There are times when you can’t tell real life from a nightmare. There are times when real life is a dream come true. Karen knew both—but that morning, she couldn’t tell the difference.
“I wanted to weigh less, but not zero. Where did my body go? Is anyone there? Is anyone here? Is anyone anywhere? Where am I? Hello! Hello! Great—no arms—no head—no little toe. On the other hand, nothing itches. Something always itches. Wouldn’t mind having a butt to scratch right now—I want my ass back!”
“You’re not the only one,” said Janie, suddenly sharing the bodiless, black nowhere. “Cindy says it’s all Andre dreams about. You broke his heart, Karen.”
“For the hundredth time, he never proposed. Therefore, I never said ‘no.’”
“You didn’t have to. Computer Cindy said it for you. She read your pod sleep scans and reported every nightmare to Andre—who, I will say, never asked her to.”
“That meddlesome bitch,” said Karen. “Who does she think she is? Where does she get off? I have half a mind to eject her from Explorer Seven. I’m still in command. Perhaps floating in space with a half dozen solar panels will teach her a lesson. When we get back, I’ll send a droid for her.”
“So why did you reject the boy who beat Einstein, who waits on you hand and foot, and whose only desire is to spend the rest of his life playing full-size dollhouse with you?”
“So you say. But I’m not convinced, and he is not the man I fell in love with. Why does life do this? When we left The Bang and headed home, everything was crystal clear. Two weeks later, nothing was. My perfect world disappeared.”
“Nothing is ever perfect,” said Janie. “Looking for the perfect ‘one’ is silliness, like demanding absolute happiness or not one black Monday. But there are many men out there who are almost perfect. Someday, I’ll wish my daughter good luck in finding her ‘close as it gets.’”
“I underestimated you, Janie. Thanks for being my best friend.”
“I thought Sarah was your best friend.”
“She is, when I’m with her. See—I’m not sure about anything
“That’s not true,” said Janie. “You are absolutely certain that you are not certain.”
“Ha, thanks! I needed that. So, what am I to do?”
“Do you love Andre?”
“Oh my God, I don’t know,” said Karen. “Men wrap up life in little bundles, slap on a label, and skip away humming. It’s not like that for me. Sure, I have my days when the air sparkles and life hits top-shelf: my man, our quarters, family plans. And then I look down a long hallway or come across a panorama of a field of grass bowing under the west wind at sunrise, and I just can’t stand still. It’s like there’s someone else inside of me.”
“This hallway you talk about,” said Janie, “is there a man at the end waiting for you?”
“I wish I knew. I run as fast as I can to get there, but I always wake up before I find out. I suppose you could call that a nightmare. Or just life.”
“Karen, we’re all screwed up, and relationships are random. Absolute answers don’t exist. Nothing gets it completely right—not narrative fables, not your dating programs, not Cyber Cindy. First impressions start it off. Holding hands is the next Rorschach. Kissing is the third, followed by a night together. But no one—that’s right, no one, my dear, not a one of us in this universe—knows for sure until the morning after. And if it works, then we know with one hundred percent certainly…that it worked…then. Many years from now, we add up all those ‘thens’ and thank God from the bottom of our hearts, maybe with the first ‘then’ beside us, or, just as luckily, the last.”
“Thanks again, Janie. You know that I’m the PhD who should be advising you.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t. Besides, thanks to time travel, we’re about learn from the best. After playing ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ I plan to govern the ancient world as Cleopatra and make mad love to Mark Antony. Brad decided to dine with Alexander the Great. He wants to help plan the campaign to conquer the world. Andre will be trouble as always. He wants an entire week to discuss existence with Socrates, share spiritualism with Plato, and then redesign civilization with Aristotle. The good news is that Michael just wants to play Tarzan with Sarah.”
“And Sarah?” asked Karen.
“A swan gliding across Crystal Lake.”
“So—monkey Michael loves swan Sarah, you’re in love with Alexander the Great’s right-hand man, Andre is looking forward to a week of goat cheese, and I haven’t the slightest idea what or who to do, even though I did tell Andre to put me down as Mary Magdalene for a night.”
“A walk of pride that will last a lifetime!” said Janie. “That cuddle you will share with me.”
“Meanwhile, did silicon-brain screw up again? Why are we trapped in Nowhereville? What’s going on? I see nothing, taste nothing, feel nothing. I only hear your words in my head. No wait, I don’t have a head! I do have a head somewhere, don’t I?”
“Of course you do. Your body is lying next to mine in the consciousness transfer lab. We’re fine. Just think the words, and Andre can disconnect the remote encephalographic input and return your personal identity to your prefrontal cortex. Then you walk away. The hard part is the remote tapping into the sensory and motor systems of the animal bodies we are about to enter on the planet below. Andre sent me. Stand by. Cyber Cindy is about to begin adding one neurologic input at a time.”
“Oh, there we go, Janie! I am starting to feel a body! I’m something covered in hair, which itches. I’ll never complain about itching again. Ooh…that’s more like it…I feel four legs, or are they arms? That I’m not moving, and someone is rubbing my ass—thank you.”
“That’s the host animal, which will operate its normal motor functions till the last second, when Cindy will drop the critter to deep sleep for us to take over.”
“Wait a minute!” exclaimed Karen. “Cyber Cindy made a mistake! Something is sticking out! Oh, okay—it’s a tail. For a second there I thought I was packing testosterone, heaven forbid.”
“Did someone call for testosterone?” chimed in Brad from the abyss.
“How long have you been here?” asked Karen.
“Just arrived. The others are one their way. As soon as we’re all assembled in the holding zone, we’ll pop to the surface one at a time. Cowabunga! Not seeing is believing. Andre told me seeing black is when you close your eyes but seeing nothing is what’s behind your head. Wow! Being and nothingness. Andre might make me a philosopher after all. It’s amazing how many things I take for granted, except my sweet, sexy lover, Janie. Is she here?”
“You know I am,” whispered Janie. “And keep it coming.”
“What’s the problem, Brad?” Karen said, enjoying feeling her tail wiggle in an undeniably flirtatious fashion. “We instantly jumped into flatworms, iguanas, and octopuses. Andre guaranteed me a smooth ride. Men—they promise you paradise, swear we’re all they live for, and then rush off after breakfast to save mankind, redesign an exhaust pipe, or change a bolt. I swear, sometimes it’s like we aren’t even here.”
“Octopuses!” Janie giggled. “Michael said he could DNA augment a female octopus with a love hole for every arm. An octopussy octopus—eight orgasms at the same time. Can you imagine?”
“I can, and did someone mention my name?” said Michael’s voice as it approached them. “I bear glad tidings. Andre says all is going well. Squeezing us into monkey brains is just taking a little longer than he expected.”
“Michael,” Karen said sharply, “did you know that Cindy has been sneaking behind my back and sharing private information with Andre? He must have copied our deception schemes for Cindy’s hardware.”
“She did ask to be a female. Did you just admit that women scheme?”
“Michael,” Karen answered in a smooth but scary tone, “do you want the truth about our last night in Saint Martin?”
“I know the truth about what it meant to me. Only an imbecile asks for a report card. Besides, certainty is not your strong suit, and without intending it, I will concede that you ladies intertwine truth with sincerity in a way that sends reason flying. Our plans haven’t a chance. We end up turned upside down. And for the record—I surrender.”
“Does Sarah turn you upside down, Michael?” Janie asked.
“Every direction Sarah turns me keeps me smiling.”
“That’s not what I heard,” said Karen, aiming below the belt.
“Hold it,” said Sarah, briskly entering the chamber. “All I said was that my sweet Michael has a favorite position, and I’m the only one who knows what it is. But get ready, everyone. Andre is right behind me. Let’s vote to leave him back on the ship before it’s too late. Every time he opens his mouth, it’s Sunday morning go-to-meeting time. There’s a limit. The guy has got to give it a rest.”
“You get off easy,” monotoned Karen. “For the entire month after he was irradiated, Andre would get out of bed every morning and thank God for yesterday’s orgasm, as if I had nothing to do with it.”
“Is that why you won’t marry him?” Michael asked.
“Stop pestering me, everybody. He never proposed. I didn’t decline. We’re just on a break.”
“Great day everyone,” said Andre. “We’ll be primates any second
“Oh, oh, Andre’s here.” Sarah warned.
“Yes, I am,” he replied, “and we shall share this day with intelligent creatures of want, whose very existence brings forth meaning. The symphony of mankind plays to a higher being. Thanks be to God!”
“Amen. Let’s go,” jumped in Brad.
“We will do love one better,” Andre proclaimed, “as faith in the Lord our God weaves every fiber of our destiny.”
“AMEN, AMEN, AMEN…NEXT!” chimed in the other four from the endless black void of oblivion. “GET US OUT OF HERE!”
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