Big Head Press


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 675, June 17, 2012

"Giant man-eating ants!"


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Should I Write This Book?
Beautiful Dreamer: A Proposal in Synopsis, Part Two

by L. Neil Smith
lneil@netzero.com

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

AUTHOR' NOTE: in last week's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, we ran the first half of the synopsis of a proposed new novel, part of the "Ngu Family Saga". This half contains spoilers, but it will be some time before the book is written and published. I'm willing to take the risk because I believe this story is uniquely suited both to graphic novel and motion picture form, both of which take a long while to negotiate and produce.


Beautiful Dreamer is the story of Brody Ngu, youngest son of Emerson and Rosalie Frazier Ngu. It has been half a century since he helped to rescue the Seventh Martian Expedition (see Ares, forthcoming).

One morning deeply confused about what's happening and who he really is, he suddenly awakens, young again, strong, and falling in love with a beautiful and mysterious young woman whose father tells of a change that turned an ordinary midwestern town into a city of magic and enchantment ...

PART FIVE, CONTINUED:

"About a thousand years ago," says Dr. Edgar Leaf. He shows Brody huge stacks of used calendars in his basement. The lowest levels are mere dust. For the first time, Brody learns that, despite a century old quaintness to everything, by the reckoning of everyone in Collinford, "America's Most Normal Community", it's presently A.D. 3017.

Time passes ten times faster in the Dream than in the real world.

Brody struggles with this new concept, and the opportunities it offers, finding what other creative individuals in the Dream have all found, that they're the ones—not policemen or politicians—who possess the power, now. He shortly becomes a talented apprentice to Edgar, and even summons up an autombile that works—this time it's a 1927 Stanley Steamer—when he learns that he doesn't have to create each individual part of the car, just the desired effect of driving and riding. Edgar calls it, "Evoking the sizzle, rather than the steak."

Time passes.

After considerable thought, it's as the ordinary physician he once was, rather than the powerful magician he's become, that Edgar Leaf proposes to find out what's wrong—what's different—at least about Brody Ngu. With Merrie present to hold the newcomer's hand, the man reluctantly allows her father to hypnotize him and probe his memories.

PART SIX: THE ROSALIE FRAZIER

A 22nd century research vessel conducts a definitive population survey of the thousands of uninvestigated asteroids remaining within the Solar System. Similar efforts are underway among the gas giant moons and in the Oort Cloud or cometary halo. It's not a glamorous or exciting job: with the recent development of a faster-than-light starship drive, humanity's principal exploratory focus is now elsewhere, outside the Solar System. But it's the kind of plodding, scientific "donkey work" that needs to be done and somebody has to do it.

The survey vessel herself is properly suited to her modest task. A catalytic fusion powered, ion-driven ship with a comfortably-quartered crew of about two dozen, mostly academics, she's the little Rosalie Frazier out of Port Peary at the north pole of Pallas, the first of the Belt asteroids to be terraformed and colonized, almost a century ago.

Aboard the Rosalie Frazier, in addition to her complement of scientists and graduate students, is Brody Ngu, 72-year-old popular science writer, only recently aware he's suffering from a degenerative disease incurable even at this medically sophisticated point in history. Most people today live well into their second century, a few into their third. Brody knows he'll die relatively young for his time, probably within the year. Given adequate medical help, he remains active and appears fit, but he's chronically tired and feels continuous low-level pain, punctuated at frequent intervals by extreme agony.

Although Brody is unavoidably bitter at his fate—made worse by the fact that none of his several marriages seems to have worked and his children will have nothing to do with him (he doesn't even know if he has grandchildren)—he's determined to spend his few remaining days as best he can. Helping to publicize an otherwise thankless scientific task seems like a good cause to him, and he sends a stream of articles back to various publications on Earth and Pallas as the expedition progresses—an expedition he never expects to return from alive.

At the Asteroid Belt's outermost edges, under the baleful amber light of a swollen planet Jupiter, the Rosalie Frazier's sensitive instruments begin to detect faint but very complex electronic signals, beyond human or available cybernetic capacity to translate. Everybody aboard becomes excited. Unimaginably ancient nonhuman artifacts of a simple nuts-and-bolts variety were found on Pallas throughout the last century, and have constantly turned up among the other asteroids ever since.

No respectable investigator believes any living alien presence could possibly remain after a couple of billion years. And yet these strange signals may come from an automated source that promises to reveal far more about humanity's apparent predecessors within the Solar System than has been inferred from the timeworn, fist-sized bits and pieces of junk that are all that have been discovered of them so far.

Although the mysterious signals prove difficult to track against a dense background of human, solar, Jovian, and stellar radio noise, they eventually lead the Rosalie Frazier and her people to an unprepossessing bit of cosmic debris nearly a mile in diameter, mostly composed of the familiar iron-nickel amalgam that makes up so many meteorites and about a quarter of the Belt asteroids. Egg-shaped, it keeps one end turned forever toward the sun. The other end, wrapped deep in eternal, frozen shadows, faces the outer Solar System and the stars.

But it's not the asteroid itself that causes hearts to leap for several minutes aboard the survey vessel Rosalie Frazier. Securely tethered within a deep, perpetually darkened crater only a few feet from the asteroid's unthinkably frozen surface, they discover another spaceship. The subsequent discovery—that it's only an abandoned human craft slightly over a century old—is disappointing and very puzzling. Of completely unfamiliar design, there are no markings on her hull—although it can be seen where they've been deliberately obliterated—and likewise, her engines have been crudely stripped away.

Following the customary practice, lots are drawn for a boarding party. Among those chosen is Brody Ngu. Where the vacuum-suited explorers enter, the tiny bridge of the abandoned hulk is barren of any furnishings or instruments that might otherwise have accounted for the signals. Professional care has obviously been taken to leave nothing behind that might identify her. The Rosalie Frazier's chief engineer, familiar with the history of ship design, believes she was American—constructed by the government of what was once the United States of America—rather than built privately somewhere else on Earth or here among the asteroids, which are the only feasible alternatives.

In her little hold they make a truly terrible discovery.

Stacked heartlessly, like cordwood, in a cylindrical space only 100 feet in diameter by 100 feet long, they find an estimated 40,000 dead men, women, and children, frozen solid in the Absolute Zero of the airless shadow of the asteroid. Like the ship, these dead bodies, too, may be American, although there's no clothing or other evidence to make that immediately certain. The Rosalie Frazier's computers claim that the corpses show a proper distribution of ages, sexes, and races for an average midwestern American town of the mid-21st century. Quite mysteriously, there are no signs of violence on any of the bodies.

Conferring with experts aboard their own ship, the badly-shaken explorers take the handiest corpse, a well-built middle-aged man, back to the Rosalie Frazier for study. The results of the autopsy are as chilling as their initial discovery. From the technical style of the dental work, traces of past surgeries, and other such indications, the cadaver is definitely that of an American. However chemical residues remaining in the tissue indicate a military nerve gas as the cause of death.

Meanwhile, the actual source of the faint, highly complex radio signals which the Rosalie Frazier's instruments continue to receive and struggle with remains as unidentifiable and enigmatic as it was at first.

Although historical detective work lies outside his line as an explainer of things scientific to the public, it is Brody's turn to go to work. Using systems aboard the Rosalie Frazier, as well as links to systems back home on Pallas, he examines population figures for several broad geographical areas, looking for 40,000 human beings who suddenly—or even gradually—disappeared. A few thousand people turn up missing each year in any large country, and the last couple centuries on the human homeworld have been no more tranquil than any other. But nothing indicates American disappearances on a scale like this.

On little more than a hunch—aided by curious colleagues on Pallas and Earth to whom he adamantly refuses details of the Rosalie Frazier's shocking find—he compares maps of the former United States (as well as Canada, Australia, Germany, Britain, and South Africa, just to be certain), published between the late 20th century and his own 22nd, searching everywhere for a single missing suburb or town.

It's a tough job, even with sophisticated computers, although— for purposes of taxation and conscription—earlier periods were more obsessive about record-keeping than Brody's own, more politically relaxed era. West America, one of the two principal nation-states that (with western provinces of Canada and much of northern Mexico) evolved from the old United States, is deep into a century-long Moratorium on all legislative activity (conspicuously excepting repeals of existing laws) which has resulted in unprecedented peace, progress, and prosperity.

The era that preceded it (and made the Moratorium necessary) was not so fortunate, marked by corruption at every level, barbarous abuses of power, and the suppression of human rights on a previously unthinkable scale. During the general disintegration of authority that followed—and largely characterized the 21st century—records were destroyed by those intent on limiting the power of the state to pry into people's lives, or obliterating its ability to do anything it wished, to anyone it wished, any time it wished, for any reason it wished.

In this they were abetted by the former record-keepers themselves, who, now that their power was being dismantled and they were being called on to account for activities analogous to war crimes, fervently desired to conceal evidence of corruption or atrocities on their own part.

It's the latter class—atrocities—that interests Brody most, as he finally stumbles across accounts of a small midwestern city that appears to have vanished during the first half of the 21st century. According to the government census of 2040, Collinford, Nebraska's population was 39,892. According to that of 2050, there was no Collinford, Nebraska. And by 2060, there was no census. Could this be where the corpses came from? What happened to them? Why were they nerve-gassed? How did they end up here, half a billion miles from Earth?

What is the source of the faint, complex signals associated with them?

At long last, and from many different sources, most of them on Earth, the truth finally emerges. What happened about a hundred years ago is that one of the last United States governments before the Moratorium was ratified and the US-Canadian border rotated 90 degrees, needing some kind of provocation they could blame on terrorists as an excuse to attack another country, secretly nerve-gassed an entire midwestern town, murdering all 40,000 of its inhabitants. But somehow the political winds changed quickly and unexpectedly, the provocation was no longer required or desirable, and the government suddenly had 40,000 corpses on its hands that it didn't want to have to account for.

It couldn't simply bury or cremate all of these bodies, or even dump them in the ocean, since this was at the high water mark of the environmentalist reign of terror and there were independent observers watching such things closely. Instead, it launched them into space, intending to drop them into the sun where they would vanish without a trace.

Perhaps it was a hasty job, performed by some brother-in-law contractor, and didn't take the gravity of Jupiter or some other celestial influence into account. Perhaps one of the lowest-bidder boosters failed. What most likely happened is that somebody who literally wanted to know where the bodies were buried, decided to keep his options open and hide the evidence where it would be handy later on for blackmail against his enemies or superiors. In any case, the derelict, with her incriminating cargo, ended up where the crew of the Rosalie Frazier found her, drifting in frozen shadows among the asteroids.

Brody begins to be haunted by a terrifying—and irresistably compelling—notion. He thinks he knows how to discover the truth, although it involves a terrible risk. He also knows that he alone aboard the Rosalie Fraziercan afford to take that risk. He seeks out the captain, a scientist who finds the idea equally terrifying and compelling.

The next day, after a passionate and protracted argument with the ship's medical officer, Brody allows himself to be injected with a heavily modified version of the poison that appears to have killed everybody aboard the antique ship. In the cryogenic section of the Rosalie Frazier's tiny medical facility (where he always expected to wind up anyway) his body temperature is lowered to that of the hulk next door. He's carried there (at the doctor's insistence in a flimsy emergency spacesuit) and laid in the space left by the body taken for autopsy.

As he expected, the Rosalie Frazier's scientists discover that, between the electronic "doping" effect of the nerve poison and the Absolute freezing temperature, Brody's brain and other nervous tissues become superconductive. What they can't know for certain (although Brody suspected it would happen) is that, despite the fact that he's as good as dead, he begins to dream. And owing to the electrical phenomenon of induction—as well as his proximity to 40,000 other frozen, dreaming bodies—it's a Dream (he isn't consciously aware that he capitalizes the word) he shares with a shipful of murdered people.

PART SEVEN: THE DREAM

"Wake up!" Edgar Leaf commands. As Brody emerges from the hypnotic state, bringing with him memories of everything that happened aboard the Rosalie Frazier and the hideous truth about the 40,000 corpses in the abandoned ship, he hears the wizard saying, "Of course ... of course."

Together, Brody, Edgar, and Merrie begin to piece together more truths.

The first is that it must have been the powerful and inexpressibly depraved Lord Harness whose frozen, nerve-poisoned carcass was taken for autopsy by Rosalie Frazier's scientists. Brody can now remember arguing to have it replaced with his own, within the derelict darkened hulk floating among the asteroids. At one time, Edgar recalls—not without considerable mental strain—that Frank Harness was editor of the unimpressive weekly Collinford Nebraskan. Later, he surprised himself—and everybody else—by becoming the greatest sorceror in this "Dream" Brody describes, dedicated to pure, self-indulgent evil. Why the newcomer should have taken on Lord Harness' vile personality—locked in the role of the villain he replaced, only gradually remembering how he came to be here and who he really is, forced to struggle constantly to regain and retain his own identity—remains a mystery.

The wizard begins to reason that there must be two different kinds of entity in the Dream, although it won't be easy telling them apart.

"Dreamers", as he decides to call them—although they don't know it—are those whose actual bodies lie nerve-gassed and frozen in the gutted vehicle parked behind the asteroid. "Figments", on the other hand, will have been created (or recreated) sometime since the Dream began. It isn't all that unusual here, for example, to see someone's long dead spouse walking with them down the street, although exactly when this stopped striking him as weird, Edgar is at an utter loss to say.

In one or two rare instances, the former doctor realizes, Dreamers who died—with their brains intact—shortly before the town was nerve-gassed, must have absorbed the gas and "awakened" along with everybody else when their bodies approached Absolute Zero. Either that, or their deaths were still new and unaccepted to those who loved them, and they were recreated, ironically, out of a tangible form of disbelief.

It's immediately clear to Brody that time passes more quickly in the Dream than in the real, outside world. At first he thinks it's a difference between the speed of nerve impulses in non-frozen, living tissure (about 50 feet per second) and the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) which is how fast things happen "neurologically" in a superconducting nerve. But the ratio, 19,641,600:1, is all wrong. In 100 years' outside time, "only" 1000 years have passed in the Dream,

Brody and Edgar eventually decide—with no way to prove or disprove their theory—that the effect reflects the difference between the time it takes to walk across a room (or fly from here to Europe) and the time it takes to think about it. Or it's about how quickly the mind makes up a story in an ordinary dream to justify the noisy intrusion from the outside, waking world of an alarm clock or siren.

They agree that time passes 365 times faster in the M.C. Escher Arms.

People continue to die within the Dream, Edgar muses, from a variety of causes. And babies still get born, Merrie counterpoints cheerfully. But even the wizard isn't certain what happens to the former, or where the latter come from—although he now has certain suspicions. He hates them, because he's always hated the idea of reincarnation, which he refers to disdainfully as "spiritual recycling".

Some Figments—the cartoon characters, for example—can be spotted almost immediately. But one thing that will make telling Dreamers from Figments more difficult than it might otherwise be, is that over the past several subjective centuries many Dreamers have willed themselves into becoming Narns, Klingons, Wookiees, and so forth.

The Dream, Edgar reasons, owes its relative stability to the fact that the citizens of Collinford are hard-frozen. This drastically limits the degree to which they can learn (which depends on chemical events that simply don't occur in frozen bodies) and change. "In cybernetic terms, it means that all of the changes that have occurred since ... since Before, have occurred in RAM, not on the hard drive. which is—how to put it—permanently write-protected." It also gives them total recall, if they want it, of all their experiences before they died, "which means—since this was a town of 40,000 individuals from all walks of life, and their aggregate memory is broad and deep—that the substrate of natural law on which the Dream is founded isn't all that different from that of what we refer to as reality."

What accounts for such a high a degree of individual freedom in the Dream is that its "reality" is subjective. The equivalent of physical law exists, but it consists of people's memories of natural law in the real world they died in. Physical law in the Dream has been unconsciously "ratified" by 40,000 people who continue to believe in it.

At the same time, some people, for one reason or another, are "above the law" and 40,000-odd others frequently benefit from such "lawlessness". These are the magicians who, in the century—more than a thousand subjective years—that the Dream has been going on, have found that a bullet can only damage them if they believe in the damage (or the bullet). Some have found that "death" isn't necessarily fatal.

Government, always based on the threat of injury or death, has no effect on such a person. Criminals, singly or in gangs, face the same frustration. On the other hand, an individual defending his own life, liberty, or property has a disproportionate advantage which is purely psychological in nature. In the Dream, this means that a defender's weaponry and tactics are significantly harder to shrug off than an aggressor's.

PART EIGHT: WILLING SUSPENSION

Just as Brody begins to believe it's possible to love Merrie and be loved by her and be happy for the first time in his long, unhappy life (he secretly wonders whether she can somehow be extracted from the Dream with him and revived aboard the Rosalie Frazier) an awful idea occurs to him. He catches her father alone to confront him with it.

Is Merrie real?

Edgar tries to get off easy by asking Brody if it matters, but the newcomer will have none of it. If the lovely woman he's come to adore is a Figment, an artificial personality, then anything she claims to feel for him in return is meaningless nonsense. In principle, he might as well have fallen in love with an inflatable plastic sex toy. The idea disgusts him beyond words; he has to know the truth no matter what.

Edgar, too, is disgusted, but not by Merrie. He tells Brody that he's a fool. "But I'll tell you, gladly. My daughter—no matter what happens as a consequence—will be better off if you know the truth.

"Merrie was born on April 23, 2323 as near as I can reckon— although as we've learned, the year doesn't matter—she'll always be 23 years old as far as you or I or anybody else is concerned. You've noticed she has a mild southern accent—the accent of an educated 20th century resident of Nashville, Tennessee, to be exact. I put a lot of study into that, or thought I did. She's precisely five feet five and a half inches tall, weighs 128 pounds, and her measurements are 36-23-35. Her eyes are blue-gray and her hair is naturally black. She has perfect teeth, a flat belly, ample, firm breasts, and a dimple in her chin. Her favorite drink is Hire's Root Beer; she doesn't drink alcohol or smoke—her choice, I had nothing to do with it. As you know, she plays the piano, the guitar, and the six-string banjo, teaches gradeschool in season, and otherwise acts as my secretary and housekeeper.

"I love her above all things in this universe.

"Merrie is ungodly beautiful of face and form, bright, witty, and—if you've already discovered this, I don't want to know about it— sexually spontaneous, uninhibited, and pretty much insatiable. In short, she's everything an imaginative and intelligent dirty old man like me could possibly want in a live-in sex toy. Which is exactly how she came into being. One day, shortly after I'd realized how much things had changed, I sat down in this very room, at that very word processor, and thought her up. I hit and she walked in through that archway from the dining room. The first word out of her mouth— Lord knows I should have seen this coming, but I didn't—was "Daddy!"

Before Brody learned this horrifying truth, it kept disheartening and appalling him that Merrie—and all her grace and beauty—had perished a century ago. Things between them would be going along fine until he suddenly realized all over again that she was some sort of ghost. It took him a long time to understand and joyfully accept the fact that here and now, Merrie was as real as anything or anyone he ever knew, and moreover that she belonged, heart and soul, to him. It comes as a hideous shock when he learns that Merrie is a Figment and can never leave the Dream. Now he must go through all of it, all over again.

He isn't sure he's up to it.

Brody had come to hate his life, whereas Merrie loved life in a way he'd never known was possible and, in this way, helped him to begin to like his own. He can't remember seeing her when she wasn't laughing out loud, dazzling the world with a perfect smile, or simply smiling softly to herself as she went through her day doing ordinary things.

Reeling with astonishment and dismay, he doesn't realize their relationship has changed the very nature of her existence. It was her father's belief in her that brought her to life. But now, if Brody fails to believe she's real—whatever that means—she'll cease to exist.

PART NINE: THE RETURN

Meanwhile, just as Brody believes he's finally exorcized the "ghost" of Lord Harness within himself, the evil sorceror suddenly and shockingly reappears, in the "flesh", independent of Brody, even taller and broader, vastly more terrible and powerful than before, striding down the city street as everybody shies away from him in horror.

How can this be, Brody demands, isn't Lord Harness dead? He's a Figment now, Edgar guesses, reconstituted out of the nightmares of nearly 40,000 Dreamers all of whom know and fear him. The wizard shrugs and lifts his hands in the first magical gesture of what he appears to understand will be a futile defense. Lord Harness blasts Edgar—along with the unprepared and horrified newcomer—with a bolt of pure energy, throwing them half a block, then seizes Merrie, and carries her away kicking and screaming, through the great brassbound glass doors and into the awful depths of the M.C. Escher Arms.

In the Dream, conventional political power has been displaced by the power of imagination and personality—in a word, magic. This is not necessarily progress, but it's left most of the city's politicians high and dry. Those who can still be found are janitors, bootblacks, and cesspool cleaners. Since they lack the imagination or personality to will these unpleasant jobs done, they have no choice but to do them the hard way. When Lord Harness reveals, from his refuge in the M.C. Escher Arms, what was done to the town by a long-dead United States government, old-time wardheelers jump at the chance he offers them to regain their power by offering the people of Collinford a measure of revenge.

Lord Harness now appears to know everything Brody knows. His idea is that, through the collective willpower of all of the people— channeled, of course, through Lord Harness—he and his allies can gain mental control of the crew of the Rosalie Frazier, which can then be used to nudge the derelict onto an orbital path that brings it crashing down on Earth, rendering all humanity extinct, just like the dinosaurs.

It's pointed out that the murderous villains who victimized the town have been dead for more than a hundred years. It's pointed out that the only people on Earth who will be killed through this effort are perfectly innocent. It's pointed out that any trajectile— including the asteroid the hulk is anchored to—would work better for the task, leaving the derelict and its Dreaming cargo intact. It's pointed out that smashing the spaceship into the Earth will end the Dream.

As usual with political "ideas", no reasoning or fact can stop the scheme.

Brody realizes at once that it will be necessary for him to risk everything by venturing into the dreaded M.C. Escher Arms to rescue the lovely girl he knows he loves without any of his former doubts or reservations.

Causing an antique 15-shot 10m/m Ngu Departure he enjoyed as a boy to materialize in his hand (long obsolete, it's the only weapon he knows anything about), Brody offers Edgar a parting salute—only to discover that the magician—armed with a 40 watt plasma gun—is right behind him. "She's my daughter, after all, and I've been in there before!" The weapons are more symbolic of resistance to Lord Harness than practical, but this is a place where symbolism counts heavily.

Together they enter the brassbound glass doors of the M.C. Escher Arms.

The desk clerk has nothing to tell them of the whereabouts of Lord Harness or Merrie. But then he doesn't speak English and may not even be human. A hooded character with an impossibly long nose offers in a sibilant whisper to tell them what he saw when the two they're seeking entered the hotel—but only for a price. Edgar agrees and places several diamonds in the gray-green palm of the creature. They're directed to the elevator and the 23rd floor. When they get there, all they find is the building's framework. Every wall and window has been blown away, leaving nothing but naked structure for the wind to roar through.

On the floor they find a clue that leads them on a hunt through the myriad of twisted, geometrically impossible rooms and corridors. They begin to see dead and dying creatures of all kinds, injured because they obstructed the hurried passage of the sorceror and his captive.

Finally, they catch up to Lord Harness, carrying an apparently unconscious Merrie over his broad shoulders. He hurls lightning bolts at them, but they can't shoot back for fear of hurting the girl they both love. At last, saying that she's served her purpose, the evil magician shoots her several times with a gun that materializes in his hand, hurls her down an elevator shaft and starts to escape. Edgar stays behind, trying to arrest her fall with wizardly gestures, barely able to keep her from hitting the bottom of the shaft with lethal force.

Brody continues to pursue Lord Harness, free now to shoot at the man. It's a small, pitiful reply to the energetic bolts of lightning the sorceror throws at him. Brody lets the 10m/m pistol evaporate and generates a copy of Harry Callahan's .44 magnum—remembering that he can summon the sizzle, rather than the steak—a huge Smith & Wesson revolver.

The two run through many passageways, and even out into the street occasionally. Perhaps appropriately, they exchange shots in the streets of 1970s San Francisco. They also duck into and back out of Elizabethan London, 19th century Heidelberg, 18th century Boston, 21st century Denver, and 22nd century Curringer on Pallas, Brody's home town.

Always they return to the duel; finally, his energies seemingly exhausted, Lord Harness collapses in the crowded street in front ot the hotel. As Brody approaches him, he laughs and turns to discharge a fatal bolt. Brody summons up all his magic and lets the bolt pass harmlessly through him. He raises the .44 and, before hundreds of startled spectators, puts six Winchester Silvertip bullets into the sorceror's head. Lord Harness is now dead three times over—most importantly, in the minds of the Dreamers who unknowingly recreated him.

Brody turns to see Edgar helping a dazed Merrie out of the hotel. Edgar is confused. Figments aren't supposed to be able to ignore bullets passing through them the way a mentally disciplined Dreamer can. Merrie adds that they're not supposed to get pregnant, either, and winks.

The "rules" of their consensual reality have been overcome by the power of their love. Just as she and Brody embrace and are about to kiss, he feels an unpleasant sensation and the scene around him begins to fade—replaced by the cramped, quarters of the Rosalie Frazier's sickbay.

Brody screams "No!" Once again he's old, sick, and in pain. Not only does he want desperately to get back to Merrie, but the plot to destroy Earth won't necessarily die with Lord Harness. The last we see of Brody, he's explaining that he must get back to what's now his real life, a world he's come to think of as his own, and to the girl he loves.


L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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