Joe Gold's debut novel, The Lamp Post Motel is now an ebook.

Download your copy from Amazon.

To read excerpts, have a gander at thelamppostmotel.com. Then go out and buy a mess of copies, which is reputed to give you a major karma upgrade for your next cycle on Earth. Or it will get you to heaven. Whichever comes first.

And now, a slice of the book coming soon to a nightstand near you.

Chapter 5: Across time and space

Saturn orbit, Year Standard 3957

Xaq Hobesian Arbidor 7906021 felt the plastic, geodesic dormitory walls collapsing on him. Nothing held back the crush, not his banner from a freeball game at the galactic core, not a chart of his birthday on eighty-seven worlds, not even his prized programmable poster of a three-breasted Erotian woman.

He was certain that the walls were propelled by the pressures of academe, intent on blowing him out into the galactic real world. Sometimes he thought the only thing that really kept him from being blown out of the University of the Rings was pressure from the outside to keep him in. He stared out through his coveted half-meter window, across the striped plain of orange, green and a hundred other dust colors that spread ten thousand miles to horizon’s edge, still one of the greatest set of rings in the galaxy. On the right was the black inner solar system and those little worlds that had cradled humanity. At the center was the sun, but Sol had never been much help from a one and a half billion kilometers away. Down 45,000 kilometers below was big, gassy Saturn, where tourists from Jupiter came to gawk at real rings. But it was out there—beyond the local planets to the interstellar spaces where even light years were inadequate to measure distance—there no one clamored for another Ph.D. in sexual anthropology.

Xaq was a local boy, born planetside in Saturnopolis, that hundred-kilometer egg was once the crowning glory of a terraformed city. His mother had often reminded him how lucky he was to have such a fine school as the University of the Rings in his backyard—and that would feel obliged to take him. Xaq’s grades kept him out of Nucleus U or the other top flight schools, so he made do with the University of the Rings and its uninspiring freeball teams. Xaq thought anthrosex could send him gallivanting around the galaxy investigating civilizations. So far he was a professional student, still hanging out in the Sol system where little remained besides history. Xaq had been out to Jupiter a few times. He had spent a few weekends zonked out on Mars.

Through all that, he had somehow attached a string of letters to his name that concluded in Ph.D. But even in the fortieth century, the market for philosophical dissertation was marginal. Xaq was moving on to Maven with designs on getting his AE! (Acknowledged Expert!) before his first Saturnine birthday, when he would be nearly thirty by Earth reckoning. An AE! could get assignments across the stars. All a Ph.D. was good for was a little office space and a job standing in front of a few hundred students mumbling at his shoes, like the dead-ended professors all around him. These days, Ph.D. was barely a step above lab assistant. Goal-directed they called him. Maven was just a boundary line to cross on the path to AE! The walls were a more treacherous obstacle.

All he needed now to get his Maven degree was completing his Equivocation. Xaq Hobesian Arbidor 7906021 had to say something notable about human sexual anthropology. Xaq had nothing to say. Could the walls hold back thousands of years of academia?

Xaq was parked at the window, asking a hundred billion stars what was there for him, when the console on his white plastic demidesk blipped to life. He would have been glad to see any smiling face. But he especially welcomed grinning, round-headed Ejus, a slightly out-of-whack engineering student.

“Ho, how’s it spinning?”

“Ho yourself. It’s spinning halfway to the floor,” Xaq moaned.

Ejus’ voice was so low he might have had five balls. He spoke slowly, almost counting his every word. “How about we go . . . planetside . . . and look for some . . . women?”

Xaq shook his head. “I have a vidchron session tomorrow. Too much work to do.”

“You got it all wrong. Some heavy . . . viewing time calls for a . . . relaxed mind. If you’re going to put your head into history, you should get loose.”

“I think I’d better . . .”

“Get yourself some xufa,” ordered Ejus’ baritone.

Xaq allowed a smile. “Professor Dendiger says I snigger.”

“Sure, the old bofo probably never had a good snigger in his life. His nuts are probably as . . . bald as his head.” Ejus stepped off-screen. Xaq’s tele-receiver blurped. He typed the signal to admit the transmission.

Ejus materialized in the middle of the room. His bulk shoved against the advancing walls, giving the illusion of breathing room. Or had those walls retreated an inch or two?

“Let’s go, I’ve got a hardo that needs . . . immediate service.” Ejus spread himself out on Xaq’s paltry excuse for a bed. “You won’t do any entertaining in this rack.”

Xaq sat with his back to the console and bent his thin lips to something of a smile, but said nothing.

Ejus made a face—what Ejus called the face—with his jaw jutted forward and upward, squashing the lower half of his head, finishing off with raised eyebrows and a twisted grin. It was Ejus’ most philosophical pose, declaring that the universe was feco, so there was no use in caring about much of anything. The voice he used with the face was a howling, mocking, elfin sort of thing. “How can you think . . . objectively about sex when you haven’t had any . . . xufa in two months?”

“That’s six weeks,” Xaq snapped.

“And five days, most likely.”

“I don’t have the time.”

“You can’t . . . put it off much longer.” Ejus made the face. “Neither can I,” he said in the accompanying high-pitched wail.

Xaq’s stern determination crumbled in a chuckle. “Maybe I’ll get inspired with a little free time.”

“Now you’re talking. Let’s go.”

“Have I got time for a shower?”

“Just barely.”

“I’m hurrying.”

Within half an hour they telebeamed down to Saturnopolis. Ejus swaggered along the tubeway, eyes out for a dark, steamy pub. Xaq had a little bounce to his gait as well, happy to navigate the now familiar tunnels forbidden in his youth. Ejus steered them to The Snarling Beja, a hangout where he said he got lucky once before with a well-trained coed from the Saturnopolis Academy of Cosmetology and Concubinity.

Tonight the Snarling Beja was inhabited by a lonely bartender. Probably a Ph.D., Xaq thought. The big room was of the same tubular construction as most of the city, dimly lit with light-stripes along the walls. Two dozen booth modules looked empty, their laser call buttons awaiting customers and orders.

“Ho, where’d everybody go?” Ejus asked.

“Uranus, I think,” the lanky barkeep drawled. “But classes at the school around the corner let out in a few minutes. We’ll have girls. Jandow for you?”

Xaq and Ejus nodded. Two ice-sheathed mugs appeared before them at the bar. They sat and drank for a moment before Xaq started his lamentations. Ejus signaled for another round. Two men engaged in intense negotiations brushed in the door and drifted to a table near the back, but there was no sign of women.

Ejus finally concluded he couldn’t avoid the subject. “So where you going to view on the vidchron? How far back . . . will you look?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, fecobrain.”

“Wha?”

“I don’t know.” Xaq took a long drink.

“Ho,” Ejus said. “You’ve got a problem.”

“You ever been to Earth?”

“What for? It’s a garbage planet. The air is still unbreatheable. There’s nothing down there but tourists in sealed busses on the ruins of London, Tokyo and New York. Why would I want to go there?”

“Why?” Xaq erupted. “Why go where a day is one day long, a year one trip around the sun, a month one lunar orbit? Why go to the cradle of humanity?”

“Yeah, why? If it wasn’t so damned historic, they wouldn’t be pissing away government money on this 400-year planetary rehabilitation feco. The place reeks. Terraforming Earth! They’re crazy.”

“Nah, it’s poetry. It’s the irony of terraforming the original Terra. Just as historic as the twenty-first century when they took their first meager steps off the planet.”

“The place will be hot for another thousand years. They can’t just wish away a radioactive world.”

“It’s cooling down, or they wouldn’t be running tourists through it, sealed busses or no. It’s perfectly safe at the bottom of the oceans. Oceans! Can you imagine water for thousands of miles in every direction? Where all sorts of water-breathing creatures live? Oceans are more water than you can possibly imagine, stretching across a world, interrupted by only 32% of surface land.”

“I don’t need some dead planet.”

“It wasn’t always dead,” Xaq said.

“It’s dead now.”

Neither of them had noticed the men in the back until one of them left. The one remaining behind was a short, stocky man with dark narrow eyes and a black beard. He swung up to the bar and ordered a jandow on ice.

“Slim’s right, you know,” the stranger said to Ejus. “Used to be Earth was a hell of a place. More alive than any world you’ll see in this sector of the galaxy.”

“How would you know?” Ejus challenged.

The stranger looked around, although he knew no one else save the tight-lipped bartender was in the Snarling Beja. His voice fell to a hoarse whisper. “I been there.”

“Hot feco, riding around in a bus and a radiation suit looking at ruins,” Ejus said. “Not exactly what I call a good time.” He was tempted to make the face, but decided it could be hazardous and restrained himself.

The stranger’s eyes narrowed further, and a conspiratorial smile crossed his lips. “Time,” he whispered, “is what it’s all about.”

“Yeah, so big deal,” Xaq lamented. “I get a few hours on the vidchron, look through a window on the past and. . .”

A chuckle grunted in the stranger’s throat as he shook his head. “Noooo, my man, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not talking windows. I’m talking doors!”

There was a rustling at the entryway. Three young women shuffled in and made their way to a booth.

“Time travel?” Xaq blurted. “That’s illegal.”

Ejus nudged him. “A little louder, fecohole, maybe one of those little chippies over there missed it.”

The stranger waited and watched through drooping eyelids. The three of them looked at each other.

“Sorry,” Xaq peeped.

The stranger gave the slightest nod, then ordered a round of drinks. He let the chair back take his weight. “You’re students. History?”

“Anthropology,” Xaq muttered ever so quietly.

The stranger rolled the word around on his lips a few times. He looked at Xaq sideways. “You mean bones and artifacts and that feco?”

Xaq nodded, then wagged his head toward Ejus. “He’s in engineering.”

The stranger ran his fingers through his beard and peered out from under the heavy lids. “I do believe we can do business.”

Another knot of students came through the door, more women than men. Ejus nodded approvingly at a redhead with flotation perfect for an Earth ocean.

The stranger gave the slightest gesture to the bartender, and a fresh round of drinks appeared on his table in the dark corner. “You can call me Rej.” He stood and stepped toward it. “Please, gentlemen, step into my office.”

Both of them paused for a longing glance at the growing selection of nubility, but followed Rej to the table. Rej stopped before sitting down. “You are Xaq Hobesian Arbidor 7906021 and Ejus Chulig Pehard 7821277, students down from the U of R. You, Mr. Arbidor, are needing a research subject before you blow your Maven degree. You have a viewing tomorrow morning.” He eased himself down on the pseudoswank artifur upholstery and spread his arms and his smile to Xaq and Ejus. “Or could I be mistaken?”

Ejus snarled. “Is this supposed to be some psychic feco or . . .”

Xaq felt his feet suggesting they flee.

Rej chuckled. “You don’t understand. We’re old friends. Go on, Ejus, make the face.”

Ejus actually got as far as shoving his chin forward before he shook his head and glared at this Rej, whoever he was.

“How do you know that?” Ejus growled.

Rej laughed. “We’re old friends, Ejus my man. At least we were in my past. And in your future. Your immediate future. Like now. Now why don’t you both sit down before you blow the whole sequence?”

More baffled than appeased, they plopped down on the artifur. Xaq grabbed for his jandow. Ejus locked his gaze on Rej, trying to fathom the magnanimous grin across the bearded face.

“You time trip,” Ejus said.

“Sometimes. Mostly I’m the doorman.”

“To time,” Xaq said, his voice quavering, not sure whether to add a question mark to his tone.

“And this is your night.”

Xaq gripped the jandow mug firmly to stop his hand from shaking. “I’ve got a viewing in the morning. I don’t have time to go traipsing off into history.”

“Xaq my man, time is what you have in abundance. You have time enough to run an errand for me and still spend a week on pre-exodus Earth. You have time to return home, put your notes together, and get a few extra hours rest before that viewing tomorrow.”

Ejus rolled the edge of his mug on the table. “How do you. . . know us?”

Rej’s benevolent smile returned. “Simple. You returned four days ago. You’re both sacked out at home at this very moment. Xaq will be quite ready for the morning.”

“What’s this about an errand?” Ejus asked.

“We have to pay for this excursion, do we not?”

Xaq dropped his mug to the tabletop.

“Don’t be alarmed, my man. There’s plenty in it for you too. All you do is plant a financial seed two thousand years in the past. Open an account with Global Express. They were around even then. When you return we split up the interest. And we all spend the rest of our lives moderately wealthy.”

Ejus looked unconvinced.

“We’ll do it,” Xaq said, not yet believing it himself.

“I know,” Rej said with that damnable grin. “You already have.”

Rej led them through the tubular streets, past half a dozen more bars where music and shouts poured out at their feet. The sidewalk cruised them past the darkened front of the Saturnopolis Academy of Cosmetology and Concubinity. Xaq and Ejus exchanged questioning glances, but said nothing to Rej. They nodded finally, just as Rej took them past a cluster of shops to what looked like an empty house that needed a new skin and a few repairs on the shutters.

Rej hurried them past his living room strewn with scribbled notes on orange and green paper. Some bore unintelligible diagrams. They walked single-file down a narrow flight of stairs to a room with a ten-foot transit bubble and a console protruding old-fashioned wires and primitive gauges. These, too, were littered with more scribbled pieces of paper, these blue and yellow.

“Tonight you fly,” Rej said. He held up a finger for a moment’s pause and scurried back into a corner to emerge with two twentieth century attaché cases. “You will need these.” He handed a case to each of them. Xaq took it, expecting it to explode at any moment. “Twentieth century money. Twenty thousand American dollars. Ten thousand goes into the Global Express account, with the stipulation that the account remains open for five thousand years. Don’t mind if they laugh. But insist. Then you simply use the balance of the money for your expenses.”

They searched for a button to open each case, touching all over them. Rej let them go on pushing here and there before he reached over and slid the catches open. He let Xaq examine the oddly printed currency, the bizarre characters depicted there, and the ancient architecture of some sort of monument.

“That,” Rej said to Ejus, “is what was known as a portable computer. One of the very first. It’s pathetically limited, but advanced for the period you’re visiting. More important, it’s compatible with the machines you will encounter on Earth. The instruction manuals are on what they called a hard drive.” Rej smiled at Ejus. “I wouldn’t want to tell the engineering student any more. I’m sure you would rather poke around with it yourself.” He flipped a switch on the machine and it started whirring and flashing images on a crystal screen.

Xaq found himself absorbed caressing the fine paper that had a strangely satisfying feel. “Where did you get this stuff?”

Rej’s smile was getting irritating, but there it was again. “Let’s say I have some friends who like exploring outside the law. They brought back a few souvenirs. I thought they might be useful.”

The bubble appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary, a three-passenger transpo globe with the normal flight controls, capable of short-range atmospheric and space flight. Rej started flipping switches and typing commands to his wire-strewn console, until the bubble seemed to melt away.

“An infrared shroud, operating just below the visible spectrum. It makes you effectively invisible when you are inside.”

“Ho, Ejus, are we really doing this?”

Ejus was punching at the computer, which pronounced him guilty of syntax error. He never took his eyes from the screen. “You’re the one that needs the damn subject. I’m along for the ride. But it sounds like Big Fun. Something to remember in our old age. You can’t back out. Rej here’s seen us come back. I still want to know one thing.”

Xaq cocked his head.

“You’re the student. When are we going to?”

This time Xaq had an answer. “The end of Earth-based evolution. The end of the twentieth century. Before the wars, before the planet was trashed.”

“Where?”

Xaq shrugged. “How should I know?”

Rej smiled. His time scouts had returned with an asteroid-load of data. There was somewhere where the post-AIDS commerce was brisk, where a student of sexual anthropology would have a perfect observation post. He reached into the paper clutter and picked up one small card printed in turquoise and coral ink. He handed it to Xaq, who read aloud:

"The Lamp Post Motel, Tucson, Arizona."

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To read more excerpts about from the book, have a gander at thelamppostmotel.com. Then go out and buy a mess of copies, which some say bestows prosperity and long life on the good soul who buys five copies or more.