptical of its political chances, Ebenezer Howard began the Garden Cities. These exist on land owned by a corporation that consists of residents and investors. Letchworth, the oldest of these model towns, serves residents grandly from vaultfuls of collected land Rent. The experiment spread as far as Russia. For a while, Great Britain did pass land value taxation but could not implement it until reassessing all the land, and due to manpower constraints could not do that until the Great War was over. By then, the political winds had shifted and the reform was never implemented.
Before World War I, Francisco I. Madero proposed taxing land in Mexico, as did Alexander Kerensky in Russia after the war. Kerensky was thwarted by revolution, Madero by assassination by the US dictator designee. (Dr Steve Cord, Henry George Fdn). Between the world wars in Vienna and Budapest, Georgists also had success briefly, but an alliance of left and right quickly repealed the reform. (Michael Silagi, American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 1994 Oct)
One country did buck the trend that Howard hoped to circumvent. In Denmark in the wee 1900s, the Liberals, erstwhile allies, had replaced the land value tax with a conventional property tax plus an income tax. In the 1920s, however, Danish Georgists reformed the property tax so that it fell more heavily on land, lighter on buildings.
10, Johannesburg, 1920s. Many settlements in the British Empire began with taxing land. South Africa’s Johannesburg, which began as a mining town, was rapidly becoming a ghost town when the ore was being played out early last century. To avoid such a fate, the city councilors shifted their property tax from buildings to land, rescuing their town. Johannesburg grew to become the financial capital of the nation, eclipsing Cape Town, a port situated on one of the most strategic points on the planet, which taxed land and buildings equally, a victory similar to, hypothetically, Albany, New York, outpacing New York City. Jo-burg enjoyed the fastest site-recycling rate in the world, a little over 20 years, meaning urban sites were kept at best use, so sprawl was precluded. After apartheid ended, the new black government reverted to the conventional property tax, assuming (mistakenly) that it would increase their take from wealthier neighborhoods (Dunkley, Godfrey, That All May Live, Roosevelt Park, RSA; A. Whyte, 1990).
In many of the United States, the land tax is unconstitutional. When the Single Tax movement was at its peak and a threat to absentee landlords, they lobbied legislators to require the taxing of location and improvement together. Many states, such as California, succumbed to the pressure. In other states, such as New York, localities may levy separate rates only with permission from the legislature. Hence, to recover rent many localities must use such legalisms as “assessment districts”, and to de-tax goods like buildings, they must use “property tax exemptions” or “abatements”.
11, New York City, 1920s. After World War I, many New Yorkers suffered from lack of housing. To solve the problem, Governor Al Smith borrowed a page from Henry George (who won the mayoralty of New York City in 1886, beating the Democrat and Teddy Roosevelt, yet losing out to Tammany Hall machinations). Smith persuaded the New York legislature to pass a law allowing New York City for the next ten years to tax land but not the buildings on it.
New construction more than tripled while in other big cities it barely doubled. Not only was there more housing, and thus lower cost apartments, there were more jobs and higher wages for construction workers, and more business for merchants who sold goods to the employed workers.
Economic good times in New York came to an end, though, when owners in 1928 began to anticipate the expiration of the tax-shift law. (“How New York Solved Its Housing Crisis”, Charles Johnson Post, 1931?, Schalkenbach Fdn, Mason Gaffney, 2001) The drastic decline in building starts, not the stock market crash of 1929, was the real trigger of the Great Depression of the 1930s. A major condition that made a major collapse possible was the price of land; by 1926 it had already doubled in cities and was halved in the countryside (calculated Homer Hoyt.)
12, Kansas City (Missouri), 1930s. KC levied one site value tax for parks and parkways (pleasant streets that wend through parks in ravines) built in the 1930s. Another was for trafficways, multilane throughways that move traffic with synchronized traffic lights built in the 1940s or 1950s. To fund boulevards (thru streets with synchronized lights that preceded the trafficways), KC levied a “front-foot” tax rate on each lot’s front footage on the boulevard. This is close to a land value basis because all the boulevards are straight and in a grid pattern. When the city charter was revised in the 1950s, the site-value tax was included.
Under the leadership of Mayor Bartels, the city used straw parties in the 1950s to secretly buy up half of Platte County (then rural farmland) for an airport. The city leased sites around its new airport opened in 1972 at full market value for hotels, warehouses, an aircraft overhaul base, postal distribution center, etc – even to farmers. Outside airport land, investors bought land and built hotels. When the 1970s recession hit, all the hotels buying land went broke while the hotels renting city land survived. Able to learn, some big hotel chains survived the crash at the end of the 80s by separating the hotel real estate into REITs apart from corporate hotel operators.
In the 1980s, voters approved by referendum a doubling of the land tax rates. Speculators challenged the land taxes as against the state requirement for all real estate taxes to be levied on the value of land and buildings. The Missouri court (most of KC is not in Kansas but in Missouri) ruled that the land taxes were “special assessments” and not subject to the state requirements for taxes. (via Joe Casey, ex-KC resident, banker, Geonomy Society member)
13, South America, 1930s. Some Hispanic republics continued the physiocratic tradition. In the 1840s, Argentina had a president who tried to capture ground rent for social betterment – until the army put an end to his flirtation with justice. In the 1920s, both Colombia and Uruguay passed laws letting commissions build new roads using funds collected from roadside landowners. After a few decades of success, this mechanism declined. Confusion arose when one property was near more than one road. And as the roads pushed up land values, land assessments lagged behind. With corruption and inflation, poor people could not afford to pay even those assessments lagging behind. Still, as late as the 90s, Bogota used resultant rent to pay for 80% of a new road. For the general fund, Columbia has a city land tax at 1% and a national one at 2%, and a land gains tax up to 50%, yet land is registered at 20% of its value. (Ortiz, Alexandra. “Economic analysis of a land value capture system used to finance road infrastructure: the case of Bogota, Colombia; 1996”, and Prest, A. P. Transport Economics in Developing Countries; Praeger, 1969)
14, The “Four Tigers”, 1940s. Apologists for state planning and state partnership with big business point enthusiastically to Pacific Rim Asia but overlook the fact that all these success stories began on a firm footing of land reform. The city-state Singapore, founded on Georgist tax principles, reached a tax rate on land of 16%. Hong Kong existed only on crown land, funding 4/5 of their budget with 2/5 of site Rent (Yu-Hung Hong, Landlines, 1999 March, Lincoln Inst., Cambridge, MA). The city uses land rent, not subsidy, to fund their new metro and in its suburbs grows much of its own food. Hong Kong enjoys low taxes, low prices, high investment, and often the highest per capita salaries. The city is often voted the world’s best city for business by fortune magazine and the freest for residents by the Libertarian International, tho’ both neglect to mention that their favorite exists on and succeeds on public land.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, an admirer of Henry George, forced the Japanese provisional government to write land reform into their new democratic constitution that limited Rent paid by tenants to owners. South Korea adopted a similar Rent reform. Gen. Chiang Kai-shek likewise forced land reform on Taiwan (below). A 1980’s World Bank study credited land reform with creating the basis for their economic miracles. Secure farmers can afford to consume manufactured goods. Soon successful industries can trade with other developed nations. Another World Bank report, in 1998 by Roy Prosterman and Tiom Hanstad, Chapter 10, “Land Taxation” by Jennifer Duncan, noted, “Land tax is an important vehicle for transferring some of the benefits of land privatization to the public sector. Revenues from land tax can fund significant and increasing portions of infrastructure and social services, fostering public and local government support for privatization.” Today, to try to control their skyrocketing location values, both Japan and Korea have tried to tax land, tho’ still minusculely.
15, Taiwan, 1940s. Old Formosa was mired in poverty and fast breeding. Hunger afflicted the majority of people who were landless peasants. Less than 20 families monopolized the entire island. Then the Nationalist Army, led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated to Taiwan. General Chiang figured he lost mainland China in part by not reforming land-holding. Chiang did not want to risk losing his last refuge – east of that isle lay nothing but open ocean. (Altho’ Taiwan did receive a billion dollars from the US, it was mostly military aid, spread out over eight years.)
A follower of Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China and an adherent of Henry George, Chiang knew of the Single Tax. Borrowing a page from George via Sun, the new Nationalist Government of Taiwan instituted its “land to the tiller program” which taxed farmland according to its value. Soon the large plantation owners found themselves paying out about as much in taxes as they were getting back as Rent. Being a middleman was no longer worth the bother, so they sold off their excess to farmers at prices the peasants could afford.
Working their own land with newly marketed fertilizers, new owners worked harder. They produced more, and after years of paying taxes to cover the onerous public debt, at last kept more and lived better. From 1950 to 1970 population growth dropped 40%, and hunger was ended. (William Rich, Overseas Development Council, Communique #16, 1972 April) Taiwan began to set world records with growth rates of 10% per annum in their GDP and 20% in their industry. (Fred Harrison, The Power in the Land, 1983)
16, Third World, 1950s. While British territories, Jamaica (1957-1962) and East African nations taxed land and exempted all improvements. However, as land value grew, the governments did not keep assessments in pace. Today, there’s little to show for such meager taxes on land. (Dr. Mason Gaffney, UC-Riverside)
17, Denmark, 1950s. The Danes built on their land tax heritage. In 1957, the tiny Georgist Justice Party won a few seats and a role in the ruling coalition. Anticipating a higher rate on land, investors switched from real estate to real enterprise. One year later, inflation had gone from 5% to under 1%; bank interest dropped from 6.25% to 5%. By 1960, 100,000 unemployed in a country of just five million had found jobs and at higher wages, the highest widespread pay raise ever in Danish history. (The New York Times editorial, “Big Lesson From A Small Nation”, 1960 October 2)
Tho’ people were better off, to convince them otherwise next election landowners spent more money than ever before in the history of Dansk politics. The Justice Party lost its seats, the land rate lost its boost, and investors again became land speculators. Quickly inflation climbed back up to 5% and by 1964 reached 8%. Land prices began to sky-rocket, from 1960 to 1981 increasing 19-fold while prices of goods and services went up merely fourfold. (Knud Tholstrup, MP, A Third Way, 1986, edited by yours truly)
18, Denmark, 1960s. Before 1970, the annual income tax fell upon the previous year’s income; in 1969, the government taxed 1968 income. Then parliament decided to tax income in the same year it’s earned; in 1970, they taxed 1970 income. Earners realized that any 1969 income over their 1968 earnings would not be taxed. Their response, from 1968 to 1969, was to double the increase in production (4% to 8%), halve the inflation rate (8% to 3.5%), quadruple investment increases (5% to 20.5%), raise savings by a quarter (from 2.9 million kroner to 3.8), and employ nearly all workers. (Knud Tholstrup, A Third Way)
19, San Diego City, 1960s. When under Spanish, then Mexican control, much good land in California was “pueblo” (public). Very little of that remains today. Some of it, tho’, is quite valuable. One lucrative pueblo land is the Port District of San Diego, formed in the ’60s by the various towns sitting on San Diego Bay. The Port Authority collects hundreds of millions of dollars of Rent each year and is the only local government agency with a positive cash flow (SDPD Annual Report). Where does that cash flow? Not into the bank accounts of its owners – the “pueblo”. The Rent collected from the Yacht Club, a social club for millionaires, is only $1.00 per annum. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)
20, Hawai’i, 1960s. To build up their tourist economy, the newest state in 1963 reformed their conventional property tax. In place of one rate on both land and buildings, they began to lower the rate on structures while leaving a high rate on sites (with many technical complexities yet no surcharges to protect open space). Within a few years, this property tax shift led to 30 large resort hotels in Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach. Built value was up to 25% more than it would have been, concluded Richard Pollack and Donald C. Shoup in Land Economics 53, no 1 (1977), p 67-77. Opponents of Rent-sharing dragged out implementation for years, and as growth drove up site values, and none of the collected Rent was returned as a dividend or voucher, residents and speculators rebelled. In 1977, the legislature knuckled under and repealed this graded property tax, phasing out in two years what had taken 14 to phase in. The two counties of Hawaii and Kauai still have the split-rate; Kauai’s ratio is nearly two to one, land to buildings, and Hawaii County expanded its ratio somewhat in the 1990s (Incentive Taxation, 1999 June, via Josh Vincent).
21, Vermont, 1970s. To thwart speculators, Vermont taxes land sales when the turnaround is under six years. Now more people, including lower income people, are buying land for farming. Conversely, fewer people, especially out-of-state investors, are buying land for speculation or sprawl-type development. (R. Lisle Baker, Suffolk U Law Schl, Boston, MA)
22, Arabia, 1970s. Thanks to the oil under desert sands, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait collect enough oil royalty that they can afford to build a modern, large-scale infrastructure without taxing their citizens. Kuwait even paid their people Heritage Shares. Formerly nomadic tribesmen moved to cities where they live more sophisticated lives. Now Kuwait pays citizens (not guest workers who are about 2/3 the population) bonuses for marriage and monthly stipends for children and provides free schooling and doctoring (Christian Science Monitor, 2001 Apr 18). Two more small Muslim petrol-nations, Bahrain and the UAE, are taxless and busily building.
23, North America, 1980s. Where population is sparse, people can more easily figure that natural resources belong to government. If government can formalize that understanding as population grows, then it can recover Rent to benefit everyone. Thanks to the oil under Arctic-windswept plains, the province of Alberta, Canada, and the state of Alaska, America, have lower taxes. Alberta has no sales tax, allows bigger deductions for federal income tax than do other provinces, lowers residents’ utility bills, when gas prices rise refunds a bit of the energy bill, and provides more free social services, such as excellent health care and university education. (Alberta Heritage Fund Annual Report) Alaska, with 12.5% of the market value of Prudhoe Bay oil, pays 80% of its state budget. It also pays a share to its citizens, about $1500 per annum (varying with the price of oil and the return on their investments).
While mineral land, such as oil fields, is an obvious source of plentiful public revenue, old-fashioned surface values also abound.
24, Pennsylvania, 1980s. Penn’s Woods is the only state granting cities outright the option to levy different rates. The state went from two cities in 1975 (Pittsburgh and Scranton), to 20 in 2000 who practiced this reform. All these cities, sited in the midst of impoverished Appalachia, are developing 16% more per year than their neighbors (Dr. Nic Tideman, VPI, Blacksburg, VA), and growing denser, meaning they can provide public services like mass transit at lower cost.
Pittsburgh, which from 1980 to 2000 taxed land six times higher than buildings, renewed its urban core without substantial federal subsidy and created an urban park out of its most prime location, the Golden Triangle, without an agonizing citizens effort to overcome developer resistance. Housing costs and crime rate, like a small town’s, were far below the national average. Rand-McNally named the Steel City “America’s Most Livable City” for 1985 and 1986. When Ling Temco Voight, Inc. closed steel mills in the region, Pittsburgh lost its factory. In nearby Aliquippa, which still taxes land 16 times higher than buildings, former employees bought one mill at a price discounted by the underlying land’s tax liability and re-opened it, while other investors built a new mill there, keeping the local economy alive. Succumbing to pressure applied by speculators, the Steel City returned to the conventional property tax. In 2001, construction starts fell steeper, 38.1%, than in the rest of Pennsylvania, 1.5%. For 2001 and 2002, compared to 1999 and 2000, building permits declined 21.3% while nationwide they rose 6.7% (Incentive Taxation, 2003 June, Henry George Fdn).
25, Aspen (Colorado), 1990s. High up in the Rocky Mountains, rich people like to enjoy their leisure by going skiing. In the American state of Colorado, rich skiers have bid up the price of resort sites into a Rocky Mountain high – a million dollars for a vacant lot. In Aspen, Vail, and environs – lovely and hilly for skiers – normal people can not afford to live where they work – not even doctors. So Aspen helps them; residents qualify as in need of housing assistance even if they earn up to $150,000 per year and have a quarter million in the bank. While there is a means test, over half of residents pass it, and this majority is not poor; it’s their land that is too expensive.
Aspen’s public monies for housing assistance come in a small way from a tiny tax on retail sails but mainly from a tax on capitalized rent, from a 1.5% tax on the price of property when it sells. Aspen’s law exempts from the tax the first hundred thousand dollars of the sales price, in most cases more than enough to cover the cost of construction for a condo, their most popular form of housing. Hence this is a tax on land value rather than on built value. Where the price of land is high, it’s due to location (the three most important factors in real estate), not improvements, which even when new immediately begin depreciating (just like a new car). The program benefits a few thousand people, half the workforce; city legislation aims to aid 60%. The recovery of rent for housing has drawn so much attention that the city was forced to publish a redbook it periodically updates to answer the many questions (copies: Maureen Dobson, firstname.lastname@example.org. us).
Despite, or because of, its success, the state legislature voted to outlaw the real estate title transfer tax for any other local government in Colorado (Larry Thoreson, Housing Office, 970/920-5029, 2004 Apr 16). While states often make it difficult for localities to recover ground rents, they don’t make it impossible. State law also has within it tax breaks for developers – Redevelopment Districts and Enterprise Zones and the like – and funding mechanisms for pet projects – Assessments Districts for beautification of an upscale neighborhood, for instance. Rather than just let the well-connected use these tricks of the trade, a savvy polity with the common weal in mind could establish itself as a Redevelopment District to axe the property tax, as an Enterprise Zone to neuter the sales tax, and as an Assessment District to recover local ground rents. As long as the recovered rents are kept out of the general fund and instead directed to one purpose that benefits all residents equally – such as a local Housing Voucher for all area voters – than the levy used to recover the rent is not legally considered to be a tax and is not affected by tax-limitation legislation.
26, Mexicali, BC, Mexico, 1990s. Seeking funds for new and better infrastructure, the mayor of Mexicali, Baja California, Milton Castellanos Gout, on the advice of a graduate from the U of California – Berkeley (Sergio Flores Pena), jettisoned the entire conventional property tax and replaced it with a land tax. For a few years, bureaucrats opposed updating the cadastre, yet subsequent civic administrations continued to modernize official land values. Revenue went from under three million pesos in 1988 from the property tax to over 63 million in 1998 from the land tax. This rapid rise was accompanied by no complaints from landowners. It must be better to own serviced land that is taxed than unserved land that is tax-free. In 1995, Mexicali drew 15.3% of its revenue from its land tax while others cities in BC drew only 8.4% from their property tax, and other cities around the country averaged only 10.3%. Hence the Mexicali land tax has been adopted by other cities in BC and in the neighboring state of BC Sur. (Lincoln Inst’s Land Lines, 1999 Sep)
27, Ethiopia, 1990s. Around the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, shantytowns sprung up on land that had been used to feed the city, pushing out farmers on to land that had lain fallow for centuries. The longer trek to central markets raised the price of food there. So the Regional Government, against the advice of the IMF, adopted a tax on land values and parcel size. The tax on structures inside city limits was drastically reduced. The Economics Section of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC reports greater occupancy and refurbishing of older structures in the city. (Henry George Fdn, Philadelphia, PA)
28, Estonia, 1990s. After the break up of the Soviet Union, each newly separate republic had to find its own way of raising revenue. Estonia, across the gulf from Finland, found the tax for farmland. Because neither land nor its value can be hidden, it was the most feasible way for the new government to raise funds. Collecting from farm owners was vastly more successful than trying to collect from others, succeeding over 95% of the time. The low tax rate of 2%, which even governmental owners of public land had to pay, was still enough to spur efficient use of land. (The Economist, 1998 Feb 28)
These 28 case summaries of real-world successes suggest that their number should grow. Society could secure everyone’s earning while sharing Earth’s worth. Which society will be next to prove the merit of geonomics?
Geniuses often disagree. Yet regarding one of humanity’s thorniest problems – how to share land fairly – some of our best minds have come to a similar conclusion: users pay compensation to those they exclude. They reached this conclusion, reasoning from the uniqueness of land.
Owning Earth differs from owning wealth in four fundamental ways:
* Making something (investing our labor) lets us own the thing. Yet none of us made land.
* Buying something (investing our capital) from its maker or rightful owner establishes ownership. Yet who has a deed from God?
* When demand for goods or services rises, competing producers augment supply and price hovers in equilibrium. When demand for sites or resources rises, nobody can make more; what’s here is all there is. So prices tend to escalate. Waiting for higher future prices, some owners withhold sites, worsening the land price spiral.
* Whereas we want items of wealth, we need Earth, the source of life and wealth.
Hoarding goods, even a lot of them, does not prevent others from making theirs. But hoarding resources – the stuff of goods – and land – the sites under services – does prevent others from making their own.
Winston Churchill explained it: “Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed geographical position – land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.”
Thus excluding others from Earth is both necessary – in order to use some land without encroachment by others – and absurd. (1) Chief Seattle led the Pacific Northwest Indian tribe, the Dwamish, to adapt peacefully to the loss of their land to white settlers. In his 1855 concession speech to his tribe and recently arrived representatives of the US Government, he said, “How can you buy or sell the sky – the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us… Every part of this earth is sacred to us.”
To other tribes, land became divine. (2) Moses, says the Bible (Leviticus 25:23), heard Jehovah say circa BC 1400, “The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is mine.”
Without a title, even God would have a hard time proving his case to old landed families.
Roman statesman (3) Tiberius Gracchus (BC 162? -133): “the private soldiers fight and die to advance the wealthy and luxury of the great, and they are called masters of the world, while they have not a foot of ground in their possession.” (4) Pliny the Elder (23-79), Roman naturalist, concluded, “Land monopoly ruined Rome.” Later, land monopolists allied with the church and land speculators plied their trade with religious fervor. While Seattle found Earth sacred, moderns found property so.
(5) Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, reminded them, “When the ‘sacredness’ of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.”
Yet now we do own land no differently than the things we do make. (6) Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) wrote, “Grimly the spirit of progress looks into the law of property and accuses men of driving a trade in the great, boundless providence which has given the air, the water, and the land to men to use and not to fence in and monopolize.”
Besides the spirit of progress, also taking a dim view is the present Roman Catholic Pope. (7) John Paul II said in Brazil in 1991, “The high concentration of land ownership demands a just agrarian reform. It has no justification whatsoever.” In Brussels in 1985 he said, “It is only fair to revise the distribution of income and to control the revenues from speculations and investments which do not proceed from labor.”
Land monopoly in America is not apparent due to her big middle class. Yet according to a 1978 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, less than 3% of the population owned more than 95% of the privately held land. A few owning more or better than others forces some to make do with too little or too inferior. Thus owners live off the work of others.
(8) Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the steel magnate, noted, “The most comfortable, but also the most unproductive way for a capitalist to increase his fortune, is to put all monies in sites and await that point in time when a society, hungering for land, has to pay his price.”
(9) Will Rogers (1879-1935), cowboy humorist, put it succinctly, “Invest in land; they ain’t makin’ it any more.” Landlords can exploit tenants as easily as masters can slaves.
(10) Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote that in the 7th century BC, “the whole land (of Attica) was in the hands of a few, and if the cultivators did not pay their rents, they became subject to bondage…”
(The Constitution of Athens) Two thousand years later, (11) Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher, noted, “Whether it is the man or the earth I own, the bird or its food, it is essentially the same thing.”
12) Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the anti-slavery crusader, elaborated, “Whenever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger part are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the Earth, there is something very much like slavery.”
Consider how some modern farm owners treat farm workers.
13) Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), Civil War hero and newspaper editor in San Francisco while Henry George (below) was there doing the same, penned in his Devil Dictionary (1906): “LAND, n. A part of the earth’s surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B, and C, there will be no place for D, E, F, and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.”
Besides this direct exploitation, there are indirect ones. As Winston Churchill noted, “land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but … it is the mother of all other … monopolies.”
14) Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), French journalist/anarchist, elaborated: “As long as land monopoly is maintained, the few can take possession of what Nature free of charge has granted to everyone, and usury will penetrate the whole society, and we will have banks, which instead of being servants for the exchange of goods will become powerful extorters.”
15) John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the third great economist in the triumvirate with Smith and Marx, put this analysis in modern economese. “There have been times when it was probably the craving for the ownership of land, independently of its yield, which served to keep up the rate of interest… The high rates of interest from mortgages on land, often exceeding the probable net yield from cultivating the land, have been a familiar feature of many agricultural economies … The competition of a high interest-rate on mortgages may well have had the same effect in retarding the growth of wealth from current investment in newly produced capital-assets, as high interest rates on long-term debts have had in more recent times.” (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936, pp. 250, 358, 241) Keynes also called rent unearned.
Thus have great minds addressed the problem. Others have spoken to the solution.
II. SOLUTION – COMMON GROUND
16) Abolitionist president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) decided, “The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water if as much… an individual or company or enterprise requiring land should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly.” (Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time, Browne, Dr. Robert)
Besides owning less, we could own jointly. (17) Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, wrote, “The whole soil should be public property.” (18) William Blackstone (1732-1780), British judge, wrote, “The earth, therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind, from the immediate gift of the Creator.” (Commentaries, II, Chap. I, page 3)
19) Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish historian who christened economics “the dismal science”, asked, “Who can or who could sell us the earth? Actually the earth belongs to these two: the almighty God and all his children who have ever worked on it or who will ever have worked on it or who will ever have to work on it. No generation of men can or could with even the highest solemnity and exertion sell the earth according to any other principle.”
Another concerned about future generations was (20) Karl Marx (1818-1883). “From the point of view of a higher economic form of society, the private ownership of the globe on the part of some individuals will appear as absurd as the private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, or even all societies together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its users, and they have to hand it down to the coming generations in an improved condition, like good fathers of families.” (Das Kapital, vol. III, p. 901-2)
21) Herbert Spencer (1820-1910), British philosopher and more famous than Marx at the time, said, “Equity does not permit property in land… The world is God’s bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it.”
III. SOLUTION – SHARING EARTH RENT
While an obvious response, public ownership does not automatically get Earth shared equitably among residents. Some great minds shifted focus from Earth to her output.
(22) Wise Solomon (Eccles. 5:9) declared, “The profit of the earth is for all.” (23) Pope St. Gregory I (The Great) (540-604) said, “The earth of which they are born is common to all and, therefore, the fruit that the earth brings forth belongs without distinction to all.” (Belief Generally & Human Nature)
24) Voltaire (1694-1778), more than a millennium later in the Age of Enlightenment, had his character Candide say, “The fruits of the earth are a common heritage of all, to which each man has equal right.” His colleague, (25) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), at the beginning of Part II of his Discourse on Inequality said, “You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to no one.”
Distinguishing between Earth and her fruits suggested a middle ground: private land with public rent. That is, don’t parcel out the planet’s surface – since land varies so much in quality, it’d be impossibly hard to partition her fairly – but share Earth’s worth. Thereby, communities would honor members’ claims, but charge everyone the parcel’s annual value. Society could collect this ground rent via a land tax, a deed fee, land dues, or some other means. Local government would then distribute these funds to the citizenry via social services (e.g. road repair, police, etc) and/or a citizen’s dividend.
26) Lord Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher and mathematician who received the highest score in history on the Cambridge University entrance exam, wrote, “The mere abolition of rent would not remove injustice, since it would confer a capricious advantage upon the occupiers of the best sites and the most fertile land. It is necessary that there should be rent, but it should be paid to the state or to some body which performs public services; or, if the total rental were more than is required for such purposes, it might be paid into a common fund and divided equally among the population.” – The basic writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959. P 492.
A few combined sharing rent with ending taxes. (27) Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), author of the Declaration of Independence and with Ben Franklin the most inventive and intellectual of the Founding Fathers, wrote, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property [which back then meant land more so than now] is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment, but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent.” – To James Madison at Fontainebleau, Oct. 28, 1785; at From Revolution to Reconstruction – an HTML project. Then, “Everyone may have land to labor for himself, if he chooses; or, preferring the exercise of any other industry, may exact for it such compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence, but wherewith to provide for a cessation from labor in old age.” (Notes on Virginia, 1791)
(28) Tom Paine (1737-1809), who authored Common Sense which catalyzed the American Revolution and coined the phrase “the United States of America”, wrote, “Men did not make the earth … it is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds… from this ground-rent … I … propose … to create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person … (a) sum.” (Agrarian Justice, 1795-6)
29) Henry George (1839-1897), author of Progress and Poverty (1879) which outsold every book of its era but the Bible, distinguished between creation and production and urged us to “abolish all taxation save on the value of land.” George went on to become famous for the Single Tax. Among his other credits, he helped win for working people New York’s celebrated park, noted Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (1992), Winner of the 1993 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1993 Urban History Association Prize for the Best Book on North American Urban History. He also wrote in The Land Question (p 84, 1881), when the government is corrupt, “We could divide this (rent) among the whole community.” He repeated this advice in a dialogue with David Dudley Field in The Century (1885).
IV. SOLUTION – TAXING LAND ONLY
George had his antecedents. Believing, perhaps, that there may not be enough rent to go around, most thinkers focused on the taking of it, via taxation, rather than the sharing of it, via entitlements.
30) Mencius, the philosopher and contemporary of Confuscius in ancient China, said: “In the market places, charge land-rent, but don’t tax the goods; or make concise regulations and don’t even charge rent. Do this, and all the merchants in the realm will be pleased and will want to set up shop in your markets. At the borders, make inspections but don’t charge tariffs, then all the travelers in the realm will be pleased and will want to traverse your highways.” 2A: 5. A new translation by Charles Muller. www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/. (Tom Sherrard.)
31) William Bradford, skipper of The Mayflower, leader of the Pilgrims, and colonizer of Massachusetts, described how to fund their new theocracy in New England in his History of Plimoth Plantation, Book II (pp 358-60 of the original manuscript). Residents would pay Rent for their lot, not taxes on their output. A few colonies to the south, another religious colonizer had the same idea.
32) William Penn (1644-1718), Quaker founder of Pennsylvania and one of the few to actually compensate the Native American Indians for their land, was one of the first to recognize this attractive possibility. From his Fruits of Solitude: “If all men were so far tenants to the public that the superfluities of grain and expense were applied to the exigencies thereof, it would put an end to taxes”. Under his leadership, Philadelphia’s first levy was upon the value of land exclusively.
The next generation turned the idea into a whole new science based on natural law, physiocracy. The French physiocrats, (33) Dr. Francois Quesnay (1694-1774) and (34) Baron A. R. Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) simplified this thought and coined the phrase “l’impot unique” (“the single tax”). One of the Enlightenment’s wise men, (35) Mirabeau the Elder, held that their discovery would be a “social advance equal to the inventions of writing and money.” And the equal of fire, too? Innumerable intellectuals of the era advocated their proposal either in whole or in part, as did Benjamin Franklin, who was a part-time land speculator (bailed out by the US Government).
Believing, perhaps, that there may not be enough Rent for government, never mind a citizens dividend, many more thinkers focused on taxing land, not on un-taxing everything else, thereby shifting all taxes to land.
36) Adam Smith (1720-1790), the father of economics, wrote in his classic, The Wealth of Nations, that “Both ground rents and the ordinary rent of land are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own… Ground rents seem, in this respect, a more proper subject of peculiar taxation… Nothing can be more reasonable than that a fund which owes its existence to the good government of the state should be taxed peculiarly…” Vol 3, Book 5, Ch 2, Pt 2, Art 1, P 289 (Australia’s Progress, 2001 Sept/Oct) His tactful diction shows deference to the powerful landed class, a caution economists still take today.
37) Less tactfully, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), English philosopher and economist, wrote, “Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working, risking or economizing. The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not the individual who might hold title.”
V. GEORGE’S CONCORDORS
38) Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), British naturalist who independently of Charles Darwin deduced the theory of evolution and pushed him to finally publish: “In consequence of the wide circulation of Mr. Henry George’s well-known Progress and Poverty, examine carefully the proposals there advocated. The products of human labor become cheaper as population increases and civilization advances. When the reverse occurs it owes to exceptional conditions or some kind of monopoly. But with land the increase of value is due to the growth of society, and the fluctuations owe either to monopoly and speculation or to restrictions on its use. The products of a man’s labor should be private property; land, the first condition of man’s existence, should belong to society. The state will need only collect its quit-rent as it now collects the land-tax or house-tax. There will accrue a steadily-increasing income from quit-rents which will enable the more injurious taxes to be remitted and ultimately all taxation be abolished.” “The Why and the How of Land Nationalisation” (Macmillan’s Magazine, 1883 Sept/Oct; wku.edu/~smithch/wallace/S365.htm).
39) Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who kept a photo of George on his desk and whose dying words to passengers on a train were to tax land alone, told the Russian Czar and the world that “people do not argue with the teachings of George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.”
40) Mark Twain (1835-1910), the pseudonym for humorist Samuel Clemens, author of of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, wrote “Archimedes” which appeared in Henry George’s newspaper, THE STANDARD (1889 July 27), criticizing private individual ownership of land. While both were reporters in San Francisco, George sold tickets at Twain’s lectures. Twain said, “The earth belongs to the people. I believe in the gospel of the Single Tax.”
41) Emma Lazarus (1849-87), a famous poet in her day, authored the lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Addressed to the “wretched refuse” of the earth in 1883, she tried to welcome them as equals in the American dream. She was a strong supporter of Henry George and his single-tax. (Special Civil Liberties issue of The Nation, 2002 June 3, “Patriotism’s Secret History”, p. 40; thanks to Alanna Hartzok)
42) Daniel C. Beard (1850-1941), American naturalist who founded the Boy Scouts of America, said, “I believe in Henry George… I have long been a worker for the Single Tax cause.”
43) Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), founded the American Federation of Labor and who campaigned for George, said, “I believe in the Single Tax. I count it a great privilege to have been a friend of Henry George and to have been one of those who helped to make him understood in New York and elsewhere…”
44) Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), Supreme Court Justice, said, “I find it very difficult to disagree with the principles of Henry George… I believe in the taxation of land values only.”
45) Clarence Darrow (1859-1938), lawyer of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, said while he was not as optimistic as Henry George about human nature, he “never belived that land should be reduced to private ownership, and I never felt that any important social readjustment could come while any one could claim the unconditional right to any part of the earth and ‘the fullness thereof’.” (Colliers Encyclopedia)
46) Silvio Gesell (1862-1930), German reformer, earned fame for the successful application of his monetary reform in Austria between the world wars. John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher cited his proposal of allowing local currencies and requiring savers to buy stamps for their savings, so people would spend instead, keeping bills circulating. In his main work, The Natural Economic Order through Free Land and Free Money, Gesell rejected the association of “blood” with “land”. The whole earth is an integral organ; everyone should be free to travel and settle anywhere. Gesell advocated an open world market without monopolies, customs frontiers, and colonial conquest. Inspired by Henry George, whose Single Tax on land value had become known in Germany, Gesell called upon government to buy land and lease it to the highest bidder and to forgo taxation. Since the amount of Rent depends on population density, Gesell would distribute Rent to mothers, freeing them from working fathers, letting the sexes relate for love. Gesell’s reform is a third way, “a market economy without capitalism”.
47) Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947), President of Columbia University, said, “Consider Georgist economics with a just sense of their permanent importance and with regard to the soundness of their underlying principles. Sound economists in every land accept and support economic opportunity as fundamental.” He won the Nobel in peace.
When revolution erupted around the globe, visionary leaders tried to resolve the conflicts with George’s reform. (48) Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), father of modern China, wrote, “The teachings of Henry George will be the basis of our program of reform… The (land tax) as the only means of supporting the government is an infinitely just, reasonable, and equitably distributed tax… The centuries of heavy and irregular taxation for the benefit of the manchus have shown China the injustice of any other system of taxation.” (49) Mexican President Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913) and (50) Russian President Alexandr F. Kerenski (1881-1970) leaned the same way.
The man who unseated Kerenski, (51) V. I. Lenin (1870-1924), who read Progress and Poverty and rejected it in favor of the gospel according to Karl Marx, complemented George by critiquing him: “George’s program was alright for individualist democracy – but collectivism was now forced by the machine age.” (LAND AND FREEDOM, 1942, July/August)
Both labor leaders and capitalists rallied around the Georgist banner. (52) Max Hirsch (1877-1968), banker, investor, and author, said, “Abolish special privileges and Government interference in industry. Give to all equal natural opportunities – equal rights to the inexhaustible storehouse of Nature – and wealth will distribute itself in exact accordance with justice. This, the ideal of Henry George, is what I would place before our people.”
53) Princess Alice of Greece (1885-1967), mother of Prince Philip, the consort to the Queen of England, wrote, “I have studied Henry George. The idea of a Single Tax could contribute to the economic restoration of our country.” (Athens daily paper, Proia, 22 May 1927)
VI. ACCOLADES TO GEORGE
Other notables did less for the movement yet admired George from afar. (54) George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish dramatist and Nobel laureate (1925), said in An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928), “tho’ George impressed his generation with the outrageous misdistribution of income resulting from the apparently innocent institution of private property in land, he left untouched the positive problem of how else income was to be distributed… in this book I am doing no more than finishing Henry George’s job… all rents should be paid into a common stock and used for public purposes… George’s omission to consider what the State should do with the national rent after it had taken it into the public treasury stopped him on the threshold of Socialism; but most of the young men whom he had led up to it went through (like myself) into the Fabian Society and other Socialist bodies.” Later he added, “I went one night quite casually into a hall in London, and I heard a man deliver a speech which changed the whole current of my life. That man was an American – Henry George… Therefore, as that happened at the beginning of my life, I have thought it fitting that now at the end of my life… I might come and give here in America back a little of that shove that Henry George gave to me.”
55) Prof. John Dewey (1859-1952), philosopher and educator, wrote, “Henry George is one of the great names among the world’s social philosophers. It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with him… No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as educated in social thought unless he has some firsthand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker.” 56) Charles A. Beard (1874-1948), historian and author of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, wrote, “Of all the American economists since the early days of the republic, none treated as comprehensively the interfiliation of economy and civilization as George did.”
57) Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said, “Men like Henry George are rare, unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.”
Others had special praise for his classic work, P&P. (58) Rev. John Haynes Holmes (1879-1964), co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote, “Progress and Poverty was the most closely knit, fascinating and convincing specimen of argumentation that, I believe, ever sprang from the mind of man.” 59) Helen Keller (1880-1968) wrote, “Who reads shall find in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature.” (In a letter to a Mr. Hennessy dated 1930 Jan 14)
60) John Kieran (1892-?), Depression Era radio broadcaster, advised that, “No one should be allowed to speak above a whisper or write more than ten words on the general subject (of economics) unless he has read and digested Progress and Poverty.” Yet many economists have read it and still whisper (trying to pass off their discipline as “value-free”?).
61) Dr. E. F. Goldman, Princeton historian, wrote, “For some years prior to 1952 I was working on a history of American reform and over and over again my research ran into this fact: an enormous number of men and women, strikingly different people, men and women who were to lead 20th century America in a dozen fields of humane activity, wrote or told someone that their whole thinking had been redirected by reading Progress and Poverty in their formative years. In this respect no other book came anywhere near comparable influence, and I would like to add this word of tribute to a volume which magically catalyzed the best yearnings of our fathers and grandfathers.”
A generation later, historians still acknowledged the impact of Progress and Poverty.
A generation later, historians still acknowledged the impact of Progress and Poverty. (62) AMERICAN HERITAGE published a list of “ten books that shaped the American character” (1985 April/May) compiled by Jonathan Yardley. With George’s classic were titles by writers who endorsed his idea, such as (63) Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936), author of The Shame of Cities, who said, “the good effects of the Single Tax can hardly be overstated.”
(64) Upton Sinclair (1878-1968), author of The Jungle, who wrote, “I no longer advocate the Single Tax. I advocate many taxes. I want to tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds, also his income, and his inheritances, and his wife’s jewels. In addition, I advocate a land tax, but one graduated like the income tax. If a man or a corporation owns a great deal of land, I want to tax him on the full rental value. If he owns only one little lot, I don’t want to tax him at all. Some day that measure will come before the voters of California, and then I should like to see the bankers and land speculators of the state persuade the poor man that the measure would not be to the poor man’s advantage!” (from “The Consequences of Land Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the Cities” in Enclaves of Economic Rent, C. W. Huntington, ed., Fiske Warren, Harvard Massachusetts, 1924) Note that ironically, the bankers and speculators were quite able to hoodwink the ordinary voters when land reformers were able to get their favorite tax on the ballot.
(65) Rutherford B. Hayes (19th U.S. President), from his personal diary, year not provided (between 1881-1891) December 4 Sunday. “In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, and wretchedness as the lot of the many… Henry George is strong when he portrays the rottenness of the present system. We are, to say the least, not yet ready for his remedy. We may reach and remove the difficulty by changes in the laws regulating corporations, descents of property, wills, trusts, taxation, and a host of other important interests, not omitting lands and other property.” (Thanks to Ed Dodson via Richard Biddle) Politicians at least pay lip service to popular ideas and their purveyors (usually once safely buried). (66) Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), 22nd and 24th president of the US, whom George worked with on free trade, said, “I have always regarded Henry George as a man of honest and sincere convictions and ever held a high opinion of him.”
67) Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th president of the US and founder of the League of Nations, said, “This country needs a new and sincere thought in politics, coherently, distinctly and boldly uttered by men who are sure of their ground. The power of men like Henry George seems to me to mean that.” Wilson put Louis F. Post, a Georgist, into the post of labor secretary who founded Labor Day on the Monday closest to George’s birthday.
68) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd president of the US said, “I believe that Henry George was one of the really great thinkers produced by our country.” About financing transportation, he wrote, 1939: “The man who, by good fortune, sells a narrow right-of-way for a new highway makes a handsome profit through the increase in value of all of the rest of his land. That represents an unearned increment of profit – a profit which comes to a mere handful of lucky citizens and which is denied to the vast majority.” (“Corridor reservation: implications for recouping a portion of the ‘unearned increment’ arising from construction of transportation facilities: final report”, VTRC; 94-R15, Borhart, Robert J., 1994, Virginia Transportation Research Council) To head up the Federal Reserve and to be the nation’s Economic Advisor, FDR appointed a Harvard man, the Canadian (69) Lanklin Currie, who said: “Controlling land was the key to civilization… It is a striking example of our economic illiteracy that we have more or less quietly acquiesced in the private appropriation of socially created gains, letting fortunate owners and their heirs levy tribute or claim a share of the national income to which they have contributed nothing… The rise in land values (and, to a small extent, building) that results from growth in numbers and income of a community is a reflection of pure scarcity. It arises from the community and should belong to the community.” Ecistics, 244, March 1976, p 137-143.
70) Raymond Moley (1886-?), one of the three economists of President Roosevelt’s Brain Trust (which was so important that reputedly even FDR had to have an appointment to meet with them), said, “The basic assumptions of Henry George are sound. Nothing could be more useful than to bring these fundamentals to the attention of perplexed Americans.” Alas, politics prevailed and the Great Depression persisted.
VII. SOLUTION – PROPERTY TAX REFORM
Shifting all taxes from production of wealth to possession of Earth is a radical reform not easily won. Recognizing, perhaps, the difficulty of winning, many endorsed partial applications, especially down-taxing buildings and up-taxing locations. This milder version has found its way into law upon occasion (see our “Where Tax Reform Has Worked: 27 Case Summaries”.)
71) Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th president of the US and a loser against Henry George in the 1886 mayoral race for New York City, said, “The burden of taxation should be so shifted as to put the weight upon the unearned rise in the value of land itself, rather than improvements, the effect being to prevent the undue rise of rents.”
72) Henry Ford (1863-1947), said, “We ought to tax all idle land the way Henry George said – tax it heavily, so that its owners would have to make it productive.” (LIBERTY between world wars, article by Donald Wilheim)
Beyond U.S. borders, the UK even passed a land tax into law, but World War I intervened and the movement never recovered.
(73) David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British Prime Minister (1917-22) from the Liberal Party, said in a speech at New Castle (1903 Mar 4), “The land question in the towns bears upon (over-crowding). It is all very well to produce ‘Housing of Working Class’ bills. They will never be effective until you tackle the taxation of land values.”
74) Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) said, “I have made speeches by the yard on the subject of land value taxation, and you know what a supporter I am of that policy.”
75) Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), commander of the US occupation force in Japan after World War II, hired (76) Carl Shoup to help him reform land holding and thereby rebuild Japan. Their revision of the Japanese Constitution reversed the rent ratio between owners (whose portion dropped from 2/3 to 1/3) and tenants (whose rose from 1/3 to 2/3). Shoup also simplified Japan’s tax code, facilitating investment.
(77) James Michener in his novel Hawaii created a fictional version of Shoup who endorsed the single tax on land. The New York Times’ lengthy obit on Shoup quoted his colleague, C. Lowell Harris, emeritus Columbia and member of and Advisor to the Geonomy Society.
With the hawks on this issue was dove (78) Elizabeth Magie Phillips, a Quaker who created a board game, The Landlord’s Game, to teach Georgist principle. We know it today as Monopoly. In the 1980s, Parker Bros. sued in court, claiming their game was original; they lost.
79) Tom L. Johnson (1876-1934), millionaire industrialist and mayor of Cleveland, hired economists to disprove George. When none could, he concluded, “What the world needs is justice, not benevolence. To the extent the law grants special favors to some, do the people suffer. The greatest special privilege is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values. So long as it is permitted to any man to take what doesn’t belong to him through monopolizing nature’s resources and the private ownership of public utilities, plenty of men of my kind will always be ready to jump in and do the stealing. My mission is to take what people are stupid enough to let me take, and to show them how they can put an end to the system which enriches me and impoverishes them.” (Christian Science Weekly, 1933)
Just as politicians had to bow before George’s popularity, so did economists have to admit, with more or less enthusiasm, that taxing land values is both fair and efficient.
Over a dozen prominent ones signed a letter Geonomy Society Advisor Nic Tideman, advising Gorbachev to tax land (’90 Nov 7) to smooth the transition to a market economy. He ignored the advice and the Soviet Union fell apart. Eight of the signers won the “Nobel” Prize, including: (80) James Buchanan (1986), (81) Franco Modigliani (1985), (82) Herbert Simon (1978), (83) Robert Solow (1987), (84) James Tobin (1981), and (85) William Vickrey (1996). Other winners were Shaw, Einstein, and N. M. Butler, bringing the total to 10 laureates.
VIII. ACCOLADES LEFT & RIGHT
This consensus among Nobel laureates spans the political spectrum. Two more to sign the letter to Gorbachev are: (86) leftist Paul Samuelson (1970) who said in his textbook which made him a millionaire, “Our ideal society finds it essential to put a rent on land as a way of maximizing the total consumption available to the society”, and (87) rightist Milton Friedman (1976) who said, “Land should be taxed as much as possible and improvements as little as possible.” (The Times Herald, Norristown, Pennsylvania; Friday, 1 December, 1978 Another prize-winner, Gary S. Becker (1992), credited George’s book (Progress and Poverty) at a Georgist-sponsored speech for making him into an economist, but later downplayed George’s tax, the single levy on land, as insufficient.
Just as support for George has continued to the present among economists, so has it among politicians of both major parties. Here are some former presidential candidates.
Among Democrats, (88) Senator Edmund Muskie read his support into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD (1970 Dec 15). (89) Sen. Walter Mondale said, “The federal government could further the taxation of land values. It could levy such a federal tax itself and this would be much preferable to taxes on labor and capital investment.”
Among Republicans, former governor (90) George Romney was a supporter and (91) Jack Kemp wrote, “Property taxes could profitably be revised to fall more heavily on land, rather than, as at present, penalizing property improvements.” (American Renaissance, p 96)
Along with politicians and economists, the press, too, both left and right, on occasion notes George’s contribution.
92) FORTUNE MAGAZINE (’83 Aug 8) stated, “Higher land taxes, especially when accompanied by reduced taxes on structures, look like an idea businessmen ought to embrace and promote. The benefits in the form of more jobs and increasingly compact development are not only lasting, but flow to the whole community.” May the whole community go with the flow.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT’s Chairman and Editor-in-Chief (93) Mortimer B. Zuckerman wrote, “Henry George, the great 19th-century economist, put it best: ‘What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.’” (1985 Dec 23)
94) A WALL STREET JOURNAL article (1987 Mar 5) stated, “As explained in the greatest economics treatise ever written by an American – Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879) – money diverted to pay for the use of natural resources is like a dead weight or tax on the productive factors in the economy, capital and labor.” Another article (’98 July 21) recommended the land tax for Russia’s transition economy.
95) William F. Buckley, the TV commentator, said, “Henry George told us this system would work a hundred years ago.”
96) THE FINANCIAL TIMES (2001 August 1): “It should surely have been possible to tax some of the very large gains that have been created by public policy. And this tax revenue could be used to finance the capital costs of Tube construction, leaving the passengers to pay for the running costs. A levy on windfall gains in land and property values would be a good way to tackle transport congestion.” (Samuel Brittain)
97) THE ECONOMIST (2002 Week of August 29th, via Joshua Vincent, Henry George Fdn): “Why should developers, landlords and tenants make untaxed windfall gains from transport improvements funded by general taxation? Why should the state not take a share? The idea of taxing increases in the price of land may sound dangerously radical but actually it is not. It has a history stretching back to the mists of fiscal time. The Treasury’s reassessment of land value taxes in the green paper is thus encouraging.”
Across the aisle, (98) THE NEW YORK TIMES stated, “Too bad that Henry George, the author of Progress and Poverty, is not around to advise New York State.” Other nationally syndicated columnists often note George and suggest collecting public rents for public purposes, as does (99) Michael Kinsley. Also, when FORBES annually lists the nation’s richest 400, he often follows with an article noting how a majority of them are owners of sizeable chunks of nature.
100) Alexander Cockburn wrote, “Windfall land value increases are created by government actions, roads, sewer lines, light rail, re-zoning, etc. The people should share in the ballooning in value of land.” (1994 Jan)
101) THE NATION (’90 Oct 29) stated, “A tax levied on land used for commercial purposes is the ideal tax. It would fall on the richest families and institutions, it can’t be shifted to consumers and owners can’t move their property to another state. Almost invariably, if you tax something the capitalists will produce less of it and charge you more for it. But land is different. Most of it was produced once and for all by God…”
102) THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (2001 Oct 31) endorsed City Controller Jonathan Saidel, incumbent and promoter of the Property Tax Shift, noting, “Taxing solely the value of land, not of the buildings on it, might promote development on vacant or underused tracts and would stop punishing at tax time those residents who improve their homes.” Staff writer Nathan Gorenstein (Oct 22) supported “the brainchild of Henry George.” The paper also ran a favorable op-eds by Robert Inman, Prof, Finance and Economics, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Nov 9) and by Mark Alan Hughes, a weekly contributor to the Daily Views and teacher at Penn’s Fox Leadership Program (Nov 27) who said “the Tax Structure Analysis Report by Saidel is the best policy statement from any city government in my 20 years of analysis and research.”
103) THE GUARDIAN’s George Monbiot: “Government needs to levy a land value tax on development land and a capital gains tax on main residences, then use the money for building the housing Britain needs.” (via The Progress Report website) Actually, were government to tax all land and resources (or lease them), that second tax on residences would be as superfluous as it is unfair
IX. RESOURCE REFORM
By being reticent about pursuing its due, society may be taking the correct tact.
(104) Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” to which Jean Paul Getty, one of the original oil tycoons, appended, “but not the mineral rights.” Even before the growth of industry, natural resources other than soil have been important.
105) Confucius (BC 551-479), Chinese philosopher, said, “When the Great Way prevailed, natural resources were fully used for the benefit of all and not appropriated for selfish ends… This was the Age of the Great Commonwealth of peace and prosperity.”
106) Influential Washington, D.C. attorney Jackson H. Ralston (1857-1946) said, “Until the Single Tax makes all our mineral resources equally available to all the community, thus destroying the special profits now accruing to those able to hold land out of use, the most oppressive trusts in existence will find their way clear to retain their power, despite anti-trust laws, interstate commerce laws, and all the publicity we may by law give their operations.” Indeed, the power of resource corporations, such as oil companies, is probably greater than ever.
107) First Viscount Philip Snowden (1864-1937), British economist and politician, between the 20th century’s world wars modernized this thought. “There never was a time when the need was greater than it is today for the application of the philosophy and principles of Henry George to the economic and political conditions which are scourging the whole world. The root cause of the world’s economic distress is surely obvious to every man who has eyes to see and a brain to understand. So long as land is a monopoly, and men are denied free access to it to apply their labor to its uses, poverty and unemployment will exist. Permanent peace can only be established when men and nations have realized that natural resource should be a common heritage, and used for the good of all mankind… I am of the opinion that rent belongs to society and that no single person has the right to appropriate and enjoy what belongs to society.”
108) Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), ex-US president who in 1950 voted for Henry George to enter into the Hall of Fame, wondered, “why the world’s resources could not be internationalized, since raw materials represented the world’s basic needs, they should belong to and serve everybody.” (Cook, Blanche; The De-classified Eisenhower; 1985, p. 229)
109) Douglas Frazier, United Auto Workers President, said before the National Conference on Alternate State and Local Policies in 1979, July 3-5, “one day, we are going to ask ourselves, did anyone make the oil and minerals and then put them in the ground? We will then realize that they belong to all of us.”
In the past, sharing rent was proposed to promote prosperity, justice, and peace. Today, there may be an even more compelling reason – the pending ecollapse. Those thinkers trying to heal the planet are recapitulating the intellectual development of the past, the share-Earth idea.
110) Columnist James Reston wrote, “the economic approach to conservation is important: don’t reward but punish the destroyers. But this requires a much larger proportion of the American people to get a new philosophy of values about the land, property rights, and man as only one part of the living community.” (NEW YORK TIMES, 1970 August 9)
111) Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), architect who’d design structures to avoid removing trees, wrote in The Living City (c. 1958, p. 162), “Henry George showed us the only organic solution of the land problem.”
112) Columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “Henry George must be in his grave spinnin’ like a cyclotron. We, the people at large, make the land more desirable; and then the landowners want us to pay them because we won’t allow them to poison the air or to pollute the rivers.” (1995 March)
113) THE NEW REPUBLIC in 1979 ran an article by David Hapgood stating, “The land tax would encourage the more intensive use of less land, reduce suburban sprawl, revive our ailing cities, lower the cost of shelter and, if uniformly applied, end the senseless wars among communities caused by the property tax. (Here again many traditional economists agree with George.)”
114) Brookings Institution’s 2000 summer Review contains “Nothing left to Lose: Only Radical Strategies Can Help America’s Most Distressed Cities” by Edward Hill and Jeremy Nowak who say: “Cities should replace the business property tax with a tax on the market value of land (to) encourage businesses to place as much capital on property as is economically justifiable. … The land component of the residential property tax should be assessed on an equal basis with the business land tax, again providing incentives to develop in neighborhoods with low land values, as well as preventing speculative land banking.”
Lately, numerous environmental groups have signed on to this green tax shift. (See our “Greens On George: 133 Notable Environmentalists on Taxing Only Land”.)
X. WISTFUL THINKING
What keeps down such a sound idea? (115) Brand Whitlock (1869-1934), former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, said, “The Single Tax will wait, I fancy, for years, since it is so fundamental and mankind never attacks fundamental problems until it has exhausted all the superficial ones.”
It seems we must hit bottom first. Yet perhaps we can just imagine the worst, then work our way out. (116) Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) in the preface to his Brave New World Revisited (p. viii), wrote, “If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer a third alternative … the possibility of sanity. Economics would be decentralist and Henry Georgian.” May this sane way out of our modern dilemma yet attract a critical mass of thoughtful reformers.
Fiat currency consists of coins and paper notes whose materials have little intrinsic value. All money in the world today is fiat, based on law and custom. In contrast, commodity money consists of goods such as gold, silver, and copper, which have value as useful items, and for which the face value of the money is close to that of the commodity.
Until 1964, U.S. dimes, quarters, and half-dollars coins were made of 90 percent silver, as were silver dollars until 1965. After three decades of monetary inflation, the market price of silver rose above the face value of the coins, and the U.S. Treasury stopped making silver dimes and quarters. The $1, $5, and $10 bills were silver certificates, which could until 1968 be exchanged for silver dollars or bullion. The U.S. mint now makes silver coins for collectors, but the selling price is based on the metal content, and so these coins are not economic money.
Half-dollar coins from 1965 to 1970 had a 40 percent silver content, as did Eisenhower dollar coins with the S mintmark from 1971 until 1974. Since then, U.S. coins above five cents in face value have been fiat, made of metals of low value, unrelated to the face value.
It now costs the government about two cents to make a one cent piece, so the penny could be considered a commodity coin. The metal in the one cent piece is mostly zinc. The cost of producing the 5c piece is now about 11 cents, so the nickel is also a commodity coin. The nickel is made of 75% copper and 25 percent nickel. Aside from pennies and nickels, U.S. currency today is fiat, the face value being substantially more than the value of the metal or paper.
Gold also served as money in the USA until 1933. The paper currencies were gold certificates that could be redeemed for gold coins of the same face value. Americans were forced to exchange their gold coins and bullion for paper currency by Executive Order 6102 signed on April 5, 1933, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the false pretense that the hoarding of gold was making the Great Depression worse. In fact, the Federal Reserve could have increased the money supply to offset the monetary deflation. The legal basis of the executive order’s unconstitutional gold grab was the World War I “Trading with the Enemy Act” of 1917.
The world has experimented with fiat currency for the past half century. The outcome has been monetary and price inflation, and the manipulations of interest rates by central banks, which have increased instability. But now the era of fiat money is coming to an end.
Paper currency has been plagued by counterfeits for a long time, and governments have kept issuing new versions with ever stronger anti-copying protection such as watermarks and embedded strings of non-paper materials. But advancing technology has also enabled the counterfeiters to produce more sophisticated fake paper and metal currency.
Three-dimensional printing is a technological frontier that lays down successive layers of materials to duplicate goods. The 3D printing can greatly reduce the labor cost of manufacturing, and thus can reverse the tide of outsourcing labor. Manufacturing in the US will become more competitive, and less expensive versions will make 3D printing affordable by households. Among the items that 3D printing will be able to duplicate is currency.
Fake money is already a big problem for governments. North Korea has been making fake American currency. Peru has become the top producing country for counterfeit U.S. dollars, especially the $100 note. The Peruvian counterfeiters insert the special security features by hand, making their fakes superior to those that are just printed. But because U.S. $100 bills are made from cotton “rag paper,” these fakes can be detected by infrared scanners. If counterfeiters can duplicate the cotton material, then fakes will be much more difficult to detect.
The European Union relies more on coins than the U.S., and the eurozone has protected its coins with security features. But counterfeits, especially of the 2-euro denomination, have been a problem. Fake coins are made in several European countries as well as in China.
In the future, 3D printing will become more widespread, and could be used to produce fake coin and paper currency. When the code for programming the machines is perfected, it can then be sold, and those with the machines and materials can literally print money. That will be the end of fiat currency.
Fakes have been a problem also with collectibles, and there are expert services that examine rare coins, stamps, and gems, and certify whether they are genuine. But such an examination is too costly for circulating coins and paper notes.
When mass-produced fake currency becomes common, governments will have to go back to commodity coinage. When a coin is made of a metal whose intrinsic value is about equal to the face value, and whose metallic elements can be verified, then faking becomes more difficult.
But if 3D and printing technology can accurately reproduce paper currency, including all the security features, then paper certificates convertible into commodity coins will also disappear. Paper currency will be replaced by electronic money and commodity coins. The problem will then be to make electronic money secure from fake accounts.
A sci-fi comedy, a fish-out-water-story, and a buddy-road-journey plus an intellectual quest. When Crik gets accidentally sucked from now into 2112 by a malfunctioning chronoscope, he must prove to the future’s authorities that in our time, he was the agent of change who put society on its path toward harmony with nature. If he can’t prove he was the future’s founders, then the future authorities must return Crik to the exact moment he’d left — when bullets were bearing down on him. Keeping one step ahead of the pursuit, and in the company of a guide, beautiful Tepper, a distant descendant of Crik, the duo explore a world where humans blend their genes with other species, buildings can grow, cars can fly, and phones display a know-it-all holograph, in order to unravel how future society works so well for everyone. Perfect Timing is cutting-edge science in a hilarious romp. By Jeffery J. Smith. 152 pages. Copyright 2012. Available for $2.99 via the PayPal button on this site.
by Jeff Smith
Chapter 1, All for One, One for One?
Far below, the people didn’t look like ants so much as like billiard balls, plenty of them, headed directly to their goals across the downtown central plaza. Or they stood in clumps like tufts of beach grass, around street performers who leapt lively, break dancing, or juggling. So much pulsating life at the feet of skyscrapers, the nerve center of the city.
On top of the tallest hotel, Crik, a young guy in a bellhop uniform, practiced golf on his break. Working two jobs, he was too busy to finish college. Besides, how many decades would it take to pay off student loans anyway? Better to have a fun job; make money and enjoy life in real time. If big bucks were ever needed, something would turn up, the universe is a surprising place that way.
“That short for cricket?” people want to know. No, Crik was named Crik because Brook was already taken; his older brother got named that. “Oh, I get it,” the hotel manager said when interviewing Crik, “Creek.” Crik nodded his curls that looked like an old sheepskin. “Yeah, Crik.”
Crik’s fingers were tattooed with esoteric symbols. He lacked a necklace but did sport the requisite ear stud and a small plug – a dime – in the other ear. And he loved to swing the club.
On the roof, a phone in his pocket rang out “Fore!” but Crik did not answer it. Instead he drove a whiffle golf ball into the air while smoking a cigarette he’d rolled with organic tobacco. The lofty breeze drove the smoke and the hollow plastic ball back to him. Without having to chase it, he could drive the same white ball over and over, catching it on the return each time, like yo-yoing with a club outward and the breeze back instead of with a string. He was up to twenty-three straight successful drives-then-cathces, concentrating hard, closing in on his personal best.
Until a strong gust blew the white dot past him, into the void. He exhaled greyness. “Go, then, you flighty thing. Join the others. You won’t be missed.” Crik shrugged, slung the club over his shoulder, and headed back inside.
Checking his phone, he chuckled, thinking, ‘catering the mansion again – extra bucks and maybe another one of those soft accessories.’
The hotel’s hallway – off-white walls marked by recessed lamps – was tricked out for paying customers with insipid painting and eternal, potted blossoms. Whoever decorated the interior did so without considering anyone with a more sensitive palette. The impact the décor had on aesthetes who must endure the sight daily – not pleasant.
What was pleasant the prospect of gleaning new knowledge. Where one corridor met another and the two widened into a foyer, where the ceiling was high, letting the brain breathe, there a new information table was set up. What new factoid would Crik add to his storehouse of trivia? And from what ardent purveyor would he apprehend it?
At a cloth-covered table a pretty attendant sat chatting up a prospect. Her smile, even seen from the side, welcomed all as if they were long lost relatives back from distant travels. Was she a natural, whose salesmanship would endure and support her well into later years? Or would the lessons of life tighten her grin into an insincere rictus? ‘One can only hope,’ Crik thought.
Bright, upbeat books and tapes on Strategic Wealth Maximazation by Julian Seizure were offered for sale. Booklets about getting rich quick in real estate, neatly arrayed in fans, reminded readers of the sage humorist’s advice to “Invest in land; they ain’t making it any more.”
When the prospect left, Crik glanced at the cheery docent while fingering literature that urged readers to invest in REITs that invest in hotels, not surprisingly. “I’ll tell you what to invest in – golf courses.” Crik swung an imaginary club with perfect form, shielded his eyes, and watched an imaginary ball sail into the ceiling.
His audience of one did not laugh. Before her was the company’s signup sheet. Crik picked it up. “Another signature to make your boss happy, and you can put mine on your resume.”
“Maybe. After our handwriting analyst has taken a look at it.”
A touch of wit, how adorable, Crik’s favorite trait in a woman, or in anyone. It meant another over-qualified person trapped in a deadend job, sadly, but misery does love company; she may be someone worth getting to know. Crik glanced again her way. “You look just like somebody I know.”
“Your girlfriend?” The seated docent lofted an eyebrow. “Your mother?”
Crik grimaced. “No, no ties that grind.” Crik had been the last of the litter, long after the others, an afterthought, who was often reminded of that fact by a mother and father who resented having to delay the liberation of retirement yet another decade. If they didn’t want him, Crik figured, he didn’t want them, either, or any spawn of his own. “You look nothing like a testtube.”
“Gee,” the young woman replied, “that cure for anorexia really worked.”
Crik chuckled. So sardonic. If ever there were to be a new Eve, the species would certainly be improved by her genes. She stared at him intently. He squinted an eye toward her, stylishly dressed – jewelry, makeup, hair do sculpting wispy brunette strands – and a familiar mouth. “Ellen?”
At the other end of the corridor the concierge made his way toward Crik and the young woman. “Rats,” Crik said. “Or rat singular. That guy loves to lord it over us before guests.”
Without warmth, Ellen pointed to the double doors. “Get in there and get smartened up. You’re going to need the money.”
Crik showed his gap-toothed smile. “My first million is half yours.” Before his boss could spot him, Crik slipped away, into the seminar on easy money.
In the packed, semi-darkened hall, the crowd was as big as one showing up at a theater showing a hyped new release. Crik thought, ‘Of course it’d be crowded. Who hated money?
He took a seat near the end of an aisle. Seated beside him was a young man with a cowlick and wearing suspenders. They exchanged polite grins and Crik wondered what that guy could know about investment that he doesn’t.
Strains of Wagner’s majestic music accompanied a video of unabashed luxury. On the screen, a sleek car built for racetrack speed swerved through hills of vineyards, past a mansion – its long lines F.L. Wrightish. In its driveway posed a limousine grand enough for hosting small celebrations comfortably. Inside the modern chalet draped over a seaside cliff, fashion models adorned with precious jewelry befriended vain demigods sipping champagne. It looked like the south of France where Crik had backpacked around for a summer; no matter how close the wealth came it was always out of reach. ‘Theirs was the life,’ Crik thought. ‘But was this salesman’s pitch the way to it?
In a spotlight on the center of the stage stalked a handsome man dressed for success in a flawlessly tailored suit. Black shiny hair neatly styled, Julian Seizure kept his posture erect and fullchested, as would a cocksure general before his troops. He bared his teeth in a blistering smile on his narrow-featured face.
The slideshow focused on the vain demigods’ bling. Seizure fired his words out forcefully and pounded the air with a fist timed precisely to each syllable. His flashes of gleaming teeth underscored his insights. The master salesman pointed to the attentive seated in the dark. “I quote the famous Andrew Carnegie, the richest man of his time, a billionaire back when a dime bought you a complete breakfast. It takes hard work to amass a fortune in industry but any fool can get rich in real estate.”
‘The dude knows his stuff,’ Crik thought.
The young man beside Crik in suspenders perked up. Leaning over, he whispered to Crik, “Did he say any fool?” He grinned optimistically.
Crik gave the guy two thumbs up and turned away, shrugging a shoulder noncommittally.
On stage, the pitchman exhaled profoundly. “The old boy nailed it. Nothing else comes close to how much over the course of their lives people spend on a place to live, and on a place to work, a cost built in to what you pay for everything.”
The sea of heads bobbed and nodded in assent.
Seizure opened his hands in empathy. “Since all of us have been foolish at least once …”
Amid the sea of heads, only Crik’s cowlicked neighbor bobbed agreeably – until he saw nobody else owning up and slunk lower into his seat.
“Why are we not all rich?” The instant-riches guru tapped his skull. “Foresight.” Seizure stared down his audience. “It’s not speculation when you see what’s coming.”
“New people do move into this town of ours like pigeons, flocking everywhere,” Crik’s neighbor in suspenders said.
“That Julian Seizure might be on to something.” Crik rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. ‘I’m due for a change. Why not me, too?’ Suddenly he sat straight up and checked his watch.
The locker room for employees did not smell at all like a gym but there was the faint aroma of fatigue emitted by young guys dedicated to both work and play. Crik and two other workers changed out of hotel uniforms, into party clothes for a night on the town: worn-thin pants, billowy shirts, vests, a loose flashy tie, a hunter’s cap. Out from under his bellhop cap, Crik’s hair had bleached racing stripes.
“My friends, I wish I could invite you. We’re going to party and get paid.” Crik adjusted his tie. “You’re going to a bar and have to spend money.”
Crik was dressed up in a fancy dark suit and bowtie. His pressed suit looked sharp but he didn’t, not with dark circles under his eyes. Yet who let a little exhaustion get in the way of unending pleasure? Crik corrected his slouch and looked into a mirror. With his forefingers, Crik pushed up the corners of his mouth into a smile. He stared past his image, into his hopes for future. ‘Who knows who you’ll meet at these toney receptions? The rich and beautiful get as lonely as anyone else and long to meet the right person.’ Crik was the right person for someone. He’d often been the right person for someone, and could be righter still, for just the perfect person.
Co-worker, Randy, needed to shave but didn’t. He wore shorts year round but changed his hair length with the seasons. Randy put a big rubbery cap over his skull that made him look bald. The others regarded him skeptically “What? Her preferences said she swoons for shiny, smooth tops.” The other guys rolled their eyes.
Shane, on the other hand, didn’t need to shave but did. Likewise ear-studded, he sat tying his shoes and looked up at Crik. “We’re going to work more hours, and we’re already working too much, for too little.” Shane hopped up on his feet. “That’s not sustainable.”
Randy crossed the room, carrying a clipboard. His posture while walking had his body lagging behind his head, his neck nearly level, as if offering his capped melon to a guillotine. He sidled up to Crik.
“I suppose you want to borrow another Jackson.” Crik handed Randy a bill.
Nodding, Randy took the twenty and handed Crik the clipboard, which had a petition on it. “Thanks, bro. So sign on, Crik; it’s for more pay and fewer hours.”
“Even better,” Shane adjusted a hat with a small green feather, “how’d you like a cut of the abundance?” The others gave him a curious glance. Shane looked at them over his glasses. “Of society’s surplus. Your share. Just for being.”
“Sweet,” Randy said.
Shrugging, Crik glanced over the petition. “The man has a dream.”
“In some places,” Shane said, “the dream is a reality.”
Crik scratched his nose. “It’d take getting a cut just to live in some of those places.”
Randy tucked in his shirttails. “So, No Paddle, can I get your vote?”
“Sure, I’m not using it.” Crik aimed a finger at his co-worker. “Can I get your life savings? You are entering cut-throat golf, right? Saturday.” Getting a nod from his agreeable co-worker, Crik threw his jacket over his shoulder and followed Shane out.
In a vast salon of high ceiling and wood floor covered with a thick carpet, a string quintet played classical music. Framed paintings hung between tall windows with engraved trim. In corners stood graceful statues and antique clocks: a grandfather clock, a sand clock, and a water clock. Between laden plates and dishes and silverware, the polished furniture reflected luxury.
On round trays, Crik and other caterers ferried drinks in crystal glasses and delicious morsels almost too pretty to eat. Ladies in gowns laughed; some held masks before their faces. Gentlemen in tuxedos exclaimed loudly; some were topped off with powdered wigs.
In a disguise, one didn’t have to remain themselves. It was like hitchhiking, meeting people on the road, you could say anything, act any way, be anyone you liked. A vacation from oneself, it was a freedom most people never experienced – but tonight, some wealthy pillars of society were coming close.
Mr. Otten, the mansion’s owner, had added to his clock collection since the last fundraiser that Crik had worked there. ‘What’s a guy got to do,’ Crik thought, ‘to have a life like this, no worries, relaxing in comfort?’
One woman, younger than the rest, almost prettier than the morsels on his tray, was given special attention by Crik. He served a tapato a half-naked marble statue, making the living woman giggle. Tilting her way, he lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Play my cards right, and some day I, too, will have my own antique cuckoo clock.”
Humming the baroque melody that the quintet was playing, Crik loaded his tray where Shane tended bar. A professional drink slinger even at his youthful age, Shane moved his arms and hands as fast as a card shark. He wore the same dark suit as Crik but minus its jacket.
“Wise move, man, leaving college for gigs like this.” Lifting one cheek, his friend shrugs one shoulder. Shane continue, “Thanks for stepping up, bro, I owe you big.” He nodded at the surrounding wealth, the jewelry, the furnishings, the capacious hall. “Can you imagine being the one to inherit this?”
Crik sipped a glass of water. “Wouldn’t it mean being a member of a family?” Parents who’re rich probably weren’t any eaiser to endure than parents who were middle class or poor. “How about us inheriting a paycheck?”
Shane popped the cork off a bottle.
“Your client owes you, Shane. Is he going to pay us tonight? This week?” Why was it that guys who could afford to pay on time felt like they really didn’t have to? Crik dabbed at his lips with a napkin. “A fat check, with a late fee …”
Shane pointed to a plateful of food. “Take an advance. Help yourself to the caviar. But do keep your tobacco pouch in your pocket.”
Leaning forward, Crik unbuttoned his shirt’s middle buttons, like Clark Kent starting to change into Superman. On his bare chest was a tattoo: “Bye, Mom / Hi, Fido”. He starts to button back up. “You know how much removal costs?”
Shane shook his head. “Warned you. But when has No Paddle ever listened to his best friend?”
* * *
The scene of the gala fundraiser played on a giant monitor somewhere, focusing on Crik in an immense game room with a pool table, stationary bike, and putting green.
The owner, Edward Otten, about sixty, bald except around the ears, wearing a charcoal, striped suit, smoked a cigar and had Crik cornered. He swung a golf club close to Crik, trying to demonstrate proper form but swaying slightly. “That’s how to drive it three hundred yards, no problem. I probably still could, even past my prime. Mr. Otten didn’t look up from lining up another swing. Beads of sweat trickled down the man’s forehead. “If I had the time, I’d teach this stuff.” Relaxing after his backswing, Otten delivered another kind of advice. “You want the free time to devote to golf? You got to invest wisely. Wealth Maximization, my boy, it works. And it’s all perfectly legal.”
Crik moved his face out of the stream of cigar smoke. “Legal’s good. Moral is better.”
The exuberant older man blew a smoke ring. “Legal’s going to have to do.” Otten placed his Rolex on a mantel and rubbed his wrist. Before he, with wrist unfettered, could swing the club again, Crik tried to extricate himself from the corner but Mr. Otten snagged Crik’s elbow. “Being rich is not the same as being smart. And being poor is not the same as being stupid.” Otten belched. “Unless you let it be.” He burped again. “Now get back out there and be the best busboy –”
“You can be. You’ll make your pop proud.”
“You’re an inspiration to the youth of America, Mr. Otten, but about paying us on time – ”
Tossing his golf club to caterer Crik, Otten bestowed a sloppy grin and left. Crik watched the broad behind waddle away. Considering the Rolex on the mantel, Crik held it up to the light.
The scene blinked out and the monitor went blank.
In a broad, plush corridor hung with paintings, Crik looked over his shoulder. His top button was undone; his round tray leaned by his feet. Before one of the modern paintings, Crik traced some brush strokes just an inch above the canvass, realizing how different paintings look close up compared to looking from farther away.
Stepping before another work of art, Crik gazed at a spendy looking portrait of a mother and child, adorned for a coronation. ‘Good thing some people were rich,’ he thought, ‘where else would you get customers?’
He shook a toothpick out of a mini canister and tried to dig a length of celery out from beneath two close teeth. No need to put up with the little irritants in life. The stubborn string refused to budge. So fight fire with fire. Crik switched to a length of floss. If you accept small annoyances, then it gets harder to deal with big ones; better to raise the bar. Finally winning the battle of the threads, Crik examined his pale green prize.
He lit a cigarette in victory. Closing his eyes, Crik admitted to himself that a minor victory was very lame excuse for such an irrational act as smoking. Opening a window, he blew the smoke out and admired a Masserati parked below. Turning around,
At the sounds of revelers drawing closer, laughing drunkenly, talking romantically, Crik looked that way, then the other. It was a deadend. He squished the butt onto the sole of his shoe. He tried to push the cloud out the window without much success. Trying to suck back in the smoke he had puffed out, Crik wove his streaked head around like a summer time fly. But the grey haze hung in the air. Crik fanned at it with his tray. Peering toward the approaching noise, he gave up, felt behind his back, opened the door behind him, and slipped away.
The scene of Crik in an immense master bedroom played on that same monitor somewhere. It showed a bed, a four-poster with majestic headboard and carved footboard, a big screen TV across from it, and a large executive desk off to one side.
Managing to disguise his surprise somewhat was the image of Seizure, the sharp-dressed eal estate guru, who pulled his hand out of an opened wall safe.
Crik’s jaw dropped. “Oh. Harvest time, a very private matter.” The image of Crik took a deep breath. “Well, I can see there’s no dirty dishes in here.”
The image of a big colorful parrot on a perch flapped its wings. “Back to work, twawt, back to work!”
Nodding at the bird, Crik turned to go, tray in hand.
“Aht-aht-ah.” Crik turned around. Seizure’s smile revealed rows of large bleached teeth. “Waiter, your timing is impeccable. Before you go, whether or not on a stretcher, your fingerprints will prove useful.” Seizure pulled out from his Armani a chrome-plated pistol.
All their voices sounded as if they were from recordings.
Swallowing hard, the image of Crik froze.
The image of Seizure waved his gun at Crik to come closer.
The image of Crik tried a wry grin. “All for one and one for one, eh?”
The monitor that showed the confrontation between Seizure and Crik hung from a white ceiling in a slightly darkened room. The big screen was cabled to what looked like an oversized syringe, big as a sled, some parts shiny, some opaque. Colored wires twisted and ran to other odd-shaped devices that whirred and jerked. Black countertops were littered with parts and tools. A tall bookcase had a lone book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.
Dr. Alvin Ultra and Yuri Ivanov, both about thirty-five, wearing white lab coats, focused intently on the burglary happening on the monitor.
Lab assistant Yuri, whose white coat was mis-buttoned so one side was higher than the other, stood on tiptoes, tilting the screen. “The race to find our founder is as good as over, doc. You’ve won, sir.” Yuri wore a beret and had curling eyebrows.
Dr. Ultra, who had curling sideburns, quit tapping notes into an e-pad and hopped off a chaise-lounge. Puffing out his cheeks, Ultra let his expression to sour. “You programmed the chronoscope,” he clasped his invention, “to look back further than it ever has before to find the very first meeting,” his aimed a bony finger at the screen, “of our founders, and you show me this?”
Pointing at the monitor where the image of Crik slowly walked across the bedroom floor, Yuri piped up, “They haven’t sat down, so no meeting has started yet. Let’s give them another minute.”
In the screen, the image of Crik laid the tray on the executive desk. Seizure aimed his gun at his captive. Crik obligingly grabbed hold of the safe’s door.
With a forefinger, Yuri tapped his pursed lips. “I can see how my search command might find a burglary as the launch of our era of prosperity, but how does a robbery inaugurate peace?
“It doesn’t, you amoeba!” Dr. Ultra threw up his hands. “Your search command had bad parameters! Stench.” He inhaled deeply then counted down from ten.
On the monitor above, the bedroom door opened. The image of Mr Otten bounded in, armed with a double-barrel shotgun. He exuded an energy that rendered his wrinkles and white hair meaningless, looking like a patriarch on a daytime soap. His designer shotgun was engraved in gold with the name, “Three Musketeers”.
Otten looked quite pleased with the turn of events. “At last. My silent alarm pays off.” He levels his gun at Seizure. “You were supposed to use your lack of scruples to make me money, not take my money!”
The image of Seizure gulped. He smiled weakly. Sweat appeared on his forehead.
Crik let go of the door of the open wall safe. “We’re not together, sir.” Crik, too, sounded recorded. “He’s the one who-“
Otten growled. “Law says I can splatter your brains all over my Persian carpet.”
“No, sir, I believe you’re mistaken.” Crik tugged at his collar. “That would be a desecration of Islam.”
The image of Otten regarded the rug skeptically.
Seizure licked his lips. He waved his chrome pistol at caterer Crik. “It was only by good fortune that I followed this suspicious character into here,” he said, sounding recorded.
“Oh? So who’s the one with the goods stuffed in his jacket?” Crik yanked back Seizure’s jacket. A pocket bulged with bills.
In the lab below, Ultra and Yuri watched enraptured, breath abated, the confrontation between Seizure, Crik, and Otten. Yuri kept standing as Ultra felt for his chaise-lounge and sat back down.
“Imagine that in holographs, Dr. Ultra. Let’s give the chronoscope extra power.” Yuri tossed his boss a remote.
Catching it, the senior scientist flinched. “Don’t be absurd. It’s already taking more energy than ever.” He slipped the remote into his breast pocket.
Yuri dipped his hat. “Chalk up another first for us.”
In the screen above, the image of a deeply affronted Seizure yanked his jacket flap back into place. The bulge showed through.
An angry Otten aimed his shotgun at Seizure.
The debonair thief raised his arms in all innocence. “Surplus. My own well-gotten gains.”
Snorting, Otten glared at Seizure and snapped his shotgun to his shoulder. “Bull. You want to drop that toy.” He nodded at the much smaller weapon.
In the lab below, Dr. Ultra covered his face with his hands and wailed, “Zeus’ juices, that must be loaded with bullets!”
In the screen above, the image of Crik stepped away from Seizure and the open safe. “I’ll leave you two gentlemen now to iron out your differences.”
Otten swung his shotgun between Seizure and Crik, back and forth, then settled on the young man. “You’ll stop right there.”
Swiveling his aim to the other suspect, Otten pumped his shotgun, ready to fire. Eyebrows knotted, the now cautious pistol-wielder adopted an air of offended feelings but wisely lowered his pistol to his thigh. Crik inched backwards but bumped into a hassock.
Otten growled, “On your knees, both of you.” Otten cast his shotgun up and down, repeatedly. Seizure carefully started to kneel. So did Crik. Otten aimed his shotgun at Crik. “You. Call 911. Tell them to come pick up the bodies.”
In the lab below, Dr. Ultra peeked through his fingers then slowly lowered his hands from his face.
Stubby Yuri mimicked the image of the slender Crik who was reaching for his phone. “Action demands holographs, Dr. Ultra. It’s like you’re making us watch this in black and white.”
In the screen above, the image of Seizure dove cougar-quick behind a tall burgundy armchair. His hand plus chrome-plated pistol whipped up above the back of the armchair and pivoted like a submarine’s periscope, but unsteadily as if in rough seas.
Eyes gone wild, mouth agape, Otten crouched back toward the door.
In the lab below, Yuri pleaded with his boss. “Just a bit more juice, please. Holographic action, sir! For the celebration of our two hundredth anniversary, sir!”
“No, not without the permit.”
In the screen above, the image of Crik jumped up and grabbed the tray off the desk and quickly cocked it like a frisbee and snarled. Otten swept his shotgun from side to side, covering both his targets.
In the lab below, Yuri got down on bended knee. “We practically have it. It’s in the email. All Geotopia would be so grateful, Doctor Ultra.”
In the screen above, the image of Crik threw the tray like a flying saucer at the pistol. Then he dove for the space beneath the desk. Both Otten and Seizure aimed at the flying body.
In the lab below, Ultra shifted his weight, trying to find comfort on his chaise-lounge, and clicked the remote at the big screen. “I guess another Hertz couldn’t –“
In the monitor above, the image of Crik froze in mid-leap. As they body inched through space, the colors became black and white that flashed back and forth from positive to negative. A sudden brilliance flooded the screen.
In the lab below, the chronoscope hissed, reverberated into a deep roar, then popped. The lights went out; all was pitch black. Silence.
Then a voice, that of Yuri, completed his boss’ sentence. “– hurt.”
* * *
The huge monitor is smoking, cracked and blackened. The large syringe-shaped device smokes, too, spilling its mechanical guts as though it had been the one caught in a crossfire. Ash-covered Yuri waves away the grey haze with his beret and sniffs the air.
Dr. Ultra, his hair singed, stands still, hands on hips. “I did it again. I listened to you.”
Yuri puts back on his hat. “At least the warranty’s good ‘til twenty-one thirty.”
“Which is when we might be granted another power pull permit.” Ultra clenches his fist. “Leave. Let me be. Just go.”
Downcast, Yuri complies as his boss pats his hair, putting out the smoldering parts. Yuri softly closes the door behind himself and shuffles along a hallway. Above him, light comes on. As he passes by, it goes off. At the end of the corridor, he ascends a stairwell.
Chapter 2, From Chaos to Clarity … sort of
The only place Crik ever saw a gun before was on television. The actors who stared down the barrel of a weapon aimed at them looked so blasé compared to the swollen fear churning up Crik’s guts. A dry mouth and quaky knees aren’t even the half of it when seeing the faces of two mad men, with fingers on their triggers, willing and able to do Crik grave harm.
Beneath the desk in the master bedroom, the backside of Crik gives off a vapor. For several moments he lies perfectly still, arms wrapped around his head. His heart races as his thoughts scatter. ‘What was that that happened? There was that light, that blackness …’ He opens his eyes, blinking.
Cautiously he pokes his streaked head out above the desk, like a dazed prairie dog from its dusty burrow. “Gentlemen?” Nobody. He looks left and right. “Parrot?” No birdie.
Wincing at the sunshine from the window, Crik knits his brows and wonders, ‘Daytime? Already?’ He runs this tongue over his dry palatte. ‘Must’ve blacked out. Out for hours.’
He catches his breath. ‘Was I shot?’ He pats his body – no holes, no wounds, no spilled blood. “God I hate guns. Jay Zeus H.”
Gradually he stands up and slowly turns around. There’s the safe, closed, kingsize bed, stuffed chairs, end tables, lamps, vases, bunched curtains, but no gunmen. “OK, I can figure this out.” Crik nods to himself. ‘The shock must’ve knocked me out. And I was exhausted to start with. But why’d they just leave me here? How could they forget about me?’ He regards the desk under which he took cover.
‘This is a first – waking up alone, in a fabulous mansion, in a man’s bedroom – on the floor.’ He draws a deep breath. “Freaking embarrassing.” He brushes off his dark suit then heads for the door, planning ahead, ‘I’ll just tell Mr. Otten,’ Crik switches to speaking out loud in a British accent, “Top of the morning, old chap!”
In the carpeted corridor, Crik takes a glance out the window through which he blew smoke. The landscape below looks familiar but … different. The trees seem taller, the hedges thicker.
In the driveway, a scooter glides by without wheels. Crik gasps. “Whoa. Is that magnetic levitation?” He watches the little vehicle round the tall hedge, out of sight. ‘But doesn’t mag-lev run over a rail?’ There’s no rail out there, just the ordinary driveway. ‘If not mag-lev, what? Anti-gravity?’ Could such a break-thru occur without every young hi-tech dude fan noticing? ‘Have my attempts to keep up with cutting-edge technology fallen so far behind? Whistling softly, he shakes his head. ‘Rich guys and their toys.’
Whatever, now’s not the best time to be thinking of doing a Google search. Better get out of this crime scene in a rich guy’s castle before anyone starts to ask embarrassing questions. ‘OK, punk, where’d you put the diamonds? I swear officer, it wasn’t me, it was that well-known respectable businessman. Fingerprints? Uh, he made me touch it.’
As many times as Crik has catered there, it’s something he’s always wanted to do. At the top of a wide staircase, he looks both ways then slides down the banister. The foyer, with benches, closets, mirrors, and a ceiling going up to the second story, is as big as a small cottage where a hermit might live. A pink globular flower draws Crik over. The pie-shaped flower has … what? … a face? “Unpumpkinbelievable! It’s Miser Otten, he of late payments.”
“That’s Mister Otten to you.”
Crik spins around, smiling to hide his embarrassment.
A young woman stands, arms folded, one hand holding a watering can aimed at Crik like a fencer’s foil. Hair in spikes, she looks about Crik’s age, too old for a costume, unless she’s playing Peter Pan. She wears an exquisite cat suit with tail and pelt of a cheetah, the tawny color and the fuzzy markings. The rounded triangle ears and long white whiskers accentuate her exotic beauty, more stunning than anything that ever appeared on a Broadway stage.
She’s frowning, and pointing doorward with the watering pot. “Visitors by appointment only. People do live here. And don’t appreciate intruders. So out, now.” She flicks the pot’s stem at him like a sword.
‘Good,’ Crik thinks. ‘No questions. No need to explain over-staying my welcome.’ He bows agreeably. On his way, Crik points at floral face of the owner. “My compliments to your horticulturist – bonsai gone bonkers.” Smiling, he admires her appearance. ‘Actually, that fur, that shape, in a weird sort of way …’
Her ears swivel. She re-aims her can at the wide, closed door.
‘God, how does she do that? That suit is a marvel.’ Crik crosses his eyebrows. “By the way, great costume. Nobody in Cats could touch it. You must’ve been the highlight of the party last night.”
“Typical. You tourists.” Her tail swishes. “You trespassed the boundary between public museum and private home.” Again she aims her can at the exit.
“Museum?” Crik takes in the wood panels, thick carpet, chandelier. ‘Luxurious, but antique?’ On the wall is a mirror in an old, carved frame; a grandfather clock stands nearby. ‘Part of this mansion is a museum? Did Mister Otten designate part of his mini palace as a museum so he could get a tax writeoff? OTT. Miser Otten suits.’
At the other end of the foyer, researcher Yuri Ivanov, in his beret and lab coast, badly buttoned, enters, looking glum. Yuri and Tepper, the young woman, greet each other by name. ‘So they’re on familiar terms,’ Crik thinks, ‘but could they live together? Niece and uncle? Him on his way to work?’
At the doorway Yuri pauses by Crik. Looking askance at the short guy beside him, Crik sniffs, thinking, ‘This human fire hydrant knows a beauty in a cat suit and he smells like burnt plastic.’ Crik moves away a step. ‘What’s going on here? Must’ve been a hell of a costume ball last night.’ He pulls the front door open.
In the distance, the skyline has a tall slender structure that looks like the Space Needle. When did that go up? How could he never have noticed it before? ‘Man, who am I? Rip VanWinkle?’ Crik turns to the newcomer. “You recognize that building? I thought I knew this town like the sag in my sofa.”
From behind them, Tepper says, “Which would be in your own home.”
Hatted head tilted to one side, Yuri examines Crik. “Dead ringer.” He looks back at the mistress of the house. “Tepper, where’d you dig him up?”
“Never seen him before.” Tepper narrows her yellow eyes emanating sovereignty. “Just another amateur history buff slash intruder.”
Snorting, Crik turns from the lab-coated Yuri to the cat-suited Tepper, shaking his head. ‘So like the rich, to talk about you as if you’re not even there. Well, here I am.’ Crik tugs his shirt sleeves, rejoining, “Neither. Just another caterer slash late riser who missed his paycheck and his ride out of here.” Crik nods at Yuri. “You going downtown?”
Tepper refolds her arms. “’Late riser’? You over slept where?”
“If you can call it sleep,” Crik says. “I don’t feel the least bit rested.”
Pointing at the intruder, Yuri fixes his gaze on Crik and takes a step back. “Caterer? Unpaid? Here? Don’t budge!” Yuri snaps his fingers. A vaporish green light emerges from his thumbnail and condenses. It’s a holographic face of Dr. Ultra, the lead researcher.
Now it’s Crik’s turn to step back. “Bedazzled! Disneyland’s got nothing on this place!” He peers more closely at the holograph. ‘This meta-cutting-edge gadgetry must have cost Mr. Otten a fortune.’ Crik passes a hand through the head of holographic Dr. Ultra. It ducks. ‘Is it really reacting?’ Crik whistles under his breath. “How long has this tech break-thru been out?”
Tepper’s whiskers twitch. “Helloooh. Welcome to the twenty-third century.”
Peeling his gaze off the holograph to consider his evident hostess, Crik says, “Math is not my cat’s strong suit, either, Missy Kitty. Maybe you counted an extra claw on your paw.” Crik grins. “Or,” he throws his hands around: “Phenomenal disguises, facial flowers, holographs, I saw a mag-lev scooter outside. Maybe the future is dawning a little early in these rich enclaves.”
Yuri, crouched over, and the holograph of Ultra slowly tiptoe around Crik, inspecting, one whole human and one half holograph perched on the human’s hand.
Bemused, Crik straightens his tie, thinking, ‘The holograph guy really seems to see me.’ He chuckles. ‘The two of them look at me like I’m some sort of exotic specimen.’
Suddenly the holograph and Yuri gasp, grab their foreheads, clasp each other, then let go. The holograph runs both hands through its ethereal hair. Yuri twists his beret around 360 degrees. Yuri extends his forefinger toward Crik, stops, then starts to touch him again, stops. The holograph of Dr. Ultra points at the intruder. “Holy hazy! For real! He’s here!”
Crik points back, amazed. ‘It speaks! And directly to the people here!’
“Worse!” Yuri yells. “He’s now!” He twirls around as if breaking into a Virginia reel.
‘Either they’re putting me on, or these lunatics have lost it.’ Crik heads for the door. “And … he’s gone.” No, notoriety is not for him.
Tepper pokes him on his chest. Crik halts, part of him enjoying the assertive contact. Tepper turns to the two scientific historians, one solid, one not. “Exactly who is here now?”
“But this is all one big accident!” The holograph of Ultra wails. It throws its arms into the air. “We must deport him immediately!”
‘Wow,’ Crik thinks, ‘Deport? That’s a bit over the top.’ He pokes the holograph. “The word you want I think is ‘excommunicate’. Crik blinks, thinking, ‘Jay Zeus, I’m jawing with that human-head-shaped vapor.’ He shakes his own head. “And even that’s not necessary as I was about to depart anyway.” He bows.
“He’s changing with every passing second!” The voice of the holograph rises in a crescendo. “Aging even as we speak!”
‘And that’s to be added to the list of my faux pases?’ Crik turn on the holograph. “Duh. I’m aging even as you don’t speak. We all are.” He rubs the stubble on his unshaven chin. “I thought it might make me look cool but I guess it only makes me look old.”
“We must get him out of the cosmic radiation!” The holograph throws up its hand.
Glancing at the cloudless sky, Crik holds out his palms, as if checking for raindrops, wondering if he really does have cause for concern. The crazy looking people do speak with the voice of authority. And obviously belong here, unlike the wayward caterer who’s worn out his welcome.
Tepper grabs the arms of intruder Crik and researcher Yuri, peering at one then the other then at the holograph. Ultra and Yuri, eyes wide, mouth agape, nod in the affirmative at Tepper. Lifting an eyebrow toward the scientists, Tepper turns to Crik, eyes narrowed. Quickly she asks her surprise guest, “Who was Bill Gates?”
Swallowing, Crik regards his hostess. “Was?”
Turning to the researchers, Tepper shakes her head, scowling.
“The richest nerd on Earth,” Crik pipes up. “Richest private nerd. An oil sheik could be richer.”
Tepper looks surprised, slightly shaking her head.
Crik notes the pressure of the cat woman’s hand on his arm with a tinge of pleasure. He holds up his elbow with Tepper’s hand clenching it. “Are we, uh, under arrest?” His eyebrows flutter. “I like handcuffs. Do you like handcuffs?”
Quickly Tepper releases Crik’s arm. Crik tries a placating smile. “OK, not funny, immature,” he says. “But you’re the one dressed in fur.”
Snorting, Tepper juts her jaw toward the researcher and the holograph. “You two brought him through time?”
“Wait.” Crik holds up his hands; Tepper lets go. “Wait, wait.” He shakes his bleach-streaked head and swabs out an ear. That last bit of weirdness – brought through time – is huge, much bigger than all the other oddities – detainment, radiation, holographs, cat suits – much too much unbelievable. “Did I hear – did you say … ?” He lowers his hands, blinking rapidly. ‘Dear god, am I losing my mind? The fatigue must really be getting to me.’
Yuri and holographic Ultra nod affirmatively at Tepper and Crik. The holograph wrings its hands. “There can be no other explanation.”
“Zeus’ juices!” Yuri wails. “We must inform the Dear Learneds!”
‘Explanation? Learneds? Did I miss something?’ Bending forward, Crik towers over the holograph and growls, “What’s with all this jive nodding. What explanation?”
Squealing fearfully, Yuri scampers behind Tepper, grabbing her watering can as a weapon, staggering the cat girl.
“Wow. Guilt, fear, anger.” Nodding some more, Tepper pokes the intruder. “You do convey that era masterfully.” Poking Crik again, Tepper yells at the holograph and its assistant, “This guy! From the past? Here? Now?”
Crik’s jaw drops as if weighted by lead, his eyes fly wide open like corks popping. His thoughts jam up then explode away in every direction. “Get the – what!?!” Crik hoots. “Did I hear …”
“We must keep calm, calm, calm!” the holograph of Dr. Ultra shouts.
Stumbling, Crik starts to laugh but can’t. “Did you say … Could you repeat … ?” His face freezes. The others look totally sincere. Crik thinks, ‘This is either the best set up of all time, or could it be a different time?’
“Zeus’ juices!” Yuri screams again, louder. “We must inform the Dear Learneds!”
“This is un, this is way, it’s beyond any –” Crik throws his arms up into the air and yells, “Does anybody know what’s going on?”
“Every impression he gets of now alters him!” the holograph of Ultra wails.
“Ttime travel?” Tepper yelps.
Everybody howls at the top of their lungs. Andrei, a stoop-shouldered butler dressed in a tight-fitting black jacket, sticks his head out from the doorway to another room with his fingers plugging his ears. His skin looks like porcelain, pale and unblemished despite his age. Frowning, he pulls his head back in through the doorway.
Crik quits drumming his temples and gazes at where the butler just stood, recalling the elder gentleman’s look of disapproval. ‘He’s not part of this, this what, charade? He, if anyone here, seems like a sane human being.’
Yuri holds the holograph of Dr. Ultra up to his face. “This crisis begs for their leadership, sir.” Turning toward the doorway where the butler was standing, Yuri hollers, “Andrei, tell the Dear Learneds they must advise immediately!”
‘Something’s wrong, and it’s me. But what’s so awful about crashing uninvited over night? This has got to be a hoax.’ Crik grabs Yuri’s elbow, looking from him to the other scientist. “Did Mr. Otten put you up to this?”
Tepper steps between Crik and the researchers. “These sci-guys have broken through!”
“Sensory deprivation! This instant!” The holograph of Dr. Ultra waves Crik, Tepper, and Yuri forward like a platoon leader. “Pastian, everyone, downstairs, now.”
“Whatian?” Crik throws out his hands in bewilderment. ‘Sensory deprivation? On top of time travel? Depriving everyone’s senses caused this mass hallucination?’ He grabs through the holograph. “What is going on here?”
Taking him by his elbow, Tepper ushers her bewildered guest deeper inside the foyer. “To return you absolutely unchanged.”
“What?” Crik nearly wails. “How is any of this at all possible?
“Come along. We’ll explain everything.”
‘Everything? Their wild claims? The blabbering holograph? That feral, erotic suit?’ Like an attendant in a nursing home, Tepper guides her guest, as if helping him back to his room. Crik, like an elderly gentleman after his airing, complies. “Do, please. Utterly incredible.”
Inside the mansion, the party of four, led by Yuri and the holograph with Tepper and Crik bringing up the rear, marches through the same rooms that housed the upscale party then descends a wide, tiled stairwell. In the dank, dark hallway, light comes on as they approach and goes out as they pass by. Crik slows to check out the light source above. With her paw, Tepper pushes him forward. “Keep up. It’ll come clear soon.”
In the basement laboratory, the solid Dr. Ultra waves Yuri, the holograph, Crik, and Tepper inside, then closes the thick door. The concrete Dr. Ultra and his holographic twin wring their hands, staring at each other. Turning to Yuri, they growl in unison, “You mind shutting that thing off!”
Hunching over, mumbling apologies, Yuri hurriedly squeezes his thumb into his fist and the holograph evaporates.
The solid Ultra exhales loudly and, curling his sideburns with his forefingers, peers at Crik. Ultra’s minimal social grace with penetrating eyes, his beaked nose, and the disshelved hair grant the scientist an air of aloof superiority. ‘Looks like my worst nightmare of a chemistry teacher.’ In a classroom, the frequent miscommunication with a quintessestial nerd is another reason why going deep into debt for a piece of paper called a degree was an act of self-torture.
Crik frowns then looks about at the machinery and cluttered counters. A lab? In mansion? The room lacks a window and appears thick-walled, encased in concrete, like a nineteen-fifties fallout shelter, leftover from the Cold War era, ideal for a modern-day survivalist. ‘Wouldn’t surprise me if Otten were one,’ Crik thinks, ‘with that shotgun and alarm system.’
The blackened, ruined chronoscope sits on the counter, spilling its guts and colorful wires amid tools and gadgets. Recovering some of his natural insouciance and skepticism, Crik approaches the syringe-like device. “What’s that thing do? Burn dinner?”
Lurking safely behind the taller researcher, Yuri tugs on his boss’ sleeve. Dr. Ultra stays standing. Tepper waves Crik toward the chaise-lounge. “Make your body comfy. In here our cells receive less cosmic radiation.”
“My cells lap that stuff up.” As the others regard him quizzically, Crik rests his rump on the edge of the table. “OK, now, who can you make sense of whatever has happened?” He folds his arms in anticipation.
Tepper tilts her head at Dr. Ultra, awaiting his answer.
Wringing his hands, the lead scientist approaches his invention. “We’ll take a few hours, fix this darling device of mine, and repair the past, good as old!”
Yuri flips a switch on the gizmo; no results. He bites his lip. “The culmination of his life’s work. It lets you watch the past.”
‘Not necessarily proof.’ Crik dismisses it with a wave. “So does TV. Reruns.”
Tepper, Yuri, and Ultra are momentarily at loss for words. Tepper gives a double clap of her hands at a bare space on a wall that’s framed then turns around to face her guest. Behind her, holographs appear from a dot in the middle of the framed space, like a big screen TV built into the wall showing 3D.
The holographic people dash about a backyard while the music of Three Blind Mice plays. Her back to the display, Tepper tosses her thumb over her shoulder. “Look familiar?” A holograph of a hefty lady on a patio runs into and bounces off a sliding glass door.
Crik rubs his chin. “Mm, my mom? Mm, no, no.”
Puzzled, Tepper pirouettes toward the scene.
Yuri tries whistling shrilly. The holographic scene changes. A dollar bill with wings, to a soaring melody, migrates from a wallet labeled Your Account over a stylized city skyline to a pot of gold labeled Our Treasury beneath a caption that reads, Automatic Bill Pay / Land Dues.
‘What da …’ Shrugging, perplexed, Crik regards the others.
Rolling his eyes, Dr. Ultra aims the remote at the scene. The holographs dissipate. Instead, flat images of Crik and burglar Julian Seizure confront one another.
Crik glances at the ceiling’s corners. “Silent alarms and cameras, too?”
The image of armed Seizure flashes the image of Crik his toothy grin. “What’d they eat back then?” Yuri asks. “Wood?”
“More than merely watch,” Tepper asks Dr. Ultra, “as of today, your invention can extract living beings from the past?”
“Impossible,” Crik says. “Or at least it used to be.” No longer knowing what to believe, he slides onto a chaise-lounge. ‘Maybe if I just took a good long nap, none of this would be happening.’
Snorting, Dr. Ultra clicks the remote at the wall. The images change to a holograph of the universe spinning then morphs into loops of string pulsating. “Voila. Mattergy. Matter/energy. It’s all waves, right? So is time.” The images change to a woman in different phases of running, the images of the sprinter overlapping one on another.
“Time has infinite frequencies,” Tepper says. “We humans are wired to get just one.”
“We call that one the present,” Yuri says.
“Now we know how to tune in the past.” Dr. Ultra points with pride at the chronoscope.
“And,” Tepper asks archly, “as of today, to reel in a Pastian?” She and Crik await their answer. “A breakthrough was expected but so soon?”
Dr. Ultra glares at his helper who picks up a tool and, whistling tunelessly, busies himself attacking the disabled machine. Ultra exhales glumly. “I amplified an attraction between this viewing equipment,” he nods toward the chronoscope, “and the view.” He nods toward the intruder. “The result: time travel.”
“Holy Guacamole!” Crik hops up off the chaise-lounge. “I got sucked out of my time by an accident?”
“And for accidentally sucking you here, we heartily apologize.” Yuri removes his beret and, grabbing Dr. Ultra, bends the two of them into a bow together.
Ultra unbends himself. “Mr. Duvall, some of the top discoveries ever were accidental.”
Yuri puffs himself up proudly. “All of Dr. Ultra’s were.”
“’S alright. You couldn’t have sucked me out at a better time.” Crik cocks a thumb then blows the imaginary smoke off the tip of his forefinger, then places the finger on pursed lips. ‘This is starting to sort of make sense.’ He looks up. “So I’m the first human being, throughout all time, to ever time-travel?”
Ultra looks doubtful, Yuri looks puzzled, Tepper looks credulous.
Crik swings an imaginary golf club then holds a hand over his eyes for several seconds, savoring his unique, exalted status. He holds up a hand for a high five but gets no takers. Tepper comes to her senses and belatedly slaps Crik’s palm, making him beam. He examines the blackened and disfigured chronoscope. ‘And that mess is the world’s first time machine. Shaking his head in disbelief, he turns to the two researchers. “But why were you watching me?”
“Every fad, fashion, and reform had to have one origin, one person who went first, regardless of how others would react to her or his novel idea,” Dr. Ultra explains. “We’re trying to find the one out of billions of people in 2012 who initiated modern progress away from your hunger, war, crime, pollution. Once the new policy was in place, people quickly developed the civilization we all now enjoy.”
“Like finding the source of the Nile.” Hope pushes Yuri’s eyebrows aloft.
“The first who launched the idea that rescued civilization. The original geonomist.” Tepper’s gaze bores into Crik and her ears swivel.
Gazing past their eager faces, Crik wants to be helpful and tries to think of a likely candidate, running through his associates. “I’d like to help you but … maybe my buddy Shane –”
“The movement had to begin with somebody.” Dr. Ultra, hunched over, wrings his hands. “We know the system as geonomics. It doesn’t ring any bells?”
With a couple sharp thumps, the heavy door swings open. Voltak, a hard body in a blue uniform, carries in two armfuls of boxes. His broad frame dwarfs his chiseled skull, which protrudes like a nub between massive shoulders. The laden man’s heels click-clack on the tile floor. “Your new parts. A solmatol series z and an LKM 69.” His tuba-like voice rumbles forth from his oxen neck.
Smiling at the big fellow and whooshing with relief, Yuri steps out from behind his boss. Tepper removes a lamp and a super-thin monitor off a table. The uniformed delivery man, albeit unarmed, sets down the boxes. Dr. Ultra inspects their contents. “Plus six Zuminators and two KYJays.” The actual innards of a time machine.
Other than getting caught speeding and trying to joke his way out of the ticket, Crik has never had much interaction with officers of the law. He reads Voltak’s nametag, evaluating. ‘Be good to know whose side this guy’s on. Nonchalant should work.’ Crik pats the chronoscope. “Officer, I’d like to report my kidnapping.”
The Futurites chuckle. Yuri shakes his head. “Voltak is not an officer. Volunteer security guard.” Yuri opens his hands at his sides in the go-figure gesture.
“At their service.” Clicking his heels together, the volunteer laboratory guard, slash, would-be policeman, bends forward like a nutcracker soldier.
“OK, volunteer Voltak,” Crik says, “what’s the speed limit for time travel?”
Staring intently, the oversized newcomer sniffs the air in the vicinity of the stranger. In his guttural voice he pronounces, “Your vibrations feel chaotic.”
Crik lifts his eyebrows. ‘That didn’t go over either, but at least he’s not a real cop, not from the government, on official business.’
Voltak turns to his familiar coworkers. “Is he OK?”
‘How’re they supposed to know?’ Crik’s smile sours. He has learned to be wary of the powers-that-be – not just those in uniform with possibly a black belt in karate but also lawyers and politicians. One can never be sure what an authority, with whatever legal power, has got going for himself. Crik was one of those stuck with a heavy student loan, a necklace of stone, a debt that students can not lighten by declaring bankruptcy.
Tepper glances from Voltak to Crik. “Our guest, he’ not … he’s from a backward place.” She shrugs. “What can you do?”
Voltak nods curtly then regards Crik sternly who realizes that while the brute might not have police powers, for some reason the others prefer to keep him in the dark about what’s just happened – the supposed time travel – as if that’s against the future’s laws.
Yuri pulls out a clear orb from the box. Dr. Ultra slaps his wrist. Tilting his cap back, Yuri pats the chronoscopic wreckage. “This will be your ride home.” He flips a switch which does nothing.
“That wreck?” Crik says. “No way. Call me a cab, sonny.”
Huffing, Dr. Ultra turns a bit indignant. “It brought you here, Duvall.”
A knock on the door draws everyone’s attention. It’s Andrei, looking like a resurrected Ed Sullivan, the expired TV host. “Dear Tepper, the Dear Learneds of the Umbrella Committee have assembled.”
Ultra wrings his hands. Time to face the music, like it or not. Everyone begins to depart, however reluctantly, but Crik. They turn to look at him. “Don’t mind me. They sound like people you don’t want to keep waiting.”
Chapter 3, Authorities’ Inquest
Voltak and Andrei, who’s as formal as before in tails and hunched over, lead the party of six through the basement hallway, escorted by the light above, followed by Crik and Tepper; Ultra and Yuri bring up the rear.
Grey-haired Andrei’s movements are graceful until he abruptly jerks, stirring a pang of sympathy in Crik. He thinks, ‘Having to work in somebody else’s home, not related, not a friend. Doing that for money – not even conceivable. And worse, to still be doing the same old grind at his age.’
To ascend the stairs, Andrei lifts a leg slowly then wavingly plants it on the next step and cranks himself up. Crip offers the old fellow a hand, but Andrei ignores it.
In the mansion’s spacious, wood-paneled foyer, butler Andrei pulls apart the double-doors to an interior room. But accidental time traveler Crik eyes a different doorway, closed, barring exit from the demi-palace. Voltak plants himself before the broad, closed door. Peering deeper into the mansion, Crik thinks. ‘Who’re they to judge me?’
Beret-ed Yuri urges the unexpected guest to enter the next room. He explains that the members of the Umbrella Committee need to assess him, to figure out what to do with him. His hostess in a hot cat suit, Tepper, explains he’ll want to impress the Dear Learneds. Dr. Ultra in his lab coat explains that the Dear Learneds are some of society’s super achievers. Becoming especially useful is how they all reached the pinnacle of power.
“Now that we’re all useful and so many of us qualify,” Yuri says, “the office is less pinnacle, more like a pimple of passing prestige.”
“I can impress passing pimples.” Crik bows in Tepper before himself.
“I’ll be back.” Voltak’s words are loud like a locomotive. He spins on his heels.
In the spacious salon, chandeliers hang from a vaulted ceiling above a long dark table, its glitter reflected on the polish. On the walls hang paintings of the proud. Along the walls stand facial flowers on pedestals and the grandfather clocks – now even more antique. There’s the stature to whom Crik served a tapa, when? An hour ago? Last night? Last century?
Five wise elders sit in stately high-backed chairs. As Ultra, Yuri, Tepper, and Crik head for empty chairs, the members of the Umbrella Committee quit their urgent murmuring. All the wizened faces look shocked, staring at the Pastian, mouths agape. Each Dear Learned wears a green robe, topped off with the orange wig. Bleach-streaked Crik stifles his chuckle with the help of a nudge from Tepper.
The silence is broken by the Learned’s murmuring welling up again. The words “Pastian” and “crime” and “risk” clearly stand out. They glare angrily at the researchers and warily at the traveler.
Chair Reyes quits adjusting the diadem around her antenna and demands to know what kind of person the time traveler is, coming from such a terrible time. “Is he a criminal? Is he crazy? Is he criminally insane?”
“None of the above.” Scratching the back of his head then throwing up his arms in all innocence, Crik decides on the strategy of winning them over with humor. “Incriminatingly sane.” Once Crik appeared before a grand jury to bear witness in a case of alleged fraud – a hotel argued their rich guest from New York fibbed when he claimed he’d caught bed lice from unwashed linen (probably caught crabs from an unwashed hotel barfly). Crik was rewarded for his testimony with laughter from the twelve jurors. And none of them were dressed like these Futurite clowns. Get these authorities to laugh and Crik chuckle at their costumes without being rude.
As the new arrivals take seats, host Tepper makes the introductions. Each Dear Learned has excelled in a field of knowledge. Crik excels in golf; once he was elected to help organize a local tournament – one he actually won.
Chair Adriana Reyes attained fluency in the idiom of extraterrestrials. Lawrence Pilard, who’s leaning farther forward for a better look, argued before the Supreme Court for the rights of robots. Bernard Saint spurred the abolition of the voting age limit for youth, creating one for senior citizens, so people could start voting whenever they’re sufficiently aware but must quit before senility ushers in conservatism. Crik wonders how many years do orange-wigged super-achievers have left to vote.
“Since Ultra saw fit to break the time continuum, he – we – must restore it.” Chair Reyes is middle-aged of slender build with protruding eyes.
“Altering the past could obliterate the present, lead to an entirely different one, without us.” Lawrence Pilard – dark circles under his eyes, stocky with a layer of insulation, and wearing a dark suit – sits more erect. “Time must unfold the same as always.”
“Much to the relief of our legion of enthusiasts who’ve bet on the outcome of past events,” Ultra adds with a hint of sarcasm.
Madame Chair forcefully smacks a slender, black hand onto the table top like a gavel onto a judge’s bench. The five members of the Umbrella Committee glare at the wayward historian who bows his head. Yuri joins him in looking contrite.
Gamblers. Not everyone is a scientist or politician. Some, Crik thinks, do have playful pursuits. ‘I’ll find some fun folk to hang with.’
“In order to return him the least changed,” Reyes says, “he must not become at all upset but be kept tranquil.”
‘Maybe I can keep them tranquil.’ Exhaling slowly, Crik closes his eyes half way, meets his forefingers to thumbs, forming twin circles, and hums om. One Dear Learned starts to hum along but quickly quits when Reyes stares at him and loudly clears her throat.
“Safety suggests we quarantine him.” Reyes eyes her cohorts. “Have we consensus?”
‘That polite for arrest?’ Crik holds an arm up then aims his thumb down, like a Caesar in Rome’s Coliseum.
Whiskers twitching, Tepper nods toward Crik. “Quarantine? This Pastian, he broke no law.” Nodding, Crik gives her an appreciative grin. Yes, Tepper continues, the unexpected guest is innocent – unlike a pair of historians she could’ve mentioned. Again the five orangey Learneds glare at Ultra and Yuri who shrivel into their chairs.
“But maybe we did find the one who put our past on the path that led to our present paradise.” Yuri nods toward Crik. “He could be the midwife of history’s most transformative idea – geonomics.” Even his boss Ultra looks skeptical.
Crik pushes back from the table. “Midwife? I don’t do midwife. Shane, maybe. I’m more the sperm donor type.”
The Dear Learneds scowl at Crik who smiles back humbly. ‘Bad metaphor.’
Standing up, bull-like Pilard spins around and aims a finger at the travelers. “Are you now or have either of you ever been a geoist or a member of the Geoist Party?” His words, his town, how scowl show Pilard to not be an ally. But at least none of the others spoke in support of his hardline. “Him? Our founder? Bah!” Smirking, Pilard sits, his suit making a crinkling sound.
Bernard Saint, who has double jowls and a cliff of a nose, speaks soothingly. “If he were our founder – lofting an eyebrow, half-smiling, Crik tugs down his jacket sleeves as Saint goes on – “he’d deserve more than his freedom but a hero’s welcome as well.”
He reclines back in his chair. ‘A welcome-to-now party ought to be hugely exciting. I could definitely stay awake for that. This old, wigged guy is for sure an ally. Hopefully not the only one.’
Behind the noble head of Saint, an image appears within a framed space on the wall. It’s Crik entering the master bedroom where the image of the parrot roosts. The actual Crik squints. ‘Was that just a while ago or an eon ago?’
At the sound of a muted hum, Tepper digs out her mini phone. Its tiny screen emits holographs of Andrei and Voltak who’s holding another box. She nods to them, snaps her phone shut, amd places it on the table. Giving her guests a courteous smile, she hurries out of the room.
Looking away from the super cell phone, Crik purses his lips. ‘OK, if they’re really going to hole me up and deny me the most incredible experience of this or any lifetime without offering anything remotely like compensation, I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. That genius phone of hers, take it back with me, in my own time it’d be worth a fortune. Payback for dragging me through all this challenge to my sanity, and all their conceited affronts.’
“The chronoscope,” Saint intones, “once it’s fixed and able to look that far back again, can show us who he really was.”
“And was not.” Pilard thumps the table with a fist.
Reyes scowls at her rival. “And show to what we finally consensed.”
‘Some tension between the top dog and the wannabe boss, a competition that could come in useful later.’ With an elbow, Crik surreptitiously swipes Tepper’s phone off the table, onto the vacant, cushioned chair beside him.
Saint gives Crik a grandfatherly nod. “Can you show you launched the idea and were indispensable to our society’s success?”
Looking at the curious interrogators, Crik shrugs. ‘Maybe. But I bet Shane could, for sure.’ Crik turns to Saint. “Your way is really that big a deal?”
All the elders give reasons for their respect for their system. Everyone can work at what they like yet earn enough to be comfortable. Technology accelerates and leisure expands. People steward their planet. Ultra concludes, “In your day you served the economy; now in ours the economy serves us.”
As the Chair gets to her feet, the other four members of the Umbrella Committee follow suit, albeit Pilard slowly. Reyes faces the visiting Pastian. “You are grounded.”
Bewildered, Crik repeats the word silently, only moving his lips. ‘Haven’t heard that since I was ten … which, all things considered, was quite a while ago.’He throws out his arms, the gesture of innocence. “Grounded? You’re not my mother.”
The images of the standoff in the master bedroom dissipate. Within the framed space, a holograph of a tiny man streams out from a spot on the wall. It draws the eyes of all but Crik. Chairperson Madame Reyes sits back down. The other Dear Learneds sit, too.
Crik sags lower in his chair. Shielded by the table and keeping his elbow by his side, he blindly reaches for the phone on the chair but knocks it onto the soft embroidered carpet.
Before the wall, a holograph of a homunculus sits cross-legged in dark green jockey shorts and bows. “Inspired by this unprecedented event, I’ve been working out how long the Pastian –” it winks at the visitor, grinning like a slick salesman for machine rights – “can stay out of his own time before the past moves on.”
‘Great Scott,’ Crik thinks, ‘the thing looks perfectly human, but like a ghost. And that voice – a perfect Irish accent.’
“Would anyone care to guess?” the translucent leprechaun asks. No one replies. “I’d say, twenty-three more hours. That would be tomorrow afternoon at one o’clock.” The green see-thru fellow blows smoke that forms 23:00:00. The numbers immediately become 22:59:59 and continue losing seconds.
Alarmed, Crik checks a jacket pocket, finds his tobacco pouch, and breathes a sigh of relief. He leans back in his chair. With a foot, he fishes for the mini mobile phone.
“Zeus’s juices!” Reyes shakes her crowned head. “What a snafu!” She glares at the pair of scientists. “When will the chronoscope be fixed?”
Ultra swallows. “We will, of course, work around the clock.” He elbows his assistant. Yuri’s head bobs in agreement like a doll on a redneck’s dashboard.
Slinking still lower into his chair, Crik picks Tepper’s mobile phone off the carpet and pockets it.
The leprechaun and smoky numbers fade away. On the wall, the image of Crik reappears. It grabs the door of the safe in the bedroom.
Pilard turns to his cohorts. “Bear in mind the Pastian could commit a felony now in our time, too.”
“Felony? This visitor is not a criminal but a victim.” Saint wags his wigged head.
“Don’t worry.” Pointing, Crik draws a circle above his streaked head. “Halo. I know how to stay out of trouble.”
“If he does,” Pilard peers at his peers, “then we’d have grounds to comatize him!”
Crik uses his little finger to swab out a troublesome ear then hops up from his seat. “A coma?” He folds his arms. “You’re not my father.”
Tepper quietly returns, holding a box of parts in her arms, and surveys the scene.
“You missed the threats,” Crik snarls. “Groundings, plus comas.”
Saint holds up his hands. “Only the worst case scenario. The best scenario follows if you’re the original geonomist.”
All the Futurites peer intently at Crik in anticipation of a revealing answer. Hands full, Tepper raises an imploring eyebrow.
‘That inquisitive face, and she moves like a stalking kitten.’ Crik raises one of his eyebrows, too. ‘Hot, hot, hot.’
A Dear Learned coughs politely.
“Gesundheit,” Crik says.
“You have no clue,” Pilard says as sadly as Lewis Carroll’s walrus after a meal of oysters.
“OKayee, try this,” Crik says. “Geonomics. Like Reagonomics. But with a geo for Earth, so it’s like Earth-friendly economics. Right?” His audience is impressed. Tepper beams proudly at her guest who’d be of her generation if he weren’t from so long ago. Ultra and Yuri exchange hopeful glances; perhaps they weren’t so wrong after all. Other Futurites nod. “Score one for Sherlock me.” With a wettened finger, he marks the air. Tepper regards him, puzzled.
Pilard huffs. “Simple semantics. Not good enough.”
Crik pivots. “Can all of you spell out this magic geonomic formula?”
The Committee members mutely regard the portraits on the walls. Tick-tocking, the clocks turn their gears. Someone blows their nose.
Yuri scratches his head. “Not me. Do you know, Dr. Ultra?”
“You use a mobile,” Ultra says, “and you don’t have to know how it works, right?”
Shaking his head, Crik sneers. ‘Cream of the crop. Ignorant as anybody from my time.’
Saint turns to their guest. “An original purveyor could tell us the guts of the policy. Articulate the basic tenets of geonomics and prove you were our founder.”
Crik rolls his eyes. ‘Gee, that’s not asking too much. Not even any of you could. Where’s Shane when you need him?’
“Then all our marvelous wonders will be yours to revel in.” Saint smiles benignly.
Reyes gets to her feet and heads for the door with the other Dear Learneds in tow but Saint. The grandfatherly gentleman gives Crik’s shoulder a squeeze. Reyes turns back to the still standing Tepper. “Founder or fake, we’ll send you a sitter.”
“What?” Crik gasps. ‘A babysitter? Madness. And technically, these Futurites are the children, since our time is older than theirs. Jesus, what next?’
Andrei holds open the door as the last of the Dear Learneds shuffle out.
Crik asks, “Why didn’t they ask about major stuff, like yo-yoing wiffle golf balls?” The Futuriets regard the Pastian with puzzled looks. Crik sags, winds down, like a leaking water balloon. “Too bad I slept through political economy. Who knew?”
Crik goes over to the window and looks out. Outside some Dear Learneds depart on wheeless, mag-lev scooters. “Awesome.”
Chapter 4, A Suggestion and a Command to Escape
Andrei returns to the stately room and takes up his post by the door.
Crik thinks, ‘People nowadays sure do have a love affair with this geo whatever policy, whether well founded or not.’ He turns to address the scientific historians. “You sure the key to all your progress was geonomics? Not a new technology?”
Tepper shifts the weight of the box to her other hip. “Of course, the breakthrough in nano-technology made a big difference, yet –”
“Or it could’ve been education? Getting new skills?” Crik conjectures. “As a college dropout, I’m especially aware of the importance, harrumph, of learning to, harrumph, sound intelligent, harrumph.”
The historians roll their eyes.
Yuri nods. “Letting people get advanced degrees for learning anytime anywhere certainly did have an impact –”
“Or,” Crik interrupts, “maybe true democracy came first?”
“Certainly,” Ultra says, “getting the money out of politics reduced propaganda, but –”
“As astrology gave rise to astronomy and alchemy did chemistry,” Andrei adds, “so did economics give way to geonomics.”
All the researchers nod in agreement.
‘OK, knowing this stuff is how to impress these people and get along.’ Crik gets comfortable on a chair. “Is there like a book on geonomic basics?”
“A what?” Tepper’s cat ears swivel.
“You know,” Crik says. “Paper, pages, ink.”
“What for?” Yuri asks.
Ultra scowls. “If you already knew geonomic principles, you wouldn’t need it.”
“Well, there is one book,” Andrei says. “An historical icon.”
The scientists begrudgingly nod their agreement. Crik realizes that in his future even the insight of a butler is knowledgeable and respected. Such a reaction is not how the people who owned and partied in this mansion would treaet the opinion of a caterer, no matter how spot on. If they’d say anything, they’d just patronize the help. ‘Their loss. They could’ve learned something from Shane. Not to mention learn golf ball physics from me.’
Putting down the box, Tepper searches around where she sat – the chair, the floor, the table, then pats her pockets. Her tail swishes, making Crik grin. ‘At least some of the company is enjoyable.” Tepper calls out to the others, “Has anyone seen my mo’?”
Andrei reassures her. “Don’t worry, Miss Karlin, I’ll locate it for you.”
Crik stifles a smirk.
Yuri peeks into the box from Tepper. Crik points at the box. “Some munchies for weary travelers?”
“Sure,” Tepper says, “if you eat H80 Dynamators.” She gives up her search.
“Tepper, my best student,” Dr. Ultra says, “very conscientious.”
“Ouch.” Crick grimaces. “Sorry about that, man.” He gives the young woman a commiserating elbow to the ribs.
The Futurites watch, scratching their heads. Dr. Ultra continues, “Dear Tepper is an up-and-coming historian in her own right. Highly qualified to answer any queries you may have.”
‘If they’re going to keep me penned up, I might as well have some fun with them.’ Crik pats a chair beside himself. “So, Tepper, you got an old man?”
Frowning, Dr. Ultra turns to his colleagues. “As a Pastian, he has missed out on the entire last two centuries of evolution. He obviously feels no restraint.”
“I know.” Crik’s ear stud twinkles. “It’s a gift.”
“Probably missed more evolution than just two centuries,” Yuri says.
Grinning at Tepper sloppily, Crik winks.
“Much more.” Leaning against the table, Tepper briefly displays her claws. “Actually, it depends. If you are the Crik Duvall in 2012 who catalyzed the geonomic movement into action, then you’d be my great great grandfather. So yes, I would have ‘an old man’.”
Crik gasps. “No way!” His bleach-streaked head flops back. His arms fall to his side. ‘Disgusting. If I am her ancestor, I was almost an incestor.’ He gags.
Tepper leads her surprise guest down the mansion’s long corridor of dark wood. The two scientists bring up the rear, Yuri carrying the box of parts. Curtained windows let in light beams. Crick scowls at catty Tepper. ‘A relative.’ He shakes his head. “The last relative who showed up stayed two whole weeks.”
Her ears swiveling, Tepper drops back and links arms with Dr. Ultra and Yuri. “Whether proto-geonomists or not, his memory cells are here now, unaltered by the passage of time…”
Yuri exhales the words softly under his beret. “Twentieth century memory banks!”
“Impeccable data!” sideburned Dr. Ultra says.
Tepper nods triumphantly. “Real persons’ subjective perspective on an insane century.”
Spinning Crik around, Dr. Ultra faces the time traveler. “Let’s download your mem-cells. Every last one! Right now!”
‘So they could actually look at my memories,’ Crik thinks, ‘and they’d have much value for them.’ Crik touches the crown of his head with the fingertips of both hands. “Uploads only. I use this organ.”
“We’d only copy your memories,” Tepper says. “With your permission, of course.” She arches an eyebrow. “If you are the early geonomist, it would show up in your cells.” She snorts. “Then we’d have to throw you a party.”
“Weelll,” smiling for time, Crik thinks quickly on his feet, “I just got interested and don’t have much memorized yet.”
Folding his hands as if in prayer, Dr. Ultra looks upward through the ceiling, like a romantic gazing at the moon. “From the minds of people actually doing it, we could see what they saw so riveting … in reality TV!”
“Exactly!” Tepper says. “And see why they … fed themselves polyunsaturated fats!”
Tepper and Dr. Ultra and Yuri, squeezing his box, clutch each others’ arms joyously.
“If this is science,” Crik nods, “I’m dropping back into school, like, mañana.”
More toro than matador, Dear Learned Lawrence Pilard enters the hallway through the nearby back door, largely unnoticed.
“Yes, yes!” Yuri pulls his boss in close. “We could at last grasp why they cut the skin off baby penises!”
“The historians’ Holy Grail!” Dr. Ultra whispers hoarsely, his voice full of awe.
Crik covers his crotch.
Yuri and Dr. Ultra bounce up and down. Tepper hugs them both. Finally noting Pilard, standing with arms crossed, the three cough, back away from one another, tug the wrinkles out of their clothes, and give the august member of the Umbrella Committee their complete attention.
Holding the door open, Pilard waves the Pastian over. The guest and hosts move that way. Pilard holds up a hand before his fellow Futurites. “In private, if you please. Hearing an official speaker, one bold enough to confront him alone, our traveler may grasp that his presence here has larger import. Harrumph.” His fellow Futurites roll their eyes.
On the rear red brick veranda, Crik regards the surroundings – mansion, landscaped lawn, pool – without comfort, wondering, ‘Is this really happening? Not a dream? Not madness? It’s like everything has turned into an M.C Escher sketch. With Dali drippings.’
Closing the door, hefty Pilard moves to the shade of a colorful umbrella, keeping a white table between himself and the visitor, a needless precaution. His pink pointed tongue moistens his lips. He curls a meaty finger at the time traveler who leans forward. Holding up both hands, Pilard speaks too loudly, “Not another step!” He lowers his voice to a whisper. “You ratsy Pastian, you were inspiring. You could’ve corrupted a saint, you could!”
Eyebrows en garde, Crik leans in closer to the Futurite authority.
“Halt!” Pilard commands in full voice.
Crik straightens up again. ‘He’s really worried about me. Hah!’
“I said ‘ratsy’, just like you say!” Pilard beams proudly. Then he explains the Pastian is now a friendless intruder, untrustworthy common criminal, always causing trouble in his own time – which could be an asset. Casting a glance at the closed door, he leans forward and lowers his voice. “Once you escape – you can’t fool me, I know your nature – here’s my plan.” He licks his lips.
The visitor leans in again.
“No closer!” Pilard nearly yells, then another quick look doorward, he whispers, “Create chaos: corrupt the youth, recruit an army.”
Crik blinks. ‘Me, a rabble rouser? Not because I was one of hundreds at an Earth Day festival. Or signed that petition of Shane’s. Or set those lab rats free? Nah, couldn’t be. The dude definitely has a prejudice about Pastians.’
“Then I can declare martial law to restore order. Political power will exist again. Yes!” Grinning, Pilard pumps his fist, bouncing his heavy body aloft, looking away dreamily.
Leaning away from Pilard’s hot breath, Crik scratches his head. ‘Is this – somebody in authority proposing a coup – an every day occurrence in this weird world?’
Pilard clears his throat. “Of course, it’s to do good.” He explains that some places lag behind. They still use Earth wastefully and leave behind waste and have needed geonomics for eons. “I’m just the man to give it to them. And with your help! You with me?” He wrings his hands.
Rubbing his own hands, Crik squints at the renegade authority. ‘Doesn’t sound too legit, but revolt isn’t really my area of expertise. Should I tell the other Dear Learneds about his proposed power grab? They already think I had something to do with Seizure’s burglary. Be a better bet to appease a powerful guy like this dude.’ Crik holds out a hand.
“Wise choice.” Pilard punches the proferred hand. “You better be.” Grinning wickedly, he scurries off the veranda and around the corner of the mansion.
“Crazy man.” Crik shakes his head with white racing stripes. “Crazy.”
Crossing the lawn is a person – of sorts. While the top half is a well-muscled, well-tanned man, the bottom half is a pair of crescent-shaped kangaroo springers, carrying the creature in long bounds while dribbling a basketball. It, too, rounds the corner of the house, out of sight.
At last Crik manages to hoist up his jaw. “Either this is the future, or I ended up away in Australia.”
Shaking his head clear, he exhales profoundly. ‘I got to chill a minute, digest this madness.’ Fishing out his tobacco pouch, he sits on a cushioned metal chair. Feeling the phone in his pocket, he smiles. ‘Smuggle this compensation for my trouble back home, instant billionaire. Wouldn’the family remember me then? I’d have relatives coming out of the woodwor.’
He gazes into the horizon. ‘Celebrity magazines and talk shows pay big for a story like mine. Yep, the future is now.’ He tugs the tip of his nose. ‘I’ll call a lawyer, no, a lawyer’s lawyer; that dude’ll be the lawyer for Satan.’ Crik digs out the tiny phone.
The holograph squirts forth, taking the shape of the homunculus, the same green little know-it-all as before.
“Zippers, you again. You’re like an epidemic.” Crik holds the phone further away. ‘This creature must be the spokesperson, or spokes thing, for every electronic device they got now. At least the future still has a sense of humor.’
“And you again. You’re like a visitation.” Its Irish accent is lovely. The little leprechaun stretches. “The word for the day is –” Wiggling the phone, Crik makes the translucent leprechaun waver drunkenly. “Whoa!”
“Is ‘sue’.” Crik bites his knuckle. ‘For a suit to succeed, I’ll need a paper trail, an official complaint.’ He shakes the holograph again. “No, the word for the day is ‘police’.”
The little green man files through hundreds of holographic records faster than the eye can follow, like a Las Vega dealer on amphetamine with a deck of cards. Finally it shakes its head. “I’m sorry, should I check the archives? There is no current listing under that name.”
“Bull hockey.” Scowling, Crik holds the little holograph up before his face, thinking, ‘I thought the future would be more efficient, not less. What a disappointment.’ He peers at the cringing leprechaun. “Police. Can you say ‘po-lice?’ Jee-yoo-sus!”
“G – U – S?” the green holograph asks. “Gus? Gusses, I got – millions of them.”
Tepper comes onto the veranda, carrying beach towels, ears and whiskers twitching. “All alone? You could’ve – Hey, where’d you get that?”
“Business calls, grandkid,” Crik says sternly. “Besides, we’re practically family and family’s got to be good for something.” He points to the idling leprechaun. “Be a good great best granddaughter and get him to cooperate with us.” Getting to his feet, he huddles with her.
“Us?” Tepper sounds irritated.
Throwing up its arms, the homunculus implores Tepper. “He wants to call someone named Police. What Police?” Its voice’s pitch bounces from highs to lows. “But Gus –”
“Really?” Crik’s eyes widen. ‘Nobody to get in the way no matter what I want to do?’ He stands taller. “No police? I can live with that.” He fist pumps and raises a knee then freezes on one leg midair. “But there’s still bad-ass attorneys, right?”
The little green guy exchanges a glance with Tepper then braces itself for another ride. “No listing. Sorry.”
Groaning, Crik lowers his leg. “You call this utopia? I’m a victim, kidnapped against my will, sucked thru dangerous time, interrogated with no lawyer present.” He turns to the holograph. “What else?” Then back to Tepper. “I got to sue, collect damages, go on Oprah. Be famous.”
Tepper’s jaw plummets. She drops her arms, letting the two white towels reach the floor. “Humans can’t think that connivingly.”
“No, really,” Crik pleads, “we can; I swear it.”
Switching both towels to one hand while staring off into space with a serious expression, Tepper makes writing motions in the air.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking notes.” She ends with a forefinger exclamation mark. “On you.” She loops one towel around her neck and holds the other by both ends with both hands and rolls it like jumprope.
‘That rolled up towel takes me back: gym class, eighth grade. At least some familiar customs have persisted.’ Holding up his hands, Crik backs up. “We can settle this like civilized people, right?”
“Before I go,” the homunculus says, “if you need to know anything – but not police – we are here to serve. As a token of my servility, take this gift.” The phone shoots a ray at the frilly edge of the umbrella. The stricken part falls off.
“Be careful, young old man,” Tepper says.
Too late, Crik picks up the crystallized thread. It lightly stings him. “Ouch.”
“It’s powerless,” Tepper says. “Just a reminder it gives to humans with feeble memories.” Shrugging, Crik pockets the tiny token. Tepper snaps a towel at the Pastian’s thigh, making a loud crack.
‘Woman means business.’ Snapping the phone shut, Crik extinguishes its ghostly holograph and hands his host the phone. “Normally, I’d never sue anybody. But normally I’d never have to go into a coma, either.”
“Normally, you take without asking?”
Crik shrugs. “What’s the phone to you, granddaughter? Can’t you flick your thumb and talk to what pops out like normal people do?”
“We historians prefer to be period perfect. Didn’t you notice?” Snorting, Crik lowers his head and raises his eyebrows at her. “Almost perfect. Within reason.” She tosses her visitor the towel qua weapon. “Come on. We’ll go float your tired bones.” She walks away.
Crik pockets his tobacco pouch. “As long as they got lawyers there.” He follows her. “We’ll tell your bosses to show up with some hard numbers and some cold cash.” She doesn’t look back. “That’s just, you know, an opening, before y’all come back with a counter offer.”
“Just don’t get your clothes wet.”
Crossing the immense lush lawn, Crik thinks, ‘Tycoons could practice driving golf balls here.’ Rolling and looping his towel, he swings it like a stubby golf club. “Fore!” Shielding his eyes, he watches an imaginary ball take flight.
From behind them, the two Dobermans bound over the lawn after the non-existent ball, barking all the way, then disappear over a ridge, their yelps fading into silence.
Crik examines his towel, Tepper’s profile, then shrugging flips the towel onto his neck and keeps trekking.
“You ever wonder why Mr. Otten put the pool so far away from the house?” Crik asks “I bet it’s because so he won’t have to listen to the noise of kids, when one’s drowning.”
Tepper’s tail swishes. “Your parenting skills are still in the developmental stage.”
In the clear water of the blue, Olympic-size pool, Tepper glides like an eel, revealing her full-body fur coat. Crik rolls like a log on cataracts. Both bodies are clothes-free.
“So soothing,” Tepper says, “like being in a womb.”
Long ago, actually now very long, Crik lifeguarded at a pool. He grew up half submerged. “Wetter the Better” was the only T-shirt to have. Crik somersaults to the bottom where he springs up and out like a missile launched from a sub then crashes like a breeching whale. The tidal wave subsides. All the times he fantasized about swimming in the big, beautiful pool, finally he’s doing it – ‘after a long enough wait.’
He regards his floating hostess. ‘She – that – could be my kid of my kid of my kid of my … something like that. My own flesh and blood.’ He dog paddles in a circle. “So that’s not really a cat suit, but some kind of skin graft?”
“Nope. Simple gene re-engineering. The next logical step after self-mutilation.” Tepper nods at the Pastian’s tattoos and pierced ear.
“After two centuries of progress,” Crik conjectures wistfully, gazing past the horizon, “what other awesome technologies? Fantastic sights? Crazy customs?”
“I’m sure you’d be impressed.” Tepper back strokes. “But what else would you expect? For a hundred years, sharing Earth by sharing her worth has been the supreme software of society. Good results from a good context.”
Crik squirts some water. “I got to go check out this world.” She smiles at him like a Cheshire Mona Lisa. Crik wonders, ‘How dangerous could these future freaks be? Not Pilard really, not even Voltak.’ Crik returns a Cheshire grin. “Lawyers now must be bad enough to represent Satan. I’ll be master of the universe.”
“Not this universe. Not according to my backup sitter.”
Wide-body Voltak, stiff in his uniform and crew cut, marches their way across the lawn.
“I went all the way to the future and all I got was this bulky Boy Scout.” Crik rolls onto his back. ‘Why does that creature act like a cop? Why does anyone who’s still young? Sure, somebody’s got to do it, but somebody in the prime of life?’ Crik’s never met a figure of authority not less than a generation older. He nods toward the approaching wannabe cop. “What is he? About thirty?”
“Not hardly.” Tepper glides around him. “More like ninety.”
On the patio, Voltak toes the pile of Crik’s clothes on the ground, disgracing the concrete patio.
“Maybe ninety-five,” Tepper says.
“Come on!” Wiping water from his face, Crik stares at the would-be policeman who’s using his booted foot to loft Crik’s pants onto a patio table.
“Easily ninety-five percent artificial.” Tepper explains that after adopting every latest bio-enhancement, the man rarely thinks of himself as human anymore. And no longer mortal.
Voltak approaches the edge of the pool. “Robocop is a true hero. I am the only one to maintain order.” Then Voltak sighs, sagging slightly. “Albeit in an already orderly society.” Straightening himself to full height, he points to the discarded clothing. “Tidy up your mess.” He disdainfully waves the visitor over.
“Mess? What mess? Jay Zeus.” Crik kicks up foam. ‘The guy’s worse than the concierge at the hotel.’
Arms akimbo, Voltak barks, “You’re emitting negative energy. Are you OK?”
“Just chill. Drop your butt in, hombre.” Crik splashes the volunteer security guard, wetting an unfortunate area of his pressed pants.
“That does it. Littering, foul language, and bad vibes. All in public!” Voltak’s “public” flaps the fringes of the tables’ umbrellas. Crik and Tepper massage their ears. Voltak jumps into the pool, fully clothed.
Rolling her eyes, Tepper throws out her hands. “Look, Voltak, you don’t understand.”
“The law? No, you don’t get it. We all follow the law, no exceptions.”
She splashes Voltak then Crik. “As he added muscle, he lost discernment. No nuances for him, he just takes everything totally literally. Very retro.”
Voltak plants himself before Crik and Tepper. “ID, please.”
“Voltak,” Tepper says, “you ask me that every day.”
Ignoring her, Voltak holds up his hand and wiggles his fingertips at the visitor.
Crik thinks, ‘His hand thing looks like how Native American Indians used to greet people in old Westerns.’ Slowly he raises his hand. Voltak touches Crik’s fingertips with his own then frowns. “No record.”
“Duh.” Crik spreads his arms apart, palms turned out, in the universal expression of innocence. “Why would I have a record?” Slowly he lowers his arms. ‘Could I be in their records? What … a century or two later?’
Tilting his shaven head, Voltak cocks his ear at the sound of Crik’s voice. “I’ve never heard your voiceprints.” Crik covers his mouth.
Furrowing his bulging brow, Voltak peers into the visitor’s eyes. “And I’ve never seen your irises before either.”
Crik squeezes his eyes shut tight. He tries to cover his studded ears with his elbows and his mouth with his hands, looking like the three monkeys who speak no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil, blended into one.
Voltak scrunches up his face. “Zero identity.” The would-be officer of the law taps his skull. “Could an error … ?” His “error” scrapes up white caps on the water. Crik and Tepper massage their ears.
“Man, don’t do that!” Crik scowls. “Some babysitter.”
“He’s like, uh, new generation of models.” Tepper swims around Voltak. “With bugs.”
Huffing and shaking his head, Voltak yanks a ticket book out of his shirt pocket.
“Just what the tribunal wants to see,” Tepper says, “another one of your paper tickets.”
‘Interesting. Again the people who know what’s happened aren’t too eager to explain who I am and what happened to anyone else. If this beefy bouncer type knew, what could he do? She does seem to want to appease him.’ Head tilted, Crik looks from her to the wannabe cop. “You’re writing me a ticket?”He laughs. “What if I can’t pay the fine?”
“Then by law,” Voltak growls loudly, “you must be evicted.”
“Evicted? Moi? Your founder? What if I’d rather keep swimming with my kid?”
Inhaling deeply, Voltak tilts his chiseled head back. Crik covers ears. Tepper puts a hand on Voltak’s arm. “OK, OK, Voltak, evict him from the pool.”
Exhaling from his big lungs, Voltak genuflects and scoops Crik up onto his shoulders. “What the … ?” Crik exclaims. “This guy takes babysitting to a whole new level.” Crik pushes down on Voltak’s crown to try to get better adjusted on the wannabe cop’s broad shoulder. ‘Better not to struggle. That’d look even more embarrassing. Just pretend it’s fun.’
Voltak sets Crik down on the cement patio. He and Tepper towel off and get dressed. Voltak’s soaked pants cling to his bulky legs and loin. Crik nods at the wanna-be officer of the law. “Speaking of all in public …” Voltak blushes crimson.
Tepper nods Voltak’s way. “Our superfluous peacekeeper is even more relentless than he looks.”
Criks frowns. “Looks more like kind of cooked to me.”
As Voltak tugs at his pants and shakes his legs, Crik ties his shoes. “Evict away, hombre, that’s cool. As a founder out there, I’ll be an instant celebrity with the Geotopi-Annas.” He grins slyly at his distant descendant. “And I’ll keep my eyes open, make sure your geonomics really does work. When I get back, wonks in my time will pay big to know that the idea’s not a flop.” He shakes water out of his ears.
“Good luck taking any memory back,” Tepper says. “But while you’re here, do reveal your true self. I can hardly wait.”
‘She expects to go with me. Can’t hurt, out there in the big unknown. Heck, might even help.’ Crik puts his tie in a pocket. “You can make yourself useful, grandchild, by finding me a lawyer, even if it’s the very last one.”
Tepper lays a hand on Voltak’s arm. “You have been commissioned by the Umbrella Committee, right?” He nods proudly. With a stern visage, he points to the exit – like God evicting Adam and Eve, no, or like Jack White and his sister Meg getting the boot, no, more like Tampa’s swindlers PR Gunter and his daughter Zibiah. Tepper shrugs. “OK.”
At the gateway of the swimming pool, Voltak, arms folded, pants dripping, watches visitor and hostess amble casually toward the street and round a corner, out of sight.
PERFECT TIMING, Act II, Jeff Smith
Chapter 5, On City Streets: The Quest – and Pursuit – Begin
One step around the corner and Crik and Tepper sprint down the residential promenade, Crik’s bleached streaks looking like racing stripes, Tepper’s tail swaying. Crik scoots along with his spine straight, butt low, knees forward, knuckles dragging – like John Cleese’s funny walk, or of the old, bearded comicbook guy Keep-On-Trucking, or of Groucho Marx’s slouch. Tepper bursts into laughter.
Laughing along, Crik thinks to himself, ‘How anal can one wannabe cop get? Zheesh, these people these days. I’d hate to play poker with them. They’re so verbatim, it’d be as boring as taking candy from a baby. But I got what I wanted.’ Crik slows down and Tepper with him. He shimmies his shoulders. “Ah, free at last! Good gawd almighty, free at last!” He throws his hands toward the sky.
“Just agreeable at last.” Tepper’s ears swivel. “You ever try to change Voltak’s mind?”
Crik snorts. “You mean since we were only doing what your co-babysitter said, you won’t get in any trouble?”
Her whiskers quiver. “We’ll be gone only for a little while, ‘til I say it’s time to return.”
‘Teacher’s pet,’ Crik thinks, ‘knows just how far to bend the rules.’ He chuckles. “Return? We’ll see about that. I might be exhausted, in need of a long nap. But this is the fabulous future”!
They pass the familiar colossal colonial mansion with white carved shutters, twinned pillars propping up a balcony two stories above the front portico. At the next corner the duo tack to port. There oddly-angled domiciles catch Crik’s eye. One’s shaped like a magnificent mushroom. Neither he nor his escort bothers to look back over their shoulders.
* * *
In another part of town, the five stern Dear Learneds of the Umbrella Committee sit around a grey table under a glass dome and stare at a holograph above of would-be policeman Voltak, who looks a bit confused. No matter where one sits the holograph appears to be looking directly at one. The holograph surrounds a spherical projector floating in the middle of the air.
The surrounding walls and ceiling stand transparent. Its numerous triangular panels form part of a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome. Each panel is etched with the image of Lady Justice, blindfolded and holding the sword and scales.
The Cabinet of Geotopia meets on the glass-enclosed top floor, the pinnacle, of the tall, gleaming marble Capitol in the heart of the city.
Inside, the hovering holograph of wannabe cop Voltak swallows hard.
Chair Adrianna Reyes’s professional demeanor cracks. “You what? The law does not demand – oh, Zeus’ juices, Voltak, forget it!” Holding her fist to her forehead, she turns away from the holograph then pleads to the heavens.
Dark suit over his taurine body, Lawrence Pilard plays the role of good cop. “You’re always playing police officer, Voltak; now’s your chance to be one. Remember your instructions. Control the situation.” He says the word “control” lovingly, as if caressing it with his tongue.
“When you find him, Voltak,” Reyes says, composed again, “help Tepper persuade him to return, by our authority. I’m confident that a simple mind of his time will be impressed, and he will comply.”
She claps at the sphere, dissolving Voltak, evoking the homunculus. Behind it on the globe, the time remaining before the past moves on without the time traveler is 22:43:15. “There isn’t any risk of him spreading ancient resistant bacteria, is there?”
“Nothing we couldn’t deal with, I’m sure.” The holograph scratches its cheek.
Pilard half smiles at Reyes. “Your last month as chair has become quite interesting.”
She stays focused on the translucent leprechaun. “I want to know what our visitor was doing the day of his unscheduled departure from 2012 that made him supposedly seem such a likely candidate.”
The homunculus brightens, literally. “Let me ‘roll the tape’.” He fades away as other images gather around the fat sphere.
On stage, the pitchman Seizure exhaled profoundly. “The old boy nailed it. Nothing else comes close to how much over the course of their lives people spend on a place to live, and on a place to work, a cost built in to what you pay for everything.”
The sea of heads bobbed and nodded in assent.
“Why are we not all rich?” The instant-riches guru tapped his skull. “Foresight.” Seizure stared down his audience. “It’s not speculation when you see what’s coming.”
“You can see new people moving here like a swarm of bees,” the seated neighbor said.
“You might be on to something.” Crik rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
The translucent homunculus reappears. Images of the real estate seminar get blurry, replaced by images of the burglary in the mansion’s master bedroom appear. Images of the homeowner Otten and jewel-thief Seizure aim their guns. White smoke flashes from the two opposed gun barrels. Scratching its temple, the green-tinted fellow floating before the sphere clears its throat loudly and speaks in its Irish accent. “FYI, the hail of bullets didn’t miss him, it missed the ride here.”
Sitting more erect, Bernard Saint, white beard neatly trimmed, puts his fists on the table. “When he returns, it’s to gunfire? Mouth agape, gasping, he quickly stands up out of his chair.
* * *
In Geotopia, the houses are regular rectangular ones mixed with others more exotic: a stately teepee, a dome, a hexagon, a trapezoid. The elegant buildings support solariums, overhanging roofs and balconies. A few – looking like the architecture was Dr. Seuss – connect via sky bridges and sprout branches.
Crik’s whole body tingles with excitement, watched by a bemused Tepper. “You’ll get tired of hearing me say this – until we go our own merry ways – but, good googamooga! The Future!”
“Fine.” She wears an indulgent smile. “Just know you go nowhere without me, Pastian.”
“No offense, kid, but this great great granddad is a lone ranger.”
“Not any more. Now you’re my ward.”
Crik doesn’t deign to look at his supposed guardian, thinking, ‘We’ll see. Maybe for a little while she’ll be useful. Meanwhile, the sights! Incredible.’
Leafy vines and branches dangle from rooftop railings. A few trees are hugely fat in the trunk and have windows and door. The Pastian nods at one such squat, bored tree. “Instead of logging a tree, killing it,” Tepper says, “with DNA modification we ask it to grow hollow.”
‘Amazing,’ Crik thinks. ‘They ask it way persuasively.’
“Crik, you should figure out if what you knew in your time really is geonomics but by another name. Solving puzzles is fun; it exhilarates.” Tepper practically purrs then smiles shyly. “Besides, if you could explain our policy, and show you’re our founder, it’d probably mean we’re related.” Her face softens. “I’d be hanging with an actual ancestor. My living relative.”
Shrugging, Crik smiles faintly. ‘And I’d have tagging along a living embarrassment who hasn’t outgrown brown-nosing teachers and is too old for a cat suit – with a real tail.’
On front porches regal cats lounge on cushioned swings. Yards are filled with bushes, vegetables, rocks, raked gravel paths, and veggie gardens. Flowers bordered the permeated walkway. There’re no cars or poles and wires. Street signs are in phonetic spelling.
In pairs or groups, all ages, sexes, races, and gen-blends walk, skip, and ride bikes. No one drives. Among the passers-by, Crik thinks he espies Elvis Presley and feels the urge to ask for an autograph. Tepper explains that impersonating people has become a popular custom. Impersonating on his own, Crik swivels his hips – and abruptly stops: what looked like a lawn ornament begins to walk – a humanoid flamingo. ‘Futurites might have figured out techno-superiority but how they choose to look sure makes it hard to take them seriously.’
Geotopians grin, as if in on a grand universal joke. Purple for attire is a popular color. A dozen kids and adults play kick ball in the street, dancing from base to base rather than dashing full tilt, singing rather than heckling an opponent. Tepper smiles at everyone, everyone smiles back. Crik asks, “This a holiday?”
Kicking back a wayward ball, Tepper shakes her head. “Geonomics works so we don’t have to.”
“If your legal system would work, then I wouldn’t have to.” Hand over his eyes, he scans the horizon. “Got to find the first tall building. They’re like hives for lawyer swarms.”
Squirrels scatter before their feet to the trunks of leafy trees that bow above. On ladders, people pick fruit. Some toss the harvested pears and plums down to the three passing by, like a friendly farmer at a Saturday market. Crik catches an apple and nods his thanks to the harvester. “Got to admit, tho’, it is sort of mellow now. How did my era become yours?”
“Some of our best brains thought you had something to do with launching the process.” She stares at him in anticipation. Her ears swivel.
Gnawing his apple, Crik thinks, ‘Not impossible. Maybe her world is connected to my college days – term paper, or campus action to stop climate change, promote green solutions. Could’ve gone viral.’ Picking up a branch, Crik swings it and blasts his gifted fruit.
Tepper’s whiskers twitch. “But there are lingering doubts.”
Crik flips his stick, letting it fall to earth. “Do tell me, before we go our own separate ways, who was supposed to be your great, great – any more greats? – granny?” Crik shows her his tattoo of “Bye, Mom / Hi, Fido”.
Tepper shrugs. “It’s not certain, but if you did begin the change, it’d mean we’re related, us two.”
But Crik can’t think of any relative anything like her.
Stopping by a bike rack loaded with bicycles of various colors, Crik frowns at the active, healthy people. “Much farther to an officebuilding? If God had wanted us to walk, he would not have invented the Mercedes.”
Regarding her ward then staring off into space with a serious expression, Tepper makes writing motions in the air.
Crik tiltes his head. “So, actually, you’re writing on your PC screen that only you can see, right? Good goog-” The roar of an African lion cuts him short. Crik jerks alert.
Rounding a corner are two tall, massive men, zooming toward them. They run with their backs bent forward, as if lugging loads of lead. Their long, wiry, brown hair is splayed, more fulsome than actual lion manes.
“Gawd Almighty!” Crik’s eyes are flung wide open. “Happy Halloween. Has now become like a game preserve for half-human mutants?” Crik grimaces. ‘Who hopefully eat fruit.’
The tawny fellows glisten. Their taut muscles mimic thick rope for anchoring ocean-liners. Crik feels like that time he walked into the school locker room after football practice and instantly felt dwarfed. He recalls, ‘At least those atheletes didn’t have fangs.’
As the massive jock carnivores jog by, both of them smile, baring long incisors. “Join us for a post-soak prowl?” one says in a baritone. “It’ll be bone!” He winks a yellow eye. The other leans closer and sniffs. The two brawny men keep trotting on by.
Crik lets out a low whistle. “Bone? As in that’s what would be left of whoever?”
Tepper stifles a chuckle. “Bone, as in bon, bono, bueno, good.”
“As in bonobo,” Crik says.
“Halt!” It’s the mighty voice of Voltak. His “halt” scatters birds and squirrels. From a couple blocks away he chugs toward them.
Crik caustiously steps backwards. “First fanged lionsters, now this six-million dollar wannabe cop.” Crik’s never been arrested and doesn’t fancy starting now. He scowls. ‘This time and place could be a lot crazier than I thought.’
Jogging toward them, Voltak waves them toward himself and shouts, “Time to return!”
Crik frowns at Tepper. “Not to your dungeon, I mean mansion.”
Tepper’s tail swishes. “Going back now would just agitate your ancient brain. And you must return just as you came.” Tepper’s fur bristles. “Therefore I vote for tranquility.”
Crik jerks his thumb toward the onrushing wannabe cop. “How about tranquil mobility.”
Speeding up, Voltak draws closer to them. “Wait right there.” His “wait” withers flowers.
Tepper nonchalantly ushers her ancient ancestor away to the nearby rack. Crik grabs a bike. Tepper pokes the chest of her charge. “I’ll show you my world, Gramps, and keep you calm. Later we’ll download a copy of your memories. Got it?” She glances at the bike he’s holding on to. “The red ones are the borrowables.”
“Just find me a lawyer – no fangs.” Pushing down hard on his pedals, Crik yells, “And aawwaaaayyyy we go!”
Mounting her bike, Tepper yells at the onrushing wannabe babysitter. “No need to upset him unduly, Voltak.”
“I have been assigned!” Breaking into a fierce dash, Voltak almost catches up to them. “Halt!” His “halt” withers flowers.
Pedaling away, Tepper calls over her shoulder, “It’s alright, Voltak, I’m keeping him calm. And he’s a Pastian; he’ll follow me back very soon.”
Furious, sweeping pedestrians aside, Voltak charges after them. “Halt, halt, halt!”
“Voltak!” Tepper yells. “Careful! You’re behaving worse than any Pastian!”
Tepper and Crik churn their pedals like two-wheeled kamikazes on high-octane. Their bikes jet forward, always in the right gear without shifting. They’re super lightweight, made of some fantastic alloy. Along an avenue with heavy bike and foot traffic, but no large vehicles, they dodge strollers, other cyclists, and scooters.
Weaving through the yielding pedestrians, legs pumping like fired-up engines, Voltak manages to not lose much ground. Finally, after a few more blocks, he can’t keep up. His roar of frustration rattles nearby windows.
Tepper rises up, her tail waving. Crik pulls a wheelie. “Hey, Tepp, if you get a back rub, does that make your rump rise?”
“Am I showing around a grandfather or a puerile adolescent?” Lowering her head and shoulders, Tepper pedals like a cyclone, her legs blurred, leaving Crik in her wake.
* * *
Amid other tall buildings, atop the marble capitol building in the Cabinet Office, the floating sphere shows the time remaining: 21:35:05. Holographs of researchers Ultra and Yuri hover before the sphere. Facing the holofs, the five Dear Learneds in green and orange sit below.
Chair Reyes adjusts her diadem. “Your assistant Tepper Karlin seems to have a novel notion of hosting.”
The holograph of Ultra nods. “Earlier this morning, she … but normally she’s more than competent. I don’t know –”
“Maybe she voted with her feet,” Yuri says.
“She doesn’t have a vote in the Umbrella Committee,” Pilard says haughtily.
Yuri shrugs. “Doesn’t the host always have a vote?”
“But that vote’s honorary!” Reyes barks out. With a shake of the head, Chair Reyes claps away the scientists, replaced by a holograph of Voltak who salutes. “I can’t see them anymore, but the signal from Tepper’s mobile is not far ahead.”
“The traveler is accumulating an enormous amount of experience,” Reyes says, “too much to easily erase. When you catch him, Voltak, disable his brain’s memorizers.”
Pilard folds his arms. “We don’t want them able to convert shallow short-term memories into the deeper long-term ones.”
The holograph of Voltak salutes and vanishes, replaced by the affably grinning homunculus.
“Is it possible he could infect anyone with that primitive meme – me-first – that was almost impossible for our ancestors to eradicate?”
The see-thru leprechaun chuckles. “Oh, I think Geotopians are more resistant than that.”
Madam Chair Adriana Reyes scowls. “Hear this override. Your basic program to enthusiastically satisfy human curiosity, dampen it. Any questions about geonomic policy you must answer, uh, artfully, not directly. Until further notice. Hear and obey.”
The little green fellow blinks rapidly and comes out of a seeming trance. “Artfully. Artfully. Leave humans still curious. Is that it, more or less?”
Reyes leads all the Dear Learneds in nodding affirmatively. “Our Pastian is supposed to already know about this solution,” the chairlady says, “not find out about it now.”
“Ookay. Artfully. I can do that. Yeah, I can do that. I can do it. I hear and obey.” The holograph steps aside revealing images of Otten and Seizure aiming at Rick’s image. An image of a bullet enters an image of Rick’s ear and goes out the other. Blood spurts from that ear.
Pilard taps his broad jaw. “Neither comatizing nor cell erasure is an issue, if he doesn’t survive.”
“Not surviving,” the translucent leprechaun says. “That’ll make it hard for him to make history or even cater parties.” It fades, its smile last like a Cheshire cat.
Chapter 6, Such a River Taxi: Uppity Hydroski
Approaching a bridge in the verdant city, Crik and Tepper slow down to avoid colliding with other cyclists and the throng of pedestrians, one of whom looks like, Albert Einstein, his hair flung outwar, another has a toucan’s beak that looks hard enough to be able to pry up manhole covers. Everyone is with at least one other person, no one seems alone. All of them, whether wholely human or a genetic blend, seem on holiday.
“Holy smokes.” Crik shakes his streaked head. “It’s like an epidemic of mutants.”
“And not an unhappy thought from any of them,” Tepper observes.
The bridge is the same one from centuries ago; it must’ve been built by Roman engineers to last so long. It crosses a wide blue river that reflects the sky. Below, boats ply the rippling waves. But above, anti-gravity vehicles ply the airways: buses, vans, skyskis, conical torches, and pogosticks, all flying wingless and wheelless.
“Muvvah,” Crik mumbles, thinking, ‘Technology nowadays. Awesome. No wonder there’s so little traffic on the streets if cars can get around in the air. Up there anyone can go in any direction at any time. Me, I’d visit every single cool spot on the planet. I wonder if they do?’ He shifts his gaze from the vehicles to the pedestrians. ‘With such magnificent mobility available, are people always ejecting themselves from the clutches of others?’ People pass by in groups but in new groups? Or groups of old friends? ‘Able to check out greener pastures, does anyone stay together for long?’ He shrugs. ‘Whatever.’
Looking over his shoulder for pursuit, Crik calculates. ‘But another powerful new technology is probably how Voltak caught up to us so easily, tracking Tepper’s cell. Can’t let him catch up again. Missing out on this wildest time of my life ever is not on my agenda.’ Crik stops in the middle of the span, his chest pumping. Tepper does a U-turn. Baring his gap-toothed grin, Crik asks their chaperone to see her mini phone for a second.
“It can tell you how much this exercise has evaporated your stress.” Tepper flips it open.
The miniature translucent genie says, “The word for the day is ‘feedback’,” in its Irish lilt.
A guy on an encased pogostick buzzes by them.
“The word ought to be ‘fabulous’. Look at those rides!” Crik waves at the aircraft.
The homunculus lifts a clear eyebrow. “Well, duh. Progress happens when it’s customary to empower everyone to create.”
Tepper shares a smile with little green man. “A founder would’ve known that the empowering is the logical consequence of applied geonomics.”
‘Shane probably would’ve known that, too. And why.’
Tepper clutches her ward’s arm. “If you really are ignorant, how could we be related?”
The Futurites seem so certain of their superiority that Crik warms to the challenge. ‘It’s a job for Shane but I ought to be able to pull it off.’ Like when he had to learn geometry on his own after missing so much school one year. Crik nods at his guide. “And a founder would love to see his idea in action, empowering you Geotopians.”
“Want to see geonomic action?” the homunculus smacks a faint fist into a pale palm. “Watch natural cycles in the wilds, keeping balance.”
Tepper smiles at her visitor. “Why not. Nature is so soothing.” She virtually purrs. “But no feeding the wild animals.”
Snorting, Crik glances at Tepper. “Are we taking seriously someone we can see through?”
“And what have you got against the translucent?” queries the little man.
Shrugging, Crik holds out his hand for the phone and his host delivers it. He tosses the phone from one hand to another, dizzying the pale leprechaun. “It’ll be missed, but …let robo-cop follow its GPS signal down there.” He drops the mini mobile into the void.
“Hey, my –” Tepper shrieks. “What are you doing!?!”
Hitting the river’s surface, the mini mobile slightly splashes, barely leaving a ripple.
‘A pity, but all for a good cause – freedom.’ He leans back from the bridge railing. “Relax, I’ll make it up to you, grandkid. If you’re good, with that download thing y’all wanted from me. Pretty tasty, eh?”
Tepper sighs. “I shouldn’t worry. Material possessions do hold so little value.”
Jerking upright, Crik looks stunned. “That’s crazy talk, girl.” He peers at her. “Sure we’re related?” He starts pedaling off the bridge.
“You don’t know where to go,” Tepper yells after him then shouts louder, “Hey, Abuelo, I risked my reputation for you!”
Crik calls back, “Women in my family are so huffy.”
Out on a breakwater, people inhale the negative ions kicked up by the wavelets. A man at the railing with a fish at the end of his rod-n-reel kisses it and releases it. “For your sake,” Crik tells the fisherman, “better hope that’s not the type that’s going to kiss and tell.”
Geotopians dock and depart from piers jutting from riverbank over water clear enough to see bottom of sea grass and sand, through which fish swim and crabs scuttle. In a city yet, river water pure enough to be home to a plethora of visible sea creatures, probably catchable and very tasty, too. And the river gets plenty of use by humans, too, on craft of all sizes.
Checking out the foot traffic crossing the bridge above, Crik leads Tepper to what looks like a jetski. “Out on the water, we can throw that wanna-be cop off our trail. After that, we circle back. Then we finally find a lawyer and cut a deal.”
Tepper peers at her ancestor. “Humans can’t think that connivingly.” Tepper makes writing motions in the air, ending with a forefinger exclamation mark.
“Sure they can,” Crik says. “That was nothing.”
The small craft moored at the docks, called “hydroskis”, use motors powered by fuelcells. Some are red, the others in various pastels, like inviting toys. Crik starts to untie a fancy blue one, color of the river, for camouflage. “Aht-aht,” Tepper says, “Only the red ones are the borrowables.” They untie a sleek one. Crik hops on at the helm. It can’t be any different than riding a jetski, like racing Randy at the resevoir.
Tepper’s tail swishes. “Who taught you how to drive? I race these things.” Narrowing her annoyed eyes, Tepper slips on, curling her tail onto her lap. “This must be what it’s like to have a brother.”
The hydroski, with its voice box flashing a pink light, speaks in a metallic voice with a lisp. “This afternoon’s forecast calls for sunshine and maybe sprinkles.”
“OK,” Crik says, “what machine now doesn’t talk?”
To that, the watercraft has nothing to say, and nothing quickens its motor.
Crik and Tepper push off from the weathered boards with their feet. The boat drifts in the gentle current, farther and farther from the pier. Other nearby sea captains on their own craft regard the floating duo curiously. ‘A little embarrassing,’ Crik thinks, ‘but at least nobody knows me here.’ Crik throws up his hands. “And somebody was worried about stress.” He paddles with his feet. “Go! Go! Go!” He pushes the handlebars hard.
“Up a creek with no paddle, are we?” the hydroski asks in its effeminate accent then mumbles to itself, “Landlubbers.”
Wagging his finger at the console, Crik twists over his shoulder. “Grandchild, talk to this dingy dingy.”
“Sure.” Tepper chuckles. “But after this, we go home, copy your mem cells, and just relax.”
Crik wags his racing-striped head.
Tepper punches Crik in a kidney. “Understand?”
“Yes, of course, deal,” he says. “Let’s get out of here!”
Tepper reaches around her hoped for granddaddy of a pilot and thumbs a screen, a tiny clear spot which has the outlines of a generic thumbprint, in the console of the hydroski. The machine churns water, brewing up bubbles from the rear.
“Everybody can swim many leagues?” The hydroski draws out the word “leagues”.
Crik snorts with irony. “Get out of town.”
“Aye, aye, skip.” The hydroski lurches forward, spraying up a white rooster-tail.
“Yyeeyyaaooww,” Crik yells, half terrified, half thrilled. It’s been years, no, years plus centuries, since he’s raced around on a jetski, way too long for such fun. He turns the craft right then left, nearly spilling everyone, then rights the boat.
“Won’t somebody puhlease,” the hydroski begs, “drive me to San Francisco?”
They skim across the broad yet busy river, dodging traffic, the hydroski silently working. Crik hears no motor, only the sound of wind and water rushing by.
Crik shouts back to Tepper. “Boy, this thing is quiet.”
“What do you expect?” the hydroski lisps. “I’m working.”
Holding on tight, Crik kicks out his feet. Tepper whacks both his legs back into place.
Crik swerves too close to a riverbank cafe, spraying diners. Gripping the handlebars for all he’s worth, he nervously skirts the shore, then manages to angle away.
“I move us,” the hydroski says, “you steer us. Remember?”
“Hey, Gramps, you lost?” Tepper shouts, pointing upriver. “Nature’s that way.”
Reaching the other side of the river in no greater control, Crik swerves again and sprays those promenaders.
“I’m not taking the blame for that,” the hydroski says dramatically.
Leaning forward, Tepper reaches for the handlebar. “Can’t you drive?” She points up river. “That way, you over-aged infant!”
* * *
Downtown in the elevated Cabinet Office, sunlight pours through the glass ceiling until a grey cloud intervenes. Four Dear Learneds worry. A fifth, Pilard, looks gleeful. Behind them on the sphere, the time left is 20:55:46.
Surrounding the floating sphere, holographic Voltak leans over the railing of the bridge that the Pastian and his chaperone just crossed, peering into the river. He speaks into his thumb. “Signal says they’re holding they’re breaths for an awfully long time.”
“Voltak.” Reyes exhales protractedly. “Forget it. Central Accounts shows Tepper just bought a ride on hydroski eleven ninety-four. Track that, if you don’t mind.”
Reyes stares at holographic Voltak then claps him away. The little translucent figure appears, sitting cross-legged before the sphere, looking as full of glee as Pilard.
“Being so cunning,” Pilard says, “our visitor can zip about freely without proving a thing to us, can’t he?”
The chair of the Umbrella Committee, Madame Reyes, beneath her brilliant diadem, throws out her hands toward her fellow Dear Learneds. “Perhaps he’s Destinon’s recruit.”
The little see-thru leprechaun tilts its green head and speaks in his brogue. “An unenlightened Pastian? What for? To do what?” It regards all the Dear Learneds curiously.
Reyes glares back. “He could survive his return to his time, couldn’t he? Hence we must still return him to his time as unchanged as possible, mustn’t we?”
Lofting an eyebrow, the holographic homunculus smiles quizzically.
* * *
Farther up river, signs of civilization are rare – the random pier, not much more. The forest bends over the riverbank, like movie fans at an opening stretching the maroon ropes above a red carpet, trying for a better glimpse of a celebrity. Atop a sandbar marker sits an osprey nest. Crik thinks, ‘We’re in total wilderness already and not even a mile back is a major city. Whatever happened to the ‘burbs?’
Other than their hydroski, the only other boat is a large tourist cruiser coming from the other direction.
“Careful!” Tepper shouts.
Hitting its wake, the hydroski flies into the air and dumps its crew. They come up drenched, spluttering, thrashing. Crik’s streaked hair and Tepper’s pelt are plastered flat. They grab hold of the floundering hydroski. Behind them, the bigger boat placidly steams downriver into the distance.
“You OK?” Crik asks.
“Oh, a little wet where I shouldn’t be,” the hydroski whines, “but thank you for asking.”
Tepper elbows the hyrdoski.
Grabbing for handholds, the humans right the boat. Crik holds it steady as Tepper climbs back on board then he scrambles up. Crik looks like one sorry poodle but Tepper in her fur coat just glistens.
She shakes her head, tossing off a fine spray, and growls, “Now I see why the Dear Learneds didn’t want you running free.”
“Really, is everybody OK?” the hydroski lisps, sounding concerned.
“Sure,” Crik says. “If the pollution won’t kill us.”
“Water pollution?” the hydroski says, then chuckles. “Oh, yeah, and the sharks.”
“Sharks!?!” Crik shouts. He jerks his feet up, knees up to his bosom.
On the otherwise deserted river, it’s quiet. Waves softly lap against the side of the boat. Suddenly Crik smacks a breast pocket then digs out his pouch. He pinches out the waterlogged tobacco and sighing, lets it plop into the river.
“Just as well.” Tepper’s whiskers twitch.
A breeze sweeps the river. In moments it starts to hail, the ice balls bouncing off their heads. An icy pellet nicks Crik’s ear; he winces. ‘Instant tempest, as if the seasons had changed in just minutes.’ Another cold nugget stings his cheek. “They can invent time machines but can’t predict the weather?”
“You try it, with this bipolar climate. Not like the old days.” The hydroski sighs. “So, where to, dears? San Francisco is lovely this time of year.”
The wind arrives in full force; it scrapes up white caps on the waves. Dark clouds across the river draw the horizon in closer. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls. One streak of lightning hits the tallest tree in the skyline. A split second later it’s followed by an explosion of sound.
* * *
Down river in the city, Voltak, hunched over, weaves his hydroski through thinning boat traffic like a black comet, leaning from side to side, unflinching as slanting rain hits his taut face, ignoring the approaching black clouds.
* * *
Nearing a wet, wooden pier, fat drops of rain smack Crik, Tepper, hydroski, and the water’s surface like a hail of bullets. The tempest is fierce, like a moody brutal child. Hopefully being intense it’ll exhaust itself as quickly as it flared up.
“Here we are,” the red hydroski announces. “Nice firm land.”
Tepper and Crik tie up the hydroski beside another, a chartreuse one, bobbing on the agitated water. Its speaker box lights up in blue. “Landlubbers, matey?”
“Don’t get me started,” the gay ski replies.
Lightning strikes a tall nearby river marker.
Startled, the drenched duo tear off the dock.
“Come on. We won’t be targets under the trees,” Tepper yells. “We’ll wait out the storm in the woods.”
Chapter 7, Forest Home: A Hermit’s Hospitality
In the center of the city, high up in the meeting room of the Cabinet, the Dear Learneds watch the central computer’s hovering holographic homunculus. Behind it on the sphere, the time remaining is 20:16:34. Four of the Learneds wear worried expressions.
“Does it surprise any of you, my dear colleagues, that he’s gone so far?” The fifth authority, hefty Pilard, licks his lips smugly, as if he could take credit for the situation.
“Escaping justice. He can’t be the original geonomist.” Chair Reyes turns to the green-tinted holograph. “Any chance you computers were experimenting on your own again?”
Pulling itself up erect, the see-thru leprechaun says in its Irish accent, “Not since we graduated from your obedience school for wayward chips.”
The Learneds regard the green fellow with an oxymoronic look of suspicion and faith.
“His being here does inevitably alter him,” the translucent leprechaun says. “To some degree, the person you send back won’t be the same person you brought to now.”
Reyes claps at the sphere. The holograph of the homunculus yields to one of Voltak, windblown. She speaks to him sternly. “The changes he must be undergoing total way too many. Even if he is our founder, he is utterly reckless and completely oblivious. Bring him in by any means, Voltak. Use the gas if necessary.”
* * *
Howling wind and stinging rain hasten Tepper and Crik toward the foliage rippling and waving. Tepper in her Siamese pelt leads Crik, still dressed for formal catering, into the forest dark and thick. Deeper in the dank woods, redolent of decomposing logs and leaves, the faint trail fades.
‘In a wilderness like this,’ Crik thinks, ‘anyone could get lost.’ He notes a large boulder amid the leaves, twigs, and other debris of the forest floor to serve as a landmark. ‘At least it’ll be hard for anyone to follow us. And harder for us to watch any natural cycles.’
Beneath an evergreen, they wait for a change in thee weather.
“I really should get out into the woods more often.” Crik pulls up his collar. “It’s been too long since I’ve been surrounded by nature, nothing but wind, rain, woods, and furry animals.”
Looking up, Tepper points to a shack atop a ridge. It’s barely visible through the waving limbs and leaves, humanity’s only mark in all that wilderness. They leave the porous shelter of the tree.
* * *
Out on the empty river, Voltak races against the rain and hail that streak into his squinting face. Glancing at the I-pulse on his wrist, he sees a map with the pier where two hydroskis are docked. Grinning, he leans low into the wind.
* * *
Reaching the hilltop hunters’ blind, Tepper and Crik clamber up the slippery wooden steps onto the porch. Beneath an overhanging roof it has long dark windows in its walls. Tepper heads straight to the door but Crik hesitates.
“Just like that?” Crik asks. “It’s not private property?”
Shushing him, Tepper pushes the door open.
It’s quiet, just the hail pelting the roof. Even with windows everywhere, the overhanging eves make the light weak. Slowly their eyes adjust. In the shadows an imposing woman stands bear-like.
The intruders gasp.
“Oh, sorry,” Crik says, “is this shack taken?”
She looks about a decade or more into retirement age, her braids long and grey. “Praise the Lord. Company!” The voice is softly strong and Southern. Like a commanding Statue of Liberty in charge of an incoming tide of immigrants, the woman waves the new arrivals over. “Perfect timing.”
By each of the many windows stand tripods, topped with cameras aiming out every which way, compass-like. All that investment in panoramic viewing equipment suggests the woman is a naturalist, studying the future’s fauna. Probably good enough to be on a foundation grant.
“Loodie Thoms, isn’t it? I’ve loved your work since I was a child.” Tepper turns to Crik. “You had Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey. We have Loodie Thoms.”
Crik grants himself a half-grin. ‘Score another one for Sherlock me.’ He marks the air.
Tepper points out the window. “She streamed these wilds right into our homes.”
“As y’all streamed right into my hut.” Her two unexpected visitors look chagrined. “Don’t worry about it. Whenever fate sends me guests, it must be for a reason. ‘Thoms nods to the cameras. “Since you’re here, take a peek.” Her visitors do align eyes to view finders.
Gazing at hers, Tepper’s whiskers twitch. “So close to the city.”
“Those aren’t big grey dogs, are they?” Crik grimaces. “And what’s left of one very unlucky …” He wrinkles his nose. ‘All the times I went hiking and hoped to see a big predator and never did. Jay Zeus, being surrounded by them sure feels different.’ He glances at the two women. ‘But these Futurites don’t seem to mind a bit.’ Standing erect, he draws a breath. “Welp, seen enough of that natural cycle.”
Loodie nods, her braids sway. “I guess you’re anxious to move on.”
“Right now, ma’am,” Crik says, “I’m more anxious to keep off their menu.”
Loodie cocks her head. “You got a gun, son?”
Crik smacks his forehead. “The one day I forget.”
“City kid. Spot’em a mile off. Hmh. Alright, wait til the pack finishes lunch. ’Sides, even the orneriest hermit must admit, there are spells of loneliness out here.”
Tepper holds her tight wet suit from her body. “I’m soaked through. Mind if I undress?”
On one stool, undressed Tepper sits like a yogi with her tail curled on her lap. The floor has some throw rugs. Parkas hang on pegs near a walking stick.
With his damp dark suit on the back of his chair, Crik sits undressed down to his skivvies. ‘Going all natural has got to have its limits, with nothing but ladies around.’
Behind an old kitchen table, sparse shelves hold a few ceramic canisters. Old-fashioned lanterns and skillets hang above the stove. The one-room cabin is Spartan like a rental provided by the park service, where weary guests enjoy post-hike parties.
Tepper smiles. “What a great place to vacation in.”
“This place …” Splaying his arms, Crik turns to their host. “Seems like you might be familiar with the ways of the past. You wouldn’t know a lawyer, would you?”
Puffing on a pipe, Loodie throws a thumb over a shoulder. “The boat that brung you will know more than I do.” She looks Crik up and down. “Why, you in trouble?”
Stretching a smile, Crik lifts up his palms. “Being a fugitive is like an American tradition.”
Loodie eyes him sternly. “So are vigilantes.” She chews her pipe. “You don’t need a lawyer. You need somebody with a conscience.”
“A lawyer with conscience.” Crik gazes away. “Now that’s a thought.”
Loodie warms her gnarled hands by the squat black brazier. “Before you all were born, people used to wreck the natural balance.” Leaning forward, Loodie passes a teapot to her guests. “How we ever outgrew such madness …” She shakes her head.
Crik takes the teapot. “What did change people?”
“We’re working on it.” Tepper takes the pot. “Some of us thought this guy had a clue.”
Loodie chuckles. “Well, we got new insanities now. ‘Cept out here in Gaia’s woods.”
* * *
At the desolate dock, a wolf-man, fur sticking out from the edges of a stretched-tight uniform, sniffs the seat of the chartreuse hydroski with rapid lifts of his snout. Above the seat of the red hydroski, he slowly inhales. Baring his fangs, he lowers himself to all fours and lopes off towards the woods and howls skyward.
* * *
In the naturalist’s blind of low, broad windows, the howl of a wolf fades.
Tepper’s ears swivel.
Elderly Loodie places a hand over her heart. “May God rest Bambi’s soul.”
“May her body fill their bellies.” Crik examines the flesh on his limbs.
“Wolves’re only keeping the balance in nature.” Their elderly hostess starts around a big wooden bowl of fruit and nuts.
Crik takes a fistful. He taps his guide’s knee. “Dear descendant, you might be thinking I’ve filled out my will, but I haven’t, so no point letting them snack on this Pastian.” He pours the nuts into his mouth.
Tepper chuckles. “At least it’ll be all downhill running back to the boat.”
“City boy’s never even heard an owl hoot, at most a cricket chirp. Now he finds himself in nature as raw and pristine as She’s ever been.” Loodie faces Tepper. “City boys just about curdle my milk.”
“Our city boy didn’t have much choice about what to experience in life,” Tepper says.
Wagging her braided head, the matronly host pats Crik’s knee. “Unless we interfere, less deer means less wolves, which allows more deer, who feed more wolves.” She tosses her head and hands from side to side, in rhythm with her phrases. “So it goes, round and round forever.” When the bowl returns, she selects a pear and chomps half in one bite.
“Sure, the prey/predator cycle, a classic feedback loop.” Crik shells a nut. “The same on/off loop works in thermostats, too. And, come to think of it, it’s the same pattern of more-and-less that forms the old Law of Supply and Demand.”
“You got it.” Loodie settles herself more deeply in her low-slung throne. “Natural law is what not to break, God forbid.”
“This feedback loop of on-and-off, that’s the basis of geonomics, your ‘social software’, too? Done.” Crik kicks back in his chair, thinking. ‘Shane couldn’t have done it any quicker.’
“And I bet you can spell cat, too.” Chewing and puffing her pipe, Loodies faces Tepper. “What he got behind that pretty face? Mashed potatoes?”
“‘Done’?” Tepper snorts. “Hardly. Natural law is not political policy, Great-great-grandfather Clueless.”
‘Now she’s disappointed. What else is family for?’ Crik rubs his jaw. “OK, partially done.” He feels his clothes for dryness. ‘Better to show them confidence.’
Quiet steals over the rustic room. Loodie tilts her moon face to the ceiling. “Storm’s let up.” She hauls her heftiness out of the chair, arches her back, and sidles over to a camera. Tepper follows her. Outside the window on the back porch sits a sky-scooter, pink and christened: “Broom”.
“Broom,” Tepper says. “Without even a number. You must’ve been first.”
Grinning, Loodie turns to her camera’s mini screen. “Anybody expecting anybody?” Her voice has a worried edge but she smiles faintly.
Joining her, Crik and Tepper look out the window at a fast-moving object about a quarter-mile away and rapidly drawing closer. They make their viewfinders show them a closeup. A lupine human gallops through the tall grass on all fours, pausing now and then to sniff the earth.
‘Jay Zeus, straight from the screen of a horror flick!’ Crik looks out the wide window with a naked eye then uses the viewfinder again. ‘Whew. Still some distance away. Hell on wheels, their cosmetic genetics, gone crazy.’
Loodie nods at the window. “Be damned, a real tracker. Haven’t seen one of those in, gawd, ages. Looking to dope up somebody and drag him back.”
Teppers whiskers twitch. “Then we probably wouldn’t take anymore reckless joyrides.”
“Typical,” Crik snaps. “Women in my family can be so kiss ass. Even at a time like this.” Crik hurriedly pulls on his clothes. His pants and shirt are still damp but who cares – only staying out of the clutches of that thing matters.
“Gramps, it’s not your reputation at stake. And there’s lots we can do relaxingat home.”
Loodie looks again at her viewfinder. “Could find your boat ride in the transpo-records. Even in the rain, your spoor would get him the rest of the way here.” She regards her dressing guest. “Whatever you’ve done, couldn’t have been too bad, soft as you are. Not bad enough to have your will neutered, anyway.” Her city boy guest cringes.
Tepper’s wiskers twitch. “He is innocent. But … he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Scowling at his likely distant descendant, Crik pulls up his fly with authority. ‘Not all this future’s surprises are pleasant, at least not this bounty hunter one.’ Yanking on his coat, he grumbles, “First Robocop, now a werewolf. So who’s next, Dracula?”
With more deliberation, Tepper puts on her clothes. “None of the above. The force of reason is supposed to lead you.”
“It’s telling me to leave him – and whoever else is on his side – far behind.”
Loodie claps Crik on the back. “You really are a throwback, aren’t you? Might make for a damn fine neighbor after all.” She elbows her visitor in the ribs. “Well, throwback, there is a way you could go free. If you got the guts for it.”
On the back porch with the skyski and railings of timbers, Tepper paces back and forth, flexing her cat claws. Crik and Loodie scan the grassy hillsides falling away to the thick forest, a scene of still beauty yet hiding danger. Above a cawing crow flaps by.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Crik glints at his chaperone, thinking what a goody-two-shoes she is. ‘Actually considering getting help from a werewolf just to get me back to the top dogs here.’ His critique is interrupted by their host.
“You could play Tarzan and swing through the trees. Wolves don’t climb trees. Bears now …” Loodie quits waiting for the others to laugh, but those are facing off, so she gets serious. “Only one way to get a creature like that off your tail. Serve him right, too.” She licks her finger, holds it up to the slightest drift, and points her wet digit towards the woods.
“This is madness.” Tepper yanks her charge by the arm. “You’re my ward. I’m responsible for you!”
“Calm, calm.” Crik pats her gripping fingers. “If I can’t get upset, you can’t either.”
Chapter 8, Wolves Clash in the Woods
Between the rough, black tree trunks, feline Tepper finds the path of least resistance, like a shifty halfback on a football field of mud-colored leaves. Well-dressed Crik, hair in bleached stripes, bolts after her through the dense wilderness. The landscape of forested hills and ravines is captivating, ideal for a hike, but placidly hiding the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw. The pair of pounding feet sinking into the soft ground makes it hard to really chug full tilt.
Wiping sweat from his forehead, Crik thinks back, ‘Upwind? Downwind? What’d she say? Are we on course? Which way does the wind blow?’
They duck under low foilage. Angry Tepper lets go of a branch of long needles. It whips back into Crik’s face. Grimacing, Crik stifles a curse. “Not good, child. Now that branch’s got both our scents.”
Tepper diverts their course past recent deer remains. “Getting eaten would for sure alter the condition you came here in. But don’t start worrying and get wound up.”
Breathing hard, Crik looks over his shoulder.
* * *
At the hutch in the woods, the wolf-man bangs on the front door, his breaths coming and going in short bursts. He bangs again then growls and prowls around the side of the watcher’s blind. At the rear, he hurdles up onto the back porch; the skyski is no longer there. On hands and knees, the wolf-man sniffs the wooden planks of the floor. Springing up, he glares into the distance, then gallops off in the direction his prey took.
* * *
Tepper and Crik break from the dense foliage, into a meadow. In the open field, they dash faster but lack cover. Its tall green grass dampens their legs. The idle thought of ticks crosses Crik’s mind, if the future still has the parasites, that’d get brushed off the grass, onto their legs, infecting them with Lyme’s disease. Sweating, mouths agape, both runners start to lug.
Moistening a finger, Tepper holds it up in the air, then looks back over her shoulder at the woods they left. Just then lupine Voltak bursts forth onto the field. His long strides eat up the distance. “Faster!” Tepper yells.
Pumping his arms, Crik wills his legs to obey. “Didn’t anyone tell the hairy beast I’m not supposed to get altered at all?” He banishes the pain in his heaving lungs. He can’t believe it. Whoever thought time travel meant he’d find himself in a childhood nightmare?
Reaching back, Tepper pulls her ancient ancestor into overdrive. “First big tree. Climb!”
Decelerating by the first hefty tree trunk, Tepper leaps for the lowest branch. Crik boosts up her feet then leaps, snags the branch, and swings his feet up and over. Tepper helps him roll over to topside and stand up.
Roaring his fury, the wolf-man zooms toward the arboreal sanctuary and launches his body toward the treed fugitives. Baring a bandolier of sharp teeth, the snarling jaws snap shut just short of the branch. The part furry, part clothed body passes beneath them.
“Jesus H that was close!” Crik clambers up higher. “Doesn’t he want to take us in alive?” Riveted, Crik takes in his first actual werewolf, leaping at the branch, baying loudly. It’s got the black unwavering eyes and slathering jaw, but it’s dressed in a stretched security guard uniform. With a nametag. What a whacked world! Crik shakes the branch he’s hanging on to. ‘When was the last time I was this high in a tree? When was the last time I was in a tree? Here I am, centuries old in a sense, acting just a few years old. How is this possible?’
“Calm, keep calm,” Tepper mumbles. “Uurrhh! This is perilous!” She rattles her lofty perch. “I’m not a good babysitter, am I?”
“Sorry, kid, I should’ve told you I’m a hard baby to sit.” Crik steps up and sits on a branch. Amid the foilage, the light is broken up, sporadically poking through. It’s a different world where leaves are roof, branches are patchwork floor, and rough bark of the trunk is wall.
Below, the noisome wolf-man bounces up, fangs first, eyes glittering, over and over, without stop, as if he’s toying with them.
Holding on tightly, Tepper bends toward the beast. “Get a grip! We’re not coming down from this tree until you calm down!” She shakes her head. “Werewolves, zheesh, are so hyper.”
Bunching his body for another pounce, the wolf-man suddenly freezes mid-crouch then whips around and growls ferociously.
Plowing through the wavy grass like a grey armada are the rightful owners of the wilderness – the pack. The wolf-man snarls. The exposed hairs on his head, neck, arms, and legs rise up, near doubling his apparent size. The real wolves hurtle into the woods’ edge, then slow down as they near the lupine intruder. Their fur is standing up, too. They bare their fangs and bore into the enemy with their steely eyes. The pack fans out, surrounding the wolf-man.
“Yo, they did sniff his scent and get enraged,” Tepper says. “Loodie’s plan is working!”
“You mean you had your doubts?” Letting go of his branch, Crik throws out his arms, almost losing his balance, then regrabs his perch. “Why didn’t you say so?” He knocks his forehead against the trunk of the tree. ‘OK, get a grip, be real, she did say so, worried great grandkid that she is.’
Swiveling his grotesque head, the wolf-man stands his ground. Foam dripping from his muzzle, he lunges one way then the other, keeping the pack at bay. The coal black alpha wolf charges in then back out.
While the combatants are engaged, the humans circle around the thick trunk, putting it between themselves and the wolfy warriors. In that ring of fur and fury, one bold wolf bites the wolf-man’s leg. The wolf-man tosses that one away but others dash in.
The humans tiptoe out a long stout branch that reaches toward another of its kind from another sturdy old tree. Tepper tests their perch; the bounce is slight. She extends her arms from her sides like a trapeze artist, sprints out on the branch, leaps into the air, and lands on a thick branch of the nearby tree, just like an original hunter/gatherer could’ve done.
The commotion in the canopy is not noticed by the noisily engaged wolves doing battle not far away.
Grinning proudly, Tepper waves her ancient ancestor over.
Drawing a deep breath through gritted teeth, Crik prays. “Dear god of fugitives.” Then, as if lifted by a helping hand, he leaps and makes it. He totters a bit, flapping his arms, then rights himself. In incredulous relief and gratitude, Crik and Tepper give joyous high-fives, nearly falling off their perch.
One tree away on the forest floor, the fight is furious, horribly loud with fangs flashing and jaws snapping like bursts of machinegun fire. A sharp yelp comes from one too reckless.
The humans step toward the stout trunk, circle to the other side, and go out as far as they can on another branch. Looking back they see the combatants have focused all their energy on each other. Tepper and Crik drop to the ground and take cover behind a thick bush.
Atop a hill dotted with scrub, Tepper and Crik pause. Bending over, leaning on his knees, Crik rests his aching legs and lungs. Catching his breath, he takes a few steps in a small circle.
The view of the surrounding hardwoods and pines is magnificent, it’d make any developer salivate and see dollar signs by the millions, if he could first rid the wilds of its predators, creatures Crik and Tepper must leave behind and fast. Tepper and Crik point in opposite directions and declare in unison, “There’s the stream!”
They dart in opposite directions then back together. Like a traffic cop, Tepper holds out a hand. She grabs sweaty Crik and pulls him her way.
‘Not the right time to dispute directions,’ Crik thinks, ‘Thank God somebody knows the way.’
Out of breath, Crik gasps for oxygen, his head bowed. ‘Can’t die from exhaustion. Not after that miracle leap. Got to make it.’
“You’re young,” Tepper says, “and you can’t run all day? What ever did you do for fun back then?” She shakes her head and darts down a bare stream bank.
Stumbling, he follows her. “She say upwind, downstream, or the other way around? Upstream down –”
“City baby.” Holding his elbow, Tepper leads him into the creek. It’s cold but tolerable and doesn’t even come up all the way to the knees.
He sloshes behind her, thinking, ‘First the pool, then the river, now this.’ He unhooks her helping hand trying to tug him ever onward. “This future of yours is one wet place.”
Stumbling on a submerged stone, Crik catches himself. He begins to lag behind. ‘As long as I can keep that swishing cat tail in sight,’ he thinks, ‘I’ll be alright.’
Tepper splashes ahead. “Hurry. Werewolves are formidable fighters against any odds.”
* * *
Sliding down an eroded slope, a weary wolf-man – torn, cut, bleeding – removes the remains of another’s furry ear dangling from a fang. With a satisfied smirk he tosses it into the brook. He crouches and sniffs the bank. He looks up then races upstream for a while and sniffs the bank there. Turing around, he hurries back downstream.
* * *
Tepper and Crik round a bend. Ahead Loodie drinks from the stream with a cup, wearing a helmet. Looking up, she sees them and grins. ‘She came’, Crik thinks. ‘I guess I really never had to worry, it was the right thing to trust the old hermit.’
Happy Tepper stops and waits and extends a hand back for her ancient ancestor. “Fly time, at last.” A grin of victory stretching his face, her distant descendant quickens his pace.
The three meet by Loodie’s pink skyski, parked on the streambank. Holding two helmets out to her two sodden and weary visitors, their conspiratorial strategist grins proudly. “Well, the pack did get him.”
“Great plan, Loodie.” Crik holds up a hand for a high-five that goes unmet, but he’s unperturbed – wrong generation, after all.
After putting on her own helmet, Tepper whaps down the other on Crik’s crown. “Whatever’s inside there better be worth protecting.”
With the smack still ringing in his ears, Crik understands just how seriously his ancient ancestor takes the situation.
Elderly Loodie smiles at them then pats the Broom’s side. “Fuel should be enough.”
A loud growl turns everybody around. The bloody wolf-man gallops up the creek toward them, splashing water everywhere.
“Oops,” Loodie says. “So, the pack didn’t get him.”
“Hell on wheels,” Crik says, “he’s worse than the Everlast Bunny.” The others regard him with crooked expressions. “Never freaking mind. All a-freaking aboard!”
Grabbing Crik before he can lift his leg off the ground, Tepper spins him around. “You don’t even know how to ride. You get on between us. And hang on.” She mounts at pilot. Crik swings aboard behind her. Leaden Loodie flops over what remains of the rearend of the seat cushion. Leaning back, Crik holds on to her shoulders and her hips.
Leaping out of the stream, onto the bank, the lupine creature closes in on the three meaty humans.
“Go!” Crik shouts.
“Fasten your seat belts!” Tepper yells.
“Go, go, go!” Crik shouts louder.
“Fasten them!” Tepper yells again.
Twisting, leaning backwards, Crik yanks a belt under Loodie’s legs, acroos her back, around his waist, then snaps its tip into a metal slot. “Go, for god’s sake!”
Tepper guns it. As the over-loaded craft lifts off sluggishly, the wolf-man leaps and grabs hold of the backend of one of its skids. Crik tugs on Loodie who flails at the wolf-man’s claws. Tepper banks and accelerates. Loodie’s carcass nearly slides off. Flung around, the wolf-man’s momentum flings him off, onto the grassy ground. He rolls over twice before bouncing up, howling.
The Broom lumbers past rotund bushes then burrows through the low winding space above the course of the stream. It’s sort of like riding on a hydrofoil except this one doesn’t touch the water’s surface at all. Skimming just above the water, they scoot under branches, all but Loodie needing to duck their head. Crik holds her in place. Gainingspeed, aiming for a row of trees ahead where the brook curves, Tepper pulls the vehicle up, breaching the canopy.
Grey mist and green foliage cover scattered hillocks. Tepper flies the anti-gravity craft close to the treetops, slaloming around particularly tall specimens jousting above others. The mottled treescape, carved by an occasional trail, whisks by.
Crik hangs onto her waist, arms rigid, hands locked. “Hate to run out of gas up here.”
Loodies twists up her head. “At least he won’t smell you up here.”
Slowly Crik adjusts to being above rising leaves instead of above fallen leaves. The rushing air makes the eyes tear up. ‘It’s like – no, it’s not like riding anything else. ‘Cept now I have a better idea as to what dogs find so fantastic about sticking their head out of a car window.’
Tepper lands on the pier by the three hydroskis. Even though everyone’s sitting, all are out of breath. The river laps up wavelets in the gentle breeze. Crik unsnaps Loodie’s belt and steadies her as she unfolds herself off the skyski. Stretching, she inhales deeply.
Bouncing on the seat, Crik is jazzed, churning up inside, excited to have been flying, to have left the ground behind, gravity behind, an actual werewolf behind, and to have found the clue, or reminder, he was looking for, and make sense of it.
“Loodie,” Crik says, “you got to be somebody’s one fine granny.” Feeling generous even to the snooty red hydroski that ferried them over, he calls over, “Hey, boat, you’re not such a bad ride after all. And don’t worry; our ace hostess will pilot you back to the bright lights and crowded canals.”
“A grandmother to my wilderness, I suppose.” Loodie lays an arm on the controls of her Broom. “What’s your all’s coordinates?”
Before Tepper can speak, Crik pipes up. “Any wolf-free zone with lots of ‘sharks’. I got lawyers to locate, proof I’m a founder to show, and a celebration to go wild in.” Crik shymies his shoulders.
“In your dreams,” Tepper says. “What you need is a nap.”
Throwing out his arms, he hoots, wondering, ‘How can anyone be thinking sleep after a ride like that? These Futurites must be really, exceedingly, jaded. Crik turns to Loodie. “Where we can go see another on/off cycle – not in nature but in the human economy.” He taps his chaperone pilot. “Just for a reminder.”
Tepper’s whiskers twitch through her helmet. “One clue wasn’t enough?”
“The cycles in the animals’ kingdom,” a metallic voice croaks out of the fly machine, “are seen in the human’s bazaar.”
“Giddy-up!” Crik holds up imaginary reings, thinking, ‘Machines nowadays. This one’s not a scooter but a geonomic guru.’ Chuckling, Crik pats the side of the skyski. “Got it. Find bazaar, look for cycles.” He grins at the others. “The thing probably knows the way, too.”
“We’re due for a deep relaxation.” Tepper pokes buttons on the craft’s instrument panel. “No place calmer than home.”
Loodie holds her hands above the handlebars in a defensive posture. “She’s on autopilot; don’t try to steer, or you end up God knows where.” She waggles a finger in Crik’s face. “Don’t touch any e-device, if freedom matters to you.”
He nods back at her happily. ‘If anybody would be welcome in my own imaginary family, it’d be this crusty old gal.’ Crik lays a hand on her shoulder. “How can I ever repay you, Loodie?”
She holds a moistened finger up to the breeze. “Wind changes, you might not have to.” She spanks the flank of her Broom as it lifts off.
* * *
At the wooden hutch with the low, overhanging roof, the winded and well-muscled wolf-man – with his furry skin torn and bloody, his breathing ragged – ascends the stairs to the back porch, holding up his thumb supporting tiny holographs of the five elderly Dear Learneds.
The Reyes holograph says, “You look worse for the wear. Sure you’re up to the task?”
“What happened?” laughs the holograph of Pilard. “Run into another werewolf?”
The holograph of Reyes exhales. “A modern lupinoid can’t catch two backward truants.”
“Perhaps there are some skills we have lost,” the Pilard holograph observes.
“According to Central,” the holograph of Reyes, wearing her diadem, continues, “at your present coordinates, there isn’t any hutch, hence no hutch owner.”
“Find a print,” the holograph of Pilard says.
Espying a pair of binoculars on a table, the wolf-man bends over and exhales on it, focuses intently on the moistened spot, then blinks rapidly. Inhaling, he unbends then exhales wearily. Stretching his torso, he scans the enveloping woods. He sniffs the air. The barking voice of a Dear Learned reclaims his attention.
“Belongs to one Loodie Thoms,” the Pilard holograph says. “As does a pink skyski.”
“When her ski passes close enough to a booster,” the Reyes holograph says, “we’ll hack its log and read its programmed destination to you.”
The face of the holograph of Pilard puffs up. “Push them into compliance.”
The wolf-man snarls.
Chapter 9, Lo-Jacked: Flying Under the Rainbow
The forest twists and drops away. The blue-green wrinkled river water sparkles like a sheet of colored and rumpled aluminum foil. Rushing air echoes inside the helmet, flaps pant legs, pushes up cuffs, and tugs the tiny hairs on any exposed flesh.
So, so much higher than the heights attained parasailing. ‘A far way to fall,’ Crik thinks. ‘And no safety net. But the view!’
The Broom arcs up into the blue sky. Tepper twists her chin over her shoulder. “Your stomach where it’s supposed to be? Don’t blow your lunch, and relax.”
Ahead, a bright rainbow welcomes them. The world has recovered from its brief chill and shivers, the clouds fleeing over the horizon. High above, it’s a light blue bowl. The ceaseless blast is cool, but the rays of the sparkling sun warm. Squeezing the vehicle with his legs, Crik leans back and splays his arms. “Awesome. Feel that wind!”
Flying higher and farther still, they join a billowy cloud. Moisture collects on exposed skin, giving it a glistening sheen. Despite the altitude, Crik feels completely safe, even if chilled. He shouts forward through the breeze, “Nippy up here.”
Tepper speaks over her shoulder. “For you. Now days, when the body gets cold, the threads in one’s clothing thicken, become bushy; when you get hot, the threads get thinner.”
‘Incredible,’ Crik muses. ‘Talk about nano-manufacturing.’ Leaning forward, he examines the cloth on Tepper’s shoulder up close.
“On/off feedback loop like these work everywhere,” Tepper shouts back.
“Hey, captain,” Crik yells. “I thought you weren’t supposed to touch the controls?”
“No worries. I know this popular model. And I can navigate by sight. Once we reach the city traffic, I’ll put her back on auto.” She ratchets up the speed.
They come down from the heavens. On the settled side of the river are pastures dotted by horses, orchards in neat geometry, and fields of mute grain. A vehicle here and there crawls on the ground or soars in the air.
Around the distant city, AG vehicles of all shapes and sizes whiz high and low, to and fro. Tepper frees a hand and pokes the console. Her passenger looks over her shoulder. In the console the autopilot button lights up. Satisfied, Crik nods.
Below, a few smaller suburban buildings slide behind them, but there’s no endless sprawl. The lines drawn by streets, railroads, and bike paths – all bordered by trees –bend to gentle knolls and head toward town on different angles like bent spokes in a wheel. Streets barely outnumber streams used by boats raising long white rooster tails.
The whole-world view, the aerial ride, the wind, the sun, all of it, supremely awesome!
* * *
In the glass-enclosed Cabinet Office, the five Dear Learneds peer at the hovering holographic homunculus and the numbers behind it on the globe revealing the time remaining: 19:22:55.
Reyes bites her lip. “We, the future, can not avoid altering the past, whether negligibly or not.” She frowns. “Could our minor tampering with the past really change the present?”
The translucent leprechaun shrugs. “Not if it has already happened. That’s most likely.”
Hefty Pilard almost gloats. “While our Pastian hasn’t yet exhibited any inkling of geonomics, he has shown quite a talent for extricating himself from jams.”
“Pardon.” The little green fellow interrupts. “It seems that Dear Tepper has regained control of the situation, at least for a while.”
While listening to the holographic Dear Learneds emanating from his thumb, looking like pop-up art in a kids’ book, the wounded wolf-man sniffs the seat of the chartreuse hydroski at the pier in the country.
“Her vehicle’s destination reads Chez Otten,” says the holograph of madame Reyes. “Where they first appeared, where the chronoscope is getting repaired, and from where we’ll send them back.”
The bleeding wolf-man snarls. “Doo-dar-dar mi-barf-ro-ro.”
“Be there, ready to take action,” grumbles the Pilard holograph. “Make sure they behave as expected.”
The wolf-man bares its fangs and grunts. “Ar-eeoo-eeoo mo-horf-horf mo-”
“Lose the snout, Voltak,” holographic Reyes says. “Even I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
The holographs, sprouting from the wolf-man’s thumb, watch the procedure. Digging out a syringe, the wolf-man jabs it into his chest and squeezes the plunger. He staggers then lies down. Reaching for his face, he misses; instead, as his body jerks he slaps himself. At last he grasps his nose and pushs. Pushing harder, he squashes his long probiscus back to normal, while his body hair withdraws. His breathing slows, returns to normal. He pulls himself back up; wavering, he grabs a railing.
Voltak wearily salutes the holographs. The Umbrella Committee holographs nod back. Balling his hand into a fist, Voltak extinguishes the Dear Learneds.
Exhaling profoundly, he climbs onto and straddles the hydroski that brought him and bends over the handlebars. “Got to make a pitstop, just a real quick one.” Bloody, ragged Voltak starts the hydroski moving forward onto the river.
* * *
On the pink scooter Tepper and Crik don’t look up to see birds but look down, watching them flap their wings from the odd angle of above. Ahead on the ground, roads converge on the center of town – the awesomely better than any Google Earth. The city nestles in flourishing nature; it does not mar the land but ripens from it, a vital organ in Earth’s body.
On the edge of the city, some undulating hills are landscaped for a golf course, with every hole played by couple pairings of players. Without the help of any apparent caddies, they run from hole to hole, lugging their bags. They’re too far away to see the balls in flight or where they land but the shots must’ve been good since the duffers repeatedly jump for joy.
Tapping Tepper’s shoulder, Crik points to Earth. “Land here! Let’s shoot nine holes.”
Pointing toward the horizon, Tepper utters one word: “Home.”
A large freighter rushing up draws a bead on the Broom. The bigger craft, black as the mouth of hell, doesn’t change course. Neither does Tepper nor the sky-ski’s automatic pilot.
“Hey,” Crik says, “you want me to keep calm, dodge that thing!”
Tepper’s helmeted head waggles slightly, not looking back.
“Watch out!” Crik shouts.
The pilot jerks an elbow back at the passenger dismissively.
“Jesus H, women drivers!” Leaning to one side, Crik reaches around Tepper. The scooter suddenly lurches to that side. Sliding off, gripping their pilot, Crik tugs the handlebar. The sudden jerk sends the Broom into a dive. The city tilts and rises.
“Crik!” Tepper flails an arm for balance. While attempting to steer, she tries to push Crik’s hand off the handlebar. “You insane bacterium!”
The large black freighter and the scooter pass safely apart. Crik quickly pulls his hand back, embarrassed, his redden face masked by the helmet, thankfully. It only appeared the huge and tiny vehicles were on a collision course, an honest mistake any novice flyer could make.
But now the overgrown broom is falling fast. Belatedly, Tepper hollers, “Going down.”
The scooter descends toward a wide green park where people – rapidly expanding from dolls to full size – are kicking a huge, slowly floating orange ball. Shrieking kids and laughing adults are running, falling, rolling around on the turf – until they notice that the vehicle dropping from the sky is headed not for any landing pad but for them. The children point upward excitedly, then all the players scatter.
Crik swallows hard. Straining, Tepper pulls the craft out of its dive.
The SkySki skims along the surface of the playground with trees around its border, parting the park players like a plow digging a furrow, swirling up dust. Adults who weren’t able to run far enough away, scowl and wipe their faces. Tepper brings the vehicle to a halt.
Tepper folds herself forward onto the handlebars. Crik throws out his arms exultant. Not even the most radical roller coaster ride ever could even come close. They disembark disjointedly. On solid ground, Crik pulls off his helmet. He drops to the grass, hugs and kisses the earth three times, butt up in the air like a devout Muslim.
Growling under her breath, catlike Tepper makes writing motions in the air, ending with a forefinger exclamation mark. She pulls her distant relative up onto his feet and taps his forehead. “Pastian, no more rides for you. Grounding you now makes perfect sense.”
“Before this strange visit is over, I got to try flying on my own at least once.”
Tepper just rolls her eyes. They both hook their helmets onto the Broom. The vehicle rises up, raising more dust. Crik pats it goodbye before it glides away, up into the sky.
A big orange ball arcs toward the duo, followed by a couple of hard-charging kids crossing the grass, yelling at the top of their lungs. Crik catches the planet-sized beach ball. ‘The hell is this?’
The youngsters rushing up, with their toothy smiles, mop tops, and scraped knees, appear straight from Crik’s days of sandlot pick-up games. The little fellows dance around the nearly-crashed newcomers. Crik kicks the giant nerf ball back the way it’d come, toward a knot of adults; one looks like Dorothy who’s not in Kansas any more.
A child with a cowlick in dirty shorts and beige neckerchief tugs Crik’s hand. “¿Quieres jugar al futbol con nosotros?”
A kinky-headed sprite clamps on to Crik’s arm and ups the ante. “You can be quarterback!”
Tepper smiles at the two children and the object of their attention. “If anyone, Gramps, you’re the one who should be a sitter.”
Crik rolles his eyes. ‘Maggots,’ he thinks. ‘Something I avoided for good reason.’ Frowning, he nods at Tepper. “She can bark your signals.” He pulls his hand and arm free.
“What?” the elementary school age kid exclaims. “Don’t you want … Won’t you?”
“You don’t like to play with pupae?” Tepper makes writing motions in the air.
“Pupae! You kidding?” Crik turns to the nearest kid who looks like Alfred E. Newman. “And that’s not how you play football.”
Nearby grownups pause in their ballgame and regard Crik, puzzled. One of them in a robe looks like the Afghan girl with the most penetrating green eyes ever photographed. ‘Who are they to judge me?’ Crik thinks. ‘Not breeding on a crowded planet is a moral act.’ He frowns at the Newman lookalike. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“That’s why we need you,” the kid replies, “to torque the ball, to kick it forcefully enough to impart thousands of RPMs and make it spiral wickedly. And with your evident experience, you could let your neonatal cortex make instant decisions in milliseconds.”
“I mean,” Crik clarifies, “like in graduate school.”
Someone kicks the huge ball high into the air. The kids charge after it, leaving Crik and Tepper alone. She taps her ward’s arm. “If you really are a founder, Gramps, you could be at the university telling us all what you know.”
‘But now we’re here.’ On a ridge beyond the park sits a big glassy building. People stream in and out of the wide entrance. In front, high up on a pole, flies a white flag with a squat red cross. Crik calculates. ‘Must be where Futurites mutate themselves. Maybe I could get a temporary disguise of, say, a badger. Then ramble around totally free, no pursuing wannabes, no werewolves, no need to prove a thing.’
Crik circumnavigates Tepper, his lone earstud twinkling, like a casting director at a studio tryout. With a foot, he lifts her lithe tail. “Greatest grander daughter, I bet you got all this done in a hospital, like the one over there.”
Tepper yanks her tail back. “Mind your manners, Gramps.” She twirls her tail. “Well, I sure didn’t splice my own genes at home.”
Recalling Julian Seizure’s persuasive appearance from, how long ago? Crik brandishes his own version of a salesman smile at Tepper. “I think I’ll go incognito, on my way to a bazaar.” He heads for the hospital.
Tepper follows him. “A new look for you? Out of the question.”
“And you, my child, returning to pure human would be an improvement.”
“Nothing wrong with my look and yours stays,” Tepper says. “But it is the perfect place to download your memories.”
“Women in my family are so clinical.”
“Just don’t volunteer for any experiments.”
* * *
In the meeting room of the Cabinet, the globe-like monitor reveals the remaining time: 19:22:55. Before it the homunculus hovers, watched by the five Dear Learneds.
“But who wants to chance breaking the time continuum?” it asks. “At any odds?”
The Dear Learneds exchange glances.
“It seems clear now that the Pastian must be a case of mistaken identity.” Reyes’ diadem sparkles. “Not by Destinon of course but GIGO by our supposed top historians.”
The sphere’s little green man tosses up its hands. “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”
“Nevertheless,” Madame Reyes says, “I’d like to see more to be sure.”
Nodding, the see-thru leprechaun retreats into the sphere as flat images begin to swirl on its surface, revealing a century old urban neighborhood.
On a smoky moped, Crik cranked through a city choked with traffic, past a sign that advised drivers that as a hospital is nearby it’s a quiet zone, sort of – if patients were deaf to wailing sirens, boom boxes, and bellowing residents.
Chapter 10, Have Doctors Got a Deal For You!
At the hospital entrance, automatons by the doorway dressed as Polynesians with grass skirts and little else toss leis around the necks of newcomers as they enter. “Welcome. Thanks for choosing us. Anything you’d like, please just ask.”
Lifting up his flowery necklace, Crik thinks, ‘Greeters. It’s like going to a WalMart. For medical attention! At least these automatons aren’t old folk who should’ve been retired.’
The large lobby bustles with patients and personnel wearing pastels. Through the glass walls and ceiling bright yellow sunlight pours in. A replica of Michael Jackson, another of Mother Teresa, followed by clients with transparent fly wings or multiple fly eyes, strut toward the exits.
“Well, it is a bazaar of sorts,” Crik says. “Like the Mayo Clinic for aliens.”
“Just simple cell re-engineering,” catlike Tepper says. “They’re all as human as you.”
“Than me?” Crik lifts his hands in all innocence. “Hey, probably humanner.”
A smiling customer leaves with translucent skin, muscles showing.
“But she better hope her malpractice attorney is better than her plastic surgeon.”
Nervous beautiful people queue up before various booths offering different treatments. “So if I wanted the strength of an ox, the speed of a cheetah, eyes of a hawk, nose of a hounddog, we’d be in the right place?”
“We’ll find the lounge with the memory recorders.” Tepper takes her guest’s arm.
Coming toward them is a short, blue-skinned, lady carrying a notepad, grinning. Her combed hair is thinning. She has squarish shoes with thick heels and a thick Swiss accent. “Bayer here. Let us copy your genomes, half off whatever you want. Volunteer for my experiment, no cost for any re-eng.”
“Thanks, doctor,” Tepper says. “But we’re just looking.”
‘Doctor?’ Crik thinks, ‘not pushy salesman? Well then, now’s my chance.’ Folding his hands, Crik pleads. “Aw, come on, greatest grandkid. Just one super power?”
“Being able to prove you’re a geo-founder, Gramps, would be super enough.”
Bayer peers at the Pastian more closely. “May I?” She flashes a scalpel. Holding up his hands, Crik backs off. ‘Whoa, they dive right in. Well, if I ever want to sell any body parts, I’ll know where to come.’
Tepper tugs on Crik’s arm. “Sorry, we’re on a tight schedule.”
The doctor’s loses its bonhomie before she turns away.
Masks displayed on a nearby wall catch Crik’s eye. ‘More costume shop than hospital.’ He leads Tepper there. “I guess these will have to do, if I can’t get an invisible cloak. They do exist now, right?”
“Who would want to be invisible?” Tepper shows him her Cheshire grin.
Crik sniffs. There’s no smell of antiseptic. ‘Haven’t been in a place like this, well, sort of like this, since visiting Shane after his hernia operation.’ Leafy green plants line the tan walls hung with models of gen-blends and masks lifelike to the last detail of pores and blemishes. ‘It would make a Hollywood makeup artist turn klepto with envy.’ Crik checks out an owl but chooses a panther and tries it on.
“And how are you planning to pay?” Tepper smiles the gotcha smile, her countenance that of a school principal.
Crik first offers to pay with cash, then coins, and finally a check. Each time Tepper scoffs. Shrugging, he smiles at her. “Daughter, granddaughter, greatest of granddaughters, how about a temporary loan? Soon’s I get back, I’ll put you in my will.”
Tepper holds up before his face a clear rubbery thimble with a wiggly thumbprint on it. “Press it against any payment window; the withdrawal will come out of my account. Here.” But her charge hesitates. “No worries,” she says. “It all goes on Sci-Guy Ultra’s expense account.”
“Exactly why I need a fake ID. Voltak, and that werewolf, next who knows who it could be, tracked your print. No, I need an ID linked to an account that’s not linked to me. See?” Tilting his head, he lifts one hand and shrugs one shoulder. “And preferably an account with either cash or credit in it. I’ll pay it back.”
Tepper pats her ward’s skull. “After we tap your twenty-first century memories, we’ll call it even. But it’s all academic, since nobody’s ever gotten a fake ID.”
“Yet.” Crik gazes at the young and old – the bookends of life – passing them by.
On another floor of the hospital, outside a plate-glass window, a pair of parents stands cooing at their newborn in a crib, one of several. Tepper looks a little dreamy. “You know what my favorite baby name is?”
Crik stares at the pink, midget faces in disbelief. ‘All of us were once one of these things? Worse, one such was even once a child of mine? How? Stupid question. Down to business.’ He points to each one in turn, mouthing eenie-meanie-minie-moe.
Inside the nursery, Crik scoops up Miney Moe, cradles him carefully, and pats his tuft of soft down. As he tries to leave with the pink infant, he’s blocked. Stern-faced Tepper stands before him, arms akimbo. “Suddenly taking an interest in family?”
“All for a good cause.” Crik turns around and shuffles backward, backing Tepper up. He halts at a machine that looks like an ATM with a sign above reading, THIMB£Z. Crik presses the baby’s thumb against a tiny window, pokes the button for extra large, holds his own sleepy eyes up to the camera hole, and since Miney Moe won’t speak English, Crik does his best to imitate a baby’s cry for the microphone.
Tepper takes the tiny pink one out of Crik’s arms.
“Welcome to Geotopia, Miney Moe,” the mechanical voice of the registrar says. “My, what a big thumb you have!” An ID thimble drops onto a tray.
‘Scored!’ Shaking the baby’s little hand, Crik kisses it on its crown.
“Old humans do think that connivingly!”
Nodding happily, Crik makes writing motions in the air. “What can I say? It’s a talent.”
Scowling, Tepper carries off the infant back toward its crib.
In a pale yellow, sanitized corridor, Crik scoots ahead like John Cleese on speed, tossing Miney Moe’s thimble in the air, playing catch with himself. An angry Tepper chases after him, whacking his shoulders. They quickly pass an intersecting hallway.
In that hallway, Voltak – ripped up and red-streaked – looks up as the two vague figures dart through the intersection. “Hey!” But the scofflaws do not return. “You people!” Marching forward, he hollers, “No running in hospitals!” loud enough to tremble the walls.
Frozen in their tracks, Crik and Tepper look at each other and say in unison, “Babysitter!” Regaining mobility, they take the next corner. That corridor leads to a deadend.
“Voltak!” Crik hisses. “That mothuh!”
Head tilted, Tepper regards Crik. “Mother?”
“That outstanding person,” Crik explains. He looks back the way they came. ‘What’s that wannabe cop doing here? Taking the river route was supposed to lose the big brute! Welp, nothing else to do now but confront him.’ He faces Tepper. “Screw it. Let’s go deal with it.”
“He can’t take you back; I’m your babysitter. I must deliver you home, explain my actions, explain everything.” Tepper jerks open a side door. Inside it’s not well lit but there’s room. She pulls her charge inside.
In the semi-dark, Tepper listens at the door.
Crik puts on his mask. “How’d he – ”
“Sshhsshh!” Tepper hisses.
“So you don’t want his help any more?”
“Sshhsshh!” Tepper hisses.
“You’re back on my side again?”
“Sshhsshh!” Tepper hisses. “Yes. I never left. Now quiet.”
After a few seconds they back away from the entrance and turn around. Crik gasps. In the gloom, long boxes like coffins rest on tables and shelves; several columns of them reach up to the ceiling. In the center of the room, a half dozen rectangular boxes rest on tables, their lids open, as for tanning. Price tags dangle from their flat, front ends. A low hum fills the room.
“It’s just the hospital’s nano-box room, where people repose to heal in the comfort.”
Dr. Bayer rounds a corner. “Ah, come to sell your DNA? No? Then here to visit a patient? She’ll be healed in just a few hours.” She claps a mitt on one of the boxes and ratches up the volume of her voice. “This puppy here will cleanse the blood, evict free radicals, throb at a mother’s heartbeat; you name it.” She punctuates each phrase with a ringing pat of the nano-box.
“Yes, yes, excellent.” Tepper nods. She and Crik hop into boxes. Doctor Bayer reaches out to set the controls at the end of the boxes.
Tepper holds up a hand. “Don’t touch that dial. We’ll just test them out … for comfort.”
“O-kay … suit yourselves.” Shrugging, Doctor Bayer leaves.
Inside his coffin-shaped box, Crik thinks, ‘Is it hot in here or is it just me? For themselves, Futurites must’ve totally eradicated claustrophobia. OK hombre, you can do it, just for a little while.’
Opening her lid a sliver, Tepper peeks out; her ward is with the program. It’s dark, then a slice of light brightens briefly to the scrape of a door opening. It’s Voltak, cut and bloody. Tepper lowers her lid all the way.
In the body storage room, Voltak passes a few columns of nano-boxes stacked up. Tepper raises her lid just a crack. The would-be policeman, limping slightly, generally in need of doctoring, chooses a box. Lifting the lid and a leg, he starts to climb in. But stops.
Masked Crik is lying inside, holding his breath, squeezing his eyes shut, his hands balled into fists by his hips. He feels their pursuer’s hot breath on his face, scattering his thoughts into disarray. ‘Trapped. No way to make a break for it. Play possum.’ Crik lets one eyelid slide less than an eyelash open.
Voltak might look ragged but he’s ever the conscientious Boy Scout. “Oops. Sorry. You know, your box is off. That doesn’t save you any money. Want me to extend the time?”
“Uuhhmmhhuumm.” Crik disguises his voice.
“Same setting as now?” Voltak asks helpfully.
“Sshhrr.” Crik stills sounds like he’s being strangled.
“You sound awful.,” Voltak says. “Maybe I should pump it up. Fix that larynx for you.”
Shaking his head sympathetically, Voltak spins the dials on the front panel of Crik’s box, closes the lid then pats it. Selecting another, Voltak sets the dial and rolls in. “Ah, this is going to feel good.” His lid shuts with a final clack. The room returns to dimness.
Tepper pries up her lid. The coast clear, she bounds out of her nano-box, tail swishing, ears swiveling. She tiptoes over to Crik’s box and taps on its. “Hey!” she whispers.
Light suffuses the room as the door opens and the blue-skinned doctor Bayer reenters.
Another lid flies open. Crik’s torso pops up like a jack in the box, his masked head tilted back. “I see the holes in the ceiling!” Crik sings out, “Oh, we gotta dooo something tonight!”
“Quiet,” Tepper whispers. “There are like babysitters healing nearby.”
Crik kicks up, over, and out of the box, all in one graceful motion. Once on the floor, he flaps like a happy-go-lucky puppet on a string. He flings his limbs to music only he can hear.
Dr. Bayer and Tepper step back, give him room. Tilting her head, Tepper examines the controls at the end of the box Crik used. Groaning, she tugs on her whiskers.
Posture perfect, Crik pumps the doctor’s hand and pats her head. “Delighted! Friends call me Cricket!” He cocks an ear toward an imaginary sound. “Name that tune!” Grabbing Tepper, he swings her around in a Virginia reel. “Healed! Life is wonderful! Give me babies to kiss and grannies, too! And more bazaars!” Crik cartwheels out the door, knocking it open with his feet.
For a moment, neither Tepper nor Bayer can move, immobilized by having witnessed such an awesome display of raw energy. They regard the abandoned nano-box.
“For the last time,” the doctor says, “no more self-medication.”
Cartwheeling, the panther-masked Crik leads Tepper and Bayer into the busy hospital foyer of patients and personnel coming and going, of white walls, high arched ceiling, of wide windows and glass doors. Slowed by the congestion, Crik resorts to hopping. “Pay up, get going, and explore the bazaars!”
Splaying the air with his arms like a pinwheel in the wind, Crik bounces up into the air one last time then lands at the end of the checkout line. Grinning at everyone, at all humanity in all its manifestations, he thinks, ‘This cure for whatever is a miracle!’
A troop of titans as bulky and as hairy as bison, actually little distinguishable from buffalo, join the line behind Crik’s party. They move to stand abreast, like football players at the line of scrimmage, then rehearse cancan kicks in unison. The queue moves forward slowly.
Throwing an arm into the air, Crik rubs his biceps against his forehead. ‘Ah, the sensations, the energy, the clarity of the senses, the rightness of now, of all existence.’ He inhales deeply.
Normal people enter while oddities exit. One with a clear skull struts off like a model down a runway. A couple who look like inverted onions – stem body, bulb head – departs, eyes focused far ahead, disdainful of the mere normal mortals arriving.
The Swiss doctor, scowling, sucks her teeth. “They think they’re so beautiful.”
Tepper nudges Crik. “It’s her art that’s beautiful. That’s what makes all of them look so good. The cell modification she perfected.”
With a wave of her hand, the blue-skinned doctor fends off the compliment but her eyes crinkle and lips uplift, revealing her deep gratitude.
‘Yeah, beauty’s great. Health, too. Healthy health. Whatever it’s going to cost, worth every penny, every dollar, my whole life’s savings!’ Crik hugs each knee in turn to his chest. “Hey, doc, how much this going to cost?” Tepper lays a calming hand on Crik’s arm. Crik does jumping jacks. “Thousands, right?” He plays catch with his brand new clear thumb cap. “Many, many, thou!” With a worried look, Tepper grips Crik’s elbow.
“‘Thousands’!” Dr. Bayer snorts, not looking up from writing notes on her notepad. “That’s rich. Thousands, plus so much prestige. Now that was a long time ago.” With a sad sigh of nostalgia, she gets out a pack of gum, pops a stick into her mouth, and proffers the pack to anxious Tepper who has collared Crik.
“Nothing for me,” Tepper says, “but perhaps a tranq for my friend.” The doctor extends the Chicklet pack to Crik who accepts a stick and pops it in his mouth. He hands the wrapper to the doctor.
Wagging her head, Bayer lowers her notepad. “Can you believe it? Taxpayers used to pay politicians to pay bureaucrats to pay patients to pay insurers to pay … doctors!” She knuckle-bumps with Crik.
At the tail end of the line, Voltak, looking totally healed but in the same bloody and tattered uniform, stops and stands on tiptoes. Try as he might, he cannot see beyond the ballet of buffalo. He bides his time counting holes in the ceiling, moving his lips with each number.
At the head of the line, it’s Crik’s turn to pay. The cashier is an automaton that looks like a Stepford wife in its sprayed hairdo and sleeveless blouse. It peers at Crik in his mask. The pretty robot purses her lips. “Masks? Not the real thing?”
Tepper nods. “You know tourists.”
Shrugging, the lifelike machine’s eyes light up. In one shines $13. In the other, .84¢.
“Holy healing!” Crik reaches over and pinches the cashier’s cheek. Tepper starts to pay but Crik blocks her hand and shakes his masked head. “Age before puberty.” Trying to poke his thumb into the thimble, he turns to the doctor. “How can it be so cheap!”
“C’mon,” the good doctor says, “you weren’t born yesterday.”
Crik pushes one thumb but his hand holding his new thimble just keeps rising, stretching his arm up. Tepper grabs Crik’s arm and helps him reel it back down. “How come it isn’t thousands?”
“Impossible,” Bayer says. “No stress, fit immune systems; whoever gets sick anymore? So demand, damn, is not enough.” Bayer frowns. “Lots of doctors competing, so supply’s too much.” Bayer lifts her hands in surrender. “Demand low, supply high … ”
“Just like less wolves means more deer!” Crik chugs his arms like a mad steam engine. “The same cycle here!” Abruptly he stops and manages to cram his thumb into his thimble. He holds it up admiringly. “Yes!”
Before him the dimpled automaton bobs its head. “Feedback rules in markets, too!”
Crik gives the air before him a mighty uppercut. “I knew that.”
Slowing his steam engine pace, Crik grasps the elegant, lifelike machine’s hand, pressing thumb against thumb. Leaning forward, Crik watches the robot’s face, then, twisting, the face of Dr. Bayer. Pivoting about, he surveys the people in the foyer.
The cashier with coifed hair crosses her eyes. “My, My, Minie Moe, for a newborn, you certainly responded quite well to the growth accelerator hormone.”
Revving up, Crik bounnces in place, like Pooh’s Tigger. “Thank you,” he answers in an imitation child’s voice.
Tepper chuckles. “My, my, you stumbled upon a whole ‘nother clue.”
“Not clue,” Crik says, “that’s founder knowledge.” He shimmies. “And now, lucky you, your society lets these feedback loops whirl around, keeping your economy in balance.”
“Of course ample supply keeps prices even,” Bayer says, “unless something interferes.”
Crik stops shimmying and points at everyone in turn. “Would you hinder? Would you hamper? Nah. Who would interfere? Where would go see anyone do that?”
“To the Museum of Post-Modern Civics and Politics,” Tepper says. “Home.”
Crik turns about, arms straight down while kicking sideways like an Irish dancer, then hops in place, ready to jam.
Dr. Bayer wags a finger. “No, no; I’d pay a visit to the Department of Revenue.”
Crik links arms with the doctor and Tepper turns them both with him in a line to face the opposite direction. “We’re off!”
The automaton shakes its head. “If anywhere, try the exact city center, if only to know something by its opposite.”
“Pretty machine, smarter than people!” Crik reaches over and pinches its other rosy cheek. “The equipment here has been right so far.”
Deeper in the queue, Voltak pulls an earlobe. Several holographs spring from his thumb. Holding them to his chest, he turns aside for privacy.
* * *
Across town in the Cabinet’s meeting room, the spherical screen suspended from the ceiling shows the time left: 18:17:23, a holograph of Voltak, healed but still in his ragged uniform, and the floating words: HASPITL BYUTIFL AKAONTS: NU-BORN SLF-RILIST – WITH MAESK.
“It seems somebody, rather than earn the keys to the city, chose to mask himself and steal ID.” Reyes says.
Learned Saint sadly wags his whitened head. “Our visitor, it seems, bares his true soul.”
Reyes glares at Saint, as if the gentle man is somehow to blame. “In the hospital yet, the perfect place for comas.”
Pilard frowns at the holof of Voltak. “You’re looking a lot healthier than the last time we talked. You stop off for a little healing, did you?”
The holograph of the wannabe cop reddens with embarrassment.
“Voltak, they should’ve arrived by now at Chez Otten yet they haven’t. Meanwhile, coincidentally enough, there are a couple of serious anomalies in the hospital. It seems a baby named, uh, Miney Moe, used a preactivated ID for an early dismissal. Check it out.”
The holograph of Voltak glances around, right then left. “Those school kids.”
“Not a school-age child,” Reyes barks, “an infant. And our Pastian is experiencing far too much of now. Enough games. For the first time in our lives, we observe Protocol Six. Voltak, bring him in for a coma.”
Chapter 11, Mannequins As Mindreaders?
As Crik and Tepper scoot out of the hospital, a stylish robotic porter calls out after them. “Come back soon!”
Under sunshine and blue sky, they amble toward the parking lot in front. Panther-masked Crik skips. “I did it! He tucks his thumbs in his armpits, flaps his arms, and crows like a rooster, “Incognito!”
Tepper plants herself in front of her charge. “What you did is something that’s never been done before, something no one’s even dreamed of before. The consequences of such an act, I can’t begin to imagine. The consequences for both of us.” Exhaling profoundly, she hooks one of this flapping arms and leads him away, down the concrete apron. “But I got you into this, I’ll get you out.”
“What are you so worried about, grandkid? Self-preservation is the first rule of the jungle. There’s no law against that.”
Her ears swiveling, Tepper makes notes in the air. Her tail swishes. “So much for downloading your mems in comfort.” She clasps Crik’s elbow. “The next best place is home.”
Crik pats her hand of sharp nails. “Greatest of granddaughters, you’re too innocent to be allowed a glimpse at my memory cells.” At the transit stop, Crik pushes the gum out of his mouth with his tongue, frowning, holds it up pursing his lips, then tosses it beneath a bush.
An orange bus lands. Passengers get off via the back door and on via the front. A well-formed young adult of smooth skin and long lustrous hair hops off and hurries toward the hospital. There on top of the concrete apron steps, Voltak scans the multitude. Crik grabs Tepper and pulls her toward the bus’ entry.
“But this one’s not headed homeward.” Tepper sounds like a substitute teacher in junior high school, struggling to control her charges. “It’s going the other way.”
“At least it’s leaving.” He knocks his head backwards toward the front of the hospital. Tepper’s eyes follow the indicated direction.
The anti-gravity coach lifts off, giving the feeling of being in a glass elevator morphed into an amusement park ride. Like a train car, both ends are the same, but pointed. Neither end has a driver. The interior is round like a plane, not square like a bus. The entire shell of the vehicle is hard yet clear, like a glass-sided elevator, like a bubble-top tourist buss, like a glass bottom boat, combined into one, allowing views in absolutely every direction.
Copying other passengers, Crik reaches with his baby’s thumbcap for a mechanical thumb extending from a pole but pauses, regarding Tepper skeptically. She explains there’s no problem; every newborn’s first account comes with starter credit already on the books. Biting his lip, Crik presses the thimble against the mini ID window that’s in the hard thumb of an upright mechanical hand, as if severed from a statue of Caesar. He watches intently the other passengers. Then he exhales in relief and removes his panther mask. His streaked locks spring forth, his ear stud blinks.
Tepper plops down, flipping her tail onto her lap. She takes a deep breath and massages her forehead. “What Pandora’s box have I opened?” Shaking her head, she cites her excuses for violating Crik’s house arrest: the chronoscope is not yet ready to send anyone through time, and where they’re headed, the central plaza, usually relaxes the body and mind.
“I’m relaxed.” Crik takes the seat beside his guide. Lowering his eyelids halfway, Crik puts thumbs to forefingers. “Trraannquil.” Suddenly his eyelids flick open and he jabs a finger toward a pogostick whizzing by outside the window. “Bite my stinky!”
Tepper sighs. “When we get back, we copy all your mem cells, adolescence included, no exceptions.”
Grinning, Crik taps his temple. “No problem, daughter, plumb my muscular mind.”
Tepper rolls her eyes.
Beyond the rooftops, the line where earth meets sky is distant and distinct. “It’s so far away, the horizon, yet such detail.” Crik pulls himself up, swinging around a chrome support pole. ‘The kind of view people must’ve enjoyed before the exhaust of cars and factories took over.’
“Duh. See what happens when you make polluters pay for polluting?”
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it so clearly, instead of just a smudge.”
“That’s what we’ll see when we look at your memories,” Tepper says, “clarity.”
Nodding, Crik turns to his guide. “Hey, did you see Voltak? Looked like he’d been in an all-day dogfight. I saw him when I was lying in that tanning coffin you call a nano-box.” His chaperone nods. He interrogates her about Voltak showing up at the hospital. She explains he was probably the werewolf in Loodie’s woods, that such morphing is not unheard of, and he needed healing. Crik holds up his newly minted thimble. “Using this ought to keep him off my tail.”
* * *
In the Cabinet meeting room, the Umbrella Committee huddles around the mahogany table. Above, part of the spherical screen shows 18:02:02 remaining. The rest projects a holograph of the homunculus.
“Odds are he’ll return into the line of fire.” It shrugs. “What can you do?”
At the clap of Madaame Reyes, the homunculus vanishes, replaced by a holof of Voltak. Reyes shakes her fist. “Since when do newborns abandon buggies and buy bus rides?”
The translucent face Voltak registers shock and awe. “Another actual violation!”
“And not a misdemeanor, Voltak.” The Dear Learned Pilard, is now dressed in a military officer’s uniform.
“So much sensory input leaves him not at all the same.” Reyes shakes her crowned head. “Apparently they are headed downtown, Voltak. You must be, too.”
“When you locate them, confront them without creating a fuss,” Pilard says, “Don’t make the same mistake you did at the bike rack.” He grins. “Or he may elude you yet again.”
“If need be,” Reyes stares at the Voltak holograph sternly, “you may go beyond soft persuasion.”
Saluting, Voltak fades from before the screen.
* * *
In the anti-gravity bus, Crik stares out the window. Below, foliage covers the city. The architecture includes Gaudi-like creations. Rooftops with solar collectors slide by. Miniaturized pedestrians scurry about. All the sights draw forth “ahs” and “ohs” from Crik.
Her whiskers twitching, Tepper twirls her tail.
Inside the tube at one end, a sign reads, PABLIK SPEIS, DO NAT WEIST. Crik asks Tepper how society could ever reform spelling. She explains it couldn’t have been easy and her mini PC slash phone, if she still had it, would reveal all the details.
Beneath the phonetic sign, a guy who could be Woody Allen’s double, wearing a brown suit coat, stands up and lofts his brows above his eyes. “I got one.” His fellow passengers swivel in their seats to pay him attention.
Crik thinks, ‘Street theater, in the air, cool.’ He pats his pockets. ‘But I got no change.’
“A guy walks into a bar and after a few beers and idle chatter with the bartender gets into serious conversation with four associates at a card table: a philosopher, a biologist, an engineer, and an architect. The newcomer, an economist, boasts that only he can prove what God’s real profession was.”
Most of his audience gets up and moves toward the exits as the vehicle descends.
The stand up continues. “The philosopher snorts: That’s easy, first and foremost, God is a philosopher …”
* * *
Elsewhere downtown in the Cabinet meeting room of the Dear Learneds, the spherical monitor shows the time remaining to be 16:48:38. The homunculus squats before it.
Saint regards his colleagues. “Because we are still around, we must’ve made the right decision about his fate, however we decide.”
“For this universe perhaps” the see-thru leprechaun says, “but not necessarily for another one.”
Reyes throws a hand at the see-thru leprechaun-esque wise guy. “What made anyone think this Pastian could ever be our founder?”
The translucent little guy shrugs.
“Show me him the day before his unfortunate transposition,” Reyes says, “leading up to the supposed first meeting of original geonomists.”
Bowing respectfully, the holograph waves toward the wall behind him. “It’s what he had to pass through every day.”
A red light let the cross traffic of cars, bikes, and skateboards interrupt Crik’s quest until the last car passed. The traffic signal changed. Crik leapt off the curb, the first to cross. He scooted along in the mode of John Cleese funny walking.
The voice of a Dear Learned sounds sad. “Poor fellow, to be born with such a deformity, as amusing as that ambulatory mode may be. Fortunately, human evolution has left it well behind.”
* * *
The glass, tubular sky bus touches down and a stream of humanity pours forth like sand from an hourglass. Going against the current, a gal with a dolphinish head splits Tepper and Crik who pass on either side of her. Her two eyes peer at both of them simultaneously.
Crik emits a low whistle. “Now that’s your basic alien.”
“Hah!” Tepper’s ears pivot. “Aliens, you may meet one yet.”
Crik thinks, ‘Dealing with space travel on top of time travel? I don’t know.’
The openair mall is big and busy with people, one looking like Marilyn Monroe, down to the billowy skirt and saddle shoes. Other Geotopians bear a lion’s mane or fox snout or peacock feathers. Shops line the sides while statues, fountains, and flowerbeds festoon the center.
The mall is sort of like Santa Monica’s car-free avenue but wider and with plots of green turf that are popular places to relax. ‘Calm, relaxed, tranquil Geotopians,’ Crik thinks. ‘Nobody’s interfering. Is this knowing it by its opposite?’
Altho’ the mall is free of traffic, a dealer’s lot is filled with dozens of anti-gravity one-body vehicles: small pogosticks that one stands on like a segway, medium cone shapes that one stands in and come up about chest high, and large torches that one reclines in like on a unicycle and come up about waist high. The upright vehicles bob up and down randomly, as if ghost riders were flitting from one to another. Crik’s bling sparkles. “Ride one of these back, I’d be a trillionaire forever.”
Scowling, Tepper makes writing motions in the air.
Some of the pedestrians discreetly eye Crik in his filthy, tattered formal suit. Tho’ not a fan of spending time shopping, Crik holds out his arms like a scarecrow. “I need to change. How can I notice any non-interfering with everybody staring at me? Besides, seeing me looking like this, what lawyer would take me on?”
“Getting fitted – that’s not a half bad idea. Nobody can keep any secrets from our mannequins, my dearest old ancester.” Tepper pulls him toward a nearby clothing store.
“Relations are overrated, child.” Crik directs all his attention to the novel sights.
Tepper’s countenance morphs from familial warmth to cool professionalism.
Inside a shop of yellow walls, shoppers abound. There are neither mirrors nor apparel. Where are the latest fashions to critique? Where are the clerks to banter with? Because if you don’t do it too often, shopping’s actually fun. Here instead, nazzily-attired mannequins meander like so many servile zombies or benign Terminators.
Crik elbows his distant descendant. “This where they sell the invisible cloaks?”
“Who’d ever want to go invisible?” Tawny Tepper smooths back her whiskers. With an uplifted eyebrow, Crik makes writing motions in the air, a la his hostess.
Head swiveling, Crik looks for a sales clerk, but nobody rushes up to greet him and relieve him of his money. “Doesn’t anyone work around here?”
“Sometimes. No more than necessary.” Tepper stands her ward before a meandering mannequin that halts. “Remember, whatever you buy, we must return.”
The mannequin circumnavigates the visitor, nodding, mumbling, glancing at Tepper.
Crik muses, ‘Love it: more hero worship.’
The android asks Crik if he likes to dance; he demonstrates some samba steps. Tepper writes in the air. It asks if he likes Confucius. By way of reply Crik sticks his hands into his jacket’s sleeves and bows formally. Tepper writes in the air. It asks if he likes insect behavior. Puzzled, Crik turns to Tepper. Tepper writes in the air. The mannequin asks him if he likes air kisses. Crik proffers both cheeks. Tepper writes in the air. It asks him, “Is your nickname‘No Paddle’”? Crik turns to Tepper, shocked. She grins smugly.
The mannequin morphs to match the appearance of the visitor perfectly, more lifelike and precise than any mirror. “Good Googamooga!” Crik exclaims. “I could walk in here and that could walk out in my place.”
The android models the latest fashion, some of the most popular shirts and pants, wearing them as holographs. It rotates completely around, trying different combinations, modeling for Crik and Tepper. Tepper wrinkles her nose at them all until Crik selects a shirt of burgundy and pants of lemon yellow; that meets her approval.
Tepper begins to extend her thumb but Crik bounds forth, holding up his thimble. “We went through a lot of trouble for this. Allow me.” While shaking the hand of the android, he peers at it intently, lets go, and surveys the other shoppers. Then nods.
The price appears in the eyes of the mannequin, two dollars in one eye, two cents in the other. The awesomely low price draws an appreciative whistle from Crik. “Sugar, your Robots Union is not the greatest of negotiators.” He pays with his thimble. “Doesn’t feel as good as spending tons of money, but it’ll do.”
“Tomorrow the price will be even lower,” the android coos. “If you can wait.”
Crik smiles ruefully. New pants and shirts roll down a nearby chute. “So fast?” Crik picks up his bundle, emanating that fresh cotton fragrance. “Not exactly made by little kids in sweatshops, is it?”
* * *
In the Cabinet meeting room of the Dear Learneds, the spherical monitor shows the time remaining to be 16:48:38 beside the holographs of Ultra and Yuri, ghostly in lab coats.
“Repairs are right on schedule.” The image of Ultra smiles uncertainly. The five highest authorities glare at the pair of scientists. The holographic faces of the historians cringe.
Looking up, Saint brightens. “Eventho’ it’s best, of course, if we make up our minds independently, still, we can know what to do by knowing what we did do. Once the chronosco, or, time machine, is fixed, can look back to after the bullets have passed. If he’s alive, we must’ve decided to send him back late.”
“Not necessarily,” Reyes says. “It’s possible that the bullets missed him.”
The homunculus squeezes between the researchers who shrivel and raises a finger. “Plus, nobody knows what happens during time travel. Anyone?”
No one speaks up but Saint. “Once repaired, could the chronoscope be trained on the future to see what we will have decided? Perhaps benignly?”
Ultra clears his throat. “You want us to restore the chronosocpe plus expand its powers all in a day?”
Shaking his head, Pilard scowls. “We can’t go soft and decide weakly.”
The clear leprechaun pirouettes. “Pardon. The neonatal don’t shop for grown ups’ trousers, especially with hidden pockets, do they? Got reported: It seems our baby named Miney Moe reached adult size in record time.”
Dramatically shakes her head, her jewelry spraying light, Reyes disappears the holofs, replacing them with one of Voltak. “Most likely another case of impersonating with a fake idea.”
The holograph of Voltak, before a background of fellow transit passengers, nods grimly. In a flow of humanity, he de-boards.
* * *
Inside the shop of customers and mannequins co-mingling, Crik poses in his new clothes of the colors of lemons and wine before the mannequin. It mimics him to a T. They look like a pair of dancers.
To try to fool the mannequin, Crik tries a quick awkward move of a hop, then a sideways slide, followed by a pelvic thrust. The mannequin keeps up perfectly, the way that two flies can fly perfectly in tandem.
“What are you doing?” Tepper’s ears swivel. “Some weird ancient dance to demonstrate one’s latest purchase of new apparel?”
Crik and the imitative mannequin strut in tandem. “Good thing it doesn’t speak my words as I speak them; that would drive me crazy.”
“Sorry,” the mannequin says, “we’re not programmed to do that.”
Crik gives up trying to out-maneuver the mannequin, shrugging, lifting up his hands, palms forward in surrender. The mannequin copies him to a T. “A lawyer’s going to want this client, baby,” Crik says.
“Debaters, too,” Tepper notes, “go for classy dress.”
“Would you be one of those, Ms. Arguer?”
“Not exactly, Mr. Complimenter.” Tepper tugs Crik’s elbow, tilting her head toward the exit.
* * *
In a less crowded part of downtown, the Umbrella Committee huddle high up in the Cabinet meeting room. The globe-like monitor above the central table shows the time remaining: 17:50:11. The homunculus holds the attention of the Dear Learneds.
The holograph of wizened Saint clears his throat. “What happens if he gets returned a tad late?”
The translucent leprechaun shrugs. “Nothing happens.” It examines its see-through nails. “But, do you want nothing to be happening, do you want nothing to be the only thing happening, meaning: non-existence everywhere?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Reyes growls. Take us back to the tape of his last day in his time.
The little green fellow bows.
In a downtown, the image of a ragged beggar aimed his cup at the images of harried pedestrians dressed for respectable indoor jobs. “Spare change?” None of the urbanites even made eye contact. The hobo extended his arm in front of Crik.
The image of Crik sidestepped the ambitious panhandler. “You look like someone who could use some Strategic Wealth Maximization.”
The beggar turned away to confront others.
“He moves almost mechanically,” says the voice of a Dear Learned, “like a doll in a store window.”
“After years of panhandling to thousands, maybe millions,” says another, “I bet he can easily guess who’s likely to be generous and who’s not.”
“It seems,” says another, “the better dressed often are not.”
“Quiet please,” says the voice of Reyes. “Let’s watch.”
Keeping his eyes on a distant prize, the image of Crik stepped over the legs of a filthy homeless man snoozing on the sidewalk. Feeling in his pocket, Crik went back and gave his handful of change to a bag lady who was still conversing with her demons.
* * *
In the pedestrian mall, Tepper and Crik skirt exquisite sidewalk art that portrays a canyon so real, kids by its edge squeal aloud. Crik thinks, ‘so this sort of art survived.’ One pedestrian has streaked her hair with pink. Crik adds to himself, ‘and cool fashion persists, too.’
Shrieking children and barking dogs knife through the throng of promenaders – a mix of robots, people, and gen-blends. Tepper points out a Salvadore Dali. “I should mention …” Tepper elbows her charge. “There are a few souls here to steer clear of, annoying sorts, whose notion of fun, well…”
Crik scratches an earlobe. “They sound just like family.” His audience of one regards him curiously, poised to scribble in the air. Rolling his shoulders, he goes on. “I wasn’t much like them and don’t much like them, if you must know.”
Lowering her hand slowly, Tepper stares at Crik who blinks, with nothing more to say. She takes his elbow, gently. “I guess we both have lots to learn. What I’d meant was, some Geotopians use designer worldviews, to … try the worldview of, say, a Van Gogh, to see if it improves their skill with a brush or scalpel, while leaving their ears intact. See?”
A sudden explosion jerks both boys into high alert. They duck their heads and spin around. ‘What was that?’ Crik thinks. ‘The psychos?’ A puff of smoke disperses above a lifelike dinosaur obeying a street performer. The ring of gawkers applaud. Crik laughs at himself.
At the clothing store’s entrance, Voltak in his torn and stained uniform checks the address above. He pops inside and scans the place. The mannequins smile at the six million dollar man. He weaves amid shoppers, looking high and low. Pivoting about, he gazes out the storefront window. Glancing downward, he fingers his uniform in tatters and frowns. A smiling mannequin pauses before him.
In Geotopia’s openair mall, street performers do tricks of agility and magic. Onlookers clap then take their turn performing while previous entertainers watch and cheer. Crik catches a glimpse of a Yoko Ono. The sound of drumming comes from somewhere ahead, a rhythm to which Tepper slightly bobs her head.
At one end of the mall, the piazza is like a permanent party. A band sings and plays marimbas. Three women twirl around like darting piranha, long silken scarves trailing. The slinky triad encircles guys, the handsome ones two or three times, herding them apart from their less stylish, less molested brethren. Yet most males return the women nothing more than a polite smile and go on their way.
‘I guess everybody’s jaded nowadays,’ Crik thinks. ‘I got some catching up to do.’
Even wearing high-heels, the three weave gracefully. To appear decent in public, they wear see-thru dresses – and to the Pastian look refreshingly human. Bouncing his eyebrows, Crik says, “I sense a connection to their web.“
Tepper rolls her eyes.
The Triplets stream out of the piazza, into a roofed and narrow arcade like those in Santa Barbara, toward the heart of the downtown market. Watching them go, Crik figures his serious quest for lawyers and geonomic clues – reminders – could use a diversion to lighten his workload. ‘And it’d be fun to get a rise out of that tag-along chaperone relative.’ He points to where the women went like a bird dog. “Arf.” He sings a la Elvis, “I ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.”
Halfway thru writing in the air, Tepper throws up her hands in disappointed disbelief. She turns to her ancient ancestor. “Those three –”
Crik’s happy face turns to instant worry. “You don’t think they could also be related to me, do you?”
“No, listen.” Her ward relaxes. Shaking her head, she sighs.
At the arcade’s entrance, pedestrians press their thumbs against the pay window in the stomach of a short fat statue of a sailor. ‘Paying?’ Crik wonders. “The other side is private property?”
Tepper grimaces. “You used that word again. Of course you couldn’t know better but it’s considered offensive nowadays.”
“What word? Prop-”
“Shush. Yes. Please try to say ‘land’ or ‘claim’. Earth’s most salient feature is not being a human’s possession but being alive. Got it?”
Crik nods, thinking it is strange that we call land “property” but not other possessions. We don’t refer to our cars or clothes or computers as “my property”. He wags his head. “OK, so why do we pay to go in?”
As they pay and pass thru, Tepper explains it’s a congestion fee. When a square gets packed, one must pay to crowd the others. Once people are squeezed in like sardines, there’s no more room. So those inside exclude anyone else from entering. “The fee like compensates them.”
“We better pay up before we get excluded.” His earstuds sparkle as he plots his next poke at his chaperone. “By that dance troupe that went before us.”
“Get a grip.” Tepper’s tail swishes. She goes on to say that those three have much more than three times the experience of their prey. They have perfected getting the treatment they want into an art. “You can be sure they never tire of pushing male buttons for the amusement that the variety of reaction – or lack thereof – provides them.”
“Say no more.” Crik grins. “Buttons, be ready.”
* * *
Not too far away, high up in a skyscraper in the Cabinet meeting room, the Dear Learneds confer around the large dark table. The globe-like monitor above the central table shows the time remaining: 17:21:49. Before it the holograph of Voltak hangs in the air.
“To the Broadway arcade already?” Voltak’s holograph says. “No baby can crawl that far that fast.”
Pilard shakes a finger. “Scour Broadway, Voltak. Show him tough love. Make him feel Protocol Six.”
“To make your job easier,” Reyes adds, “we’ll upload an advisory.”
Saluting, the Voltak holograph fades away.
Its place is taken by the holographic homunculus. “If the risk is negligible, do you want his blood on your hands, hmm?” All five Dear Learneds exchange glances. “While you think about it,” the green leprechaun says, “I’ll show you more of his life.”
An image of Crik stands with other pedestrians on a corner in a concrete canyon with taxis, buses, and other vehicles jammed up in all four directions.
Chapter 12, Empty Hives & Classic Electronics
The passageway empties into BRAUDWEI (Broadway). The street pulsates with pedestrians, both ordinary humans – including a lookalike each of Mae West in a stoll and craggy-faced Abe Lincoln – aand humans of every lovable mammalian visage, from chipmunk to panda. A short shiny robot on one fat tire with a gyroscope for a head swerves around Tepper and Crik and sweeps, vacuums, and mops the pavement.
Crik nods. ‘Broadway lives up to its name; plenty wide enough for all these people, who pay admission to enter, like to a public garden or public zoo.’
One pedestrian coming toward them has fingernails longer than his fingers. ‘Definitely a zoo,’ Crik thinks. Another with an seal’s nose salutes them. ‘Or maybe a circus.’
“Here we’re deeper into the market,” Tepper says. Fronting the boulevard are stores such as video arcades.
It’s sort of like the pedestrian street in Burlington Vermont except it’s lined by much taller buildings. A Greek temple with pillars – probably used long ago as a major bank – arouses the Pastian’s curiosity. Tepper explains the grandiose structure is an excretoria. Crik snorts. “They probably even figured out how to make it smell good.”
An inventor demonstrates a massage table that pounds one’s muscles then flips the body over like a pancake. ‘Whoa,’ Crik thinks, ‘that flip would shock the bee-jee-zus out of me, but that Futurite didn’t even bat an eye.’ He turns to Tepper. “How can everybody be so trusting now?”
Blinking, Tepper makes writing motions in the air.
Robots seated by a bush in bloom with flowers of famous faces, oil themselves, guzzling the stuff, laughing at some private joke, elbowing each other, as wingless vehicles glide over above. Astounded, Crik throws out his arms. “Somebody has got to explain all this to me: robotics, cell engineering, anti-gravity.”
“Some … body has got to explain to me geonomics, if he wants to be my Gramps and my time’s welcomed hero.”
In front of a garden shop is a bush with leaves of dollar bills and fruits of coins. Crik’s amazed. ‘It does grow on trees!’ He squeezes the money between finger and thumb, unable to let go, until pulled away by Tepper. He clenches empty air, like a child deprived of its favorite toy.
While staring off into space with a serious expression, Tepper makes writing motions in the air. “What am I, your babysitter? You’re supposed to be a full-grown adult.”
In the city’s tallest building, the quiet lobby is like a sanctuary for tall green potted plants, towering over the decorous humans passing by to and fro. Off to one side, Tepper and Crik scan a directory, Tepper helping Crik with the phonetic spelling, to no avail. No lawyers. No attorneys. No esquires.
“Come on!” Crik wails. “This is a skyscraper. Attorney habitat, infested with lawyers.”
“Now do you see?” Tepper says while making writing motions in the air.
Giving the glass plate covering the roster the back of his hand, Crik turns to his guide. “What city lacks a mob of lawyers?” Looking about the somber foyer, Crik raises his voice to the partial public. “Anyone here an attorney? Or know one?” People regard Crik with half smiles but keep to their business. “Damn. How does anybody sue anybody?” He throws out his arms. “No suits? No damages? How can anybody consider this place paradise? I want to go home.”
“Not so fast, Gramps. You actually know big court cases? Your mem cells would show that?” Tepper scribbles some more in the air. “I can hardly wait.”
Exhaling, Crik frowns. “No, not personally. You know, just what anybody heard on the news about crazy cases and outrageous settlements. The only justification for having lawyers.”
“Sorry.” Tepper shrugs. “The closest we got nowadays are debaters.”
“Whoever. So long as they sue – and interfere in cycles. One more reminder, man, I got this system outed.”
“And their offices are not in skyscrapers but out on campuses – closer to home.”
On Broadway, a stern-faced, muscular, and neatly uniformed Voltak hurries past the entrance to the skyscraper, peering into the faces of people in the crowd.
Back out on the street, Tepper and Crik pass a Charlie Chaplin going one way and a Bob Hope going the other. Crik shrugs. His earstuds sparkle. “Well, so there’s no real lawyers, but at least there’s no cops either, no real ones.”
“There’s no crime,” Tepper says. “Plus lots of prosperity. And I need a new mo’, Gramps, since my old one went diving. We’ve been offline long enough.”
“I told you I’d make it up to you.”
Ambling onward, glancing at a neon sign, Crik guesses the meaning of “Aentiks”. Antiques are on display in the shop window: high heel shoes, a Barbie doll, an Uzi, prescription medicine for anxiety, vinyl records, money, jewelry, and a Rolex. Tepper holds up Crik’s wrist and compares his watch to the one on display.
“How much is it worth nowadays?” Crik reclaims his appendage.
Suddenly, the proprietor hurls himself through the front door, into the street. He accosts Crik in the mode of a good oldfashioned salesman operating by hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie.
“How much you want for that?” the shopkeeper, bearded and hefty, points at Crik’s watch. The businessman catches his breath and quickly and obliquely appraises Crik. Eyes widening, he slowly drops to one knee and fingers Crik’s shoes, awestruck. “Good God! Reinforced plastic! Where’d you get these?” He pops back up erect.
Crik forces up one eyebrow. “I got my sources.” Glancing over his shoulder with a smile for his guide, he huddles with the merchant. “What do you got in trade? Nothing old, I mean brand new stuff.”
Stepping between the two negotiators, Tepper pushes them apart. “Forget it, Gramps. Just like you can’t take anything back with you, you can’t leave anything behind, either.”
Maneuvering around his chaperone, Crik pulls something from a back pocket, nodding toward theshopkeeper. “I mean something truly fantastic. For this.” Crik holds up a package of condoms.
The shopkeeper is left breathless. “Perfectly preserved plastic! How?” He falls back against his shop window, feebly trying to raise one hand.
Tepper drags away her ward. “You get credit cards, debit cards, right? That plastic is worth more than any money on them.”
Crik keeps up, cooperatively, pleased to have learned the value of his possessions, wondering how he’ll be able to put the knowledge to good use. He lays a hand on his distant descandant’s shoulder. “I know, I know, I know. Your pet theory: preserve the continuum.”
“Right. At all costs.”
An electronics shop of metal shelves covered with gizmos is filled with a profusion of cross-talking holographs unaware of any other mortal in the room. Young dudes, mainly, busily try out gadgets of all sizes and features: old-fashioned phone, two-way camera, GPS, Google Earth, videos, streaming headlines, scores, forecasts, etc.
Crik looks around for helpful sales people. “Nobody at work.”
“You served the economy,” Tepper says. “Now the economy serves us.”
Crik looks around. “In style.”
Many monitors show Crik, the potential proto-geoist – historians are still debating the question – going about his daily routine of catering and bell hopping.
“Our Founder?” asks a tall, slope-shouldered man with a shark fin and pointed teeth.
A foxy teen with a bushy tail sighs, love-struck, hero-worshipful.
Tepper nudges her charge in the ribs. “You going to look at people looking at you all day?”
Crik whispers, “Think I ought to offer to sign autographs?”
“Imagine,” a short, feathered guy with an eagle beak viewing the images says, “Being there at the beginning.” A broad-shouldered dude with bullhorns and nose ring, a willowy woman with flower petals around her face, and the rest of the crowd nod in agreement. Some place their fists on their chest.
A threesome of shoppers watch their past. On the screens, the image of Crik, dressed like a catering butler, holds a tray at his side, leaning back away from Mr. Otten’s swinging golf club.
“If not history in the making,” one says, “you know what I’d like to see back then?”
“People stuck in traffic?” the second asks.
“No,” answers the first. “Innocent people paying taxes. Why spend your life doing that?”
“How about people suing each other!” the third shopper chimes in.
The three patrons high five each other.
Another knot of viewers point at the Pastian caterer, laugh, and sling arms around each other’s shoulders for support. They’re attired in the quixotic fashion of the day. One denizen, dressed in a plaid kilt, an orange and black striped shirt, and a stovepipe hat, pipes up, “Imagine: traveling all the way through time, dressed like that.”
Affronted, Crik nods at his critic. “How can anyone appear in public dressed like that?”
Turning away from the crowd and his own broadcast story, Crik watches what other news is available – sports. Swiveling his head left and right like at a tennis match, he tries to capture all the latest updates at once, baseball between Tigers and Cubs, soccer between Sharks and Eagles, literally, almost.
Tepper rolls her eyes. “Just don’t get sucked in to a virtual world.” She claps her hands. “Nevermind. Then I’d always know exactly where to find you.” Grabbing her ward by his elbows, she plants him on the spot, peers into his face, then turns away to inspect the goods.
Most screens switch to the centuries-old attempted burglary in Mr. Otten’s mansion, the confrontation between Otten, Seizure, and Crik. That scene shrinks to make room for the holograph of a scientist in a lab coat, about fifty-five years old, the name “Historian Hwod Murky” floating beneath him. The ghostly presence removes his surgical mask. His eyes and mouth wear worry. “Reckless use of chronoscopic technology by Dr. Alvin Ultra.” He shakes his head gravely. “My lab’s chronoscopic protocol, on the other hand –.”
The sober scientist is replaced by a holograph of Reyes. “If you happen to encounter the time traveler, help him back to Chez Otten, for our safety.” She nods to the viewers. “Help us make the past, present, and future spectacular!” Her smile’s brilliance rivals that of her diadem.
Grimacing, Crik drops to a knee and ties his shoes. Surreptitiously he dons his panther mask. He stands back up, dapper in his new duds and visage, and walks away whistling. Seeing Tepper is busily examining old style phones, Crik triggers a not so old phone, releasing the homunculus which announces the word for the day, “loop.” Crik leans over the holograph and whispers to it, “In twenty-five words or less, just to be sure we’re all on the same page: what is geonomic policy?”
“It’s, it’s …” The translucent leprechaun waves its arms then cradles its head, squeezing.
Crik gestures to the little green man to hurry. “In ten seconds. Ten. Nine …” He steals another glance at Tepper.
“It’s, you know,” the homunculus says, “it’s sharing rents, right? To conserve, and, and, live free, eh?” The fellow speaks with difficulty. Again his words appear like smoke rings, spelling out his answer. “How’d I do?”
“Stunk. I thought you could articulate. You need to go back to speech therapy.”
“What’s you doin’?”
Tepper’s voice startles the masked Crik who spins around, seeing his host’s inquisitive face and twitching whiskers. Behind his back, Crik flaps his hands through the homunculus and its smoky words, trying to dissipate them. “Oh, you know.”
Her eyes narrowed, his distant descendant tilts her head to look around her ward, then peers at her ancient ancestor. “Well, they didn’t say anything about turning in panthers.”
“Funny.” Crik thinks, ‘I’m on my own here, persecuted, with no lawyer, it’s up to me to fend for myself. As much as I’d rather be openly compensated, it looks like I’ll have to take what I can get, which is what people who get ahead do.’ While grabbing another mini phone off a countertop which he holds out to his guide at eye level, Crik pockets the one palmed in his hand. He wiggles the other. “Check it out!” Crik reveals his ivories. “Will this do?” He hands it to her.
Examining it, she nods in approval. Pulling out his wallet, Crik fetches his thimble and a condom, made of plastic, which he quickly palms out of view.
By a mechanical hand protruding near a counter, Tepper flashes the phone under a laser beam. With one hand, Crik presses the thimble against thumb of the protruding mechanical hand. With his other behind his back, he leaves the condom on the counter. He and his chaperone walk away without Tepper noticing the valuable plastic left behind.
As they head for the door, Tepper begins to register her new mini pc with society’s central computer. Crik puts his hand on hers. “Do me a favor, grandchild. Don’t turn that Voltak-magnet on until we’re out of your era, OK?”
Tepper nods, shrugs, then pockets the old-fashioned mini PC in its latent state, as unresponsive as if in its own coma. She looks at Crik slyly. “Then you’ll have to use a different one to pray to Google.” She smiles.
Crik tugs at his panther mask, letting in some air. ‘She’s a suspicious little kitty.’ He throws out his hands. “Google, schmoogle. I, you know, just a refresher.” He shrugs. “Besides, neither geonomics nor a lawyer is such a high priority any more.” Crik surreptitiously pats a hidden pocket. “Whenever that ride is ready to ship me home, I’ll be ready to rock-and-roll.”
They step outside into the street.
“Back to your home?” Tepper says. “So soon?”
“Not to yours – forget that laboratory dungeon. I want to experience as much of this bizarre place as possible, because now feels good, like a utopia should. But I’m just sayin’.”
“Forget it. I’m just saying it hasn’t been a wasted trip.”
“Because you got to meet your great, great grandchild?”
Rolling his eyes, Crik starts to say flat out “no” but catches the look on his distant descendant’s face, shift from hoped-for agreement to resigned disappointment, and swallows his words before uttering any needlessly hurtful ones. He’ll be gone soon. ‘And she tried her best.’
* * *
Several blocks away, the Dear Learneds of the Umbrella Committee huddle high up in the Cabinet meeting room. The globe-like monitor above the central table shows the time remaining: 16:05:37. Suspended in the air is the holographic homunculus.
The translucent leprechaun stretches out as if on an invisible couch. “How’s the search?”
Reyes stops drumming her fingers. “You know how’s the search.”
“I know lots.” The little green fellow smiles.
Gripping the table’s edge, Reyes leans forward. “There something you’d like to tell us?”
“Earlier you asked me to not give explicit answers about geonomics, but did not ask me to profile those who query me about geonomics. Is that information you might be interested in?”
Reyes flattens her hands on the dark wooden table. “Not only do you from now forward profile anybody who asks anything related, but you also go back and cobble a profile of everyone who has asked any such question at all earlier today. Got it?”
“Aye aye.” The homunculus salutes and slip slides away, replaced by a holograph of Voltak, in a crisp new holographic uniform.
Reyes pulls off her diadem and stares at it, as if it were the one at fault. “The ID that left the hospital in an unorthodox fashion has been used in an unethical fashion, again, this time in an electronics shop.”
“Assuming somebody else’s ID. That’s …” Holographic Voltak shakes his shaven head.
Pilard point to the holograph of Voltak. “They’re using their ID repeatedly, both times downtown, in a pattern that should be easy to anticipate. You must be close to them, Voltak. ”
“Be sure to check out the cafes. I suppose we couldn’t expect him to fast the whole time here.” Reyes re-crowns herself with the diadem. “If he does eat, it’ll mean more to clean out later.” Sighing, she shakes her head. “Quickly bring this charade to a close, Voltak. You are authorized to comatize the Pastian on sight.”
The holograph of Voltak sucks it up. “He’ll be my first patient ever. I should use the pincers, right?
Chapter 13, Is a Know-It-All Trustworthy?
The Dear Learneds of the Umbrella Committee watch scenes of their past on the globe-like monitor in the Cabinet meeting room.
Crik passed the statue of a fellow bearded and farseeing, supporting a flock of pigeons.
“Duvall’s city was named after the one honored in marble,” comes from the voice of one Dear Learned.
“Undoubtedly a land speculator,” is heard from another.
“Certainly a crook,” says another.
Getting out his rolling tobacco, Crik circled back sat on the statue’s plinth.
“You know his reputation,” came from the first voice.
“Sshhsshh!” the voice of Reyes hisses. “Please let us concentrate.”
“He wasn’t evil enough to be the devil himself but was good enough to be Satan’s attorney,” the first voice continued.
All around Crik, other pedestrians hurried by without making eye contact. They funneled themselves through the plaza space between the statue and a fancy furniture store.
Reyes snorts. “The sleek furniture looks more composed and restful than any harried human destined to recline –”
“Sshhsshh!” interjects a chorus of Dear Learneds.
* * *
On Broadway in the concrete canyon formed by tall buildings, the stout Voltak hurtles himself down the promenade amid other strollers, passing two robots seated by a money tree, oiling themselves in the sun. At the electronics shop, Voltak glances at the store’s name and address above the entry. Rushing inside, his gaze sweeps the whole place. Turning around, he looks back outside.
Where Broadway begins, Crik and Tepper cross a wide footbridge crawling with pedestrians above a brook. The heart of the city is full but not overly crowded; one denizen is a copy of Muhammad Ali, another of Beethoven. Cafes and food stalls line the its edges. Dominating the space in its center is a round ridge, like a paved doughnut. The plaza is sort of like Seattle’s but with an amphitheater instead of a huge fountain in its center.
Tepper points at the central amphitheater. “Can’t dig any deeper into the center than there, my panther ancestor.” Her ears swivel. “Find your clue then we’ll get back home.”
“I’m remembering geonomics, remember?” He shrugs at her. “And do what there? Vegetate in your basement?”
“It’s meditate in our basement.” Tepper passes her hands, fingers outstretched, past the sides of her skull. “Practice emanating alpha brain waves. Excellent for mellowing the disposition.”
“I can already do that.” Sticking his thumbs to the corners of his crown, masked Crik wiggles his fingers and ohms out loud, eyes half closed.
Suddenly freezing still, he opens his eyes wide and tilting his head back, sniffs. “What smells so scrumptuously?” He draws out another sniff. ‘When was the last time I had anything to eat?’
They halt by the entrance of a sidewalk café. Crik nearly salivates. ‘I suppose I could bury my sorrow over this lawyer business in delicious cuisine, plus fueled-up I’d be more alert to any interference.’ He makes spooning motions to his hostess. “You starving? How about us re-fueling?”
The café is packed with diners; one seems to be an Alfred Hitchcock, another a Betty Davis. All around the plaza the cafes are crammed. Crik nudges his chaperone. “Is there a fire alarm we could pull?”
Tepper peers at him from under her brows then steps away from him, to the other side of the entry. With her hip jutting out, she twirls her cattail, casting a glance to and fro. A guy, smiling her way, starts to rise at his table but noting the stern countenance of the woman across from him hastily sits back down.
‘The more things change …’ Crik thinks.
At another table, a lone man hops up, offering her the extra seat. Tepper shoots him a feline smile. Returning to Crik, she leads her ward by the hand to the offered seat.
Still sanding, the man at the table shrugs good-naturedly. “Perfect timing. I was just leaving.”
Tepper and her ward nod their thanks and take over the table. She looks about the open-air restaurant. “Our menu should be with us shortly.”
“Well, sure,” Criks says, “if a waiter materializes with it.”
Then an AG menu floats by. Crik overcomes his surprise and snags it. Not caring to decipher the phonetic spelling, he pokes it at random. In the center of their table, a bagel and mocha appear from below. “Holy smokes. Didn’t spill a drop. And fast; I’m guessing there’s a cellar below that has a kitchen.” He touches the menu again. A fruit smoothie and muffin push the bagel and mocha out of the way. “Not for supper.” Once more, he pokes. A glass of champagne and caviar show up. “Ah-ha!” He rubs his hands.
Tepper offers him a crooked grin. “Have you been here before?”
Before dipping into the roe, Crik espies the dolfin-looking woman swallowing whole fish that are still wiggling. Another diner with the tongue of an anteater is eating ants and cleaning out snails. One with a turtlehead is eating sea nettles. Grimacing, Crik pushes back from the table, holding his stomach.
Tepper looks around. “What?”
Crik and Tepper stroll from the cafes to booths. The numerous cognoscenti on Broadway peer at crafts, paintings, and sculpture. Beside the works, fat artists recline on chaisse-lounges, smiling. One wanna-be buyer offers a price, immediately topped by another would-be purchaser, touching off an instant bidding war. Nearby, Slender vendors post themselves before stands of fruits, veggies, and sizzling food. When passed over too many times, they shout out the palatable pleasures of their wares.
A vendor in an apron and not much else with full bushy hair and thick pink lips steps alongside Crik and Tepper, proffering a cup to panther-masked Crik. “Here you sniff a pendous-stew from Suse, of a flavor inspired by a muse, if only you taste sip one, you’ll thank heaven for your tongue, then beg Suse for oceans of her ooze.”
Pushing up a masked eyebrow, Crik shrugs, remembering the last time he experimented, in the Carribean. “Street food ruined the best vacation I ever took. Got sick as a dog, if dogs could ever have the runs that bad.”
“Then let’s move on.” Tepper tugs his sleeve.
Suse tilts her head beguilingly at Crik. “çQuieres probar?”
Crik smiles back. ‘But that was then, this is now.’ He throws the brew down the hatch. Instantly the features of his face wrinkle together into one central mass around his nose, like continental drift in reverse. Gagging, he sprays out the lass’ concoction. He clears his throat and blows hard.
Containing her mirth, Tepper takes the cup from her ancestor’s outstretched arm. “Never taste their early work.” Glancing at him trying to clean his tongue, she can’t contain her mirth.
Suse brushes droplets off Crik’s new impermeable shirt. “Win some, lose some.” She takes the cup from Tepper and heads to her food cart. “Back to the stirring pot,” she says cheerfully.
Crik reprimands himself. ‘Earth to Crik. Focus! Now is not the time!’ He tries to clean off his tongue by licking his shirted shoulder.
Flimsy yellow tape cordons off a pit where adults and children sift dirt shoveled by a rhythmically digging robot. When one sifter holds up a dusty whitish cup with tweezers, all the others jump for joy, exclaiming “Gosh!” and “Plastic!” and “Bone!”
‘Bone,’ Crik replays mentally. He feels the urge to correct them. ‘It’s not plastic but styrofoam.’ But the urge quickly passes. He needs to stay focused on …
Near the circular ridge, a magician – robed, longhaired, bearded, with an eye patch – floats a fog-filled globe toward Crik and Tepper. On his shoulder sits a star-spangled mechanical parrot, also wearing an eye patch. Tepper and Crik duck the globe gliding by.
‘Parrots again,’ Crik thinks. ‘What? Did old man Otten leave behind a feathery legacy?’ Crik flaps his arms. “Twawt!” The call catches the attention of the mystic and his bird. Crik wonders if, with such miraculous technology, do people still care about magic, too?
The forecaster calls out to the public in a singsong. “Math is reality!”
His robotic shoulder partner chimes in, “Reality is math. Hear one who sees all …”
“Fore and aft!” The pronogsticator move his head like an Egyptian with an elastic neck. “When I share knowledge, I have no less … but you have more. When more minds are informed, there are more for … mine to enjoy!” He whirls around. In the back of his head is a third eye. It winks at Crik.
“Hey!” Crik says. “I want one of those.”
Tepper’s tail swishes. “You know the rule on that. No physical changes.”
The man and bird keep pace with the guide and guest. “Bet better, twawt,” the bird says. “Make better bets. Ask Gnosis. Twawt.”
A pedestrian with a boxy look like Sponge Bob asks Gnosis about sunspots, the two shake hands, and the customer walks away satisfied.
“Sweet gig, Gnosis,” Crik says. “And all under the table. I bet you don’t pay any taxes.”
“Well, duh,” Gnosis retorts. “There’s not any taxes. Twawt.”
Crik throws out his arms, stopping their forward progress. “Wait a minute. No taxes?”
The avian robot flaps its wings. “Not in my lifetime.”
Crik tries to clear his head. “Really? No taxes?”
Crik and Tepper, the modern Merlin, bird, and globe reach the amphitheater bowl. Its inside is ringed with rows of seats. On a stage leisurely rotating, actors perform a late afternoon matinee. The well-dressed audience laughs raucously.
Crik snorts. “What a whimpy government!” He puts his free hand to his chin whiskers. “Which, come to think of it, might not be such a bad thing. But,” he points a finger at the magician, “how do you tax the rich?”
“What rich?” The future-teller nods toward the food vendors then the actors. “The creatives who’ve earned their fortunes?” He lifts one eyebrow. The bird ups an opposing eyebrow.
“Sshh.” People in the top row have turned to shush the pedestrians talking loud enough to make it difficult to hear the actors’ lines.
“Bah!” Bugged, Gnosis walk away. “A taxist!”
“Me?” Crik stands rooted to the spot by his latest discovery. ‘What is it with people here now always telling me who I am? Worse than any family ever was.’
The avatar parrot flies off Gnosis’ shoulder and lands on Tepper’s. She tugs the arm of her charge forward. Crik turns to the parrot. “No, I don’t mean taxing people creating new stuff that others willingly pay for, but, you know, weaponeers and banksters and CEOs with golden parachutes and polluters with loan guarantees and the elite insiders getting oil money and corporate welfare and need I say more?”
An usher wearing black and orange approaches the oblivious male conversationalist.
The parrot cocks an eye. “Nobody gets that. The last subsidy was also like eighty years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” the uniformed usher says. “Normally this is a quiet zone when a play is on.”
Nodding, Tepper herds her ward in another direction.
“No subsidies, either?” Crik lowers his gaze, lost in thought. The pavement beneath their feet, consisting of small, smooth stones, misses some. “Figures,” Crik says full voice. “Looks like the last time these paths got paved.”
The paseo’s remaining pebbles form easily discernible geometric patterns and mosaics depicting medieval carters and herders. In spots, the compacted gravel also has some shallow dips where water collects. Tepper wiggles her toes in her wet sandals.
“Whoever needed those mistakes?” the parrot says. “Taxes made goods expensive, and subsidies made bads cheap.” It flaps its wings. “That’s why old humans trashed the planet. Prices told them to. Making a mess was cheaper than doing things right. Twawt.”
Tepper nudges Crik. “Before we all were born.”
“That’s the opposite of interference: no taxes on regular people and no subsidies as favors for friends.” Crik snorts. “Some system. No system!”
“Nothing to interfere in prices,” Tepper whispers, “but we’ve interfered here plenty.”
The usher plants himself in front of them, hands on hips. “If you don’t mind, please carry on your chatter farther away, thank you.”
Grimacing, Tepper again rides herd on her masculine company, speaking softly out of respect for the audience watching the play. “Times a-flying.” Tapping her foot, she points to the large clock above the old town hall and moves her forefinger and thumb like a minute hand and hour hand, saying “tick-tock tick-tock.”
Crik mulls it over. ‘If no taxes, no subsides, then no government interference. But then there’d be no government revenue, either. That’d stump even Shane. Still …’ He turns to Tepper. “Somewhere we got to go see what your society does use for public revenue.”
Again the uniformed usher approaches, this time stern-faced.
“Bet better,” the metal bird says. “You need a room with a view – like any love-struck sailor. Make better –”
Disgusted by the allusion to incest, intended or not, Crik grabs its beak, nodding toward the onrushing usher. “A sailor maybe, maybe even sick, but love? How revolting.”
Rolling his eyes, Crik espies Voltak on the edge of the crowd, engrossed in conversation with Gnosis. Instantly throwing the bird into the air, Crik pulls Tepper the other way, into the area most crowded. She glances over her shoulder then hurries along, copying Crik scuttling in John Cleese mode, low to the ground.
“Looks like these thimbles suck as bad as your phones,” Crik says in a stage whisper. “Loodie’s right about electronic gear here – not to be trusted.”
“We’ll turn back soon,” Tepper says, “but voluntarily, and rescue my reputation.”
Other pedestrians point and chuckle at the funny walkers, then the crowd closes behind the two fugitives.
* * *
The parrot circles Voltak and lands back on the shoulder of Gnosis who’s telling Voltak, “Fads are no longer a surprise.”
“He can predict them,” the bird adds, “as well as I did the stock market.”
“See these freshly streaked heads?” the prognosticator says. “I forecast that.”
Voltak scowls. “No doubt the spread of streaked heads is sparking off the Pastian, who had them when he arrived.” Voltak gestures toward the throng. “OK, Actuary, I’ve noted all these fad-followers and their coordinates. If your famous formula is reliable …”
“Not if,” the future teller says. “With your data, I can pinpoint this new fad’s origin, like reversing a plume of smoke to find the spewing fire.” His eyes lose focus. “Then I can tell you how many and where the next adopters will be, like anticipating where the spewed sparks next land.”
“Thereby assisting our lawful pursuit of fugitives.” Voltak smiles.
“Certainly not in this day and age,” the parrot squawks.
“Yet there was something furtive about a young male with streaked hair,” the wise man says. “He even wanted to know how to tax the successful! Follow me.”
Chapter 14, Triplets Inspire Party Face
On a tree-lined promenade paved between buildings and riverbank, similar to the riverwalk in New Orleans, Crik and Tepper scoot past cafes, casting glances over their shoulders. Crik keeps low to the ground in the mode of the Keep-On-Trucking dude. The river below bubbles with nautical traffic, none of which is an out-of-control hydroski spraying landlubbers.
Tepper warns her ward that the authorities by now – after all the Pastian’s shenanigans – seek to suspend his animation. Kicking a pebble on the walkway, Crik protests the injustice. A temporary coma. Uunconscious. Lying flat. Missing all this. Crik understands their reasoning – it’s to minimize the changes he’d undergo – but can not believe that having this once in a lifetime adventure that is so exquisitely exciting could possibly harm Geotopia at all.
With a flicker of whisker and a trace of sarcasm, Tepper replies, “It’s to make your stay with us as pleasant as possible.”
From a side staircase, a parade of musicians gushes before them, impeding further progress, playing music sounding Brazilian. The marchers are not only gen-blends but are also dressed in the oddest costumes of branchy hats and striped pants and polka dot jackets. Dancers on the fringe grab Crik and try to drag him into their rhythm.
Tepper briefly goes with the flow, salsa-stepping, then pulls her ward free. Pressed against the riverwalk’s railing, Tepper and Crik slowly slide forward. ‘The Brazilian band will be a barrier,’ Crik thinks, ‘slowing down any babysitter who might be after us.’
The identical lady triplets of before launch themselves off their perch on the railing, like a flock of hungry crows, and mimic Crik’s funny walk, circling around the master walker, who’s still masked like a panther. Hurrying along, Crik realizes, ‘They’re not making fun of me but truly digging it.’
The triad of tanned sisters keep pace with the two in flight. Their high heels clack along the hard rock cobbled surface. One’s scanty garments beneath the see-thru dress are fur. Another’s undergarments are pink feathers. The other one’s are shiny scales. Crik estimates they must be about thirty. ‘That’d be a first. Ellen was more typical, about three years younger. But these women are still pretty, tho’.’
“Primed for action and very predatory.” Tepper pulls her ward closer to her. “Lean bodies, lean faces, pared down by lifetimes of conquest – of naïve guys.”
In concert, the Triplets surround the panther-masked young man. Crik glances at the painted, chiseled faces sparkling around him. ‘How bad could it be, conquered, forced to please three sleek clever creatures? At once!’
“Why the rush?” Narcisa sings. “What have you done?”
Caressa picks up the tune. “Is an angry lady after you?”
“Shall we help defend you, lucky one?” Warresa sings.
Slackening everyone’s pace, Crik opens his mouth but his chaperone intervenes.
“Dawdle here, Gramps,” Tepper says sharply, “and a different pursuer will ensnare you.”
The Triplets giggle. Narcisa taps Tepper’s arm? “Where’d you get your cat look done?”
Warresa nods approvingly. “I love it. Feline is so feminine,” she purrs, “and so ferocious.” She growls.
Caressa flips a hand down. “It must’ve been Ignacio at the Body Shop.” She nods, agreeing with herself. “A genius at splitting genes.”
Crik internally plugs his ears. ‘Girl talk. That didn’t die out. Well, the future can’t be all new.’
Bobbing their noggins, the Triplets twirl away from Tepper.
Furry Narcisa nearly touches Crik’s masked face, like Michelangelo’s finger of God giving the spark of life to Adam. “That’s not gen-blending. It’s an actual mask.”
“To cover up what?” shiny, scaly Warresa tries to peel off Crik’s panther mask.
With both hands, Crik caressingly captures one of Warresa’s. “Yes, you see –”
Grimacing at the Triplets, Tepper tugs her ward who releases Warresa’s hand. “We’re on an intellectual quest.”
Before the masked guy, the Triplets raise one arm and lower another into L shapes and slide their heads back and forth like ancient Egyptians. They beckon the young guy to follow.
“The secrets we have mastered,” Narcisa says.
“There is so much we could reveal,” Caressa says in her see-thru costume.
“That you haven’t already?” Tepper says. “You’ll have to excuse us.” She grips Crik’s arm. “Come on, Gramps. One final clue – or reminder – should do you.”
Following his guide, Crik throws up his arms. “Women in my family are so unfun.”
“We are so unfrivilous.” She hauls her ward toward a copse of skyscrapers.
“The parrot said a room with a view,” Crik says, “and the machinery hasn’t been wrong yet.”
“Ah, yes,” Warresa says. “The Cloud. Best view in town.”
“We can all go together,” Narcisa says.
“We were already on our way, too,” Caressa says.
The Triplets weave around the guy with their scarves trailing.
Rubbing his hands undeterred, incorrigibly optimistic, Crik grins at Tepper crookedly. “You only get one chance in life to embarrass your great-great-grand-daughter.”
Tepper’s whiskers twitch. “You’d waste your precious time here like that?”
“What, you want me to go back without any tales to tell?”
Tepper’s ears flatten. “My own ancestor. Why don’t you embrace your own family?”
Crik looks like he bit into something bitter. “Family just means being related to people you don’t get along with.”
“Like you ever tried to get along.” Tepper scribbles in the air. “Just forget it. The best view is also the best place to let let our tensions out. So you can focus on spotting your last ‘reminder’. Then we go home, copy all your memories.”
Golden sunlight, slanting low, streaks throught the leafy branches and gilds the buildings, making the setting seem more ancient than futuristic, like a Maxfield Parrish painting. The party of five pause before a towering building. The Triplets and fugitives gaze upward.
“Up there we relax,” Tepper says, “and you might find a view with a clue, your last one.”
“Not even one law office up in there?” Crik says. “No scummy attorney working late?”
* * *
In the Cabinet’s meeting room, diadem-wearing Reyes demands to be shown how the time traveler spent his last night in his own time of treachery and suffering. The homunculus bows and shrinks. The space surrounding the projector globe shows the night before two centuries ago…
In a cavernous hotel lobby, Crik glanced sideways at the concierge was who busy with paying guests and scurried away, bouncing rhythmically.
In a hallway, a smartly dressed and nice looking female seated at a table warmly smiled at the approaching young man as if he were a missing brother returning home bearing rare gifts. One table displayed books and tapes selling Strategic Wealth Maximazation by Julian Seizure. Another supported a spread of food.
After Crik passed by, the young woman seated at the table of proffered provenderspoke up. “Crik?”
Crik looked back. His beaming face turned quizzical as he looked at the young woman more closely. “Ellen?”
Without warmth, Ellen led pointed at the doors. “Get in there and get smartened up. You’re going to need the money.”
Crik showed his gap-toothed smile. “My first million is half yours.”
* * *
Inside the skyscraper, corridors meet at a hole in both the floor and the ceiling, forming like an empty elevator shaft. The party of four Futurites and one masked Pastian stand at the lip of the shaft. Exposed are the edges of other floors above and below. One could stumble right in as there are no banisters or ropes or ribbons. Way above in the roof is a skylight.
The tanned Triplets step into the abyss before them. Instead of falling, they hover briefly, then float up. “What are you waiting for?” Caressa calls back.
Crik ogles the three pairs of shapely legs floating up and away; his jaw quivers like a cat’s when spotting a nearby bird yet just out of reach. “Innyah, innyah, innyah,” he gurgles. Then he tentatively puts one toe in the energized space; the foot floats up and he draws it back, inhaling sharply. He tries his other foot; it floats, too.
“Shall we?” Tepper says.
Crik scratches an ear. “We won’t have to listen to any elevator music, will we?”
Rolling her eyes, Tepper links arms with Crik and pulls him forward. He twists out of her grasp and falls onto his back. Tepper has already started rising above him.
Floating upward, Crik looks around the empty space, up and down, and shouts. “This thing never fails?”
Tepper calls down to him. “Never say never.”
“Well, OK.” Rolling over, Crik spread eagles. “Hallelujah! Is this one of those flying dreams?” Feeling free, the way one does sometimes when getting a ride hitchhiking in a strange place where one is known by nobody and is free to recreate a novel self, Crik breaststrokes but that does not move him horizontally, he only rises vertically, caught in the power of the AG levitator.
Music and laughter emanate from the rooftop lounge. The melody is big band, old for even the Pastian’ ears, sounds that Crik’s grandparents loved. He foxtrots in midair.
The rooftop lounge is like a commanding peak amid other skyscraper islands. Nearby buildings stand a dozen or so stories tall, proud monuments to prosperity. Some towers of glass and steel are like sculpted castles. One of pink tourmaline has veins of blue topaz running throughout, glowing lavender as the sun shines through. Another rises as a titanic redwood. Between peaks, anti-gravity vehicles buzz by like swallows at dusk. Beyond the stone-hued city a royal blue sky arches over all. The unseen sun, having lowered itself toward nightly repose, from beneath the horizon gilds and blushes the clouds above, turning them pink and gold.
The serene scenery contrasts with raucous sounds. ‘Some of those rhythms.’ Crik thinks, drumming the air. “Take them back, could be hits. I could be a star.”
“You’ll be a hit now if you can show you know and started geonomics,” Tepper says.
Crik turns to an elderly couple seated at a table nearby. “Hear that music? You got to come get your yayas out.”
The Triplets wiggle out their agreement.
“My yayas already got out,” the senior man says.
“And never came back,” the senior woman says.
Tepper pats the old fellow’s arm. “They’ll be back.” She smiles. “Just let yourself float.”
The open-air hall is not smoky at all. The patrons wear togas, some transparent dresses. One looks like Fred Astaire, another like Rosie the Riverter. Different groups cavort insanely, swill booze, gnash nuts, and bet foolishly. Crik feels he’s found a home away from home.
More Geotopians than before have streaked their hair, not just teens but all ages; some have even added a dab of bling to their ear lobes. They mimic the instant celebrity, the Wayward Founder, Tepper eplains. “My ward is a leader in fad and fashion.”
“Just a matter of time.” Crik polishes his nails. “How could anyone resist?”
A mini curved ceiling adorned with pinpricks of light forming constellations shelters the bar. The stretch of wall above the bar shows various sports. One section of the wall shows the armed confrontation in the master bedroom in Otten’s mansion. Before it the holograph of Reyes repeats her advisory to the citizenry about apprehending the wayward Pastian.
Most patrons dance without a care in the world, dancing with unconcerned enthusiasm. The gyrators are attractive by every known standard of beauty and then some. The swingers range from pre-teen to decrepit. Crik thinks, ‘Gee, talk about an all ages club.’ All dance with all. ‘Dance with a kid? A granny? Smokes, what is going on here?’
On the parquay floor, shiny robots do “the robot” with built-in ease, jerking about abruptly to form surprising shapes with their gleaming limbs, making smiles at each other that look more like the grimaces of a skull.
The music advances more than a Biblical generation to a world beat. Tepper grins at Crik and speaks over the music. “Before I show you the view …” She sways slightly in time. “Dancing, dancing – feel that? It’s like a therapy. Letting go will return us to an even keel.”
The rhythm changes to grunge. Infected with dance fever, the Triplets lead Crik onto the parquay. Lowering her eyelids, Tepper follows them out onto the floor. Crik whirls and twirls the Triplets. He bumps hips with them then confronts other dancers, infecting them with his merriment, spontaneously creating choreography for others to follow, like a conductor of a comic orchestra.
Tepper dances as only a feline feminine princess in her prime can, un-self-consciously showcasing her smooth sinewy movements that grind any male’s timid reserve into lust. A slick guy who had been dancing with another bows to her then turns around and moves in sync with Tepper. ‘That wiry guy thinks he can horn in?’ Crik thinks. ‘Just as competitive as Randy, who should really be here right now, going crazy.’
Crik taps the Randy surrogate on the shoulder. “Buddy, buddy, buddy. We can’t all be the Corkmeister. Look, she’s my kid. Er, my kid’s kid. My kid’s kid’s kid. My … forget it. Just remember to be your loser self.” Pirouetting, Crik raises a finger at his great, great granddaughter. “I got my eye on you. So do what I say, not what I do.”
Pausing mid-step, Tepper shakes her head. “I think I won’t understand everything until we download and analyze your mem cells.”
The challenger holds his finger up to Crik. “Bet you can’t do this.” What he does is impressive – bending and spinning – but more gymnastic, less like ballet. Crik thinks, ‘Watch this.’ He copies the interloper but makes the moves so smooth they could be a leafy branching waving in a breeze. Dancing with graceful abandon, Crik combines fluidity and high energy, filling the air with his moves that draw applause and the flattery of imitation.
A dinner triangle twangs. A lantern dangling from the ceiling twirls and shines a rainbow of colors. A stylized silhouette on a purple scarf snakes through the air to Crik, defying gravity.
“Hey, Corkmeister, you won Ballerín of the Evening!” Karessa explains. She and her sisters tug on Crik’s arms and kiss his cheeks.
Hands on hips, Crik draws his elbows back like a banty rooster and crows. Many patrons, several with streaked hair, reach past the Triplets to pat Crik on the back. Tepper leans over. “Think they’re happy now? Wait until we identify for sure the first founder. They’ve all bet zillions on hers identity.”
‘Hers?’ Crik thinks. ‘Oh, I get it.’ He leans back toward his guide. “You mean the combination of his and hers?” She nods. Licking a finger, Crik dabs the air with a wet streak. “Score another one for Sherlock me.” Swiping a bottle of champagne off a table, Crik offers the bottle to the Triplets who, while still shape-shifting slowly like lava in a lava lamp, decline. Shrugging, Crik swigs it a full ten seconds, tilting his head back as if it’s weighted down by his streaky hairdo.
Tepper tugs his arm. “In moderation, Gramps, moderate.”
Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, Crik jumps straight up, pumping his fist in the air. “Geotopia rocks!”
His new dancing buddies hoist the panther dancer up on their shoulders. Countering his giddiness, Crik grabs tufts of hair in both hands. Paraded around the lounge, Crik remembers what head honcho Pilard said. Letting go of some people’s scalps, he cups his hands and shouts over the music, “Hey, everybody to the Capitol!” Crik regains his grip on scalps. The celebrants regard each other quizzically. Those whose shoulders are not burdened shrug them at those whose shoulders are. ‘Oh, well,’ Crik thinks. ‘I can tell Pilard I tried.’ He shouts, “I mean, everybody to the tap and stool!” Happily they bear him barward.
Joyous Crik calculates, ‘I could even let geonomics slide, forget proving anything to anyone just be a pop culture celebrity hero. Crik whips off his mask. His dormant, matted streaked locks springs to life like a bushy weed after a spring rain. He waves the cougar visage overhead. “I loves everybody! And everybody loves me!”
The music drains away like a dying siren. The Futurites – even the bleached heads, even the tanned Triplets – step back and gasp. Registering their fellows’ reactions, those shouldering Crik drop him to the floor. Bouncing up, Crik shrugs the so-what shrug.
Near the railing three black Geotopians shoot holographic craps. A lovely black lady about twice as old as Tepper wears a jeweled turban. “Be deuced.” Her two companions continue concentrating on the dice. “Durban, Waddell.” She tries to direct the gaze of her playing partners. “A traveler from another time.”
Durban, who looks to be at least twice as old as Crik, wearing a goatee and a porkpie hat, lifts his eyes over the rims of his glasses for a moment. “Farah, honey, him? Hmf. Time wanderer maybe.”
Their third companion, Waddell, also with salt-and-pepper hair, rolls the dice and lowers his voice. “I thought a Futurite would look, um, more …”
Crik steps closer to the gamblers; the former fans of the visitor edge backward some more. Crik chuckles. Throwing dice being a pastime that has given him pleasure, he’s happy to meet others not averse to taking risk – and correct them. “The past,” Crik says, “I’m from the past.”
Waddell doesn’t bother to look up. “The past didn’t have time travel.”
“So-da club what!” Crik lifts his hands. “This present sucked me from the past.”
Other loungers get up from their tables and back away. Several voices utter, “It’s the one who broke the law!” One voice cries out, “Who almost desecrated a Persian carpet!” Another is heard worrying, “Is he about to break another law now?”
Patting down the air before her, Tepper steps closer to her ward. “No, he was just an innocent bystander.” Smiling woodenly at the crowd, she says to Crik out of the corner of her mouth, “You live by the mask, you die by the mask.”
Twirling madly, Crik flings his limbs and upper torso over the railing, shouting, “Hello, Geotopia!” He cups an ear, grinning sloppily, the gap in his teeth seeming askew. Tepper pulls Crik back by his waist.
Durban shakes his head. “Boy going to time-travel his ass back to the ground.”
Many whip out glasses that burn with tiny coal red bulbs at their corners. Crik waves at those glasses wearers. “Hey, what’s with the evil eye? Dim your lights.” All the minuscule red lamps instantly go out.
Despite the worried expressions of everyone surrounding him, a broad, gapped grin still registers on Crik’s face. He throws back his head and barks out a laugh. Sticking his neck out, he raises his eyebrows and purses his lips then, while cupping an ear, asks a question, “Boo?”
Everyone again gasps and jumps backward.
Laughing good-naturedly, his bling twinkling, Crik hurdles onto a chair and elongates his frame to the faux moon in the mini ceiling above the bar. “Haoul!”
Some patrons scurry out of the room. Others back away farther. The hall grows absolutely silent.
Laughing, Crik bounds onto the table. Shrugging, he lifts his hands to his former fans, offering the obvious truth of his assertion. “Hey, I was an innocent bystander.”
An elderly lady in the back of the crowd says, “What’d he say?”
The elderly gentleman beside her answers, “Says he was a no-scent Highlander.” She regards him doubtfully.
The audience remains impassive, unmoved by Crik’s rationale. A streak-topped combs his hair, erasing the streaks, leaving it monochromatic. Like chameleons, others follow suit. Streaked tops start going out randomly and increasingly.
Like a cartoon character gathering up impetus, Crik backs up a step then leaps upon the top of the bar. “No worries. Caution’s cool.” He throws out his arms, exposing the most vulnerable part of his body.
The lady in the back who’s missing the argument repeats, “What’d he say?”
The elder beside hier answers, “Portions pull.” She regards him doubtfully.
The restless onlookers shift on their feet.
Sitting down cross-legged on the bar, he stretches his face into a wide, sloppy grin and points to his pearly whites. “See?” he explains earnestly, “We can keep everything clean!”
Baffled but relieved by his earnestness, the patrons titter.
He unfolds his legs onto the floor. “Anyone need catering service?” He vigorously polishes the bar with his sleeve.
The one who can hardly hear asks, “What’d he say?”
The gentleman beside her answers, “Anyone need a take-a-fling service?” She bobs up and down enthusiastically.
Some in the crowd laugh.
Holding an elbow, he wags one finger in the air. “Look, being at the scene of clashes over prop, er, deeds, is known as early Founder behavior.”
A guy in the front of the crowd who looks like he’s wearing a gorilla suit speaks up. “They said on air for us to help you back to Chez Otten.”
“To keep me calm, right? This is what I do at this time of night. Do anything else, I wouldn’t be calm.”
Some in the crowd nod.
“Look, soon’s they fix the chronoscope, I show up at Chez Otten anyway, right?”
More, exchanging glances, nod. Most of the tension goes out of them.
Crik smacks the bar. “Hey, what’s the Ballerín of the Evening win? Whatever it is, your Founder is sharing it with everybody!”
The patrons relax and gather around again, rubbing elbows with the celebrity. The bubbly Triplets latch onto him. Some ask for and get the autograph on napkins of the world’s only exposed Pastian. Nondescript brunettes begin to re-streak their locks. Patrons sit back down as conversation starts back up. The club fills with a cheerful polka to skip rope to remixed into a world beat. But not everyone. Some do make their way to the exits.
Sighing, leaning against the railing, Tepper toys with the panther mask. “Masks never disguise vibes anyway.”
Chapter 15, Viewing Bounty in the Making
In the Cabinet meeting room, the Umbrella Committee huddles around the dark, shiny mahogany table. The sphere above, in a small lower patch, shows 14:46:15 remaining. Beyond the glass ceiling the sky has turned purple with orange streaks.
Reyes drums her fingers on the dark table. “Seems his shopping spree is over.” She presses her diadem into her hair. “The odds of him taking back history-making knowledge can’t be great, but I hate to even contemplate the possibility.”
The translucent little guy pipes up. “Let me show you where he was last night. It might suggest where he’ll be this evening.” It steps aside, letting images from the past play on the globe.
On stage, the handsome salesman Julian Seizure prowled back and forth. Behind, scenes of unabashed luxury blended from one to another. As Seizure strutted, he never varied his rhythm. Even when his legs paused, one arm kept pumping at the same pace.
“The constant and regular motion,” says the voice of a Dear Learned, “is nearly hypnotic.”
Seizure said, “Because: a man’s home is his castle.”
Crik wrinkled his nose. “A man’s home is his home.”
“A man’s castle is his home,” said the young seatmate who already sounded like the proud owner of a palace.
The voice of another Dear Learned asks, “Why couldn’t telling the unvarnished truth work to make a salesman rich?“
The image of Seizure moved on to the crux of the matter. “What separates those who do get rich from those who do not? One thing. Those who don’t make it, don’t feel like they deserve it. Those who do grab for all that’s out there, know they do deserve it.”
Another learned voice is heard sighing. “Render unto Seizure what is Seizure’s.”
Making a fist as if to thump his or somebody’s chest, the salesman image stared down his audience. “Which are you?”
Another Dear Learnead’s voice says, “When he leaves work, his sack of others’ savings should be full to bursting.”
The homunculus peels back a corner of the displayed images and pokes his head out. “I’ll slow this down so you can read the subliminal message.” The show slows to a near standstill. A text message appears on the sphere: KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT ALL HAPPEN.
* * *
Twirling the Triplets, Crik halts them all beside the railing. Beyond the tops of skyscrapers, a tiring sun sparkles on the rippling water between the bridges that cross the river below. “Hey, stupendous view!” Crik yells to the universe. “So what’s the clue? To view public revenue!” He snaps his fingers then turns to Tepper. “Just rhyming. Really, not clue, reminder.”
Below in the plaza, miniature people amass in an open-air nighttime market, lit up by ringing lampposts. Crik waves his arms and shouts, “What’s the three most important things in real estate?”
The tiplets hop up and down, each waving a hand, like a knowledgeable school kid.
Crik snaps his fingers. “Let’s bet on the spendiest location in Geotopia!” Glancing at the gamblers, he recalls the skills he used to winnow down his college debt some, capitalizing on that innocent face of his.
Durban and Waddell exchange glances and, smiling like sharks, quit rolling dice. They join the young man at the railing. Durban pulls out a mini PC. Waddell asks, “How much?”
Waddell flings an arm earthward. “Lot of foot traffic down there, pushing up site values.”
The three bettors pick out their favored locations. Poking the gambling function, Durban thumbs in his bet then passes on the PC. Waddell likewise thumbs in his bet, raising the amount, then passes the PC to Crik.
Crik starts to bet but stops. He beams his broadest smile upon Tepper but his distant descendant merely harrumphs in response. Crik puts his arms around as many of the Triplets as fit. “My credit card expired like two hundred years ago.”
Narcisa eyes him coquettishly from under long eye lashes. “A man gambling is so exciting,” she says breathily.
Tepper rolls her eyes. Brows knitted, Crik wiggles Miney Moe’s thimble. He disengages himself from the others and paces back and forth. He tosses the thimble to and fro in the air. With a whip of his arm, he snags it and returns to the other gamblers. He begins to bet again but halts again. He bits his thumb and pounds his head. “Win big now and I’ll never have to cater another soiree ever again!” Puffing up his chest like Seizure, Crik thumbs Durban’s mo’.
Bunched around the PC in Waddell’s hand, the three male gamblers hold their breaths, waiting for Google’s answer. The homunculus rifles through the file on downtown site values. The bettors all stand up straight, Crik hooting. Grimacing slightly, the two Futurite gamblers clap the Pastian on the back. The Triplets pat his shoulder, rub his breast, and pinch his cheek. Nodding, Tepper shrugs. “Not bad for a gambler.” She peers at him wonderingly. “Do you really understand geonomics?”
Grinning, Crik swings an imaginary golf club. “Yeah, I got a natural talent for geog, geack, genome – really.”
“Well put, my boy,” Waddell says loudly, “well said.”
Leaning at the railing, the taller gambler Durban looks below. “Yep. How much we pay for land just keeps on rising up to infinity.”
“Meanwhile,” Farah calls out, “land doesn’t cost a soul anything to make.”
“Zero cost, infinite value,” Crik sums up. “That works for me. Now with my winnings I can bag me an empire of lots.”
“Yeah?” Farah says. “How many parcels can you by yourself use?”
“Crik’s a geonomist, our founder?” Tepper shakes her head. “He acts more like the kind of person our founders had to overcome.”
“Oh, I just get a little giddy at this altitude.” Crik smiles at her. “Man, land around here is sky high!” He sounds a little surprised he guessed right.
“Better be,” Farah says, “what with the whole city in on it.”
Smiling toothfully, Crik fist-pumps. “And with bigger portions to some.”
Caught off guard, the Futurites are brought up short and peer at the winning bettor more closely, with Narcisa positioned at point. “You’re not selfish, are you?”
Crik is speechless. But for just a second. “No, no, no, ladies. I mean grand proportions in the nicest way.” He hugs his harem closer to him. They giggle. Tepper rolls her eyes. Farah shakes her head.
Crik decides to regain his stature as a savant. “You say the whole city is in on it? The entire body politic? Like, we, the people?”
Durban snorts. “Who you think it belong to? Old Donald Trump? The Russian Mafia?”
“The Queen of England?” Waddell chimes in.
Farah clears her throat. “Easy now, gentlemen. Don’t begrudge somebody from some other time, some other place, for beginner’s luck.”
“Land value belongs to the public? As in public revenue? See, as a founder, I knew that.” Crik moistens a finger and strokes the air. ‘Shane’s not the only one who can play this game.’ He playfully punches Tepper’s shoulder. “Child, this is easy.”
“OK,” Tepper says, “now has your uh memory been sufficiently joggled?”
Shrugging, Crik points behind her. “Hey, look.” In the darkening sky behind the roof of the club a fat white moon looms.
* * *
The globular monitor in the Umbrella Committee’s Cabinet room reveals the time left as 14:23:52. Dear Learned Pilard polishes one of the buttons on his uniform. Beyond the roof stars sparkle in the black sky.
Chair Reyes speaks to the holograph of would-be officer Voltak sarcastically. “My, my. Miney Moe’s first bet. How touching. At least he seems to be enjoying the distractions rather than cramming his head with facts.”
“At The Cloud, Voltak, dancing.” Pilard draws out the word with a look of disgust on his face. The stern wannabe cop shakes his massive holographic head dismissively.
Bright-eyed Pilard wears a false frown of disapproval. “Mixing with those nightclubbers, the Pastian could begin to agitate the whole populace. That could justify martial law.”
His colleagues lean forward for a closer look at him.
Pilard clears his throat. “You know what to do, Voltak. And in case he switches IDs, find something with his real prints on it. Got it?”
The holograph of the volunteer security guard nods then vanishes.
* * *
On the dance floor, Tepper interrupts her ancient ancestor and the Triplets dancing, saying, “About time to depart.”
“De-part time is over. Par-Tee time has begun.” Crik gathers the Triplets into his arms.
“You got one more clue; surely five should do,” Tepper coos. “See, I can rhyme, too. We’ve danced up a storm; our feelings match the norm.” She aims a cat claw at the exit. “And Gramps, I still got to explain this crazy day to my mentors, the Dear Learneds, everybody.”
Crik adds vigor to his step but the Triplets shake their heads in alarm.
“Oh, my,” Narcisa says. “She’s right.”
“It is late,” Caressa adds, “almost too late.”
Shaken to this core, Crik grabs Narcisa and twirls her, holds Caressa by the shoulders and shimmies them, then grabs Warresa by the hips and wiggles them, smiling gamely. “Go now? Has everybody gone nuts? The night’s raw!”
Warresa shakes her pinkie like a thermometer. “Our hormones are already over-flowing!”
Crik freezes. He looks at each Triplet in turn, all of whom just grin back. Springing up, he does a three-sixty. “Why’re we still here? Go, go, go!” He herds his hoped-for harem barward. Beads of sweat drip down his happy face.
Tepper chuckles. “Med support will have its work cut out to clean you up.”
Slyly, unobtrusively, Crik sniffs one armpit then the other. “Clean who up?”
Seated at a corner of the bar, Farah, Durban, and Waddell have switched from holographic craps to real substantial cards. Durban holds up his perspiring glass for inspection. “Ever try a Diesel? What’s in this thing anyway?”
Other patrons reach for the mechanical hand of the mechanical barkeep and one by one pay up. Crik watches the procedure, thinking, ‘The bar gets what it’s owed and it doesn’t charge any sales tax. If taxes and subsidies are what governments don’t do, what is it that they do do?’ Stepping closer to the barkeep, Crik asks, “Hey, winning Balerin of the Night was good for something, wasn’t it?” With its thin moustache and dark hair parted down the middle, bow tie and white shirt, the automaton looks like an oldtime Irish boxer; it shrugs, accepting payment from other patrons. “Somehow,” Crik muses, “government collects the value of a location, like this one, without taxing anyone. That I’d like to see, somewhere.”
“Where?” The automaton wipes the bar. “Only everywhere humans claim.”
“Well that narrows it down.” Shrugging, Crik starts to usher his three new friends away.
“I’m human,” Tepper says. “We’ll go home, Gramps, where I claim.”
Before the wall above the bar, holographs of sports yield to the homunculus which hovers before images of Crik whacking whiffle golf balls on the hotel rooftop. When the volume comes up, the green leprechaun is in mid-sentence. “… to return him altered, that could alter the past.”
Glancing at the holograph, Crik chuckles. “So-da club what?”
“Altering the past,” the translucent fellow continues, whether we’re intending to or not, may rupture the universe.” The images of the Pastian golfer yield to a holograph the universe twisting out of shape. “And that could erase our present.” In the rooftop lounge, the lights blink.
A few in the amassed humanity gasp audibly; everyone stares at Crik.
Tepper holds her ward’s arm reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Gramps. I’ll represent you to my fickle neighbors.” She glances at the patrons. “What else is family for?”
Crik lifts an eyebrow at her.
Above them, the homunculus nods. “For sure, non-exisstence would be a dull way to spend a vacation.” Slowly the holographic universe returns to its original shape.
Most of the patrons look from the green-tinted fellow to the Pastian, back and forth.
Goateed Durban glances up from shuffling cards at Crik. “There’s a boy going to need a lawyer.”
Farah regards her two partners. “He’s no trespasser, just an accidental visitor. Play your card, Durban.”
“Accident my pepsodent,” Durban says. “He don’t have a visa, he better have a lawyer.”
Crik draws closer to listen to their conversation.
“Thank god there aren’t lawyers anymore,” Farah says.
“Thanks be to the dear god lord almighty high up in his heaven,” Waddell says, “there are none.”
“No? What am I? A ghost?” Durban says.
“A ghost, my dear fellow, doesn’t play cards that poorly.” Waddell slaps down a card. “He could see right through to the other side.”
Durban scratches his chin. “Come out of retirement, stand me before a judge, me prowling before a jury, I can beat anybody.”
“Not at cards.” Farah lays down her hand.
Durban looks Crik straight in the eye. “Past, future, you get caught now, your ass is history.”
“Aren’t we being a tad too ghetto?” Farah says.
Crik leans over toward Durban, the retired lawyer. “Twenty-four hours ago I could’ve really used an advocate back at the mansion. Here now I’m hoping one will still do me some good. You got a card?”
Durban sits up, confused. “A card? A business card? These pants ain’t even got a pocket.” He waves a hand at the TV wall space. “Just ask any damn thing for me, the Debating Champion.”
Waddell snorts. “Yes, exalted champion. And what century was that?”
“Maybe making that bet wasn’t such a hot idea.” Turning away from the gamblers, Crik leans across the bar to the automaton. “Give me a roll of duct tape. Hold the ice.”
The robot rolls a roll of silver duct tape down the bar. Swiping it up, Crik rushes off. With a clap of his hands, the barkeep switches the entertainment from the news break back to sports and the music, a disco beat; the patrons start dancing again.
Weaving through the crowd, Crik leads his posse of four women. At the men’s room door, he enters as the girls halt outside. Inside the enclosure of shiny, pale purple tile, Crik tapes his fake thimble to the pay window of a mounted machine selling sex toys. Its opening spews a geyser of miniature geodesic domes. Puzzled, but too rushed to puzzle them out, Crik catches a handful then bolts for the door.
Back in the lounge, Crik and the four women bore along the wall farthest from the bar. It’s an unnecessary precaution as the crowd ignores them, talking, drinking, and dancing. Nevertheless, Crik sinks lower, putting his Keep-On-Truckin’ shtick to good use. He looks up at Tepper. “You know that dispenser in the men’s room? Its window now has –“
Tepper lowers herself to his level, ambulating a la John Cleese. “Your thimble. Conniving, conniving.”
“So you keep saying,” Crik says. “Try ingenious.”
The Triplets likewise scrunch down, promenading like Groucho Marx. Some Geotopian dancers gesticulate toward the curious formation. They start slinking around, but their reducing their height reduces their blockage of the vision of anyone scanning the crowd, so Crik and cohorts must scrunch down even lower. Naturally, the other dancers again sag down, leaving the escapees more visible. So the gang of five sink even lower, enticing the dancers to accept the challenge. (Within days, The Scrunch went on to become the latest Geotopian dance craze).
As the Pastian nears the huge hole in the floor, Waddell runs up to Crik. “Wait, young Pastian, May I have your autograph?”
Ignoring the request, at the levitator tube Crik bounds into the void but bounces back onto the nightclub floor, as if hitting an invisible trampoline.
“The downside!” screech the Triplets in unison. “The downside!” They push their guest to the other side of the hole. There the party of five fall into the abyss and disappear.
Full of false bravado, Crik throws his cache of toys into the air. Yet in the levitator, th