The next morning I got out of the wrong side of bed—or started to, but then I slammed my elbow into the wall. Damn. The world was still backwards. I used my third eye to peer out at the highway and, yes, all gazillion Monday-morning cars were driving on the wrong side. As long as I was using my third eye, I glanced into the All, hoping to catch sight of Momo. I’d forgotten that my third eye was sticking vinn towards Dronia, with its distant, writhing anemones. I definitely didn’t want to go there again.
I walked to the 7-Eleven, only two blocks from my new digs. I could have walked five blocks to the Los Perros Coffee Roasting, but I personally didn’t care all that much about what kind of coffee I had in the morning. That was more Jena’s thing.
I had to be careful to walk in what seemed like the wrong direction, and I almost got run over when I crossed the street. I picked up some coffee, a muffin and a mirror-reversed newspaper that was too much trouble to look at just now. I wasn’t sure whether I should pay with one of my new regular-looking hundreds or with some of the older mirror-reversed money in my wallet. So I hung back and
watched another customer. Mirror-money was the way to go. I was glad I could still speak and listen.
Outside I took a bite of my muffin, and found myself reflexively spitting it onto the sidewalk. It tasted like soap, or worse, like the smell of Pine-Sol floor cleaner in an airport men’s room. I tried to wash away the janitorial taste with a sip of coffee, but the coffee was nasty too, a brew of nose drops and coconut sunblock, even worse than 7-Eleven coffee usually is. Something told me there was no use going back into the store to complain.
When I got home, I drank a couple of glasses of water, but even that didn’t taste quite right. The water had a faint hint of gasoline in it. I tried nibbling at some mints I had; they tasted like hot chili peppers. At this rate I would starve to death. Where the hell was Momo when I needed her? Again I peered out into Dronia, again I was scared to try going there.
I sat down in at my desk to study the paper, the . Right on the front page was a picture of the Los Perros Wells Fargo with an inset image showing some fanned-out hundred dollar bills. The bills in the picture didn’t look reversed to me, but by now I was realizing that I was the only guy who was out of step. If something looked right to me, it looked backwards to everyone else. I took the paper into the bathroom and held it up in front of the mirror so I could read it.
“Mirror Million Blows in Wind,” is what it said. “Bankers Check Coffers.”
Just then there was a knock on the front door. I lowered the paper and examined my face in the mirror. I looked kind of crooked, but not all that different. I went to the door.
“Hi Joe,” said Tulip, not really looking at me. She had her six gold earrings on, but she wasn’t wearing any makeup at all this morning. The old acne scars on her cheeks stood out very clearly. I finally grasped that this woman was a science geek. An engineer.
“I brought some things,” she said, setting down two boxes of tools. She trotted back to her car for more stuff. A brown Nissan wagon. I noticed there was a statue of the Virgin Mary on her dashboard.
Tulip returned with two new cell phones, still in their boxes. “I’ll put a couple of your antenna crystals into these, and we’ll see what’s what.” She glanced at my face and did a double-take. “Is something wrong, Joe? Didn’t you sleep? Are you worried about Jena?”
“I just feel weird today,” I said. I longed to confide in her, but it didn’t seem safe. “Is the kitchen counter all right for you to work on? You can sit on this new stool.”
“Okay,” said Tulip. The bags under her eyes were darker than ever. “I didn’t sleep so well myself. I even tried to phone Spazz, but he wasn’t home. It sucks to be rejected.” That long black lock of hair was hanging down across one of her cheeks.
I brought Tulip some of my antenna crystals and she settled in with the cell phones and her tools. She had special thick glasses she put on for the close-up work. Her mouth was calm and serious. How wonderfully competent she seemed.
I dialed up my email on my desk computer, just to seem busy, but it was too hard to read the backwards writing. So then I hand wrote some notes towards a business plan for Mophone, Inc. Time passed. Tulip was quietly tinkering in the kitchen. I went in and looked at her, enjoying the curve of her back and the shine of her cheeks. She gave me a blank, preoccupied glance. I took a glass of gasoline-flavored water and went back to my desk. I was getting really hungry. Much as I hate thinking about science, it was time to figure out what had happened to me.
Momo had said it helped to think in terms of Flatland. I found some scissors in my desk and I cut out a little paper profile of a man, a man with feet and a body and a mouth and nose, with the feet and mouth and nose all pointing to the right. I set the flat man down on my desk and looked at him for a minute. I drew a dot in the middle of his head to stand for his third eye. And then I flipped him over so his third eye was pointing down into the desk. His feet and mouth and nose were all pointing to the left. Flipping the flat man over in the third dimension made him into his mirror image. That’s what had happened to me. I’d started out with my third eye pointing towards Klupdom, but then I’d turned it towards Dronia. And thanks to Wackle, I’d come back into Spaceland without reorienting myself.
“Playing with paper dolls, Joe?” asked Tulip. “You’ll make a perfect CEO.”
“I’m doing some out-of-the-box thinking,” I said, sliding the cut-out man into my desk drawer. “Previsualizing our users. Are you making any progress?”
“Well, your antenna crystals do have some functionality,” said Tulip. “If I pass current in through one wire it comes out through the other. Even though the wires don’t seem to touch each other. It’s like there’s an invisible loop. So maybe they really are antennas. Before I can test them, I’ll need to dash out to Fry’s. I need a couple of wiggywaggy-frammistat-bilgebulge-777-converters.” That’s not the exact phrase she used, but I’m no techie.
“Fine,” I said. “Get yourself a snack while you’re at it. I don’t have any food here.”
“Do you want to come along for the ride?” said Tulip. This was the closest thing to a friendly overture she’d made. But I needed some rime alone just now.
“I’m kind of busy,” I said.
“With your paper dolls,” said Tulip, laughing and shaking her earrings. “Rrright! Okay, Joe, see you later.”
As soon as she was gone, I went back into my bedroom, closed the door and the shades, and peeled myself into Dronia. No sign of Wackle. With a quick flip of my augmented body, I turned myself. over so that my third eye was pointing back towards Spaceland. And then I touched down.
Nothing was backwards anymore. My bed was on the proper side of the room, I could read the titles of my business books, and my face looked normal again in the mirror. Time to cat! I jumped in my car and jammed down to our local fast-food strip to stuff my gut. The food tasted great but when I got home I still felt a little wobbly, Grolly—I needed grolly for my augmented bod. I peered
up into Klupdom. No sign of Momo anywhere nearby, but I did see a saucer with one of the Empress’s crimson-dressed soldiers. There was no hope of me trying to go vout there and forage for grolly just now. I’d have to wait for Momo and beg her. Where was she, anyway?
Around then Tulip came back. “Feeling better, Joe? You look more like your old self.”
“Yeah, I’m good now. I got some lunch. How was Fry’s?”
“It’s the key sight to see in Silicon Valley,” said Tulip. “Even though it’s rather ordinary. I always take my visitors there. You’ll find almost anyone in Fry’s. Last month I saw Clement Treed buying four PowerBooks. The maximum dot-commer. He’s tall and thin. He looks like a Muppet. A big mouth on a little head. He’s not that old of a guy either.”
“The MeYou Clement Treed? The richest guy in Silicon Valley? Did you talk to him?”
“I went, ‘Hi,’ and Treed went, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m busy right now.’ I was with my cousin Amita who’s just come over from India to take Computer Science classes at San Jose State. So then I put on my Indian accent and I said very loudly to Amita, ‘This is the pandit who defiles our Mahatma. He compares himself to Gandhi for material gain. For shame, Mr. Treed, for shame!’”
Tulip was referring to an ongoing MeYou ad campaign that had shown a picture of Gandhi and Clement Treed with the MeYou logo and web address. The ad was one of a series. They’d used Gandhi, Picasso, John Lennon, and Einstein, all blue-chip personalities like that, each of them Photoshopped in with Clement Treed. It was kind of gross, but the numbers showed the campaign was helping. As if MeYou needed to get any bigger. I’d read about the campaign in the business magazines. Instead of laughing along with Tulip, I drifted off for a second there, scheming about the Mophone.
Maybe we could get some venture capital from Clement Treed. Even if Tulip had insulted him, he’d remember her. And that was half the battle.
“Are you even listening to me?” snapped Tulip. Her eyes were big and shiny, the pupils dark brown in the white orbs. “You keep it up, and I’ll charge you double tomorrow.”
“You’re not going to finish today?”
“Money, that always gets their attention,” said Tulip. “The pointy-headed bosses of the world. Come talk to me while I work, Joe, I’m getting bored.” Another overture. Not riding to Fry’s with her had been a good move. It had made me more of a challenge. Women like a challenge.
So now I sat on the other stool in the kitchen, chatting with Tulip. She’d pried the two cell phone cases open, and she was replacing the old antenna assemblies with my antenna crystals and those whizzbang-whatever chips from Fry’s. She had her thick glasses on and she was using a soldering iron.
“I’m going to start out with a peer-to-peer architecture,” said Tulip. “Like walkie-talkies.”
“Are walkie-talkies different from cell phones?”
“Cell phones use the client/server architecture. If you call me on a normal cell phone, your phone sends a signal to a telephone company’s antenna, the telco does some digital munging on the signal, and then a telco antenna broadcasts the signal back out for me to pick up. We’re clients and the telco is the server. Walkie-talkies send signals directly to each other without any third party. Peer-to-peer instead of client/server. Peer-to-peer is only practical for short distances. But if this so-called ‘superchannel’ of yours works as well as you say it will—maybe we can stretch it out. In terms of hardware it also happens to be easier to implement. And since I don’t think it’s going to work anyway—”
“You’re saying the Mophone could work without a phone company to back it up?” I said, getting excited. “The users wouldn’t have to pay a monthly service charge?”
“Would be nice, huh?” Tulip crimped in the corners of her mouth and gave me a serious look. “What’s the story with the superchannel, Joe? And where did you get the crystals?”
“I guess I can tell you new,” I said. “A creature from the fourth dimension gave them to me. Her name is Momo. The wires in the middle don’t actually disappear; they stick into the fourth dimension. They make a loop on the vinn side of our space.”
“So you’re going to be like that, huh?” said Tulip, leaning over the phones. She totally thought I was kidding. A little blue plume of smoke spiraled up from her soldering gun. “Never mind. Did you hear anything from Jena today?”
“No. I guess she went in to work.”
“I don’t think so,” said Tulip, brushing aside a hanging twist of hair. “I cruised by 1234 Silva View Crescent on my way back from Fry’s.” She rolled her big eyes my way, regarding me over the lenses of her glasses. “Jena’s Beetle and Spazz’s motorcycle were both there. I guess they’re having a honeymoon.”
“They missed work?” I exclaimed. “I wonder if something’s wrong with them.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Tulip. “You didn’t sneak over there and kill them, did you, Joe? The house looked awfully quiet.” There was a slight smile on her full, chocolate lips, but she wasn’t completely joking. She was a little afraid. She wasn’t quite sure what I was like. She had this skittish, almost paranoid side to her.
“I’m not a violent guy, Tulip.”
“Last night you said you wanted to kill Spazz.”
“And you said you wanted to wring Jena’s neck. We were venting. Commiserating. Look, I am so over Jena, you wouldn’t believe
it. I’ve wasted too many years looking to her for my self-esteem. I’m okay. I know that now. I’m okay just as I am. Do you have good self-esteem, Tulip?”
“Of course,” said Tulip. “But that’s not the right way to think. I’m more concerned about my relationship to God.”
This was kind of jarring. I hadn’t heard a single person talk seriously about religion in the whole time I’d been in California. Not like back in Matthewsboro—I remember one time there I’d picked up a hitchhiker from the local Bible school, and as soon as he’d gotten in my car, he’d said, “Have you heard about Jesus?” Just to be a wise guy, I gave Tulip the same mock-innocent answer I’d given the hitchhiker.
“I told you I’m religious, Joe. It’s the center of my life. God is the living core of everything around us. We’re the clients and God’s the Server. He has an inordinate fondness for people as well as beetles.” She laughed easily. “Yes, I’m different from most people. I care about God and about my fellow humans. I hope you don’t have a problem with that, Mr. Self-Esteem.”
“I totally respect your opinions,” I told Tulip. “But I do have a little trouble seeing how you fit in with Spazz.”
Tulip was quiet for a minute, thinking. “Spazz’s attraction for me? You know how we met? We were both buying earrings at an Indian store. Spazz makes me laugh. And—well, I’ve always been a very good girl, you know. Spazz represents, oh, chaos, disorder, creativity, bohemianism. He excites me. I guess I had some hope of reforming him a little bit. But it didn’t work.”
“Spazz—he’s not religious at all,” I said. “He’s a stoner.”
“Well, Spazz claims getting high is a way to see God,” said Tulip. “But enlightenment isn’t about getting high. It’s about compassion.” She’d been working all this time. Now she set down her tools, took off her glasses, and got up from her stool. She gave me a full, frank
look. Her dark mouth was level and serious. There were shiny highlights from the window on her large, thoughtful eyes. I’d stopped noticing the scars on her cheeks. I wished I were more bohemian. “Here,” said Tulip, handing me one of the cell phones. It looked the same as ever, but she’d put the antenna crystal inside it. “Take this outside and try to call me.”
“For now. The way it works is that when you press the Send button on either of these phones it makes the other one ring.”
I went out into the backyard and pressed the Send button on the Mophone. I heard a ringing from inside the house, and then, over the phone, a click and silence. Tulip had answered my call.
“Mr. Watson, come here,” I said. “I want you.”
“Mr. Bell,” came back Tulip’s voice, crystal clear. “I heard every word you said—distinctly!” We’d both seen that old movie about the invention of the telephone.
“Terrific!” I cried. “I wonder what kind of distance we can get? Should be pretty much unlimited. There’s nothing to get in the way in hyperspace. No buildings, no curvature of the Earth.”
“Hyperspace,” said Tulip’s voice in the Mophone. She was ready to take me seriously. “You really say a creature from hyperspace gave the antenna crystals to you?”
“Momo,” I said.
“Did she ask you to worship her?” Tulip stepped out onto the porch to look at me. The bags under her eyes were dark and tired. “Did she ask for your soul?” I remembered Tulip’s mentioning that she watched a lot of supernatural horror movies. She seemed like one of those people for whom a fear of the devil was the downside of their love for God. My mother had been like that; in fact she’d thought about the devil a whole lot more than she’d thought about God. I’d never seen the point. Believe in a loving God, fine, but why scare yourself with stories about Satan? It’s not like you need
Satan to account for evil. Ordinary people pump out plenty of it on their own.
“It wasn’t like that at all,” I told Tulip, turning off the Mophone and looking at her. “There’s nothing supernatural here. This is science and business. Momo’s basically a plantation owner from the fourth dimension. Like a saucer alien or something. Her family grows this stuff called grolly.”
Tulip shook her head. The idea of Momo seemed to upset her. “I think I’ve done enough for one day,” she said. “Four thousand dollars worth. I’m going home.”
“Will you come back tomorrow?”
“Maybe.” She fingered one of the dark humps on her cheek. “Will you cut me in for stock?”
“Sure I will! You can really take another day off from work?”
“Yeah,” said Tulip. We walked back into the house and sat on the stools in the kitchen. “I phoned ExaChip while I was at Fry’s,” she explained. “They’re not doing jack this week. I told my boss I’m going skiing, and he said it was fine.” She hefted her Mophone. Her mood was brightening again. “I’m starting to believe in the antenna crystals. The fourth dimension. I guess anything’s possible. The Mophone could be a killer product. How much stock would you offer me?”
“You can be the Chief Technology Officer,” I said. “I’ll give you, I don’t know, a tenth of our founder’s stock? But then I’d only want to pay you like five hundred dollars a day.”
“I’m getting two hundred thousand a year at ExaChip,” said Tulip. “So you’d have to go at least a thousand a day.”
“I could do that,” I said, maybe too quickly. I really wanted Tulip in on this. She was smart, I was attracted to her, and—if I could win her over, it would be a way to get back at Spazz. Show him I was as much of a man as he was. “I could give you my extra room, too. If you need a place to live.”
“Let’s take a look at it.”
We walked through the tiny hall to the unused bedroom. Tulip gave the room the once over and peered out the windows. She turned her big eyes on me and brushed back her loose-hanging hair. “It would be handy, for a while. But I wouldn’t want you to have any unrealistic notions.”
“I don’t, Tulip,” I lied. “Not at all. Strictly business. Though if you change your mind—”
“It’s no good to rush into a new relationship just to get back at someone,” said Tulip, as if she were reading my mind. She fingered the three hoops in her right ear, thinking. My subtle vision had gone fuzzy, but I managed to glance inside Tulip’s body: she was still and calm. “This would be a lot nicer than my sister’s,” said Tulip presently. “I have to sleep on the couch there. And Sis always expects me to baby-sit. Did I mention that Fremont bites? I have to drive on the Nimitz to commute from there.” The Nimitz was the worst freeway in the whole Bay Area. At just about any time of day, it could take you an hour to go five miles on the Nimitz. Hooray for the Nimitz! Thanks to the Nimitz, Tulip was going to move in with me! “I’ll do it,” she said. “And no Satanism.”
“Don’t worry!” I said. “It’ll be great. We’ll get rich together.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Tulip. “I’ll drive up to Fremont right now and get my stuff. And I’ll take the Mophone with me and we can check if it keeps working when I’m far away.”
So that’s what we did. Tulip launched her Nissan into the traffic, and for the next hour and a half she called me every five or ten minutes. The connection held up fine. No fading, no tearing, no cut-outs, no drift. We had a peer-to-peer phone that scaled over intercity distances! Every time we talked, Tulip got more excited. She asked me again about how the chips worked, and I told her a little more about Momo and the fourth dimension. She was believing
it, but she still didn’t like the idea of Momo. And then she was at her sister’s house and she hung up for a while.
I got to work on my computer, making up a business plan. If we were going public with Mophone, we couldn’t fund it with stolen money. Sooner or later some auditors would be looking at our books. We were going to need some honestly scammed venture capital. I felt a little dizzy at the thought of this. The uneasy, wobbly feeling I’d had after lunch came back to me. I went and lay down on my bed.
The phone started ringing not the Mophone, my regular cell phone. It was Tulip.
“I’m just starting back, Joe,” she said. “But something funny happened. The Mophone disappeared.”
“How do you mean?”
“It was in my purse in the car, and when I went back out it was gone.”
“Maybe your nieces and nephews took it?”
“No, the car was locked and I have the only key. I don’t see what could have happened to it. Could this have something to do with that—that supernatural creature you were talking about? Do you think she might be from the Evil One?”
“Relax,” I said. “Those nuns made you too superstitious. If Momo took your Mophone she’ll give it back. She might just be checking out your engineering. Maybe even improving it.” I sounded more confident than I felt. If it was a Dronner like Wackle who’d taken it, I was screwed. Doubly screwed if Tulip ever got a glimpse of a hypercreature who looked like Beelzebub himself. I might need to go looking for the missing Mophone. “If I’m not here when you get back, you can let yourself in with the key under the doormat,” I told Tulip.
“Okay.” Now that she’d dropped her bomb, she sounded calm.
“I’ll take my time. The traffic’s gridlocked. I’m going to stop off at the Great Mall and pick up a bed and stuff. See you later.”
I found my hypersack and tied it to my belt in case I was going to have to go out into the All to find Tulip’s Mophone. And right then my Mophone rang. It was Jena. I wasn’t really surprised. Jena and phones went together.
“How did you get it?” I asked as soon as she’d said hello.
“Momo’s here. She gave us a bunch of antenna crystals this morning. Spazz has been trying to wire them up all day, but it’s not happening for him. Momo brought us one of your Mophones so Spazz can see how you did it.”
“Goddamn it!” I yelled. “Let me talk to Momo!”
“I think we better talk in person, Joe,” said Jena. “Come on over. And bring my half million.”
“It’s gone,” I snapped. “Didn’t Momo tell you?”
“You’ve got more,” said Jena. “I saw the paper.”
“Come on over. Don’t take too long, or I might make some more calls.” Jena hung up.
It took me a minute to get my head back together. What was all that crap I’d been telling myself about being okay? I wasn’t okay at all. Jena was pushing me around as much as ever. I drove over to my old house, cursing and fuming.
Spazz met me at the door. He wasn’t wearing his nose-ring anymore; maybe Jena had already talked him out of it. But he still had the big silver stud in the top of his ear. I felt like ripping it out.
“Dude,” said Spazz, but nothing else for the moment.
Jena was sitting on the couch biting her nails, and next to her was Momo, looking like a fat, naked Picasso woman. Momo nodded in my direction, and one of her eyes crawled across her face and winked at me. Meanwhile Spazz sat down at my old kitchen table. He had some tools there, though not nearly so clean a kit as Tulip’s.
Tulip’s pried-open Mophone was lying next to two more cell phones that Spazz had been tinkering with. Spazz was avidly studying the details of what Tulip had done.
“Hi, Joe,” said Jena to break the ice. “I hope you’re not mad at me. I appreciate your having moved out without a fuss.” I felt a flush of pleasure at her kind words. Her face across the room looked as crisp and clear as ever. Her pink cheeks, her bowed lips, her farseeing eyes. I felt the same old need to make Jena happy, to win her approval. I was very far indeed from being okay.
Not trusting what I might say to Jena, I turned to Momo. “Why are you helping them?” I asked her. “I thought you were on my side. That’s my Mophone you gave Spazz. Tulip invented it for me.” Across the room, Spazz gave a sharp cough, but he didn’t look up from his circuitry.
“Calm yourself, Joe Cube,” said Momo. Her voice took on a cozy, soothing tone. “You’ll be the better for some grolly.” A shiny, lavender bagel appeared at the tip of her outstretched hand. I walked over and took it. I needed grolly like a man in a desert needs water. I gnawed at the chunk, trying to keep too much of it from sliding off into the fourth dimension. Though I’d kind of meant to save some for later, I kept right on chewing the grolly until I’d eaten every bit of it. It didn’t take me long.
I wasn’t wobbly anymore, and my subtle vision was sharp. I could see the rest of Momo vout there in hyperspace, Momo and her saucer. I used my third eye to take a quick look at Spazz and Jena. I could still see inside them, which meant that Momo hadn’t augmented them.
“Why are you helping Spazz and Jena?” I asked Momo again.
“I wanted to ensure the timely creation of a Mophone,” she said. “It seemed wise to have two separate teams working on it. After the fiasco last night, I wasn’t feeling so confident in you, Joe Cube. You should understand that what happened to you served you right.
You’ve no business going down into Dronia alone. They’re evil, evil beasts. It’s dangerous—and inappropriate—for you to converse with Wackle.”
“No worry of that happening again,” I said. “You killed him.”
“That was just one instance of him,” said Momo. “There’s no end to Wackle. He’s like the fingers on a hand, or like the tentacles of an anemone. But let’s not trouble ourselves with Wackle just now. I’ll deal with him should he approach us. Let’s make plans for Mophone, Inc. You four must work together.”
“Did you bring my money?” interrupted Jena.
“It’s gone, dammit,” I told her. “Wackle took it yesterday morning right after I vacated for you. And yes, I took a little extra from the bank, but that’s all mince. I tried to go back for even more, but then Wackle came for me and Momo splattered him. Steal your own money if you want some, Jena. (jet Momo to augment you.”
“I’ll not augment anyone else,” said Momo. “The Empress’s soldiers are watching my activities too closely· for that.”
“Good,” said Jena, then turned back to me. “I saw the mirror money in the paper, Joe. Weird. How many good bills did you actually get?”
“None of your business,” I said.
“Seventeen thousand dollars,” said Momo. “And he’s right, Jena. That’s his money now. If you want money you’re going to have to earn it.”
“What about the mirror money?” asked Jena.
“I think I’ll take it from the police station, turn it right way round, and put it back where it came from,” said Momo. “What was the box number, Joe?”
I told her.
“Good,” said Momo. “And once you get some funding, I’ll put the rest of the money back as well.”
“You think we’ll get funding?” said Jena.
“Of course,” said Momo.
“Aha!” exclaimed Spazz, still bent over the cell phones. “Now I get it. I’m gonna make a run to Fry’s.”
“No man steps in Fry’s but once,” said Jena cheerfully. It was one of her sayings. She’d noticed that whenever I got some hardware at Fry’s I always had to go back and exchange something the next day. She gave me her prettiest smile. “We three will make a good team, Joe. I’ll be the Director of Corporate Communications. You know darn well that I’m the only one who can pitch to the venture capitalists. It’s me who’s the cheerleader type. You can be the CEO, and Spazz can be the Chief Technology Officer. We don’t really need that other girl, do we? What’s her name again? Rose? Violet? Daisy? Alfalfa?”
“Tulip’s the CTO,” I said. “Spazz is the one we don’t need.”
“Hell you don’t,” said Spazz, finally listening to us. “This little kludge of Tulip’s is fine if all you’ve got in your network is two phones. But once we scale, we’re going to need packet-switched CDMA. Code Division Multiple Access, dude. Each and every spoken syllable has the target phone’s number on it, that’s the way CDMA works. No way Tulip can write the program for that. It’ll run as a distributed parallel computation on all the Mophones. Like the Internet, but with no servers, just a zillion peer-to-peer clients. It’s an idea that Tulip and I have been talking about, actually. Tasty. You know I’m the one to hack it. It’ll be fun. And as for titles, hey, you can call Tulip the Chief Technical Officer if that’s what it takes to make her mother happy.” He paused to cough, and then continued. “I don’t give a squat what you call me. High Llama, Beauty School Dropout, Just In Time Compiler, Alligator Wrassler, whatever. Just so I get the same money as everyone else.” He gave me one of his cocky, sarcastic smiles.
“A bastard is what I’d call you,” I said, the anger welling up in me. “A jerk. You stole my wife. You son of a bitch.” I took a step towards him.
“Time warp,” said Spazz, getting to his feet. “Neanderthal zone.” He circled around to the other side of the kitchen table. He was holding one of his screwdrivers. He was tall, but I outweighed him.
“Don’t, Joe,” said Jena, her voice breaking. “It’s not Spazz’s fault. It’s my fault.” I had this funny moment of subtle vision just then. Instead of seeing Jena as some calculating evil tormentor, I saw her for what she really was, a wistful, not-particularly-bright person who didn’t know what the hell she was doing. A person like me. I was nuts to get so uptight about this. Couples split up all the time. I was acting mentally ill. I flopped down on the other end of the couch from Jena, with Momo sitting between us. Spazz regarded me for a minute.
“Hunky-dory?” he said, setting down his screwdriver.
“We’ll see,” I said. Deep down I still had some mentally ill thoughts about what I might do to Spazz. But not here and now. I could at least pretend to be okay. Momo was right. If we were going to make a go of Mophone, we four would have to work together.
“Hark!” said Momo, who’d just been peeking vinn at the Dronner side of Spaceland. “A Wackle approaches!” She stuck one of her arms vout into Klupdom and got the hyperbazooka from her saucer. Jena and Spazz exclaimed when she pulled the weapon down into the room with us. It was awesome, a three-foot hypercylinder covered with a filigree of tubes and wires. Since it was four-dimensional, it looked particularly bizarre, getting thicker and thinner and with bits and pieces of it appearing and disappearing as Momo moved it around. “I’ll pot him from here,” said Momo, and now most of her disappeared on the vinner side of Spaceland with the hyperbazooka. Her butt and legs were still on the couch, but rounded off at the waist.
“It’s like she’s ice-fishing,” said Spazz. “With a rocket launcher. Who’s this Wackle you keep talking about?”
“I saw him last night,” I said. “When I was trying to rob the bank. He looks like a devil and he talks funny. He scared me so much that I came down mirror reversed. And then Momo shot him. He was like the tip of a tendril from an undersea anemone thing on the cliffs of Dronia. I guess there’s a new tendril coming for us right now.”
“Yikes,” said Jena. “We’re not safe anywhere, are we?”
“Momo and the Empress’s troops are watching over us,” I said.
“So creepy,” said Jena.
“Can you see what Momo’s doing down there?” Spazz asked.
“No,” I said. Because my third eye was sticking vout into the Klupper half of the All again, I couldn’t see into Dronia.
Momo’s legs tensed and braced themselves, then jerked as if in recoil. A bloody scrap of Wackle tissue came streaking across the living room and disappeared through the bedroom wall.
“This is so X-Files,” said Spazz. “I love it.”
“One less Wackle,” said Momo, reappearing on the couch with her weapon cradled in her arms. “If it weren’t for Spaceland we could be shooting Dronners all day long.”
“Spaceland is our world, right?” said Jena.
“It divides the All in half,” said Momo. “Klupdom above and Dronia below. The problem is, we can’t see through Spaceland.”
“But you can come down and stick your head through it,” said Spazz.
“Indeed,” said Momo. “But normally it’s forbidden by the Empress. She doesn’t like for us to interfere with Spaceland. It’s only safe for me to be talking to you now because I bribed the soldiers to leave me alone. They’re very poorly paid, you know.”
“Does your Empress know what you did to Joe?” asked Spazz. “Giving him that third eye he used for the blackjack game?”
“The Empress views Joe as a powerful sorcerer,” said Momo. “She thinks he became augmented all on his own. She views him as—
how to say this—a sacred monster. I’ve been authorized to do what’s necessary to contain—and protect—Joe Cube.”
“The Empress doesn’t know about the Mophones,” I put in. “Momo says their radiation will help keep the Dronners away. They’ll stop sneaking up through Spaceland to raid Momo’s family’s grolly fields.”
“Speaking of my family, it’s time for me to go spend some time with them,” said Momo. “I’ll rejoin you in a few days. But no need for worry. I think I’ve taught the Wackles a bit of a lesson. And here’s a little more grolly to tide you over. Good luck with your new business, you three.” Momo handed me another shiny lavender doughnut of grolly, a rather small one this time. Her body began melting away into hyperspace.
“Just a minute,” I said, feeling uneasy. “How long are you going to be gone?”
“The sooner you set up some meetings with investors, the sooner you’ll see me again,” said Momo. “That’s the next time you’re likely to need me. I can’t be meddling every minute.”
“What about bringing me more grolly before that?” I said. I hated to think I’d be running out of the stuff so soon again.
“Find your investors, then you’ll get your grolly,” said Momo. “May your craving serve as an extra impetus towards rapid initiatives.” What was left of her was drifting down towards the floor like a leaking helium balloon. At the last minute she paused and pointed a little mouth-trumpet up at me. “Remember, Joe, whatever you do, stay out of Dronia.” And then she was gone. I took a little nibble of my grolly.
“What is that stuff?” asked Spazz. “Can I try some?”
“It’s food for my higher body,” I said. “I don’t have nearly enough of it. I can’t spare any at all.”
“Now I’m really curious,” said Spazz. “You sound like a coker talking about his stash. Let me taste just a crumb.”
I pincered off a literal crumb and handed it to him. He hit into it and winced.
“Ow!” he exclaimed. “It’s hard. Like a piece of sand. Or a rock.” He spit the purple speck out into the palm of his hand.
“Not for me,” I said proudly. “I’m different.” I crunched down one last bite, enjoying the sweet, rich, fruity taste, and then I forced myself to put the rest of the grolly into the hypersack at my belt. I was feeling really good. That last taste of grolly had put a spinning flywheel of energy into my head. Working with Spazz and Jena had begun to seem like the perfect idea. I discussed business plans with them. They were all smiles. After a bit, I decided to call Tulip on her cell phone and let her in on the plans. Turned our she was back at my new house, busy putting her bed into the extra room.
“Guess where I found your Mophone?” I said to Tulip. “It’s with Spazz.”
“What? That rat! He was following me? He stole it from my purse?”
“No, no—Momo took it. Just like I thought. She reached in from the fourth dimension.”
There was a silence. “Have you actually seen Spazz?” said Tulip finally.
“I’m with him and Jena right now. I think the four of us should talk things over.”
“Really?” There was an upward surge in Tulip’s voice. A hopeful lilt. Maybe she thought Spazz wanted her back again.
“Just to talk about business,” I said flatly. “About the Mophone. You head the tech, Spazz writes the software, Jena does the VC pitch and the marketing.”
“I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with that,” said Tulip, her voice chilling over.
“Why don’t we four sit down and talk about it. We’ll be right over.”
“No,” said Tulip quickly. “I’m about to go out for supper.”
“Stay there. We’ll come over. I’ll bring beer and pizza.”
“Oh, all right. Bring juice and ice cream, too.”
So we held our first team meeting at Mophone world headquarters.
To start with, we got ourselves psyched up to the point of faxing in resignation letters to our real jobs.
Next, Spazz drafted us a patent application for me to take to Stu Koblenz. He said it didn’t matter if the patent didn’t actually explain how we made the antenna crystals.
And then we sent out some emails to try and set up meetings with possible business angels—including Clement Treed. We told everyone we had an “operational and patented technology for broadband comm with low power and no EM spectrum conflicts.” In the current Silicon-Valley-speak, a venture capitalist was a buttoned-down manager who invested other people’s money for them. They were, of necessity, somewhat cautious. We were looking for rich guys ready to plunge in with their own cash. They were the business angels.
Over the course of our evening, Tulip went out of her way to pay a lot of attention to Spazz. Smiling at what he said, sitting next to him, telling him things. So it was pretty awkward when, around ten o’clock, Spazz and Jena left together, leaving Tulip and me alone. Tulip looked at me, burst into tears and disappeared into her room as fast as she could.
The next day, Tuesday, January 3, 2000, I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off.
At nine A.M. I went to Kencom. Before Ming would give me my termination papers, I had to undergo an exit meeting with Ken Wong. This was a minefield to be carefully crossed. Though Ken came across as polite and preppy, he was a tiger when it came to business. But I knew how to say the right things. I taped the conversation to make sure that the other three would follow exactly the
same line in their own exit meetings, which were scheduled a little later in the day. Inside his desk, Ken had a tape recorder going too; I could see it with my third eye.
I was frank with Ken about the reasons Spazz and I were leaving. I told him that we were founding a start-up named Mophone to productize a new idea we had. Ken feigned anger and brought out the intellectual property rights waiver I’d signed when joining Kencom. I stated that our new technology had nothing at all to do with Kencom research and that it was something which Spazz, Tulip, Jena and I had developed completely on our own time.
Ken threatened to sue me, and I said Mophone would vigorously defend itself‘and that he would lose. And then, as I’d hoped, he changed his tack. He wondered if I might be interested in making my new company a subdivision of Kencom. I said that we wanted to be fully autonomous—but that we would certainly be open to letting Ken and his backers be on the list to see the pitch for our upcoming round of seed funding. I pointed out that this would also be a good way for Ken to reassure himself that we were not using any Kencom technology. Ming Wong phoned Jena and signed up Ken for a slot.
Back at the Mophone headquarters, I played my meeting tape for the others, and then they went off for their own exit meetings: Spazz to Kencom, Tulip to ExaChip, and Jena to MetaTool.
That afternoon, we four met up again. Apparently Ken Wong had pressed Spazz really hard to stay on, but Spazz claimed he hadn’t wavered. Stu Koblenz came over and we four worked out our deals with each other, as well as setting an antenna crystal patent application in motion. And meanwhile Jena was on her laptop and cell phone, playing the investor nibbles that were coming in. We lined up seven meetings for Wednesday, starting with Ken Wong at eleven and ending with—yes!—Clement Treed at five o’clock.
After Stu left, Jena and I set up a computer spreadsheet to plan
our marketing and distribution, while Spazz and Tulip. started hand-drawing some Unified Modeling Language diagrams for the classes and interaction sequences needed for the embedded Mophone firmware.
Even though we were working together. Jena was kind or holding me at arm’s Length. She was plenty talkative about all the business things, but if I asked any kind of personal question, she’d brush it off with a short, neutral answer. And I couldn’t get her to smile. I couldn’t help noticing that Spazz and Tulip in the kitchen were having more fun than we were; their voices were going up and down, exclaiming, interrupting, laughing. What it came down m was that both the women liked Spazz and neither of them liked me.
I felt in my pocket for my grolly, but I’d eaten it all.
“I’ve had it,” I told Jena. “I’m ready to knock off. Should we get something to eat?”
“Oh, I think I’ll go home,” said Jena blandly. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big day.” We peered into the kitchen, where Spazz and Tulip. were bent cheek-to-cheek over a sheet of paper with lines and boxes on it. Spazz was drawing an arrow, and Tulip playfully yanked the pencil out of his hand to add a label to the arrow. Spazz chuck led.
Jena didn’t like it any more than I did. “Come on, Spazz,” she said. “Let’s go home.”
Tulip snapped her head around and glared at Jena. “Just a minute,” she said.
“Yeah,” said Spazz, glancing our way but not really seeing us. “We’ve almost worked out the class inheritance tree.”
“You want to walk to 7-Eleven with me to get some cigarettes?” I asked Jena.
“Oh, all right,” she said. “Get ready to leave in ten minutes. Spazz.”
“Okay,” he mumbled, leaning over the diagram.
So then Jena and I were outside together in the early January night. It was dry, with a damp breeze. Out of reflex, I tried to take her hand, but she shoved hers into her pocket.
“Don’t, Joe,” she said. “Just really let it be over.”
“I know you’re right,” I said. “We’ve been making each other miserable. But, still. When I see you …”
She stopped and looked at me. Her pink cheeks, the bow of her lips, her narrow eyes seeing into me as clearly as if she had subtle vision. She was motionless as a picture, waiting for my next move. I had a sudden odd image of her as a video game I’d lost my last quarter in. Yes, yes, it really was titne to let go.
“We’ll be friends,” I said. “That’s all.”
“Good,” said Jena. “I’d like that. I need friends.”
I got my cigarettes and we started back.
“I do have to ask what you see in Spazz,” I said. “He’s like the opposite of me,”
“Duh?” said Jena, and finally laughed. “I don’t see Spazz and me lasting very long,” she added. “He’s like—like when someone gives a prisoner a cake with a hacksaw blade inside it? Spazz was my hacksaw blade. As long as we’re being nosy, what’s the story with you renting a room to Tulip? You’re after her, aren’t you? That zitty geek.”
“She’s nice,”I said. “But I don’t think she’s over Spazz.”
“I don’t like her,” said Jena. “The way she glares at me with those big cow-eyes. And her skin! Do you think she ever takes a bath?”
“Lighten up, Jena. You’re the one who has Spazz, not Tulip.” I lit my third cigarette in a row as we walked up to the new house. I’d expected Jena to say something about my smoking, but she didn’t. She went inside while I finished my smoke.
“I can’t find them!” cried Jena, suddenly reappearing. Her forehead was an asterisk of wrinkles and she was biting her thumbnail.
I quickly used my subtle vision to go over the rooms of my house. They wouldn’t actually be in Tulip’s bedroom, would they? No, at least not that. They’d left entirely. Spazz’s motorcycle was missing from where he’d parked it beside the house.
“Maybe they went to get more food,” I said, trying to stay calm.
“Oh, just get me out of here,” said Jena. “Give me a lift home.”
We didn’t talk much on the ride to 1234 Silva View Crescent. I dropped Jena, drove back to the house on Los Perros Boulevard and then I was home alone. Have I mentioned that I don’t like being alone? I tidied up for a minute, checked my email, spell-checked the business plan and printed a dozen fresh copies for the presentations tomorrow. Still no Spazz or Tulip. And, to make things worse, they’d taken along our prototype Mophones. I didn’t want to think about what that might mean. It had to be they’d just gone off for sex. I could have phoned Tulip of course, but I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to be a hungry little dog trotting after her for scraps.
I started up PowerPoint and converted our business plan into a series of slides. I even used my scanner to make slides out of the UMI, diagrams that Spazz and Tulip. had left lying around the kitchen. And for a good measure, I lay one of the antenna crystals on the scanner and made a slide out of it too. It was nearly midnight and Tulip still hadn’t come home.
By now it was pretty clear what had happened. Spazz had taken her back to his place. I went to bed. The exhilaration of the grolly was gone and I felt depressed. Nobody loved me. If Spazz was Jena’s hacksaw blade, I was her jailer. That was my thanks for all those years of trying to make Jena happy. And Tulip—last night she’d broken down in tears at the thought of spending the night under the same roof as me! And now she’d gone back to that sleazy jerk Spazz. Why was I letting Spazz in on the Mophone anyway? It was Tulip who’d gotten the antenna crystals to work. Et cetera, et cetera.
When I woke in the morning the house was still empty. I went over the PowerPoint slides, tweaking them and adding annotations. Jena phoned around nine A.M.
“Well?” she said.
“They’re not here yet,” I said. “And they have the Mophones.”
“Oh God,” wailed Jena. “Our first meeting is at eleven. Ken Wong.”
“Come over and help me get ready,” I said.
“I’m not coming if the others aren’t there,” said Jena. “This is totally going down the tubes. Why did I let you talk me into resigning from MetaTool?”
“Phone Spazz,” I told Jena.
“I don’t want to phone him,” she said, her voice rising. “Why don’t you phone that nasty Tulip?”
“I don’t want to phone either,” I said. “It would feel lame. But, you know, I think I’d feel okay with going over there in person.”
“To Spazz’s house? You know where it is?”
“Not exactly. Do you?”
“Yeah, Sunday afternoon he got me to drive my car there to get some of his things.”
“Will you drive there with me right now?” I asked.
“No way, Joe. But I can give you directions. It’s not far.” She went on to tell me how to find Spazz.
“Promise you’ll be here at eleven no matter what,” I said when she was done.
“I’m not promising anything,” said Jena, her voice going shrill. “Call me back after you see Spazz.”
I jumped in my car and headed down Route 17 and up Black Road into the mountains. In twenty minutes I was parked outside a mossy shack under some huge redwoods. Spazz’s red motorcycle was chained up in front. Rather than rushing right in, I used my third eye to peer through the walls of the house. There was the
kitchen, with pot plants growing on the counter by the rear window. Spazz and Tulip were drinking coffee, Spazz in long underwear and a sweatshirt, Tulip looking comfortable in a robe. Spazz was on his cell phone. I wondered who he was talking to. It occurred to me that if I went out into hyperspace I could stick my ear into the corner of his room and hear what was going on.
One of the Empress’s soldiers was vout there on the Klupper side of the All, so it wouldn’t do to go into hyperspace on that side. I decided to chance another trip through Dronia. I peeled myself vinnward, briefly rolled over to make sure none of those anemone things were reaching out from the cliffs, and then turned back the right way, with my third eye staring down at Spaceland. I flapped over to Spazz’s cabin. I leaned voutward to press my ear into Spaceland, under the kitchen table where nobody would notice it.
“ … weird ego trip,” Spazz was saying. “No, I don’t think so either, Ken. Joe Cube isn’t anyone’s idea of a CEO. Like you said yesterday.” He gave a coughing laugh as Ken added something. “Yeah, or maybe a McDonald’s franchise. He eats there all the time. No no, Joe’s not the man to put together the kind of massive score we’re looking at.” He paused, listening. “That’s what I said, Ken. Unlimited spectrum, with no FCC licenses needed. Low power and an unbelievable signal-to-noise ratio. That’s right. Tulip and I just finished prototyping it yesterday.” Another pause. “Well, sure, you might as well show up for today’s meeting anyway. It’s at eleven o’clock? Joe and his wife will have some dippy little slides. Tomorrow morning, you and Tulip. and me can get together and have the real meeting.” Another pause. “Oh, that’s not a problem. I’ll just file a competing patent application. Joe’s isn’t fully executed yet. Anyhow, it’s Tulip and I who have the working prototypes. Joe’s not going to be able to do jack about it. It’s not like the dude’s gonna build the thing himself. Yeah. Totally. It’s kind of sad. But, hey, I’ve got a good feeling about Kencom. Thanks. Later.”
He hung up. coughed, laughed, walked over and kissed Tulip on her big. soft, chocolate mouth. I decided to kill him.
I drew back a foot from Spaceland and wriggled along until I was right even with Spazz. I peered into his body. There was his heart.
I shot my hand forward and grabbed his aorta, squeezing it shut. Spazz grunted and clutched his chest. Tulip dragged a chair over and helped Spazz to sit down. They didn’t know it was me, because the only part of me inside Spaceland was my hand, and that was hidden inside Spazz’s chest. The aorta was tough and slippery and twitchy. I kept up the pressure. Spazz’s heart was flopping around, bumping at me. His eyes rolled up and closed. He slumped back in his chair. Tulip. was screaming, though with my head out in hyperspace I couldn’t hear her. She grabbed the phone and dialed 911. I hung onto Spazz’s aorta. His face was starting to turn blue.
Something struck me in the middle of the guts and sent me spinning. Spazz’s aorta slipped out of my grasp. I was tumbling through hyperspace and now something grabbed me hard and shook me.
Yes, it was Wackle. Another Wackle, that is, another red devil figure at the end of a long, winding tentacle thread that led all the way hack to the distant Dronian cliffs.
“Peace and love, bro Joe,” said Wackle, his crimson face pushing close to mine. He smelled like the ocean. His mouth was like a clam shell and his eyes were on little stalks. “Killing kills the killer. Re gentle in the lonely night.”
Though Wackle was terrifying to look at, his tone was sweet and his words were reasonable. Maybe the Dronners weren’t really the bad guys? I paused and caught my breath.
Down in Spaceland, Spazz was hack on his feet, coughing. Tulip gave him a glass of water. Spazz picked up the phone, punched in 911. and talked to someone to cancel Tulip’s call for help. I could
see Tulip arguing about it, but Spazz’s gestures clearly indicated that he didn’t want cops and medics poking around his house. He was already completely recovered.
I was glad. It was good I hadn’t killed Spazz. I would have felt bad about it for the rest of my life. I’d been crazy to go after him like that.
“You were right,” I told Wackle.
“What it is,” said Wackle. “You’re thick as pie, a Klupper-fed guy. The fattened-up Spacelander, yas. For shame to be a shark. There’s a reason, there’s a rhyme, there’s a season, there’s a time. What it is Momo do with you?”
“I don’t know what Momo’s really up to,” I told Wackle. “It’s complicated. She says her family wants me to make the Mophones so the antenna crystal signals will keep you Dronners from stealing their grolly.”
“Bullpoo,” said Wackle. “Grolly’s junk. What Kluppers got, Dronners don’t want. Nohow. Just want they leave us alone. Worrisome they’re working you, is what we thinky-thunk.”He gave a cackle and formed some stubby arms which pretended to shoot a hyperbazooka. “Blooey! Wackle kerflooey! Scatter my smeel, a favor indeed. Those splatters put new me trees on the grow there and there and there and there and there and there and there and there and there …” He pointed twenty arms towards the Dronian cliffs. “Bud me, baby! Simpler than your two go.” Down in Spaceland, Tulip and Spazz were embracing.
“I—I guess I’ll go back down,” I said, when Wackle didn’t say more. “And—thanks.”
“Ding the dong,” said Wackle. “Old trick, new dog. Glad to save your soul, little fatty. I’ll keep out an eye, ever so many an eye. You can count on me when the Klupper runneth over.”
“All right,” I said, and flopped back into my car, making sure not to come down backwards. I sat there and honked the horn.
Spazz peered out, did a double take, gestured that I should come talk. I got out of my car and spoke to him from the yard. I’d decided to play my hand strong.
“How’s the heart?” I said straight up. I reached out towards him and made a squeezing gesture with my hand.
Spazz winced and his jaw dropped a little. He put his hand on his chest.
“What it is,” I said, half-imagining I could hear a Wackle cackle. “Hurry up, dude, we’ve got our meeting with Ken at eleven.” I started to get back in my car, then paused and glared back at him. “Call Ken and tell him the meeting today is the real thing, okay? And, dude, don’t forget to bring the Mophones.” I made another violent grab with my hand, and this time I really did hear a Wackle cackle. But it was me making it.
I drove off, giving Jena a cell phone call on my way home. I kept it simple, just told her that Spazz and Tulip would definitely be there.
“I’m at the Los Perros Coffee Roasting,” Jena told me. “Tell you what. I’ll run over and get a computer projector and a little movie screen at OfficeMax.” She was back into the program. She was good at this stuff. “Showing PowerPoint slides on your desktop is bush.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Mophone will reimburse you.”
When I was nearly home, a lump of Momo appeared on the car seat next to me. Back in town.
“You were in Dronia again,” she said accusingly. “Where you were expressly forbidden to go.”
“Just for a minute,” I said defensively. “To eavesdrop on Spazz.”
“I witnessed your actions,” said Momo. “I saw your hand grasping his heart, and I peeked into Dronia. Do you presume to play the higher being, Joe?”
“I just wanted to scare him,” I said. I glanced over at the lump of flesh next to me. It was the size of a small dog, with a mouth,
an ear, and a hank of blonde hair. The mouth looked angry. “Spazz was trying to ruin the company,” I added, “It’s me who’s working things out for you, Momo. I’m your man.”
“You spoke with a Wackle as well,” she said coldly. “That’s what caused you to release your rival’s heart. It was a Wackle who knocked you loose. You and he engaged in a colloquy, his goal being, I well know, to undermine and subvert.”
“Maybe,” said, barely moving my lips. “I don’t know. I have to watch the road. I have to think about the meetings today. I’m doing them for you.”
“You blotch, you stain, you cartoon,” said Momo. A tendril of her flesh reached towards me and seemed to sink through my skin and into the fibers of my spine. I felt a shiver of pain, like the lightest of notes struck upon a harp. Another twinge, stronger this time. And then a true spasm that forced me to pull the car off the road and bend forward moaning in agony. “Don’t presume!” said the blob on the seat next to me. “Don’t pick and choose which of my orders you should obey.”
“I won’t, Momo,” I whispered. “I won’t do it again.” I felt a thousand needles in my back.
“What won’t you do?” insisted the blob.
“I won’t go into Dronia again.”
The pain stopped, and the mouth formed a smile. “Very well then. Remember this: I’ll be close by.”
The day’s meetings started very badly. Ken Wong and some old Taiwanese guy showed up before any of us had had a chance to talk and clear up our unresolved issues. The room was so tense it felt like the air was tied into knots.
Spazz had made another call to Ken Wong on his way into our Mophone headquarters, and with all the crossed signals, Ken didn’t know what to believe or who to listen to, which is not a state of mind conducive to dropping a bundle of cash on anyone. He
stopped Jena halfway through her presentation and remarked that Spazz and I would be welcome to come back to our old johs if this didn’t work out. And then he and his partner were gone.
We had twenty minutes till the next prospective business angel, and now I had a chance to coach Jena about the slides. She’d done Ken’s presentation cold. While we were going over the slides, Spazz started heckling me, saying I’d scanned the wrong UML diagrams.
“We don’t have time to change them,” I snapped. “Maybe if you’d stuck around and helped last night instead of taking off.”
“I just can’t believe you think you’re running this show,” said Spazz. “Pinhead. Nazi. Murderer.” He broke into a long bout of coughing.
“Don’t get so angry, Spazz,” said Tulip. “You’ll make yourself sick again.”
Evidently Spazz hadn’t yet told Tulip. what had really happened in the cabin. But now he spilled the beans. “It was Joe who made me sick,” Spazz told Tulip. “He went up into the fourth dimension, and he reached down inside my chest to squeeze my heart. Or he got Momo to do it for him.” His face still looked a little blotchy, and he hadn’t shaved. He glared at me. “If you pull that again. Cube, I’ll tell the cops.”
“There’s not a jail that can hold me,” I said, feeling cocky. I really had him on the ropes.
“You put a curse on Spazz?” said Tulip, shrinking back a little. “You and your familiar hexed him in the cabin?”
“What are you talking about?” asked Jena, looking up from the computer.
“Spazz was all set to double cross Joe with Ken Wong,” Tulip told Jena. “And Joe gave Spazz a heart attack. It was dreadful. I think maybe all of this is black magic.”
Jena’s eyes got narrow. “We’re getting ready to pitch to six prospects in a row. Our big break. So stop freaking out. All of you. We
can fight later. I’m the one who should be mad anyway. With Spazz running out on me like that.” She pouted her lips and trembled her chin a little. “I thought you were tired of Tulip, Spazz.”
“I am,” said Spazz weakly. “I’m sorry about last night.”
Tulip threw down the Mophone she was holding and disappeared into the kitchen. There was a knock on the door.
The business angels were all over the map in appearance, approach, and behavior: a gray-haired fatherly blood-sucker from the chip industry; a shrink-wrap billionaire bent on collapsing the self confidence of anybody with the ambition of following in his footsteps ; a seen-it-all portfolio manager ready to rewrite our business strategy as soon as he met us; a shy, liquid-eyed Colombian who said he was a rancher looking to diversify; and two twenty-year-old day-traders who said they’d spent the morning playing volleyball on the beach. I talked a little volleyball with the day-traders—volleyball was one of my things, too, though I didn’t get in as many games as I would have liked.
Jena’s presentation got better and better—it was like a dance, like the miniature theatrical performances that airline stewardesses do to accompany the safety messages, like cheerleading. Spazz was mesmerized, but none of the investors were buying it. The chip guy didn’t like our staffing, the shrink-wrap guy thought our Mophones were fakes, the portfolio guy didn’t like our numbers for scaling to the mass market, the rancher—if that’s what he really was—couldn’t understand the point of our product, the day-traders thought our timeline to a hundred percent profit was way too long.
And then Clement Treed showed up. There were footsteps on the porch, the door swung open, and it was him, tall and lanky, his froggy mouth bent in the shape of a smile, his eyes alert behind his glasses. He had a surprisingly small head, made smaller by his monkish haircut. He was wearing preppy J. Crew clothes so new they looked like they were right out of the UPS box. Compared to
Clement, I was almost grungy. He gave a high sign to his limo driver and came on in. He spotted Tulip right away.
“We paid to use Gandhi’s image, you know,” he told her in a quiet tone, as if continuing a conversation from two or three minutes ago. “A charity in Calcutta. His family picked it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I ever brought that up,” said Tulip, twisting a long strand of her hair. “I was just having a little fun at your expense to impress my cousin.”
“Fun at my expense,” echoed Treed, snagging my desk chair and lightly sitting down. He was a thin man with a slight paunch, in his late thirties. “That’s something the government likes too. You’d think the public would be more appreciative of what MeYou has done for everyone. And I’m not done yet. I’m out to diversify. Who’s the CEO?”
“Me,” I said, stepping forward. “Joe Cube.”
Treed shook my hand, his grip firmer than I’d expected. “You’ve got ten minutes,” he said. “Amaze me.”
Jena did her cheer routine. Treed interrupted only once, to volunteer a detailed correction to one of the UMI, diagrams. When Jena was done, he sat staring at the last slide, the one with the picture of the antenna crystal. And then he started polishing his glasses.
“Can somebody tell me more about this so-called superchannel?” he said, still looking down at his glasses. “How does it work
“That’s our core trade secret,” I said.
“I signed your non-disclosure form,” said Treed in a mild but impatient voice. “And now I need to know if you have something, or not.”
“Tell him, Joe,” said Spazz.
“It’s—it’s the fourth dimension,” I said. “The antenna crystal has a wire that sticks into hyperspace.”
“Cute,” said Treed, his long mouth spreading in a rueful smile.
“Science fiction.” He put on his glasses and got to his feet. “I have to ask—that thing in the paper yesterday, the mirror-money hoax. Was that a set-up for this?” It was like Clement Treed’s riny head held an all-seeing web-crawler that ran a thousand times as fasr as my brain. “Which of you four is the one who convinced the others?” he demanded.
“Me again,” I said, attempting a debonair smile. “You have to listen, Clement. The money really did flip over. I was trying to take it from a bank. Of course I’ll pay it back once we’re funded.” I walked over to where the image of the antenna crystal floated on our screen. “The fourth dimension is real,” I said, pointing at it. I tried to remember how Momo had explained things to me. “Think of a Flatlander trying to imagine a third dimension,” I added, waving my hands. The shadows of my arms on the screen looked lumpy and odd. “It’s a different direction completely.”
Treed turned away from me. “Good luck,” he told Tulip. “I really do admire Gandhi, you know.”
I used my third eye to peer up into the All. Momo was right there watching us. “Come help us!” I cried, beckoning wildly. “Show him, Momo!”
There was a wavering on the screen. The image of the chip seemed to swell and fatten, as if the screen had developed a big bulge in it. The bulge was a sphere of Momo’s skin, a round ball appearing in front of the screen with the projector shining the image of the chip onto it. And now the Momo sphere floated across the room to bounce upon the floor at Clement Treed’s big feet, bouncing up and down like a basketball, a basketball with an eve in it, a big blue Momo eye. The eye winked.
“Oh my yes,” said Treed, settling back into my chair and actually smacking his lips. “I’m in for this one. Consider yourselves funded. Better than that. If you can bring this thing to market, MeYou will rake care of daily operations.”