“Have you decided Jimmy?”
“Yes. Made my mind up last night. I’m going for it. Wouldn’t you, Dr. Janis?”
“Yes, I’d want to live.”
“Ah, that’s the most important question, isn’t it. Will I be really living?”
“I think you will. You’ll be able to see and hear. And we might be able to add touch in two or three years.”
“But I won’t be able to talk.”
“Yes, I know. That’s our biggest problem. As you know, we’re trying both electronic and biological methods but without much success. It’s very complicated.”
“So I’d see and hear things, and move about, and there’d be absolutely no pain?”
“If it succeeds.”
“A ten percent probability. But I’ll die in a few weeks if I don’t. So what have I to lose? Yes. I’m in.”
“All right. There are some papers to sign. I’ll get them and tell the team. We’ll probably do it tomorrow.”
“You’ll tell the press?”
“Well, I’ll be a world-wide celebrity if it works. How about that—the first brain-controlled robot! You know, I think it might be fun.”
It’s been ten years since Robo-One was born and I visited him yesterday to let you know how he’s getting along. By-the-way, he hates being called Robo-One and insists I call him Jimmy. He allowed me to record our discussion. This is a transcript of what we said:
“Would you remind our readers what’s happened to you since your brain was successfully installed Jimmy. You were lucky weren’t you?”
“Yes I was, thanks to Dr. Janis. She’s a wonderful surgeon and is backed by a tremendous team at RobotsNow. They’ve looked after me very well and right from the beginning they’ve kept me up-to-date. I’m the first to try out everything, that is, after it had passed its robo-animal clinical trials.”
“When your brain was transposed you could only see and hear, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. Dr. Janis said they’d probably be able to add touch in a couple of years. In fact it took them only fifteen months to add it to my thumbs.”
“You have touch all over your body now, don’t you?”
“Yes. They modified and used the touch-sensitive computer technology.”
“Do you have it inside? On your tongue, for instance?”
“Yes. That was done six years ago when they added taste.”
“Why do you need taste? I thought you swallowed the basic nutrients your brain needs to maintain its functions. Do you drink or eat other foods now?”
“I only take liquids. All I need is the chemicals my brain cells require to survive. Two bottles a day. Now that I have taste they change the flavours every day. That didn’t make much difference until they gave me micro chips to add smell. I like peanut-butter or chocolate best.”
“Err, what happens to the waste afterwards Jimmy? Do you mind telling us?”
“Well, until about five years ago I simply had a container with an exit hose and a tap. I really didn’t like that. Nor did the team at RobotsNow so they fixed it. I’m pretty normal down there now.”
“I’m sure that feels much better! The biggest change since then is that for the last year or so you’ve been able to talk.”
“It wasn’t like the other added senses, Allison. I couldn’t talk as soon as they put the equipment in. I had to learn how to use the bellows, pumps, mouth shape and throat flaps. That took quite a while. Mind you, I was happy with all I got right from the beginning. To live, without pain, then gradually have extra facilities added. It’s been a wonderful ten years. And the best is yet to come. I’ve fallen in love! I’m in love with the lovely physiorobotist who taught me how to speak. Cheryl. And she’s in love with me. You know, I didn’t think such a thing would be possible. How could a woman fall in love with a robot? But, when you consider it, it’s really one’s brain, one’s mind, that people fall in love with. And my mind’s human.”
“Of course. It must be wonderful. I’ve read that other robots have fallen in love and I’m very glad it’s happened to you.”
“Thanks. Yes, I’ve read about others but I didn’t think I’d be that lucky. There’s a problem though, we’re not allowed to marry. We have a lawyer and an MP working with us to see if we can change the law. Hopefully, we’ll soon be classed as human-robots and given all the benefits we had when we were still human beings. Once that happens Cheryl and I’ll marry.”
“Let me know when and I’ll come to the wedding.”
“All right. When we’re back from our honeymoon Cheryl says she wants to transfer.”
“Several reasons, but you can ask her yourself, she’s in the next room. Cheryl, can you join us? Allison has some questions for you.”
“Cheryl, Jimmy’s just told me you also want to transfer. If you don’t mind me asking, how can you afford it? We all know Jimmy’s transfer didn’t cost him anything because it was RobotsNow’s first human trial but it costs about a million dollars for an individual to have it done today. Do you have that kind of money?’
“We’ll have about half of it if I sell my house. Two human-robots don’t need a house; a sleeping and maintenance shed is good enough for us. It’ll take about five years to pay off the rest of the debt. We can manage that we think. It costs a lot less to maintain robots than people you know.”
“I guess so. But why do you want to transfer?”
“Well, look at me. I’m thirty now. In twenty years I’ll be fifty and look like a fifty-year old. But Jimmy will look just as he is now, a thirty-two year old man. He says he’ll love me regardless of how I look but when I’m seventy or ninety and married to a thirty-two year old, well, what do you think that’ll be like?”
“Yes. I see.”
“And there’s another thing, Allison,” said Jimmy. “Did you know that RobotsNow has bought StemAll? You know why? Because they can use its technology to add stem cells to produce extra neurons in the brain. Now, normal people can’t add very many because their cranium prevents the brain from expanding, although that might be worked around before long. But they can easily double or triple the brain size of a robot. Once Cheryl has transferred we’ll both have that done as soon as we can afford it.”
“So you’d both be super-robots then.”
“Yes. And let me tell you what that would mean to me. Right now I access Google and run searches using my internal computer, the one that controls my robot functions and my internet implant. That’s how I earn my money, doing complicated searches and solving problems for companies. But with a super brain I’d be able to store lots of the company’s data in my mind and do the problem-solving hundreds of times faster than I can right now. I’d be able to do it right in front of the client. I’d quickly earn much more money, although I’m not sure what we’d do with it once we’d paid off our debt.”
“You can understand why I’d also want to have the stem cells. Jimmy would soon lose interest in someone with a fraction of his brain power. But there’s another reason I want to transfer, one I’ve not told him yet. One of my transfer patients told me last week that she’d paid to have her sensors doubled, err, down here. And you know what, she enjoys making love much more now.”
“Is that right Cheryl? Well, when you have it done I’m going to ask Dr. Janis to do that for me. Wouldn’t be fair if only you had it!”
That’s where my interview ended. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see my financial advisor.
Here’s the latest on Gomey, or Sneezy, as he is now, to his chagrin, sometimes called.
In last month’s Spirit News I told you that the directors of Ghost’s Galore, our famous ghost academy, had a problem, one they’d never had before. Trainee Gomey, who was taking his First Level exam, had failed the Moan Test.
I reported this because it was so unusual. We all know that moaning is the easiest part of the exam. No one has ever failed it before.
But it happened again, for the second time, a week later. As soon as I heard that I spirited over and found him sitting in a corner with tears in his eyes.
“What happened, Gomey? You did so well on the other tests, what marred your moan?”
“I think it’s the dust, Spoofy,” he cried. “I had just released a few chilly drafts and that probably stirred up the dust and I sneezed. I knew I’d failed as soon as that happened. The rules say you’re not supposed to do anything except moan in that test. They reminded me afterwards that moans and sneezes don’t mix.”
“Yes, we all know that. But, you know, they forgave me when I dropped my chains and they clanked. I guess I was lucky. So what’s going to happen to you now?”
“They’re going to put me with the ghouls on the graveyard shift.”
“That won’t be nice; dreadfully cold at night right now and much too hot in the summer when you’re trying to sleep during the day. And coffee-breaks with ghouls ain’t much fun.”
“They said they’d move me if they thought of a better place. I suggested one but they said no one would see me because the place is too bright.”
“What do you mean? Where did you suggest?”
“One of the dust-free rooms in a computer-chip factory.”
“Oh! Why? Ah, I guess you wouldn’t sneeze in a place like that. There’s no dust there.”
“Yes, that’s right. They told me they’d forward the idea to the directors and they’d discuss it at the board meeting next Friday. They’ll tell me where I’m going on Saturday.”
Knowing that all of you would be interested, I wafted over to the Academy about four Friday morning and caught the Great High Sprite as he was ghosting off at the end of the meeting. Here’s what we said:
“Hello, Great Sprite Shiver. I’m Reporter Spoofy of the Spirit News. I’ve been talking to Gomey about his troubles and I want to tell my readers what you are going to do with him.”
“Gomey, Sneezy Gomey? Ah, yes. His suggestion prompted much discussion. Most of us thought he wouldn’t have a spook’s chance of succeeding but we eventually approved the idea, as a trial. He’s off to one of Intel’s factories tomorrow night.”
“Any special instructions for him? Or restrictions?”
“No. Just the usual stuff. A few clanks, some irregular steps, maybe a head-under-arm stroll. But lots of moans, to find out what happens.”
Well, that’s what High Spirit Shiver told me a week ago. Last night I shimmied over to the Intel factory to find out how Gomey was getting on. I found him blowing chills on some guy’s arm.
“What’re you doing Gomey? He’s not noticing you. I think he’s asleep. You’re wasting your time playing with him.”
“Ah! No, I’m not. I’ve found a new way to scare people.”
“It’s not scaring him, he’s snoring!”
“Ah, yes. But look at his hand. I found that I can modify the program he’s working on if I make his arm shiver.”
“Well, when I’ve finished he’ll have inputted a tiny snip that’ll say ‘You’re Spooked’ whenever the users try to close the program. I think that’ll scare the living daylights out of them!”
“An interesting idea Gomey. But it won’t work. They’ll search the code and find what you’ve done. Then they’ll remove it.”
“Ah, no they won’t. I ghost-wrote it, so it’s invisible!”
Well, well, well! Now, what do you think of that, fellow spooks? You know, if it works, I can see Gomey being awarded the Spooker Prize next year!
From Outer Space
It was twelve o’clock when Bill, a ham-radio enthusiast, removed his headphones. He was hungry and it was time to make his favourite meal, a ham and cheese sandwich. He crossed to the other side of the kitchen, opened the fridge and put a package of ham, the package of cheese slices and the milk container on the stove top. With his radio equipment taking up most of the kitchen table, the stove top was where he usually prepared his meals. He put a piece of bread on a plate, added two slices of ham, a slice of cheese and covered another piece of bread with hot Colman’s mustard. He poured a glass of milk and his lunch was ready. He took the food to his seat and, as usual, put his phones on his head just above his ears. Then he bit into the sandwich. “Wow!” He quickly took the piece out of his mouth, there was much too much mustard in that corner.
“That was too hot, eh?” came a voice from his headphones.
“Oh! What? Did someone say something?” Bill asked, moving the phones down, over his ears.
“I did. I said, ‘That was too hot, eh?’ ”
“Hey, who are you?”
“Someone you have never talked to in the past,” the voice said. “Do you know that I tasted the heat from that bite?”
“What? You know I’m eating?”
“Yes, I do.”
“No. You couldn’t know that, unless you heard me chewing. And you couldn’t know it was too hot! It’s impossible.”
“Ah, no, it isn’t. You had your headphones aside your head earlier, not over your ears, and your reactions were picked up by the coils. They were transmitted and my receiver was able to decode them. You didn’t know that was possible?”
“No, I didn’t” said Bill.
“Well, it is. In fact, I could even receive your thoughts if you used a pair of special coils. Would you like to know how to make them?”
“You bet,” said Bill. “I’m not sure I believe what you are saying but I’m willing to give it a try. How do I make them?”
“Get a piece of paper and a pencil and I’ll tell you what to do. You’ll need two coils, of course, one for each side of your head.”
‘This is interesting,’ thought Bill. ‘What is he talking about?’ He grabbed some paper and, following the instructions, he drew a figure-eight shaped diagram, two and a half inches tall and one inch wide. He was told to wind fifty turns of number 30-gauge wire into this shape, fasten the coils to the headphones so they sat above his ears and connect the coils in series.
“If you fasten the ends to your headphone jack you can plug into the same socket on your unit,” the voice said. “But, if you connect these coils to your transmitter input I’ll be able to pick-up your thoughts much more clearly.”
“How do you know that? And, anyway, who are you?” Bill asked.
“I’m sorry you asked that,” the voice replied, “because you probably won’t believe what I tell you. I’m on a spaceship that’s stranded on the moon. Unfortunately I’m on the far side so your telescopes won’t see my ship but your orbiting satellites would if I gave the controllers my coordinates.”
‘Oh, no,’ Bill thought. ‘I’m talking to a crackpot. How should I reply?’
“Eh! Maybe it’s a bit too early to tell anyone else about you,” Bill said. “Let me make these coils and let’s experiment for a while. I could have them ready in a half-hour. I’ll call you when they are made. Will that be OK?”
“Yes,” the voice said. “Roger and Out.”
Bill put his headphones down then thought. ‘The guy must be nuts. But he said he felt the heat of the mustard. And, I wasn’t transmitting when he said that, just receiving. In fact, how did he know I was eating and that I was tasting something? I don’t understand that. But it’ll be easy to make the coils and check his story. I’ll get some salt, some sugar and some chocolate and taste each one in turn. I bet he can’t tell me what I’m eating. And I’m sure he’s not stranded on the moon!’
Bill pulled a spool of wire from a shelf and wound two figure-eight-shaped coils. He used some electrician’s tape to fasten them to his headphone strap just above his ears then connected them in series and the two ends to the input on his transmitter. ‘Now, we’ll soon find out if he’s telling the truth.’ He switched on his trans-receiver.
“Hi,” he said. “Are you still there?”
“Oh, yes. I’m here. And I can tell that you have made the coils. You think that I’m a crackpot, don’t you?”
“What! Well, if you ask, yes I do. But how did you know what I am thinking?”
“I told you that the coils would be more sensitive if you plugged them into your transmitter. You have done that and I can read most of your thoughts. For instance, you are now reaching for the sugar pot. Isn’t that right?”
“Oh, no. I don’t believe you. You guessed that. OK. Tell me what I’m doing now.”
“Well, you’ve reached behind your neck and are scratching the back of your head.”
“That’s amazing. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Say, this is tremendous. But, hey, you say you are stuck on the back side of the moon. Do you want some help? If so, I don’t know how anyone here can help you.”
“No, I don’t need any help. I can free myself. I’m just passing the time while my maintenance robots repair the holes in the ship. You’ve got too much space-junk floating around your planet and some of it banged into my ship whilst I was orbiting. I was doing that while my computers learned your languages when I was hit.”
“Oh!. Well I’m glad that you can free yourself. And I’m very glad that we chatted. It would be nice if you could tell me how your receiver could decode my thoughts. I’d like to have one that could do that. In fact, everybody on Earth would like to have one like that. I’d make a fortune selling them!”
“Well, I’ll tell you, since you are a friendly kind of guy, someone I’d like to know better. Look out of your kitchen window. See that guy waving in the window of the house next door? That’s me, I’m your new neighbour. Hi there!”
Roxy and Dodo
A few weeks ago one of my library books was overdue and I returned it one evening after supper. It was cold and very windy but I was glad to get out and moving. I spend too much time indoors these days.
I was walking along the south edge of MacDonald Gardens Park and was nearing the corner when I saw Roxy, Ellen’s dog, limping badly and moving away from the end of Charlotte Street. He was shaking his head as he made his way toward the dog-friendly part of the park. I guessed that Ellen was walking her dogs that evening and was a bit surprised. She generally just put them into her garden once it darkened. I looked for her and her puppy, Dodo, but couldn’t see them.
I dropped my book in the library collection box and returned home, cutting diagonally across the park, following the path that took me towards my condo. I was about twenty yards along that path when I saw Roxy. He was standing in the middle of the footpath facing me. I usually patted Roxy when we meet so I continued walking. But as I approached he stepped off the path and moved towards the small clump of bushes that were near the tree-lined division that separated one part of the park from the other. He stopped after going a few paces, turned his head and looked back at me. I stopped walking and stared at him.
As I watched he walked another three or four steps in the same direction and stopped again. It was as though he was asking me to follow him.
So that’s what I did. He led me behind the bushes at the edge of the trees and stopped, looking back at me. I moved closer, wondering what he wanted. He didn’t move but turned his head and looked towards a large branch of a tree that must have been blown off by the wind. I looked in the same direction and then saw Dodo. She was lying on the ground under one of the smaller branches. I bent down, eased her out and held her in my hands. She seemed okay but I thought she might have been hurt. So I crossed to the west side and looked for Ellen.
I called her name but she didn’t answer so I carried Dodo to her home. Ellen lives in the end house of the row, the one with a largish garden that is protected by a low fence.
I knocked on the door, not expecting her to be in, for I was sure that she must be in the park somewhere, looking for her dogs. But she opened the door and said “Oh. Hello. What are you doing with Dodo?”
I explained that I had found her under a branch in the park and that I was carrying her in case she was injured. I told her that Roxy had led me to her and I turned around, expecting to see him behind me. But he had disappeared; maybe he had been attracted by one of the other dogs who were barking in the park.
“Ah, Roxy has done it again.” Ellen said. “He has re-dug his hole under the fence and escaped. And Dodo must have followed him. He did that a week ago but I thought that I had properly blocked it. I’ll put Dodo inside then go and look for Roxy. Thanks for bringing her to me.”
I offered to help her look but she said “No, don’t bother.” She said she knew where he would be. So I walked home.
The next afternoon I walked back along the path, going again to the library to pick up a book, when I saw Ellen raking over a corner of her garden. “Putting seeds in for the summer?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “This is Roxy’s grave. A man found him in the park and brought him to me shortly after I got back from looking for him last night. He was hit by a car we think.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
Ellen replied, “Well, he was fifteen years old and I knew he didn’t have much more time. That’s why I bought Dodo. I knew that I would not feel like buying another dog soon after Roxy had died, but I like dogs and I need one in the house because they make me feel safer.”
But as I turned down the path that leads towards the condo I kept thinking about last night. Roxy wasn’t limping when he led me toward Dodo. Nor shaking his head. Why was that? How could he go from being partly crippled to walking normally in such a short time? Then I thought, perhaps I didn’t actually see Roxy last night? Maybe I saw another dog that looked like him. But that was unlikely, I thought. There weren’t many dogs with two black and white bars across their back like Roxy had. And why should another dog lead me to Dodo?
Since then, every time I cross the park I think about Roxy. And I look for other dogs that resemble him. I have never seen one, although twice, when it was dusk, I have seen a dog in the distance that looked a bit like him. He stands near the patch where I found Dodo. Once I walked towards him, but a low spot in the grass distracted me and when I look up he had disappeared. So I don’t know if there is another dog that looks like Roxy or if I’d seen a ghost.
Dave’s Daily Blog
I am sad to tell you that we have a few problems up here these days.
They start at the Pearly Gates. Now you all know what’s supposed to happen there. You climb the steps, wait while Saint Pete checks the books and hope to be let in. If you’re barred you’ll be sent Down. Well, that’s what used to happen but it’s not that way now.
There’s no problem when people are let In. No one complains about that. It’s when they’re sent Down that trouble starts. These days everyone appeals.
Let me tell you what happened to my ex. She climbed the steps, Pete checked his daily notifications (they’re all electronic these days) and sent her Down, as was the right thing to do because she stuck a kitchen knife into me. But she appealed, claiming that it was self-defence. She said I was about to murder her. “That’s nonsense,” my grandma told Peter. “He’d never do anything like that,” and Pete believed her, since he’d previously checked on me. But he still allowed my ex to appeal. Right now she could be singing, limboing and quaffing gin-soaked clouds, enjoying herself for years to come before her case is heard.
You might expect it would be the Christians that would appeal the most, especially those coming from the States. But, no, it’s the Buddhists who appeal most. Everyone of them thinks they deserve a better reincarnation and hate what they’ve been assigned. You can understand why, of course, no one wants to be sent back as a maggot or a worm.
Now, we all know that appealers don’t meet the statutory conditions needed to enter limbo, but there’s nowhere else to put them. The Guiding Angel suggested making a special Appellants’ Garden for them but we can’t do that because Upstairs is running out of space.
I guess you would have known that if you ever thought about it. There are over seven billion live ones down there where you are now and that means there’s a constant stream climbing the stairs on its way to the Gates. But, remember, all the early birds are still up here, centuries and centuries of them. They’re everywhere. And most of them are bored ‘cos there’s not much to do. We don’t have hydro so there’s no television. All you can do is make love or sing to each other. Well, you can’t make love all the time, although the teenagers really looked forward to that, so we’re left with singing. And you should hear some of their voices!
So, as I said, it’s crowded up here. We’ve got to get more room from somewhere. One bright angel suggested asking Satan for some. He’d heard that Old Nick had to lay off some of his fire-tenders because there aren’t so many going down to see him these days, what with all the appeals. But I don’t think Nicky’s going to let us have any of his empty blaze arenas. Can’t blame him really, he loaded them with luxury spas and sends his sales-forces there each year at the end of each country’s marketing drive as a reward for the hard work they’ve done.
Being packed in so tightly up here causes lots of stress, and stress is one thing souls can’t take. Troubles that always used to be left behind on Earth keep popping up when there’s too much stress. Christians and Muslims are the worst. They’re constantly bickering. And the angels can’t do much about it, they’ve not been trained in conflict handling. The Destroying Angel could settle everyone down pretty quick but most of us think he’d be too severe.
The Guiding Angel suggested separating the Christians from the Muslims by dividing Upstairs into different regions. He said we should put Heaven in the west and Paradise in the east. If we did that there would be far fewer squabbles. The Muslims wouldn’t be able to comb through the Christians when looking for a fresh batch of young virgins. That causes no end of trouble. The Daily Obit recently had an editorial that said we should import good-quality plastic virgins from China but I’m sure the fundamentalists wouldn’t go for that.
Well, that’s all I have to report right now. I’m sorry that I had to tell you that things up here aren’t what they used to be. Just try to stay where you are for as long as possible ‘cos you’re not going to like it once you leave, whether you go Up or Down. And bring some ear plugs when you come, and an extra set for me, too, please. I sure can use ‘em!
“Come in please, the door’s open. Ah! Hello. You’re the police aren’t you? I’m Mrs. Knowleton. “
“Hello Mrs. Knowleton. Yes, we are. I’m Inspector Bulmer and this is Sergeant Form. You phoned us and said that your boss, Dr. Welch, is dead.”
“Yes, he is. He’s in there, in his office,” and she pointed to the door besides her desk. She stood, left the desk where she had been sitting and opened the door behind her.
“I knew he was dead as soon as I saw him so I didn’t go in.”
Dr. Welch sat, slumped over his desk, the back of his head gaping open. Dark, blood-red stains and what looked like clumps of his scalp were splattered over the shelves that covered the wall behind him. Boxes and packets littered the floor. That he was dead was obvious.
“Ah! Here you are,” boomed a voice behind them. “Hello Jack, Bob.”
“Hello Ken. Mrs. Knowleton, this is Dr. Smyth. What do you think of this Ken?”
Dr. Smyth pulled a pair of latex gloves from his pocket, moved past them, walked to the desk and slowly tilted Dr. Welch’s head to one side.
“Shot, as I guess you could see. Close range, probably a .45. Probably done twelve or fifteen hours ago. I’ll know better after the autopsy.”
“How soon can you manage that?”
“As soon as your boys have finished with him and he’s in the morgue.”
“I just called for them,” said Sergeant Form. “They’ll be here any minute.”
“Good. Mrs. Knowleton, can you answer a few questions right now or should we leave it until later?”
“Oh, I’m okay. I’ve long thought something like this would happen. Would you like to sit down?”
They moved to the corner of the reception room and sat down. Inspector Bulmer asked the questions while Sergeant Form made notes.
“When did you find the body?”
“Shortly after I came in. I had some files to put on his desk and opened the door. That’s when I saw what had happened.”
“What time would that be?”
“Not more than a minute before I called the police. Probably ten past nine. I work from nine to five. But yesterday I left at four thirty because I had to go to my mother’s and cook supper for her. She’s sick.”
“Was Dr. Welch here when you left?”
“Yes. In his office. Making notes, I guess. That’s what he usually does at the end of the day.”
“Did you lock the outside door when you left?”
“Yes. I always do that because we close the office at four-thirty. Then we both tidy up, ready for the next day and he relocks the door when he leaves.”
Three men carrying bags pushed into the waiting room.
“Hello Jack,” said one of them. “Where’s the body?”
“In the room besides the desk, Larry. Dr. Smyth’s already there.”
They put on latex suits and gloves. One man unpacked a camera then they all entered the office.
“Mrs. Knowleton, you don’t seem very shocked about what happened. Why is that?”
“Two reasons, I guess. I didn’t like some of the clients he dealt with. It was clear they were using drugs. As I said, it was likely that something like this would happen, sooner or later, and I was half expecting it so it didn’t surprise me. Another thing, I read lots of detective novels so crime stories and solving their puzzles are often in my mind. Oh, I suggest you tell your men to dust the front door knob, the inside knob, there might be finger prints on it. The first thing I did after calling you was open it carefully, using just two fingers. That’s why it was ajar when you came.”
“Oh, thank you. Larry,” he shouted, “dust the inside front door handle right away please.”
“Here’s his wife’s address and his girlfriend’s. You will want to talk to them, I’m sure. And mine’s there too with my phone number.” She passed him a piece of paper.
“He had a girlfriend and you knew about it? And you knew her address?”
“Yes. He always had girlfriends. He tried it on with me as soon as I started two years ago but I soon stopped that. He’s separated, you know. His wife’s kicked him out. Had enough of it, I guess. She’s probably scared of catching a disease too, I know I would be. He usually went for high-class prostitutes. I know her address because I had to give her a present two weeks ago.”
“Right. We’ll go and see both of them. Please leave now and don’t return. We’ll call you when we want to talk more. Don’t tell anyone about what has happened. We’ll release the news.”
“What about his patients? They’ll be coming any time now.”
“Ah, yes. Well phone all of them and cancel the appointments. I’ll have an officer stand at the door and tell any that do turn up that the office is closed today. Once you have phoned please leave. And don’t touch anything other than the telephone.”
“No, I won’t.”
Mrs. Welch opened the door when they arrived.
“Come in, please,” and she led them to a large living room.
“Sit down, please. You said you had some bad news when you phoned Inspector Bulmer. He’s dead, isn’t he? I guessed something bad would happen when he started helping those addicts. Murdered? For drugs? I bet that was what it was.”
“Yes, we think it may be that Mrs. Welch. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?”
“Not at all. I thought he was stupid, giving them drugs. He said he was helping them to wean themselves off but I didn’t believe it. When he started I worried they’d come here. That was the last straw.”
“He doesn’t live here now, I understand. When did he leave?”
“About two years ago. Went to live with one of his girlfriends I think. I don’t know where she lives. My God. I hope he didn’t change his will!”
“Where were you yesterday evening Mrs. Welch?”
“Here. Had supper and watched television.”
“Anyone with you?”
“No. And don’t start thinking I killed him, much as I often wanted to during the past ten years, because I didn’t.”
“All right. You’ll not be leaving the city during the next few weeks?”
“Then we’ll leave now. But we’ll want to talk to you again before long. Goodbye Mrs. Welch.”
“What do you think Bob,” asked Inspector Bulmer, as they left the building. “Think she did it?”
“Shouldn’t think so. She might hate him but why wait until now?”
“She might need money. That condominium must cost a lot to run. Large, three bedrooms I’d guess, and right downtown. But she must get an allowance from him. Well, let’s see what his girlfriend says.”
“Hello, Miss Enterprise? I’m Inspector Bulmer, city police. I need to talk to you. Please let me in.”
The door lock buzzed and they took the elevator to the tenth floor.
“Another pretty expensive place,” said Sergeant Form in the elevator.
“Looks like it. See if there’s anything about her in the system when we get back Bob. Ah, Miss Enterprise. This is Sergeant Form. Could we come in please.”
“All right. What’s it about?”
“Sit down, please. We have some bad news. A friend of yours, Dr. Welch, is dead.”
“Len dead? Well, I guess he didn’t die in his sleep or you wouldn’t be here. How did he die?”
“Murdered, we think. Sometime yesterday evening. What were you doing at that time?”
“I had a meal with a friend at the Chateau. Then we came here and talked until about two o’clock.”
“What’s your friend’s name.”
“Do you have to know that? Yes, I suppose you do. He’ll not like that. Can’t you just check with the Chateau. I made the booking and they know me. They’ll say I was with someone.”
“What time did you leave the restaurant?”
“About nine, I think.”
“Well, we’ll start with that but I may have to know his name. You don’t plan to leave town?”
“All right. We’ll call when we want to see you again.”
Back at the office Bulmer was called to the Superintendent’s office.
“It’s the fourth murder in fifteen months Jack. You’ll have to solve this one quickly, the public’s getting worried. Tell me what you’ve already found out, I’ve got to talk to the press this afternoon.”
It took only five minutes for Jack to tell him all he knew.
“Probably not the secretary. But it could be either the wife or the girlfriend. Or even a drug addict. I’ll let you know as soon as we have something more.”
The autopsy results arrived just before lunch and didn’t add much, just the time of murder, between six and eight o’clock, and that he’d eaten a cheese sandwich for lunch. They walked to a Deli for their lunch and had just returned to the office when the phone rang.
“Larry here, Jack. Guess what. A print on the door knob matches Dick Rush.”
“Rush? He’s a dealer isn’t he?”
“Small time. Mostly just a user. I guess you should go and see him.”
“He’s probably one of Dr. Welch’s patients. That’s why his print is there.”
“Could be. But it’s on top of two others.”
“We’ll check it out then. Have you got his address?”
Half-an- hour later they found Rush and a girl, stoned out on a sofa in his apartment. There was a .45 lying on the floor beside them.
“I bet that’s the gun that was used to kill him, Jack,” exclaimed Bob, as he stooped to pick it up. “We’ve got him!”
“It could be,” he replied. “The Super will be pleased if it is. He’ll be able to tell the Press that we’ve already got a suspect in custody!”
Well, I wonder what she’s making this time. It must be a big job since she’s getting out a new bag of flour. Wonder if it comes from my area of Saskatchewan? It’ll be a marvel if it came from the same field as me. Would be nice to chat about those care-free days, when the skies were blue and we danced in the winds.
Oh! She’s getting out the raisins. Maybe she’s making some muffins for Tom. I don’t think he really tastes how good I am when he eats the way he does, stuffing it in. No, no, it’s not muffins, she’s getting out the glazed cherries! I know, she’s going to make a fruitcake! And not an ordinary fruitcake—she’s now got a bottle of rum. I’m going to be a Christmas fruitcake. Boy-o-boy, I’m going to enjoy this! It’ll be nice to warm up in the oven, full of rum, cozying around those cherries. I hope she puts in lots of reds, they’re prettier than the greens. I wonder if they know wheatese? It’d be nice to have a quick chat before getting hot together.
Hey, wait a minute. Why isn’t she opening the new bag of flour? There’s not enough of me left to make a fruitcake. And she’s pouring raisins into the bowl, not cherries. No, no, no; that’s not right! Ah, damn. Looks like I’m not going to be in the fruitcake after all. She’s turning me into a batch of muffins. That’s not fair, the new flour gets all the treats. Ah, well, it could be worse, I ‘m glad I’m not ending up as more breakfast pancakes.
It had taken 97 years to reach Keppler-5382 and its exoplanet K-d, although for the two hundred men and women aboard the starship it seemed like a good night’s sleep. Once landed, robo-mecs had taken another earth-year to prepare the structures the ship’s inhabitants would live in before awakening them. The ship was the seventy-sixth sent from Earth over the past eight decades as our twenty-third century descendants expanded their colonization of the Milky Way. By now they had outposts on many of the goldilocks exoplanets within thirty light years from the earth where spectroscopic analysis of the atmospheres showed that sufficient oxygen was present.
K-d was the fourth of eight planets, completing it’s circuit once every nine earth-years. Its atmosphere, as well as K-c’s, had an oxygen content around thirty percent. Robo-biologists, shortly after the ship had landed, discovered that K-d’s oxygen was generated by swaths of green, grass-like spreads. This grassy growth grew within rings of stunted, red-coloured, bushes. This mosaic of rings and infrequent copses of reddish leaved trees was all the plant life that could be seen by eye or down-directed radar for many miles. No birds or animals had been seen although the ground was swarming with centipede-like creatures that ranged in size from microscopic to two foot long. They crawled and dug everywhere.
The crews’ task, once aroused, was simple: use the skills and training they had undergone to colonise the planet. That would mean triggering conception of one cluster of the fifty banks of stored human sperm and ova each earth-year, or nine multi-conceptions in one K-d year. Artificial wombs would support and feed the embryos and fetuses until birth, when infants, in groups of six, would be cared for by ten temp-parents, five women and five men.
This manner of reproduction was not the only way children were born, of course, for sex was nothing strange to the ship’s crew. About half of them were in their first-pair decade, their first, because none of the women or men was older than twenty five. They, mostly, during a pair-decade, partnered no one else. Other, un-paired men or women coupled as they wished. However, one of the few laws that guided the space colonisers restricted pregnancies to couples that had signed a two-earth-decade, or longer, marriage contract.
Drones had found large deposits of iron near the surface twenty miles away and robo-mecs had excavated and smelted some of it using the ships largest fusion generator during the first six earth-months of their landing. 3-D printers had fabricated the octagonal structures that the crew would live in and other 3-D printers had generated the furnishings and equipment they would need. Robo-farmers had cleared land and planted seeds during the second earth-month and cared for the pigs, chicken and cattle that had been artificially inseminated, gestated and raised during the earth years shortly before the ship landed.
Slowly the population of K-d increased. Babies were conceived, naturally and by selecting those whose traits and abilities would be first needed, those that carried scientific and technical genetic inheritances. Those with musical, athletic, artistic and other backgrounds would be awakened in the second planetary decade. None of the other planets in this system were to be inhabited until this planet’s population numbered one hundred thousand.
Everything went as planned. Monthly reports were sent back to Earth that detailed the planet’s make-up and listing what the colonists had accomplished, although they would not be received for twenty seven earth-years. Yes, everything went well, even through the K-d’s long winter, when temperatures dipped to minus ten Celsius, until the spring, when calamity struck.
It happened slowly, striking the farmers and outdoor workers first. The men began, suddenly, to think of nothing but sex. They followed and talked to the women all the time. They did not use force but clearly indicated what they wanted. Some women complied but that did nothing more than encourage other men to approach the same women. Before long every man was affected. Work stopped and the leading women commanded robo-mecs to round up every man and lock them in the largest empty building. Once inside, they were fed but not let out. The problem slowly began to resolve itself, some three earth-weeks later, when the men’s quest for sex slowly ceased. Life began to return to normal.
Clearly something had caused this excessive demand. It took the biologists three earth-weeks to hypothesise what might have caused it and six earth-months to prove that their theory was correct. It was the beginning of K-d’s spring and the grass-like growths had emitted a pheromone that caused the bushes to spread pollen. That pheromone had also affected all the men. It would occur again in the next K-d’s spring, or every nine earth-years.
You, of course, can guess what the cure was. During each K-d’s spring the men were banished and sent to planet K-c. The women left on K-d let the robots handle all the work, they made no innovations and spent most of the time having one big party.
A Crabby Person?
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, quit nagging me so.
What do you mean, I’m a crabby old man?
You never used to think me so.
I’m not cantankerous and bad-tempered.
Never irritable and irascible.
That’s certainly not me. No way!
I’m certainly not grumpy, nor grouchy.
Not even crotchety or crusty.
You say that I’m always so tetchy.
And frequently ill-tempered and cross.
Often curmudgeonly and peevish.
What rot! I’m never like that, not me.
I’m not ill-humored, fractious and prickly.
Never ever. Not even once.
Pettish? Crabby? Waspish?
Cranky? Ornery? Grumpy?
Lippy and snappy every morning?
Where do you get these ideas?
Tell me Mary, contrary Mary.
Are you sure it’s not you you’re describing?
It’s 4 am, the time I usually wake up. I turn from lying on my side facing the clock radio and lie flat on my back staring at the ceiling. It is dimly lit by lights from the park and criss-crossed with shadows cast by the blinds that cover the top halves of the two windows. I eye the shadows, seeking the two that blend perfectly from one into the other. And, as usual, it’s the seventh row down from the top. Ah! Well! I didn’t really expect anything different.
I look at the clock again. It’s moved just a minute. Sometimes, when I check the clock the second time it has jumped a half-hour or more. But not this time. I’m in for an hour or more without sleep I guess.
A bright patch from the headlights of a car rounding a corner on the other side of the park brightens and moves along to the far-right corner of the ceiling. It’s come from a police-car’s headlights, I suppose, there aren’t many others driving in this area at 4 am.
I stare at the ceiling, hoping to doze off. Another light, somewhat different, appears and I watch as it slowly moves. It’s yellowish, not white. I don’t remember seeing this kind of light before. It slowly grows orangey, wider, but dimmer and crosses the ceiling towards me. I guess it’s from a flashlight that someone is using as they walk through the park but who would do that?
The light suddenly disappears. Yet I think I can still see it. A small patch still shows, but not in my eyes. It is almost as though it was in my head.
“Hello. Hello, David,” I hear. “Hello, Hello.”
What is this nonsense, I think. I must have fallen asleep and begun to dream. But it appears to be the beginning of a nice dream so I feel no urge to wake myself up.
“Hello,” I said to my dream companion. “Who are you?”
“I call myself T’ling,” the glow seemed to say.
“Well”, I said, enjoying this conversation. “I’ve never heard that name before. Are you a boy or girl?”
The light that must have been T’ling glowed a little brighter. “Well, I’m a girl. But don’t ask me how old I am because I don’t know. I’m here to tell you that I’ve thought how you might complete the ‘Ask me Again’ poem you were writing.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Well I’m sorry you bothered about that, T’ling, because I’ve decided to scrap that idea and write about something else.”
“But you did think it was important to write that poem didn’t you?”
“Yes” I said. “I did, before I got stuck. OK. Tell me the poem you have. Maybe I can use it.”
“OK” said T’ling, and she told me the words.
“That’s wonderful,” I said. “I’ll remember what you said and probably include it in my next publication. Thank you.” But, when I woke up I did not remember exactly what she said. But what she said make me wonder if T’ling could have been one of my teenage girl-friends. This is all I remember:
Ask me again, my darling,
To play hide and seek
and dig in the sand.
To carry my books
and hold my hand.
Ask me again, my darling,
To go to the dance
and kiss in the shade.
To walk through the woods
Make love in the glade.
Ask me again, my darling,
To live the life
we never had.
To do the things
we never did.
Oh! Ask me again, my darling.
Ask me again.
Something to read when waiting. Ten miniscule stories jumping from ghosts to murder.