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Fountain of Age
by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is currently working on an SF novel set off-Earth, with aliens and spaceships. She tells us, though, that the following story “is a closer-to-home attempt to get in touch with my inner criminal.”



I had her in a ring. In those days, you carried around pieces of a person. Not like today.

A strand of hair, a drop of blood, a lipsticked kiss on paper—those things were real. You could put them in a locket or pocket case or ring, you could carry them around, you could fondle them. None of this hologram stuff. Who can treasure laser shadows? Or the nanotech “re-creations”—even worse. Fah. Did the Master of the Universe “re-create” the world after it got banged up a little? Never. He made do with the original, like a sensible person.

So I had her in a ring. And I had the ring for forty-two years before it was eaten by the modern world. Literally eaten, so tell me where is the justice in that?

And oh, she was so beautiful! Not genemod misshapen like these modern girls, with their waists so skinny and their behinds huge and those repulsive breasts. No, she was natural, a real woman, a goddess. Black hair wild as stormy water, olive skin, green eyes. I remember the exact shade of green. Not grass, not emerald, not moss. Her own shade. I remember. I—


—met her while I was on shore leave on Cyprus. The Mid-East war had just ended, one of the wars, who can keep them all straight? I met Daria in a taverna and we had a week together. Nobody will ever know what glory that week was. She was a nice girl, too, even if she was a . . . People do what they must to survive. Nobody knows that better than me. Daria—


—gave me a lock of hair and a kiss pressed on paper. Back then I kept them in a cheap plastolux bubble, all I could afford, but later I had the hair and tiny folded paper set into a ring. Much later, when I had money and Miriam had died and—


And that’s how it started up again. With my son, my grandchildren. Life just never knows when enough is enough.


“Dad, the kids spoke to you. Twice.”

“So this creates an obligation for me to answer?”

My son Geoffrey sighs. The boys—six and eight, what business does a fifty-five-year-old man have with such young kids, but Gloria is his second wife—have vanished into the hall. They come, they go. We sit on a Sunday afternoon in my room—a nice room, it should be for what I pay—in the Silver Star Retirement Home. Every Sunday Geoff comes, we sit, we stare at each other. Sometimes Gloria comes, sometimes the boys, sometimes not. The whole thing is a strain.

Then the kids burst back through the doorway, and this time something follows them in.

“Reuven, what the shit is that?”

Geoffrey says, irritated, “Don’t curse in front of the children, and—”

“ ‘Shit’ is cursing? Since when?’ ”

“—and it’s ‘Bobby,’ not ‘Reuven.’”

“It’s ‘zaydeh,’ not ‘Grampops,’ and I could show you what cursing is. Get that thing away from me!”

“Isn’t it astronomical?” Reuven says. “I just got it!”

The thing is trying to climb onto my lap. It’s not like their last pet, the pink cat that could jump to the ceiling. Kangaroo genes in it, such foolishness. This one isn’t even real, it’s a ’bot of some kind, like those retro metal dogs the Japanese were so fascinated with seventy years ago. Only this one just sort of suggests a dog, with sleek silver lines that sometimes seem to disappear.

“It’s got stealth coating!” Eric shouts. “You can’t see it!”

I can see it, but only in flashes when the light hits the right way. The thing leaps onto my lap and I flap my arms at it and try to push it off, except that by then it’s not there. Maybe.

Reuven yells, like this is an explanation, “It’s got microprocessors!”

Geoff says in his stiff way, “The ’bot takes digital images of whatever is behind it and continuously transmits them in holo to the front, so that at any distance greater than—”

This is what you spend my money on?”

He says stiffly, “My money now. Some of it, anyway.”

“Not because you earned it, boychik.”

Geoffrey’s thin lips go thinner. He hates it when I remind him who made the money. I hate it when he forgets.

“Dad, why do you have to talk like that? All that affected folksy stuff—you never talked it when I was growing up, and it’s hardly your actual background, is it? So why?”

For Geoffrey, this is a daring attack. I could tell him the reason, but he wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t understand. Not how this “folksy” speech started, or why, or what use it was to me. Not even how a habit can settle in after it’s no use, and you cling to it because otherwise you might lose who you were, even if who you were wasn’t so great. How could Geoff understand a thing like that? He’s only fifty-five.

Suddenly Eric shouts, “Rex is gone!” Both boys barrel out the door of my room. I see Mrs. Petrillo inching down the hall beside her robo-walker. She shrieks as they run past her, but at least they don’t knock her over.

“Go after them, Geoff, before somebody gets hurt!”

“They won’t hurt anybody, and neither will Rex.”

“And you know this how? A building full of old people, tottering around like cranes on extra stilts, and you think—”

“Calm down, Dad, Rex has built-in object avoidance and—”

“You’re telling me about software? Me, boychik?”

Now he’s really mad. I know because he goes quiet and stiff. Stiffer, if that’s possible. The man is a carbon-fiber rod.

“It’s not like you actually developed any software, Dad. You only stole it. It was I who took the company legitimate and furthermore—”

But that’s when I notice that my ring is gone.


Daria was Persian, not Greek or Turkish or Arab. If you think that made it any easier for me to look for her, you’re crazy. I went back after my last tour of duty ended and I searched, how I searched. Nobody in Cyprus knew her, had ever seen her, would admit she existed. No records: “destroyed in the war.”

Our last morning we’d gone down to a rocky little beach. We’d left Nicosia the day after we met to go to this tiny coastal town that the war hadn’t ruined too much. On the beach we made love with the smooth pebbles pocking our tushes, first hers and then mine. Daria cut a lock of her wild hair and pressed a kiss onto paper. Little pink wildflowers grew in the scrub grass. We both cried. I swore I’d come back.

And I did, but I couldn’t find her. One more prostitute on Cyprus—who tracked such people? Eventually I had to give up. I went back to Brooklyn, put the hair and kiss—such red lipstick, today they all wear gold, they look like flaking lamps—in the plastolux. Later, I hid the bubble with my Army uniform, where Miriam couldn’t find it. Poor Miriam—by her own lights, she was a good wife, a good mother. It’s not her fault she wasn’t Daria. Nobody was Daria.

Until now, of course, when hundreds of people are, or at least partly her. Hundreds? Probably thousands. Anybody who can afford it.


“My ring! My ring is gone!”

“Your ring?”

“My ring!” Surely even Geoffrey has noticed that I’ve worn a ring day and night for the last forty-two years?

He noticed. “It must have fallen off when you were flapping your arms at Rex.”

This makes sense. I’m skinnier now, arms like coat hangers, and the ring is—was—loose. I feel around on my chair: nothing. Slowly I lower myself to the floor to search.

“Careful, Dad!” Geoffrey says and there’s something bad in his voice. I peer up at him, and I know. I just know.

“It’s that . . . that dybbuk! That ’bot!”

He says, “It vacuums up small objects. But don’t worry, it keeps them in an internal depository. . . . Dad, what is that ring? Why is it so important?”

Now his voice is suspicious. Forty-two years it takes for him to become suspicious, a good show of why he could never have succeeded in my business. But I knew that when he was seven. And why should I care now? I’m a very old man, I can do what I want.

I say, “Help me up . . . no, not like that, you want me to tear something? The ring is mine, is all. I want it back. Now, Geoffrey.”

He sets me in my chair and leaves, shaking his head. It’s a long time before he comes back. I watch Tony DiParia pass by in his powerchair. I wave at Jennifer Tamlin, who is waiting for a visit from her kids. They spare her twenty minutes every other month. I study Nurse Kate’s ass, which is round and firm as a good pumpkin. When Geoffrey comes back with Eric and Reuven, I take one look at his face and I know.

“The boys found the incinerator chute,” Geoffrey says, guilty and already resenting me for it, “and they thought it would be fun to empty Rex’s depository in it . . . Eric! Bobby! Tell Grampops you’re sorry!”

They both mumble something. Me, I’m devastated—and then I’m not.

“It’s all right,” I say to the boys, waving my hand like I’m Queen Monica of England. “Don’t worry about it!”

They look confused. Geoffrey looks suddenly wary. Me, I feel like my heart might split down the seam. Because I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to get another lock of hair and another kiss from Daria. Because now, of course, I know where she is. The entire world knows where she is.

“Down, Rex!” Eric shouts, but I don’t see the stupid ’bot. I’m not looking. I see just the past, and the future, and all at once and for the first time in decades, they even look like there’s a tie, a bright cord, between them.


The Silver Star Retirement Home is for people who have given up. You want to go on actually living, you go to a renewal center. Or to Sequene. But if you’ve outlived everything and everybody that matters to you and you’re ready to check out, or you don’t have the money for a renewal center, you go to Silver Star and wait to die.

I’m there because I figured it’s time for me to go, enough is enough already, only Geoffrey left for me and I never liked him all that much. But I have lots of money. Tons of money. So much money that the second I put one foot out the door of the Home, the day after Geoffrey’s visit, the feds are on me like cold on space. Just like the old days, almost it makes me nostalgic.

“Max Feder,” one says, and it isn’t a question. He’s built with serious augments, I haven’t forgotten how to tell. Like he needs them against an old man like me. “I’m Agent Joseph Alcozer and this is Agent Shawna Blair.” She would have been a beauty if she didn’t have that deformed genemod figure, like a wasp, and the wasp’s sting in her eyes.

I breathe in the artificially sweet reconstituted air of a Brooklyn Dome summer. Genemod flowers bloom sedately in manicured beds. Well-behaved flowers, they remind me of Geoffrey. From my powerchair I say, “What can I do for you, Agent Alcozer?” while Nurse Kate, who’s not the deepest carrot in the garden, looks baffled, glancing back and forth from me to the fed.

“You can explain to us the recent large deposits of money from the Feder Group into your personal account.”

“And I should do this why?”

“Just to satisfy my curiosity,” Alcozer says, and it’s pretty much the truth. They have the right to monitor all my finances in perpetuity as a result of that unfortunate little misstep back in my forties. Six-to-ten, of which I served not quite five in Themis Federal Justice Center. Also as a result of the Economic Security Act, which kicked in even earlier, right after the Change-Over. And I have the right to tell them to go to hell.

Almost I get a taste of the old thrill, the hunt-and-evade, but not really. I’m too old, and I have something else on my mind. Besides, Alcozer doesn’t really expect answers. He just wants me to know they’re looking in my direction.

“Talk to my lawyer. I’m sure you know where to find him,” I say and power on down to the waiting car.

It takes me to the Brooklyn Renewal Center, right out at the edge of the Brooklyn Dome, and I check into a suite. For the next month doctors will gene-jolt a few of my organs, jazz up some hormones, step up the firing of selected synapses. It won’t be a super-effective job, nor last too long, I know that. I’m an old man and there’s only so much they can do. But it’ll be enough.

Scrupulous as a rabbi, the doctor asks if I don’t want a D-treatment instead. I tell her no, I don’t. Yes, I’m sure. She smiles, relieved. For D-treatment I’d go to Sequene, not here, and the renewal center would lose its very expensive fees.

Then the doctor, who looks thirty-five and might even be that, tells me I’ll be out cold for the whole month, I won’t even dream. She’s wrong. I dream about Daria, and while I do I’m young again and her red mouth is warm against mine in a sleazy taverna. The stinking streets of Nicosia smell of flowers and spices and whatever that spring smell is that makes you ache from wanting things you can’t have. Then we’re on the rocky little beach, our last morning together, and I want to never wake up.

But I do wake, and Geoffrey is sitting beside my bed.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“Having renewal. What are you doing?”

“Why did you transfer three hundred fifty million from the Feder Group on the very day of our merger with Shanghai Winds Corporation? Don’t you know how that made us look?”

“No,” I say, even though I do know. I just don’t care. Carefully I raise my right arm above my head, and it goes up so fast and so easy that I laugh out loud. There’s no pressure on my bladder. I can feel the blood race in my veins.

“It made us look undercapitalized and shifty, and Shanghai Winds have postponed the entire—Why did you transfer the money? And why now? You ruined the whole merger!”

“You’ll get lots of mergers, boychik. Now leave me alone.” I sit up and swing my legs, a little too fast, over the side of the bed. I wait for my head to clear. “There’s something I need to do.”

“Dad. . . .” He says, and now I see real fear in his eyes, and so I relent.

“It’s all right, Geoffrey. Strictly legit. I’m not going back to my old ways.”

“Then why do I have on my system six calls from three different federal agencies?”

“They like to stay in practice,” I say, and lie down again. Maybe that’ll make him go away.

Dad . . .”

I close my eyes. Briefly I consider snoring, but that might be too much. You can overdo these things. Geoff waits five more minutes, then goes away.

Children. They tie you to the present, when sometimes all you want is the past.


After the war, after I failed to find Daria in Cyprus, I went home. For a while I just drifted. It was the Change-Over, and half the country was drifting: unemployed, rioting, getting used to living on the dole instead of working. We weren’t needed. The Domes were going up, the robots suddenly everywhere and doing more and more work, only so many knowledge workers needed, blah blah blah. I did a little of this, a little of that, finally met and married Miriam, who made me pick one of the thats. So I found work monitoring security systems, because back then I had such a clean record. The Master of the Universe must love a good joke.

We lived in a rat-hole way outside the Brooklyn Dome, next door to her mother. From the beginning, Miriam and I fought a lot. She was desperate for a child, but she didn’t like sex. She didn’t like my friends. I didn’t like her mother. She didn’t like my snoring. A small and stifling life, and it just got worse and worse. I could feel something growing in me, something dangerous, until it seemed I might burst apart with it and splatter my anguished guts all over our lousy apartment. At night, I walked. I walked through increasingly dangerous neighborhoods, and sometimes I stood on the docks at three in the morning—how insane is that?—and just stared out to sea until some robo-guard ejected me.

Then, although I’d failed to find Daria, history found her instead.

A Tuesday morning, August 24—you think I could forget the date? Not a chance. Gray clouds, 92 degrees, 60 percent chance of rain, air quality poor. On my way to work I passed a media kiosk in our crummy neighborhood and there, on the outside screen for twenty seconds, was her face.

I don’t remember going into the kiosk or sliding in my credit chip. I do remember, for some reason, the poison-green lettering on the choices, each listed in six languages: PORN. LIBRARY. COMMLINK. FINANCIALS. NEWS. My finger trembled as I pushed the last button, then STANDARD DELIVERY. The kiosk smelled of urine and sex.

“Today speculation swirls around ViaHealth Hospital in the Manhattan Dome. Last week Daria Cleary, wife of British billionaire-financier Peter Morton Cleary, underwent an operation to remove a brain tumor. The operation, apparently successful, was followed by sudden dizzying trading in ViaHealth stock and wild rumors, some apparently deliberately leaked, of strange properties associated with Mrs. Cleary’s condition. The Cleary establishment has refused to comment, but yesterday an unprecedented meeting was held at the Manhattan branch of Cleary Enterprises, a meeting attended not only by the CEOs of several American and British transnationals but also by high government officials, including Surgeon General Mary Grace Rogers and FDA chief Jared Vanderhorn.

“Both Mr. and Mrs. Cleary have interesting histories. Peter Morton Cleary, son of legendary ‘Charging Chatsworth’ Cleary, is known for personal eccentricity as well as very aggressive business practices. The third Mrs. Cleary, whom he met and married in Cyprus six years ago, has long been rumored to have been either a barmaid or paid escort. The—”

Daria. A brain tumor. Married to a big-shot Brit. Now in Manhattan. And I had never known.

The operation, apparently successful. . . .

I paid to watch the news clip again. And again. The words welded together and rasped, an iron drone. I simply stared at Daria’s face, which looked no older than when I had first seen her leaning on her elbows in that taverna. Again and again.

Then I sat on the filthy curb like a drunk, a doper, a bum, and cried.


It was easier to get into Manhattan back then, with the Dome only half-finished. Not so easy to get into ViaHealth Hospital. In fact, impossible to get in legitimately, too many rich people in vulnerable states of illness. It took me six weeks to find someone to bribe. The bribe consumed half of our savings, Miriam’s and mine. I got into the system as a cleaning-bot supervisor, my retinal and voice scans flimsily on file. A system-wide background check wouldn’t hold, but why should anyone do a system-wide background check on a cleaning supervisor? The lowliest of the low.

Then I discovered that the person I bribed had diddled me. I was in the hospital, but I didn’t have clearance for Daria’s floor.

Robocams everywhere. Voice- and thumbprint-controlled elevators. I couldn’t get off my floor, couldn’t get anywhere near her. I’d bribed my way into the system for two days only. I had two days only off from my job.

By the end of the second day, I was desperate. I ignored the whispered directions in my earcomm—“Send an F-3 ’bot to disinfect Room 678”—and hung around near the elevators. Ten minutes later a woman got on, an aging, overdressed, and over-renewed woman in a crisp white outfit and shoes with jeweled heels. She put her thumb to the security pad and said, “Surgical floor.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the elevator said. Just before the door closed, I dashed in.

“There is an unauthorized person on this elevator,” the elevator said, somehow combining calmness with urgency. “Mrs. Holmason, please disembark immediately. Unauthorized person, remain motionless or you will be neutralized.”

I remained motionless, looked at Mrs. Holmason, and said, “Please. I knew Daria Cleary long ago, on Cyprus, I just want to see her again for a minute, please ma’am, I don’t mean anybody any harm, oh please. . . .”

It was on the word “harm” that her face changed. A small and cruel smile appeared at the corners of her mouth. She wasn’t afraid of me; I would have bet my eyes that she’d never been afraid of anything in her life. Cushioned by money, she’d never had to be.

“There is an unauthorized person on this elevator,” the elevator repeated. “Mrs. Holmason, please disembark immediately. Unauthorized person, remain motionless or you—”

“This person is my guest,” Mrs. Holmason said crisply. “Code 1693, elevator. Surgical floor, please.”

A pause. The universe held its breath.

“I have no front-desk entry in my system for such a guest,” the elevator said. “Please return to the front desk or else complete the verbal code for—”

Mrs. Holmason said to me, still with the same small smile, “So did you know Daria when she was a prostitute on Cyprus?”

This, then, was the price for letting me ride the elevator. But it’s not like reporters wouldn’t now ferret out everything about Daria, anyway.

“Yes,” I said. “I did, and she was.”

“Elevator, Code 1693 Abigail Louise. Surgical floor.” And the elevator closed its doors and rose.

“And was she any good?” Mrs. Holmason said.

I wanted to punch her in her artificial face, to club her to the ground. The pampered lousy bitter bitch. I stared at her steadily and said, “Yes. Daria was good.”

“Well, she would have to be, wouldn’t she?” Sweetly. The elevator opened and Mrs. Holmason walked serenely down the corridor.

There were no names on the doors, but they all stood open. I didn’t have much time. The bitch’s secret code might have gotten me on this floor, but it wouldn’t keep me there. Peter Morton Cleary unwittingly helped me, or at least his ego did. The roboguard outside the third doorway bore a flashy logo: CLEARY ENTERPRISES. I dashed forward and it caught me in a painful vise.

But Daria, lying on a white bed inside the room, was awake and had already seen me.


The Renewal Center keeps me for an extra week. I protest, but not too much. What good will it be if I leave early and fall down, an old man in the street? Okay, I could rent a roboguard—not a good idea to take one from the Feder Group, I don’t want Geoffrey tracking me. It’s not like I won’t already have Agent Alcozer and the other Agent, the hard-eyed beauty, whose name I can’t remember. Memory isn’t what it used to be. Renewal only goes so far.

It’s not, after all, D-treatment.

But I don’t want a roboguard, so I spend the extra week. I refuse Geoffrey’s calls. I do the physical therapy the doctors insist on. I worry the place on my bony finger where my ring used to be. I don’t look at the news. There’s going to be something, at my age, that I haven’t seen before? Solomon was right. Nothing new under the sun, and the sun itself not all that interesting either. At least not to somebody who hasn’t left the Brooklyn Dome in ten years.

Then, on my last day in the Center, the courier finally shows up. I say, “About time. Why so long?” He doesn’t answer me. This is irritating, so I say, “Katar aves? Stevan?” Do you come from Stevan?

He scowls, hands me the package, and leaves.

This is not a good sign.

But the package is as requested. The commlink runs quantum-encrypted, military-grade software piggy-backing on satellites that have no idea they’re being used. The satellites don’t know, the countries owning them don’t know, the federal tracking system—and the feds track everything, don’t believe the civil-rights garbage you hear at kiosks—can’t track this. I take the comm out into the garden, use it to sweep for bugs, jam two of them, and make some calls.

The next day I check myself out. I wave at the federal agent in undercover get-up as a nurse, get into the car that pulls up to the gate, and disappear.


“Max,” Daria said from her hospital bed all those decades ago, in her voice a world of wonder. She snapped something in Farsi to the guard ’bot. It let me go and returned to its post by the door.

“Daria.” I approached the bed slowly, my legs barely able to carry me. Half her head was shaved, the right half, while her wild black hair spilled down from the other side. There were angry red stitches on the bare scalp, dark splotches under her eyes, a med patch on her neck like a purple bruise. Her lips looked dry and cracked. I went weak—weaker–with desire.

“How . . . how you have . . .” Her English had improved in ten years, but her accent remained unchanged, and so did that adorable little catch in her low voice. To me that little catch was femininity, was Daria. No other woman ever had it. Her green eyes filled with water.

“Daria, are you all right?” The world’s stupidest question—she lay in a hospital room, a tumor in her brain, looking like she’d seen a ghost. But was the ghost me, or her? I remembered Daria in so many moods, laughing and lusting and weeping and once throwing a vase at my head. But never with that trapped look, that bitterness in her green, green eyes. “Daria, I looked for you, I—”

She waved her hand, a sudden crackling gesture that brought back a second flood of memories. Nobody had ever had such expressive hands. And I knew instantly what she meant: the room was monitored. Of course it was.

I leaned close to her ear. She smelled faintly sour, of medicine and disinfectant, but the Daria smell was there, too. “I’ll take you away. As soon as you’re well. I’ll—”

She pushed me off and stared incredulously at my face. And for a second the universe flipped and I saw what Daria saw: a raggedy unshaven putz, with a wedding ring on my left hand, whom she had not seen or heard from in eight years.

I let her go and backed away.

But she reached for me, one slim hand with the sleeve of the lace nightgown falling back from her delicate wrist, and the Daria I remembered was back, my Daria, crying on a rocky beach the morning my shore leave ended. “Oh, Max, stay!” she’d cried then, and I had said, “I’ll be AWOL. I can’t!”

“I can’t,” she whispered now. “Is not possible . . . Max. . . .” Then her eyes went wide as she gazed over my shoulder.

He looked older than his holograms, and bigger. Dressed in a high-fashion business suit, its diagonal sash an aggressive crimson, the clothes cut sleek because a man like this has no need to carry his own electronics, or ID, or credit chips. Brown hair, brown beard, but pale gray eyes, almost white. Like glaciers.

“Who is your guest, Daria?” Cleary said in that cool voice the Brits do better than anybody else. I served under enough of them in the war. Although not like this one; no one like this had crossed my path before.

She was afraid of him. I felt it rather than saw it. But her voice held steady when she said, “An old friend.”

“I can imagine. I think it’s time for your friend to leave.” Within an hour, I was sure, he would know everything there was to know about me.

“Yes, Peter. After two more minutes. Alone, please.”

They gazed at each other. She had always had courage, but that look chilled me down to my cells. Only years later did I know enough to recognize it, when the Feder Group was involved with hostile negotiations: I offer you this for that, but I despise you for making me do it. Done? The look stretched to a full minute, ninety seconds. There seemed to be no air left in the room.

Finally he said, “Of course, darling,” and stepped out into the hall.

Done? Done!

What had Daria become since that morning on the rocky Cyprus beach?

She pulled me close. “Nine tonight by Linn’s in alley Amsterdam big street. Be careful you not followed.” It was breathed in my ear, so softly that erotic memories swamped me. And with them, anguish.

She was not my Daria. She had stolen my Daria, who might have sold her body but never her soul. My Daria was gone, taken over by this manipulating, lying bitch who belonged to Peter Morton Cleary, lived with him, fucked him. . . .

I hope I never know anger like that again. It isn’t human, that anger.

I hit her. Not on her half-shaven scalp, and not hard. But I slapped her across her beautiful mouth and said, “Face it, Daria. You always were a whore.” And I left.

May the Master of the Universe forgive me.


I have never been able to remember the hours between ViaHealth Hospital and the alley off Amsterdam Avenue. What did I do? I must have done something, a man has a physical body and that body must be in one place or another. I must have dodged and doubled back and done all those silly things they do in the holos to lose pursuers. I must have dumped my commlink; those things can be traced. Did I eat? Did I huddle somewhere behind trash cans? I remember nothing.

Memory snaps back in when I stand in the alley behind Linn’s, a sleazy VR-parlor franchise. Then every detail is clear. Hazy figures passed me as they headed for the back door, customers maybe, going after fantasies pornographic or exciting or maybe just as sad as mine. A boy in one of the ridiculous caped-and-mirrored sweaters that were the newest fashion among the young. A woman in a long black coat, hands in her pockets. An old man with the bluest eyes I have ever seen. These are acid-etched in my memory. I could still draw any one of them today. The alley stank of garbage cans and urine—how did Daria even know of such a place?

And what was I expecting? That she would come to me, sick and thin from illness, wobbling toward me in the fading light? Or that Peter Cleary would arrive with goons and guns? That these were my last minutes on Earth, here in a reeking alley under the shadow of the half-finished struts that would eventually support the Manhattan Dome?

I expected all of that. I expected nothing. I was out of my mind, as I have never been before or since. Not like that, not like that.

At nine o’clock a boy brushed past me and went into the VR parlor. He kept his head down, like a teenager ashamed or embarrassed about going into Linn’s, and so I only glimpsed his face. He might have been Greek, or Persian, or Turkish, or Arab. He might even have been a Jew. The package dropped into my pocket was so light that I didn’t even feel it. Only his hand, light as a breeze.

It was a credit chip, tightly wrapped in a tiny bit of paper that brought to mind that other paper, with Daria’s kiss. In ink that faded and disappeared even as I read it, childish block letters said LIFELONG, INC. MUST TO BUY TONIGHT!

The chip held a half million credits.

I hadn’t even known that she could read and write.


The car that takes me from the Brooklyn Renewal Center is followed, of course. By the feds and maybe by Geoffrey, too, although I don’t think he’s that smart. But who knows? It’s never good to underestimate people. Even a chicken can peck you to death.

The car disappears into the underground streets. Aboveground is for the parks and paths and tiny shops and everything else that lets Dome dwellers pretend they don’t live in a desperate, angry, starving, too-hot world. I lean forward, toward the driver.

“Are you an Adams?” This is an important question.

He glances at me in his mirror; the car is not on auto. Good. Auto can be traced. But, then, Stevan knows his business.

The driver grins. “Nicklos Adams, gajo. Stevan’s adopted grandson.”

All at once I relax. Who knew, until that moment, that my renewed body was so tense? With reason: It had been ten years since I’d seen Stevan and things change, things change. But “gajo,” the Romanes term for unclean outsiders, was said lightly, and an adopted grandson holds a position of honor among gypsies. Stevan is not doing this grudgingly. He has sent his adopted grandson. We are still wortácha.

Nicklos stays underground as we leave Brooklyn, but he doesn’t take the Manhattan artery. Instead he pulls into a badly lit service bay. We move quickly—almost running, I have forgotten how good it feels to run—to a different level and get into a different car. This car goes into Manhattan, where we change again in another service bay. I don’t question the jammers; I don’t have to. Stevan and I are wortácha, partners in an economic enterprise. Once we each taught the other everything we both knew. Well, almost everything.

When the car emerges aboveground, we are in open country, heading toward the Catskills. We drive through the world I have only read about for ten years, since I went into the Silver Star Retirement Home. Farms guarded by e-fences or genemod dogs, irrigated with expensive water. Outside the farms, the ghost towns of the dead, the shanty towns of the barely living. Until the micro-climate changes again—give it a decade, maybe—this part of the country has drought. Elsewhere, sparse fields have become lush jungles, cities unlivable heat sinks or swarming warrens of the hopeless, but not here. A lone child, starveling and unsmiling, waves at the car and I look away. It’s not shame—I have not caused this misery. It’s not distaste, either. I don’t know what it is.

Nicklos says, “The car has stealth shields. Very new. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Yes, I have,” I say. Reuven’s ’bot dog, a flash of nearly invisible light, my arms flailing at the stupid thing. My ring with Daria’s hair, her kiss. All at once my elation at escaping Brooklyn vanishes. Such foolishness. I’m still an old man with a bare finger and an ache in his heart, doing something stupid. Most likely my last stupid act.

Nicklos watches me in the mirror. “Take heart, gajo. So ci del o bers, del o caso.

I don’t speak much Romanes, but I recognize the proverb. Stevan used it often. What a year may not bring, an hour might.

From your mouth to God’s ears.


From the alley behind Linn’s I went straight to a public kiosk. That was how little I knew in those days: no cover, no dummy corporation, no off-shore accounts. Also no time. I deposited the five hundred thousand credits in my and Miriam’s account, thereby increasing it to a 500,016. Fortunately, the deposit proved untraceable because Daria knew more than me —how? How did she learn so much so fast? And what had such knowledge cost her?

But I didn’t think those compassionate thoughts then. I didn’t think at all, only felt. The credits were blood money, owed me for the loss of the other Daria, my Daria. The Daria who had loved me and could never have married Peter Morton Cleary. I screamed at the screen in the public kiosk, I punched the keys with a savagery that should have gotten me arrested. As soon as the deposit registered, I went to a trading site, read the directions through the red haze in my demented mind, and bought a half million worth of stock in Lifelong, Inc. I didn’t even realize that it was among the lowest-rated, cheapest stocks on the exchange. I wouldn’t have cared. I was following Daria’s instructions from some twisted idea that I was somehow crushing her by doing this, that I was polluting her world by entering it, that I was losing these bogus credits exactly as I had lost her. I was flinging the piece of her dirty world that she’d given me right back in her face. I was not sane.

Then I went and got drunk.

It was the only time in my life that I have ever been truly drunk. I don’t know what happened, where I went, what I did. I woke in a doorway, my boots and credit chip with its sixteen credits stolen, someone’s spittle on my shirt. If it had been winter, I would have frozen to death. It was not winter. I threw up on the sidewalk and staggered home.

Miriam screaming and crying. My head pounded and my hands shook, but I had thrown up the insanity with the vomit. I looked at this woman I did not love and I had my first clear thought in weeks: We cannot go on like this.


“Shut up! You shut up! Just tell me where you were, you don’t come home, what am I supposed to think? You never come home, even when you’re here you’re not here, this is a life? You hide things from me—”

“I never—”

“No? What is that plastic bubble with your old uniform? Whose hair, whose kiss? I can’t trust you, you’re devious, you’re cold, you—”

“You went through my Army uniform? My things?”

“I hate you! You’re a no-good son-of-a-bitch, even my mother says so, she knew, she told me not to marry you, find a real mensch she said, this one’s not and if you think I ever really loved you, a stinking sex maniac like you but—” She stopped.

Miriam is not stupid. She saw my face. She knew I was going to leave her, that she had just said things that made it possible for me to leave her. She continued on, without drawing new breath or changing tone, but with a sudden twisted triumph that poisoned the rest of our decades together. Poisoned us more, as if  “more” were even possible—but more is always possible. I learned as much that night. More is always possible. She said—

—and everything closed in on me forever—

“—but I’m pregnant.”


Technology has been good to the Rom.

They have always been coppersmiths, basket makers, auto-body repairers, fortune tellers, any occupation that uses light tools and can easily be moved from place to place. And thieves, of course, but only stealing from the gaje. It is shame to steal from other Romani, or even to work for other Romani, because it puts one person in a lower position than another. No, it is more honorable to form wortácha, share-and-share-alike economic partnerships to steal from the gaje, who after all have enslaved and tortured and ridiculed and whipped and romanticized and debased the Rom for eight centuries. Technology makes stealing both safer and more effective.

Nicklos drives along mountain roads so steep my heart is under my tongue. He says, “Opaque the windows if you’re so squeamish,” and I do. It does not help. When we finally stop, I gasp with relief.

Stevan yanks open the door. “Max!”

“Stevan!” We embrace, while curious children peep at us and Stevan’s wife, Rosie, waits to one side. I turn to her and bow, knowing better than to touch her. Rosie is fierce and strong, as a Romani wife should be, and nobody crosses her, not even Stevan. He is the rom baro, the big man, in his kumpania, but it is Rom women who traditionally support their men and who are responsible for their all-important ritual cleanliness. If a man becomes marimé, unclean, the shame lies even more on his wife than on him. Nobody with any sense offends Rosie. I have sense. I bow.

She nods her head, gracious as a queen. Like Stevan, Rosie is old now—the Rom do no genemods of any kind, which are marimé. Rosie has a tooth missing on the left side, her hair is gray, her cheeks sag. But those cheeks glow with color, her black eyes snap, and she moves her considerable weight with the sure quickness of a girl. She wears much gold jewelry, long full skirts, and the traditional headscarf of a married woman. The harder the new century pulls on the Rom, the more they cling to the old ways, except for new ways to steal. This is how they stay a people. Who can say they’re wrong?

“Come in, come in,” Stevan says.

He leads me toward their house, one of a circle of cabins around a scuffed green. Mountain forest presses close to the houses. The inside of the Adams house looks like every other Rom house I have ever seen: inner walls pulled down to make a large room, which Rosie has lavished with thick Oriental carpets, thick dark red drapes, large overstuffed sofas. It’s like entering an upholstered womb.

Children sit everywhere, giggling. From the kitchen comes the good smell of stuffed cabbage, along with the bickering of Rosie’s daughters-in-law and unmarried granddaughters. Somewhere in the back of the house will be tiny, unimportant bedrooms, but here is where Rom life goes on, rich and fierce and free.

“Sit there, Max,” Stevan says, pointing. The chair kept for gaje visitors. No Rom would ever sit in it, just as no Rom will ever eat from dishes I touch. Stevan and I are wortácha, but I have never kidded myself that I am not marimé to him.

And what is he to me?

Necessary. Now, more than ever.

“Not here, Stevan,” I say. “We must talk business.”

“As you wish.” He leads me back outside. The men of the kumpania have gathered, and there are introductions in the circle among the cabins. Wary looks among the young, but I detect no real hostility. The older ones, of course, remember me. Stevan and I worked together for thirty years, right up until I retired and Geoffrey took over the Feder Group. Stevan, who is also old but still a decade younger than me and the smartest man I have ever met, and I made each other rich.


Finally he leads me to a separate building, which my practiced eye recognizes for what it is: a super-reinforced, Faraday-cage-enclosed office. Undetectable unless emitting electronic signals, and I would bet the farm I never wanted that those signals were carried by underground cable until they left, heavily encrypted, for wherever Stevan and his sons wanted them to go. Probably through the same unaware satellites I had used to call him.

Here, too, one chair was marimé. Stevan points and I sit.

“I need help, Stevan. It will cost me, but will not make money for you. I tell you this honestly. I know you will not let me pay you, so I ask your help from history, as well as from our old wortácha. I ask as a friend.”

He studies me from those dark eyes, sunken now but once those of the handsomest Rom in his nation. There are reasons that stupid novels romanticized gypsy lovers. Before he can speak, I hold up my hand. “I know I am gajo. Please don’t insult me by reminding me of the obvious. And let me say this first—you will not like what I ask you to do. You will not approve. It involves a woman, someone I have never told you about, someone notorious. But I appeal to you anyway. As a friend. And from history.”

Still Stevan studies me. Twice I’ve said “from history,” not “from our history.” Stevan knows what I mean. There has always been affinity between Rom and Jews: both outcasts, both wanderers, both blamed and flogged and hunted for sport by the gaje, the Gentiles. Enslaved together in Romania, driven together out of Spain, imprisoned and murdered together in Germany just one hundred fifty years ago. Stevan’s great-great-great-grandfather died in Auschwitz, along with a million other of the Rom. They died with “Z,” for Zigeuner, the Nazi word for “gypsy,” branded on their arms. My great-great-grandfather was there, too, with a blue number on his arm. A hundred fifty years ago is nothing to Romani, to Jews. We neither of us forget.

Stevan does not want to do this for me, whatever it is. But although the Rom do not make family of gaje, they are fast and loyal friends. They do not count the cost of efforts, except in honor. Finally he says, “Tell me.”


Two days after I bought the LifeLong stock, the news broke. Daria Cleary had had not only a brain tumor but another tumor on her spine, and both were like nothing the doctors had ever seen before.

I am no scientist, and back then I knew even less about genetics than I know now, which is not much. But the information was everywhere, kiosks and the Internet and street orators and the White House. Everybody talked about it. Everybody had an opinion. Daria Cleary was the next step in evolution, was the anti-Christ, was an inhuman monster, was the incarnation of a goddess, was—the only thing everybody agreed on—a lot of money on the hoof.

Both of her tumors produced proteins nobody had ever seen before, from some sort of genetic mutation. The proteins were, as close as I could understand it, capable of making something like a warehouse of spare stem cells. They renewed organs, blood, skin, everything in the adult person. Daria had looked still eighteen to me because her body was still eighteen. It might be eighteen forever. The fountain of youth, phoenix from the ashes, we are become as gods, blah blah blah. Her tumors might be able to be grown in a lab and transplanted into others, and then those others could also stay young forever.

Only, of course, it didn’t work out that way.

But nobody knew that, then. LifeLong, the struggling biotech company that Peter Cleary secretly took over to set up commercial control of Daria’s tumors, rocketed to the stratosphere. Almost you couldn’t glimpse it way up there. My half-million credits became one million, three million, a hundred million. The entire global economy, already staggering from the Change-Over and the climate changes, tripped again like some crazy drunk. Then it got up again and lurched on, but changed for good.

No more changed than my life. Because of her.

Should I say the success of my new stock was ashes in my mouth? I would be lying. Who hates being rich? Should I say it was pure blessing, a gift from the Master of the Universe, something that made me happy? I would be lying.

“I don’t understand,” Miriam said, holding in her hands the e-key I had just handed her. “You bought a house? Under the Brooklyn Dome? How can we buy a house?”

Not “we,” I thought. There was no more “we,” and maybe there never had been. But she didn’t need to know that. Miriam was my wife, carrying my child, and I was sick of our cruelty to each other. Enough is enough already. Besides, we would be away from her mother.

“I got a stock tip, never mind how. I bought—”

“A stock tip? Oh! When can I see the house?”

She never asked about my business again. Which was a good thing, because the money changed me. No, money doesn’t change people, it only makes them more of whatever they were before. Somewhere inside me had always been this rage, this desperation, this contempt. Somewhere inside me I had always been a crook. I just hadn’t known it.

I could have lived for the rest of my life on the money Daria gave me. Easy. Miriam and I could have had six children, more, another Jacob with my own personal twelve tribes. Well, maybe not—Miriam still hated sex. Also, I didn’t want a dynasty. I never touched my wife again, and she never asked. I took prostitutes sometimes, when I needed to. I took business alliances with men, Italians and Jews and Russians and Turks, most of whom were well known to the feds. And this is when I took on a separate identity for these transactions, the folksy quaint Jew that later Geoffrey would hate, the colorful mumbling Shylock. I took on dubious construction contracts and, later, even more dubious Robin Hoods, those lost cyber-rats who rob from the rich and give to the pleasure-drug dealers.

But dubious to who? The Feder Group did very well. And why shouldn’t I loot a world in which Daria—Daria, to whom I’d given my soul—could give me money instead of herself ? Money for a soul, the old old bargain. A world rotten at the core. A world like this.

I regret none of it. Miriam was, in her own way, happy. Geoffrey had everything a child could want, except maybe respectability, and when I retired, he took the Feder Group legitimate and got that, too.

I put Daria’s lock of hair and paper kiss in a bank deposit box, beyond the reach of Miriam and her new army of obsessive cleaners, human and ’bot. After she died in a car crash when Geoff was thirteen, I had the hair and paper set inside my ring. By then LifeLong had “perfected” the technique for using Daria’s tumor cells for tissue renewal. The process, what came to be called D-treatment, couldn’t make you younger. Nothing can reverse time.

What D-treatment could do was “freeze” you at whatever age you had the operation done. Peter Cleary, among the first to be treated after FDA approval (the fastest FDA approval in history—mine wasn’t the only soul for sale) would stay fifty-four years old forever.

Supermodel Kezia Dostie would stay nineteen. Singer Mbamba would stay thirty. First came Hollywood, then society, then politicians, and then everybody with enough money, which wasn’t too many people because after all you don’t want hoi polloi permanently cluttering up the planet. When King James III of England was D-treated, the whole thing had arrived. Respectable as organ transplants, safe as a haircut. Unless the king was hit by a bus, Princess Monica would never succeed to the throne, but she didn’t seem to care. And England would forever have its beloved king, who had somehow become a symbol of the “British renewal” brought about by Daria’s shaved head.

There were complications, of course. From day one, many people hated the whole idea of D-treatment. It was unnatural, monstrous, contrary to God’s will, dangerous, premature, and unpatriotic. I never understood that last, but apparently D-treatment offended the patriotism of several different countries in several different parts of the world. Objectors wrote passionate letters. Objectors organized on the Internet and, later, on the Link. Objectors subpoenaed scientists to testify on their side, and some tried to subpoena God. A few were even sure they’d succeeded. And, inevitably, some objectors didn’t wait for anything formal to develop: they just attacked.


I stay with Stevan two days. He houses me in a guest cottage, well away from the Rom women, which I find immensely flattering. I am eighty-six years old, and although renewal has made me feel good again, it isn’t that good. Sap doesn’t rise in my veins. I don’t need sap; I just need to see Daria again.

“Why, Max?” Stevan asks, as of course he was bound to do. “What do you want from her?”

“Another lock of hair, another kiss on paper.”

“And this makes sense to you?” He leans toward me, hands on his knees, two old men sitting on a fallen log in the mountain woods. There is a snake by the log, beyond Stevan. I watch it carefully. It watches me, too. We have mutual distaste, this snake and I. If man was meant to be in naked woods, we wouldn’t have invented room service, let alone orbitals. Although in fact this woods is not so naked—the entire kumpania and its archaically lush land are encased under an invisible and very expensive mini-Dome and are nourished by underground irrigation. This is largely due to me, as Stevan knows. I don’t have to issue any reminders.

I say, “What in this world makes sense? I need another lock of hair and a paper kiss, is all. I have to have them. Is this so hard to understand?”

“It’s impossible to understand.”

“Then is understanding necessary?”

He doesn’t answer, and I see that I need to say more. Stevan has still not noticed the snake. He is ten years younger than me, he still has much of the strength in his arms, he lives surrounded by his wife and family. What does he know from desperation?

“Stevan, it’s like this: To be old, in the way I’m old, this is to live in a war zone. Zap zap zap—who falls next? You don’t know, but you see them fall, the people all around you, the people you know. The bullets are going to keep coming, you know this, and the next one could just as well take you. Eventually it will take you. So you cherish any little thing you still care about, anything that says you’re still among the living. Anything that matters to you.”

I sound like a damn fool.

But Stevan lumbers to his feet and stretches, not looking at me. “Okay, Max.”

“Okay? You can do it? You will?”

“I will.”

We are still wortácha. We shake hands and my eyes fill, the easy tears of the old. Ridiculous. Stevan pretends not to notice. All at once I know that I will never see him again, that this completes anything I might be owed by the Rom. Whatever happens, they will not set a pomona sinia, a death-feast table, for me, the gajo. That is all right. You can’t have everything. And anyway, the important thing is not to get, but to want.

After so long, I am grateful to want anything.

We walk out of the woods. And I am right, Stevan never notices the snake.

Nicklos drives me back to the Manhattan Dome. “BaXt, gajo.”

“Good-bye, Nicklos.” The young—they believe that luck is what succeeds. I don’t need luck, I have planning. Although this time I have planned only to a point, so maybe I will need luck after all. Yes, definitely.

BaXt, Nicklos.”

I climb out of the car at the Manhattan Space Port, and a ’bot appears to take my little overnight bag and lead me inside. It seats me in a small room. Almost immediately a woman enters, dressed in the black-and-green uniform of the Federal Space Authority. She’s a shicksa beauty, tall and blonde, with violet eyes. Genemod, of course. I’m unmoved. Next to the Rom women, she looks sterile, a made thing. Next to Daria, she looks like a pale cartoon.

“Max Feder?”

“That’s me.”

“I’m Jennifer Kenyon, FSA. I’d like to talk to you about the trip you just booked up to Sequene.”

“I bet you would.”

Her face hardens, pastry dough left out too long. “We’ve notified Agent Alcozer of the CIB, who will be here shortly. Until then, you will wait here, please.”

“I’ve notified my lawyer, who will holo here shortly. Until then, you will bring me a coffee, please. Something to eat would be nice, too.” Rom food, although delicious, is very spicy for my old guts.

She scowls and leaves. A ’bot brings very good coffee and excellent doughnuts. Max Feder is a reprobate suddenly awakened from the safely dead, but money is still money.

Twenty minutes later Agent Alcozer shows up, no female sidekick. He, Ms. Kenyon, and I sit down, a cozy trio. Almost I’m looking forward to this. Josh holos in and stands in front of the wall screen, sighing. “Hello, Joe. Ms. Kenyon, I’m Josh Zyla, Max Feder’s attorney of record. Is there a problem?”

She says, “Mr. Feder is not cleared for space travel. He has a criminal record.”

“That’s true,” Josh agrees genially. He’s even more genial than his father, who represented me for thirty years. “But if you’ll check the Space Travel Security Act, Section 42, paragraph 13a, you’ll see that the flight restrictions apply only to orbitals registered in countries signatory to the Land-Gonzalez Treaty and—”

“Sequene is registered in Bahrain, a sig—”

“—and which received global Expansion Act monies to subsidize some or all construction costs and—”

“Sequene received—”

“—and have not filed a full-responsibility liability acceptance form for a given prospective space-faring individual.”

Ms. Kenyon is silent. Clearly she, or her system, has not checked to see if Sequene had filed a full-responsibility liability acceptance form to let me come aboard. At least, she hasn’t checked in the last hour.

Alcozer frowns. “Why would Sequene file a flight acceptance for Max Feder?”

Why indeed? Full-liability acceptances were designed to allow diplomats from violent countries, who might violently object to exclusion, attend international conferences. The acceptances are risky. If said diplomat blows up the place, no government is legally responsible and no insurance company has to pay. The demolition is then considered just one of those things. Full-liability acceptances are rare, and not designed for the likes of Max Feder.

Josh shrugs. “Sequene didn’t tell me how it made its decisions.” This is true, since Sequene doesn’t know yet that I am coming upstairs. Money isn’t the only thing that can be stolen. Every alteration of every record is a kind of theft. Stevan’s people are very good thieves. They have had eight centuries to practice.

Jennifer Kenyon, that blonde buttress of bureaucracy, finishes examining her handheld and says, “It’s true—the form is on file. I guess you can fly, Mr. Feder.”

Alcozer, still frowning, says, “I don’t think—”

Josh says, “Are you arresting my client, Agent Alcozer? If not, then this interview is over.”

Alcozer leaves, unhappy. Josh shoots me a puzzled look before his holo vanishes. Jennifer Kenyon says stiffly, “I need to ask you some questions, Mr. Feder, preparatory to your retinal and security scans. Please be advised that you are being recorded. What is your full name and citizen ID?”

“Max Michael Feder, 03065932861.”

“What is your flight number and destination this afternoon?”

“British Spaceways Flight 165, to Sequene Orbital.”

“How long will you be staying?”

“Three days.”

“And what is the purpose of your visit?”

Our eyes meet. I know what she sees: a very old man with the hectic and temporary glow of renewal artificially animating his sagging face, too-thin arms, weak legs. A man with how long to live—a year? Two? Maybe five, if he’s lucky and his mind doesn’t go first. A dinosaur with the meteor already a foot above the ground, and a criminal dinosaur at that. One who should be getting ready to check out already, preferably without causing too much fuss to everybody staying longer at the party.

I say, “I’m going to Sequene to take D-treatment so I can stay eighty-six years old.”


Fifteen years after I established the Feder Group, a girl stopped me as I left the office. A strange-looking girl, dressed in a shapeless long robe of some kind with her hair hidden under an orange cap with wings. I didn’t remember her name. I had hired her reluctantly—the orange was some kind of reactionary cult and who needs the trouble—but Moshe Silverstein had insisted. Moshe was my—what? If we’d been Italian, he’d have been my “consigliere.” We weren’t Italian. He was my number-two until, I hoped, Geoffrey became old enough. It was not a robust hope. Geoffrey, now sixteen, was a prig.

The girl said, “Mr. Feder, could I talk to you a minute?”

“Certainly. Talk.”

She grimaced. Under the silly hat, the skinned-back hair, she had a pretty face. She was the accountant for show, absolutely honest, in charge only of the books for the Feder Group, which was also honest. You have to present something to the IRS. “She’s brilliant,” Moshe had argued. I’d argued back that for this small part of our operations we didn’t need brilliant, but here the girl was. I hardly ever saw her, since I was hardly ever in the Feder Group office. My real business all took place elsewhere.

“I’ve found an irregularity,” the girl said, and all at once I remembered her name: Gwendolyn Jameson, and the cult with the modest dress and orange hats was the Daughters of Eve. Opposed to any kind of genetic engineering at all.

“What kind of irregularity, Gwendolyn?”

“An inexplicable and big one. Please come look at this screen of—”

“Screens I don’t need. What’s the problem?” I was already late to meet a man about a deal.

She said, “A quarter million credits have been moved from the Feder Group to an entity called Cypress, Ltd., that’s registered in Hong Kong. I can’t trace them from there, and even though the authorization has your codes on it, and although I found your hand-written back-up order in the files, something just doesn’t seem right.”

I froze. I hadn’t authorized any transfer, and nobody should have been able to connect Cypress, Ltd. with the Feder Group. Nobody.

“Let me see the hand-written order.”

She brought it to me. It looked like my handwriting, but I had not written it. It was inside our paper files. And somebody had my personal codes.

“Freeze all accounts now. Nothing moves in, nothing moves out. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

I called Moshe, who called his nephew Timothy, who was my real accountant. We went over everything. I paced around the secret office while Tim ran heavily encrypted software for which I’d paid half my fortune. I chewed my nails, I cursed, I pounded on the wall. Like such foolishness could help? It didn’t help. Finally Tim looked up.

“Well?” My throat could barely get the syllable out.

“Two and a half million is missing. They’ve penetrated three accounts—Cypress, Mu-Nova, and the Aurora Group.”

“Zurich?” I said. “Did they get into Zurich?”


Thank you, Master of the Universe. Also thank the Swiss. Zurich held the bulk of my credits.

“This guy’s good,” Tim said, and the professional admiration in his voice only made me madder.

“Find him,” I said.

“I don’t do that kind of—”

“I’ll find him,” Moshe said. “But it will cost. A lot.”

“I don’t care. Find him.”

Two weeks later he said, “I have him. You won’t believe this—it’s a goddamn gypsy. The name he’s using is Stevan Adams.”


It’s not that hard to kidnap a Rom. They rely on hiding, moving, stealth, gypsy-nation loyalty, not so much on pure muscle. What with one thing and another, drought and flooding and war and famine and bio-plagues, the population of the United States is half what it was a hundred years ago. The Romani population has doubled. They take care of their own, but in their own way. Four Rom in a beat-up truck, even an armed and armored truck, were no match for what I sent against them.

Moshe flew me to an abandoned house somewhere in the Pennsylvania mountains. It was old, this house, and peculiar. How did people manage to live here, sixty years ago? Miles from everything, perched on a mountainside, no wind or solar or geothermal energy, facing north with huge expanses of real glass, now shattered. A vacation home, Moshe said. Some vacation—all the place had was a view, which I didn’t see because we were using only the basement.

“Where is he?”

“In there.”

“Alone, Moshe?”

“Just as you said. The others are in that room over there, the laundry room, drugged. He’s just tied up.”

“Are you sure you got the right one? Gypsies switch identities, you know. More names for the same person than a Russian novel.” I’d done research on the flight in.

Moshe looked insulted. “I have the right one.”

I opened the door to what might have once been a wine cellar. Dank, moldy, spiders. Moshe’s men had set up a floodlight. Stevan Adams sat bound to a chair, a big man dressed in rough work clothes, with short dark hair and a luxurious mustache. His eyes glittered with intelligence, with contempt. But controlled contempt, this was no cheap cyberthug. This was a man you’d have to kill to break. I didn’t kill, not even when it lost me money. There was plenty to take from the world without blood on your hands.

I said, “I’m Max Feder.”

He said, “Where are my son and nephews?”

“They’re safe. I hurt no one.”

“Where are they?”

“In the next room. Drugged but unharmed.”

“Show me.”

I said to Moshe, “Take the other side of that chair and help me pull it.”

Moshe looked startled—this was not how we did things. But it was how I wanted them done now. What so many people never understand is that it’s not enough to make money. It’s not even enough to be handed money, like Daria (whom I was still, in those years, cursing) handed to me. You have to also be able to keep money, and for that you must be a good judge of people. No—a superb judge of people. This is more than watching them closely, reading body language, seeing when they blink, blah blah blah. It’s a kind of smell, a tingling high in the nose that I never ignore. Never. The mind sees what it wants to see, but the body—the body knows.

This smell is a talent, my only one really. I’m not an accountant, not a software expert (as Geoffrey never tires of telling me), not even a particularly good thief when I’m alone. Always I needed Moshe and the Robin Hoods I used, those shadowy young men so adept at stealing from the rich and so bad, without me, at not dying violently. Me, I don’t need violence. I can smell.

Moshe and I grabbed the chair and dragged it out of the fruit cellar and into a crumbling laundry room. We gasped and lurched; Stevan was heavy and we were not exactly athletes. Three young men, one scarcely older than Geoffrey, lay bound on the rotted floor, angelic smiles on their sleeping faces. Whatever Moshe had given them, it looked happy.

“See, Mr. Adams? They breathe, they’ll be fine.”

“Bring them awake so I can see.”

Moshe said, “Who do you think you—”

Again I cut him off. “Bring them awake, Moshe.”

He grimaced and called, “Dena!” His daughter, our doctor, came in from outside, carrying her weapon. Her face was masked; I don’t risk anybody but Moshe and me. She slapped patches on the boys and they woke up, easily and profanely. Stevan and they conversed in Romanes and even though I didn’t speak the language, I could see the moment he told them it was no good trying any kind of physical assault. The youngest spat at me, a theatrical bit of foolishness I forgave at once. They were good boys. And would Geoffrey have done as much for me? I doubted this.

We dragged Stevan back into the other room and locked in the bound boys, Dena on guard. Even if they got themselves loose—which, it eventually turned out, they did—she had knock-out gases and everything else she needed.

I said, “You took two and a half million credits from accounts belonging to me.”

Stevan said, “So?”

How do I convey the attitude in that one word? Not just contempt but pleasure, pride, deliberate goad. Even if I killed him, he was not going to back down. A mensch.

“So you also took my authorization codes. And you slipped into my paper files a forged back-up authorization. How did you do that, Mr. Adams?”

Again just that look.

“I’m not going to harm you, or your relatives. Never. In fact, I want to hire you. My operation can use a man like you.”

“I do not work for gaje.”

“Right. I know. Usually you don’t work for gaje. You people go freelance, this is gutsy, more power to you. But together, you and me together, I can make you rich beyond anything you can imagine.”

“I don’t need more riches.”

Astoundingly, I later found out this was true, and not just because Stevan now had my two and a half million credits. The Rom are not interested in owning very much. Not property: they prefer to rent, so as to move easily and quickly. Vehicles, yes, even planes and helicopters, but always old and beat-up, not conspicuous. Gold for their women but not jewels, and how much gold can one woman wear? Mostly they want to live together in their densely carpeted rooms, getting all they need from gossiping and fighting and loving each other while stealing from everybody else.

Stevan said, “You have nothing I want, gajo.”

“I think I do. My holdings are big, vaster than anything you’ve penetrated.” So far, anyway. “And I know people. I can offer you something you can’t get anyplace else. Safety.”

Moshe echoed blankly, “Safety?” I had not told him about this part.

“Yes,” I said, addressing Stevan. “I have access to military hardware. Some, anyway. I can get smaller, movable versions of the force-fences that buttress domes. You could keep away anyone you didn’t want from your communities, your children, without guns. More: I can do a lot toward keeping any of you that get caught out of jail, unless you commit murder or something.”

For the first time, Stevan’s expression shifted. Jail is the worst thing that can happen to a Rom. It means separation from the kumpania, it means associating with gaje, it means it’s impossible to avoid marimé. Romani will spend any amount of money, go to any lengths to keep one of their own out of prison. Also to keep their children safe; nobody loves their kids like the Rom. And I already knew that gypsies did not commit murder. On this point, eight centuries of bad press was just plain wrong.

“And of course,” I said craftily, “money—a very lot of money—can help with lawyers and such if one of your little operations does happen to go awry.”

“I don’t work for gaje.”

“Give it up, Max,” Moshe said, with disgust.

But I trusted my nose. I waited.

Stevan gazed at me.

Finally he said, “Have you ever heard of wortácha?”


Jennifer Kenyon and the FSA let me fly up to Sequene. They have no choice, really. My lawyer is prepared to make a big civil-rights stink if he has to. The current president, who has not had D-treatment, does not want a big civil-rights stink in her administration. She has enough Constitutional problems already. I used to know some of the people causing them.

Shuttle security takes everything but your soul, and that it maybe nibbles at. Every inch of me is stripped and examined by machines and ’bots and people. If I carried any passengers before—lice, tapeworm, non-human molecules—I don’t have them after Security is finished with me. I can’t bring my own commlink, I can’t wear my own clothes, almost I can’t use my own bones. Shuttles and orbitals are fragile environments, I’m told. Nobody seems to notice that I’m a pretty fragile environment, too. Finally, dressed in a coverall and flimsy disposable shoes, I’m allowed to stagger onto the shuttle and collapse into a recliner.

Then starts the real punishment.

Space is a game for the young. The flight is hard on my body despite my renewal, despite their gadgets, despite all the patches stuck on my skin like so much red, blue, green, and yellow confetti. I’m eighty-six years old, what do you want from me. Few people wait that long for D-treatment. The attendant doesn’t knock me out because then he wouldn’t know if anything vital ruptured. It feels like everything ruptures, but in fact I arrive in one unbroken piece. Still, it’s a long time before I can walk off the shuttle.

“Mr. Feder, this way, please.” A young man, strong. I refuse to lean on his arm. But I look at everything. I’ve never been on an orbital before, and please the Master of the Universe, I never will again. Fifty years they’ve been up here, some of these orbitals, but why should I go upstairs? Money and influence travel by quantum packets, not shuttles. And there’s never been anything upstairs that I wanted. Until now.

The shuttle bay is disappointing, just another parking garage. My guide leads me through a door into a long corridor lined with doors. Other people walk here and there, but they’re led by cute little gold-colored robots, not by a person. Well, this is no more than I expected.

My guard shows me into a small, bare, white room a lot like the one at the Manhattan Spaceport. These people all need a new interior designer.

A woman enters. “Mr. Feder, I’m Leila Cleary. How was your trip up?”

“Fine.” This is Peter Cleary’s daughter by one of his wives before Daria. She looks about thirty but of course would be much older. Red hair, blue eyes, at least at the moment, who knows. Eyes as hard as I’ve ever seen on a woman. She makes Alcozer’s sidekick and Jennifer Kenyon both look like cuddly stuffed toys.

“We’re so glad you chose to honor Sequene with a trip. And so surprised, especially when we discovered that Sequene had filed a full-responsibility liability acceptance form for you.”

“Discovered? When, Ms. Cleary?”

“After you had taken off from Earth and before you landed here. How did that happen, Mr. Feder?”

“I have no idea, Ms. Cleary. I’m an old man, can’t keep track of all these modern forms. Unfortunately my memory isn’t what it was once.” I make my voice quaver. She isn’t fooled.

“I see. Well, now that you’re here, what can we do for you?”

“I want a D-treatment. I know I don’t have an appointment, but I’ll stay at the hotel until you can fit me in. And, of course, I’ll pay whatever premiums you ask for a rush job. Whatever.”

“We don’t do ‘rush jobs,’ Mr. Feder. Our medical procedures are meticulous and individually tailored.”

“Of course, of course. Everybody knows that.”

“You are not just ‘everybody,’ Mr. Feder. And Sequene is a private facility. We reserve the right to grant or deny treatment.”

“Understood. But why would you want to deny it to me? My record? You’ve treated others with . . . shall we say, complicated backgrounds.” I don’t name names, although I could. Carmine Lucente. Raul Lopez-Reyes. Worse of all, Mikhail Balakov. But D-treatment is supposed to be a private thing.

“Mr. Feder, you are eighty-six. Are you sure you know what D-treatment can and cannot do? If you think—”

“I don’t,” I say harshly. Master of the Universe, nobody knows better than I what D-treatment can and cannot do. Nobody. “How about this, Ms. Cleary. I’ll stay in the hotel, your best suite, and your people can confer, can run whatever tests you like. I’ll wait as long as you like. Meanwhile, take all the blood you want, pretend Sequene is Transylvania, ha ha.”

The joke falls flat. Her look could wither a cactus. How much does she know? I have never, in fifty-six years, found out what Daria told Peter Cleary about me. Nor if Peter ever knew that Daria had given me that first half-million credits, so long ago. My guess is no, Leila doesn’t know this, but I can’t be sure.

“All right, Mr. Feder. We’ll do that. You stay in the hotel, and I’ll confer with my staff. Meanwhile, the screen in your suite will inform you about the procedure and all necessary consent forms. You can also send them downstairs to lawyers and relatives. Have a pleasant stay in Sequene.”

There is no reason to not have a pleasant stay in Sequene. Once I move—or am moved, my young unsolicited bodyguard at my side—out of the shuttle bay area, the place looks like a five-star hotel in the most tasteful British fashion. Not too new, not too glossy, none of that neo-Asian glitter. Comfort and quality over flash, although Reggie (the b-guard’s name) tells me there is a casino “for your gambling pleasure.” Probably the rest of it, too: the call girls, pretty boys, and recreational drugs, all discreet and clean. I don’t ask, despite some professional curiosity. I am eighty-six and here just for the D-treatment, a harmless old man trying a last end run around Death. I stay in character.

My suite is beautiful, if small. On an orbital, space costs. Off-white and pale green—green is supposed to be soothing—walls, antique armoire for my clothes, which have arrived on a separate shuttle. State of the art VR, full scent-and tingly-sprays. The bed does everything but take out the trash. One wall chats me up, very courteously giving instructions for “illuminating” the window. I follow them, and gasp.

Space. The suite abuts the orbital shell, and only a clear-to-the-disappearing-point hull separates me from blackness dotted with stars. Immediately I opaque the window. Who needs to see all that room, all that cold? To me it brings no sense of wonder, only a chill. Three, maybe four atoms per square liter—who wants that? We’re meant for warmth and air and the packed molecules of living flesh.

Daria is up here. Somewhere, sequestered, reclusive. She’s here. And I’m not going away until I find her.


Before Stevan and I became wortácha, he insisted that I meet Rosie. He did not have to do this. Romani men do not need their wives’ cooperation to conduct their business affairs; they are not Episcopalians.  But Rosie and Stevan did things their own way. He relied on her.

And she was really something back then. In her late thirties, curly black hair, snapping dark eyes beside swinging gold earrings, voluptuous breasts in her thin white blouse. A pagan queen. Not since Daria had I seen a woman I admired so much. She hated me on sight.

Gajo,” she said, by way of acknowledgment. Her lips barely parted on the word.

“Mrs. Adams, thank you for having me here,” I said. It came out too sarcastic. I was barely “here” at all; we stood outside the building that the kumpania was renting at the moment, a former dance club miles from the Philadelphia Dome. This neighborhood I never would have entered without Stevan and five of his seven brothers surrounding me. A few blocks away, something exploded. Rosie never flinched. She blocked the door to the building like a battalion defending a bridge.

“Rosie,” Stevan said, somewhere between irritation and resignation.

“You make a wortácha with my husband?”

“Yes,” Stevan said. Irritation had won. “Come in, Max.”

Carefully I oozed past Rosie, entered directly into the large main room, and sat where Stevan pointed. No one else was present, but I didn’t know then how significant this was. All doors from the dark, thickly curtained room stayed closed. The wall screen had been blanked, although a music cube played softly, something with a lot of bass. In one corner a very large holo of some saint raised his hands to heaven over and over, staring at me with reproachful eyes.

Stevan said, “Some coffee, Rosie.”

She flounced off, returning too soon—tension had fallen like bricks the second she disappeared—with three coffees. Two in glasses rimmed with gold, one in the cheapest kind of disposable cup. I like sweetener in mine but I didn’t ask for it. Nobody offered.

Stevan explained to Rosie the tentative plans that he and I had discussed. She wasn’t listening. Finally she interrupted him to talk to me.

“You kidnap my husband, my son, my nephews, and now you want us to do business with you? To make a wortácha? With a gajo? Are you crazy?”

“Getting there fast,” I said.

Stevan said, almost pleadingly, “He’s a Jew, Rosie.”

“Do I care? He’s marimé and for you—Stevan!—for you to even—” Abruptly she switched into Romanes, which of course I didn’t understand, but it no longer mattered because now I wasn’t listening.

“—died early am. Family mouth only said—” The soft music had given way to news; it hadn’t been a music cube, after all, but one of the staccato newslinks that shot out information like rapid-fire weapons. “—no accident. Repeat, Peter Morton Cleary dead—”


“—and no accident! So —failure of D-treatment? All die? To—”


“—see later! Fire in Manhattan Dome—”

Then Rosie was pouring water on my head and I was sputtering and gasping. A lot of water, much more water than necessary.

Stevan said, with a certain disgust, “You fainted. What is it? Are you sick?”

“It was the news,” Rosie said. “About that marimé gaji with the tumors. Have you had D-treatment, gajo?”


She studied me. I could have been something staked out in a vivisection lab. “Then did you know this Cleary big man?”

“No.” And then I said—was it despair or cunning? who knows these things—“But once, long ago, I met his wife. Briefly. Before she was . . . when we were both kids.”

Stevan was not interested in this. Rosie was. She gazed at me a long time. I remembered all the old stories about gypsy fortunetellers, seers, dark powers. Nobody had looked at me like that before and nobody has looked at me like that since, for which I am seriously grateful. Some things are not decent.

Stevan said, disgust still coloring his voice, “Max, if you’re not well, maybe I –”

“No,” Rosie said, and the President of the United States should have such authority in her voice. “It’s all right. Set up your wortácha. It’s all right.”

She left the room, not flouncing this time, and I didn’t see her again for twenty years. This was fine with both of us. She didn’t need a gajo in her living room, and I didn’t need a seer in my soul. Everybody has limits.


Peter Cleary’s death set off world-wide panic. He’d had D-treatment and all his tissues were supposed to be constantly regenerating to the age at which he’d had it, which was fifty-four. He shouldn’t have died unless a building fell on him. Never was an autopsy more anxiously awaited by the world. The dead Jesus didn’t get such attention.

The press swarmed from the hive. Peter Cleary hadn’t been the first to get D-treatment because somewhere there had to be anonymous beta-testers. Volunteers, LifeLong had said, and this turned out to be true. None of them stayed anonymous now. Prisoners on Death Row, heartbreaking children dying of diseases with no cure, a few very old and very rich people. Thirty-two people before Peter Cleary had received pieces of Daria’s tumors, and all thirty-two of them were now dead.

Each one died exactly twenty years after receiving D-treatment.

Daria Cleary was still alive.

But was she? That’s what a corporate spokesman said, but no one had seen her for years. She and Cleary lived in the London Dome. He went to meetings, to parties, to court. She did not. Rumors had flown for years: Daria was a prisoner, Daria had been crippled by her constantly harvested tumors, Daria had died and been replaced by a clone (never mind that no had ever succeeded in cloning humans). Every once in a while a robocam snapped a picture of her—if it was really her—in her garden. She still looked eighteen. But now even these illegal images stopped.

For two weeks I stayed home and watched the newsholos. Moshe handled my business. Stevan, my new partner, didn’t contact me; maybe Rosie had something to do with that. More people who had received D-treatment died: a Japanese singer, a Greek scientist working on the new orbitals, a Chinese industrialist, an American actor. King James of England, perpetually thirty-nine, made a statement that said nothing, elegantly. Doctors spoke, speculating about delayed terminator genes and foreign hosts and massively triggered cell apoptosis and who knows what else. A woman standing in a museum talked about somebody named Dorian Gray.

I waited, knowing what must happen.

The mob appeared to start spontaneously, but nobody intelligent believed that. Cleary stock, not only LifeLong but all of it, had tumbled to nearly nothing. The wild trading that followed plunged three small countries into bankruptcy, more into recession. Court claims blossomed like mushrooms after rain. The attacks on the LifeLong facility and on the Clearys had never stopped, not for twenty years, but not like this. It might have been organized by any number of groups. Certainly the professional terrorists involved were not Dome citizens—at least, not all of them.

The London Dome police would have died to a soldier to stop terrorists, but firing on several thousand of their own citizens, mostly the idealistic young—this they couldn’t bring themselves to do. And maybe the cops disapproved of D-treatment, too. A lot of class resentment came in here, and who can tell from the British class system? For whatever reason, the mob got through. The Cleary force fences went down—somebody somewhere knew what they were doing—and the compound went up in flame.

Press robocams zoomed in for close-ups of the mess. Each time they showed a body, my stomach turned to mush. But it was never her.

“Dad,” Geoffrey said beside me. I hadn’t even heard him come into my bedroom.

“Not now, Geoff.”

He said nothing for so long that finally I had to look at him. Sixteen, taller than I ever thought of being, a nice-looking boy but with a kind of shrinking around him. Timid, even passive. Where does such a thing come from? Miriam hadn’t exactly been a shy wren and me . . . well.

“Dad, have you had D-treatment? Are you going to die?”

I could see what it cost him. Even I, the worst father in the world, could see that. So I tore my eyes away from the news and said, “No. I haven’t had D-treatment. I give you my word.”

His expression didn’t change but I felt the shift inside him. I could smell it, with that tingling high in the nose that I never ignore. I smelled it with horror but not, I realized, much surprise. Nor even with enough horror.

Geoff was disappointed.

“Don’t worry, son,” I said wryly, “you’ll take over all this soon enough. Just not this week.”

“I don’t—”

“At least be honest, kid. At least that.” And may the Master of the Universe forgive me for my tone. The cat-o’-nine-tails.

Geoff felt it. He hardened—maybe there was more in him than I thought. “All right, I will be honest. Are you what they say you are at school? Are you a crook?”

“Yes. Are you a mensch?”

“A what?”

“Never mind. Just drink it down. I’m a crook and you’re the son of a crook who eats and lives because of what I do. Now what are you going to do about it?”

He looked at me. Not levelly—he was not one of Stevan’s sons, he would never be that—but at least he didn’t flinch. His voice wobbled, but it spoke. “What I’m going to do about it is shut down all your businesses. Or make them honest. As soon as they’re mine.” He walked out of the room.

It was the proudest of him I had ever been. A fool but, in his own deluded way, himself. You have to give credit for that.

I went back to searching the news for Daria.

She appeared briefly the next day. Immediately the world doubted it was her: a holo, a pre-recording, blah blah blah. But I knew. She said only that she was alive and in hiding. That scientists now told her that only she could host the D-treatment tumors without eventually dying. That she deeply regretted the unintentional deaths. That the Cleary estate would compensate all D-treatment victims. A stiff little speech, written by lawyers. Only the tears, unshed but there, were her own.

I stared at her beautiful young face, listened to the catch in her low voice, and I didn’t know what I felt. I felt everything. Anger, longing, contempt, misery, revenge, protection. Nobody can stand such feelings too long. I contacted Moshe and then Stevan, and I went back to work.


My first evening at Sequene I spend in bed. Nothing hurts, not with a pain patch on my neck, but I’m weaker than I expect. This is not the fault of Sequene. The gravity here, the wall screen cheerily informs me, is 95 percent of Earth’s, “just slightly enough lower to put a spring in your step!” The air is healthier than any place on Earth has been for a long time. The water is pure, the food miraculous, the staffs “robotic and human” among the finest in the world. So enjoy your stay! Anything you need can be summoned by simply instructing the wallscreen aloud!

I need Daria, I don’t say aloud. “So tell me about Sequene. Its history and layout and so forth.” I’ve already memorized the building blueprints. Now I need current maps.

“Certainly!” the screen says, brightening like a girl drinking in boyish attention. “The name ‘Sequene’ derives from a fascinating European and American legend. In 1513—nearly six hundred years ago, imagine that!—an explorer from Spain, one Ponce de León, traveled to what is now part of the United States. To Florida.”

Views of white sand beaches, nothing like the sodden, overgrown, bio-infested swamp that is Florida now.

“Of course, back then Florida was habitable, and so were various islands in the Caribbean Sea! They were inhabited by a tribe called the Arawak.”

Images of Indians, looking noble.

“These people told the Spanish that one of their great chiefs, Sequene, had heard about a Fountain of Youth in a land to the north, called ‘Biminy.’ Sequene took a group of warriors, sailed for Biminy, and found the Fountain of Youth. Supposedly he and his tribesmen lived there happily forever.

“Of course, no one can actually live forever—”


“—but here on Sequene we can guarantee you—yes, guarantee you!—twenty more years without aging a day older than you are now! Truly a miraculous ‘fountain.’ As you undergo this proven scientific procedure—”

Pictures of deliriously happy people, drunk on science.

“—we on Sequene want you to be as comfortable, amused, and satisfied as possible. To this end, Sequene contains luxurious accommodations, five-star dining rooms—”

I said, “Map?”


For the next half hour I study maps of Sequene. I can’t request too much, I have to look like just one more chump willing to gamble that twenty years of non-aging life is better than whatever I would have gotten otherwise. It’s clear the hotel, the hospital, the casino and mini-golf course, and other foolishness don’t take up more than one-third of the orbital’s usable space. Even allowing for storage and maintenance, there’s still a hell of a lot going on up here that’s officially unaccounted for. Including, somewhere, Daria.

But it’s not going to be easy to find her.

I have dinner in my room, sleep with the help of yet another patch, and wake just as discouraged as last night. I can’t communicate with Stevan, not without equipment they didn’t let me bring upstairs. I can’t do anything that will get me kicked out. All I have is my money—never negligible, granted—and my wits. This morning neither seems enough.

All I really have is an old man’s stupid dream.

Eventually I slump into the dining room for breakfast. A waiter—human—rushes over to me. I barely glance at him. Across the room is Agent Joseph Alcozer. And sitting at a table by herself, drinking orange juice or something that’s supposed to be orange juice, is Rosie Adams.


A year and a half after Peter Cleary died, D-treatments resumed. And there were plenty of takers.

Does this make sense? Freeze yourself at one age for twenty years and then zap! you’re dead. All right, so maybe it made sense for the old who didn’t want more deterioration, the dying who weren’t in too much pain. Although you couldn’t be too far gone or you wouldn’t have strength enough to stand the surgery that would save you. But younger people took D-treatments, too. Men and women who wanted to stay beautiful and didn’t mind paying for that with their lives. Even some very young athletes who, I guess, couldn’t imagine life without slamming at a ball. Dancers. Holo stars. Crazy.

LifeLong, Inc. reorganized financially, renamed itself Sequene, and moved out of London to a Greek island. The King of England died of his D-treatment, a famous actress died of hers, the sultan of Bahrain died. It made no difference. People kept coming to Sequene.

Other people kept attacking Sequene. By that time, force fences had replaced or reinforced domes; there should have been no attacks on the island. But this is a mathematical Law of the Universe: As fast as new defenses multiply, counterweapons will multiply faster. Nothing is ever safe enough.

So the Greek island was blown up by devices that burrowed under the sea and into subterranean rock. Again Daria survived. Nine months later Sequene reopened on another island. Customers came.

That was the same year Geoffrey and I finally reconciled. Sort of.

For three years we’d lived in the same house, separate. I admit it—I was a terrible father. What kind of man ignores his sixteen-year-old son? His seventeen-, eighteen-, nineteen-year-old son? But this was mostly Geoff’s choice. He wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t answer me, and what could I do? Shoot him? He went to school, had his meals in his room, studied hard. The school sent me his reports, all good. My office, the legitimate Feder Group, paid his bills. For a kid with a large amount of credit behind him, he didn’t spend much. When he left high school and started college, I signed the papers. That was all. No discussion. Yes, I tried once or twice, but not very hard. I was busy.

My business had gotten bigger, more complicated, riskier. One thing led me to another, and then another. Stevan Adams and I made a good team. But I took all the risks, since the Rom would rather lose deals than end up in jail. Maybe I took too many risks—at least Moshe said so. He never liked Stevan. “Dirty gypsy keeps his hands clean,” he said. Not a master of clear language, my Moshe. But the profits increased, and that he didn’t complain about.

Federal surveillance increased as well.

Then one October night when the air smelled of apples, a rare night I was home early and watching some stupid holo about Luna City, Geoffrey came into the room. “Max?”

He was calling me “Max” now? I didn’t protest—at least he was talking. “Geoff ! Come in, sit down, you want a beer?”

“No. I don’t drink. I want to tell you something, because you have a right to know.”

“So tell me.” My heart suddenly trembled. What has he done? He stood there leaning forward a little on the balls of his feet, like a fighter, which he was not. Thin, not tall, light brown hair falling over his eyes. Miriam’s eyes, I saw with a sudden pain I never expected. Geoff didn’t dress in the strange things that kids do. He looked, standing there, like an underage actor trying to play a New England accountant.

“I want to tell you that I’m getting married.”

“Married?” He was nineteen, just starting his second year of college! This would be expensive, some little tart to be paid off, how did he even meet her. . . .

“I’m marrying Gwendolyn Jameson. Next week.”

I was speechless. Gwendolyn—the accountant Moshe had made me hire, the “brilliant” weird one that had first noticed Stevan’s penetration of the Feder Group. Her cult dress and hat were gone, but she was still a mousy, skinny nothing, the kind of person you forget is even in the room. How did—

“I’m not asking your blessing or anything like that,” Geoff said. “But if you want to come to the ceremony, you’re welcome.”

“When . . . where . . .”

“Tuesday evening at seven o’clock at Gwendolyn’s mother’s house on—”

“I mean, where did you meet her? When?”

He actually blushed. “At your office, of course. I went up with the papers for my college tuition. She was there, and I took one look at her and I knew.”

He knew. One look. All at once I was back in a taverna on Cyprus, twenty again myself, and I take one look at Daria standing by the bar and that’s it for me. But Gwendolyn? And this had been going on a whole year, over a year. A wedding next week.

Somehow I said, “I wouldn’t miss it, Geoff.” It was the only decent thing I’d ever done for my son.

“That’s great,” he said, suddenly looking much younger. “We thought that on the—”

A huge noise from the front of the house. Security alarms, the robo-butler, doors yanked open, shouting. The feds burst in with weapons drawn and warrants on handhelds. Even as I put my hands on top of my head, even as the house system automatically linked to my lawyer, I knew I wasn’t going to make Geoff’s wedding.

And I didn’t. Held without bail: a flight risk. A plea bargain got me six-to-ten, which ended up as five after time off for good behavior. It wasn’t too bad. My lawyers did what lawyers do and I got the new prison, Themis International Cooperative Justice Center, a floating island in the middle of Lake Ontario. American and Canadian prisoners and absolutely no chance of unassisted escape unless you could swim forty-two kilometers.

But islands aren’t necessarily impregnable. While I was in prison, Sequene was attacked again. Its Greek island was force-fielded top, bottom, and sides, but you have to have air. The terrorists—the Sons of Godly Righteousness, this time—sent in bio-engineered pathogens on the west wind. Twenty-six people died. Daria wasn’t one of them.

Sequene moved upstairs to one of the new orbitals. No wind. Two years later, they were back in business.

My third year in prison, Gwendolyn died. She was one of the victims, the many victims, of the Mesopotamian bio-virus. I couldn’t comfort Geoff, and who says I would have even tried, or that he would have accepted comfort? An alien, my son. But there must have been something of me in him, because he didn’t marry again for twenty-five years. Gwendolyn, that skinny bizarre prig, had imprinted herself on his Feder heart.

When the government got me, they got Moshe, too. Moshe fought and screamed and hollered, but what good did it do him? He also got six-to-ten. Me, I don’t bear a grudge. I do my work and the feds do theirs, the schmucks.

They couldn’t get close to Stevan. Never even got his name—any of his names. If they had, Stevan would have been gone anyway: different identity, different face. For all I know, different DNA. More likely, Stevan’s DNA was never on file in the first place. The Rom give birth at home, don’t register birth or death certificates, don’t claim their children on whatever fraudulent taxes they might file, don’t send them to school. Romani don’t go on the dole, don’t turn up on any records they can possibly avoid, move often and by night. As much as humanly possible in this century, they don’t actually exist. And Rom women are even more invisible than the men.

Which was probably part of the reason that, forty years later, Rosie Adams could be sitting in the dining room of Sequene orbital, pretending she didn’t know me, while I totter to a table and wonder what the hell she’s doing here.


Alcozer ambles over, no sweat or haste, where can I go? Uninvited, he sits at my table. “Good morning, Max.”

“Shalom, Agent Alcozer.” For the feds I always lay it on especially thick.

“We were surprised to see you here.”

The royal “we.” Everybody in the fucking federal government thinks they’re tsars. I say, “Why is that? An old man, I shouldn’t want to live longer?”

“It was our impression that you thought you were barely living at all.”

How closely did they observe me in the Silver Star Home? I was there ten years, watching holos, playing cards, practically next door to drooling in a wheelchair. The government can spare money for all that surveillance?

“Have some orange juice,” I say, pushing my untouched glass at him. Too bad it isn’t cut with cyanide. Alcozer is the last thing I need. Over his shoulder I glance at Rosie, who frowns at the tablecloth, scratching at it with the nails of both hands.

She doesn’t look good. At the kumpania less than a week ago, she looked old but still vital, despite the gray hair and wrinkles. Then her cheeks were rosy, her lips red with paint, her eyes bright under the colorful headscarf. Now she sits slumped, scratching away—and what is that all about?—as pale and pasty as a very large maggot. No headscarf, no jewelry. Her gray hair has been cut and waved into some horrible old-lady shape, and she wears loose pants and tunic in dull brown. From women’s fashions I don’t know, but these clothes look expensive and boring.

Alcozer leans in very close to me and says, “Max, I’m going to be honest with you.”

That’ll be the day.

“We know you’ve been off the streets for ten years, and we know your son has taken the Feder Group legitimate. We have no reason to touch him, so your mind can be easy about that. But somebody’s still running at least a few of your old operations, and we don’t know who.”

Not Moshe. He died a week after his release from prison. Heart attack.

“Also, there are still old investigations on you that we could re-open. I don’t want to do that, of course, but I could. I know and you know that the leads are pretty cold, and on most the statute of limitations is close to running out. But there could be . . . repercussions. Up here, I mean.” He leans back away from me and looks solemn.

I say politely, “I’m sorry, but I’m not following.”

He says, “Durbin-Nacarro,” and then I don’t need him to chart me a flight path.

The Durbin-Nacarro Act severely limits the elective surgery available to convicted felons. This is supposed to deter criminals and terrorists from changing their looks, fingerprints, retinal patterns, voice scans, and anything else that “hinders identification.” Did they think that someone who, say, blows up a spaceport in San Francisco or Dubai would then go to a registered hospital in any signatory country to request a new face? Ah, lawmakers.

Sequene is, of course, registered in a Durbin-Nacarro country, but nobody has ever applied D-treatment to Durbin-Nacarro. The treatment doesn’t change anything that could be criminally misleading. In fact, the feds like it because it updates all their biological records on everybody who passes through Sequene. Plenty of criminals have had D-treatment: Carmine Lucente, Raul Lopez-Reyes, Surya Hasimo. But if Alcozer really wants to, he can find some federal judge somewhere to issue a dogshit injunction and stop my D-treatment.

Of course, I have no intention of actually getting a D-treatment, but he doesn’t know that. I put on panic.

“Agent . . . I’m an old man . . . and without this . . .”

“Just think about it, Max. We’ll talk again.” He puts his hand on mine—such a fucking putz—and squeezes it briefly. I look pathetic. Alcozer walks jauntily out.

Rosie is still scratching at the tablecloth. Now she starts to tear her bread into little pieces and fling them around. A young woman in the light blue Sequene uniform rushes over to Rosie’s table and says in a strong British accent, “Is everything all right then, Mrs. Kowalski?”

Rosie looks up dimly and says nothing.

“I’ll just help you to your room, dear.” Gently the attendant guides her out. I catch her eye and look meaningfully upset, and in five minutes the girl is back at my table. “Are you all right then, Mr. Feder?”

Now I’m querulous and demanding, a very rich temperamental geezer. “No, I’m not all right, I’m upset. For what I pay here, that’s not the sight I expect with my breakfast.”

“Of course not. It won’t happen again.”

“What’s her problem?”

The girl hesitates, then decides that my tip will justify a minor invasion of Rosie’s privacy.

“Mrs. Kowalski has a bit of mental decay. Naturally she wants to get it sorted out before it can progress any more, so she came to us. Now, would you like anything more to eat?”

“No, I’m done. I’ll just maybe take a little walk before my first doctor’s appointment.”

She beams as if I’ve just declared that I’ll just maybe bring peace to northern China. I nod and start a deliberately slow progress around Sequene. This yields me nothing, which I should have known. I can’t get into restricted areas because I couldn’t carry even the simplest jammer through shuttle security, and even if I could, it would only call attention to myself, and that I don’t need. There are jammers and weapons here somewhere, and from my study of the blueprints I can make a good guess where. I can even guess where Daria might be. But I can’t get at them, or her, and it comes to me that the only way I am going to see Daria is to ask for her.

Which I’m afraid to do. When your entire life has narrowed to one insane desire, you live with fear: you breathe it, eat it, lie down with it, feel it slide along your skin like a woman’s lost caress.

I was terrified that Daria would say no. And then I would have nothing left to desire. When that happens, you’re already dead.


In the afternoon the doctors take blood, they take tissue, they put me in machines, they take me out again. Everyone is exquisitely polite. I talk to someone I suspect is a psychiatrist, although I’m told he’s not. I sign a lot of papers. Everything is recorded.

Agent Alcozer waits for me outside my suite. “Max. Can I come in?”

“Why not?”

In my sitting room he ostentatiously takes a small green box from his pocket, presses a series of buttons, and sets the thing on the floor. A jammer. We are now encased in a Faraday cage: no electromagnetic wavelengths in and none out. An invisible privacy cloak.

Of course—Alcozer has jammers, has weapons, has anything I might need to get to Daria. Agent Alcozer.

Angel Alcozer.

He says, “Have you thought about my offer?”

“I don’t remember an offer. An offer has numbers attached, like flies on fly paper. Flies I don’t remember, Joe.” I have never used his first name before. He’s too good to look startled.

“Here are some flies, Max. You name three important things about the San Cristobel fraud of ’89. The hacker’s name, the Swiss account number, and the organization you worked with. Then we let you stay up here on Sequene without interference. Sound good?”

“San Cristobel, San Cristobel,” I mutter. “Do I remember from San Cristobel?”

“I think you do.”

“Maybe I do.”

His eyes sharpen. They are no color at all, nondescript. Government-issue eyes. But eager.

“But I need something else, too,” I say.

“Something else?”

“I want—”

All at once I stop. High in my nose, something tingles. This time there is even a distinct smell, like old fish. Something is wrong here, something connected to Alcozer, or to the San Cristobel deal—Moshe’s deal, not Stevan’s—or to this conversation.

“You want what?” Alcozer says.

“I want to think a little more.” I never ignore that smell. The nose knows.

He shifts his weight, disappointed. “Not too much more, Max. Your treatment’s scheduled for tomorrow.”

How does he know that? I don’t know that. Alcozer has access to information I do not. Probably he knows where Daria is. All I have to do is give him the San Cristobel flies, and who gets hurt? Moshe is dead, that particular Robin Hood is dead, the island where it all happened no longer even exists, lost to the rising sea. The money was long since moved from the Swiss to the Indonesians and on from there. Nobody gets hurt.

No. There was something else about San Cristobel. Old fish.

I say, “Let me think a few hours. It’s a big step, this.” I let my voice quaver. “A big change for me, this place. You know I never lived big on Earth. And for a kid from Brooklyn . . .”

Alcozer smiles. It’s supposed to be a comradely smile. He looks like a vampire with a tooth job. “For a kid from Des Moines, too. All right, Max, you think. I’ll come back right after dinner.” He turns off the jammer, pockets it, stands. “Have another nice walk. By the way, there’s no restricted areas on Sequene that you could possibly get into.”

“You think maybe I don’t know that?”

“I’m trying to find out what you know.” Alcozer looks pleased with himself, like he’s said something witty. I let him think this. Always good to encourage federal delusion.

Old fish. But whose?


I go to dinner. The second I sit at a table, Rosie totters into the dining room, lights up like a rocket launch, and shouts, “Christopher!”

I look around. Two other diners in the room so far, and they’re both women. Rosie lurches over, tears streaming down her cheeks, and throws her arms around me. “You came!”


A harried-looking woman in the light blue uniform hurries through the doorway. “Oh, Mr. Feder, I’m so sorry, she—”

“It’s Christopher!” Rosie cries. “Look, Anna, my brother Christopher! He came all the way from California to visit me!”

Rosie is clutching me like I’m a cliff she’s about to go over. I don’t have to play blank—I am blank. The attendant tries to detach her, but she only clutches harder.

“So sorry, Mr. Feder, she gets a little confused, she—Mrs. Kowalski!”

“Christopher! Christopher! I’m going to have dinner with my brother!”

“Mrs. Kowalski, really, you—”

“Would it help if I have dinner with her?” I say.

The attendant looks confused. But more people are coming into the dining room, very rich people, and it’s clear she doesn’t want a fuss. Her earcomm says something and she tries to smile at me. “Oh, that would be . . . if you don’t mind . . .”

“Not at all. My aunt, in her last days . . . I understand.”

The young attendant is grateful, along with angry and embarrassed and a half dozen other things I don’t care about. I reach out with my one free hand and pull out a chair for Rosie, who sits down, mumbling. A robo-waiter appears and order is restored to the universe.

Rosie mumbles to herself all through dinner, absolutely unintelligible mumbling. The attendant lurks unhappily in a corner. The set of her body says she’s has been dealing with Rosie all day and is disgusted with this duty. Stevan must have created a hell of a credit history for Mrs. Kowalski. Rosie says nothing whatsoever to me, but occasionally she beams at me like a demented lighthouse. I say nothing to her, but I get worried. I don’t know what’s happening. Either she really has lost it—in less than a week? is this possible?—or she’s a better actress than half of the holo stars on the Link.

She eats everything, but very slowly. Halfway through dessert, some kind of chocolate pastry, the dining room is full. The first shift, the old people who go to bed at ten o’clock (I know this, I’m one of them) have left and the second shift, the younger and more fashionably dressed, are eating and laughing and ordering expensive wine. I recognize a famous Japanese singer, an American ex-Senator who was once (although he didn’t know it) on my payroll, and an Arab playboy. From Sequene’s point of view, it is not a good place for a tawdry scene.

Rosie stands and cries, “Daria Cleary!”

My heart stops.

But of course Daria is not there. There’s only Rosie, flailing her arms and crying, “I must thank Daria Cleary! For this gift of life! I must thank her!”

People stare. A few look amused, but most do not. They have the affronted look of sleek darlings forced to look at old age, senility, a badly dressed and stooped body that may smell bad—all the things they have come to Sequene to avoid experiencing. The attendant dashes over.

“Mrs. Kowalski!”

“Daria! I must thank her!”

The girl tugs on Rosie, who grabs at the tablecloth. Plates and wineglasses and expensive hydroponic flowers crash to the floor. Diners mutter, scowling. The girl says desperately, “Yes, of course, we’ll go see Daria! Right now! Come with me, Mrs. Kowalski.”

“Christopher, too!”

I say softly, conspiratorially, to the girl, “We need to get her out of here.”

She says, “Yes, yes, of course, Christopher, too,” and gives me a tight, grateful, furious smile.

Rosie trails happily after the attendant, holding my hand.

I think, This cannot work. Once we’re out of the dining room, out of earshot, out of hypocrisy . . .

In the corridor outside the dining room Rosie halts, shouting again, “Daria!” People here, too, stop and stare. Rosie, suddenly not tottering, leads the way past them, down a side corridor, then another. Faster now, the attendant has to run to catch up. Me, too. So Rosie hits the force fence first, is knocked to the ground, and starts to cry.

“All right, you,” the girl says, all pretense of sweetness gone. “That’s enough!” She grabs Rosie’s arm and tries to yank her upward. Rosie outweighs her by maybe twenty-five kilos. A service ’bot trundles toward us.

Rosie is calling, “Daria! Daria! Please, you don’t know what this means to me! I’m an old woman but I was young once, I too lost the only man I ever loved—remember Cyprus? Do you—you do! Cyprus! Daria!”

The ’bot exudes a scoop and effortlessly shovels up Rosie like so much gravel. The girl says viciously, “I’ve had just about enough of—”

And stops. Her face changes. Something is coming over her earcomm.

Then there is an almost inaudible pop! as the force-fence shuts down. At the far end of the corridor, a door opens, a door that wasn’t even there a moment ago. Stealth coating, I think, dazed. Reuven’s robo-dog. My hand, unbidden, goes to my naked ring finger.

Standing in the doorway, backed by bodyguards both human and ’bot just as she was in the ViaHealth hospital fifty-five years ago, is Daria.


She still looks eighteen. As I stumble forward, too numb to feel my legs move, I see her in a Greek taverna, leaning against the bar; on a rocky beach, crying in early morning light; in a hospital bed, head half shaved. She doesn’t see me at all, isn’t looking, doesn’t recognize me. She looks at Rosie.

Who has changed utterly. Rosie scrambles off the gravel scoop and pushes away the attendant, a push so strong the girl falls against the corridor wall. Rosie grabs my hand and drags me forward. At the doorway, both ’bot and human bodyguards block the way. Rosie submits to a body search that ordinarily would have brought death to any man who touched a Rom woman in those ways, possibly including her husband. Rosie endures it like a pagan queen disdaining unimportant Roman soldiers. Me, I hardly notice it. I can’t stop looking at Daria.

Still eighteen, but utterly changed.

The wild black hair has been subdued into a fashionable, tame, ugly style. Her smooth brown skin has no color under its paint. Her eyes, still her own shade of green, bear in their depths a defeat and loneliness I can’t imagine.

Yes. I can.

She says nothing, just stands aside to let us pass once the guards have finished. The human one says, “Mrs. Cleary—” but she silences him with a wave of her hand. We stand now in a sort of front hall. Maybe it’s white or blue or gold, maybe there are flowers, maybe the flowers stand on an antique table—nothing really registers. All I see is Daria, who does not see me.

She says to Rosie, “What do you know of Cyprus? Were you there?”

She must think Rosie was a whore on Cyprus when Daria herself was—the ages would be about right. But Daria’s question is detached, uninvolved, the way you might politely ask the age of an historical building. Dating from 1649? Really. Well.

Rosie doesn’t answer. Instead she steps behind me. Rosie can’t say my name, because of course we are all under surveillance. She must remain Mrs. Kowalski so that she can go home to Stevan. Rosie can say nothing.

So I do. I say, “Daria, it’s Max.”

Finally she looks at me, and she knows who I am.


The Rom have a word for ghosts: mulé. Mulé haunt the places they used to live for up to a year. They eat scraps, use the toilet, spend the money buried with them in their coffins. They trouble the living in dreams and visions. Wispy, insubstantial, they nonetheless exist. I could never find out if Stevan or Rosie actually believed in mulé. There are things the Rom never tell a gajo.

Daria has become a muli. There is no real interest in her eyes as she regards me. This woman, who once, in a hospital room, risked both our lives to bring me riches and atonement and shame, now has lived beyond all risk, all interest. Decades of being shut away by Peter Cleary, of being hated by people who make periodic and serious efforts to kill her, of being used as a biological supply station from which pieces are clipped to fuel others’ vanity, have drained her of all vitality. She desires nothing, feels nothing, cares about nothing. Including me.

“Max,” she says courteously. “Hello.”

The throaty catch, the hesitation, is gone from her voice. For some reason, it is this which breaks me. Go figure. Her accent is still there, even her scent is still there, but not that catch in the voice, and not Daria. This is a shell. In her eyes, nothing.

Rosie takes my hand. It is the first time in forty years, except for when she was crazy Mrs. Kowalski, that Rosie Adams has ever touched me. In her clasp I feel all of the compassion, the life, that is missing from Daria. Nothing could have hurt me more.

I can’t look any more at Daria. How do you look at something that isn’t there? I turn my head and see Agent Alcozer round the corner of the hallway outside the apartment, running toward us.

And then, at that moment and not a second before, I remember what stank about San Cristobel.

The scam went through fine. But afterward, Moshe came to me. “They want to do it again, this time with a mole. They’ve actually got someone inside the feds, in the Central Investigative Bureau. It looks good.”

“Get me the details,” I said. And when Moshe did, I rejected the deal.

“But why?” Anguished—Moshe hated to let a profitable thing go.

“Because,” I said, and wouldn’t say more. He argued, but I stood firm. The new deal involved another organization, the one the mole came from. The Pure of Heart and Planet. Eco-nuts, into a lot of things on both sides of the law, but I knew what Moshe did not and wouldn’t have cared about if he had. The Pure of Heart and Planet were connected with the second big attack on LifeLong, on that Greek island. The Pure of Heart and Planet along with their mole in the feds, altered and augmented in sacrifice to the greater glory of biological purity, a guy from what used to be Des Moines.

Alcozer runs faster than humanly possible. He carries something in his hands, a thick rod with knobs that I don’t recognize. Weapons change in ten years. Everything changes.

And Daria knows. She looks at Alcozer, and she doesn’t move.

The bodyguards don’t move, either, and I realize that of course they’ve reactivated the force fence around the apartment. It makes no difference. Alcozer barrels through it; whatever the military has developed for the Central Investigative Bureau, it trumps whatever Sequene has. It handles the guard ’bot, too, which just shuts down, erased by what must be the jammer of all jammers.

The human bodyguard isn’t quite so easy. He fires at Alcozer, and the mole staggers. Blood howls out of him. As he goes down he throws something, so small you might not notice it if you didn’t know what was happening. I know; this is the first weapon that I actually recognize, although undoubtedly it’s been upgraded. Primitive. Contained. Lethal enough to do what it needs to without risking a hull breach, no matter where on an orbital or shuttle you set it off. A MPG, mini personal grenade, and all at once I’m back on Cyprus, in the Army, and training unused for sixty-five years surfaces in my muscles like blossoming spores.

I lurch forward. Not smooth, nothing my drill sergeant would be proud of. But I never hesitate, not for a nanosecond.

I can only save one of them. No time for anything else. Daria stands, beautiful as the moment I saw her in that taverna, in her green eyes a welcome for death. Overdue, so what kept you already? But those would be my words, not hers. Daria has no words, which are for the living.

I hit Rosie’s solid flesh more like a dropped piano than a rescuing knight. We both go down—whump!—and I roll with her under the antique table, which is there after all, a heavy marble slab. My roll takes Rosie, the beloved of my faithful friend Stevan, against the wall, with me on the outside. I never hear the grenade; they have been upgraded. Electromagnetic waves, nothing as crude as fragments. Burns sluice across my back like burning oil. The table cracks and half falls.

Then darkness.


Romani have a saying: Rom corel khajnja, Gadzo corel farma. Gypsies steal the chicken, but it is the gaje who steal the whole farm. Yes.



I wake in a white bed, in a white room, wearing white bandages under a white blanket. It’s like doctors think that color hurts. Geoff sits beside my bed. When I stir, he leans forward.


“I’m here.”

“How do you feel?”

The inevitable, stupid question. I was MPG-fragged, a table fell on me, how should I feel? But Geoff realizes this. He says, quietly, “She’s dead.”


He looks blank—as well he might. “Who’s Rosie?”

“What did I say? I don’t feel . . . I can’t . . .”

“Just rest, Dad. Don’t try to talk. I just want you to know that Daria Cleary’s dead.”

“I know,” I say. She’s been dead a long time.

“So is that terrorist. Dead. It turns out he was actually a federal agent—can you believe it? But the woman you saved, Mrs. Kowalski, she’s all right.”

“Where is she?”

“She went back downstairs. Changed her mind about D-treatment. Now the newsholos want to interview her and they can’t find her.”

And they never will. I think about Stevan and Rosie . . . and Daria. It isn’t pain I feel, although that might be because the doctors have stuck on my neck a patch the size of Rhode Island. Not pain, but hollowness. Emptiness. Cold winds blow right through me.

When there’s nothing left to desire, you’re finished.

In the hallway, ’bots roll softly past. Dishes clink. People murmur and someplace a bell chimes. Hollowness. Emptiness.

“Dad,” Geoff says, and his tone changes. “You saved that woman’s life. You didn’t even know her, she was just some crazy woman you were being kind to, and you saved her life. You’re a hero.”

Slowly I turn my head to look at him. Geoff’s eyes shine. His thin lips work up and down. “I’m so proud of you.”

So it’s a joke. All of it—a bad joke. You’d think the Master of the Universe could do better. I go on an insane quest for a ring eaten by a robotic dog, I assist in the mercy killing of the only woman I ever loved, I save the life of one of the best criminals on the planet—my own partner-in-law in so many grand larcenies that Geoff’s head would spin—and the punch line is that my son is proud of me. Proud. This makes sense?

But a little of the hollowness fills. A little of the cold wind abates.

Geoff goes on, “I told Bobby and Eric what you did. They’re proud of their grampops, too. So is Gloria. They all can’t wait for you to come back home.”

“That’s nice,” I say. Grampops—what a word. But the wind abates a little more.

“Sleep, now, Dad,” Geoff says. He hesitates, then leans over and kisses my forehead.

I feel my son’s kiss there long after he leaves.

So I don’t tell him that I’m not going back home any time soon. I’m going to have the D-treatment, after all. When I do have to tell him, I’ll say that I want to live to see my grandsons grow up. Maybe this is even true. Okay—it is true, but the idea is so new I need time to get used to it.

My other reason for getting D-treatment is stronger, fiercer. It’s been there so much longer.

I want a piece of Daria with me. In the old days, I had her in a ring. But that was then, and this is now, and I’ll take what I can get. It is, will have to be, enough.


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"Fountain of Age " Nancy Kress, copyright © 2007, with permission of the authors.

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