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?'

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