Gold's debut novel, The Lamp Post Motel is
now an ebook.
Download your copy
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
And now, a slice of the book coming soon to a nightstand
Chapter 5: Across time and
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
“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
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
“That’s six weeks,”
“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.
“Have I got time for a shower?”
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.”
“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
“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
“It wasn’t always dead,”
“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?”
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
There was a rustling at the entryway.
Three young women shuffled in and made their way to a booth.
“Time travel?” Xaq blurted.
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
“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
Rej chuckled. “You don’t
understand. We’re old friends. Go on, Ejus, make the
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?”
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
“Sometimes. Mostly I’m
“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
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
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.”
Xaq shrugged. “How should
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
"The Lamp Post Motel, Tucson,