Without a sound the sand scrubbed maglev autocab pulled up to the curb. It stopped just west of the bridge over the River Tigris at the northern corner of the ancient city of Baghdad. The silence of the ride from the Host’s administrative center to the antediluvian hotel was broken by the cab. “ انتقد بطاقة الائتمان الخاصة بك,” ordered the vehicle.
“English please,” Connor requested.
After a short pause the vehicle pronounced, “Swipe your plascash card!”
Connor fumbled through the pockets of his white summer vestment for the authenticator to make the payment. He located the Host polycard he had been given to cover local expenses, pulled it out and flipped it open. It had been awhile since Connor last visited the now of the twenty-ninth century and he was not quite sure of the exact protocol. He cautiously ran the card through the autocab’s collection meter.
The meter chimed and flashed المدفوعة. “Paid,” announced the cab.“Wait or go? Waiting time is extra!” a question and an information sound bite issued from the cab’s pre-programmed English vocabulary to prompt its slow moving passenger.
“No, uh…Go!” Connor said. He clambered from the transporter to stand on the crumbling clay brick of the roadway. Granules of desert sand, blowing in the warm morning air, tickled at his nose and settled on the tips of his wings.
“Punch the yellow button on your cellipod when you need another ride,” the cab informed him. Then it glided east toward the newly risen Sun and out of sight.
Connor checked the contents of the carryall shoulder case he had been issued at the administrative center. There was a cellipod inside. Along with the cellipod, Connor discovered a palladium pen light, a pair of old polarized sunglasses, four bottles of electrolyte infused drinking water, a cotton towel and a large odd shaped brass key. His Host, the local Principalities, seemed to have covered everything. The water and sunglasses had an obvious use in a blistering hot desert city like Baghdad, but Connor didn’t quite know what to make of the penlight, the towel and the oversized key.
Connor DuShane was almost fifty-nine years old when he
became aware that the body he inhabited was the wrong one.
Overnight, it seemed to him, he had aged into a jowly, grey-
haired grandfather figure with indelible lines at the corners of
his mouth and wrinkles above his bushy white eyebrows. Wide and soft of belly with two short wings that could barely lift him
off the ground, he was forced to use mechanical transportation
as an adjunct to perform his Virtuous duties.
Most of his peers would have left it at that. “No use
tryingto alter things at this late date,” they would say.
“What’s done is done, now and hereafter.”
Connor could see the consequences in the mirror each morning when he shaved. It occurred to him to say just that too, but he didn’t.
Connor looked up at the rundown marquee of the old hotel
and then surveyed his immediate surroundings. Across the
crumbling boulevard, lined with long neglected palm trees, there were several old brick store fronts with boarded-over windows. At the intersection, near the bridge, a deteriorating mosque faced east on the side street. Beyond that was a ramshackle mat’am with an orange and blue neon open sign, blinking فتح in the front window.
A few local Powers floated by above the sand covered street, barely stroking their wings for movement, headed toward the eating establishment.
It had been a while since Connor was able to move about with
such abandon in any now time. He sighed and turned his attention to the assignment at hand. With a firm resolve, Connor pushed open the art deco door leading into the hotel lobby and flexed his wings. Working hard, he managed enough flutter to mimic a local Power. Grains of sand sprayed in every direction from his wings as he floated across the carpeted anteroom to settle at the hotel’s reception desk.
“Doctor Claypool Adinijad,” he said to the glum eyed
serveoid manning the registry.” He is expecting me.”
“اسمك من فضلك,”
“I’m afraid that I don’t speak Arabic, English please.”
The serveoid hummed for a moment as it changed vocabulary.
“Your name please” it repeated the request in English.
“DuShane, Connor DuShane. The Doctor would be expecting
After scanning Connor up and down, the serveoid read
through a holographic desk display to match him with the hotel
guest’s appointment notices. Then it pointed to a recessed
alcove. “The Doctor awaits you at the hotel caffe,” the serveoid
announced in a voice that matched its melancholy appearance. It made another short mechanical sound, relaying Connors pictorial description, notifying the hotel staff that Doctor Adinijad’s guest spoke old English. “Breakfast seven to eleven,” the serveoid added.
Pumping his wings, Connor moved from the front desk to the
niche at the far end of the hotel lobby. In two short flights
he had worked up a heavy sweat under his ankle length robe and he was breathing heavily from the exertion. Connor knew that he really had to find out who he in fact should be. This short, round physical form was just too much to cart around. He resolved to do just that as soon as this extraction was