Friday, November 25, 2011

Te Eurasian, fifth installment: chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9
The Sweat Lodge

Mickey sat in the shade of an overhanging rock, holding a bone. He was contemplating the bone, the dryness of it, the deadness of it. It was from some animal that had died a long time ago deep in the dessert. It was far beyond smelling bad. It was just dry and hollow.
Francis had given each of them a bone just before assigning them to their spots.
Mickey's spot overlooked the canyon with the waterfall where they had the camp-fire two nights ago. He could see Francis and Paco building a shelter which was to be the sweat lodge, not far from the fire pit. The location near the fire and the pool of cold water was an important part.
The other important part was what Mickey, his classmates and tour guide were doing right now, fasting in preparation, contemplating their dry bones. It was the preliminary part of the cleansing, that would be continued during the sweat lodge itself.
Francis had told them that it was a time of searching ones heart. It would be to them what Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is to the Jewish people, a day of fasting and admitting to God all the wrong things that come to the surface. Like the Jewish people in their synagogues on Yom Kippur, they had hiked out to their spots barefoot.
Regarding confessing of ones sins, Mickey was familiar. Some of the others, notably, Albert Fong, weren't.
When he objected to the idea of admitting his faults, Francis had said, 'You need a miracle from the Great Spirit to get you home. If you want His help, you must go to Him on His terms, not your own. He is open to you when you admit your faults. And He knows them already, so he won't be surprised by anything you say.'
'He know already, why I say then?' Albert had responded.
'You say them to clear your soul. Say everything you know. When you think you have no more to confess, look at the bone again. What is the difference between you and that bone? Whatever you find, offer that also to the Great Spirit. Do that until you, yourself, are no more than a dry bone, because it is He who said, "These dry bones shall live again."
'I advise you to do that, because without the help of the Great Spirit, you, Albert Fong, may be trapped in the wilderness like the animal these bones belonged to.'
Put that way, Albert was willing. Francis seemed to have that way about him.
* * *
For the whole day of fasting, they had worn the loose fitting cotton garments that had been provided, and then slept in them, wrapped in a warm blanket, under the stars. The next morning, they rolled up the blanket and carried it and the water bottle to the end of the canyon where the sweat lodge was to be held.
They all took their own time in arriving, so Francis bid them sit around the fire pit outside until they all arrived. The fire was kept burning, and would continue to burn throughout the session, so as to supply the hot rocks for the sweat chamber.
'There will be four rounds inside the sweat lodge, about 40 minutes each,' Francis said, 'each one followed by immersion in this pool next to us. Some of the immersions will have a special meaning, which I will tell you as we are about to come out.' He repeated this every time more of the group arrived and took their seats.
When everyone had arrived, Francis took out a long stemmed pipe and filled it with something from a pouch and lit it using a coal from the fire which he picked up with a pair of tongs.
'This is what we call chanunpa, what you know of as a Native American "peace pipe". It serves as an alter of incense, like what they used in the Temple in Jerusalem, by which our prayers ascend to the Great Spirit. I will pass it around. Say a prayer in your heart, and simply puff -- no need to inhale. It has tobacco, along with wood chips and herbs that give an aroma.'
They passed it around. Mickey suspected that everyone else's prayer was the same as his, Please get us home!
'Now,' said Francis, 'it is time to reverently enter the sweat lodge. Go in, turn to the left and go, clockwise around the fire pit in the middle so that all are seated around in a circle.'
They went in, as instructed, and sat in silence for a short time.
Francis called for Paco, who came in bringing a pan containing red hot stones from the fire outside. The door was closed so that the only light in the room was from the stones. Frances began to place them, one by one in the fire pit.
'These first four stones I place here are the four directions: North, East, South and West. The Great Spirit is in every place at once, filling all four directions. Now I place this one, representing the Great Spirit, as the Father of all. Now, this one, representing the Word of the Great Spirit, the Messiah, His Son. And last, I place this one, which represents the Breath of the Great Spirit, the living Breath who gave utterance to the Prophets, and who enables His servants to this day.'
Then, using a long handled dipper, he took some water from a clay jar at his side, and began pouring it slowly over the stones, making steam arise and fill the room. He poured dipper after dipper until they began to feel the effects of the steam, and sweat began to pour from their bodies.
Francis took his drum and began beating it lightly, making a steady distinct rhythm. After a while, he began singing a prayer asking for cleansing to come from the Breath of the Great Spirit. The words of the prayer also invited the group to think on all the things they had confessed during the fast.
Then, there was silence.
After a while, Francis said, 'It is written in the Golden Book, "Confess your faults to one another, that you may be cleansed." I will pass this "talking stick" around. As you hold it, tell us about yourself, and about what you have confessed. A part of your cleansing is sharing. When you've finished, pass the talking stick to the one next to you.'
He passed ornately carved piece of wood to Seymour, who was sitting on his left, who shared some of what he had struggled through the previous day. He passed it on to Philip, who did the same. He confessed his anger, especially towards Albert, and passed the stick on. When it got to Albert, he also apologised to Philip for cruel taunting words he had spoken.
The stick went all the way around and back to Francis. He confessed a few things himself.
'The Golden Book says, "If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive you, and will cleanse you from all the bad." Now, since we have confessed our sins, we will go and immerse ourselves in the water. It is the immersion of repentance, the same as John the Baptist commanded. Immerse yourselves, and receive forgiveness from the Great Spirit. Leave slowly, following the one on your left to the door.'
The water was cold, but refreshing after all the sweating.
There followed two more rounds, which followed much the same pattern. Yorba Linda, on receiving the talking stick, confessed the anger she had towards her step brother. Philip confessed the same.
Then came the fourth round, which followed a different pattern.
After they had sat in silence, Francis began beating on his drum, softly at first, and then steadily louder. Then, he began to sing:

The Great White Spirit made the sky
The water, The fire, and the land
His Wisdom brought all things to balance
And He looked down and was glad

From the sky he poured life
With help from water, the land made it grow
But the fire stood by to serve in its time
In Wisdom it was to be so
And He looked down and was glad

He made birds to fly in the sky
Fish in the water, and beasts on land
But to the fire, he said wait, it's not your time
Listen to Wisdom, it bids you wait
And he looked down and was glad

He made the first man, and a woman to wife
He taught them the secrets of life from the land
To them he gave the birds in the sky
The fish in the water and the beasts on the land
And to this he added one more -- the power of fire
And Wisdom said, guard it carefully
And he looked down on his people and was glad

But the snake loved that fire,
It grew jealous of the power, it wanted the fire
Through the wife, it said to the man
I'll show you more secrets if you yield to me
You can do so much more, just yield to me
You will see the power it has over the sky, the water and land
But you must bow to me

The voice of Wisdom was ignored

The Great Spirit looked down and was sad

Through the hands of the man, the snake built a wall
It rose to the sky, it surrounded the land
Its depth was to the waters below -- the waters of death

Though the hand of the man had built it, he could not tear it down
It became his prison, it kept him inside
While the snake made use of the power of fire
To further the ruin of all life
Wisdom looked on and waited
The Great Spirit looked down and was sad

The man could do nothing, but the woman had a seed
The Great Spirit consulted His Wisdom, and sent it
He germinated the seed, and as a man, Wisdom was born
The man, the seed of the woman, wife of the first man
Of many generations, Wisdom was born

The wall was built so high, it hid man from the sky
The foundation was so deep, it reached to the waters of death
The Snake was confident that his prize was secure
His prize won through deceit and seduction
But he didn't consider that the Wisdom of the Great Spirit runs deeper still

So the man, Wisdom, the seed of the first woman of many generations
He dug a hole at the base of the wall
Though the wall had been built deep, Wisdom dug deeper still
He dug to the waters of death, and did what the snake failed to foresee
He dug to the waters of death and entered therein.
He was consumed by the waters of death, but death could not hold him
He found the fire that the snake had there hidden
He took the fire, and it burned a path upward and beyond the wall
The Great Spirit looked down and was again glad

So hear Wisdom, you generations of the man, and the woman, his wife
The path to life was opened by Wisdom
Though the wall extends deep, Wisdom dug deeper still
The way passes through the waters of death
To have life, you must die, says Wisdom
To die, to pass through the waters of death, is the way to reclaim the fire

So hear Wisdom, you generations of the man, and the woman, his wife
To have life, you must die, and pass through the waters of death
Then you'll have life, then you'll reclaim the fire

The drumming slowly died down, but continued at a steady beat.
'I will sing that one more time. This time, as you listen, consider that it is not only about our first father and mother, but about you and me. When the song says that he built the wall that became his prison, consider the faults that you have thought about during your fast, and have confessed, and understand what they cost to the Man, Wisdom, who is Yeshua.'
He sang it through again.
At the end of that round, Francis said, 'We will again immerse ourselves. This time, the immersion is in the waters of death. Some of you have done that already, some haven't. Do you wish to follow Wisdom through the water of death through immersion?'
Philip, Albert and Riu all indicated they would. Seymour and U Ta, though they had been baptised in the traditions of their respective churches, decided to do it as a conscious choice to follow Wisdom into life.
'Remember what I said about your dry bone, that the Great Spirit said, "These dry bones will yet live." As you have shed everything that distinguishes you from your dry dead bones, you are ready to be made alive. Go now and be immersed in the Name of the Great Spirit the Father of all, His Son the Word, and His Holy Breath.'
They went out and immersed themselves.
At the end of the day, all of them reported to one another that they felt at peace with themselves in a way they never had before.

Chapter 10
The Operatives

Albert, Riu, Seymour and U Ta, as promised, were off earning their keep on horseback. They each paired up with an experienced hand, and were off, deep into the wilderness beyond the mouth of the canyon, looking for stray cattle with their ranch's brand on them, and driving them back to the corral.
Mickey, Philip and Yorba Linda were giving the main room and the kitchen area a good cleaning.
Mickey was running the squeegee over the big window next to the front door, when he saw a vintage four wheel drive approaching. Four men got out and walked to the house. One of them was Chief Red Eagle. The other three appeared to be white people, though quite tan, and two had beards.
Mickey went to the door.
'Ah, still here, I see. I need to speak with Francis Baguette. And when you've brought him, you, too, stick around. These men have some questions to ask you and your companions.'
'Right,' responded Mickey.
Philip was washing another window, while Yorba Linda was mopping the patio.
'Chief Red Eagle,' said Mickey, on his way to the study.
A minute later, Francis, along with Mickey, Yorba Linda and Philip were at the front door.
'Perhaps you could give these men lodging for a few day? They are on an assignment from their nation, which should be of benefit to us all. Also, they need to gather what information your guests from the MCZ can give them, regarding the hijacking.'
Francis looked the three men over, and nodded.
'So, your guests, have they adjusted well? Do they still entertain hopes of returning to MCZ?'
'Yesterday, they attended the sweat lodge and that has helped them adjust.'
'Ah -- with your unique twist to it, of course.'
'Perhaps. But as for returning, only one of them, the young lady, is from MCZ. The rest are from China. They do wish to return there, but I've assured them that it will be a long hard journey.'
'But at least possible,' said one of the newcomers. 'Not like MCZ.'
'Unless they can hijack another hover car,' said another.
'Not likely,' said the third.
Francis invited them all into the dining area and asked one of the women there to fix some coffee. The three guests brought backpacks with them. They all sat down at the end of the long table, while Chief Red Eagle took his leave.
'Which nation are you from?' asked Francis.
'Free People's Union. It's a long way East of here,' said the one with the dark beard. 'My name's David, this is Yakov,' pointing to the one with a red beard, 'and that's Joe,' indicating the other one with dark hair but with only two days growth on his face.
'Where, exactly, is the Free People's Union?' asked Yorba Linda.
'We'd prefer not to be so specific,' said Yakov, 'at least not until we've got to know each other a bit better. But perhaps you could tell us, what do you know of the -- er -- republic to the north of Dinetah?'
'Not much at all, except that they're Nazis,' said Yorba Linda.
'I could not tell you any more than Chief Red Eagle could,' said Francis. 'He has had direct dealings with them.'
'Yes,' said Yakov. 'And he's been very helpful. But I understand you folks were pulled off a hover car as it passed over Dineh lands. Did they say anything that gave any hint of what their intentions were once they got to their destination?'
'Only to throw a wrench into the works of the Zionist something-or-other,' said Mickey.
'They stole your identities, didn't they?' asked Joe.
'Yes,' said Yakov. 'We can assume that, right now, there are seven Nazis moving about the MCZ using your identities. Perhaps it would be helpful if you told us your names, and any information that would be contained on the central database under your names.'
'You MCZ police?' asked Philip.
'No, we're not from the MCZ,' said Yakov.
'Not from MCZ,' repeated David.
'Perhaps, if we told you just a little bit more about ourselves, you would understand our interest,' said Joe. 'You see, we're Jewish.'
'Ah -- like Jesus?' said Philip.
'Er -- ' Joe cleared his through, 'yes, I suppose he was Jewish.'
'People in MCZ don't know he's Jewish,' said Philip, oblivious to the subtle reactions he had aroused.
'Yeah, I suppose they don't. But being that we are Jewish --'
'You want to keep track of the Nazis,' said Mickey.
'That's right,' said Yakov. 'We have it on good authority that they would like to take over and unite America again, but under their banner ...'
'But there, we have to be careful,' said Joe, 'because there are many people, and not just Nazis, who think we want to take over the whole show.'
'Yeah, not just the Nazis,' affirmed David.
'Let's just say we're an ethnic group, like the Native Americans, like the Chinese and Indians, who are interested in surviving. Now, there's been so much dirt flung around already, that many people find that hard to believe.'
'What does Chief Red Eagle believe?' asked Francis.
'I'm not sure,' said David. 'Perhaps he just wants to help maintain a balance of power...'
'...which would be fine with us,' said Joe.
'Or, perhaps he thinks we're the lesser of the two evils,' suggested Yakov.
'Yes,' said Francis. 'Native American ways have a lot in common with Judaism. I, for one, consider you far less evil than the Nazis.'
'Thank you,' said Yakov.
The other two also murmured a thank you.
The other workers had begun to arrive for their lunch, including the remaining four Asians.
After being introduced, they all gave their names and details, while Joe took them down in an e-tablet.
* * *
The food had been brought to their table, fry bread and a squash dish with some salad.
'I hope I'm not rude in asking,' said Joe, 'but what kind of oil was the bread fried in?'
'Oil from our peanuts,' said Francis.
The three newcomers looked relieved.
'Ah, you were afraid it might be un-kosher animal fat,' said Francis. 'There is no meat in this meal, but we plan to have roast lamb tonight. It will be slaughtered this afternoon. Perhaps you would like to see how we do it?'
'David here was trained as a shocket, he could slaughter it for you.'
'Very good,' said Francis. 'Also, I will ask them not to add milk to the fry bread dough for this evening.'
'What's a "shocket"?' asked Seymour.
'That's a butcher who slaughters animals in a way that is acceptable for Jewish people,' answered Francis.
'You were saying earlier that Native American ways shared common traits with Judaism,' said Joe.
'Yes,' said Francis. 'An example is your prohibition against eating the blood of an animal.'
'But don't young Indians on their first hunt drink the blood of their first kill?'
'Yes, in some communities they do, but that's for the same reason that you do not drink the blood. It is the belief we hold in common that the spirit of the animal is in the blood. Also, you have a commandment forbidding one to take a mother bird from the wild along with its young -- only take the young without the mother. That reflects our common belief that we must only take what we need from nature, and leave nature the means to replenish herself.'
'How does taking the young birds away without the mother help?' asked Yorba Linda.
'Because, the next time the mother lays eggs, it will lay twice as many, to compensate for the loss, so nothing is lost from nature. But if you take the mother as well, that is a loss.'
'It's interesting to find one so knowledgeable about Judaism way out here,' said David.
'I do a lot of study. I have talked to Jewish people in the past, when the rest of the world was more accessible. Now, these people dropped out of the sky a few days ago, bringing me the Golden Book, along with parts of the Talmud, the Mishna and a midrash so I can now continue my study.'
'I'm impressed!'
'Speaking of falling out of the sky,' began Yakov, looking at his two friends, 'I'd say we can let them in on a bit more of what we're doing? They seem to me to be quite safe. '
The other two murmured assent.
'We have a few people hacking into MCZ cyberspace doing routine surveillance. They've come up with evidence that some of the Nazi nations have been doing the same. In fact, we learned of their plan to penetrate the MCZ by hijacking a hover shuttle, which they've now succeeded in doing. That's why we wanted to find out as much as we could from all of you. For one thing, we believe they had help from inside.'
'My step brother,' said Yorba Linda.
'Who?' said David.
'Your step brother?' said Joe. 'You were aware of this?'
'We only found that out when we managed to hack in and talk to him. He was shocked that his friend, Philip, here, and I were on the hover bus that was taken down. There were two buses assigned to our group, for whom I was the tour guide. Philip and I were supposed to be on the other bus. He seemed very upset, but then, we got cut off.'
'How did get through?' asked Yakov.
'Philip did that.'
Philip smiled shyly at them.
'You did it? How?'
'I can show you, but I can't hack any more. Can't get through.'
'Okay, I think I know what happened. You found a weak link in the addressing system, but they caught you in the act and patched it up so it's no longer available.'
'But I do it many times from China!'
'That probably didn't concern them as much as communication to the Free Zone. We've brought equipment that enables us to hack in on a more fundamental level. Perhaps it might be good if we called him. We could learn a few things.'
'Can we call to China?' asked Riu.
'We could try.'
* * *
The three newcomers, along with Francis, Yorba Linda, Mickey, Philip and Riu were in the study. Joe was setting up their system, connecting it to Francis' router which they had linked to their own satellite dish outside via a wireless connection.
'The key to broadcasting into the MCZ is linking to the right satellite,' Yakov was explaining. 'Then, it's simply a matter of using the right protocol. When the Multinationals took over, they didn't bother to study the whole inventory. They were only interested in the more powerful satellites that could most efficiently connect all their systems. They left a lot of the smaller ones unused, some with open links into strategic points in the system. Old Jack King used to work for a company that maintained several satellite links. He kept the coordinates and encryption keys on his own computer at home. Suddenly, one of the big Multinationals bought out his company and he was out of a job, but he held on to the data. Later, he went to work for us.'
'But apparently, the Nazis have access to a few of them as well,' said Joe, 'which is how they've gotten in.'
'But if they can link in, why did they need my brother?' asked Yorba Linda.
'Because they've firewalled the infrastructures,' said Yakov. 'While we can communicate into the MCZ, we can't access the other systems, like transportation. They needed an inside man for that.'
David said, 'Now, what we're afraid is happening, is that they're in there, trying to install links between all the systems, bypassing the firewalls. That would give them a lot of control.'
'A lot,' affirmed Joe.
'Okay, I think we're through,' said Yakov. 'Let's give it a try.'
Philip gave them the IP address.
As soon as Monterey Jack's face shone on the other side, he suddenly looked flustered, and then said, 'Hey, I can't talk now. I'm, like real busy, okay? Like -- er -- ' he seemed distracted, as though doing two things at once. 'Er -- I'd love to talk to you and all, but I'm -- like -- real busy -- and ...well -- later, okay?'
He held up a piece of paper with a hand written IP address on it. Apparently, he had been writing it while talking.
Yakov saved a screen shot of the written message, and Jack went off line.
'What's that all about?' said Yorba Linda.
'Let's try the IP address he showed us,' said Joe.
Yakov entered it, and soon Jack's face came up again, a bit more relaxed. It looked like he was in the toilet.
'Linda, there's a woman been come'n around using a virtual image that look just like you, call'n herself Yorba Linda Sanchez and all, but her real self is white. I think she's got your ID bracelet or something. Anyway, she and a guy comes when the folks are all out, and like, she'll kill me and our whole family if I don't cooperate, and they've taken over my old net address. And they've got my room and my computer bugged so I can't call anyone, so I have to use this other one they don't know about.'
'What are they trying to do?' asked Yorba Linda.
'I don't know. They make me go out of the room when they're do'n it.'
'Are they there now?' asked Yakov from behind.
'Jack,' said Yorba Linda. 'These are some people that are trying to help us. They need you to give them as much information about this group as you know.'
Yakov took the tablet. 'You must be Monterey Jack,' he said.
'Yeah. Who are you?'
'You can call me Jake. We can try to help. But first, what do you know about the people you've been in contact with?'
'I don't know. They seemed like nice guys at first, and were all friendly, and they got me into all sorts of cool stuff ...'
'... like planning hijacks?' said Yorba Linda.
'Well -- they promised me they'd send the car back for you -- really, they did! They didn't say anything about take'n anyone's ID bracelets, honest!'
'But what do you know about them?' repeated Yakov.
'Not much. Like I said, they were real cool at first, but close up they're like real hard core evil, like, threatening to kill me and all.'
'What are they trying to do?'
'They won't tell me. But the man has got a swastika tattooed to his eyelid.'
'Jack,' said Yakov. 'Can you do something for me?'
'Maybe, if it's not dangerous.'
'Do you know how to hack back into your own system in stealth mode?'
'I probably could.'
'Don't try this directly from your main system or they'll probably detect it. If you know all your hidden settings, you can hack into it from this IP address that you're using now, and access the security control box. In that, first, change the PQ setting to 106. After that, disable the streaming shield. Then, set the PQ setting to 105.'
'Got it. Anything else?'
'That's it. The rest is up to us.'
'You guys doin' okay?'
Philip answered, 'We okay. No worries. We pray the Great Spirit for you.'
They went off line.
'What will you do now?' asked Francis.
'I'll give him time to change the settings, then we'll eaves drop on them,' said Yakov. 'Meanwhile, you wanted to contact your people in China?'
* * *
They were through to Mr. Singh.
'Mercy, you're alive! They told us you were all killed in a fatal accident!'
'Yes, we're all okay,' said Yorba Linda. 'So they sent you straight back to China?'
'Yes. When you failed to turn up, they sent us back immediately after giving us the news.'
'You didn't see our car arrive?'
'There was one I thought should have been yours, but a group of strangers got out -- rather odd looking ones at that.'
'That was probably the group that stole our IDs. They're Nazis from what they call the Free Zone.'
'The what zone?'
Yorba Linda explained that to him. Mr. Singh looked perplexed.
'I think I did see a Nazi sign on one of them, a swastika tattoo.'
Then, Yorba Linda asked him, 'Is there any word from the parents of the students?'
'We informed them about the fatal crash,' replied Mr. Singh. 'I'm sure they'll be happy to know otherwise -- all except for, -- hmm -- Riu's grandmother. I'm sorry to say, she passed away.'
Everyone in the room looked at Riu. He looked surprisingly calm.
'Also,' continued Mr. Singh, 'her home was sold to pay off debts, so, I'm afraid other arrangements will have to be made for Riu once he returns.'
'That's okay,' said Riu. 'I was ready for that. I think I'll live here and work on the ranch, okay, Francis?'
Francis put his hand on his shoulder. 'Yes. We will be glad to have you among us.'
* * *
'My grandmother told me this would happen,' said Riu, at dinner. 'She wanted me to go on this trip. She even said I would find a new life. I told her, "No", but she insisted, saying that there would be nothing left for me in Chantaburi. In fact, during our time in the sweat lodge, I knew she had died, and that this is the place for me.'
* * *
'Do you have any plans of where to go from here?' asked Joe.
'The only idea so far is to try to find my uncle, Rodrigo Sanchez,' said Yorba Linda. 'We believe he runs a communications tower in some town called Milfred in South Texas. Again, Monterey Jack conveniently had that information for us.'
'Quite a kid!' commented David.
'How did your uncle come to get a job in a place like that?'
'I have no idea. He disappeared off our radar screen a few years ago. We were told he had been offered a job with a research firm and had to move, and that he'd keep in touch. He didn't.'
'Do you think he knew anything he shouldn't have?'
'He had all these ideas that -- well -- in retrospect, were probably more than just ideas.'
'Dangerous,' said Joe. 'Had to be sent into exile.'
'And now, he maintains a communications tower for the MCZ intercity transport system?' said David.
'That's what we've been told,' said Yorba Linda.
Just then, Yakov walked into the front room where his two friends were sitting with Yorba Linda, Mickey and Philip.
'I think we've hit a goldmine!' he said.
'What's the story?' asked Joe.
'They're using all sorts of codes and passwords. I believe some of them are to their own command centre in Central West Aryan State, and a few others as well. I'm sure one's for American Nazi Republic Central HQ.'
'Woah!' exclaimed David.
'And, I think I can confirm that they are setting up hard links like we suspected. I've got a few access codes for some of them as well. If we keep listening, more are on the way.'
'So, that means the Nazis nations are all in on this together?' said Joe.
'I guess it does,' said David. 'What about the hard links to -- you know ...'
'You mean the big one? I don't know yet. We'll have to keep listening.'
'With this info, we can start listening in to a few more places, can't we?' said Joe.
'Unfortunately, with what we have here, we can only listen to one place at a time. And to forward this to Bruno would be too risky,' said Yakov.
'Now, what about using a MCZ communications tower?' said David.
'If we had one of those, that would be perfect. Know of one for sale?'
'Yorba Linda's uncle. South Texas. What's the town again?' said David.
'Milfred,' replied Yorba Linda.
'I know that place,' said Yakov. 'It's in the Republic of Mexas. They're a more friendly nation that keeps Nazis and other radicals at arms length.'
'What do you say we help these people get there?' said David.
'Would he be likely to want to help us?' asked Yakov.
'From the way he used to be,' said Yorba Linda, 'I think there's a good chance he would.'
'Yeah, you told us. That's why they put him there,' said Joe.
'Using a communications tower, we could do all we need and more,' said Yakov.
'But the man at the communications tower near here said he could only call to the central transport communications office,' said Mickey.
'First off,' said Yakov, 'he probably doesn't know how to hack his system. Secondly, they're not entirely on their own. They get visits from time to time. Unless he were an expert, like us, they would either detect his tampering from the main office, or by inspecting the safety seals on the equipment when they visit. They'd have him out of there in two seconds, and he'd be stuck hoeing cotton along side the local farm labourers.'
'We will, of course, warn your uncle of the risks,' said David.
'Would there be a way to get back to China from there?' asked Mickey.
'The MCZ controls the entire coastline,' said Joe. 'As far as the rest of the world is concerned, they claim sovereignty over the whole continent. Their lack of control over the interior is a very well kept secret. To keep it that way, they restrict access to the borders by anyone without ID, they jam any radio communications, they block internet traffic, and of course, travel. But there are ways around that.'
'Can't fly over?' suggested Mickey.
'Not unless you use a stealth aircraft, flying very low. They'll shoot you down,' said David. 'No one we know has that sort of a plane.'
'Submarine from up river is one of the more available options. That's also difficult,' said Yakov.
'How then?' said Philip.
'We've never done it. All I know is, it's possible,' said Joe.
'And easier than actually getting into the MCZ from here,' said Yakov.
* * *
The old map sat, unrolled, on the desk. Yakov was penciling in national borders for places further off, and their names.
'We came through "USA", but it might be difficult to return that way,' said Joe. 'They didn't take to us very well.'
'Stanley Town will take you in,' said Francis, tapping on the place on the map. 'To get there, you cross this desert.'
'That one in your back yard? I don't think we'd make it,' said David.
'You go in our electric wagon. Paco will take you. I just had three solar panels replaced, so it's ready to go.'
The three operatives thought a moment.
'That would be helpful,' said Joe. 'It won't put you out?'
'We have been planning this trip to take gifts to the people there, as our harvest has been very good this year.'
'Now, White River is a friendly place,' said Yakov, pointing at a place beyond, but not bordering Stanley Town. 'They have a big Jewish community. We should be able to find our way there.'
'What about this place in between -- er -- "Republic of Arizona"?' asked David.
'They are very protective,' answered Francis. 'All the land is held by farmers, who fight very hard to keep what they have. Stanley Town is also very well armed, but they will welcome you with open arms if you bring groceries.'
'Stanley Town people aren't farmers then?'
'They farm what little land they have. It is not sufficient to feed such a big population.'
'How do they survive then?'
'They have ways, which accounts for them being well armed, and the Republic of Arizona people being very protective. I hope that by sending food whenever we have some to spare, we can generate peace. Father Ryan hopes that as well. My only concern is finding a way to cross the Republic of Arizona.'
'I'm sure we can find a way,' said Yakov. 'What do you say, Joe? David?'
'We've done as much before,' said David. 'Perhaps not with such a large group.'
'I'm for it,' said Joe.
'I will send an email to Father Ryan,' said Francis. 'If he turns on his server, he should have word of your arrival before you get there.'

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Eurasian -- fourth installment

Here are chapters 7 and 8. As you will see, I've now added chapter titles.

Chapter 7

Francis Baguette

The way to Francis Baguette's farm went through a community of adobe huts at the mouth of a canyon, and then up the canyon itself. Local women were washing clothes and small children were swimming naked in the stream that ran along their path.

Albert commented, 'Jimmy Khoo like to see Indians, ah? Why he not come with us?'

Inside the canyon, the houses were farther apart, some were farms, others, Mickey suspected, mines or quarries.

It was cooler now that the sun was beginning to set. This would have been enjoyable, if not for the prospect of never finding their way home again.

As usual, Philip was staying very close to Mickey as though he were the only one he had.

The path began to go up the side of the cliff, and then through a passage between two cliffs, and then down again into another canyon. Here, there was a lot of flat land at the bottom, with a small stream running through it. In the middle, was a two storey, part wooden, part stone and part adobe house with a courtyard. It looked like it had been extended several times. Solar panels lined the roof. There was also a barn, a shed and what looked like a corral with about a dozen cows. Other, smaller houses were scattered about the area. Some of the land was planted with corn and other crops, while sheep grazed in some of the fields nearer by, and cattle in the more distant ones.

They drew close to the house. The front door was set into a corner, where the wooden section joined the stone, via a section of the courtyard.

Ham-bone yelled, 'Hey, Frank!'

The door opened, and out walked a tall, thin man; old, except his hair was jet black, grew down his back with the corner locks braided on both sides, topped with a cowboy hat. His scowl was typical of the Native Americans they'd seen so far.

'Visitors,' said Ham-bone. 'They were en rout from San Francisco to Dallas, but some militiamen from Central West Aryan State brought them down and hijacked their hover car. This one says he's heard of you.'

Mickey passed him the small envelope from inside the one his aunt had given him.

'What the...' muttered Albert.

Francis opened it and read it without showing any reaction.

The others also gave Mickey strange looks. He smiled back weakly and shrugged his shoulders.

'Come on in then,' said Francis. His scowl remained fixed, but the monotone voice had a slight welcoming ring.

He showed them in through the door built of oak beams, which led into the wooden portion of the house. It was a large room with a rough terracotta tile floor, and a big stone fireplace on one side. Opposite the fireplace were wooden and glass doors leading into a courtyard. In the room itself, there were several very old sofas arranged around the fireplace.

'Rest yourselves here. There's water on the side table. Bathroom down the end of that hall. I will go and make sure they prepare enough food.'

'I'll be off then,' said Ham-bone.

Francis grunted in reply, and Ham-bone was off.

'What's the story with the envelope?' whispered Yorba Linda.

'Yeah, la!' said Philip, 'and how you know him?'

'It's a bit complicated,' replied Mickey. 'I'm rather muddled about it myself.'

Suddenly, there was the whirr of an electric motor, and a cool breeze began blowing across the room with the same fragrant scent as they had noticed in the tavern. Whatever it was, it made the room all the more welcoming.

The others were too tired to question Mickey any more, so after a refreshing drink from a long handled dipper, the seven slunk down in the sofas. For the first time, they could rest. Ham-bone's transmitter tower wasn't conducive to relaxation. Micky sat in the middle of the three-seater, with Philip's head resting on his shoulder, and Riu snoring on the other side of him. Seymour and U Ta shared a two seater sofa, Yorba Linda sank into an overstuffed armchair and Albert took off his shoes and stretched out on a three seater. The others were either snoring or breathing heavily, as Mickey wondered again how they had managed to find the home of someone who previously existed only as a name on an envelope his aunt had given him in Bangkok, and living in an area completely unknown to anyone he knew -- including Yorba Linda.

* * *

They were awakened by a short stubby man wearing a dirty apron.

'This way, if you want dinner.'

They wanted dinner, so they followed the man out to the covered patio next to the courtyard, where a few people were lounging. The middle of the court yard had a stone lined pond partially surrounded by a cactus garden. A couple of young boys were wading, floating a toy boat in the pond. The door on the left led into the stone section of the house. It was a big room, with a long table running almost the whole length of it, with kitchen facilities an the far end.

Francis Baguette stood next to the near end, which was set for eight. He thanked the man in the apron, calling him Paco.

'The others have eaten already. We saw you sleeping, so we understand you had a difficult day and needed your rest. Come, I will join you.'

They sat down. Francis directed Mickey to sit across from him.

The pot in the middle of the table contained something called chile verde. There were two stacks of a sort of flat wheat bread, like nan, one on each side of the pot. Francis called it 'fry bread'. They followed his' example in spooning the chili on to the hollow side of the fry bread, and eating them with their hands.

'So,' began Francis, 'you are the nephew of Rosemary O'Brien?'

'Yes,' replied Mickey.

He was silent for a while.

'You all dropped out of the sky, by accident, just outside of Cactus Head?'

'We had a little help,' said Yorba Linda.

'Yes, with help from the Nazis.' He was silent for a few more moments.

'So, how did your aunt know to send me a message through you, if you arrived by accident?'

Mickey couldn't find any words.

'You are more mystified than I am,' said Francis. 'Now, what about the memory chip I am supposed to copy?'

'Er -- the only chip I have is this one,' Mickey pulled out the envelope from his pocket, 'but someone gave it to me long after I got the envelope from my aunt -- who doesn't even know her.'

Philip said, 'Your aunt we meet in the toilet when we get on the bus?'

'Yeah. That's when she gave me the envelope. She said, "Don't open until you get to Cactus Head". I didn't know any "Cactus Head" until we landed here. It doesn't make any sense!'

'Nothing about your aunt has ever made sense,' replied Francis, 'except she is always right.'

'How did you meet her?'

'That is another long story, even harder to believe than this one. I will copy this and give it back. In return, I will give you a spare e-tablet so you can use it yourself.'

He went on, 'All of you are welcome to stay here as long as you need to. However, after three days, you work to earn your keep.'

Mickey heard a few suppressed gasps, but only Albert said anything out loud:

'Ayo! Work ah?'

'Most visitors that stop through here get one day of free hospitality. I'm giving you three. This land will only support so many people without help to make things grow faster. I think you can enjoy what I give you to do. How many can ride a horse?'

No one responded.

'How many would like to learn?'

Albert, Seymour and U Ta indicated interest.

If you get good at it in three days, that will be your job.

Yorba Linda spoke up: 'We do appreciate your hospitality. I think we owe it to you to help in any way we can. But my question is, do you have any idea how we can get home again?'

'I know of no way into the Multinational Corporate Zone. They build their walls very high and secure so no one can get in or out.'

'The what what zone again?' asked Seymour.

'Multinational Corporate Zone. Run by multinational corporations.'

'Ah,' said Philip, 'The Matrix!'

'A good description. They very carefully carry on the illusion that they control all of America. Those within what was once USA think they are under US government, those in Canada think it is Canada, and likewise Mexico. Really, it is all one system, which also covers parts of Australia, New Zealand, and some parts of Europe. There are no borders in the MCZ, only virtual ones. Even the classical democratic system with the executive and legislature in Washington DC is computer generated.'

'My Uncle Rodrigo used to say that,' said Yorba Linda.

'But I think most of you are not from MCZ.'

'China!' said Albert.

'Yes. I think Rosemary was from there, and Bangkok. It would be far easier to go there from here than into the MCZ.'

'So, what's this Matrix?' asked Yorba Linda.

'You don't see The Matrix?' began Albert. 'There's a computer whiz one, Neo, ah? And he meet Morpheus on Internet, ah? Like he cool black dude, like sat sat bo chia one, ah? And he tell him, like, everything he see all fake fake, but have prophecy, la ...'

'I have the video,' interrupted Francis. 'I will play if for you this evening.'

'Do you have Internet?' asked Philip.

'There is an Internet in the Free Zone. But there is a strong firewall protecting the MCZ from all outside signals.'

'I can hack,' said Philip. 'I call Monterey Jack.'

That gave Yorba Linda a start. 'Wow! Do you think you can?'

'I will turn on my satellite dish and router tomorrow for you to try,' said Francis. 'Right now, I get out the video player.'

By the end of the evening, Yorba Linda thought she knew why she had never seen The Matrix.

* * *

Most of the group were given rooms in the upper floor of the wooden section of the house, approachable via the stairs ascending through the inside of a square tower joined to the adobe built section of the house. This feature gave the whole house the appearance of a castle.

There was a large bathroom at the back, consisting of several semi-private bathing areas surrounding a well with a hand pump. The choice was to take a bath by the pump or to fill up a bucket and take it to a bathing area behind a wall, hoping those who walked past a certain point would be polite enough not to look. Since there was no privacy at all by the pump, Mickey and most of the others did the latter. Albert was a bit more daring, but no one else was about anyway.

Mickey shared a room with two sets of bunk beds with Philip and Riu. That part of the house was kept cool by what Mickey now knew was an evaporator fan, a large contraption with a rotating cylinder fan pulling air through a fabric network that had water constantly dripping through it. This sort of fan was only effective in an arid climate, which is why he had never seen one in Asia.

They settled down in their bunks. Philip was in the one above Mickey.

'Mickey,' he whispered down. 'Do you think we ever go home again?'

'I'm sure they'll find some way.'

Though Mickey was far from sure himself, that seemed comfort Philip.

Much later, Mickey was awakened by the shaking of the bunk, as Philip tossed about, talking in his sleep. Later again, he heard Riu calling in Thai to his grandmother.

Chapter 8

Life in the Outer Zone

Breakfast was cornmeal porridge. Again, they were on their own, as the others in the house had eaten early.

So had Francis, but he joined them for his second cup of coffee. 'I have the computer in my study set up with the router,' he told Philip. 'See what you can do. Internet in the Free Zone is intermittent. Websites and connections only work when their host server happens to be on. Electrical supply is never enough to keep servers on permanently. Also, all connection to anywhere outside the Free Zone is routed through Silicone Valley, in the heart of the Western MCZ. Any communication beyond that hub, whether to the MCZ or the world beyond, must be hacked.'

'I know how,' said Philip.

'You can begin as soon as you're ready. And Mickey,' he went on.


'I have an e-tablet for you, also in the study. I've copied the memory chip to it. But I would like to know, how did your contact in MCZ obtain such a complete Bible?'

'He said they backwards hacked into the server that they use to scan for illegal copies.'

'They are very resourceful. The memory chip includes almost every translation I know of, and also contains the Apocrypha, some Pseudopigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls and even some Jewish Midrash, and portions of the Talmud. I feel as though I have been given a vast treasure trove -- worth far more than the e-tablet your aunt asked me to give you.'

'Are you a Christian?' asked U Ta.

'You might say that, but here, we do not call ourselves "Christian".'


'To many of our people, "Christian" is the white man's religion, and has become the symbol of hundreds of years of cultural imperialism. We have found that if you ignore all of white man's cultural ways, what's left is not very different from Native American tradition, which is rooted in the belief in a supreme Great Spirit, who is the origin of all things. Here, we believe that Yeshua came to be our Messiah as well as the Messiah to the Jews. His Spirit breaths new life into many of our tribal customs, so that our people can approach the Great Spirit in a community setting through Yeshua, and feel right at home. However, some of the old ways, we have stopped because they are forbidden in the Bible and were not essential to Dineh culture anyway.'

'Does Chief Red Eagle believe that way?'

'No. Most of the people of Dinetah do it with peyote. Chief Red Eagle at least tolerates us, because we follow indigenous tribal ways, and also, we live on the very edge of Dinetah lands. But he does not approve of belief in Yeshua as the physical manifestation of the Great Spirit. Also, they are very militaristic. While we don't approve of their warlike spirit, at least they protect us from any attack by the Nazis and other red neck cowboys to the North.'

'What about the South?' asked Albert.

'Only a vast mountainous desert -- a no-man's-land. Not worthwhile crossing if the object is to attack someone.'

* * *

Francis had shown them to his study, and now, Philip was trying the same hack he had used to communicate with Monterey Jack from Siam Province. Yorba Linda and Riu looked over his shoulder, and Mickey sat exploring the features of his new e-tablet and its contents. Riu was anxious for any news on the state of his grandmother's health.

'After this, I try Mr. Singh. I think, maybe in Hong Kong already,' said Philip.

* * *

Albert, Seymour and U Ta were following Francis out to the stable. He had found them each a wide brim hat to protect them from the sun, and gave them each a bottle of water with a strap to hang from their shoulder.

U Ta, walking next to Francis, said, 'I also belong to a tribe.'

'Which one?'

'The Karen. We occupy area between Siam and Burma. Our people also have legends about the Great Spirit who created the world and made a man and woman. Just like the Bible. Also we have story of the flood, and a man who took two of every animal in a boat.'

'Hmm. Many tribes have that story.'

'We also have a legend: three brothers each received a book. Eldest brother, the father of the Karen, had a book of leather, containing the wisdom. But he didn't take care of it, and lost it, so the Karen have been a backward people, living in the hills. Their brother, the Burmese, wouldn't share their book with the Karen, but took advantage of them and forced them to live in the mountains. But there is a prophecy, the white brother will bring his copy, the golden book, and share it with the Karen people. When the first missionary, Adoniram Judson first went to the Karen people, translating the Bible into our language, my fathers regarded that as the answer to the prophecy, and many many villages of Karen people converted to Christianity.'

'You, in turn, have brought me the golden book.'

'You didn't have a Bible?'

'Only a very old copy of the Gospel of Mark. About ten years ago, the Dinetah people, very militant then, destroyed all other copies of the Bible they could find. Any Internet server that has a Bible is viciously hacked. No one dares to post a Bible on-line any more, so I could not get another copy until now.'

They had reached the stable and the first horse riding lesson began.

* * *

The face of Monterey Jack, that Philip had become familiar with, shone on the e-tablet.

'Jack,' Yorba Linda called, 'you might as well show him your true face. He's only the same age as you.'

'Oh!' he said. The cartoon styled face on the screen morphed into that of a pudgy, brown-haired boy with glasses. 'Guess you all must be in Dallas by now, huh?' he said in his own pre-adolescent voice.

'No,' said Philip. 'A bunch of Nazis throw us out and go off with hover car and ID bracelets.'

'What!!' the face showed extreme shock. 'Can't be! How the hell...! What car were you in, number one or number two?'

'What do you mean, "what car"?' demanded Yorba Linda.

'I mean -- oh my god! -- Were you in the car with -- er Mr. Mir Singh and ... oh my god! This can't have happened!'

'What you talking about?' said Philip.

'Car number one, with Mr. Singh, had left already when I got to the station. Philip had been moved to car number two,' said Yorba Linda.

'Godammit! You were clearly told not to change the seating arrangement. I put that note on the reservation! Now -- oh my god! What am I gonna do?' Monterey Jack looked close to tears.

'So!' said Yorba Linda, 'it appears that their "man inside" was none other than my ...'

'God damn you Monterey Jack,' screamed Philip. 'You get us stuck here in nowhere! I hate you! I hate you!'

Yorba Linda took the e-tablet from Philip's hands, while Mickey tried to calm him down.

'The question now, Jack, is how are we going to get home?'

'That's just it!' wailed Jack. 'There aint no get'n home!'

Philip was shouting, 'Traitor! I think you're my friend and you use me for this! Screw you!'

Mickey had managed to sit him down at the far end of the room.

'Can't you hack something?' pleaded Yorba Linda.

'No, can't be done!' said Jack between sobs. 'You don't believe me, ask Uncle Rodrigo.'

'Uncle Rodrigo? Where is he?'

'He's got a permanent post with external maintenance, at communications tower number 326.'

'Where is that?'

'Here it is ...'

He read off some numbers of degrees longitude and latitude. Yorba Linda asked him to repeat it as she wrote it down.

'Hey, Linda,' sobbed Jack. 'I'm really sorry, I swear ...'

The line went dead.

Philip's wailing finally subsided, and he wiped his eyes on the front of Mickey's shirt.

He tried hacking his way through the Silicone Valley hub once more, in the direction of China, but he was unsuccessful.

'Dang! Can never hack two times in a row. Always get caught,' commented Philip.

* * *

The three had begun to get the hang of balancing on top of a horse, and were now riding along behind Francis down a dirt path.

Francis had left off giving them pointers on horsemanship, and they were just enjoying the experience.

'U Ta,' began Francis, 'how often do you commune with the Great Spirit?'


'Do you pray to him? When?'

'Oh -- er -- whenever we go to church, I guess. Just sing and the minister prays.'


They went some more in silence, around a few rock formations.

'Have you always been -- um -- a Christian?' Francis began again.

'I was baptised when I was twelve.'

'Did you feel Him in your soul then?'

'Er -- no. My parents just had me baptised -- the Karen Baptist way.'

'Ah, I see.'

They came to a fenced in area where the ground wasn't too rocky. There were cows grazing near the far end. He lifted the bar across the entrance and instructed the three to prod their horses into a gallop across the field and back again. Then, they started back to the homestead.

Francis asked similar questions of Seymour and Albert.

'I was baptised as a baby in the Anglican Church, and had my first communion at seven and then confirmation at ten,' said Seymour.

'My family Buddhist la,' said Albert.

About half way home, they were ambling down a straight path with a corn field on one side, and cotton growing on the other. Some of the workers were hoeing weeds in the cotton field.

Francis told the three, 'I invite all of you to join in a traditional ceremony we have. We do it to purify our soul and draw closer to the Great Spirit. We call it a sweat lodge.'

'Sweat? Like a sauna?' asked Seymour.

'Maybe like a sauna, but it is a temporary structure, made from local natural material. The purpose is not recreation like sauna, but spiritual.'

'Take all our clothes off?' said Albert.

'No, but we wear loose cotton. No synthetic, no plastic or metal jewellery. It is like a prayer meeting, with cleansing, followed by ritual bath in the stream, like Jewish immersion. It begins with one day of fasting.'

'Fasting! Ayo!' Albert exclaimed. 'Not ready for that la!'

'The way back to China will be difficult and tiring. Perhaps many days with no food. Are you ready for that?'

'Er -- well...'

* * *

Lunch time was the first chance they had to dine with the whole work crew. Besides themselves, there were about twenty five, including some small children. The older children, they were told, were away at school.

The others seemed quite friendly, though not many of them spoke English. They never-the-less greeted them, and made them feel welcome.

The seven sat at their usual place at the end of the long table. Francis stood at the end and said some things in Dineh. Some of it was apparently good news to the group, as they responded with cheers, while smiling at the newcomers. Then he said what appeared to be a prayer, while everyone looked respectful and solemn. At the end, they gave a response, and the meal began.

On the table were stacks of fry bread, dishes of a pasty bean concoction, and some roast lamb. The latter two were spooned onto the former and rolled up, just like the night before.

Francis took his seat at the head of the table.

'What did you tell then?' asked Yorba Linda.

'I told them that you brought them the golden book. And tonight, we will gather around the fire pit to roast meat for the evening meal, and the telling of ancient stories -- beginning with U Ta's story of the Golden Book.'

About half way through the meal, Francis asked, 'Did you get through to your people on the router?'

Yorba Linda spared Philip the pain: 'We got through only to my step brother. It looks like he is partly to blame for our mess. However, he did give me the location of my Uncle Rodrigo, apparently also working on the outside doing a job similar to Mr. Hamm.'

'Where is he?'

'All I got were map coordinates.'

'We can look it up on the map. I can not promise that it is possible to go there.'

'Why?' asked Mickey.

'In the Free Zone, are hundreds of sovereign nations, more often hostile to one another than not. Some are Native American tribes, some are white people, often with very strong opinions about race or religion, such as the Nazis. Some seek to build a Christian empire, some hold New Age beliefs, some are Mafia kingdoms, though a few places conduct their affairs for the benefit of all their citizens with no question of belief or race. Travel to far off places is often impossible. But, by a miracle, you came here, bringing the golden book. Perhaps, by a miracle, you can find your way back to China.'

He paused as he fixed himself another piece of fry bread, and let the information sink in.

Finally, he told the group, 'You are welcome to stay with us and share the life we have made here. However, I also think you yearn to be back in your homeland. Your minds and hearts must be clear on this before you can make a choice. I think that a sweat lodge would be a good thing...' He went on to repeat the invitation, and to share with the rest of the group what he had already explained to the three.

'The day after tomorrow will be your chance to prepare yourselves by fasting. The following day, we will hold the sweat lodge.'

* * *

Francis pulled out a faded map of the 50 states and spread it on the desk in the study, as Yorba Linda, Mickey, Riu and Philip looked on. The faded colours only depicted boundaries that were no longer relevant, namely state lines. The darker black ink showed the cities that were still in their locations, some metropolitan towers and such, that were a part of the Multinational Corporate Zone, and other cities in the Free Zone. Some of the latter had changed their names, some of which were inked over the old names on the map. The boundaries of the MCZ had been coloured in with a paint brush dipped into water colour mixed from local ingredients. Felt tip markers, Mickey realised, were hard to come by in most parts of the Free Zone.

Mickey noticed that this was a pre-earthquake map, showing California still joined to the mainland. The San Andreas Straight was painted in using blue water colour. Parts of the map, especially around Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and the nearby parts of California, were pencilled over to indicate local sovereign nations. Republic of Dinetah was shown with the most detail, with Cactus Head marked prominently, but no Southern border. North of that was Central West Aryan State. To the East was the word, "USA" in large quotation marks.

There were a number of other Native American nations in the four state area. Other places were marked, some without clear boundary lines drawn, some with a question mark. Some borders, Francis told them, were in dispute, others didn't matter, such as the area near the ranch, which degenerated into unwanted mountainous desert. Yet others, they just didn't know enough detail, so they wrote down only the names.

'Show me the coordinates for the tower where your uncle lives,' said Francis.

Yorba Linda showed him, and he consulted the lines on the map, using a pair of callipers to measure odd number of degrees from the printed line.

'This map would show it as being here, but because of earthquakes, the true location would be here. I see there is a town called "Milfred". I don't know what sort of nation is there. It is in what used to be South Texas, far away from here, but close to the Gulf of Mexico. If there is a MCZ communications tower there, that means it is a nation that is not too hostile to the MCZ. At least, not Nazi or Christian Militia or any other redneck cowboy republic or Mafia turf. If you can get there, you might make it to the sea, and travel by boat to the South American Free States and find a Chinese Embassy.'

'But far from here, ah?' said Riu.

'Yes. Very far.'

'Just one question,' said Yorba Linda. 'Why is this one called "USA"?'

'They are a militant Christian group that claims to carry the original vision of the United States of America. Their aim is to retake all of America by force from the other nations and the MCZ.'

'Militant?' queried Mickey. 'How does that fit in with Christian?'

'They believe that the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are sacred, like the Bible. To them, the right to bear arms is as important as Yeshua's command to love your enemies. They also say the Mayflower Compact, signed by the original settlers of the Massachusetts colony, gives all the lands of America to the white man to rule.'

'They have Bible, ah? Why you not get Bible from them?' asked Philip.

'They refuse to allow it because we do not follow Yeshua according to the culture of the white man. Even though we do nothing that the Bible prohibits, they still say we corrupt the Gospel with pagan ways. The other reason is, Chief Red Eagle and the elders of Dinetah do their best to prevent anyone from receiving Bibles from the outside, especially from them.'

'And they can corrupt the Gospel with their guns?' said Yorba Linda.

'I find it hard enough to keep my mind clear without passing judgement,' said Francis.

* * *

The whole community, consisting of the workers on the ranch, in addition to a number of others from neighbouring farms, were gathered around the fire pit at the end of the canyon near a waterfall. The fire was roaring, but a few hot rocks and coals had been pulled out to the edges, where an abundance of fresh lamb was roasting.

Several people, including Francis, had drums. There were also a couple of flutes, some rattles, a guitar, a mandolin and a mouth harp. Francis was leading, while everyone took their cue from his drumming. A couple of times, he broke into a song in the Dineh language, and the rest joined in.

Then, the singing subsided as people brought around some roast lamb and fry bread along with some salad to go on it.

Francis began speaking while most of the people were yet eating. The Asians had no idea what he was saying, though it appeared he was telling them a story. Even the children were listening attentively, and every so often, there was a response, such as laughter, or a cheer, or a sigh of relief. At one point, Francis was half singing and half chanting, while beating on his drum.

Eventually, he wrapped it up. Then, he called to U Ta. 'Tell us your tribe's legend of the Golden Book.'

Fortunately, they had all had exercises in public speaking -- however, doing it from behind their on-line identity. U Ta seemed a bit nervous at first, but he began to pick up as he noticed the interest of his audience. He had to get used to speaking one sentence at a time, so as to give Francis a chance to translate. He sat where he was as he spoke.

When he was finished, Frances asked Mickey to relate how he happened to come by the memory chip of the 'Golden Book' he had brought them.

Mickey began with the chance meeting of his aunt at the terminal, then told their meeting with Samuel McFadden, his delivering the chip, and finally the hijack. When talking about his aunt, Francis took an extra long time to translate, Mickey suspected, adding his own experience of her.

After that, there was more singing, and then, when everyone was finished eating, some dancing to a lot of drum music. The seven guests were, of course, invited to join.

'This the "rain dance" ah?' commented Albert.

'No la, you singing make it rain!' said Seymour.

* * *

Again, the group was down for breakfast after the rest of the household had finished. They were well into their meal when Francis joined them.

'Fasting tomorrow, ah?' asked Albert.

'I let you choose. You need the miracle from the Great Spirit.'

He poured a cup of coffee and sat down.

'Now that you have brought me the Bible, I will put our server on line for part of each day, so others can download it.'

'Won't they just hack it again?' asked Mickey.

'I will not call it the Bible. I'll say it is the Golden Book of the Great Spirit. I will pick the best version, and substitute some words in the text for different ones that mean the same, but are understood by the Indian people. It will get hacked, but by then, everyone will have downloaded a copy.'

After breakfast, Riu decided to join the others horseback riding. Philip tried again, in vane, to hack through to China.

* * *

The four followed Francis on their horses, this time, on an excursion into town. Paco took the rear, leading about five pack mules, laden with vegetables to deliver to the market. On their return, they would bring the weekly shopping for the ranch.

This was a much more pleasant journey than their first time to Cactus Head, both because they were riding, and they had their wide brim hats to keep the sun off.

As they passed the community at the head of the canyon, both Francis and Paco loudly exchanged greetings with several people. At least twice they would paused in front of a hovel to call to the residents, and converse in Dineh. Paco presented one of them, an old woman, with a bunch of turnips. She said something which was obviously a thank you, and also greeted the four Asians in Dineh.

Albert responded, 'Ha ha, same to you, la.'

Seymour answered with some words of Dineh that he had picked up.

The way into town took them past Ham-bone's communications tower. The place looked quiet.

Finally, they turned onto the main street, the opposite direction from which they had come the first day. Not far down the road, they noticed an outdoor market. Some of the stalls that lined the main road were open, but other parts of it were being set up.

Paco began leading the mules into that area, while Francis dismounted and directed the four to tie up their horses.

'The big market is tomorrow,' said Francis. 'It is for selling produce. Other sellers are open today. You may want to look around. Here, I will give you something to spend.'

He proceeded to hand them each a few coins.

He shouted something to the sellers nearby.

'I tell them you are my friends, and not to cheat you. I have business to attend to. Meet me here at noon.' He pointed to a clock embedded in the wall above a door across the street. Then, he went walking off, and the four began to look around.

The coins he had given them were old American quarters, with some Mexican and Canadian coins, that had holes punched in the middle, and a tiny bit of gold pressed in. There was some sort of seal stamped into the gold on both sides, which made the whole coin look like a coin within a coin.

The four browsed the stalls, tried a few treats, bought one or two handicrafts -- Albert got a bead band to put around his hat. Riu and Seymour both attempted what Dineh vocabulary they had picked up, and learned a few more words in doing so.

At noon, they met Francis and Paco back where the horses were tied up, and they rode in the direction from which they came, but went on past the lane that led towards the ranch. Then, they stopped and tied up the horses in front of the tavern where they had first met Ham-bone.

'Lunch,' said Paco cheerily.

They went in. The first thing they saw was the familiar white buttocks above the wide belt line -- Ham-bone.

'Mr. Hamm,' Francis addressed him.


'Do you have the three solar panals I ordered?'

'Yeah man! It came this morning by robo-post. Wanna stop by this PM I can fetch it for ya.' He sounded as though he had been consuming a generous amount of what was in the bottle in front of him.

'How about if we eat, then we go while you are still able to stand up,' suggested Francis.

'Well -- alright.'

They took their seats at the bar and Francis put in an order for six bowls of chilli and corn bread.

U Ta ended up next to Ham-bone.

'You'll like the chilli here,' drawled Ham-bone, 'Not like that stuff from the cans I'm trying to get rid of -- haw haw haw,'

'How much are you trying to get rid of?' enquired Francis.

'Almost two whole crates full! Go'n cheap!'

'Cheap? How much?'

They bargained back and forth and Francis decided to buy the lot.

'I will collect it when we come for the solar panals.'

Their chilli and corn bread arrived. It was much better than the canned variety.

U Ta ventured a question. 'Why did you come to live here?'

'I'm serving a life sentence!'

'For what?'

'Fer know'n too much! Just like you!'

'How did you learn it?'

'By ask'n too many questions, and ask'n the wrong people. But one question, in particular, got it started.'

'What question?'

'Why is it that when I connect to the satellite links, when I look at certain parts of the country, I always see the same old thing -- like the same people go'n shop'n in the same places at the same time of day, every day? I asked the wrong person. The right one would have told me, "Mind yer own business and don't go spy'n on the same places at the same time every day." Instead, he gave me a code key to get my computer to look at different satellite links. Then, I started see'n what was really there. Then, I started ask'n too many more questions, and again, I asked the wrong people. If I'd asked the first one, he'd have said, 'Shut up if you know what's good fer ya,' but I didn't. Instead, they told me, 'You're so resourceful and have such an enquiring mind, we need you.' They needed me, all right. They needed me as far away as they could throw me, right here. As for the dude who gave me the code, they shut him up real good!'

'Is he at a comms tower too?'

'No way! With his knowledge, he'd hack himself back in. I don't know what they done to him, but I just know he ain't talk'n.'

They had finished, and Francis decided it was time to start back home.

Ham-bone grunted and heaved, as though removing himself from a barstool were a day's work. They walked the horses and mules as far as the communications tower. Ham-bone brought out the crates and the equipment Francis had ordered. There was enough spare room in the mules' packs for the tins, so they set off.

At the mouth of the canyon, Francis and Paco called to several people along the way, all of them looking quite poor, and distributed the cans of chilli. To the old woman, Francis gave two cans, plus a bag of something he had bought for her in town.

Then they were off for home.

* * *

Even though the younger children bathed around the pump, Albert Fong soon realised that that wasn't the place for him. Though Philip Kumar could get away with it -- he usually chose not to -- the advanced adolescent state of Albert's body marked him as someone who needed a more private area.

One of the men who had just finished his shower gestured to Albert that the room he had used was now vacant. A couple of the mothers chuckled as Albert took the hint.

To be sure, it wasn't difficult to spot a naked adult body, even in the bathing stalls. It was either trying too hard, or making it too easy, that was taboo. Albert was clearly guilty of the latter.

Perhaps it was the slingshot effect of being suddenly released from the restrictions of Singaporean society -- whatever. He was sure they were still talking about him outside.

So much for the adventures of open bathing!

He was nearly finished -- but -- his towel!

Suddenly, he felt too embarrassed to walk out to get it.

He peeked around the corner. Most of the people didn't speak English.

There was Philip. He was looking for an empty stall. They were all taken.

'Hoi! Philip! Get me my towel la!'

Philip hesitated. Then he grabbed it and walked over, letting his own drop off as he entered. There was still enough water in the bucket for his bath.

'Hey -- no hard feelings ha?'

'Okay la.'

'You're cool kid even if you're pipsqueak. We in this mess together, find a way out, ah?'


'You fast tomorrow?' Albert said.


'Don't really want to fast, but must pray to get home!'

'Pray to who?' Philip asked, after a pause.

'All, la! To Buddha, to Great Spirit, to Vishnu, to Muhammad. Fast, maybe someone answer, ah?'

'Ah. Me too.'

'What Mickey say about envelope and memory chip. You believe?'

'I go with him in Bangkok, meet auntie, give him the envelope. And the memory chip -- that man who bring the memory chip, you know? We see him at McDonalds day before, promise to get us the chip, not say where he live or where we go, but he come right to the terminal with the chip, ah? And Mickey's auntie give him letter for Francis promise him memory chip! Either it's Great Spirit, or the man and Mickey's auntie work with the Nazis!'

'No way la! I think pray only to Great Spirit better.'

'Me too. To the god Jesus, I think, but Francis call him Yeshua.'

Philip had finished scrubbing, and poured the rest of the water over himself.

'Miss your family?' asked Albert.


'Me too, la.'

They walked back together, draped in their towels.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Eurasian -- third installment

Chapter 5

It was their free time. Mickey and Philip were walking down a boulevard somewhere at the centre of the San Francisco Metro-Tower. It was a different world from the sprawling suburb, depending on the setting of one's My Own World.

By far, most people had their headsets over their eyes. Mickey and Philip could only notice them when they didn't have their own on. Otherwise, they only saw the projected images.

It was actually more fun not to wear the headsets. Right now, they were following a rather fat young teenager wearing only a scant pair of underpants that covered half his bum. With their head sets on, he was tall and slender and wore an ankle length black coat.

"It looks like the emperor's wearing his new clothes today," Mickey mumbled to Philip.

Philip broke out giggling -- but stopped short.

Just ahead, was Albert Fong and Derek Hong walking towards them. Philip pulled Mickey's arm and turned into McDonald's. They each had been given some vouchers to spend, so they decided to try something.

'Hiya!' A female voice resounded from one of the stalls. It was Yorba Linda, seated with their own professor.

'Get something and join us!' said Mr. Singh.

They did. Mickey ordered a Hash McBean platter, and Philip, McPig Nuggats. They took their trays and went to sit with Mr. Singh and Yorba Linda.

'How are you two enjoying the trip?' asked the latter.

'Okay, I guess,' said Philip.

'Different,' said Mickey.

'How different?' asked Yorba Linda. 'I was gaining the impression your part of the world already had the same technology.'

'Yeah, but, still different,' said Philip.

'Here, it's like, all the things you showed us, like, we have them but --'

'Like here -- must have, must have. If not have, you not cool!'

'Like, old fashion, quaint.'

'Yes,' responded Yorba Linda. 'The media does push things. My Uncle Rodrigo complained about that as well,' -- she looked at Mr. Singh as though that were the topic of their conversation -- 'which is probably why I've always noticed it myself.'

'You don't have books printed on paper here, do you,' commented Mickey.

'Actually, my Uncle Rodrigo kept a few. I'm not sure what happened to them. About twenty or so years ago they had the "anti old" campaign. At least, that's what my uncle called it. They encouraged people to discard all objects older than ten years. Antiques were said to be unhygienic, paper causes dust allergies and all that. We got rid of all wooden furniture, fixtures, ornaments -- all paper books were to be replaced by e-books, which are better on the eyes and don't create harmful dust.

'2055?' asked Mickey.

'Yes. That was the year paper books were to be replaced by e-books. You knew about that?'

'We got them,' said Philip.

'Lots of used books,' added Mickey. 'All of them with an electronic tag, "to be destroyed, 2055".'

'Well! I'm glad someone benefited from them. I heard they busted a large smuggling ring that was exporting old books.'

'But the e-books I've downloaded aren't the same as the old paper books,' said Mickey.

'My Uncle Rodrigo noticed that. He spoke out about it, wrote some articles, had a big following...'

'What happened to him?' asked Mr. Singh.

'He was offered a job with a research company. He had to move to a different city. We haven't seen him since.'

'Didn't keep in touch?'

'He said he would, but -- well -- my half brother, Monterey Jack, claims to have been in contact with him. You can't believe much of what he says, though.'

'What about his following?'

'Sort of lost interest.'

'No one talks about the differences between -- you know --' asked Mickey.

'No one seems to care. Look at them.'

Another couple walking by, just on the other side of the plate glass, wearing VR headsets. One was in his pyjamas, the other in his underwear. The emperor...

Just then, a group of about fifteen people came in and took seats in the stalls behind them. The area had been roped off, but they simply unhooked the rope and walked in.

'Oh no -- them again,' sighed Yorba Linda.

'Who?' asked Philip.

'A religious group.'


'They say they are, but the respectable churches don't accept them.'

Some of the group were arriving with trays piled over with food.

'Are you a Christian, Yorba Linda?' asked Philip.

'Yes. I belong to my local Assemblies of God.'

Just now, one of the group behind them spoke above the background noise. 'Brother Ralph, will you bless the food and drink?'

'Sure. Blessed are you, our Lord and our God, King of the universe, who as provided these soyaburgers and fries, which we now partake of in remembrance of your Body, which was broken for us, and we receive this cola, as your blood, shed for the sins of many.'

There was a resounding 'Amen' from the whole group. They tucked in.

'They do Eucharist with a burger and cola?' asked Mr. Singh.

'Yes,' sighed Yorba Linda.

'I downloaded a Bible,' said Mickey. 'But it only had the New Testament. I couldn't find any Old Testament on line.'

'My Uncle had one.'

'A paper one, no doubt,' said Mr. Singh.

'Yes. The church emphasises that in all matters of faith, we rely on the New Testament. There's not been any demand for the old -- I guess.'

'And the Bible I downloaded, it doesn't even say Jesus was Jewish!'

'That he's -- what?'

'Jewish -- you know, Judaism. Like they have in Israel.'

'What does that have to do with Jesus?'

'He was from Israel, wasn't he!'

'I didn't know that!'

Mr. Singh exclaimed, 'I though everyone knew that! I know that! I'm a Sikh!'

'Yeah,' said Mickey. 'Where do they teach you Jesus was from?'

'They don't. He belongs to the whole world. But, why Israel, of all places? That's a rogue state! Not a part of the Islamic block or the Euro-American block!'

'They do associate with the African Free States,' said Mr. Singh.

Just then, the leader of the religious group was making an announcement. 'Brothers and sisters, today, we wish to welcome John Ferguson into our fellowship. He has stated that he wishes to become a disciple, so, John?'

A middle aged man approached the leader.

'John,' said the leader. 'Do you understand the commitment you are making?'

'Yes,' responded John.

'Do you, willingly renounce the worldly ways of Consumerism, the ways of the flesh, the status symbols of this world, to take on yourself the yoke of the Kingdom of God?'

'Yes, I do.'

'Our Master once said, "Whoever will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me," and "Whoever will not hate his father and mother, even his own life, is not worthy to be my disciple." Do you now forsake all to follow the ways of our Master?'


'That's not in the Bible, surely!' whispered Yorba Linda.

'Actually, it is,' said Mickey.

There were a couple more questions, which made Mickey wonder if the leader weren't trying to talk John out of joining their group, but John seemed determined.

Finally, the leader said, 'Andy, the water.'

Someone brought him a plastic cup.

'John, I hereby baptise you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.' Then, he poured the contents of the cup on John's head. The group applauded.

'A baptism service? In McDonald's?' said Mickey.

'They're known to be radical,' said Yorba Linda.

A police man walked into the restaurant and looked about. Then, he walked over to the group.

'What are you doing here?' he asked in an intimidating tone of voice.

'Just a group of us dining out together,' said the leader. 'Are we being too noisy?'

'Samuel McFadden,' said the officer. 'This wouldn't be the first time. We've had reports of unauthorised religious activity outside of a church premises.'

'Well, like I said...'

The policeman turned to Mickey and his table. 'You're not with them, are you?'

'No,' said Mr. Singh.

'Have you observed any odd behaviour?'

'No Sir,' said Mr. Singh.

'Nothing,' said Mickey.

'Just enjoy enjoy,' said Philip.

'Well, okay. I'm warning you, Samuel, I'm watching you closely.' He began to walk slowly out.

The group slowly went back to their table conversation.

'You folks live around here?' It was Samuel, the leader of the group.

'No la,' said Philip.

'From China,' said Mr. Singh.

'Wow! What brings you here?'

'On a graduating class tour.'

'Why don't you sit down?' said Yorba Linda.

'Thank you.'

The four of them introduced themselves.

'We enjoyed your service,' said Mickey.

'Believers?' asked Samuel.

'I am,' said Mickey.

'Me too, I guess,' said Yorba Linda.

'You -- guess?'

'Well -- different church.'

'Okay. You as well?'

'Sikh,' said Mr. Singh.

'Hindu,' said Philip.

'Welcome to America,' said Samuel. Turning to Yorba Linda, 'You sound like a local.'

'I'm their tour guide.'

Mickey had an idea. 'Where can I get a full electronic Bible? You know -- Old Testament and all?'

Samuel sighed. 'Hard to get.'

'Do you have one?'

'I could get a copy of it to you, I suppose.'

'Where do you get it?'

'We have to hack.'

'Why is it so hard to get it?' asked Mr. Singh.

'The only electronic copy that officially exists is embedded in the code they use to scan for illegal copies on the Internet. We obtained our copy by backwards hacking so as to get to it, and then did a little decoding.'

'You're very trusting of us,' said Yorba Linda.

'I have a good feeling about you.'

'You know Jesus was Jewish?' piped up Philip.

'Shhh -- yes, and I know just a few Jewish people who know that too. As for your copy, I'll copy it to a memory chip and bring it to you.' He went back to his table.

They were finished, so they went back to their lodging.

Mickey suddenly remembered, he hadn't given Samuel McFadden his address to bring the memory chip to him!

* * *

They were together at the Transport Centre, ready with their back packs, all but Yorba Linda. The latter was supposed to meet them there to accompany them on their trip to Dallas.

'I have the seating list for the two hover vehicles,' said Mr. Singh. 'Why don't we go ahead and board? The one that Yorba Linda is supposed to get on can leave a bit later.'

He read off the lists for the two vehicles, and the students arranged themselves accordingly. Mickey found himself boarding car number two, along with U Ta Gladstone, Lucy Kanda, Marisa, Riu, Tammy and Seymour Williams.

There were no windows in the vehicle, so they sat with the side door open.

Philip's head appeared in the opening.

'What are you doing here?' said U Ta. 'Aren't you supposed to be in the other one?'

'Change places la. Albert Font such a scumbag!'

'Full already!'

'Someone change with me -- pleeeeease!'

Mr. Singh joined Philip at the door. 'There are two empty places in ours, why don't two of you girls join us, Philip can come here, as well as Yorba Linda, when she arrives. It's better if there's a supervisor in each car.'

The girls went off to the other car. Mr. Singh, apparently, didn't notice it was all three.

'We'll go ahead and go. You folks follow as soon as Yorba Linda joins you. The journey's been programmed already, so she'll start it with the push of the green button. See you there.'

'Bye!' they all chimed in.

Philip, with a sigh of relief, sat down next to Mickey.

Mickey heaved a quieter sigh -- the kid's hard to get rid of!

They heard the whirr of the other car departing.

Just then, Albert Fong stepped in and sat down. 'The girls -- they force me out. So I'm back with pipsqueak, ha? Think you can get away from me la!'

Philip groaned.

Another head appeared at the door -- Samuel McFadden!

'Wah! How you find us?' exclaimed Philip.

'Find you?' said Albert. 'He use microscope!'


'I've got the e-book you asked for,' said Samuel, handing it to Mickey.

'But -- '

'You'll be needing it soon, but don't load it just yet. Just put it somewhere safe -- like that envelope in your coat pocket. You'll need them both at the same time.'

'What envelope? -- Oh!' Mickey had a feeling similar to when he ran into his aunt at the transport centre in Bangkok.

'We'll meet again!' he disappeared.

The envelope in his pocket was the one his aunt gave him. There was just enough room at the end of the sealed opening to slip the chip in. What did he mean by, need them both at the same time? How did he know about the envelope anyway? It was inside his coat!

'How did he find us, anyway?'

'Dunno!' said Philip.

Yorba Linda interrupted any further pondering. 'Don't tell me the other car left already -- and ...' she consulted her electronic diary, 'I'm supposed to be in the car with Mr. Singh!'

'Gone already la!' said Albert.

'I was specifically told not to altar the seating arrangement! Oh well.'

She got in, shut the door, pressed the green button, and they were off.

'Why no windows in this one?' asked Seymour.

'I don't know why cross country flights don't have windows,' signed Yorba Linda. 'However, you can look out via your headsets.'

They pulled their headsets over their eyes and viewed the landscape in silence, the sprawling residential estates, an occasional metro tower, amusement parks ...

The vehicle slowed down and came to a stop over a picturesque picnic area. Suddenly, the scene from their headsets blurred to nothing.

'Only forty minutes!' said Yorba Linda, who hadn't been wearing her headset. 'It's suppose to be a two hour trip!'

There was a clunk, as though they had landed on something other than a hover dock.

The door opened, showing anything but what their headsets had shone -- yellow and brown rocks and sand, and the most motley group of men he'd seen since Clint Eastwood.

'Everyone out! Move it!' said a man with close cropped hair, and the scar on his face.

'Oh great! A load of freak'n chinks!' said another one.

'Don't worry, it won't show on their ID,' said a more elderly man, who looked like their leader.

'What the hell is going on?' exclaimed Yorba Linda.

They were holding weapons. One of them had a swastika tattooed to his shoulder.

They got out into the hot sun, carrying their backpacks.

'Hold it. Let's see what's in those,' said one of them.

'No way, you scumbag!' said Yorba Linda.

Someone held a gun to her. They began searching all the bags. Another one began collecting their headsets.

A man with a swastika tattooed to his cheek went through Mickey's. 'What's a nice white boy like you doing with a load of goons?' He came across Micky's e-tablet. 'This'll do.' He helped himself to it. The others' e-tablets, mobile phones and gadgets met the same fate.

No one dared resist.

'Now,' said the oldest one, 'your ID bracelets.' He had a swastika on his eyelid.

He held up a gadget, went to the one closest to him, Albert Fong, grabbed his wrist, clicked the gadget on his bracelet, which unwrapped itself. One by one, he got everyone's bracelet.

'What do you think you're going to do with those?' said Yorba Linda.

'Make our entry into Multinational Consumer Land, of course, thanks to you and our man inside!'

'To put a lug wrench or two between the wheels of your Zionist controlled machinery!' said another.

'Us, and who?' exclaimed Yorba Linda.

'Wait a minute!' said the leader. 'There's supposed to be three females. I see only one here. Melinda and Julie, you'll have to go as men -- hold on, this one's aged 13. Julie, you can pass as a 13-year old -- wait, a name like Kumar -- Margaret, you've got the deeper tan, you're Philip Kumar. We'll get you a haircut. And, "U-Ta" -- what kind of name is that? Julie, you're U-Ta. Dammit, our man inside said three girls!'

'Hey, cheif! They're closing in,' said one of them holding a scanning device.

'What man inside?' demanded Yorba Linda.

'Wouldn't you like to know! So long.'

The gang boarded, and the students and their guide stood, watching their conveyance take off and disappear into the distance.

'Oh my god -- we kena sai man!' Albert began. 'And its all you fault, Kumar. You change cars you get us into this mess! You son of a ...'

'Screw you, you freak'n bastard,' Philip screamed back at him, and then followed that by more choice words mixed with unintelligible wailing that finally subsided with, '...I just want to go home!'

So sudden was the barrage that it left Albert speechless.

Mickey put his arm around Philip's shoulder as he continued to sob at lower decibels. Seymour and U-Ta also looked close to tears.

The sun was scorching, and there was no shade.

'Where the hell are we, anyway?' said Yorba Linda.

'You don't know?' said Albert.

'It's not in any of my geography databases. The only place I've ever seen people like that is in old movies about Neo Nazis!'

'Yeah, Nazis,' said Seymour. 'I see swastikas on them.'

'But they don't even exist!' said Yorba Linda. 'Then again, neither does this place!'

'Cactus Head?' said Riu.


'Cactus Head. That sign say "Cactus Head" on it. "Three miles".'

Mickey looked at the faded, hand painted sign standing next to the dirt road.

Cactus Head! Where had he heard that name?

Chapter 6

The landscape looked like it belonged in a cowboy film -- the rock formations, the red and yellow sand, Micky expected Indians to appear over the next hill.

And they did...

'All right, drop your weapons, we got you surrounded!'

'Wait -- those ain't no white boys!'

They were surrounded. The second voice came from behind.

'Who are you, and where did you come from?' asked the first one, a stout middle aged man who looked like he'd seen a lot of sun. The whole group comprised brown skin and black.

'And where the white boys go?' asked the second, leading the group on the other side of them.

'The Nazis?' asked Yorba Linda.

'Yeah, the Nazis. We've been tracking them since they infiltrated the Dinetah Nation territory.'

'They just took off in our hover car,' said Seymour, 'that way.'

There was a pause as the group looked in the direction Seymour pointed. There were sighs and expressions of surprise.

'So that's what ...' the leader of the group to the rear exclaimed.

Yorba Linda said, 'Where can we find the nearest police station?'

'We are the police -- or the closest thing you'll find,' said the middle aged man. 'I am Chief Red Eagle, de facto head of state for the Republic of Dinetah. You'd better come with us.'

He motioned for them to follow. They followed.

'You mean to say ...' Yorba Linda started, but didn't have the imagination to finish.

The Chief finished for her. 'You are now on the outside. You obviously came from Disneyland over yonder, and were on your way to Cowboy Land when you got dumped here in the real world.'

'Your words for Baja California and Texas, I'm sure. And which State of the Union do you mean by "Real World"?'

'This would be Arizona, if your Union of 50 States were still intact. As it is now, we are a sovereign Dineh nation.'

'Dineh, that Indian tribe, ah?' Albert broke in.

'Native American,' corrected Yorba Linda.

'All of you Native American? Some of you look like ...'

'Most of us are Dineh people. All of us follow the spirits of the land after the way of our Tribal Fathers,' responded the Chief. 'People who were disenchanted with White Man's culture, White Man's religion, White Man's slave state, they have come to us and we teach them a new way, the way of the spirits of the land.'

'We are finally emancipated!' spoke up a black skinned man.

'And the people who took down our hover car?' asked Mickey.

'Our nation shares a disputed border with one of the Nazi Nations. Your hover car rout goes over our Dinetah Nation lands, but not theirs. I don't know what they're up to, but obviously they wanted to ride into Cowboy Land on your hover car. To get to it, they had to encroach on our sovereignty. See, over there, to the South of Cactus Head, you see a communications tower, the one concession we grant to what's left of your 50 States. We allow them to man that tower, which relays the signal to guide your cars and buses across our lands, giving your passengers the illusion of a seamless coast to coast nation. If you want to know more, Ham-bone...'

'But -- Arizona...'

'Your State of Arizona consists of a few pieces of prime property dotted across this land, such as the Tuscan and Phoenix Metro Towers, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and parts of the Snake River, just enough to give the impression of Arizona.'

'But millions of people live on farms and reservations all over Arizona as US citizens!'

'How many of those people do you actually know? I assure you, you'll find them only in movies, sitcoms and info-mercials. What you see here is the real world. We'll take you to your man, Ham-bone, who runs the communications tower. Maybe he can help you get back to Never Land. If he can't, then you have two choices: either you can settle with us and learn the ways of the spirits of the land, or, if you insist on the White Man's religion, we can escort you to the border of our neighbouring nation to the East, a Christian nation that also thinks of itself as the true united state of America. Though we do not enjoy good relations with them, they're more amiable than the Nazis.'

They walked on, while Yorba Linda continued to protest the existence of their location, until the cheif flatly told her that Ham-bone, the tower operator would enlighten them, thereupon he refused to hear any more from her.

It was hot! But they weren't sweating. It was just scorching.

Mickey noticed quite a few cactuses and at least one yak's skull bone, and wondered if that's what gave the place the name of Cactus Head. Where had he heard the name before anyway?

After another mile of walking, he remembered. His Aunt Rosemary had said something about Cactus Head the last time he saw her. He was supposed to open the envelope.

It was still in his inside pocket of the coat he was wearing. The memory chip that Sam McFadden had given him was in it -- which he would need at the same time.

It was a good thing he hadn't put it in his e-tablet wasn't it! But how would he read it? Could he find another e-tablet?

He tried fanning himself with the envelope, but it didn't cool him down at all. It just blew hot air.

They were approaching some houses. Most of them were surrounded by vegetable gardens and corrals for farm animals. People were out tending to the weeding and other chores. One man was feeding his chickens -- free range, by the looks of it -- another was overhauling a car motor.

The farther they went, the closer the houses were to one another, and the more like a town it looked. Then there were shops, a tavern, a pharmacy, a blacksmith, a grocer's, another tavern, a foundry, a video arcade, a small factory of some sort. People were walking down the street, moving out of the way only when a vehicle, a four-wheel-drive, a hover car, a horse, needed room for more speed. Except for a few smatterings of technology unique to this century, it could have passed for cowboy town of ages gone by.

'I think we'll find Ham-bone in here,' said the chief, turning into another tavern.

The interior was also a specimen of wild west times. It was cool inside. A refreshing breeze blew from one end of the room, where there was the whirr of a fan which Mickey couldn't see. It carried the scent of fresh rain.

The only white man they'd seen so far sat on the barstool with his back to the door, his buttocks peeping at them over his belt line, where his shirt-tail failed to compensate. Ham-shanks would have seemed like a more fitting designation, or at least he looked as if he'd eaten an abundance of ham in his time.

'Ham-bone!' yelled the chief.

The man turned slowly around, with a scowl.

'Still on your extended coffee break, I see! Your amusement park ride broke down. What shall I do with your customers?'


'These are yours, I think,' he said, indicating the Asians who were now standing inside. 'Fare paying passengers. Take them!'

'What are you talking about?'

The chief looked at Yorba Linda and said, 'He's been living here too long.' At that, he walked out, leaving Ham-bone staring open mouthed at the seven.

The vapours flowing from him indicated that it wasn't a coffee break he was on.

'So, what's the problem?' he asked finally.

'Our hover bus landed on the ground not far from here,' said Yorba Linda. 'We were ejected from it by a group of Nazis who said their "man inside" had hacked the system. They've gone off with our ID bracelets, and here we are.'

'Yeah, right. So what do you expect me to do?'

'Get in touch with the authorities and tell them!'

'Oh God, why me?'

'You operate the system here, don't you?'

'I don't operate the system. I just maintain the communications tower and call them if it blows over.'

'Well, call them and tell them we got grounded!'

'Well -- I suppose...' He got off the bar stool as though it were a major undertaking. 'Come this way then.'

They followed him out the door -- back into the hot sun. 'The name's George Hamm, by the way.'

Yorba Linda introduced herself and one or two of the others who weren't sulking towards the rear.

They walked further down the main road, and then turned right, down a smaller road. They could see the communications tower straight ahead.

'Looks to me like everything's working fine,' said Ham-bone, gazing at the sky.

There was a hover bus coming towards the tower from the West. It began to make a gentle curve and passed on towards the South-east.

'Our hover car did that too, after we were pushed off,' said Yorba Linda.

'You mean it landed, and then took off again?'


'That's never happened before!'

'They said they had inside help,' said Seymour.

'Who? The people that pushed you off?'

'Yes. The Nazi group. They also took our computers and ID bracelets,' said Yorba Linda.

'So you've got no ID bracelets, huh?'

'We have Chinese passport, that help?' said Riu.

The dirt road was lined with small vegetable and chicken farms. Children were running in and out of some of the houses, and a few ran to their garden fences to look at the strangers.

The communications tower was surrounded by a tall wire fence with bare electric wire strung along the top. George Hamm opened the gate with a key, and led them to a concrete building that formed the base of the tower.

'Welcome to my humble abode,' he said.

The interior looked like it was built as a work area around the base of the tower with what looked like a bathroom in the far corner. Floor, walls and ceiling were bare concrete. A console with monitors and dials lined the base at the centre. At one side, near a window, was a bed and a few pieces of furniture, with clothes and belongings strewn all over. Against another window was a table with some chairs, an old fashion cooking area with a vintage refrigerator. Everything in between was dusty and littered with empty boxes, bottles and cans, except for an old motorcycle. It was rather hot and stuffy, and smelled of all the old things lying about.

'Don't often have visitors, do you?' said Mickey.

'You're the first,' said Ham-bone. 'Sit down wherever you can find a seat. There's two chairs over there, there's my bed, there's an extra chair by the console. I'll see if I can contact base.'

He flicked a switch, and immediately, an air-conditioning system began to modify the environment. It was straight forward weather control, like the inside every metro tower Mickey had ever been in -- not the nice refreshing breeze produced by whatever that was inside the tavern earlier.

Yorba Linda, Mickey and Philip went to the console where Ham-bone was seated, while the others sat where they could.

Ham-bone was talking to someone on a two dimensional monitor. 'We have a situation here. One of the hover buses came down, apparently through someone hacking the system, the passengers were pushed out, and a group of locals got in and went off again.'

'I don't understand,' said the lady on the screen. 'Your location isn't a passenger stop.'

'I know. They say it landed on the ground, in middle of nowhere.'

'I don't think that's possible.'

'It happened,' yelled Yorba Linda over Ham-bone's shoulder.

'And who are you?'

'Yorba Linda Sanchez, the tour guide for the group of Chinese visitors en rout to Dallas.'

'Can you please scan your ID?'

'They took our IDs. I can quote the number for you though.'

'No ID? How can I verify your identity?'

'Biometrics? I can scan my hand print.'

'This system isn't equipped with biometrics. Go ahead and key in your number.'

Yorba Linda used the key pad. There was a pause.

'The record shows someone with this number having arrived in Dallas ten minutes ago,' said the lady, finally.

'That's not us,' said Yorba Linda. 'The Nazi group that got in our hoverbus also took our identification bracelets.'

'The -- what?'


'I don't understand. You mean Nazis, as in Hitler's Nazis?'

'Neo Nazis, as in radical white supremacists.'

'I didn't know there was such a thing.'

'Well, there is. They've arrived in Dallas masquerading as us. If you don't believe me, contact the Dallas terminal and ask for Mr. Mir Singh, the leader of the group. He was occupying the other hover bus. They should be noticing our absence by now.'

'Okay, I'll get back to you.'

The screen went blank.

'Mr. Hamm, where do you actually live?' asked Yorba Linda.

'Right here. I'm originally from Flagstaff, but now I'm here.'

'Do you ever visit your family in Flagstaff?'

'Nope. I'm here till I die.'

'Till you die?' queried Mickey.

'I know too much to go back to living in the Multinational Corporate Zone. I'd contaminate society with knowledge of the "real world".'

'What about us?' said Philip. 'Now we know too!'

'Well, that could... --' Ham-bone seemed reluctant to complete the thought.

'But you work for the system,' said Yorba Linda. 'How do you get -- you know, paid -- supplies, essentials?'

'I have an account. They pay me, I order stuff, which they drop off by means of a robotic drone. I sell it to the locals for local currency, so I eat local. I do very well for myself, actually. Anyway, you must be hungry. How 'bout something to eat?'

They were, so they did. They had chili con carne out of cans. It was okay, Mickey thought, though he suspected that Ham-bone had an excess of it that he needed to get rid of.

* * *

It finally occurred to Mickey that he was at the place where he was supposed to open the envelope. The only thing that had kept him from it was the wonder that there was such a place as 'Cactus Head', and then doubting that his aunt could have possibly known about it -- let alone that Mickey and his group would actually end up there.

But here they were, in Cactus Head, administrative centre of the Republic of Dinetah.

Mickey slowly tore the envelope open. What new surprises could there possibly be?

There was a note, another envelope, and the memory chip. He read the note:

Mickey, please deliver the envelope to Francis Baguette, along with the memory chip. He should return it to you after he's copied it, and give you a reader so that you can use it yourself. You'll find him quite hospitable, and he'll send you on your way once you know your next destination.

Memory chip? Mickey felt the envelop, and there didn't seem to be any memory chip, apart from the one he had slipped in, from Sam McFadden. Certainly, she didn't mean that one?

What did she mean by, 'know your next destination?' Shouldn't that be Dallas?

* * *

Ham-bone was back to the communications console, with Yorba Linda and the others close by.

The lady was back on the screen. 'I'm sorry, but since you don't have any ID, and the people that you claim to be, have already entered the Texas zone, there's nothing I can do for you.'

'What about Mr. Singh and the rest of the group? They can verify that the other people with our IDs aren't us.'

'The group that you claim to be went straight to their onward destinations. Mr. Singh and company have been returned to San Francisco, and are awaiting their transport back to China.'

'But there are still three more weeks left on the itinerary!' muttered Yorba Linda. Out loud, she said, 'Please! We're stranded here! What are we to do?'

'I'm sorry, I can't help you. With no ID...'

'I have China passport!' yelled Albert.

'Me too!' rejoined U Ta.

'Yes,' said Yorba Linda. 'They have passports.'

'I don't know what you're talking about.'

'Chinese ID!' yelled Philip.

'I'm sorry, our system only takes the standard ID that's issued to citizens and official visitors. I can't help you.'

The monitor went off line. There were gasps of dismay.

Philip began sobbing again. Some of the others looked close to tears -- especially Riu, Mickey noted. Thinking about his grandmother.

Ham-bone said, 'I didn't think you'd get much help from them. You know too much now.'

'Can we call my office on this?' asked Yorba Linda.

'I can only get through to the base. There are no lines to anywhere else. Remember, I also know too much.'

'So, what do we do now?'

'That was going to be my next question. You certainly can't live here.'

Mickey said, 'What about Francis Baguette?'

Ham-bone looked at him. 'How do you know Francis Baguette? I'm sure the chief didn't recommend him.'

'Er -- someone told me about him.' Mickey wondered how he could make the story believable. 'They said -- er -- they knew someone name Francis Baguette, and he lived in a place called Cactus Head.'

'That's weird. No one knows about this place!'

The others were looking at him strangely.

'And he doesn't exactly live in Cactus Head,' Ham-bone continued. 'He's got a ranch in the outer area -- a lot of space. We can get there if we start now. How about I'll take you?'