Chapter 4 - Incident in the Ginza

June 2052

Luke and I and the rest of the Hawking Plan team joined Stephanie for breakfast in the hotel restaurant as usual. She gave us the great news that the Board Chairperson had informed her there was no more need for input. Approval was a guaranteed formality.

As our sleeplane reservations were for the following morning, we were free to spend the day sightseeing in Tokyo! Stephanie was familiar with the city, having lived there for a couple of years during her TBI tenure. She volunteered to be our tour guide. I demurred. “Stephanie, I appreciate the offer, however, I’d like to go back to the DoHiMuTo and take another look at the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Luke apparently took that as an indication of my continuing struggle to free myself from the tyranny of pure reason and find my true faith. “Jim,” he said, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to accompany you to the museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls myself. This could be an opportunity of a lifetime for me.” I readily agreed.

“OK then,” said Stephanie, “Anyone who doesn’t plan to go sightseeing with me should be back at the hotel by 4 PM. I’ve made reservations for all of us for the 4:30PM Kabuki-za Theater show and then dinner in the Ginza.”

“Stephanie,” I asked, "Before we depart I have a question about DoCoMo and DoHiMuTo. You know a little Japanese …”

“Sure do,” she snapped, “Goku Hikui is his name, and he’s a ‘little Japanese’ – only a bit over a meter and a quarter tall! He works for the TBI in Omaha. I was on a case with him in 2043.”

“Funny,” I replied with a frown, and went on, “DoCoMo, the big Japanese communications company, is ‘Do Communications Mobile’ in English, but docomo in Japanese means ‘everywhere.’ I was wondering if dohimuto has any meaning as a Japanese word or phrase.”

“OK,” replied Stephanie, “I’ll be serious. Dohi could mean ‘local rebels’ or ‘servant’ and muto could mean ‘without lights’ or ‘unsweetened.’ I don’t believe dohi muto is a common Japanese phrase, but I could be wrong. If it is, it may mean ‘servant without lights’ or ‘local rebel without lights’ or ‘servant unsweetened’ or ‘local rebel unsweetened.’ I’m not sure what any of that could possibly mean. Um … perhaps a ‘misguided servant’? Someone who tries so hard to please his master he loses his guiding lights and goes overboard? You know, some people are overly impressed with authority figures. Despite their normal ethical behavior, they do things to please their masters and end up getting everyone in trouble! Perhaps, that kind of person could be a dohi muto?”

At the DoHiMuTo, I introduced Luke to the Director of the secure section, the head “preservaciónista”. He gave us a personal tour of the public areas and “behind the scenes” to the laboratories. We did not let Luke in on anything about the “updates” they were making to the Dead Sea Scrolls. He had no official “need to know.” Our private tour was over in time for a quick lunch with the Director at the DoHiMuTo cafeteria. After lunch, we returned to the secure area. Luke and I found ourselves alone with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As I held the ancient fragments in my gloved hands, I marveled that my emotions were even stronger than the day before. My knees buckled and I had to sit down. The notion these “voices from the past” were from God crossed my mind but I dismissed them, “with prejudice” as a judge might say. I read some portions to Luke and translated them to English. We recognized many of the verses. The words seemed familiar, yet not exactly as we remembered them. Unfortunately, read-WINs and other Internet-connected devices were banned from the secure section of the lab where we were viewing the fragments, so we couldn’t check the verses against the 1611 KJV.

Luke, for his part, was visibly moved to be in the presence of writings from two-thousand years ago. Jesus Himself might have read and touched them. They existed in His time and not far from where He walked the Earth. Luke thrilled to hear the same verses he had read in the 1611 KJV, more or less. He held back from pushing me to accept his religioso feelings. Luke said he was sure God, in His own time, would show me the way – or not – he left it to God.

We returned to the hotel in time to wash up and be ready for the evening Ginza tour. “Kabuki,” Stephanie told us, “Means song and dance with techniques from ancient times. Kabuki lovers purchase tickets for all four acts, but I’m not sure your American tastes can stand that much so we’re only going to see the first act.”

The one act was only mildly entertaining. I appreciated it as a “museum experience” and was glad to leave the theater. “You know,” I joked, “If we had kabuki in the US, they could make a fortune if they let people in for free and charged them to leave.” Stephanie was not amused. She knew the language and appreciated the techniques, having taken some classes in them during her stay in Japan.

Dinner at the Hinazushi Restaurant in the Ginza was fabulous. Although I was not one to chow down on sushi, with Stephanie’s help I found some raw tuna I enjoyed quite a bit. I also liked the white cream korokke, creamed corn sticks covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. They were served with cabbage. Stephanie broke her rules about mind-altering chemicals and allowed everyone to have one small cup of sake. After dinner, we followed Stephanie down the back alleys of the Ginza, purchased some souvenirs, and looked into some bars. Of course, we didn’t consume any more alcohol. We employees knew the rules.

As we approached each bar, she translated its name into English. One was the “Hectic Bar.” It looked anything but! It occurred to me that she was making the names up but, once inside, I spotted a small sign in English confirming the name. The “Conniver's Bar” had more patrons but they seemed somewhat spacey. “This would be a great place,” said Luke with a grin on his face, “To do research on human hibernation for our Noah's Ark option!”

“No need,” answered Stephanie, “We can just pack them up and ship them out to some far-away galaxy as they are.”

It occurred to me that she knew these bars from her time as a TBI agent in Tokyo. She probably spent time in them with her "graybeard" mentors. “Say Stephanie,” I blurted, not intending to say it aloud, “These patrons don't look like TBI agents at all!”

She looked at me in apparent shock that I had put two and two together and got four. After a considerable pause, she recovered her equanimity and, in a distinctive gruf voice that was probably an imitation of one of her TBI associates, she said “If covert agents looked the part they would not be very good at clandestine missions, would they?” She surveyed the place and added, wistfully, “Besides, it’s still quite early in the evening.” She said nothing about her TBI mission in Tokyo nor exotic adventures in the back bars of the Ginza. Perhaps her animosity towards mind-altering drugs had been formed in these precincts.

Things were going quite well on our back alley tour until we turned a corner and were confronted by two masked men, one with a knife. The shorter shouted something in Japanese as the taller stood back and waved his blade wildly in the air. I was too scared to do anything beyond standing there with my hands up. The other members of the party had the same reaction, except for Stephanie!

She said “konwakai, waheikyo tel” which seemed to calm the robbers down a notch or two. She was totally at ease and in control. “OK everyone,” she said, “Let’s not do anything crazy. EtGay DyReay OTay UnRay.” I was too nervous to decode the pig Latin.

Stephanie showed the robbers the palms of her empty hands and slowly reached up as if to remove her necklace, carefully turning her body so they could appreciate her feminine curves. Then, quite unexpectedly, she ran forward, kicked the knife out of the tall one’s hand, and rotated around to smash the shorter in his face. He screamed in pain and fell to the sidewalk. His confederate helped him up and the two ran down the alley.

Just as quickly, the members of our team ran the other way with me in the rear. The others understood what she had said in pig Latin. A moment later, she joined us. She had remained behind long enough to pick up the knife and was holding it with a plastic bag. “Hola Estephania!” I thought, having met yet another Stephanie. There seemed to be no end to her amazing variations.

The advent of the “positive ID” society in reaction to the terrorists had, as a welcome side effect, eliminated nearly all common, petty crimes. People could normally walk with safety in any area of most towns and cities. This incident in the Ginza was quite an anomaly.

One advantage of a cashless society was that things of value were not anonymous and fungible. Jewelry and expensive or secure electronics such as PIDs, ear pods and read-WINs were manufactured with unique and hard-to-remove identifiers. Many were keyed to the biometrics of their legal owners and would not operate properly for others. Some were WIN-connected and reported their locations every minute if in an area, like the Ginza, with WIN coverage. Even antique jewelry that had no unique identifiers had limited value. In a cashless society, it could not be pawned for cash, only exchanged for a credit to the thief’s bank account, or the account of a confederate of the thief. That would create a record of the item pawned and the personal ID of the person pawning it. Thieves were caught quickly.

Stephanie’s scepter was equipped with a transmitter triggered if it was more than ten meters from a device implanted under the skin of her shoulder. Had the thieves run off with her scepter, an alert would have gone out and armed helicopters would have tracked them down within an hour to recover it.

The two thieves had most likely disabled their PIDs after they left the main streets to hide in the alley. It would have been dumb to do so earlier because PID readers were located at all main street intersections and a missing PID would cause an alert, with their video images, to be flashed to a koban (urban police outpost). People without PIDs were quite rare so the keisatsu (police) would have sent a squad car out to investigate. However, Stephanie’s quick reaction provided even better evidence. The thief’s blood was on her shoe.

“Wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Let’s go to the nearest koban and report this crime. We’ll give them this knife and the blood sample so they can do a DNA run. He’ll be identified quickly!”

Thankfully, our visit to the koban was quite brief. The two keisatsu officers staffing the station were happy to get some business. They accepted the evidence and took a short video statement from Stephanie. Each of us was photographed and scanned and sniffed by a PID reader. We were informed the physical evidence was so great it was unlikely we would be called to testify as witnesses.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Hawking Plan team, mi amigos,” Stephanie said calmly, “This incident in the Ginza has certainly been the highlight of our sightseeing tour! It is now time to go back to our hotel and get ready for the sleeplane flight home tomorrow. You’ve each done a tremendous job and I am proud to be in your company.”

At the hotel, Stephanie gave everyone a kiss on the cheek and a brief hug. I felt my flag begin to rise at the prospect of a lambada hug. But, it was not to be.

Somewhat dejected, I returned to my hotel room. I took a long Japanese bath, frolicked with the image of the geisha in the tub, and hit the sack. It was not long before ‘Stephanie’ arrived and we had a wonderful autoerotic fantasy after which I dozed off.

A moment later, I awoke with a start. I had not called and spoken to my wife and children that evening! Now it was too late. I had been in the middle of my delicious white cream korokke when it was time to call, and I totally forgot. I sent a text message to Esther, using the excuse that the Hawking Plan had been approved and, with this great news, we had to work on our plans. “Events,” I wrote, “Have conspired to prevent me from calling during your short window of opportunity.” After that, I tossed and turned for a half hour, unable to sleep. So, I dialed up a pay-per-view geisha movie and was sound asleep within the first fifteen minutes.

Our home wasn’t far from the Orlando airport. I awoke on my sofa at 3:30 PM (with dry pants), in time to greet our children as they came home from school. Common crime had been reduced to the point it was considered safe to allow children as young as six to be home alone during the day. Our home had full video monitoring and alerting devices that would allow the children to call for help if necessary. In addition, Esther and I and several relatives and friends could look in on them via our read-WINs at any time.

Adam welcomed me with an unenthusiastic high-five and Rebecca gave me a perfunctory hug. They were used to having their father return from business trips so this was simply another ordinary day. They went off to their rooms, planning to stay there, as usual, until their mother came home and it was time for dinner.

I remembered the watches “with hands!” Luke had arranged for me to buy for Rebecca and some of her friends. I went to Rebecca’s room and gave a half-dozen to her. She gave me a very enthusiastic hug and kisses and thanked me profusely.

Esther, a college administrator, called as she was leaving work and asked me to get dinner ready. The menu had been set in advance, so all I had to do was confirm the time and the automatic refrigerator/freezer/food preparation appliance did the rest. I asked Rebecca to help me set the table. “It’s Adam’s turn,” she replied.

“Adam didn’t get any watches ‘with hands!’ today,” I replied.

“Nolo problemo,” replied Rebecca. She complied, but without much enthusiasm.

Esther arrived at the expected time, gave me an especialmente sensuous hug, and our family sat down to dinner. “You had quite an adventure in the Ginza yesterday!” she said.

“How do you know I was in the Ginza yesterday?”

“Don’t you know? It’s all over the news! Everybody at work watched it on their read-WINs and they’re congratulating me. Your boss, Dr. Goldenrod, is quite a heroine. A surveillance camera on the Ginza main street caught that action near the alley. It’s in the shadows in a corner of the picture, but video enhancement makes it all quite viewable. They show your group running towards the camera after she kicks those guys. You’re the last one. Mi amigos are proud of you for being the one macho enough to stay behind to help her. The news also shows your group at the Ginza police station.”

“I guess,” I said, “It shows how much crime has decreased that a small incident like that gets on international video news!”

“Can we see that video news after dinner?” asked Adam. “Some boys at school said something about dad helping ‘Super Girl’ solve a crime, but I thought they were just making it up.”

“Yes, after dinner,” I replied, “I’d like to see it myself!”

“Who is Super Girl?” asked Rebecca.

“Well,” Esther answered, “She’s not really a girl. She’s a grown woman, and she’s your dad’s boss’s boss.”

“Muy Fresco!” she replied.

“I was worried when you didn’t call,” Esther continued, “Thanks for your message explaining why. I guess you didn’t mention the robbery so I wouldn’t worry. That’s a very thoughtful, loving act.” She leaned over and gave me a warm, juicy kiss.

I kissed and hugged her back and we stood up and embraced until the children said “aww…” in embarrassment. Of course, that only made us more demonstrably amorous.

Our home has a me-wall, short for “moveable entertainment wall,” that runs the length of the house. It can move four meters. Our bedrooms are all on one side of the me-wall and the kitchen and living room on the other. During the day, it is positioned to maximize the size of the kitchen and living room and, at night, to maximize the sizes of the bedrooms. That gives us as much living space as a house twenty percent larger with proportional savings in initial cost and heating and cooling bills.

The me-wall houses multiple projection devices that create large display areas on either side of the wall. Special furniture is bolted to it. For example, the children’s bedrooms have pull-down beds they deploy when they have friends over. The wall is also used for storage.

Our whole family gathered around the largest display wall to watch the video news reports of the incident in the Ginza. Most of the broadcast networks and a dozen different WIN sites featured it as their lead story, each with their own take on what happened. The children cheered as Stephanie kicked the thieves and as I “bravely” stayed behind and then lead her to our group after her heroism. “Thank God,” I thought to myself, “I was too nervous to decode the pig-Latin!”

That night Esther and I had about the best sex I could remember. Although she was a good deal shorter and a bit plumper and less atlético than my boss’s boss, I imagined I was having sex with Stephanie to raise my estimulo sexual. Just after I climaxed, I even said “Gracias Estephania.”

Luckily, my wife’s name is Esther and she's slightly hard of hearing. I remembered the sage advice of my department head at the University, “If you must have a girlfriend, make sure her first name is the same as your wife’s.”

“You know, Jim,” Esther said after we were done, “You are much nicer and more sexually adventurous than recently. It’s like you got a lesson from a geisha in the Ginza!”

“Not a lesson … from a geisha,” I replied hesitantly, “But I did watch a pay-per view geisha movie.” I didn’t mention I’d fallen asleep after the first fifteen minutes. Nor, of course, did I mention my asunto secreto with Stephanie.

Over the next week or two, between my autoerotic adventures with Stephanie and more adventurous intercourse than normal with Esther, I had some of the best sex of my life, both quantity and quality. She had orgasms a bit more often than in the recent past, which we both appreciated.

I recalled the classic tale of the couple who put a marble in a jar every time they had sex during the first year, then took one out each time in succeeding years, and never emptied the jar.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “At this rate we might empty that jar!” When I had sex with Esther, I would usually imagine she was Stephanie. Other times I would imagine Stephanie was in the room along with me and Esther – a ménage et toise – and the three of us would go at it. Other times Stephanie would just stand there and urge us on.

At work, I looked forward to Stephanie’s presentaciones video to our team every Monday morning. I caressed her every curve with my eyes as she sashayed back and forth, pointing to her charts and touching her hair as she spoke to the camera. I usually played the video several times, using slow motion to capture her poses, particularly when she bent down or turned sideways, which she did much more often than objectively necessary.

I wondered if she had a surveillance camera in my office. I didn’t care if she knew I was obsessed with her. In fact, I imagined she did know, and I enjoyed the prospect of her taking action on that knowledge!

Every day I hoped to be invited to a meeting en persona with Stephanie, or at least an interactive conversación video. But, I would have to content myself with my memories and her presentaciones video each Monday morning. From time to time I wondered if I was confabulating our asunto secreto in her Tokyo hotel suite.

Things were quite hectic in the Infinite Future Branch the first month after approval by the TABB Planning Board. I was working very hard, including some evenings and weekends. I had to attend interactive conversacións video with bidders and field inquiries from TABB contract office officials. I expanded my staff of full-time experts on various religions and part-timers from several universities. All were non-literal believers, vetted by the TBI and sworn to secrecy about the máquina del tiempo part of the Hawking Plan. As my staff grew my workload increased, proving Parkinson’s Law.

The wording changes had to be subtle, yet they had to meet Stephanie’s goal of pre-empting religioso backlash against the Hawking Plan. Changes had to be made in the e-texts in nearly two-dozen languages and for different denominations of each religion. I personally approved each change.

For the languages I didn’t understand and the less familiar religions, that required detailed discussions with translators and religious historians who were sensitive to the hidden meanings of words as perceived by each group. Once a change was approved, it was relatively easy for the e-texts to be “updated” (the term of art we used to obscure the fact we were revising history).

Most of the techniques we used had been honed by the TBI during the days of the máquina del tiempo portion of the contra-terror program. We adapted them to the security features of the new generation of computers and software.

All WIN servers, as part of their normal weekly maintenance, were taken offline for up to an hour. All data was erased and then refreshed by downloading from redundant servers before being put back online. The maintenance was done to make sure the hardware was in tip-top shape and also to eliminate ‘fragmentation” and “memory leaks.” The TBI Cryptographic Bureau had access to all WIN servers. To propagate the updates, they made sure the refreshed data came from a server under their control, into which they had uploaded the word changes. New wording was introduced gradually and spread from server to server as they refreshed themselves.

The TBI Cryptographic Bureau was also tasked with the job of updating all e-photos of the original or oldest extant manuscript of each scripture. Since everybody knew e-photos were subject to photo shopping, nearly all museums and universities had had them “watermark encrypted” for decades to assure changes would be detected. The TBI cleverly introduced a new standard for encryption and safeguarding of e-photos. They asked all holders of e-photos of originals or old manuscripts to submit them for conversion to the new standard. Since virtually all museums and universities were funded by TABB or various TABB-associated TCs, they all complied quickly. They also obediently destroyed the old digital files. The updates I ordered were introduced during this conversion.

The heavy workload took a toll on my sex life. While in the middle of an autoerotic fantasy with Stephanie, she suddenly refused to cooperate. Another time, during sex with Esther, I imagined Stephanie in the room and making disparaging remarks. It appeared we would not empty that marble jar after all. My university department head had said, “There is only so much toothpaste in a tube. After you squeeze out the last few drops, that’s it.”

One day I inadvertently pressed the top elevator button. When I stepped out on Stephanie’s floor, her secretary, the IRA named XI whose desk was by the elevator, called me by name and asked if I had an appointment. I blushed and rushed back into the elevator. Would XI tell Stephanie? What would she think? What if she had been there and seen me? Was pushing that button a Freudian slip?

It was my task to take Adam and Rebecca to soccer games when I was in town. I was pleased to see that Rebecca’s friend Carol’s mother was there. I didn’t know her actual name so I made one up for internal record keeping. “Lolita” was a hairdresser and definitely not as smart as Esther. However, she was quite a bit slimmer, had a gorgeous face, long blond hair, and a vivacious personality. Several months before, Lolita had given me a full-body hug after Rebecca had passed the ball to her daughter Carol who had scored a critical goal. That hug fueled several autoerotic fantasies.

I was aching for another hug to revive my sex life. Sure enough, Lolita spotted me and came running over. “Thanks for the watch ‘with hands!’ that Rebecca gave Carol. It was so loving of you to bring it back from Japan for her.” With that, she gave me a tight hug. I held on for a bit longer than normal. She didn’t pull away. In fact, she tightened her grip a bit, or at least I thought she did. That incident brought Lolita back into my sex life. A few times when I was having sex with Esther, I imagined she was Lolita. Lolita starred or co-starred in my autoerotic activities for a week or more.

Then, it was all over. When I was with Esther and imagining she was Lolita, Stephanie would appear and make nasty comments. One time, when I was having an autoerotic fantasy with Lolita, Stephanie appeared and took Lolita away for some lesbian sex, which Lolita seemed to enjoy. I recruited several other women from work into my sex fantasy world, but, each time, Stephanie would ruin it for me. In the three short months since our asunto secreto, my estímulo sexual had gone from “way overcharged” to nearly “dead battery.”

Months of hard work, overtime, and frequent trips took their toll on my health as well. I gained fifteen pounds. “If I put on any more weight,” I thought to myself, “They’ll think I’m pregnant, for God’s sake.” On the other hand, the extreme effort made the days, weeks, and months run into each other and pass rapidly. Before I knew it, it was reasonably cool in Orlando – perfect October weather.

I received an alert that someone had requested my PID records for June 8th through the 14th. The person was identified as Yitzchak bar Mats, Be’er Sheva, Israel – a name I did not recognize and a city I had never visited. I checked my e-calendar for those dates and found:

08 June 2052: Orl-Tok.
09 June 2052: Tok.
10 June 2052: Evening walk.
11 June 2052: DoHiMuTo, pitch to TPB – Team Building Exercise w Steph – WOW!
12 June 2052: TPB Q&A – Kabuki entertainers, buffet.
13 June 2052: DoHiMuTo – Ginza: Kabuki, dinner, incident WOW!
14 June 2053: Tok-Orl.

I dismissed the PID alert as a mistake. Whoever the person was, he had the wrong O’Brian. I decided it was not worth the fee to get any additional information on this Yitzchak whoever he was.

I found Stephanie’s Monday presentaciones video much less exciting and quickly figured out why. She was no longer sashaying around and bending over to point to her charts. On the other hand, she seemed more feminine than ever, with an especial glow. I went to the trouble of accessing a few of her past presentaciones video files from the archives for comparison purposes. Once again, I used slow motion to catch her sexy poses.

Finally, I was invited to her office for a meeting en persona. I once more found myself going “up” in the elevator. When she greeted me at the door, with a light hug, it was obvious why she had been sitting for the Monday presentaciones video. She was pregnant! As she walked towards her chair, I noted how good she looked – from behind. However, when she turned sideways and sat down, her big belly was off-putting. I had a mental flashback to our asunto secreto in Tokyo in June. It had been four and a half months. While I’m not a gynecologist, she looked to be about that far along. I asked when the baby was due. “It’s really none of your business,” she said coolly, “But, she’s due around the end of March or the beginning of April.”

“Could it be my baby?” I wondered. We had not used protection because I assumed she was on the PP-pill. Could the rumors be correct that her husband really was her merkin or beard? Was her husband “shooting blanks”? Was that why she picked me to be the father of her baby? Why the hell didn’t she just go to an embryo catalog like regular civilized people?

The embryo catalog was introduced with great controversy and opposition in the late 2020’s and by 2050 nearly half the newborns in the US were cats – catalog children. In NortAmer, three large TCs offered online catalogs showing children at various ages, from infancy to young adulthood. Data was provided on the height, weight, strength and other physical attributes of the model children, along with special talents such as music, art, mathematics, science, sports, and so on. Any woman could purchase a cloned embryo implant and, given proper nutrition, stimulation, and education, it was almost certain to develop much like the model in the catalog.

Prospective parents usually picked a model similar to them with respect to facial features and body shape – only prettier or more handsome. They would also choose the talents and attributes they valued most. Some favored athletic ability and good looks. Others chose academic intelligence and talents in music and art. Still others would pick models with celebrity fathers and/or mothers.

The TCs created the embryos by recruiting men and women who, according to market surveys, had the looks and talents most in demand. The couple contributed an egg and sperm to be mated in a laboratory. The resultant embryonic stem cell was allowed to double, quadruple, and so on until, ten doublings later, there were one-thousand twenty-four of them. At that point, the cells were separated and all but six were frozen away. The six were developed into live embryos, two of which were tested for known genetic diseases and then destroyed. If they did not get a completely clean bill of health, the remaining embryos and embryonic stem cells were also destroyed.

If OK, a half-dozen embryos were implanted in women who, in return for free medical coverage, allowed catalog photos to be taken every six months, along with tests of intelligence, reaction times, muscle strength, and so on. As the child developed into a teen-ager and then a young adult, data was taken on their school grades, athletic ability, and talents in music, math, language arts, and so on.

If all went as planned, eighteen to twenty years later, each model child, called an “original cat,” had grown to become a young adult. The original cats received a percentage of sales of their clone embryos. Depending upon the success of their model, they would have money for college, or to start a business and so on. If they did not qualify for the catalog, the frozen embryos for their model would be disposed of. However, the original cats and their mothers would have had the benefit of many years of free medical coverage.

Our oldest, Rebecca, was a natural child, called a nat. We were thankful she turned out to be normal and free of known genetic defects. A couple years later, when we decided to have a second child, we wanted to guarantee having a boy, so we turned to the embryo catalog. Adam’s facial features and skin tone are quite close to the average of Esther and me. To a casual observer he was often mistaken for a nat. He turned out pretty similar to his original cat except for being a bit plumper and having an IQ five points higher.

Adam teased his sister about her being a nat while he was a cat. “Nats are like a ‘shot in the dark’ you can never know how they’ll turn out,” he said, “For example, look at you!”

Of course, Rebecca returned the insult. “Cats are like ‘so boring’ and ordinary,” she said, “I’m unique, one of a kind! You are just a stranger we are raising out of the goodness of our hearts.”

Luke and his wife had religious objections so their children were nats. Mary, one of their fraternal twin daughters was learning-disabled. Her sister, Martha, was intelligent and good-looking. Their oldest and youngest sons, James and Jess were normal, but their middle son, John, had MS. They accepted Mary’s learning disability and John’s MS as “God’s decision.”

Stephanie sat in her recliner and invited me to use the closest chair. “It has been a while, Jim,” she began, “How are you doing?”

“I’ve been doing OK,” I replied. I wondered if her pregnancy – perhaps with my baby – was why we were meeting.

“That’s good,” she said, unenthusiastically.

A moment later Luke Mathews and Stephanie’s assistant, VI, arrived. Luke sat next to me and the robot sat in the far left corner. “Gentlemen,” Stephanie began, “I’ve asked VI to sit in on this meeting and take some notes. You have a problem! Exactly what in hell were you two doing during your multiple visits to the DoHiMuTo when we were in Tokyo for the TABB Planning Board meeting?

"According to PID records, you, Jim, were there four times, once on the morning of June 11th, the second time that evening, the third the morning of the 13th, and the fourth that afternoon. You, Luke, were there three times, once on the evening of June 11th, the second time the morning of the 13th, and the third, the afternoon of the same day.”

Luke leaned over and whispered, “The only time I was at the DoHiMuTo was with you on our last day in Tokyo. Why is that temptress of Satan lying about me being there on two different days? Be careful what you say, I’ll bet she’s got a video recorder going.”

“I got an alert,” I whispered back, “For the days we were in Tokyo about a PID query from a guy in Israel,”

“So did I. Something bad happened there and she’s trying to pin it on us. Admit nothing.”

“HEY!” shouted Stephanie, “Why are you two whispering?”

“Stephanie,” Luke began, “I was at the DoHiMuTo with Jim only on the 13th. I am quite sure I was not there on the 11th. All we did at the DoHiMuTo was get a tour and have lunch with the Director and, in the afternoon, look at the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jim read many of the fragments to me in Hebrew and translated them into English.”

“Why then,” Stephanie asked, “Do the PID records show you and Jim – and only the two of you – all alone in the special secure laboratory of the DoHiMuTo for three hours on the evening of the 11th and again on the afternoon of the 13th?” She emphasized the all alone and only the two of you aspect of the PID record.

“I have no idea, Stephanie,” replied Luke.

“What do you have to say, Jim?” she demanded. I remembered I was in Stephanie’s bed on the evening of the 11th with my PID in modo contrario. The faked location was the special secure lab at the DoHiMuTo! Luke was not with me on the 11th. Modo contrario was TBI-Secret so I could not mention it at this meeting without violating security rules because he had no official “need to know.” “Stephanie,” I replied, measuring my words, “Perhaps … if you tell us what the problem is we’ll be able to help you solve it.”

“Someone paid a large fee to obtain my PID records for those seven days,” she replied. “His name is Yitzchak bar Mats and he lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Do either of you know him?” Luke and I shook our heads from side to side. I was about to tell her, as I had earlier whispered to Luke, that my PID records had also been queried by the same person, but I decided to simply answer the question literally.

“Well,” continued Stephanie, “I queried Yitzchak bar Mats and it turns out he’s a lowly document custodian at the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem. You know, Jim, the museum that lent the Dead Sea Scrolls to the DoHiMuTo for your preservation work. So, I used my scepter to check what other PID records he had accessed and – bingo – I found out he checked your records Jim, and also yours Luke for those same three days we were in Tokyo!”

“Stephanie,” said Luke, “I received an alert about that guy querying me last month. However, I didn’t follow up on it.”

Me too,” I added. “I put it down as a mistaken query.”

At that moment Stephanie’s secretary, XI, opened her office door and said, simply, “He’s here …”

Stephanie brightened and rushed to the door. “Of course, come in, come in!” A short, stout man with a full head of steel-gray hair, perhaps 70 years old, walked in. She gave him a warm hug.
He patted her on the tummy and said, “Looks like my little girl has been fooling around! I hope everything comes out OK.” They both laughed and hugged again.

“This,” announced Stephanie to the visitor, “Is Luke Mathews, our system engineer, and Jim O’Brian, our religion guy.”

“Hi,” said Luke, “I didn’t catch your name.”

Stephanie and the visitor looked at each other. “I’m sorry, his name is … uh, Barbas Grises.” The visitor smiled slyly at Stephanie.

“Hello Barbas,” replied Luke, “Pleased to meet you. You have an unusual name, what nationality is it?”

“Umm, Barbas Grises is a … a Turkish, British, Indian name. Not the ‘feathers’ kind of Indian but the ‘Taj Mahal’ kind. It was the most beautiful place in the world until those Goddamned bombardeos del suicidio blew it up. I was there shortly after it happened back in 2034. What a mess they made, and for what? They destroyed the most aesthetically impressive building ever conceived by man!”

I realized immediately the visitor was one of Stephanie’s mentors from the TBI. “Barbas Grises” – “Beard Gray” – was definitely not his name. Did he make a Freudian slip when he gave his nationality as “Turkish British Indian” – “TBI”? Did long-toothed graybeards from the TBI make Freudian slips?

“Barbas,” Stephanie asked, “Do you have any questions for Jim and Luke? By the way they both received PID alerts about . . .”

“Stephanie! Stop!” He replied quite sharply. “Let your employees answer for themselves! Let’s see if they can tell which way the train went by smelling the tracks!”

Then, while looking at Luke, he said, “Jim, what do you know about this ‘Itzhak’ guy?”

"I’m not Jim,” said Luke, “And his name is ‘Yitzchak.’ Yitzchak bar Mats. Stephanie told us he is a book custodian in Israel.”

“If you’re not Jim,” said Barbas to Luke with a scowl, “Why did you answer? I clearly said ‘Jim,’ didn’t I?” Luke looked amazed.

“I’m Jim,” I interrupted, “And all I know is his name and he lives in Be’er Sheva in Israel. The only reason I remember his name and city is Stephanie mentioned it to us a few minutes ago, before you came in. I got a PID alert about his query about two weeks ago.”

“I was talking to Yitzchak,” Barbas said, looking at Luke.

“My name is Luke not ‘Yitzchak’,” said Luke, with a smile, “I answered when you said ‘Jim’ because you were looking directly at me. I thought you thought I was Jim, now you think I’m ‘Yitzchak’.”

“Stephanie,” said Barbas in a serious tone, “How do these clowns ever get any work done?” She remained silent. “Let me ask again, gentlemen, did you each get a PID alert from Israel for the days you were visiting that 'high moo' museum in Tokyo?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Yes, what?” asked Stephanie.

“Yes,” I continued, being very careful to give precise answers but not admit anything about the evening of the 11th. “I received a PID alert a couple weeks ago that said someone I don’t know named Yitzchak bar Mats from Be’er Sheva, Israel had queried me for; I guess it was June 11th through the 13th, plus a couple days before and after – the time we traveled to and from Tokyo.

"According to what Stephanie told us before you got here, that was when we were in Tokyo. I checked my e-calendar for those days and determined I had visited the DoHiMuTo, you know the Documentary History Museum of Tokyo, on two of those days. I did not follow up because I assumed it was a mistake on his part to query me. My name is quite common.”

“Excelente,” said the visitor, “Finally we are getting somewhere! And you?” he said looking at Luke, “What do you say?”

“Sir,” said Luke, “I also got a PID alert like Jim’s. I don’t keep an e-calendar for past events. I just dismissed the alert as a false query. Before you got here, Stephanie told me she queried my PID for June 8th through 14th and it said I was at the museum the 11th and 13th. That is not correct. I was there only one day, probably the 13th.”

“Why are you lying to me?” asked the visitor in a rough voice, “If a PID query says you were somewhere, you must have been there! If you do not keep an e-calendar for past events, how can you be so sure you were not there both days? You can’t hide from me!”

“Sir,” said Luke quite calmly but also firmly, “I do not lie! If anyone is lying it is you. I don’t think your name is ‘Barbas Grises’ nor do I think your nationality is ‘Turkish British Indian.’ I very clearly remember going to the museum with Jim. We were there both before and after lunch on the same day. I had never been to that museum before that one day visit or after.”

“I can testify that Luke never lies,” I said, trying to be helpful. “I was there alone on the 11th and with him on the morning and afternoon of the 13th.” I was going to tell Barbas Luke was a Bible-believing Christian, but thought better of it.

“And on the 11th?” asked Barbas, looking at me, “You were there both in the morning and the afternoon?” I looked at Stephanie for help. If I denied being there in the evening, I would be revealing the TBI-Secret modo contrario feature of her scepter. If I admitted it, I would be lying. Something had gone down at the DoHiMuTo on June 11th and she was trying to pin it on Luke and me. Besides, Barbas had said ‘afternoon’ and the PID record said ‘evening'.

“Answer him,” Stephanie said pointedly, offering no help.

“I can’t say,” I hedged.

“You can’t say what?” asked Barbas. “Talking to you I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall!”

“I just can’t say,” I repeated, looking at Stephanie for help.

“Any more questions for Luke and Jim?” she asked.

“Yes, Jim,” the visitor began, “What exactly were you doing with a ‘person of interest’ at midnight on the 10th of June? Your PID record shows you walked along the river near Tokyo Bay prior to your reconnoiter with that person. That seems suspicious to me.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I replied, having forgotten my walk and chance meeting with a low-class prostitute.

Stephanie looked at me with great surprise. “OK,” she said, turning back to the visitor, “I assume you have no more questions?”

“No,” said the visitor, “But, sure as hell is seven times colder than it ought to be, someone is lying. I cannot legislate morality, but I can smell a lie a mile away. In dealings with me, gentlemen, avoid lying like the plague! I will thoroughly investigate the facts in this case and there will be hell to pay if anyone is lying! You’ll find I succeed because I try real hard!”

Luke stood and walked to the door and I followed. Barbas had put his read-WINs on and made no attempt to shake our hands or say adios. Stephanie waved, indicating it was OK for us to leave.

While waiting for the elevator Luke and I had a hushed conversation. “Call the Flatitude Squad,” I began, “That guy really needs an anti-bromide!”

“Yeah,” replied Luke, “He’s a retired TBI, I’ll bet, who Stephanie knows from her career there. I don’t trust her, at all. And, he may be Satan in the flesh!”

“I agree with you he’s TBI. What the hell is going on, Luke?”

“Something that has Stephanie nervous,” replied Luke. “Either the Hawking Plan is in trouble or she did something in Tokyo she wants to push off on us. Also, I think that TBI guy was only pretending to be incompetent. On the other hand, the old coot might have lost his marbles in retirement.”

“I know some things,” I whispered, “That are TBI-Secret and I can’t tell you because you don’t have the official ‘need to know’.”

“Jim,” Luke replied, “You just told me what I need to know!”

At that moment, Stephanie came running out of her office, her "pregers belly" bouncing up and down a bit. “Jim,” she shouted, “Don’t get on that elevator yet!” She motioned Luke to get on and me to remain.

She pulled me to a corner far from her secretary's desk. “Jim,” she said sternly, “You must never reveal any TBI Secrets to anyone who does not have official ‘need to know.’ You must not tell Luke about modo contrario and the máquina del tiempo aspect of the contra-terror program. Do you understand? Not only is your job at stake. Possibly also your life and the lives of your family members are at risk here. We have powerful enemies who may be willing to kill. I can tell you no more at this time. You must be a good boy.”

I considered reminding her my PID records for the evening of June 11th were false because she put my PID into modo contrario for our asunto secreto with the DoHiMuTo as the false location. However, I assumed her instructions not to tell Luke about modo contrario was her way of acknowledging it. She dismissed me abruptly and I went down, way down in the elevator.

That evening, I had mutually satisfying sex with Esther for the first time in months. Stephanie did not enter my mind. Her pregnancy had cured my obsession. That, and her attempt to frame Luke and me for whatever had happened at the DoHiMuTo in Tokyo. My sex life, both with my wife and in autoerotic fantasies with women I met, gradually returned to the level that had been normal prior to our asunto secreto. I liked to think things were a bit better with Esther, but I could not be sure.

Weeks went by with no mention of the DoHiMuTo incident, whatever it was. I heard nothing from Stephanie or Barbas, or from Yitzchak bar Mats for that matter. I allowed it to slip out of my consciousness. By early November, with the modification process for e-texts and e-photos of originals and old manuscripts well in hand, I changed my focus to altering the hard copy relics. The preservaciónista work on the Dead Sea Scrolls had been a successful test run for the process.

I took a brief trip to Cape Town and London to check on update work being done in those cities on various relic documents. My staff and I established a firm policy of doing updates in locations remote from the museums where the relics were normally housed. Christian scriptures were modified in EastAsia, Confucian scriptures in Africa, Hindu scriptures in Europe and so on to reduce the chances of detection by any secret religiosas locas of scriptures he or she might regard as sacred.

All preservaciónistas were vetted by the TBI, certified as non-believers, and sworn to secrecy as a condition of further employment, but you couldn’t be too careful.

When I returned from London, Esther told me about an interesting incident at our synagogue. In traditional Jewish services, the Torah scroll, which contains the five Books of Moses, is taken out of a cabinet called the “Ark” and the weekly portion is read in Hebrew from the scroll. This tradition dates to the scribe Ezra who compiled the Hebrew Bible in 444BC. As the reader chants the words from the scroll, which are written in Hebrew without vowels, an assistant called the gabbai follows along using a printed copy or an e-text that has the vowels. If the gabbai notices an error, and if the error is in the Torah, that scroll is no longer kosher, and must be sent to a scribe for correction.

The advent of high quality video surveillance at the western wall in Jerusalem changed all that. Some Israeli entrepreneur got the bright idea of making videos of the western wall service available on the WIN. Most congregations happily abandoned reading their own Torah scroll in favor of the video version. It was more convenient and more inspirational, coming from the holiest site in Judaism.

“So, Jim,” Esther said, “You know we usually use the Jerusalem video, but every year we have this traditional Torah service. So last week is the traditional service and, as usual 89-year old Jacob Cohen is the reader and 78-year old Moshe Rosenstern is the gabbai following along on the read-WIN. Suddenly Moshe cries, “Stop! Stop! You made an error!”

“So?” I asked with great interest, “What was the error?”

“Well,” continued Esther, “Moshe checks the scroll and it turns out that Jacob read it correctly. Then, he compares the words in the e-text on his read-WIN to the scroll and they are different! ‘Oy’, he moans. “Meanwhile the Rabbi says, ‘Our Torah is not kosher and we have to take out another Torah or stop the service.’”

“Our synagogue,” I said, “Has only one Torah scroll.”

“So, wait till you hear,” continued Esther, “The Rabbi sends our service IRA to his office to get a printed copy of the Torah, but the brown-suited robot comes back after five minutes and tells us it can’t find any. ‘Oy,’ says the Rabbi, ‘I discarded all the printed books when the Alte-Rebbe left five years ago.’ Why store and schlep printed books when the e-texts are available on the read-WINs? So, they put the Torah back in the Ark, and continue by using the read-WINs. After the service, they say they’re going to send the Torah away to be fixed and so on. Instead, at the next Board meeting, they decide to never have another traditional Torah service. I think that’s a good decision. The western wall video is so much more dramatic!”

“Do you remember which verse it was?” I asked, wanting to gauge whether a typical synagogue member would remember the details of my word modifications.

“Oh,” she replied, “Something about Abraham’s descendants going to settle on the stars in Heaven, I think. Do you know it?”

“Sorry,” I replied carefully, “I can’t say.” But, I knew the verse was Genesis 22:17, as well as the updates I had ordered. I was not lying to her either, I assured myself. She had no official “need to know.” I really “couldn’t say” anything about the verses to her.

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