Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hiatus

Going to try and get a very different kind of project started, probably will not get anywhere with it in the end but it promises to be fun. Should be back in two or three weeks.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Barely Balanced, and I'm not just talking about myself




Shamefully ducking yard work responsibilities again last weekend the family loaded up and went to the Carolina Renaissance Festival up in Charlotte, North Carolina to enjoy a plenitude of nerdy activities. Saw lots of dudes, taking this stuff far too seriously, jousting on horse back putting to shame any testy arguments I have seen equally nerdy Trekkies conduct. The knights were carrying real swords so I give them the "edge" since the only weapons the Trekkies have ever carried are plastic phasers.

Gangs of Mafia-like monks with massive attitudes walked around selling indulgences to us poor peasants. Yes, they made the proverbial offers no one could refuse, the threat of eternal hell fire and a muscle bound monk can be very persuasive. I coughed up five bucks and had my soul blessed and got a nice t-shirt that the monks assure me that when St. Peter sees me wearing it in line at the Pearly Gates he will usher me right in. Call me a Doubting Thomas but I am skeptical but the muscle bound monk was quite the salesman.

Several pirates prowled the crowd apparently confused since they were so far away from the coast. But I had a good time with a busty pirate lady who said something about keel hauling me in a suggestive manner.

Now some might wonder why I didn't post more pictures especially with a multitude of ladies walking around wearing tight Renaissance costumes with their ample ta-ta's about explode outward. Well I did take a lot of pictures but frankly they sucked, except for the few pictures of said ladies I just mentioned. My one issue with them was that the fine ladies were carrying far more edged weapons this year and I quickly got the "point" of their displeasure at being treated as objects of sexual desire.

One small update, I'm hating the big dude on the left side of the picture featuring the fairy Twig and Miss Wiggles.


The best parts were the shows put on by various artists. Namely the group called "Barely Balanced" who put on a great show. If you have any Renaissance festivals in your area try and go see these great performers. Now the big drawback about escaping yard work last weekend is all the extra stuff I am looking at tomorrow.





Sunday, October 17, 2010

Missed Connections


Late September 1991:
Scott rubbed his cold hands and plunged them into his jacket pockets as he strolled down the deserted boardwalk praying the place he sought still existed in some fashion. The day was overcast with an unusually cold wind and a fine mist keeping what few tourists that remained in their hotel rooms leaving him alone to his thoughts and insane hopes. The city of Myrtle Beach renovated the area extensively after Hurricane Hugo and Scott was sure that many of the places he remembered from his teenage years only lived on in his memories. He only cared about one place, a stupid bar whose history extended long before his birth and he hoped the urban planners had not changed it into some cheap t-shirt shop or chain restaurant.
Somehow, he still found a way to almost overlook and pass the place by. The lamppost and the bench mounted to the edge of the boardwalk next the railing were what caught him. It was the place where they had their last conversation ten years before under the light of that lamp. Scott turned around and recognized the bar even though it had not remained unchanged, gone was the screened-in porch and the fake Tiki hut-like thatched roof. In their place were huge ornate glass windows and some sort of dignified name benefiting tourists seeking a safe and familiar refuge.
He still had two hours before the hoped for noon rendezvous but he was already nervous with a brooding realization he might have come all this way for nothing. Try as he might to find her it was as if she had fallen off the face of the earth. The only hope he had was a vague promise they made to each other to be at the place where so much had passed between them. Still he thought if nothing was ventured then nothing could be gained and with that thought, he pulled open the door and went inside.
While the exterior of the bar was greatly changed, the interior had suffered even more. Gone were the surfboards hanging from the ceiling, the angry tiki gods sitting on small shelves, the group pictures of past customers, and the tattered remains of psychedelic posters proclaiming peace and love stapled to the walls.
The actual bar was mounted next the wall on the right side of the room and ran its entire length, behind it were shelves displaying a huge collection of beer bottles from across the world. At the bar itself sets of levers for draft beer dispensers were placed at even spaces along its length offering the same brand time and time again, a stark contrast to the extensive collection on the shelves. On the customer side oak bar stools with comfortable cushions, advertising a national brand of beer stood empty. The rest of the bar held matching oak tables and chairs with the walls adorned with the mindless clutter of American Pop Culture.
Scott looked around while taking a seat at the bar noticing only a couple of college age students at one of the tables studying and a bald bartender dressed in a white shirt under a maroon vest behind the bar robotically polishing bottles .
“What can I get for you sir?” The bartender asked walking up to Scott.
“Bud Light,” Scott said noticing the asinine nametag the bartender wore proclaiming, “Hi I’m Fred” just above the handkerchief pocket on his vest.
Fred quickly delivered an icy bottle and a bowl of peanuts and drifted back over to his place which Scott noticed concealed a small television hidden by the bar overhang.
In silence, he began his waiting but not before pulling out his senior year high school yearbook and started leafing through the pages. As the minutes slip by with the only sounds in the bar were the soft murmur coming from the small television, the subdued voices from the students, and the sound of pages being turned. Regularly, Scott exchanged his empty bottles for full ones and occasionally stepped back outside to pace in front of the building while checking his watch only to come back inside and take his seat again.
A few people filtered into the bar as noon approached seeking refuge from the usually cold weather and each time Scott jumped as the opening door bumped the bell mounted above it signaling their entrance. The newcomers broke up the solemn atmosphere and heavy silence with the sounds of conversation and laughter but all quickly left again leaving only the bartender and one student now sitting alone at his table wrapped up in a book.
Noon came with Scott visibly disturbed and slightly drunk but still he waited in silence incessantly looking through the yearbook.
“Fred,” Scott said slightly slurred, “I’m just going to walk outside for a few minutes and get some air.”
Fred waved back barely acknowledging the man and returned to his television. Scott made the few steps outside while zipping his jacket back up and took a seat on the bench. He sat there watching the ocean and if someone looked closely enough they might have saw tears rolling down his face but that could have been the mist.
Another hour passed and Scott came back inside, paid his bar tab, and after collecting his yearbook walked back out disappearing into the thickening mist.
The bar remained essentially empty for a while until the arrival of a woman dressed in jeans, sweatshirt, and carrying a small overnight bag. As the door closed behind her, she quickly scanned the bar, obviously for someone but only seeing the bartender and the student.
“Yes ma’am,” Fred said rushing up to the lady, “what can I get for you?”
“There wasn’t a man waiting here was there?” She asked in an urgent voice.
“Why yes there was,” Fred said then giving a belief description, “he left about twenty minutes ago and was walking back toward the Pavilion.”
The lady wasted no time and rushed back out and began running in the direction of the huge shuttered building. Fred the bartender and the student exchanged a look of puzzlement with Fred stepping back over to the television and the student throwing his book into his backpack and heading out to meet someone himself.
Author’s note: This really happened on a cold Myrtle Beach September day, I was the college student studying with a buddy when “Scott” came in with his Myrtle Beach High School yearbook clearly waiting for someone and was the lone student reading a book when “Jennifer” arrived. I have always wondered about the situation between those two people. The following is just my mind filling in the blanks.

About a month before:
The intense sun of an Atlanta morning streamed through the window of the small apartment, waking the man sprawled on the couch. He swung his feet to the floor to sit up knocking over the mostly empty beer cans littering the floor soaking small sections of the moldy carpet with lukewarm remains of last night’s liquid entertainment. For reasons he could not figure out Scott Fisher tried to remember the night before but it was a sickening familiar blur after returning home from work. The rest of his weekend was easy to figure out, a near continuous repeat of Friday night to the last possible minute allowing him just enough time to recover so he could return to work without looking like the drunk he felt himself becoming.
Still he could at least be a clean drunk and with that thought, he stood up and walked from the living room consisting of only his couch and a television that rested on a small coffee table then into his bedroom, which stood empty except for a collection of cardboard boxes. He thought of the dozen or so containers as the parting gifts of his botched marriage, much like something they give a failed game show contestant.
Stepping out of the bathroom minutes, later Scott walked over to his closet and after combing through the few items he actually hung up and the suitcases at the bottom, which still held much of his clothing, he found a pair of shorts and t-shirt that would serve him for the day. Feeling more clear-headed and slightly motivated he began throwing his clothes into one pile for clean and the other for dirty, the former being remarkably small and the latter large and smelly.
“Well, I’ve gone and done it,” he said to himself just to hear the words, “I guess this means a trip to the laundromat.” Scott reached down to pick up his dirty clothes and set them on the top of the cardboard boxes stacked next the wall. Looking at the mound, he realized he was going to need something to carry them all and stepped back to the closet to empty out one of the suitcases to use for transport. It was then that one of the bottom cardboard boxes gave way sending the three others on top to the floor spilling out the contents.
“Dammit, this is asking too much of me today.” Scott again said to himself and began picking up the items littering the floor. Laying half out of one of the boxes was a high school yearbook and Scott felt drawn to it for some reason he could not explain. Being a man of little concern or care he forgot about everything this time and with a tenderness bordering on excessive he sat on the floor and began looking through the book. It was not long before he saw the picture of Jennifer and him, the one taken of them holding each other and sitting on the bench at Myrtle Beach in front of the seedy bar. In the background, surfers and other locals smiled and joked, their youth and emotions forever frozen in the year of 1971. Also frozen was the look of love between Jennifer and him, sweethearts all though high school but soon to be off to different colleges and to eventually grow apart with Jennifer sending him a breakup letter in the middle of their freshmen year.
Even with the recollection of their breakup the softer memories of their time together was a welcome release from the far more recent traumas he had suffered. It was at the bottom of the page that he spied the newer message written in her handwriting. It said, “Don’t forget if things are still bad for the both of us ten years from now let’s meet at our special place and run off together.” Jennifer had written out and circled the date September 30, 1991 and below that twelve noon as the time for them to meet if their lives had not improved.
It was crazy but it was as if someone handed Scott a life preserver, he had a little over a month to find her and understand her current marital situation. Even if he couldn’t figure out a way to contact her he would be at that place waiting.
About two weeks after Scott found his yearbook:
The last of the boxes from the attic now rested in the hallway waiting for Jennifer Stewart to make the final call as to which would go to the condominium, be given to charity, or be sent to the landfill. She had already separated much of her ex-husband’s, Luke, stuff and marked it to spend eternity buried along with the other trash produced by the people of Seattle. He would not need it after running off with her former best friend, Sally, to the country of Panama of all places. At least Jennifer had the last, bitter, laugh. The happy couple had barely settled in their seaside cottage to begin a lifetime of soaking up tropical sun when Sally had become infatuated with a Panamanian businessman leaving Luke in the lurch.
It was for the best; Jennifer realized that their marriage had limped along for years for the sake of the kids. Now with them safely in college she could begin her life anew. Moreover, her new life would be far simpler with the selling of the huge house that she had always hated and moving into a condominium allowing her to skip the tedious and expensive work of maintaining the place. First, she had to go through the dusty boxes in the hallway to see what she might keep with her.
Several hours later, she opened the last of the boxes and starting pouring through the contents. Inside were a bunch of LP’s, books, and other odd items that she figured at one time meant something. Cleaning out the bottom of the box were her high school yearbooks and feeling a need to reconnect she began looking through the pages. It was at the end of the yearbook for her senior year that that she saw the picture of her first love Scott and her sitting on the bench. The flood of emotion almost brought her to tears but what pushed her over the edge was the note she saw written at the bottom of the page. It was in Scott’s handwriting and it mentioned a promise they both made at their ten-year reunion.
Luke’s career had moved them all over the country through the years leaving her greatly surprised when she received the notice about her ten-year high school reunion. The organizers had gotten a great deal at a new Myrtle Beach resort and Sally jumped at the chance to fly back home and see old friends. Luke, who at that time hated to travel, stayed home letting Jennifer go alone. It was during one of the dances that old friends pushed Scott and her back together. Even though it was uncomfortable at first, they fell back into an easy familiar rhythm and since he had traveled alone as well, it was not long before old feelings started to reappear.
After slipping away from the resort, they strolled on the boardwalk and before long happened upon the old bench, lamppost, and bar where their last picture together was taken. Taking a seat on that bench the conversation about old times and the failure of their lives after went long and they were soon holding each other again. Sitting there, they knew the long forgotten emotions they were feeling were real. But the realization that they were still married to other people and for separate reasons could not break away from their marriages trumped everything. After a long kiss, they each made the promise that if things were not better in ten years they would meet again at the same place and try again.
Jennifer remembered that night and the promise, at first she tried to move on but something inside her refused to let it go. The next morning she began trying to find Scott’s address and number but as the days rolled by she was left with nothing but the promise and the feelings she knew still existed. When it came time, she could do nothing other than to make flight reservations, be waiting for him, and hope he would be there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taking Advantage of the Situation



Both the flies doing a holding pattern in the air and I wearily eyed the cheeseburger of indeterminate age that I had just bought in the hospital cafeteria and sat down to eat in the break room. The burger was not my first choice as my shift began at 11:00pm, I had a real taste for something green and healthy that night but after cruising the cafeteria salad bar the brown, kelp-like lettuce on display pretty much killed that inclination. If something had to be brown, the burger was the correct choice with the dark color providing camouflage for anything else lurking inside. I really couldn't argue about the situation, what the cafeteria offers during the day is marginal at best with the leftovers refrigerated for those poor souls tasked to keep things going during the night. Having slept through supper back home, along with not making any sandwich to bring with me I had only one real choice if I wanted to quiet my growling stomach. But like it is said in college dorms, army mess halls and roadside diners across the world, the application of enough ketchup can hide a multitude of sins as well as any other organism providing that little bit of extra protein.
Just as I was about to resign myself to the questionable culinary fare in front of me and the late night heartburn that would follow all hell broke loose with the hospital fire alarm system going into spasms. Intense strobes lights and high-pitched alarms went off sending the new night shift mechanical dude and me racing to the security office to get some idea of the situation we faced. After Jake and I sprinted to the security office, we arrived just in time to see the watch officer jump up to change the channel on the television from ESPN to something on the TV Land cable network. While music filled the air lamenting the sad fate of the Minnow and its three-hour tour Jake, Stan the night electrician, and me the late night biomed tech huddled around the fire alarm screen trying to figure out what fire sensor had tripped along if it was a real event or a false alarm.
Most other places this would be very simple set of problems to isolate and eliminate allowing us to return to our normal nightly duties, but not for us. See where I work we have two fire alarm systems. The old one was installed back in the 1990's and the new one just in the last six months and like some bickering married couple, the two systems cannot stand each other. It is not an uncommon occurrence to have one system detect something that will send the other into a hissy fit in some sort of silicon based one-upmanship. You might be wondering why would we have two competing fire detection systems? If your first thought was that we are keeping the old one to have a backup system in case the new one goes down you would be absolutely and totally wrong. For reasons that are above my pay grade and ultimate concern the hell bound combination of bean counters and shysters are preventing the old system from being fully disconnected, which was the reason for the recent upgrade in the first place. The two systems are still cross-connected enough that when a sensor conflict occurs my coworkers and I have to run to every sensor reporting an issue and visibly check them.
From the get-go, we knew that we had a false alarm. With the dozens of sensors reporting fires, one of them being the sensor in the security office itself, but Jake and I still had to run the hospital checking them while Stan stayed back to say nice and comforting things to the disgruntle systems in an attempt to calm them down. Now regulations state that Jake and I are suppose to forgo the elevators for the stairs at times like those but don't get upset with me if I go ahead and say that rule goes over like a submarine with a screen door for us. We have far too much ground to cover to worry about little things like elevator failure and the resulting death by smoke inhalation during a real fire.
For the first hour, Jake and I did not have any problems finding then resetting the sensors hanging down from the ceiling. They more or less look like coffee cups and have two little lights on either side that normally blink when the fire systems are behaving. As we arrived on a floor, Jake would take one side of the building and I the other looking for the tripped sensors. The fun came for Jake when he had to run into the female shower area on the fourth floor and negotiate around a couple of nurses that had picked that time to have a shower. After he called me on the radio to tell me about it I made a mental note to pull seniority the next time we have a false alarm and take that side of that particular floor to reset sensors.
My warm and fuzzy adventure occurred in an empty patient's room while standing on a chair trying to reach a sensor that was a little too high up. Even with the chair I was having to go on my tip-toes to reach the reset and the thought passed through my tiny brain right then that if I lost my balance or the chair broke I would be a fine example of Darwin's law that the dumb tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool. But no, I jumped off the chair in one piece only to find the cutest little old lady standing at the open door with a curious look on her face. Just as I was about to introduce myself she raised her cane and started walking toward me squeaking something about being in her room. Luckily the nurse who had been accompanying the little old lady on her late night walk and had only stepped away to assist another nurse for a second quickly stormed in saving me from having my ass kicked.
Now things did improve for me, another hour went by with Stan finally providing enough marital counseling to silence the bickering alarms sending a wave of relief through the hospital as well as the firefighters that had answered the alarm and had to remain on station until everything was cleared out. They had taken up residence in the cafeteria with the staff providing free coffee and donuts, which the firefighters were using to polish and scrub their axes. My break occurred when I found the last fire sensor I had to reset; it was located in one of the surgeon lounges. Normally forbidden for anyone else to enter I had a fully justified reason to go inside a place I have never been before but had heard countless rumors about.
Once inside I was awed at the line of expensive recliners in front of a truly massive plasma television. Behind them were two very comfortable couches that just screamed at me to lie down and take a nap. On the counter in the far corner of this Shangri-La was some sort of gourmet coffee maker and the pot sitting under it offered up a sensual aroma that hinted at a steamy Jamaican tropical night. The lounge was empty at that moment but I knew some surgeon could return at any minute forcing me out like Adam getting the boot from Eden. Still though I had one opportunity I could not pass up, inside a small refrigerator with a glass door I saw rows of croissant sandwiches, cans of sodas, and fancy cookies. Thinking about as fast as I can manage I grabbed a turkey and Swiss sandwich, a couple of sodas, and as many cookies as I could carry and hightailed it back down to the break room.
Back downstairs I found my abandoned cheeseburger, which even the resident flies were ignoring, and enjoyed my very late supper wondering when I would be lucky enough for another false alarm to occur. I figure I have anywhere from two to three months and as long as I can avoid cane-wielding old ladies I should be set.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wandering Toes





Hauled ass last weekend for a very much needed break from the usual crap I whine and moan about on a far to regular basis. Headed down to the coast and pretty much went where the urge took me, like where else would I go and do?

Right here we have a testament to one man's determination, all through the 80's a gentleman whose name I actually use to know began a project to build his own shrimp boat. On many trips going to Charleston my grandparents and I would pass this area and see his dream slowly being built. He gained some local fame when one of the Charleston television stations came out to do an interview. Unfortunately, if what I hear is true, when Hurricane Hugo blew through in 1989 it knocked the boat off its mount and for some reason the guy never had it remounted and needless to say because of that, never finish it. I do know he passed away a few years later and there the boat sits. I am curious about one thing, given the number of years that have passed and with the brutal salt air and sun the white paint should have long since faded. I figure someone may be taking care of it.





Couple of guys taking it easy fishing on the south end of Pawleys Island. If I am ever so lucky as to actually retire, a possibility that doesn't look very good right now, I can see myself doing pretty much the same on a regular basis.

At one time such fishing excursions would be all night affairs with tents and campfires. At night we would go flounder gigging which involved a six foot pole with a stainless steel trident head at the end. You would then walk the shallows in the creek dividing the island from the mainline and while shining a flashlight in the water look for the flounder hiding in the sand. Yeah, it was pretty ugly way for the fish to die but the fishermen had to deal with nearly invisible jellyfish drifting in the water and the occasional shark that swam into the creek. Everyone who ever went gigging has been stung by jellyfish, from past experience they have a tendency to somehow come up from behind in a group. After the first sting you have to be careful and not panic, if for some reason you lose your balance and stumble or even fall the followup sting can hit very vital and delicate areas. As for any shark swimming in the creek they are usually not a problem, now that does not include some redneck deciding he wants to impersonate Captain Ahab and use his gig to spear the mighty beast. That just pisses off the shark and the results are never good for the redneck.





Nice picture of a private pier on the creek side of Pawleys. Ain't nothing like sitting on one of those and watching the sunset, throw in the sounds of the marsh grass rustling in the wind you have something approaching paradise.

Back in 1984 the group I hung out with had a party on that pier a couple of days after we all graduated from high school. It was about twenty-five people in all and like all stupid kids we talked about everything we would do. You can imagine what all that entailed with wild dreams of success and fame. My own journeys soon took me away with only a brief return in the early 90's but I was gone again by 1993. Except for two people I have lost track with all those that watched that final sunset of our childhood. I know they are around, somewhere, and wonder if they remember that day like I do.






Wiggles and I began our trip home Sunday morning and stopped for the first time at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. It has a great playground for kids and this expanse of grass that had people laying out in the sun. I could have easily laid a blanket out and napped the rest of the day.

We had planned on going into Charleston and doing some more sightseeing but Wiggles suddenly remembered a school project resulting in us hitting warp drive for the house after we were done here.











Further out is a huge pier and Wiggles and I walked it and talked with others either strolling like we were or fishing. In the distance you can see the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown on permanent display at Patriots Point.

The super cute Wiggles fell in with a couple of small boys playing on the pier while their parents enjoyed the nice but windy day. Got me wondering how I would deal with her entering the teenage years, dealing with my son's insane hormone induced behavior has been hard enough and he has yet to get his driver's permit. I can't imagine how I will deal with Wiggles getting "interested" in boys and dear god, the idea of her driving sends chills down my spine already. I do know that if any boy ever hurts her I will most certainly be in deep legal trouble soon after that.






Didn't get any of the details on this statue but as you can see its either a mother or wife holding the folded American flag the next of kin receives at a military funeral. Its a nice gesture by the city but for reasons I have whined about many times before I believe an ultimately empty act. But I'm sure it brings at least some small comfort to the parents of a service man or woman that have lost their child while wearing the uniform.














Sorry about the shaky video below, didn't plan on including it but threw it in on a whim. I filmed it Saturday morning right after we arrived and was somewhat shaken by the memories that hit me as my feet sunk into that soft white sand. They say home is the place you feel most comfortable and if that is the case this place is it for me. Standing there I clearly saw many of my past experiences on those shores from building sand castles as a kid, fishing with my grandfather as the sun rises, learning to surf on my uncle's old surfboard, to walking in the ocean holding hands with old girlfriends. There are many things about South Carolina that frankly embarrasses me, but while I have been lucky enough to see and enjoy some of the world my true home will always be that island.





Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No longer appearing on grill cheese sandwiches

What can I say? Everyone has gone high tech, and yes this is South Carolina making the news again. Not to bash anyone's faith but I have to shake my head when people can see something in blurred spots on MRI's or in burn patterns on a grill cheese sandwiches but ignore the wonder of the world and universe around them.



Friday, October 1, 2010

The Weight of My Father's Sins



You're not suppose to, but I woke up in the clone tank floating in the mix of warm saline and nutrients. All the doctors and scientists swear that a clone's mind is not fully imprinted with the source consciousness until he or she are decanted and have the final wetware interface probe removed from the brain. Until then the books say the clone is comatose and has no awareness of the world around them. Nice theory but I clearly remember being in the liquid-filled tank and seeing the various doctors and technicians on the outside monitoring my very accelerated development. I could even feel the wires going into my bald skull and, if I closed my eyes and relaxed, see bits and pieces of the life I lead before I was killed.

My curiosity about why I was awake in the tank was minor to the concern that I felt wondering how I was killed. See even while I felt all the blanks in my previous life being filled I already had a basic outline in my head that in my first life I was an assassin for the Unified Corporate Authority. Call it just professional disappointment but even then in the tank I could feel an instinctive urge to get back out in the world and find the person that terminated me and happily return the favor. Despite my eagerness all I could do was wait and relax letting all the memories and feelings fill the blank spaces and get reintroduced to myself.

It took about a week to finish everything with me, I could tell from the huge clock mounted on the wall. Electric fire ripped through my mind as the interface was disconnected causing me to pass out. Sometime later consciousness returned with me lying on a metal table just like one they use in a morgue. From memories of my previous life I knew enough to understand that this was going to be the tough part of being brought back to life. If any of the many tests they were about to perform on my body didn't meet standards I would again be terminated with another clone put on express lane development.

The funny thing was that of the five or six Geeks checking me over, and who would kill me if I failed any test, I knew enough to kill them all in less than a minute but I was still weak as a newborn baby and if you wanted to be technical I guess that is exactly what I was at that moment.

Bless whatever entity that controls the universe because the Geeks gave me the good-to-go and I was transferred from the metal table to a stretcher and moved to a comfortable but Spartan room. A couple of days later a very attractive 40-something blonde who was in charge on the cloning department came in and handed me a computer tablet and began watching me answer questions about general common knowledge making sure I had all my marbles. The final part was when a group of corporate suits walked in my room along with some grand poobah doctor forcing me to recite from memory what was now my life.

I told them about me growing up in North Carolina, dropping out of college because of lack of funds and then joining the United States Army. Next were detailed accounts of my combat tours in Latin America and Africa, then going into special operations where I saw action in the California Insurrection. The final segment I talked about was being recruited into corporate intelligence for the Authority which superseded all national governments across much of the world. The last thing I remembered was a vacation on one of UCA's floating resort cities in the Caribbean which was the summer of 2075.

"Son," the chief corporate suit in the room said, "have they told you what year it is now and how you died?"

I said no and fell into near shock when he told me it was 2090. It didn't really matter when he told me I was ambushed and killed by my intended target in Sidney, Australia but somehow I had gone fifteen years since the last time I made a recording of my memories and consciousness. That didn't make any sense although I was smart enough not to ask any questions.

The blonde, named Karen, hung around after they left and told that the whole purpose for my resurrection was track down a shadowy threat to the Authority who was also the person that killed me. Deep inside I felt the fire for revenge come to life and had already begun planning how I would kill that person slowly. However, as I watched Karen start to undress revealing a very fit body I allowed myself to be diverted from my mission for a few hours.

A fifteen year hole in an assassin's life is far too big to let he or she loose right after rebirth so I spent three months at Langley catching up on my training. It was a curious time for me getting adjusted to the idea that according to United States laws and Authority regulations I was officially forty-nine years old although they had stopped my accelerated growth at around twenty-five. My younger body did come in handy in passing the new assault courses and with several of the female instructors who I remember going through initial training with in my first life back when we were all recruits.

As much as I liked catching up with them it wasn't long before I was on a sub-orbital flight to Nairobi using one of the several names the Authority had issued me. On the plane I looked at the face on my passport card finding it difficult to remember the actual name my mom and dad had given me back in Wilmington, North Carolina. I could only guess at what fifteen more years of the undercover life that was missing from my brain would have done to my personality. As the stewardess announced that we would be landing soon I pushed those thoughts out of my head, my mission was to sneak into one of the member states of the Global Cooperation Alliance, the counter weight to Authority influence, and begin tracking down my killer.

My cover had me as an entry-level software salesman from Portland, Oregon trying to sell educational programs to the Kenyan national school system. It was almost too tame a cover, the spooks at Authority Intelligence did see fit to add a military service record hopefully to throw off any suspicions by Kenyan customs which would be sent immediately to Alliance Intelligence headquarters in New Delhi and Beijing. Relations between the two global power blocs were tense back in 2075 when my earlier self had made his last consciousness recording and from what I had read its only gotten worse since then. It was so bad that direct contacts between the principle nations of each bloc were very rare but travel to those member states on the periphery were frequent keeping at least some lines of communications open. I just hoped that the computer nerds had given me a solid cover because Kenyans were well known to take a dim view of Americans since the 2011 coup, if I got through them I should be good at least till I got to my hotel room.

And I did, I was out of customs and in my hotel room far faster than I ever thought possible. So fast that I did four sweeps of my room for listening devices and made two runs around Obama Park checking for any tails of other signs of being watched. It was later that night as I slipped out of the hotel room looking to make contact with another Authority agent that things went to shit. Some dude, curiously enough about the size as me, stepped out of the shadows with a stunner hitting me with the highest setting and I fell to the ground as limp as a gutted fish.

When consciousness returned I found myself tied up on a metal table tilted up at an angle. I got to admit I was pretty disgusted with myself, here I am carrying my older self's reputation as being the best spy in the business, along with a good bit of his experience and memories and after only four months it looked like another clone would soon be in the tank. It was then that things went totally surreal when I heard a door open behind me and someone enter the room.

"Hey, I called out, "you've got the wrong person. I'm just a salesman from Portland with a family waiting back home. Please I'll give you all the money I have, just don't hurt me." It was the usual response to being captured while undercover, the idea being that if it was common criminals they might go for it giving the agent a chance to get loose and kill them for ruining his or her day.

The only sound I heard was laughter that was uncomfortably familiar for some reason. Something told me that this was no common criminal or street thug. I really got worried when I felt the unknown person place a device on my right temple, I instantly knew it was an interface device. The shit head was about to reprogram me, something that was very unpleasant to say the least. With a skilled technician and enough time I could be turned to betray the Authority. I tried to feel for the fake tooth in my mouth that if bitten on the right way would release a chemical killing me. But the person about to reprogram me must have saw my small movements and laughed.

"Damn, can't believe they are still installing those fake teeth in agents, I removed yours right after I stunned you. My God those things were outdated during the Cold War back in the 1970's. Listen son, calm down you will begin to understand a few things once I let you see me, more after I give you the full memory update."

"Oh shit," I said as I realized who was talking to me and as my older self stepped around the table to allow me to see him.

"Hello Steven," my older self said calling me by our real name, "I guess you never thought for a second that the big bogeyman the Authority fears was you, or at least the older version of you?

"Kiss my ass, what turned you Steven?" I honestly asked truly puzzled as to why I would ever think about betraying my country and the Authority which had done so much for its members.

"Just relax you will understand everything once you have the update,” my older self sad sadly.

Let’s just say that the pain that started as the memory update began was very intense, far worse than anything I had ever felt. So bad that I cursed myself and knew I would have killed both of us if I had any possible way to get loose knowing that once a memory update is begun it cannot be stopped. Once the data started to flow into my brain the pain knocked me clean out.

When I woke up yet again it was in a small cabin of what I guessed to be some sort of boat and since I was not bound or locked up I casually went up on deck to check things out. The memory update worked and where I was a loyal agent to the Authority before it, I now understood the crimes it had committed as far back as the 2020's with me guilty of some of the more recent ones. The one that really hit me hard was the nanotech plague my older self had released in Lagos, Nigeria that killed over one-hundred thousand people before it burned out.

Looking out from the companionway of a large sailboat I saw older Steven up next the bow working on a small satellite antenna, it was then that I noticed his right leg was cybernetic. I knew now that he lost it in an ambush a few years back, I remembered the pain like it was my own, which it was in a way. But it felt even more bizarre to know from his point of view that it had been an earlier Steven clone Authority Intelligence had sent out that had fired the shot. Only blind luck had saved Old Steven and prevented the earlier clone from successfully finishing the mission.

Other things that hadn’t made any sense before also fell into place. The first being that I woke up early in the clone tank to prevent an obedience program just like the one downloaded in the earlier Steven clone. That the beautiful Karen was not only the person responsible for deleting the program but was also my ex-wife, or at least Old Steven’s ex-wife. The biggest thing was that my sole reason for existing as far as Old Steven was concerned was to complete the plan to bring down the Unified Corporate Authority that he could no longer carry out.

Standing there I was struck at how messed up it was that my whole reason to exist was to alleviate the guilt my older self felt for the things he had done to satisfy his former masters. I clearly understood the reasons why he betrayed them, but it was asking a lot for me to carry the combined weight of our guilt and our chances at redemption. The question going through my mind though was where did his guilt end and mine begin? I wasn’t the one that had turned a huge part of the population of major city into gray jelly.

He turned to me with a stern look on his face and walked back down the side of the boat to take a seat in the cockpit next the companion way. He pulled two beers out of a small refrigerator mounted into the outside cabin wall. He handed me one and then turned away looking out at the expanse of empty blue ocean. "You ready to begin?" He asked me with such deep sorrow that I felt it in my own bones.

"Yeah," I said, taking a seat on the other side of the boat.

“Promise me one thing,” he began after taking a long drink of his beer, “once the Authority is destroyed you have to terminate me. I don’t want to live with the memories of the things I have done any longer.”

I realized from the get-go that legally clones aren’t responsible for what earlier versions of themselves have done, even if they carry the recollections of past crimes. But that was small comfort to me seeing in my head the faces of half-melted children crawling along the ground.

“You can count on it.” Was all I said to the monster sitting across from me.