Here are the rules to the Novel Game: 1. One object must propel the work forwards. 2. The Novel must consist of at least 15 chapters. 3. Each chapter must have at least 4,000 words. 4. I must try and have fun. 5. I will spend no more that 4 hrs per chapter; if I haven't made 4,000 words in that time, I will publish what I have.
I’m William DeFranco, a novelist from Scottsdale, Arizona. The population of Earth is now roughly 20 billion. The population of Mars is 70,000. The year is 2155. Let me describe to you what comes to my mind when I look at a photo of Mars. I love to say all I can about something. If you are one of those readers that needs to be entertained with lots of action in a story, I am definitely not your man. Many "professional" writers recommend saying one or two characteristics about a thing and then moving quickly on, but not me. I write for myself first and foremost, and if a reader happens to like something Ive written that's great. But to be honest? I love to put my readers to sleep as fast as I can so then I can keep on writing unimpeded. I like to weed out the weaklings. My writings are for the chosen few that are strong enough to handle the journey. Red. Dusty like a French Tennis clay court. A cracked Marbled bowling ball. Lines that run up and down it, and to its sides, giving an earthling the impression that it maybe once had rivers. Black coal pocket marks, like the planet once had a bad case of acne. Leathered skin, pelleted long ago with meteoric particles that got lodged into its follicles, and it develop pock marks. Volcanic pimples erupting puss and piles of thick and gooey ash. A pulping mass of flesh floating in space. A rotting peach reaching and rotating around the sun with other marbled bowling balls. The solar system is a great bowling alley only the balls are spinning and traveling on invisible metal rails on elliptical tracks like a 7 year old boys new toy and their are no pins. One can hear the silent roar as the planets pass like roller cars on coasters. Considerably smaller than the earth but larger than our moon. Capped on its top, it wears a polar iced Yamaka, and below it is sporting a old man’s goatee. Crevices run through it like splitting clay. Blemished skin, tanned and leathered, dust bowled black heads spin deep marks into its cheeks. In some places it looks like a slasher took a dagger to its cheek and carved a thick gash and scar there, leaving it to spin all alone to feel its pain in solitude. A long single strand of hair lingers down its scalp and forehead, dangling like a dried up old man. Dead skin, flaking skin, swollen skin, tracks of scars mar Mars. Cold Smoke and ashy soot clowns around in clouds of gray, around the massive boulder choking off parts of its head in decay.
Let me give you my view on Humanity. Humanity is like a hot swirling of gnats and flies that can’t find rest until they move on to another planet. One would think it better that people decide to save the magnificent marbled blue, white and green rock they now own, but no one is in control of it, (the mob of mosquitos that is). The swarming has moved out into locations through the nets of reason and all have silently agreed on the ground and in the air, that is is a lost cause to save the planet earth. Humanity moves under the assumption that we must go on. To develop new artificial lawns and try to make them as natural as possible on unfamiliar brown dusty surfaces. New picket fences, new neighborhoods, new streets that fill with summer heat. Why did we go there? I surely know I will never be there personally, but why have many gone already and why are my ancestors going? I have a few relatives who have made the call to adventure. One can see how powerful the thirst for life is. At times the thought of being an old fuddy- dud conservative seems appealing to me. To have a little garden on earth. The pressing onwards towards Mars seems so uncomfortable and risky, such a radical choice. The status quo feels rather nice all of a sudden. Life is horrifying. Gnats frantically flying and vying for space, and Im no better. I like this lawn chair, I won’t give it up. A blind feeding frenzy, one can see it so clear. Unless your head is lost in the cloud of gnats, and then you can't see a thing. Nothing matters but the whole. The individual is a speck, a flying bug hugging and holding onto the crowding herd of black public opinion. Out of terror, a gnat smells the air to see which direction is best for him to fair. He must follow amongst his fellow mass of gnats coming and going in and out of the nose of his existence, for to slow down and stay a while alone he is more liable to be spotted by a toad, and tongued into a quickly forgotten snack. A few money hungry leaders holler to the flock, most can barely hear, but a few important followers hear the triggering call and a swath of chiggers are led and directed into a mob of the dark haunting unknown. No one has a clue what is going on, but everyone knows one must move or die. I know I sound like a cold heartless psychopath, but that is what I see sometimes. I like to stand aloof like I am God and view from the Archimedean point of history, Time and Space. I like to play Zeus, and observe from a hypothetical vantage point to perceive the Universe and all of its mysteries with a view of totality. Why not? Someone’s got to do it.
The way I see it is, on this planet earth of ours, whoever is the loudest and gains the most attention gains the upper hand and can feel for a millisecond in time that they matter and are a kind of leader of the human race. They call it "peacock feathering", it gives one the sense that one matters. But to be louder, one must be obnoxious. It goes hand in hand. Anything really valuable and warranting the honor of truly being cherished, is an obscure thing, often quiet and inconspicuous. The irony is that anything that is of real worth, is never esteemed in its time. The noisy crowd, loud and attention seeking, are like dainty flowers at the top of trees. Or the lightly coated sugar on a chocolate brownie at a picnic, a slight wind of time ruffles through the air, and they are gone with the wind, nowhere. Of course eventually the whole brownie and tree will be gone, and in the end it all ends up in an assortment of jumbled and shuffled atoms. But at times I can trick myself into thinking that I matter and I expand the chest a couple quarts, and watch the sugar coated flowery types blow past me in the breeze. The obscure are encrusted deep into the layers of the dessert, perhaps nestled in as a peanut or a pecan. Embedded for future generations to stumble upon. Like an intelligent time capsule lodged deeply into the surface of Mars, for humankind to discover some day. Or also, it is entirely possible that everything gets overlooked, and some poor sucker that dedicated his entire life avoiding the noisy crowd wasted his entire life, and should have joined the Philistines in the end, should have partied like it was 1999.
I have a whole novel to fill, where is this going you may ask? I haven’t a clue either. I have described to you the object of our journey, Mars. I know some novelists that prep and preen and plot and plan their novels out before hand. Making the dig in blue print heavy, before breaking concrete ground. Abstractly they stand back in a skyscraper of thought building skeletal framework for their buildings in their heads, and then plot out the parameters, establishing the foundation deep in actual cool soil. But that is not the way I work. I like to start out like a seed. Sending a tap root down and take it from there. Winging it baby.
The first colony of men and women arrived in the year 2100. It was a celebration year, a collective goal, dedicated to finally making the landing with men and women together holding hands in building the very first stages of a community of astronauts. A colony almost took root in the year 2078 but funding collapsed from the United Nations. The United Nations is now the centralized government of the world. Exactly in the same way the separate United States were governed by a federal government in Washington D.C , now all of the Nations of the world are governed by the United Nations. There are three separate councils. One centered in New York City, another in Kuala Lampur, and the third is in Rio De Janeiro. The world is considerably more crowded than you may be comfortable with. Take for example the
metro population of Columbus, Ohio. In the year 2000, it was roughly 2,000,000. Now you know what it is? Ten times the size. It is twenty million people. In the year 2020, New York City had a population of 20 million. You want to know the population of New York City right now? It is 30 million. It actually hasn’t gone up that much. All those other cities that once were kind of fly over cities like St. Louis and Omaha in are now megatropolis. Omaha’s metro population is 17,000,000. You know what that means? That means that town like Los Angeles and Phoenix have merged into one gigantic urban area. With a total of 80 million people. Houston and Dallas are hardly indistinguishable. And the eastern sea board? Forget about it. The whole thing from Maine to Miami is a concrete jungle. The island of Nihon is entirely city, from Hokkaido all the way down to Kyushu. India? I’m not even going to go there.
Where I live is now in the heart of what they now call the Twin Cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix or what they now call PAL. Scottsdale is now part of the “downtown” of Phoenix. It has been swallowed up and to live in the center of one of these monstrosity cities costs a pretty penny. Idiots that once thought that they were separated by hundreds of miles of culture, in townships with different names, now realize what fools they were. Now Phoenix is Los Angeles and Visa Versa. If two men, one in Phoenix and the other in LA, sit back in their easy chairs, their lazy boy chairs and tell them themselves they are from PAL, the commonalities in their thoughts travels instantaneously without conditioned blockages of misperceived differences brought on by culture. Where in the old days, fools from New York would ask in silly wonderment what was the weather like to one of their relatives living in Boston, and they would talk endlessly about the petty small cultural and parochial differences, now, Boston IS New York City.
Which brings me to my next point. In the old days people thought nothing could travel faster than light. That just simply isn’t true. Now they have rooms around the city that you can enter into and hook up some wires to your head and you put on what looks like a virtual reality helmet. One actually creates their reality on Mars. I know several people around town that have homes in both Scottsdale and Valles Marineris. Say they want to do some gardening on Mars but they are here in Scottsdale. All they do is
go into one of these rooms, ( some people who have enough money have them in their own homes) and put on the “experience” of the virtual reality. They experience the gardening when they are all hooked up and then they just export the transfer for down load in their homes in Mars, and it is as good as done. It technically isn’t faster than light, but the creation of the idea preceded the activity and people are literally two places at once. Or they did another experiment where a man on Earth and his clone on Mars both had the wires hooked up to their heads and they thought transferred their ideas across to one another at the speed of light. For well you know that thoughts are electric packets of light themselves. They both knew what to think about, they both thought on the topic of "me". They looked into their own bodies feeling the warmth in there and they tried to clear their minds of all thoughts and just experience the void within their own bodies and minds. The knew before hand what the other was doing, the wires and light travel was irrelevant. Maybe I am not explaining this well... Earth IS Mars... but I am pretty sure they discovered that two minds unconditioned connected by wire transferred information faster than light. But I could be wrong on that. Don't quote me on it. Actually I feel like a fool. Nothing can travel faster than light. But you know it is kind of like reading a great poem by Pindar from 400bc. The poem rings so true today as a three thousand years ago. That the information travels 3,000 light years in time into the future to reach your eyes in the present. Am I making sense? Maybe I haven't thought it through well enough. If nothing travels faster than light, maybe some day I will find a way to beat the game.
Which leads me to my next point. People are cloned now. Some people have cloned themselves and they are living on Earth and Mars at the same time. With the cloning and the virtual reality downloads, to say people are having identity crises is an understatement. Nobody really knows who they are anymore. Are they two? Or one? Are they the creators or the creation? You can imagine the demand for shrinks. And voting is a whole different matter. Your clone only counts as half a vote. For every additional clone the value of the vote is halfed again. So third generation clones are a quarter of a vote… and so on. Some for a while people were cheating and cloning themselves dozens of times to increase the vote count potential. Now it is strictly prohibited, and one cannot clone oneself more than 6 times.
Which brings me to my next point. Men can now, if they want, get a new body. They have a procedure, it isn’t too expensive, where one can have ones head cut off, put in deep freeze, and have a fresh body brought in off of the streets after a recent accident. They move quickly, but it is a common procedure now. So now you see white aged and white haired old men, running around town with a 25 year old black man’s body in his prime. Or women who have had their heads put on a dogs body, and they are sprinting around running tracks trying to keep in shape. You may laugh… but it is common place in the year 2155. I even read where one guy in Valles Marineris had his head put on the body of a Giraffe. He now can be seen gliding across the sands of Mars gracefully transcending space and time as he goes to work. You may think this is all really dumb and I am just trying to be funny. Surely Mars and earth and the future have a deeper soil and culture that we can set our lives into to find a deeper meaning to ones short life. Surely the peak and climax of a man's accumulated aspirations of his life isn't to be found in the image of a large African mammal with a human head staffed and knitted on top. But there isn’t. I read an article recently where there were a handful of people here and there in the year 1980 that were complaining that world culture was becoming so shallow that they were worrying that it wasn’t just a fleeting phase. If you are looking for any deep meaning in the year 2155, there isn’t a single millimeter of space for you to hide in. All the realty and reality of the world has been gobbled and purchased up ten fold and the only way to get some attention is to detonate a home made nuclear smart bomb with radiation. Even then, so many people do it and the police have been so accustomed to it, it has become so routine that one just gets hustled off into a court and prison never to be heard from again. The most meaning you will ever be able to muster into your life will be early in the morning you are allowed to write a few of your real feelings and thoughts into a journal. Or if you get a body change into a Giraffe you can transcend time for a few minutes on your way to work. It reminds me of some of those novels written in the 20th century. Everything, all the power and focus is in the state, the capital, the other. Normal regular people have hardly any say in anything. True feelings and thoughts are hardly even heard of. If you express them, people look at you like your sick. It is always work for the future, work for the cause, work so that the people can move to Jupiter. It is always the next planet, the next generation, the next moment in time. Everyone is hustled and worked and primed for the next big thing. I’m sure people from the year 2020 would never understand.
As I proceed on my course to Mars, I will attempt to run a line out, like a spider, that runs between the morbidly serious and the trivially stupid and latch a sticker through the middle and onto the big red thing. We want our journey to have touches of the sublime and profound, but not too heavy that it becomes oppressive, So we add in a light flare of levity to soften things up a touch. But we don’t want to go too far in that direction either, otherwise people might get let on to to the fact that we may be a light weight intellect. We must conceal that possibility with all our will with the well distributed and interspersings of brow contracting topics of solemnity. Talking points that work well in this regard, are: death, incest, homosexuality, insanity, the use of big philosophical words, introducing occasionally the microscopic and fragile quality of our fleeting lives in the big picture of things, mass murder, rape, pedophilia and of course touches of blood curdling violence. Those themes should satisfy the readers who are questing for deeper matters to mole through. A tool to bring in and lift the spirits into an opposite effect, levity, is the juxtapositioning of two absurdly unrelated people or things and have them fall over each other as they both stumble in a comedy of errors towards the same goal, blocking each other in their aims. I'll see if I can work it into the plot.
I received a call from a younger cousin of mine over the evening asking me if I wanted to move to Mars. Now I am a man in his early 60’s and I am not much in the mood to move across the street, let alone Mars. One of my younger cousins a few years back had started a Kibbutz in the southern Highlands and they have a lodge that has opened. Its a small cabin on the foothills of a Mars iron range. I laughed at first. He told me about all of the niceties that were there. Running water, a satellite dish on top of it’s roof, running and working sewage system, fully insulated with double layers of “ Minsulator” ( a material used to insulate Mars homes), the community of cabins had a transport room that I was trying to explain about in chapter one, and the price of the domed cabin was significantly affordable. 75,000,000 mirths. A “ mirth” is the currency that is now used for all the populations both on Mars and Earth. I told him ( his name is Raven), I told Raven that I would in all likely hood pass but that I would mull over the matter a week or two and get back to him to give him a confirmation either way. The idea of walking around all day with an oxygen tube pasted to my waist and cheek did not seem to be a particularly pleasurable prospect; for all peoples on the newly populated Mars had to wear a
small thin oxygen tube in order to live. It is actually part oxygen tank, part filter, and part converter of methane and carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. Added to that one has to rub a protective oil, a kind of sunscreen, over ones body everyday whether one is inside or outside. It as a supplement to the shield that has been stretched and arched over the atmosphere of Mars. The shield and the oil block out the sun’s radiation. ( the shield also creates a hugely desired greenhouse effect, raising the temperature) There are all sorts of other little annoying things I have heard about that go along with living on the red planet. Another one is that the water coming out of faucets is very slow due to the gravity difference, and though they have improved it over the years, most people have to hand wash their dishes and clothes still.
But I have to confess that it does sound fascinating doesn’t it? To actually walk across the surface of another planet. I have seen images of the place from people who have downloaded their videos onto the internet. And yes, it’s I still called the “internet”. The images that I have seen remind me of good old Scottdale and the Grand Canyon. In some ways the change really won’t be that shocking. I just love walking the earth near, in and around the Grand Canyon. The red soil that kicks up from my boots, and the sound of the dry gravel rolling under them as I spin and turn in the wind. Some people look at me from their cars as I am spinning in the dirt enjoying the sound; they think I have cracked my lid, shelled my nut. Or as they say “he’s a couple screws shy of a full deck.” But I don’t care in the least. They think I am totally stupid, the town idiot. But I could care less as a dust bowling dirt devil raises rings around me and I spin in a whirling dervish. They haven’t put me in the loony farm yet, and the way I see it they are the real idiots. So many people these days are cowards constrained to the mundane. Afraid to stand out at all and be different. Most people are carbon molds of each other. Yes even in the year 2155 humanity still suffers from the psychological pressure to conform. Some of the elitist class have made some headway in that area, there is a new pill out that simply makes one think along different lines, and it has helped. But this has run into a backlash of another more conservative group that would like to keep the masses well restricted in their thought patterns so that the herd can be more easily controlled and their behavior more readily predicted. Scientific studies like statistics of behavior in the purchasing class, and the behavior of “mass merge” and individual “psyche think” have exploded in recent years. Laws have been made in the UN to protect the consumer class from being treated as if they were lab rats in a maze. They term it “ Observation Consumerism”. It is actually a quite horrifying phenomenon. Studies have shown that whole swaths of the masses below at the bottom of the hierarchy of Humankind have never actually thought an original thought in their entire lives, and charts of their lives were predicted before hand by the well sequestered elite, showing that the herd hardly moved in the smallest of deviations from the formulated forecasts.
Entire lives could be run out on a chart while the they were still a baby, and could be custom fitted for convenience for the ruling classes. Massive data brought in over the internet had turned billions and billions of people into complete robots. The data gathered by one mans simple craving for pecans and his subsequent search on the internet for the best in town, was able to predict what corner street he was going to be on in ten years with perfect location and accuracy. The pecan industry could then give the poor sod just a whiff of strategically placed and released pecan molecules into the air and he could be led on a string for the rest of his life, monitored. You may think this is really dumb and couldn’t possibly be true, that I have given myself permission to play in a bath of hyperbole. But not so.
Another consideration I had, could I actually make the trip? It’s a 7 month trip and I have had some small heart issues of late. And all of the work entailed in moving. Having to leave everything behind but a small carry on bag, and one check-in, for that is all that is allowed on the space flight over. Plus all of the hassle of having to go through Mars custom and security, making sure that I wasn’t carrying a radiation bomb, or mustard gas. (Mustard gas has made a comeback). Biological warfare has become routine between individuals spatting over the most trivial of concerns. One man complains that another man’s fence has a board and nail sticking out on to his property in the Antarctic ( which is now solid green fields, one of the few places on earth that is not complete urban congestion), and after the two men exchange harsh verbiage to one another, one man is liable to under the arm pit of his coat spray a well directed mist of bio warfare onto the other mans jacket, and he is dead within the hour.
On the other hand of consideration, my life on earth needed a boost. It needed a kicker before I entered into the final phase. I enjoyed on the weekends heading out to the Grand Canyon, but I did need some more adventure that was a bit riskier. Some thing to surcharge the adrenaline into the frame and make me almost crack down the middle out fear of self -annihilation on the left, and the desire for adventure on the right, and finally at the last sec I am saved and fall to the better half. But could my heart body and soul handle another shock? Years ago in my youth I sleuthed the world wide all alone and mounted many a mighty peak of adventure. For what is an adventure without a little chance and uncertainty involved in the game? But in ones 60’s? Incidentally I should include that on the average, folks are living well over a hundred years in age. So my age isn’t as old relatively as it once was. But still.
I married once in 2124, but the marriage lasted two years. She cheated on me with some third generation clone. Never re-married. Just never found the reason or the time. Too busy writing my blogs and Novels. Now you may ask how on earth, if as I said before, that in the year 2155 I can find the leisure and the freedom to write? I said before that finding a meaningful life in 2155 was almost impossible, and that jotting in your journal for a few minutes in the morning or coasting along the surface of Mars in the body of a Giraffe on your way to work was the most one could hope for. I am one of the exceptional few. I am not of the elite, but because my writing skills have been praised by the State and Venture Capitalism, it is now my official job to be a writer. The State and Venture Capitalism have merged into one indistinguishable enormous entity. I showed some promise early in Journalism. (My Novels are a secret affair). Actually the truth is, can I level with you? My writing sucked. And so the authorities, noticing I had a passion for it, took hold of me and they paid and sent me to all sorts of classes to improve on it. I confess there was a little brain washing involved, and to this day I still have a positive bias for State run Venture Capitalism. I try to shake it but it is permanently lodged in there. I still write for them, but I have tried to escape the brain washing. The truth is I still can’t write worth shit but that hasn’t kept me from writing. I love what I do. People come up to me all the time and say they read my blog, and they say “you can’t write worth shit, your boring as fuck!” and I slow down to a stop, and say calmly. “I’m brilliant”. I live in my own fantasy world that can’t be penetrated from the outside. They get all frustrated when they see they can’t penetrate the walls of my fortressed mind. Deep down I know they are right, but I don’t care. I love to write. To feel the keys beneath my fingertips. the striking of the keys as if they were soldiers marching to the the drumbeat of my throbbing mind. At times the ideas really come forth. Occasionally I will get lucky and hit a good line or two, after all a broken clock is right twice a day. I am the guy that waits for the two times a day. I type all day long and sometimes all night looking for that one or two good lines. I could care less that my poor readers might have to weed through a piling haystack to find out what the right time is.
A week had passed and I had thought long and hard about it, and you know what? I decided to take the journey. I am moving to Mars! I called up my cousin.
“Raven! I have decided to make the plunge! Im heading out your way. Decided I need some change, something to jolt the system and a chance to start a fresh!” I said on my RealTime tv.
“ That is superb Will!” He answered. “ When do you think you will be making the journey?” He said excitedly.
“ Well they say once you make the decision to go it is best to move a quickly as possible on it. Just tell me Raven one more time if you would. Whats is it like to stand on Mars?” I asked him wanting him to project me forward with enthusiasm.
“ Well let’s put it this way William, how much do you weigh?” He asked.
“ Do you really want to know? I weigh 250.” I rounded.
“ Ok so that would mean…. “ He paused thinking about it. “That would mean that you will weight 95 lbs on Mars. Pretty cool Hugh? You don’t even need a gym here although of course they have many of them. Most people work out on Mars to keep from atrophying. Atrophying is a real problem.” He said.
“ Ok tell me how high in the air are you able to jump?” I inquired enthusiastically. I have always had a fantasy even as a little boy of being able to fly. I used to have dreams when I was small and all through my early adult life about flapping my arms in a big arena or gymnasium or indoor tennis court facility and being able to lift off of the ground. I had to flap really hard and fast but if I did it long enough I would start to lift gradually into the air.
“ Well your a little obese, sorry to break it to ye Will. But if you got in shape it is pretty common for people to be able to jump three feet in the air and stay aloft for 2 seconds.” He chucklingly informed me. That didn’t sound like real high to me... Three feet? 2 seconds? I wanted more.
I continued. “ What about those jet packs? Are people using those there now? Is it common?” I probed.
“ Yes, you can get a jet pack, but I will be honest with you, they are expensive. They run around a million mirths.” He surmised.
“ Ok, I wish you would have said that I could jump higher. But it doesn’t matter, I am coming out there. Give me two months will you Raven? I will set up my space flight plans and itinerary and give you the specifics later in the week.” I confirmed.
“ Sounds great Will! The cabin is all swept and ready for you to come. You know with all this clay and martian sand it gets dusty out here, but we try and keep things clean. What are you going to do about your things? Are you going to have them put in storage? Or?” He asked.
“ No.. I will just chuck the shit. Most of the stuff I have around here in the apartment is shit for wear anyway. Gotta start fresh Raven! When a snake sheds its skin, it doesn’t leave anything left behind on its tail, it gets rid of the whole kit and caboodle.”
I explained slightly nervously trying to convince myself that the shedding of some skin was an easy affair.
“Great to hear from you Will! I look forward to hearing from you soon and can’t wait to see you on Mars. Have you been still playing a little bit of Tennis?” He asked yet another question.
“ My hip and knee are hurting me a bit. I could play easy though if you are interested.” I rallied.
“ Sure thing Will. Bring your racket if you can, I think they will allow it on the space flight. There are red clay courts all over the place out here. Nearly every one has one in their backyard, and the Kibbutz has several communal ones. I think you are allowed one single carry on item and then one suitcase that is checked in. Talk to you soon!” I was getting tired of talking to him. I am not a big talker in general and was glad the tenor and tone of his voice was sounding conclusive.
“ Talk to you soon Raven!” I ended.
Well today is the day! I am moving to Mars. I am nervous as shit, and to be honest my heart is pounding a bit which worries me because my heart as I said earlier has been giving me some issues. I’ve heard of these horror stories where people have these panic attacks and roll around in the aisles of the craft having seizures while everyone else just goes about reading their magazines and eating their peanuts. Its a common occurrence apparently. The long dragging months, being contained in a tiny canister looking out upon the black empty abyss of space. Periodically there is a mind that cracks, and it is common etiquette to allow someone to have their freedom and space to roll in the aisles. It’s that I am not used to the idea of it. Making an ass of myself in my writings, and doing pirouettes in the dry dirt of the Grand Canyon is one thing, but rolling on the floor in front of a hundred people having a complete and total uncontrollable breakdown for all to witness was on whole other level. But a snake needs to shed. Maybe screaming on the carpet was the last bit of skin on the tail of transformation.
I had successfully trashed all of my personal belongings. In the year 2130, an Armenian fella came up with the idea that everyone has to wear a bar code on their wrists and all of one’s banking and financial needs and concerns are all on there. Every person at birth by law has to have a barcode implanted in their wrists. United Nations Social Security Network has automatically from the day of ones birth been calculating your value to Society, and just like a tracker that determines how long a person has been physically running around a track, the UNSSN tracker tracks your entire life assessing the worth of it to the rest of the community. Puts an awful lot of pressure on a guy, but it has some upsides too. For one, it’s all there, everything, your whole life and worth right there, everything is centralized onto your wrist. I did indeed find my old tennis racket and brought it along. In my right hand I carried my favorite gray duffle bag. I had my toothpaste, shaving gel, my eyeglass case, my journal, 4 days change of briefs, three casual dress shirts, two sweatshirts, and two pairs of slacks: one brown, and the other black. I packed one puck of shoe polish in a small pocket on the side of the bag. I have my favorite novel that was written in 2112. Its called “ We the Chosen Few”. Its about the chosen few that first set a dusty foot on Mars. The first colonizers. The truly brave or suicidal ones that ventured the first Martian trek. They turned it into a best selling film as well.
I arrived at security check feeling like a mule. Having taken the train from PAL to Houston/Dallas, or what they term now “HUD”, I had already been corralled through many the stable. HUD was one of two launching sites on Earth. The other is in Shanghai/Beijing, or what they now term BANG. (Incidentally the population of BANG is now circa half a billion.) One can see the launching pad from miles away in the outskirts of these towns. When I approached HUD the rocket tower loomed like the Eiffel Tower ( which was taken down in 2088) only 4 times the size, and it is surrounded by surreal ladders that climb and disappear into clouds up and on through to the stratosphere. The ladders I guess are scaffoldings for workers to scale in little boxcars so that they can work on the surrounding townships that are developing just outside of the earth’s atmosphere. Cute little towns that resemble the old villages of Switzerland only they are floating in orbit and traveling 30,000 kph. ( everything everywhere has been converted to the metric system). It truly is a spectacular sight when one is approaching the scaffoldings and structures of the almighty rocket tower. The tower as I said before is roughly 4,000 feet in height, and that allows the rocket ship to get a real good aim and ramping to thrust towards its projected target, which is actually a very thin veil of lining through the shirt of the earths atmospheres. This target must be made or else the ship will explode from too much friction. But the techies have mastered the art of departure to a T. There is the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere and the thermosphere. ( these have to be bed -rock learned in elementary school).
As our train snaked ever closer towards the launching pad through the massive maze of the modern metropolis, I felt the adrenaline coursing. It started off as a peppering under the arm pits, and then like a fog of mustard gas it spread throughout my lungs and to the limbs. I looked out the window with complete and total existential dread as I always do on a train ride; watching the hundreds of thousands of apartment complexes pass. The train slowed to a molasses and the final few kilometers of travel took almost as long in time as the first thousand.
As we neared the end station, I noticed the homeless sections of the cities were piled up in mounds of lost souls. The major cities of the world, which now there were only a few since they so many had merged into one another, were gigantic cesspools of disease -ridden, feces -laden sidewalks that people didn’t even bother trying to clean up anymore. Mammoth celebrations of the primitive side in Man were ritualized on every street corner. On the train ride in I even saw two guys butt fucking in some shrubs. Men with their pants half way down pissing and shitting out in broad daylight while tourists snapped snap shots for their photo albums online.
Other men shouting insane nonsensical hysterical rantings into the open air and to themselves, red in the face from mental illness and alcoholism. But tourism was booming. The car alarms everywhere are constantly on “on”, and fire truck and ambulance sirens are non- stop. But people continue about their day as if it all is part of a regular days work. Men get shot at on routine basis and folks are too busy to call in a 911 call. ( yes the number is still the same). Sometime even the shot men themselves continue on their day as if nothing really happened. Emergency rooms are so booked. I even heard of one story where a man entered a hospital in hysterics thinking that he was suffering from a hear-attack, they told him to pick a number and have a seat. He died in the waiting room.
I always get anxiety bound when I travel. The system begins to unravel and I squirm in my seat. I am essentially a home body at heart, I love the familiar. Tracking through vast open spaces with people piled up on top of each other in the 500 millions has a tendency to make one feel rather “insignif...” if you know what I mean. My idea of a good night is hiding up into the four walls of my apartment to shore up the spirits in my solitude. I reassure myself that I am The Only One that really matters.
When I got off the train I grabbed my duffle bag and racket and was ushered up an escalator the size of one of those waterfalls in South America. You know the ones, about a thousand feet in height and really narrow? ( speaking of which I like to use the old foot, yards and miles for units of length sometimes, I have always had a slightly rebellious spirit and it comes out in brash ways once in a while)
“ How many bags will you be checking?” An officer asked sternly.
“ I thought we could only have one.” I said rather miffed. He didn’t say a word and grabbed my duffle bag and tossed it down a humongous shoot about 10 meters in diameter that had a huge vent pumping air out of it. I had the suspicion I may never see the thing again.
I said with tremendous anxiety, “ But that was my carry on! That has my toothpaste and clothes in it! My briefs!”
We were rounded like cattle into a corner with all of us bumping and shouldering one another pretending we weren’t scared shitless for the cruise across 70 million kilometers of black space. We were feigning civility as we brushed frantically our elbows against one another silently realizing that this was our first introduction to the group that we were going to be calling “family” for 7 months. I looked around at their faces. What kind of people had decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge?
I saw one woman holding hands with a young girl, I assumed they were mother and daughter. The woman was plump and non-plussed as she looked over the herd with pink cheeks. She had a worried gape forming around her lips like she had lost someone in the mob. I surveyed my other fellow plebeians trying to give the air of integrity when in actuality my knees had begun to tremble and knock. My mouth cheeks were vibrating as though someone were massaging them with a ray gun. I scanned some more. I saw a man in an alligator hat and snake skin boots. “He must be one of those left -overs from a tribe down in Australia” I said to myself. I began to really worry about my duffle bag. What was I going to do about a change of clothes and my teeth? And my journal? I started to think that I was going to be one of those smelly guys that reeks so bad that people secretly want to kill him.
Imagine 7 months without a clean set of clothes? They did have showers apparently on the ship. But I guess the sessions were rationed in order that everyone had a chance to shower equally. The ship couldn’t afford to have a large amount of water on board for bathing. We had been granted one washing a week.
We were narrowed off and suctioned through a pair of brass rails, siphoned as it were down a long corridor. It was dark and like being in a huge long tunnel of a rectangular box. The sides of the walls had these brass rails that were lit in gold light and we trailed off in eye formation. A guy in front of me had a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap on. ( Baseball is the number on sport in the entire world in the year 2155) I tapped him on his shoulder, he was a big man, probably 6’6’’ or two meters in height.
“ Hey… “ I tapped really friendly. “ I see your a Dodgers fan, I followed them avidly all through last season. Even went to a couple games.”
He turned around like I had concrete dumplings for brains. “ Not a fan. It’s my friend’s hat.” He said coldly as he rotated his shoulders back into line ignoring me. I peered behind me this time to see if I could see that persons face in the dark. But all I saw was this blinding light. Either he or she was looking at his or her phone with the flashlight on… or.. I couldn’t tell. I steered over closer to a brass rail to see what it was actually made of, because it glowed with a mysterious aspect to it… . It had a “holy” look.
Just then a man way up ahead in the rectangle called out over a speaker, “ Of course I hope by now you all realize that you are in the line for the 2 o’clock blast to Mars. ( they call it a “blast”… it sounds silly, but no one finds it silly in 2155, it’s become custom).
“ I suggest if you don’t want to be on Mars in 7 months that you turn around in the line now, because now is you final chance. There is no turning back after this…” He announced with clinical precision. I felt the Adam’s apple restrict a bit. I cleared my throat to loosen up the tension.
“ You don’t have a cold do you?” The mammoth in front of me said.
“ no.. I was just…”
“ Well don’t cough on my back thank you very much if you please!” He said with some venom.
We started to enter what they call the “canister” which looks like a huge silver egg in the shape of a bullet only it is the size of a double decker bus. I plead guilty, I almost passed out at the canister hatch. Do you know what I was doing with my life? I may never see earth again. I had no idea really what to expect to see and experience on Mars. Perhaps I would never see any of my friends on Earth ever again, I only had two, but still…
As I turned the corner into the hatch I was immediately stunned by the apparent comfort of the thing.. its was all packed in soft white leather like one was in a huge padded cell for the insane only it was a nice clean white and the seats looked extremely comfortable and might I add, a bit luxurious. The canister reminded me of a genie bottle that was lit up in pleasant lighting that could hold a hundred people. It had a huge open area in the middle with magazines of all kind. As I passed the center of the Canister I even saw a dirty mag on a foot rest. “ That’s right!” I thought. “What do people do about sex?” I looked back deeper into a second level that had soap scummed shower stalls and glass.
I had been misinformed, there wasn’t a single window where one could look out into space, they didn’t want to take the chance that the pressure might crack a pane. One could feel the pressure rise and ones ears popped as one entered. I felt my ears immediately begin to ring and I hoped to Zeus that it was just a temporary thing. ( By the way I forgot to mention earlier, Greek Mythology has made a real come back and the old monotheistic God is seen as incredibly archaic.)
Thank Zeus the two meter tall guy in front of me was heading to another part of the tube. I glanced behind me now to see if I could see that face that I couldn’t before in the corridor. It was a drop dead gorgeous woman in furs. My seat number was 2nd floor section 2 seat number 8. Apparently I had to go upstairs a flight and I found the stairs. It wasn’t a very tall flight of steps, I probably only had to climb 8 feet. The capsule was well grounded. It was layered out in tiers. And the steps upwards and down zigzagged in solid wide levels. Everything about the place was wide, compact and yet spacious. The stair wells, the white leathered seats and cushions gave one a feeling of expanse. To be honest it almost felt like I was in a porn film from the 1970’s. There was a smoking room with a little cigar shop and lounge sequestered in a corner of the coned canister. Men with big black moustaches wearing all white waiter uniforms with your conventional silver trays for service hopped up and down the steps.
The thought crossed my mind, “ What the hell kind of place is this?”
I went up to the man that had headed the crowd through the corridor.
“ Excuse me sir… my duffle bag was thrown down the shoot at the beginning by mistake, is there any chance that I ca….”
“ Too late now. You will have to get it when we arrive on Mars.” He said curtly and then walked away to direct some other people.
What the hell was I going to do? I had nothing but my tennis racket and the clothes I had on. Imagine the stink that I was going to stir. My teeth were going to be caked with yellow when I greeted my cousin in 7months. I had nothing to write on.
I gradually was able to find my seat. I felt a bit like I was entering the Great Titanic from 1912. I’m not sure why, they had no similarities in shape or size. But I felt I was entering a timeless place. Or maybe it was better to think of it as the Santa Maria, or one of those Viking canoes from the year 1000, that held ten men a piece that happened to hit Nova Scotia after a good few months of raping and pillaging the English countryside. I put my tennis racket in the over head bin, making sure to nestle it such so that it didn’t get squashed by others bags and cases, and sat down in my big white and wide leather seat. I had been told that the flight was always a smooth one, except for the beginning and the landing. If one could get over the lift off, and the set down, the word was the in-between ride gleaning through the velvety void and fabric of the well vacuumed and groomed black space of a man’s static electric slacks, was like butter turning on a wheel of vinyl. I had no idea what the hell they meant by it, but I gathered that it meant that it was easy sailing.
One of the men with the black mustachioed face, and white suit and vest approached me and asked me if I would like some peanuts. “No, but do you have any pistachios?” I countered.
“ No, peanuts are all we have sir.”
“ No… well… ok I guess I will have the peanuts if that is all you have.” I said rather snottily. The truth is I felt threatened by the place and the man, I felt that I was out of my class, and so in strong defense, I sprayed a good air of elitism back into the fellows face to see how he responded. His face didn’t change a muscle or a twitch, he fetched the bag of nuts from his basket and handed it to me.
As he left and did the rounds to other seating passengers, I picked up the brochure that was placed on the side table of my chair. All of a sudden the thought occurred to me, how could all of this furniture and these magazines and lounge items handle the blast off? Weren’t things going to fly all over the place and behead everyone? Another one of the mustachioed men walked by, I piped up, “ Excuse me sir, I apologize for this perhaps silly question, but how does all of the furniture and magazines and lounge items stay secure during blast off?”
“ All of the furniture sir, if you will notice,” he started very snootily with a twitching and irritated nose, “ is bolted down and the magazines will be picked up by us service men before final departure.”
“ Well aren’t you just Mr. Perfect” I muttered underneath my breathe as he continued to walk on.
What I thought was a flight brochure, turned out to be another dirty mag. After opening to the middle, and starting to crack down on a nut with one of my still strong back molars, I saw two gigantic breasts exploding before my eyes, I swiftly shut it and put it back on the table. “ What the…”
I nabbed the same well groomed service man on his way back, “ Hey fella…” I grabbed his moving arm.
He distinctly rolled his eyes in irritation, “ Yes sir..”
“ Just what kind of place are you guys running here?” I said with some firmness and disbelief.
“ I don’t know what you mean sir.”
I grabbed the mag and opened it up to the image of an enormous veined penis pulsating like a rocket. “ This, this is what I mean.” I said pointing to it.
He looked at me like I had fully shelled my nut. “ That is a magazine.”
“ Yes, but what of the content sir?!” I said peevishly.
He didn’t even bother to reply and walked away with a sachet and a saunter.
The lady with furs, coincidentally sat down besides me.
“ Hi…” I grunted.
“ Hi” she fanned her boa.
“ What takes you to Mars?”
“ I’m having a photo shoot..” Her eyelashes bantered.
“ Oh.. your a model hugh? Well to be honest, I must say that you are a very pretty woman.” I said as my voice quivered, but I upheld the consistency enough so that the dip, showing lack of confidence, was well patched over so she didn’t notice.
“ Well thank you… what calls you to Mars?”
“ Oh”, I said pulling my right leg up over my left knee displaying a man of the world look to her, “ I need a change. I’ve seen the world wide, and just needed to mix it up a bit.” I said feeling extremely unstable.
“MAY WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! BLAST OFF WILL BE TAKING PLACE IN EXACTLY 15 MINUTES, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT ALL OF YOUR BELONGINGS ARE SECURED IN THE UPPER PLACEMENT BINS. PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOUR SEAT BELTS ARE SECURELY FASTENED, BECAUSE BELIEVE US, YOUR GOING TO NEED IT!
Just then huge chest and shoulder bars came mechanically rotating down from the ceiling, just like the ones one would wear in the old fashioned roller coaster corkscrew rides. I was terrified, but I peeked over at the woman in furs and she seemed completely at ease.
“ I hope you don’t mind me noticing, but you don’t seem nervous at all.”
“ I’ve made the trip many times before.” She explained. As she pulled down her bars over her shoulders and picked up the dirty magazine, turning it right to the page of the pulsating penis. But she didn’t flinch a bit. As a matter of fact, she started to gently fanning her fur over her shoulder, and then started feathering the pages with her long fingers, scanning each new hot image with the utmost coolness.
I pulled my harness down over my shoulders and strapped myself in for blast off.
“ Say…” I stuttered. She didn’t hear. The engines of the rocket were starting to be turned on… “ Say!” I said louder.. but it was no use.
“PLEASE PUT AWAY ALL MAGAZINES IN THE BOX COMPARTMENTS OF EACH TABLE BESIDES EACH CHAIR AND PREPARE FOR BLAST OFF!
I looked down at the center open area I first walked into upon entering the canister; the area that was filled with white leather seats and cushions and foot rests, yet no one was sitting in the area. All ticketed seats for take off were around the perimeters of the ship, like a donut. The center was a free for all. I saw all the mustachioed men run to their standing stations, they strapped themselves up against a wall. One service man I saw dash suddenly across the small mall in the center and grabbed a last remaining magazine; he rolled it up and put it in his white dress jacket seemingly with more pleasure than was appropriate.
TILT BACK WILL TAKE PLACE IN EXACTLY TWO MINUTES!
I called over to the woman in furs, “ Say I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name!” She heard nothing. The engines were too loud.
“ What is tilt back?!” I asked. She was busy admiring her own legs.
“Well”, I thought. “ Tilt back is probably just like it sounds.” Just then, the lights went out except an illuminated bubbled gas in a glass tube that surrounded the donut, behind everyone’s head. Neon bubbles streamed and coagulated into different forms, squirting, now shooting, some just floating in mid liquid, waiting for further notice. “ What the…”
Then I heard what sounded like grinding steel beams under an enormous amount of pressure, and then I heard a “THUNK!” I was scared shitless, and I heard a woman in the back scream, “Ah!!…. Ah!!!” I guess she was another one of the uninitiated ones.
TILT BACK WILL NOW COMMENCE!
Slowly the girders grinded and tilting began. The folks on the other side of the donut, across from me, started to rise while I stayed unexpectedly rather still. One woman directly across form me, had an astonished appearance on her face, like someone had just goosed her. Slowly my leather seat began to tilt back, and I could feel the blood begin draining to my feet. I peered over at the lady in furs; she was still admiring the lines of her legs. Then peanuts flew out from the shoulder of the lady that had the look of being recently goosed. They traveled like incoming bullets and pelleted and lodged into the model’s boa, but she didn’t notice.
By this time the people across from us were completely in the air, suspended and upended. Business men, and women, wives and husbands, retail distributors, venture capitalists, hung mid air with their legs dangling forwards. Some in shock, many as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I noticed it was the poorer folk that had a surprised and wearied aspect to their features, while the wealthy seemed self assured.
BLAST OFF WILL BEGIN IN EXACTLY 30 SECONDS.
30-29-28-27-26-25-……………..the adrenaline was pumping. 24-23-22-21-20 -19- ……… 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-
My face slid back with my cheeks moving first, and then with an extra burst from the rocket booster, my nostrils were misplaced somewhere into my upper lip. My brow flattened into a rippling paste, and I felt the blood completely drain out from skull and to be frank, I had no idea where it went this time because it wasn’t in my shoes either. The blubber around my midsection was getting suctioned off into another part of my belt buckle, and coagulated like the bubbles around the donut rim of the craft. Then my belly began to warp into some jelly and jam, and I felt it get crammed up into my rib cage. My thighs rotated inwards and then expanded into open space. My weak heart, thumped and then compressed, and I felt a sharp pain. Then the capsule accelerated into another dimension, and my briefs got extended deeper into my groin. My gray hair was perfectly parted down the middle like whip cream on a parfait, and then I blacked out. The next thing I remember, my mouth was drooling on the boa of the woman next to me. I couldn’t believe that she allowed me to be there.
I shook my head, to dust off the delirium. “Oh my name is Will, I forgot to mention it earlier. What’s yours?” I queried as I held out my hand for a shake as though blast off had never occurred.
“ Samantha, but you can call me Sam.”
“ I have to say, Iv’e never experienced anything quite like it before..” I pointed to the ground like an old man, “ that there… that.. that just went on.”
“ What’s the matter darling? Can’t you handle a big ride in a capsule?” She said with vibrant eyes and piercing lips when the ‘ps” in ca’ps’ule came together in a double nuanced syllabic enunciation.
I took it all in, the surroundings. The woman that lost her peanuts over her shoulder was still passed out and her husband, or at least it looked like what to be her husband, was opening a new pack.
“ Well”, I said again to Sam. “ I guess we have plenty of time to get to know one another. 7 months and 28 days to be exact.”
“ Will was it?” She asked.
“ yes, Will is my name. Will Defranco.”
“ What did you do for work on Earth?” She asked.
“ I blogged.” I answered.
“ What did you write?” She said as she began to suck on a straw from a soda she had taken out of her bag.
“ I worked for the State for thirty years writing propaganda, but I want to make a new start on Mars. Perhaps retire and, don’t tell anyone,” I closed in close to her with a cupped hand around my veering mouth, and whispered, “ I want to write a novel.”
“Ooo… a novelist hugh?” She slurped and seemed enticed.
“ Tell me, how far can a person jump in the air on Mars?” I asked feeling slightly awkward as she spun the straw around in her tongue.
“ Why do you want to know?” Sam asked.
“ I don’t know.. it’s a stupid question. Man, we sure are going to go stir crazy, at least I know I am.”
“ They have ways now to deal with that, it’s not like it a few years ago.” Sam exclaimed. “ Things have changed.”
“ What do you mean?”
“ There are ways, you’ll find out in good time.” She twisted the straw and bit on it hard and yet playfully with her raw mouth.
“ I’ve heard of stories where these people completely crack up mentally into a bunch of crumbs for brains. Is that true?” I asked slightly nervously.
“ Used to be. But like I said, not anymore.”
I decided not to pursue the matter anymore. “ Do they have games like bingo, or movies, or … what is there to do? I should probably have found out before I purchased the ticket.” I chattered.
“ Oh they have that and a whole lot more.” She said as her eyes widened with heat.
Six days had passed and I was getting worried because I hadn’t taken a shower yet and I could tell Samantha was beginning to catch some of the down winds and whiffs of my B.O. I tried to keep my armpits closed as much as possible, but one evening when we were having dinner on our white leather seats, I had to reach over for some salt and pepper for my steak, and a rush of not particularly attractive pheromones penetrated her nostrils. Her nose trilled with whistles of revulsion, and for the next hour I was cast out from conversation in full expulsion. I silently peppered my steak. Samantha had changed her clothes everyday into new dresses. She had a rag that she clothed off her body and washed. I did ask her for a rag.. or to use hers, but she said she didn’t want to share, and to be honest I could understand, because I was starting to get rancid. My underwear smelled of permanent farts, and I was only one week into the trip. I was to the point where I was trying to keep both my arm pits and my crotch closed as much was possible.
Well today is the seventh day, and finally I can take a shower. Since I didn’t have my duffle bag, I just walked back to the soap scummed shower stalls in the back, feeling rather foolish in front of everyone. As I passed them in the aisles, I could hear whispers of despair trail from behind me. I looked like a pelican, a penguin, or a stork, or a dork or some tight ass because I had tucked in every orifice of my body including tightening my butt cheeks to contain the reek, but obviously I was fairly unsuccessful.
I stepped inside the stall. There was a partition that allowed one to get undressed and put ones clothes on, and then there was the actual shower space. I got naked, positioning my skid marked underwear up on a shelf, I turned on the water and the pressure was hardly more than a dribble. They had a public bar of soap on a tray, but it was loaded with big black pubic hairs. I was repulsed, but then I thought about it for a second, “ Come on, it is just your fellow man and woman, are they really any different that yourself in the end? Dip in!” And so I grabbed the soap layered in thick threads and began to suds up the belly. I was reminded of when I as a boy in school and I had to take a crap and I went to the bathroom, but the toilet seat had piss all over it, and instead of biting the bullet and sitting down, I tried to hold it in and I shit in my pants and the kids laughed at me the rest of the day plugging their noses. “ Do it for the gang!” I said as I lathered up a good foam. Some of the public pubic hairs got ensnared on my chest and I tried to let the water wash them down off of my body and into the drain, but then I looked down into the drain and saw big thatches and batches of black hair caked around and entangled in the metal. My foot stepped on a snatch, and a catch of it got trapped between my toes. “Jesus Christ doesn’t any one clean up around here?” I said out loud hearing my voice echo in the chamber. I reached my arm at an angle to grab my briefs, to try and scrape and scratch the skid marks clean. I could smell my crotch in the hot water fumigate up my chest and into my nose. “ Oh my god! That’s disgusting!” I put the briefs back on the rack and took the pubic hair packed bar and began plummeting it up my crotch and anus, caressing the crevices where my thighs were stitched to my torso, but I botched it up, the bar slipped down on top of the black mounded moss. I reached down and got a pack wrapped under my nails trailing behind as I pulled up the bar. I reached around at another angle to grab the briefs, and I took the bar of soap and stressfully stroked urgent rhythms to dilute the skids. Just then, I heard the capsule make a sound like a submarine under too much pressure, and my ears popped. Feeling like I wanted to quickly finish the business of showering, I rinsed my underwear turned off the spout and twirled my undies like a helicopter to get the remaining wetness out of them. I had a chance to wet my head and whatever gray hairs remained, but I hadn’t shampooed. I said, “ One of the advantages of going bald is one doesn’t have to shampoo as often.” I put my briefs back on as well as the rest of my clothes. When I put my slacks on, I got a whiff of warm farts coalesce into my face, but said, “ oh well, at least I rinsed my body.”
I returned to Samantha a new man.