Sing a Song of Saturn

Runners and Riders

Artificial divorce.

You move into a new apartment and the washing machine is an AI unit. All is fine and dandy until you have a falling out and the lawyers get involved.

Mushtee and Tosh.

Be thrilled by the chase as Inspectors of the New York Park Department foil a dastardly plot to end civilisation as we know it.

The Trouble with Teleportation.

Never, ever trust the Illuminati. Particularly when they want you to go on an interplanetary mining mission.

The Chip Duster’s Tale.

Space exploration is not all it’s cracked-up to be. The uniform is great but the pay is lousy, and the mission tasks are menial.   

Mushtee and Tosh

My name is Mukherjee– Munish Mukherjee. Together with my partner, Ringo Toal, we patrol the mean parks of New York City. We keep grass safe from pooping pooches, trees safe from unsolicited hugging and flowers can sleep secure in their beds at night, thanks to our unceasing vigilance. We are the NYPD—New York Parks Department. Our motto—plant, pollinate and protect. For reasons that I do not understand, my partner, formerly an illegal immigrant from Liverpool, England, until his status was regularised under President (Malia) Obama’s 2038 amnesty act, insists on referring to us as Mushtee and Tosh.

A park has seven million, three hundred thousand, two hundred fifty eight stories and this is one of them.

******

0248 EST, December 7 2041, Central Park, zone D/3-A1

Exactly one hundred years ago, to the minute, events on a day that will live forever in infamy, began to unfold. With my partner, Park Inspector (second class) Ringo—for some reason he refers to himself as Tosh—Toal, I was patrolling Central Park zone D/3-A.1. I mentioned this interesting and possibly significant temporal coincidence to my partner. He responded that in 1941 the time difference between New York City and Pearl Harbour was five hours and thirty minutes, not the five hours that it is today, therefore the dastardly attack had already commenced. Whilst I was factually correct in saying exactly one hundred years ago, I was incorrect in stating that it was to the minute. Park Inspector (second class) Toal can be very precise when he wishes to be, which is not very often. Some might find this an annoying character trait.

Noticing a small, wailing woman pulling a large, recumbent canine on a skate board (the curved ends of the board and the single, centrally-positioned wheel led me to believe it was a Kungfoomanchu Special, manufactured by the Marcantonioni Brothers in their workshop on Canal Street, Chinatown) I eased our PS48V pursuit cart to a halt. Near silent and occasionally speedy, this fine American electric vehicle—designed and pre-assembled in the United Democratic Republic of The Formerly Two Koreas– is admirably suited to both stealthy patrolling and high-speed pursuit. Park Inspector (second class) Toal maintains that it should be designated POS48V. Doubtless this is a quirk of the grammatical construction commonly used in his native Liverpool, England, where he grew up before coming to the United States of America and illegally overstaying his tourist visa.

Surveying the scene, I counselled caution, opining that this could be some sort of ploy to tempt us to exit the vehicle whereupon we might be subjected to an unprovoked assault and the vehicle hijacked.  The similarities between this situation and the unprovoked assault on Pearl Harbour were immediately obvious to me. We should treat the small wailing woman—and the situation– as suspicious. Park Inspector (second class) Toal opined that there was obviously something suspicious about the situation as it was unusual to see a small wailing woman pulling a large, recumbent canine on a skateboard at 0248 in the morning. Furthermore, the small wailing woman was not obviously of Japanese ethnic origin so he saw no similarities between the two situations.  I was talking bollocks and I was a berk. I am not familiar with either of these expressions but believe them to originate from Park Inspector (second class) Toal’s city of birth, Liverpool, England. Although I firmly believe in the right of those of immigrant stock to nurture and maintain their ethnicity—as enshrined both in Federal Law and City Ordinance NY/IM/ER-2034/15-V2—I find myself frequently linguistically mystified by my assigned partner.

Exiting the vehicle with due caution, I motioned my partner to remain on the side of the vehicle furthest away from the wailing woman so he could provide supporting sedation should the necessity arise. Approaching the suspect, I halted the regulation four paces away and produced my NYPD identification.

Good morning, ma’am. Are you are aware that under Park Ordinance NR/NYC-P/5213 it is an offence to wail excessively loudly between the hours of eleven-thirty at night and a quarter of six in the morning in any city parks designated in the aforementioned ordinance?

The volume of wailing increased.

I’m sorry ma’am but if you do not immediately desist I will have no option but to forcibly sedate you in the manner specified under Park ordinance NYC-P/SD/TSR. You have the right to scream and writhe in agony but any prolonged screaming may be added to the time you have already spent in wailing at an excessive volume and might significantly increase the fine you may be liable for if subsequently found guilty of this misdemeanour. Failure to disclose any medical condition that may result in your death before I or my duly appointed deputy forcibly sedate you may render you or your designated next of kin liable to prosecution under City Ordinance TSR/MED/DISC-055.

Usually this warning causes the suspect to reduce the volume of any wailing or other noise polluting activity, but in this instance had no apparent effect. At this point I directed my duly appointed deputy—Park Inspector (second class) Toal—to sedate the suspect. He refused, repeating that I was a berk and without authorisation from his duly appointed superior, approached the suspect.

What seems to be the trouble, Luv?

He put his arm around the suspect– an action deemed inappropriate by the NYPD, the Gender Equality Commission and the Presidential Committee with special responsibility to monitor the activity of the GEC–thus rendering himself open to a charge of making an unsolicited sexual advance. Even if this action appeared to have the desired effect I cannot condone it and will have to make a report.

It’s my dog. I think somebody has shot him.

Examination of the recumbent canine—subsequently identified as a Saint Bernard—supported the small, now not wailing woman’s supposition that the canine had been shot. The bullet (calibre unknown at this juncture) had struck the canine in the chest, puncturing a barrel worn around it’s neck. The contents of the barrel had leaked away, but from the odour I concluded that the barrel had contained bourbon.

I thought that Saint Bernards carried brandy in their barrels ma’am?

Traditionally they do but William preferred bourbon.

William?

The dog. His name is William.

Was William, ma’am. Are you aware that it is an offence to consume alcohol in a city park after twenty three forty five hours? I should also point out that this barrel appears to contain more than the legally permitted daily amount of alcohol, as determined by the Surgeon General and detailed in federal regulation NO/ BZE/ -4U.

It wasn’t for me, it was for William.

Whilst I am not aware of any legislative limit on the amount of alcohol permitted to large canines, ma’am, I’m afraid that I am going to have to ask you to substantiate that claim.

He has a medical condition.

He certainly does. I believe the medical profession refer to it as death. Park Inspector (second class) Toal interjected. This was unnecessarily unsympathetic and I will have to recommend that my partner is sent on a recurrent, grief awareness course.

On behalf of the New York Parks Department, I apologise for that remark, ma’am. As witnessed by Park Inspector (second class) Toal of the aforementioned NYPD, I am now issuing you a leaflet which details the correct complaints procedure, should you wish to pursue the matter further.

Look, officer, I was taking William for his evening tow around the park. He is a registered alcoholic and the barrel contained an authorised emergency supply of alcohol. We were passing the childrens’ play area when I heard a shot. I thought nothing of it until a few minutes later when I stopped to see if William wanted to do his business. Before you say anything officer, it was in the approved pooping area and I have Park Authority approved poop bags. That’s when I discovered that he had been shot.

I’m a Park Inspector, ma’am, not an officer. I believe I understand the situation. You and the deceased canine will have to be taken in for questioning. Due to the current medical condition of the canine he will have to be transported in a hermetically-sealed container. You may accompany him but you will have to undergo a decontamination procedure if you do so. I also have to advise you that breathing in a hermetically-sealed container has been determined by the Surgeon General to be difficult and should you suffer any ill effects the NYPD will not be liable for any claims for compensation from either yourself or any designated next of kin.

The formerly small, wailing woman and the deceased canine were duly transported from the scene. To clarify, the woman was still small but had formerly been wailing. I placed the skateboard in the cargo container of the PS48V, thought-in a request for the drone CCTV recording of the relevant area via my implanted communications chip, then Park Inspector (second class) Toal and I continued our patrol.

*****************

Artificial Divorce

So how was your day, Hon?”

Hon–known to the rest of the world as Franny Bacall—assistant vice-associate at the hot-shot law firm of Hunter, Runoveskya and Softman—kicked-off her shoes, took the proffered dry martini and sighed.

“That good, huh?” I said.

“Kinda. Hey, you remember that weird divorce petition I told you about…”

******

The internal phone buzzed.

“Are you free to see a client, Franny my dear?”

“Gee, I’m pretty tied-up here, Mister Runoveskya.”

“Nonsense, my dear. I happen to know that you’ve already rehearsed your afternoon presentation many times and I have the utmost confidence that the Partners will approve your recommendations. I know that you don’t usually handle divorce cases, but I think you’ll find this one interesting. Besides, your knowledge of corporate law as it pertains to shared server and computational rights might prove decisive in settling this case in our client’s favour.”

“Gee Mister Runoveskya, I don’t know. I know virtually nothing of divorce law and…”

“You’ve handled a number of partnership dissolution cases.”

“With respect, I hardly think that’s the same thing.”

“With respect Franny, I think you’ll find that it’s very similar. The para-legal can keep you on the straight and narrow regarding divorce laws—if they come into it at all. Have fun and let me know your initial thoughts after your presentation this afternoon.”

The intercom squawked and Sigmund, the para-legal, asked if she were free to see a client.

“Er yeah. Sure thing Ziggy. Wheel him in.”

There was a soft knock on the door and Sigmund ushered-in a worried-looking man. He appeared to be in his late fifties or maybe early sixties. He exhibited a sort of hang-dog, rumpled look and Franny found herself feeling sorry for him.

That shirt could do with ironing and the socks don’t match. Maybe the first time he’s had to fend for himself since Mom stopped looking after him. I wonder how he’ll cope on his own.’

“Miz Bacall, this is Mister Potemkin.”

Franny rose, smiling and holding out her hand. Potemkin grabbed it with the panicky determination of a passenger on the Titanic reaching for a life preserver.

“Please take a seat, Mister Potemkin. Would you like some tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please.”

“Sigmund, would you? I’ll have my usual, please.”

“Of course, Miz Bacall. Milk and sugar, Mister Potemkin?”

“Black, please. Not too strong, if it’s no trouble.”

“No trouble, Sir.”

Ziggy left, discreetly shutting the office door as he went.

“So, perhaps if I could just take some brief personal details, Mister Potemkin, and then you can tell me how I might help.”

“Barchester Sebastian Potemkin—Mom majored in English literature and was a fan of Trollope–people generally call me Seb.”

“Well, if you’re happy with first names, Seb, I’m Franny.”

“Sure, yeah that would be fine. I–I don’t really know where to start, Franny.”

“The beginning is usually a good place, Seb.”

Ziggy brought in the black tea and Franny’s usual. Seb sipped, then spoke.

******

The apartment was on the four-thousandth and second floor—well above the pollution level—and afforded a fine view of the other moonscrapers to the South East, rising gracefully up from Manhattan Island. There was even a glint of something off in the distance that might well have been the Sun glinting off the Atlantic Ocean. The virtual realtor informed him that it was indeed the Atlantic and should the pollution ever clear—totally beyond the control of the virtual realtor, any associated units (paired or otherwise) or associated corporate entities and so definitely not guaranteed to ever actually happen (as detailed in sub-clause ninety four, paragraph fourteen of the consumer-friendly leasing agreement) —Seb would be able to see ships entering the harbour. The building wasn’t quite on the direct flightpath of the airships going into the Barack Obama Airship Terminus and anyway, they didn’t make much noise. Safety was not an issue, that was to say an airship had not yet impacted with this particular building and there was no reason to believe that one ever would. Naturally, if one ever did, the building insurance provider would deem it an act of God and there would be no pay-out to Seb’s next of kin, should he have any. Did he have any next of kin, the virtual realtor solicitously asked. Oh that’s a shame, but it would avoid any complicated claims should the unlikely ever transpire.

The apartment came with all appliances and they were already integrated. It would be a simple matter to pair the master-appliance with any additional wearable or implanted communication devices—the master appliance would be happy to guide him through the procedure. For a small, one-off fee, the virtual realtor could arrange for Seb’s personal effects and furniture to be delivered. Just hold the tablet at eye level so a retinal scan could verify the transaction and he would be all good to go. Would the following morning suit?

Seb was a little undecided. It was a swell apartment, close to his workplace and outlets in the shopping mall on the lower levels promised almost instant delivery direct to any apartment in the complex, thanks to the wormholeTM delivery system which connected each apartment to a central distribution/delivery point. He glanced down at the tablet, which promptly politely thanked him and said that payment had been authorised, including a two month deposit, and his goods and chattels would be delivered sometime next week—actual day and time to be advised.

No wait, he hadn’t made up his mind yet.

Oh? But he had completed the retinal scan which most people—in particular lawyers– considered as having agreed to the transaction. Well, there was a procedure for arbitration in the event of a disputed transaction. The funds would be held in an escrow account until such time as the case came up for review. Under Federal Law this must occur within six weeks of an advisement of dispute being lodged with the appropriate district court and generally it took no more than a year—or so. In the meantime, would he like the virtual realtor to arrange for temporary accommodation?

No, he would return to his old apartment.

So sorry, but that had been rented-out when he authorised the new lease.

But he hadn’t authorised it.

That’s in dispute, buddy.

OK then, he’d pay the rent and stay in this apartment until it got sorted out.

What part of ‘the transaction is in dispute’ did he not understand? Would he like the virtual realtor to arrange for storage of his possessions as well as alternative accommodation?

When were they being moved out of his apartment?

His old apartment, the virtual realtor corrected. As they spoke, as it happens. It really is a nice view. Was he sure that he wanted to waste everybody’s time and dispute the transaction?

If, only if—mind—he agreed that he had in fact agreed to the new lease, when would his possessions arrive.

There was an express delivery option. It was the most economical solution, when you compared it.

Compared it with what?

With the cost of storing his possessions until such time as they could be delivered. Unfortunately, the delivery slots for the coming week had now been fully allocated. See what happens when you are indecisive and screw around?

He’d go for the express delivery.

Excellent choice but he’d have to authorise the new transaction with a further retinal scan. It was the equivalent of another month’s rent but it really was worth it.

Transaction authorised, Seb was informed that the express delivery had been scheduled and would be arriving in fifteen minutes. Have a nice day and please deposit the virtual realtor in the WormholeTM chute. The master appliance would guide him through the pairing procedure.

*********

The Trouble with Teleportation.

One

December.

I remember reading the autobiography of a World War Two Luftwaffe pilot many years ago. The author began the book by saying that he counted his life in summers, rather than in years. Being young, impressionable and slightly pretentious I decided to do likewise, hoping to appear more interesting, more intense. It merely caused confusion as my birthday was, and remains, in November.

During the last but one summer of my past life, the various symptoms that I had noticed but ignored, worsened. Never a graceful mover, the occasional stumble, fumble and moment of forgetfulness didn’t initially worry me much. Then I began to experience brief periods of what I can best describe as verbal blockages. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get the words out. That did worry me. I might not be a graceful mover but I always thought of myself as an accomplished talker. Hell, sometimes I even managed to walk and talk at the same time—I never did like chewing gum but feel confident I could have managed to masticate at the same time as well. I consulted my doctor. The first visit consisted of her taking my blood pressure—normal—and asking lifestyle questions. No I didn’t smoke, never had, as it happened. Yes I drank alcohol and no not to excess. There, perhaps predictably, we disagreed. There was some discussion on the subject of what was and wasn’t a sensible amount to drink per day. Not noticing the discreet crucifix necklace, I expressed the opinion that the government recommended daily maximum alcohol intake had been conjured out of thin air by a tee-total, dog-poop picker-upping, God-fearing killjoy whose idea of a fun night out was quite probably attending evensong followed by camomile tea with the bible discussion group. With a snort of derision my reflexes were brusquely checked, a light shone in my eyes and I was sent on my way with the strict admonition to cut down on my drinking, take a little more exercise and avoid red meat if at all possible. Thus ended the first visit to my doctor, doubtless an admirable woman but somewhat lacking in humour. Or possibly we didn’t share the same sense of humour. Amounts to the same thing, no?

The first time I experienced double vision, I hurriedly took myself off to the nearest cut-price high-street optician. The double vision cleared on the pavement and I no longer had a choice of establishments. I entered. Nothing wrong with my eyes, the teenage optometrist told me. I should see my doctor. I went to a more up-market optician. Their optometrist, although longer-passed puberty, likewise found nothing wrong and said the same thing but more emphatically—and more expensively. I rang the surgery.

Two days later I had a slightly more sympathetic meeting with my doctor. In the end she opined that an MRI scan might be in order. Perhaps I’d had a minor stroke or—well let’s not speculate. The scan would show if anything was wrong. A blood test was taken and I was assured that I would soon get a date for the scan. I stood up—and came-to on a gurney, being wheeled towards a waiting ambulance. Touchingly, I thought, the doctor accompanied me part of the way.

“One way of getting to the head of the queue.” She said.

So much for sympathy. Perhaps the woman did have a sense of humour after all.

****

After almost eighteen months of MRI scans, multiple blood tests which must have removed more than the total volume of blood in my body, several fun-filled spinal fluid extractions and something which rejoiced in the name of a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, I found myself sitting across the desk from Sir Kenton McAllister. Sir Kenton being the head honcho—pun intended—at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, in Queen Square, London. He lent forward, elbow resting on the desk, hand cupped around his mouth, and looked worried. Personally I wasn’t worried. I’d passed the worrying stage a few months ago and had decided that I had something terminal. Life of course is a terminal condition, but I was convinced that the end was nigh. Nobody had mentioned Motor Neurone Disease but I knew that most other things had been eliminated by one means or another and that MND was notoriously difficult to diagnose. I had, in a particularly dark moment, contacted Dignitas, the organisation in Zürich that helps the terminally ill top themselves with typically Swiss clinical efficiency. They assured me that, provided I had the necessary test results confirming I was a terminal case, a letter from a psychiatrist confirming I was of sound mind and had paid—funds cleared—prior to my visit, they would be delighted to help me into the great unknown. I would also need to sign a form absolving them from any possible legal comeback, from any source, in this world. I wondered but didn’t ask if there was an anti-haunting clause as well, in case whatever came next was a disappointment. Harry Lime memorably said that the Swiss were famous for cuckoo clocks and chocolate. I was always surprised that he never mentioned banking and today he might add efficient assisted suicide to the list of that somewhat dour nation’s achievements.

Sir Kenton’s expression was that of a bloodhound which had lost the scent and knew that a chocolate biscuit was now out of the question. I tried to lighten the mood. Gallows humour works–most times–with health care professionals.

Er, what’s up, Doc?

This was one of the times when it did not. His expression became more sombre.

Just trying to help you over what appears to be a difficult moment, Doc. Why don’t we cut to the chase—how long?

He leant back in his chair.

How long until what, Mister Clark?

The second coming, the dawning of an age of peace and tranquillity or before I have to book a flight to Zürich. Take your pick, Doc. I don’t want to leave the party any earlier than I have to but on the other hand the sooner I book the ticket, the cheaper it is. Simple questions on life, death and the cost of airline tickets.

You’ve made your own diagnosis then, I take it?

Let’s just say I’m working on the assumption that whatever you tell me is not going to be good news. Level with me Doc, will I need to submit an income tax return next year? Wasn’t it Bugs Bunny who said there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes?

He almost smiled.

Benjamin Franklin–Bugs Bunny said what’s up Doc. Drink?

Do I, or would I like one?

You might need one, he said.

Better have one then, I said.

He produced a decanter and two cut glass tumblers. Evidently he didn’t work exclusively for the National Health Service. He poured. We drank.

The thing is, Mister Clark, whilst I can tell you exactly what you are not suffering from, I am not able to be precise as to what it is you are suffering from.

I gravely regarded my empty glass then held it out towards him.

Glad the insurance company pays regardless of an imprecise diagnosis. I said.

He poured. I drank. He watched.

So. I said.

We’ve detected slightly elevated levels of Creatine Kinase in your blood. So far there’s no indication of any muscle deterioration, however the TMS procedure indicated functional reduction in the upper motor neurones. Would you like me to explain what I’ve just said?

I’ve read the literature.

Fine, but do interrupt and ask questions if you don’t follow what I’m going to tell you. To use your expression and cut to the chase, if you were suffering from Motor Neurone Disease then given the reduction in the functionality of your upper motor neurones I would expect to see other symptoms.

And you don’t?

No. I’m sure you have read that symptoms of MND vary from patient to patient, however as the disease progresses we tend to see the presence of most of the more usual symptoms. In your case, it would appear that only your brain itself is deteriorating. I can rule out cancer or a stroke. I’m left with MND, but not as I’ve seen it before.

MND but not as we know it, Jim. Will it prove fatal and how long do I have?

I fear that it will prove terminal and I have no idea. I’m somewhat alarmed that the symptoms you are exhibiting—loss of memory, speech difficulties and problems with balance—are getting progressively worse whilst no other symptoms are presenting themselves.

So I could go tomorrow?

I rather think not Mister Clark. I have to say I’m only basing that on the current rate of apparent deterioration.

Treatment?

Currently palliative only, as I am certain you will have read.

Stem cell treatment?

There are some experimental treatments taking place in this country however they are aimed at restoring the functionality of both the upper and lower motor neurones. Your lower motor neurones would seem to be in fine fettle and whilst there is reduced functionality in your upper motor neurones, I cannot be certain that this is the cause of your problems. It might be a reaction to something else we have not identified.

So where do we go from here?

All we can do for the present is to continue to monitor you.

But there is no cure for MND.

As you say, there is no cure at the present time. For the moment I cannot say for certain that you are suffering from MND. It appears to me as if your brain is progressively shutting down. At the moment, whatever it is, is having some effect on your autonomic nervous system. That is why I say I fear it may prove terminal.

Right. So you don’t know what I’ve got and you can’t recommend any treatment but it probably will kill me in the end. Is that a fair summing up?

I might have put it slightly differently. To be perfectly frank, I am not even certain where to start in treating your symptoms, let alone tackling the root cause of them. We can make you comfortable and pain-free.

So can Dignitas and they’re cheaper.

That is a decision for you to make. Right now, I could not in all conscience give you a letter diagnosing a terminal condition, something I believe they require. Perhaps at some point in the future I might be able to do so but for the moment I just have a gut feeling. I would counsel patience. Difficult I know but whilst the symptoms are apparently only inconvenient…

And becoming increasingly so.

I take your point Mister Clark and I do sympathise but my advice would be not to take any action which is irreversible.

So, what then? I return here every week or every month for tests?

I would suggest weekly. I want to spot any further deterioration or the appearance of additional symptoms as soon as they appear. As I said, at this precise moment I cannot say what it is you are suffering from.

Look, I already think I’m a goner.  I’ve accepted that but I’m curious as to what you really think I’ve got.

He glanced at his watch then picked up the decanter. Having replenished his tumbler he put the decanter on the desk and indicated I should help myself. I did.

We blessedly see comparatively few cases of MND, Mister Clark. Yours appears to be unique but for all that….well in the absence of any clear indications, my best guess is MND. I am frankly surprised that you continue to physically function more or less normally. I really would have expected to see more muscle deterioration, considering the reduced functionality of your upper motor neurones. All I can suggest is that you continue with your life as best you are able whilst we monitor you on a weekly basis. Given what I think the end is likely to be, I advise you to enjoy life while you can. I see no point in hospitalising you at this time because I have no idea of any treatment. Perhaps it will become obvious as the disease progresses.

I don’t want to end up as a vegetable. If it gets to the stage when I can’t wipe my own arse then I’d rather not be here—unless I can be eventually cured.

I perfectly understand your position, Mister Clark. Please do not make it any clearer or ask me to give you any undertaking as to what course of action I might or might not pursue in the event of your condition deteriorating further.

I’m aware of the legal position, Sir Kenton, and I wouldn’t put you in a difficult position. All I ask is if—when—in your opinion the end is nigh, give me sufficient warning to buy that ticket.

***********

The Chip Dusters tale

It was a pleasant evening and I was feeling mellow. I took ‘Benny the Beemer’, my near-vintage BMW first generation electric car, for a spin. Benny put me in a nostalgic mood and I headed for the old Waterloo train station. Ah, the old days of rail travel, rickety-racketing along the rails, the hybrid diesel-electric locomotive pulling you along mile after tedious mile, staring out of an always grubby window and studiously ignoring other passengers in the carriage. These days it’s all travel by tube—get into a fully life-supporting container, strap in and be blasted at impossibly high speeds along a vacuum tube. No windows to look out of and passengers only too willing to talk to each other—anything to make them forget that they were travelling in a life-endangering vacuum at speeds which, should anything go wrong, would turn them into jam.

Purring through the old, derelict station, I spotted an old derelict walking unsteadily along one of the platforms. He seemed happy, waving a bottle and singing lustily. On an impulse I turned onto the platform, and drove up close behind him. Interesting song and an interesting voice—not interesting in the same way, if you take my meaning. I lowered the window and listened for a moment; he remained oblivious to my presence.

I’ve bin everywhere, man, I’ve bin everywhere

Never paid no fare, man, never paid no fare,

but I’ve bin everywhere, man.

I’ve bin to Aegir, Alborix, Ariel and Arche,

Bestla, Bianca, Bergelmir and Bebhionn.

Oh yeah, I’ve bin everywhere, man, I’ve bin everywhere.

I coasted up alongside him but he remained unaware of me, wrapped up in his song.

Evening my friend, how you doing?

Me? Doin’ fine, man, just fine. And yourself—now how would you be doin’ this fine evenin’?

Pretty good. Out for a drive in my old jalopy here.

Don’t see too many of those around these days, man.

Not too many left, my friend. Can I offer you a ride anywhere?

He regarded me with obvious suspicion.

I’m just driving around, reflecting on life and that song sounds kinda like it’s reflecting on life, as well. I said.

Every life has a story and this song tells the story of a life—mine as it happens. Would you be passing any purveyors of King Victoria Korean Highland single malt blended whisky, by any chance?

Could be. I said.

Well now, that would be fine. Suppose I sing you a song and tell you a story, and you buy a bottle. This one appears to be unaccountably empty. He drained the bottle and tossed it aside.