(Tuesday, January 2, 2035)







At 1201 hours, Norlin hands over his Departmental keycard to the attendant of the underground motorpool; then guides a drab, brown Departmental hydrocoupe bearing Ice and Henry Hat out onto the streets of Jatesland.  Mild sun permeates the inevitable hydrofog - streets curve gradually and the buildings... lozenge-shaped and large, sometimes only three or four to a block... have commercial enterprises on ground floors, apartments and offices bulging above - so many blisters sprouting out of larger blisters upon the largest.  The few pedestrians waiting at intersections for IDs to be processed do not differ appreciably from those of Norlin’s youth, a generation back although, up close, a few show distinct, unpleasantly bestial traits.  WJAD-Two, the all-Elvis station, plays softly on the hydro's radio, "All Shook Up" transiting into an implausible "Jailhouse Rock" as a pressgang of LCs curves into view.

          "We've been out here, before," Eric advises his superior officer as the solar policeman listens, attentively, in the backseat.  "Six times, is it?"

          "Seven.  Teh... roosh-ka has an eye out for Eric, I think..." Norlin draws out the citizen's name.

"That artificial one... remember, she took it out last September when she was pretending to be someone else with more duplicate husbands?"  Eric glares out the window - a thin man in an overcoat seven sizes too large is skulking down the sidewalk, slapping Jatesist stickers on the side view mirrors of parked hydros, and he spits out the window.  "Oughta fix her up with Clem Clarke," he suggests. "Talked to the Colonel recently?"

"Why mess with the poor keb?  Not his fault he made a rotten marriage, once... ol' Troosh was quite the looker in her Hollywood days, if you trust all them old photos from before the k’ball..."

"Probably clipped from magazines... hey!..."

Ice flashes his index finger out the window, as if pointing a weapon, at a prison gang, apparently working on another of Jatesland's inevitable sewer projects under a Jatesist billboard that commands: "UNDERSTAND NATURE". They wear green scrubs stenciled with the names of their crimes... a few BURGLARs or FORNICATORs pushing brooms or lifting shovels, but, mostly, LCs: MILK, SUGAR, STIMULANTS.  Watching from the curb, oldsters in wheelchairs heckle the laborers and scowl at the passing cops, one with his back turned to the street and the police displays ILLICIT OVERCONSUMPTION of LEGAL PAINKILLERS.

          "Just another hole, needs fillin'... like Troosh... reminds me," Eric continues, incautiously, "how's your old man doin'?"

          Norlin's fists grip the wheel.  "Same as ever.  Lucid, sometimes..."

          Ice swivels, facing Henry Hat in the hydro's backseat.  "Norlin's father used to be this big shot outlier, back in EastAmerica..."

          "Second-generation law enforcement?" the suncop inquires.  "Curved and corporeal time, come to rest... I do hope that his wounds weren't serious."

          "He... nah, I mean he was Federal too, a big-shot cop.  Not a big shot cop, still down there, down South inna vegetable garden, ain't he?"

          Parking at the curb, giving his subordinate only a brief nod, Norlin places the hydro's police placard in the windshield.  It's an old building, for Jatesland, with an old man at the desk.  Not a retired cop, just a civilian who made it through the k'ball and would talk about it, at length, if they'd give him half a chance.  They don't.  Stepping off the elevator into a corridor of richly detailed and embellished apartments (which are, nonetheless, beginning to show signs of age), the officers step back, holding up their badges as Norlin, knocking at a white door with the metal placard, 712, identifies himself.

          "Trouble Factory, ma'am.  You requested consultation regarding a... a Colonel Batter?"

          Pretending that she is new to them... and, at least, Norlin and Eric new to her... is a part of the Compliance game.

From behind the white door, they hear snuffles, then a farrago of barkings and growlings, punctuated by commands:  "Governor, stop it!  Marquessa!  Sir Ethaniel... I invited them!"

          "I hate dogs," Eric spits.  "Kebbin' Council oughta make them illegal."

          "They're working on it," Norlin assures him.

The door is flung open - several little balls of fluff attacking the policemen's knees and ankles while their mistress, Terushka Batter, regards them wistfully in her long chenille robe, empty cigarette holder propped between her fingers.  When the fuss and shooing and apologies have run their course, Ice, Norlin and Henry are directed to a white couch, liberally garlanded with dog hair.  The apartment is freezing, but the complainant seems not to care... the frozen air potentiates the canine reek.

          "Officers... so nice to see you!  Where do I begin?" Terushka sighs.

          "Some," Eric suggests, presumptuously, "begin at the beginning..."

          Norlin flashes him a glare intended to substitute for stronger advice to keep protocol... an elbow in the ribs, a reprimand.  Henry Hat sits pleasantly, hat balanced on his knees.  "Yeah, uh..." the Corporal prompts, "feels like you're having fex from the Solar Furnace?"

Teresa blinks and pouts, lips opening and closing in the shape of a small, round beating heart.  Doesn't look a day over seventy, Norlin decides, although the most reputable documents list her date of birth as 1952.  A few in the file even go back as far as 1948, which would make her eighty-six years old... pre-k'ball records being notoriously temperamental.

"I'm a warm weather girl, you know.  Subjected to Hitler, over Hitler's own gas bill, by the cultgroup, fanatical political activists, you know..." and she lifts a finger, presciently...

"You're kebbin' us!" Eric pretends surprise.

"Officer!  I am the widow of Commander Roman Sapoi Batter, hero of Grenada and the Panama Canal conflicts. It was not at all my husband doing those terrible things, but... an impostor!  Among the lethalities and obstructions - misuse of military uniforms, titles, ranks, premises and privileges has abounded.  These impostors... blue eyed, not brown eyed!... have taken carnal advantage of me since 1998, when I was hostess on that game show network."  She looks down and Henry Hat, thoughtfully, removes a tissue from its enameled box.  Mrs. Batter daubs her eyes... one real, one artificial, a fairly good copy of an original Jates Orb Four, Norlin presumes... and the dogs start yapping again. "We had so many more and better peevee channels before the k'ball... of course, we called it teevee in those days..."

          "Tell me, lady!" Eric winks.  "I bid on a thirty-second share of Regis Philbin, but it went for... like... fourteen hundred?  I know a thing or two about conspiracies..."

"Deep infiltration into military privilege has occurred," confides Troosh, as if doling out a special reward to the police.  "These are powerful and insidious persons and, perhaps, my annihilated husband is not the only military officer whose clearance and credentials have been used for secretive infiltration circumstances.  Now the blue-eyed impostor Dar*Slattery who, in multiple deceit... Ethaniel, stop it!"

Too late... the little dog has piddled all over Eric's leg...

          Norlin finds this amusing.  "Quick, Eric, get a bottle so we can wring out the fex and sell it for Paul Parchette before it freezes..."

          "Not funny!  You were saying, lady?"

"Bobby Blessen, Dar*Pinkford, Robert Kennedy and Robert Redford and the thirty-year impostor of my murdered husband have all played stable boy for this Trojan horse cultgroup," Trooshka nods, winsomely.  Eric's her favorite, now... marked, tagged, like a rare duck, by the birdwatchers (or, in his case, dogfexxers).  "I was electronically questioned via the electronic, electric bed."

          Norlin's fine with playing the no-nonsense cop, the man who gets the facts down like... like what-was-his-name on that old cop show before the k'ball... the one that his father watched?  "Before, or after, the Solar Furnace cut your power off?" he seeks clarification, blowing into his rapidly reddening hands.

"Before!  Officer, I am not mad... dignity I had as a person of the stage, and truth.  These impostors of my annihilated family menaced my life, stole furs, jewels, silver, theatrical props... I was not only dead, but flourishing in my profession."  She winks at Eric... good boy!... ignores Norlin, considers Henry Hat, who smiles back at her, but in a manner to make her hands begin to flutter.  Rising hastily, she totters to a scuffed and cigarette-scorched credenza, removes an old photography album from its single drawer.  "The impostor of my father made a flaunting statement that he had 'had these fingerprints for years'!  My bank account scrambled, telescoped, my life attempted and I had to flee WestAmerica for my survival!  Here..."

          She thrusts the album towards the couch, open to a page with an ancient portrait carefully preserved under heavy, yellowing laminate - sometime in the prior century; an impossibly young, implausibly grinning Terushka posed between two stolid men in evening dress.

"Jackie Mason.  Andrew Dice Clay.  J. Edgar Hoover wrote a reply to my letter about my having a transmitter implanted during my engagement in Peking, but I lost that in the landslides.  I have been electocryonically and chemically illegally manipulated and chemically abused, tantamount.  They provided... via physiognomatic disguise, officers... gestures, motions, etal as one might train a monkey to wind clocks.  In other states they also plagiarized me... using the lookalike, Ida Futorian.  My dogs do not need this anxiety!"

          Henry Hat nods, pleasantly, and there is a knock at the door...

          "Who comes now?"  Terushka presses a beringed hand to her forehead, sighing.  "Further lethalities transpiring constantly, transparently, in this rough sea of seceded sewerage!"

          "Yeah, you can smell it everywhere.  Eric," Norlin points, wearily, "get the door."

Heater drawn and at his side, Ice glares through Terushka's peephole, turns back to lift an eyebrow at the officers on the couch, then opens the door to admit a chinless, middle-aged man with wispy hair and a clerical collar, carrying a black box...

          "Miss Batter, it's Monsignor Goodwine from the actors' union... here to do your hair..."      

          Eric prods the box with the tip of the heater.  "Open that!"

Goodwine complies with a clerical simper, revealing no priestly apparatus but, rather, an assembly of sharp scissors and sinister devices...

"Oh... the Monsignor's alright, officers, he is a dear!  He does my hair for free, and all my dogs' hair, too.  It's one of my last remaining benefits.  The Clairol Corporation burned all of my hair off; I have been illicitly and illegally electronically inquisitioned and endangered by their legitimate representatives of illegitimate agencies..."

          Norlin gives a closer look to Goodwine who shrugs, picking up the longest and sharpest of his scissors as he approaches the couch.

          "You could use a trim, too, Officer, let me just take a little off here... and here!"

And, before Norlin can react, the priest has snipped and collected several wayward hairs, a few from Eric, too... he inclines his weapon towards Henry Hat, but does not attempt to clip the suncop...

"Uh, thanks Father...mister..." Norlin finds himself correcting, unsure of exactly who he's addressing, "but we can't accept gratuities on the job.  You say you're from the actors' union?"

          "Neither demon barber, nor a whiskey priest..." the Monsignor admits, "tho' I've played both, onstage..."

          Norlin decides to leave it up to his plaintiff: "...and he's alright with you?"

          "He's a Monsignor!" Terushka affirms, crossing herself as Eric Ice snaps out his satcom and dials up the Fex Market with a broad wink to the unlicensed barber.

          "Pardon me, boys, see how my Pompidou doo-doo's doin'..."

"Right.  About that gas bill," Norlin hastens to wrap up, "how about I send the matter up to the Actors' Union too; otherwise it's a civil case, and you'd have to file with the Courts of Flux and go to the Law Firm..."

"Oh... oh no!"  Terushka's hands fly up to her face, eyes flashing, jaw hardening under her curls like a stubborn child's.  "As Stanley Bass, solicitor, Dar*Pickford stole money and, under another alias, altered my college yearbooks from 1971..."

          Norlin’s mind calculates a spell, and then he slaps both hands on his knees and stands up, shivering.  "Well, that settles it... Eric?"  And, away from the old lady's sightline, he makes an impolite gesture.

          "Like I said, Corpse, not do, and say we did..." Ice reiterates, returning the satcom to his pocket, "...uh, ma'am, is there a bathroom?"  Terushka points down a corridor.  "Uh... picked up this soaker from the Chinese Market on the way in, might have..."

          Norlin, briefly glancing at Henry Hat, decides against bringing this outsider into Trouble Factory mictuary politics.  "Alright, I'll do the kebbin' honors," he yields.  After locking the bathroom door, he removes a Departmental flask and half-fills it with urine, writing in Terushka Batter's name, the date and his own signature with a vague, yet unmistakable premonition of impending dread.