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.

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