by Leo David Orionis

"By the year 1990 of the Christian calendar (2743 to the Latins), I'd lived in San Francisco for more than forty years, calling myself Abel Evenson, and I was getting sleepy."

"Excuse me, Sir," said the interviewer. "This was after the World War of the 20th Century A.D.?"

"It was," said the Oldest Man Alive. "And yes, that War was the largest up to that time, in the number of troops involved, in the number of countries involved, and in its scope, which truly was global. And I did fight in that war; if you like, I'll tell you about that another time."

"Please, Sir," said Ramiro Valéncia. He made a note in his intrinsics, the multitronic systems that grew throughout his body. The Oldest must've done the same, for a pip from him pinged Ramiro at the same instant.

"Very well," the Oldest said. "But you asked me when I'd faced the greatest personal danger. The World War wasn't it. I was in that war, and I was a front-line soldier, too; and the enemy had it in for me personally, besides as a soldier of the nation I was fighting for. But I've been in much bigger wars since, where the scope was interstellar, the action faster, the weapons more deadly, and even if you weren't killed immediately, you could be lost in space and suffocate, with no hope of retrieval."

"Despite all that," he said, waving it aside with one hand, "wars are avoidable. The best way to survive a war is not to fight in it; for a really large war, don't be on that planet or in that star system, even. I've fought in as many wars as I have because they were wars I believed in; the number that I've stayed out of is far larger."

"So you don't consider wars the greatest dangers you've ever faced, because they're mostly avoidable, and even if you're caught in one, you're in no greater danger than any other soldier?" asked Ramiro.

"That's about the size of it," agreed the Oldest. "It might not be perfectly rational, on a strict likelihood of dying; but rational or not, that's how I feel."

"What then?" the interviewer said. "Is it plague? Obviously you survived the Green Cold, the greatest plague the human race ever suffered as a whole. Was that your greatest danger?"

"You could say so," the Oldest said. "But, again, that's not how it feels to me. Plagues like the Black Death broke out in specific places, and getting away from those places and staying away from other people was the best defense, even before we knew about germs."

"The Green Cold was worldwide; you couldn't run away from it. It still wasn't personal, however. Whoever engineered that plague, they weren't after me, they were after everyone addicted to nicotine. Even the elimination of people with weak lungs, and the end of heroin addiction, seem to've been unintended consequences. I won't pretend I wasn't worried plenty, but I'd never been a smoker, and every time I woke up, I was restored to perfect health in my sleep. So the odds were in my favor, and I knew it."

"Then I'm puzzled about what you'd consider a greater danger to you than war and pestilence, and why you'd pick 1990, after both the greatest war and the greatest plague of that century A.D., as the time of your greatest peril."

"Well, I'll tell you," said the Oldest, patiently. "It was a combination of things; a foreseeable danger that I faced, not wanting to run away; a duty that trapped me, so I felt I had to stay; and some unexpected attacks that ordinarily I could have shrugged off."

"Mostly it was because of a woman, as you might guess." He looked away at some image in his own mind. "Two women, actually."


Coming off the troop ship in New York City, after the War, the man whom the U.S. Army knew as Captain Steven Bradley mustered out. Wanting to get away from the attention he'd gotten from high in the government, he sold everything he had, cashed in any favors he could, and borrowed shamelessly against his rank and his war record with several major banks, knowing they were insured, and knowing they weren't inclined to look askance at a man like him in those first heady days of victory. Wasn't he a mature man of forty, with proven qualities of leadership, and a bright future ahead of him? He took their money with polite words, shook their hands with a smile, and disappeared. He'd been a banker himself the previous century, and knew how banks worked; he had no scruples about stealing from thieves.

He shed his identity like an old coat, and picked a new name out of a telephone directory in some little town somewhere as he made his way by easy stages across the country, hitching rides, bumming freight cars, even walking with that easy mile-eating stride that said "soldier" to anyone who saw it. And they were right, too, unless they thought the war just over had been his first.

By rights he should have left the country altogether, or stayed in Europe. But Europe had been too torn up by the War; they'd be rebuilding from the ground up, no safe place to hide his money or himself, in forty years or so. And no place for a stranger, either; he well foresaw that gratitude to America would wear thin, especially where now they sang her praises loudest, like Russia, home of the late unlamented enemy.

America herself had suffered from Russian bombers and Chinese gunships; the West Coast the most, which is why he went there. The wreckage was just enough, he calculated, that any willings hands would be welcome; yet still America, which all his present acculturation proclaimed him, down to the tiniest detail. With new papers in his new name, showing him just too young to have fought in the War, he didn't fear the commercial ties between San Francisco and New York.

Jobs were everywhere in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, particularly for a strong, healthy, smart lad not afraid of work. He stayed away from the Army, which was letting men and women go, even with the prisoner camps to guard; and the police, who had all the bodies they needed anyway, mostly ex-military.

Instead he joined a trading company at the Embarcadero. It was just clerical work, with some lifting and toting in the warehouse, but he prospered. He rarely drank, didn't smoke, didn't chase women or bet on horses; he could save money and add it to his stake from New York. Presently an opportunity came to invest, in a very minor way, in a cargo to Japan. If his bosses were surprised that one of their clerks had money to contribute, still they were short of ready cash and the deal had to go through. And so it did. His help was hardly crucial, but it was remembered. After a while a use for the profits from that venture was suggested to him; he agreed, and made still larger profits. He was on his way to financial independence, a good thing in any life.

The year the Christians called 1948 was celebrated by Latins worldwide as 2701, the first year of the Twenty-Eighth Century since the founding of Rome. Alone in his rooms, while people shouted outside and fireworks shattered the sky, Abel quietly lifted a glass to the memory of his friend Marcus Aurelius, and the ghost of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, alias Doctor Sperosus, father of New Latin.

By 1950 A.D. (2703 A.U.C.) his papers said he was 24 years old, and he opened his own firm in an office near Union Square. By then he was a known face, an up-and-coming young businessman often seen at Top of the Mark, and a regular guy, too. If he still didn't smoke himself, in a town and a time when all the men did, and half the women, it was just a personal quirk. He accepted a drink willingly enough, and bought a round even more readily. Abel was all right.

When the Chinese invaded Korea that year, Abel didn't join the lines of men volunteering for the Army; officially, he had no military training or experience. He went to the brass, instead, and offered his services to the supply side of the U.N. effort. President Stevenson afterwards said that his work had been worth ten divisions; a pity there was no medal to award for vital civilian contribution in time of war.

During the Sixties, Abel must have been the only one in town who didn't get high and stay high; at least it seemed that way. Perfect sobriety didn't make him appreciate the music of Jefferson Airplane, or the poetry of Jim Morrison, any the less. They made a strange pair sometimes, in the living room of Abel's Nob Hill townhouse, comatose bodies all over the rug. Jim was always at least half stoned, whereas Abel rarely even drank; but they had long conversations.

Abel even got married for a few years, to a hippie chick with long straight blonde hair and eyes to die for. Grace Wing of the Electric Oranges, when she heard, buttonholed him and said, "If you wanted to get married, honey, why didn't you ask me?"

"Grace," he said, "I knew you'd be too much woman for me." Then he kissed her on the forehead and walked away, leaving her to wonder how he meant that.


"How did you mean that?" Ramiro asked. "Several sources that weren't available then, but became available later, speculated that you were homosexual. Were you aware of that?"

"No, really?" said the Oldest. "Grace thought I was gay?"

" 'Gay'… Oh, I see," Ramiro said, consulting his intrinsics for the unfamiliar term. "No, not her, as far as anyone knows, but some of the men you did business with wondered whether you'd married Mitzi just as a cover—"

"The term at the time was 'a beard'," the Oldest informed him. "Mitzi would've been called my 'beard', my way of concealing that I was 'gay'."

"A metaphor?"

"And a particularly insulting one, at that," the former Abel said, "to reduce a person to a facial decoration, nothing but hair to hide your true self behind. 'Fag hag' was another term for a woman who agreed to help a man hide the fact that he was homosexual. But at least a hag was a woman, even if an ugly or undesirable woman; a beard was just some hair."

"In those days there was no such thing as permanent or long term depilation. Either you 'shaved' every day, which involved using a soapy lather to make the hairs stand up, then cut them off as close to the skin as you could stand with a very sharp blade, called a 'razor'; or you chose to let part of your facial hair remain, and shaved around your 'beard', 'mustache', and 'sideburns'. Shaving was annoying, and occasionally you'd slice or 'nick' yourself. If you had tough facial hair and sensitive skin, the shaved part of your face hurt. I was fortunate enough to have very light facial hair, so I could get away with only shaving every other day, but it made me feel like a bum—a poor person—someone who had no money? Well, trust me, in that age, these were considered grounds for social disapproval, and I was acclimated enough to apply them to myself."

"My intrinsics say there were 'electric razors'?"

"Yes, but you still had to apply the foaming lather, shave yourself, and rinse the clipped hair and the lather out of the device afterwards," said the Oldest. "They were safer, and a bit less painful than the manual razors, but they didn't give as close a shave, despite the claims of their manufacturers."

"Women usually shaved their arm pits and their legs in the period we're talking about, and there were "creams" they could use instead of razors; but the creams were actually various acids. That just substituted the pain of chemical burns for the pain of scraped skin, and the particular acids used had a sickly organic smell, as well."

"In short," said the Oldest, briskly, "as soon as safe depilation became available, I started using it; and when permanent facial-hair removal came along, I took it at once."

"As for Grace, I'd had no idea she might be willing to marry me. And even if I'd known, she had some drinking and drug problems I just didn't want to deal with. Finally, she was too sharp and too smart—too perceptive and too intelligent. I'd never've been able to keep her from noticing, day in and day out, that I never slept."


By 1970 A.D. (2723 A.U.C.), Abel's papers said he was 44, and his wealth was estimated to be between 20 and 50 million dollars. His wife, now pushing thirty, took him to divorce court and tried to get half his money. The official grounds were cruelty; she claimed that he beat her, and raped her when she didn't want sex. To bolster her case against the short (5'4"), soft-spoken, well-mannered man, who in nearly twenty years as a public figure had never been known to raise his voice or strike a blow, she sold a book, "as told to" a ghost writer, relating all the lurid details of their life together. "As a work of fiction," said the newsmag columnist dubbed "Mr. San Francisco", "it ranks with the memoirs of De Sade or the loves of Don Juan. As a factual narrative of life with my friend Abel, it's a sad joke."

The matter never went to trial, however, because that summer the Green Cold struck. Someone, somewhere, had developed genetic engineering to a point years, or even decades, ahead of the rest of the world, made a variant of the rhinovirus that causes the common cold, and released it in major airports all over the world. In those crowded, busy centers of human activity, and aboard the cramped, sealed planes shuttling between them, with all the passengers breathing the same air, the virus spread like a wildfire in a hot, dry prairie. Almost all smokers died, but also anyone whose lungs had been weakened by illness or long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, and many infants, children, and old people, too. Even people not killed by the disease itself died from the social collapse of the villages, towns, cities, regions, or countries in which they had lived, just as Abel had seen in two of the plagues called the Black Death in earlier times.

There was no use trying to hide from it, he figured; everyone in the world had the common cold virus, and probably everyone had this new, artificial version as well. The choice, then, was to hide, and maybe die alone and unnoticed, or try to help, and maybe save some other people. He pitched in. The Republicans were claiming, on the basis of no facts whatsoever, that the persons behind the new plague was the Green Party, and by constant repetition of this claim got it dubbed "The Green Cold." Abel donated money to the Green Party and the Social-Democratic Party to fight back in Congress and the courts. He also gave money to the Center for Disease Control, to the efforts of medical professionals in California, the Bay Area, and San Francisco, and spent hours of his own time as a hospital volunteer. There were definite advantages to not needing to sleep, or to go to a job!

Anything like an actual body count was impossible, with so many struck dead at once all over the world, and needing to be put in the ground or cremated before less exotic, but still deadly diseases killed even more people. The final death toll was loosely estimated at 600 million people ± 40 million, or about 100-116 times the annual number of deaths from smoking in any year before, but all in the summer of a single year. The Green Cold killed between seven and eight times as many people, in six months, as all the military and civilian deaths in the eight years of the War, from 1938-1945.

The population of the world was 3.7 billion in 1970, and 600 million people was an appalling 16 percent of that, about one person in every six. U.S. losses were in proportion, about 18.5 million people out of a population of 209 million. This U.S. figure was almost as much as the total population of California in 1970 (about 20 million before the Green Cold struck), or almost the same as New York, the second most populous U.S. state. As one of the most advanced nations on Earth, the U.S. should've done better; but its medical "industry" gave priority to profits, not patients. In contrast, the Empire of Iberia reacted to the Green Cold at once, and spared literally no expense to save its subjects, losing "only" about 10 per cent of its population. The German and Scandinavian nations, which had free universal health care, did almost as well: 12 percent dead in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Estonia; 13 percent fatality rates in the Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Austria.

The new widower Abel turned his sorrow for all the friends he'd lost into massive political action and huge donations to the Socialist, Green, and Social-Democratic parties. Those parties didn't even talk about the crazy claims and deadly ideas of the Republican, Libertarian, and so-called National Socialist parties, but ignored them as irrelevant and worked together for major changes to American life. Nor was Abel the only one pouring his grief into political action and social reform. Nor was the U.S. the only country shaking up its politics and its government.

Between 1970 and 1976 A.D. (2723-2729 A.U.C.), universal healthcare, at no cost to the patient, was established in most of the countries of the world, including the United States. Laws passed by the U.N. and its member states led to many new U.N. agencies, whose rulings were binding on U.N. member states who signed the enabling treaties; and few governments dared to refuse and enrage their citizens. Thus was established the UNEPA (United Nations Environmental Protection Agency), to protect the environment from pollution; the UNESA (U.N. Endangered Species Agency), to protect species in danger of extinction; the UNLRA (U.N. Labor Relations Agency), to encourage labor unions and regulate management abuses of workers; the UNCPA (U.N. Consumer Protection Agency), to protect consumers from predatory financial and business practices; and others just as important. Abel didn't appear in the debate on these matters; he was already far too well known by the public. But he made sure that the people in the U.S. Congress and the U.N. General Assembly who took his money knew what he expected them to stand for.

In the United States, the top tax rate returned to the Wartime rate of 90% for wealthy individuals and big corporations alike. The minimum wage was tied to the cost of living, so that people working full time couldn't be paid less than it cost to live. Age requirements for Social Security were abolished, and the benefits set equal to the minimum wage of a full-time working person, or actual benefits earned by deductions over a person's working life, whichever was greater. One of the most important laws passed required that any law proposed by the House or Senate must have a single purpose, clearly and honestly stated in the bill's title, which a federal judge must approve before the law could be voted upon. This law, modeled after one in Oregon, meant that Congress had to work harder passing lots of smaller bills instead of fewer big ones; but, as the senior Senator from Oregon stated, "for what we're paid, we ought to work hard!" It also kept unrelated riders, amendments, and pork from being hidden in the bills. Things had to be done in plain sight, with no horse trading under the table.

Other anti-corruption laws included sharp limits on Congressional immunity from prosecution for crimes, the direct vote of American voters for their Senators, and the abolishment of the Electoral College and the election of the President by the national popular vote. The voting age was lowered to 18, automatic voter registration at 18 and voting by mail became universal, and the right of every American to vote was enshrined in the Constitution, as well as the equal rights of men and women, which included making it illegal to pay anyone less because of sex, race, religion, or anything but job performance.

The right wing of U.S. politics—the Republicans, Libertarians, and National Socialists—screamed "Socialism!" The American public shrugged, and many politicians, not just Socialist ones, said "And about time, too!" The right preached that these changes would complete the "moral ruin" of the country, without defining what "moral ruin" was, even when pressed for a definition. The new deal would destroy the economy, leading to a lasting national depression and people starving in the streets. Instead, just as economists and political scientists predicted, the U.S. economy soared, unemployment fell to the lowest rate ever recorded, the American people had more money to spend than ever before, and businesses were making money hand over fist.

Abel's own wealth increased to the point where he couldn't give away money fast enough, much to his alarm. That kind of money brought attention that would make it very hard for him to disappear, when the time came. He wrote checks to Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, UNICEF and UNESCO and a host of other U.N. agencies, Habitat for Humanity, Latin Education International, Native American and African and Asian aid, and the Socialist, Green and Social-Democratic parties. He donated to the Childe universities, and invested in Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Digital Research, Lexisoft, and Superbinary. Unfortunately, all of this investment and spending just earned him more money. He hired the best lawyers he could find to set up a foundation, and another team to keep an eye on the first, and gave it most of his money. It was called the Leonine Foundation, and its trademark was a golden lion's head affronté on a red background, within a gold olive wreath identical, except in color, to the one on the U.N. banner.


"Meanwhile, on the scientific front," Ramiro said.

"Indeed," said the Oldest. "I would've thought, with all the brilliant minds lost to the Green Cold, and all the political uproar as we remade the world, that science would've ground to a halt, or at least slowed. But I guess people were fired up on all fronts, not just in the political arena. The progress we made in those same years was nothing short of phenomenal. While the people of the world were remaking their governments, and new government policies were lifting the people into the modern age, scientific progress was being made all over. It really was an exciting time to be alive."

"You can't really imagine, in this day and age, how limited our horizons were back then. We thought we were cosmopolitan, because we'd gone from living in one village, or one town, all our lives, to moving from one city to another whenever we wanted, and knowing the geography of the whole world."

"Of Old Earth, you mean," Ramiro said.

"That's exactly what I mean," said the Oldest. "It wasn't Old Earth to us, it was just Earth, the only world there was, the only place people had ever lived. Talk about flying to the Moon was crazy talk, it marked you as a lunatic, literally someone driven insane by moon light. When the King of Iberia proposed a manned space program in 1962, his own people called him "El Lunático", or "El Loco". But the cortes didn't have the votes to remove him, and the people loved him, loco o no."

"They seriously tried?" asked Ramiro, too caught up in the narrative to check his intrinsics.

"They really did," the Oldest said. "It was their duty! You can't leave a crazy person on the throne. He actually thought men could fly to the Moon! That was the very definition of lunacy, of madness!"

The first manned landing on the Moon in 1969 A.D. (2722 A.U.C.) was an international effort of the UNEC (U.N. Exploration Command; it would have been UN Space Exploration Command, but UNSEC was already taken by the U.N. Securities Exchange Commission, which regulated the world's stocks and bonds markets). The Selene III spacecraft that flew the mission was British (built by Rolls-Royce), American Saturn V booster rockets and German Bund computers got them there, and the crew of three was a male American pilot, a female Iberian co-pilot, and a male Korean space medic. Other live missions followed, including two to the far side of the Moon, never visible from Earth.

Actual colonization began in 1972 A.D. (2725 A.U.C.), with the construction of the first Moonbase module in Earth orbit, its transit to Lunar orbit, and its soft landing in the center of Mare Serenitatis. The U.N. flag was planted, and the Moon was claimed for all of mankind; it hadn't been thought proper to do that until a permanent structure was built. The module held atmosphere, after a couple of patches, and served as a base for exploration of the surrounding area. The Secretary-General predicted that one day the Republic of Luna would be a member-state of the United Nations. Other modules followed, one every 18 months at first, later one a year, until 1992. After that, all construction was local, using materials mined on the Moon.

"I didn't see that last stage myself," the Oldest said. "But anyone could see it was coming. The Iberians had stopped calling the King 'El Lunático', and were calling him 'El Sabio', as they had some of his predecessors."

"Have you ever been to Luna, Señor Valéncia?" he said abruptly.

"Yes, indeed," Ramiro said. "I attended university in Lérida, and spent many holidays on Luna. I know it very well—that is, as well as anyone can know so huge and varied a place in a few short stays, without living there full time," he amended.

"So imagine this, if you can," said the Oldest. "Imagine a dead, rocky world, that's never been inhabited, and has no habitation even now except a single dwelling made of three or four inflated tubes fastened together. The people who live in that dwelling, maybe a dozen, are the only people in the whole world. The planet hanging in the sky above your head is the only other inhabited world you know of. Its population, less than four billion human beings, are the only people there are."

"Wow," Ramiro said after a stunned moment or two, "that's a scary picture."

"It was still the picture when I went to sleep the next time," the Oldest said. "Commercial suborbital flight came along, the first generation of spaceplanes; Farside base was established for the Hubble Telescope, then the second generation of spaceplanes came out and the first orbital hotels were built in geostationary orbit. But the Childe starship, the manned mission to Mars, and everything in the next forty years or so, happened while I was asleep. Likewise the replacement of fossil fuels by solar and wind power, and all but the very earliest omnicoms."


By 1990 A.D. (2743 A.U.C.), Abel's identity papers weren't even forgeries; they'd been renewed so many times, by perfectly legitimate means, that they were genuine, however specious the high-quality and expensive original fakes had been. Officially he was 64, and he took some care with hair dye and sunlamps to have the grey hair and wrinkled skin expected of him. Youthful vigor, clear eyes, and a keen mind still caused comment. "You're twenty years older than I am," the junior Senator for California told him at lunch one day, "and I still have a hard time remembering that you're old enough to vote, grey hair and all."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," Abel said. "You're still wrong on military spending. If you Socialists don't pull in harness with the Social-Democrats, the Republicans will walk all over you on this, just as they did during the tobacco hearings."

"Don't remind me," the Senator said, and took another sip of her coffee. From 1964-1968 the tobacco companies had "disputed" the medical science about smoking, stepped up their advertising around the world, and lied to Congress under oath. House members and Senators across the political spectrum, from Socialists to Greens to Social-Democrats, held hearings to deal with the problem. They couldn't agree on whether to outlaw smoking outright, or just tax it to death; whether to break up the tobacco companies, or outlaw the sale and purchase of products containing nicotine; or whether to charge tobacco executives with crimes up to negligent homicide, or simply hit them all with huge fines for lying to Congress. This failure to decide exactly what to do allowed the Republicans, the Libertarians, and the National Socialists to prevent anything from being done at all, and declare the tobacco companies "exonerated".

The rebuttal to that was the Green Cold. The persons responsible for the deaths of 600 million people were never identified, but their motives were obvious, and the timing of their artificial disease spoke for itself.

The restaurant Abel had chosen was on the 45th floor of the Bank of America building; their table was placed along a north-facing picture window. Senator Baxter, looking past Abel's left shoulder, could see the Golden Gate Bridge beyond the Fisherman's Wharf area and the Presidio. He, looking past her right shoulder, could see the Transamerica Pyramid a lot closer.

"But what do we need a big military for?" she demanded. "Peace, in case you hadn't noticed, has broken out all over. The Chinese are quiet, the Russians haven't made a peep in a generation, and the die-hard crazies are being turned in by their own people, as aid brings hope and elections bring change."

"I've heard the speech," Abel said, "and I can't argue with your logic. I'm even glad I can't. I just have this feeling we're not out of the woods yet—and it's a hell of a lot cheaper to keep up the military we've got than to throw together a new one in the face of the enemy."

"What enemy, for God's sake?" Barbara said. "Show me even one trouble spot where we might need an Army."

"I could do that, maybe," he said. "You mentioned the Russians. We never got all the leaders, you know."

"And you think they went where? Georgia, perhaps?"

"I don't know anything, really," Abel said. "But I still have friends and interests all over the world, and I don't like what I'm hearing about Moldavia." He told her this, she would remember later, ten years before the U.N. fought Russian-led Moldavian invaders house-to-house in Sarajevo.


"You predicted that?" asked Ramiro.

"Predicted? No," said the Oldest. "When you see someone aim a gun and pull the trigger, it isn't a 'prediction' to say a shot will be fired. I guessed that the shooter was Russian, and even that was more experience than anything else. Romania had been a sore spot since the Roman Empire fell and Dacia was abandoned. Scythia, Bessarabia, Moldavia, Dnistria, Moldova, or whatever it was being called that week, had always been a canker on the edge of Europe. Ask me sometime about the time I had to fight for my life against another immortal, in Wallachia."

"I'll do that, Sir," the interviewer said, and made another note.


Abel retired that year, turning over the chair of his company to younger men, and being seen less often in public. In truth Abel had become a little too well known, and would have to manage the transition to his next life very carefully. Disappearance wouldn't do; he would have to die, and soon. He was getting sleepier and sleepier, which suited the picture he was painting of an older gentleman sliding gently into the grave; but he gave himself a real scare, when concerned friends woke him from a doze at a banquet, and he realized he'd really drifted off.

His carefully-laid plans to expire, leaving everything to his foundation except the cash he'd squirreled away to start his next life, came undone when he fell in love. It had been over sixty years since the last time, before the War, and it caught him completely by surprise.

Her name was Graciela Luisa Corona, and she was drop-dead gorgeous. She was 5'6" tall (two inches taller than he), with luscious brown eyes, a full red mouth, and silky straight black hair down to the backs of her knees. She was curvaceous, she was graceful, her voice was like music, and her laugh was a full orchestra. Above all she was as sweet, as modest, as kind—in short, as all-around nice—as she was outwardly beautiful.

Abel never had a chance of resisting her, and the timing couldn't've been worse.


As Adam Evenson, the dashing young nephew of the late Abel, he picked her up at her apartment in the Avenues in his new convertible. It was good to wash the dye from his hair, and let the wrinkles fade away. He could feel her approval of his looks and his manners, as he escorted her to the curb, opened the passenger-side door for her, and closed it carefully before getting in on the other side. The drive north, over the Bridge to a French restaurant in Sausalito, was not a long one; they talked little, but smiled a lot.

"So sad about your uncle," Graciela said, when the waiter had taken their orders and left. "He was such a nice old man."

"Did you meet him then?" Adam said, knowing full well she had. A touch of a hand, a couple of words, and all his plans had been shot to hell.

"Oh yes, once," she said. "He was giving money to the clinic, and our director had to make a big thing of it, with a giant copy of the check, photographers, a reporter from the Chronicle, and another from the Examiner."

And an excellent chance it was to dodder and be "past it", until you ruined it, you darling, he thought. "What did you say?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing," she said, waving her hands. "He said hi, and I said hi, and he asked what I did at the clinic, and I said I'm a social worker—it was the oddest thing, but it seemed like he'd been half asleep, and then he saw me and woke up!" She laughed. "Oh, listen to me, how modest I am. Next I'll be claiming I raise people from the dead."

Woke up indeed, just for a moment all the way awake, and wanting desperately to say something, anything, before she got away. Realizing the hopelessness of his love even as it seized him full force; he was getting sleepier by the day, and was not long for the waking world. And when he woke, she'd be old, or dead.

"Adam? Are you all right?"

Adam—oh yes, he was Adam, got to remember to answer to that—if he could stay awake. "Sorry," he said, "not quite enough sleep last night."

"And I have to be at the clinic in the morning," she said. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

He took her hand in his. "Let us seize every moment that we may," he said in purest Castilian, "for what tomorrow brings, no man can say. I only know that tonight I am with thee; tomorrow has made no promises to me."

"How beautiful!" she said. "And you say it with such an accent! I haven't heard Spanish like that since my grandfather died."

"That's who I learned Spanish from, your grandfather," he joked.

"Silly! Oh, that reminds me, I got you something."

"You got me something?"

"I hope you don't mind," Graciela said. Out of her purse came something wrapped in tissue, about the size of an orange.

"You surprise me," he said, taking it in his hand, gently, as if it were a living bird he might carelessly crush; or a beating heart.

"Don't you want to know what it is?" she said, when he made no move to unwrap it.

He looked right at her then, in perfect seriousness. "It's a lion," he said. Her face was astonishment itself.

A terra cotta lion, short-coupled, fat-bodied, fluffy-maned—but still a lion, such as I have borne on my shield and my banner for generation after generation. So long ago—and still the women who love me, and who truly see me, give me lions. And what else do you see, my lovely lady?

"Thank you," he said. "I'll treasure it."

"You're welcome," she said shyly; and just then the waiter brought their food.


"Wait, wait," he said, later in the evening. "She said what?"

"Oh, it's probably nothing," Graciela said. "Crazy María doesn't make much sense in English or in Spanish, most of the time."

"But the phrase you quoted; was it perhaps—" and he said something.

"Why, it could be. I can't be sure, but—What did you say?"

"Roadrunner decided to play a trick on Snake," he said. "It's the Nahuatl language; I learned it once. But they're all supposed to be dead."

"María is older than you and me together, but hardly dead."

"María isn't really her name, is it?" he said.

She looked ashamed. "You're right, and I shouldn't call her that. It's the other street people who call her Crazy María, because she talks to herself all the time. She calls herself 'Sho-CHEE-tluh'—you're nodding."

"Xochitl. It fits," he said. "It fits with the language." He pinched the bridge of his nose, suddenly weary. "If I came by the clinic tomorrow, could I meet her? Maybe talk with her?"

He could, she thought; certainly the director, hoping for another big check, would put no obstacles in his way; and Cra—Xochitl, she corrected herself—was due to come in for counseling.

So they left it; and so he left her, after escorting her to her door, and drowning in one long kiss of inexpressible sweetness. Drove home, her shaken laugh ringing in his ears, to pace up and down all night long, reciting anything and everything of that extinct language of blood and scorpions and obsidian, to refresh his memory, and to stay awake.


"She's not here," Graciela said in greeting. "I'm sorry, I was so excited, I told her someone wanted to talk with her—I should know better."

"You couldn't have known she'd run," he said around his disappointment, leaning against the door frame for support.

"But I knew she was barely rational; and I know that some of our clients will bolt at anything. I should have known, not to speak without thinking."

"Well, if she comes back, you have my number. It looks like I'll be in town longer than I thought, anyway."

She lit up with gladness. "That's wonderful!" she said. "How long will you be here, then?"

"Not as long as I'd like," he smiled, while his heart bumped and lurched in his chest. He shoved his hands deeper in his pockets, to keep from reaching out to her.

"Dinner tonight?" he asked. Wouldn't do to kiss the lady right here in the clinic where she worked.

"Again?" she said. Something in his eyes must have given him away, because she blushed a little, but said softly, "All right."

"Great," he said. "There's this Russian restaurant that no one knows about… I'd better go before I do something I won't regret," he smiled, and left.

He spent an hour in trance. Trance is not sleep, and in it he could rest without worrying about falling asleep. He couldn't use it too often; for one thing, the sleepier he got, the harder it was to go into trance instead of just falling asleep. For another, in trance his consciousness was not in charge. The instincts of the rest of his mind weren't always compatible with the human sensibilities of those around him, or even their survival.

A little restored, he dug in the laundry hamper and found jeans, socks, underwear, t-shirt, and sweat shirt that needed washing, and put them aside. An old 49ers cap and a jacket with a ripped pocket went with them. The rest went into the washer; then he left his house, and caught the Geary bus to downtown.

Not even looking for Xochitl, he wandered the streets and alleys between the Financial District and the Tenderloin, the wharfs and the Mission District, Chinatown and Union Square, watching the street people and letting them watch him. If he was going to hunt and catch her, he'd need to know her surroundings. The city he knew intimately, but the street people and their culture changed by the year. It was quieter than the Sixties, and grimmer; less street circus, more trouble. The dirt was the same, and the desperation, but the drugs weren't. Pot was an occasional whiff instead of a major component of the air, and crackheads avoided his eyes on every corner. The talk was different as well; what drugs they talked about, and what slang they covered them with.

More tired than ever, he finally caught a cab home from the bus depot, showered, changed clothes, and picked up Graciela.

If food is a substitute for sleep, he put off the inevitable for several days then. The Russian restaurant where they ate was on Clement Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, a few blocks east of Green Apple Books. It was much closer to her place than his, but she'd never heard of it. It was a true Mom and Pop operation, with food high in cholesterol, dill, and divine flavor. They had tender peas, perfect rice, and chicken roasted until the meat fell off the bone at the touch of a fork, giving up moist puffs of steam. Everything was smothered in butter, with sour cream on the side. The rolls were baked on the premises, and served still hot from the oven.

She listened as he spoke with the proprietor, a bald veteran of the War, who'd stayed in America after being released from a POW camp near Napa, eventually bringing his wife over. Graciela didn't understand a word, because Papa insisted on speaking Russian with Adam. Finally he laughed, slapped Adam on the back, and left them a wine bottle and two glasses.

"What was all that?" she asked.

"I'm sorry," Adam said. "I tried to tell him it was rude for us to speak Russian when you don't know it, but he just said my uncle always said the same, and went on doing it anyway."

"But what were you talking about?"

"Well, let's see. First we talked about the wine; speaking of which," he poured them each a glass. "Then," he said, holding his by the stem, "he tried to find out what part of Russia my uncle and I are from." He shrugged. "He insists our Russian is just like the old priest's back home."

Her laughter pealed, causing turned heads and smiles in the little place. "Oh, that's funny. And the waiter in that French restaurant, where did he insist you had to come from?"

"Avignon," he said, smiling slightly. "A very pretty place."

"I envy your travels," she said. "I've never been out of California."

"It could be worse," he said. "Everything in the world is in California somewhere—people, climate, food." Which they ate, savoring its quality.


From Adam's place, with the lights still off, the whole of San Francisco was visible, picked out in street lights. Graciela went from window to window, while he watched her from the center of the room. In the east were the hills rolling down to the Embarcadero, with the streets playing roller coaster over them; then the blackness of the Bay, relieved by the lights of Angel Island and the Bay Bridge. To the northeast was Coit Tower, and Alcatraz Island beyond it, lit for the tourists. North was Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown. The forested Presidio was northwest, home of the Sixth Army and other units, both active-duty and reserve; beyond it was the Golden Gate of the Bay, and the rust-colored Bridge that spanned it. West was darker because of Golden Gate Park, the Avenues where the ordinary people of the City lived, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. South, the Hill blocked her view, and brought her back to him.

"Oh, it's beautiful," she said.

"Not as beautiful as thee," he said, and kissed her fiercely. Then he broke off, and turned on the lights. Her disappointment turned into a gasp of wonder.

The ceiling was high, and the hardwood floor bare; they saved the room from busyness. Every scrap of wall not occupied by a door or a picture window had a bookcase, some ceiling high, some only chest high, but all stuffed full. Above every shorter bookcase something hung. There was an old wooden shield, with a gold lion's head on a black background; a manuscript page, sealed under glass, with a picture of a lion playing a vielle; a snarling Hittite lion, eight inches tall, in grey stone; a jeweled Indian lion sejant erect and crowned; and much more. On a mantle stood commercial pieces, such as a carousel lion six inches tall. Graciela touched the terra-cotta lion she'd given him, lightly.

"It's like a museum!" she said.

"Some of it will go to museums. The Museum of the Legion of Honor wants this, for example," he said, indicating a Chinese banner of a yellow dragon with red flames around its head, and bulging red eyes. "It belonged to an Emperor."

"How do you know?" she said, standing close beside him.

He smiled. "I could say that when it was made, only the Emperor could have a silk banner. Or I could point out that five-toed yellow dragons were reserved to him. But the fact is, it was taken from one of the Palaces at the end of the War, after Peking surrendered."

"A million Laotian and Cambodian ghosts rejoice," she said.

"And Siamese and Burmese and Viet and Korean and Japanese," he agreed.

"But what's it doing here?" she said. "Did your uncle want a token dragon to go with all his lions?"

"Well, he had a theory," Adam said. He peered into a bookcase, and pulled out a book titled Arms of the Royal Families of Europe. He opened it to a page with a picture of a red shield with three yellow lions stretched across its width, one above the other, their faces snarling out at them. "Compare them," he invited her.

Graciela did. "I see what you mean."

"It's true that Medieval European art and Traditional Chinese art have very different styles," Adam said. "It's also true that lions were once found everywhere in the Old World, including China. Abel believed that Chinese dragons were lions, remembered by art long after the actual animals had disappeared."

"Could be," she admitted. "Now what?"

"Now I'd better take you home," he said. "Don't want to get you fired for falling asleep at work."

"No, don't want that," she said, and was very quiet on the drive to her place. If she clung to him when he kissed her goodnight, well, he clung to her. At last, though, they had to let go.

"Hey," he called from the stair. "Do you like Korean food?"

"Never had it," she said from her door.


"… All right," she said, and closed the door. Now why did I say that? she wondered. One last chance?

Equally frustrated, and equally determined to seize every moment he could, Adam hit the shelters, hoping to find Xochitl in one of them. Armed with a copy of her file picture from Graciela's clinic, he got nothing but negatives. Some hadn't seen her; most refused to discuss who was in the shelter for the night, as their rules required.

"But if she's as wild as you say," one overweight black lady told him, "she won't be in a shelter."


"The really leery ones hide from everybody—the public, the other homeless, even the police. They're afraid of violence from the other downers, and arrest by the cops. Once in a while," she admitted, "they even have good reason. There was one cop in Berkeley picking up homeless women, raping them, and killing them. He was sent up just last year."

"Well, thanks anyway," Adam said, and left. He looked for a donation box, but all the shelters were funded by the State of California, and the City and County of San Francisco. All he found on the bulletin board was a picture of Mayor Harvey Milk, the shelter net address, job listings and job-training programs (construction workers were needed on the Moon and the orbital stations, he noticed), and brochures from the local churches, ever more desperate for believers, like all churches these days.

If I were an Indian woman with little English or Spanish, afraid of everyone and sleeping in hiding, where would I den? The alleys? The Park? His eyes settled on the dark woods at the tip of the Peninsula.

The Presidio?


Fog curled along the ground, barely visible close up, but turning everything past the middle distance into blank greyness. Adam glided through the Presidio woods in the stillness just before dawn. He wore old clothes chosen for warmth, whose worn nap wouldn't make a distinctive sound if he brushed against anything. Moccasins on his feet let his toes feel where he was stepping, so he could avoid the snap of breaking twigs. Adam searched carefully, avoiding the Sixth Army and 91st Division areas, and any military demands to explain his presence.

After a while, he became aware that some part of his mind was noting certain trees for future reference. He stopped, and looked at a couple of them. They seemed ordinary eucalyptus trees, just like any others planted all over the Presidio, and for that matter, all over California.

Then he saw the squirrel tracks his unconscious mind had noted, and the placement of the trees along the tracks. After all these years, his trapper's instincts were still there. He grinned. "That was a long ago," he said softly to himself, in Estonian.

Half an hour later, Adam stood beside a boulder the size of a VW van, a grey mass flat on the top, round at the bottom, so wide that three of him could barely have touched fingers around it.

The boulder stood on a slope carpeted by leaves from the Presidio woods just up the hill. A little below the rock was the waist-high brick wall dividing the woods area from base housing. A strip of grass ran along the base of the wall, then a paved path and more grass; then the houses, trees, and street lights of officers' housing.

At the foot of the boulder, beneath where it swelled out to hugeness, Adam found a nest that he thought might be Xochitl's. Some human hand had certainly swept the wet leaves out, where most would have piled them up to cushion the bare ground; and scooped out a depression for her hip, which most pavement-dwellers wouldn't have thought of. He swept the ground with his fingers, and wondered how the city looked to her.

Adam scratched his head thoughtfully. If this was her nest, Xochitl had wandered far west of her usual haunts. Starting north of Moscone Center at Fort Mason, the most direct route to where he stood took her west past the Palace of Fine Arts, then further west to avoid Sixth Army Headquarters and Presidio housing. Wandering south past the cemetery and golf course, she had spent the night in shelter not five blocks from the restaurant where Adam and Graciela had eaten dinner.

Coincidence, in a city limited by ocean on the west, bay on the north and east, and the county line on the south?

Coincidence, or the prey stalking the hunter?


Dressed in his unwashed grubbies, Adam watched the crowds in the glass of El Faro, a burrito shop. He was almost sure that three men reflected in it were following him. If he was right, the twenty-something "white" man with the stupid-looking goatee and mustache was the leader, and the nineteenish "black" kid with the dreadlocks, and his "white" buddy with the faceful of pimples, were the followers.

I've wasted enough time on them, he thought; let's get away from the crowd and find out what they want. He wouldn't be able to find Xochitl with a gang trailing behind him.

They were on the edge of the Financial District, where all the banks and brokerage houses were concentrated; El Faro made its nut at lunch, from workers in the Pacific Stock Exchange and related businesses. He walked north, trying to remember a suitable dead-end alley. By the time he found one, he was certain that the three were together, and following him.

The alley ran south from Clay Street partway into the block, then stopped. It was dark, there were no windows looking into it, and no one came here except garbage trucks picking up the dumpster, and homeless people needing to piss. It was perfect; they would think they had him trapped.

Adam relaxed against the shallow recess of a locked door and went into trance. Motion attracts the eye; he was still. The mind feels when it's being watched; he saw everything, but watched nothing. The mind feels hostile intent directed at it; but Adam had no intent, in trance. He didn't wait for his stalkers to enter the alley; he simply stood there, anticipating nothing, effectively invisible.

Presently Pimple-Face came into the alley, looking all around him. Adam, expecting nothing and surprised by nothing, did not react. Pimple's eyes slid right over him without seeing him. Seeing happens in the brain, not the eyes; the eyes just gather light. Adam gave the punk nothing to see, so he saw nothing. Instead he focused on the big green dumpster, down at the end of the empty alley. He drew a knife from a back pocket and walked towards the dumpster, crouching slightly. Still Adam did nothing.

Dreadlocks came next, holding a knife in his hand, and the older man, with a gun. As soon as they were past him, Adam exploded off the wall, still on automatic. Because of the silence of his motion and the absence of intent, they had no idea he was attacking him. Nor was he, for attacking someone requires a purpose of attack, and he had no purpose. The left hand that cupped the back of the goateed man's head, and the right hand that caught the young "black" under the nose, moved as they would have moved had no one been in the alley but Adam. It was a kata, an exercise, form without emotion. The heads turned and were cracked together. As his victims fell, Adam came out of trance, shocking the psychic atmosphere of the alley like a bomb going off.

Pimple-Face jumped like a cat in a kitchen where a plate has been dropped. Adam was on him before the punk's feet were steady. So fast did he disarm the kid, twist his arm behind his back, and push him up against the wall, that it was as though Adam's acne-scarred opponent had jumped into the wall trying to get away from him.

"Why are you following me?" he said. The boy was almost a foot taller than Adam, and outweighed him; but Adam, standing between the kid's legs where he couldn't be kicked, held him pinned to the wall, a foot above the concrete, with no effort.

"Man, you're in big trouble now," gasped the punk, with more nerve than sense.

Adam pulled him a couple of inches back from the wall, then slammed him into it again one-handed, the other hand holding the kid's arm up between his shoulder blades the whole time. The kid grunted as the elbow of his free arm, and his face, smashed into the wall. "Why are you following me?" Adam asked again. The lack of bluster was calculated to be more intimidating than a spoken threat. Besides that, he was too weary from need of sleep to posture.

"Orders," said the punk. "You've been hanging around the drug scene, the boss wants to know why."

"Who's your boss?" said Adam.

"Can't tell you," Pimple-Face said. Then he yelped as Adam smashed him into the wall again. His nose started to bleed as Adam grabbed the other arm and twisted it behind his back; the first arm dangled, broken.

"Who's your boss?" Adam said.

"I can't! He'll kill me," the punk said, sniveling now.

Adam considered. "All right, then tell me this: Is he Italian, Armenian, or Filipino?"

"Italian," whispered the punk.

"All right. I'm going to give you a note for him. Make sure you give it to him when you wake up."

"When I —"

Adam slammed the kid into the wall and felt the other arm break, then stepped aside and let the unconscious body fall to the pavement. He pulled a notebook and a pen out of his shirt pocket, and began writing. The whole affair had taken less than five minutes, and made no sound louder than conversation.

He was about to fold the note, when the stillness of the other two struck him as ominous. He went over and felt one neck, then the other. Shaking his head, he added to his note, folded it once, and put it into Pimple-Face's pants pocket. Then he left the alley. Catching a bus home, he removed himself from the downtown area for a few hours.


The Don sat in the sunny living room of his Orinda home and considered the situation. Contrary to what Pimple-Face had told Adam, the appearance of a snooper on the fringes of the drug scene hadn't been important enough to bring to his attention. The orders to rough Adam up, and find out who he was, had come from lower in the chain of command of the local Italian mob. The failure of the mission, and the note, had taken the matter right to the top.

The Don read the note again, carefully. It was written in courtly Italian so fine that he had difficulty with it. The Don's grandfather had spoken Italian like that; but the old man would never have used a ballpoint pen, or drugstore notebook paper.

Most Esteemed Sir, the note said.

I am not your enemy unless you choose to make it so. We should both regret that very much.

I am not interested in your drugs, or in any of your enterprises. I seek a distant relative, whom I have learned is living on the streets of this city. My presence here is purely a matter of family.

I beg that you will not interfere in my search, as I would not, were you to be engaged similarly.

May you enjoy a long life and the best of health always, good sir.

P. S. I regret the demise of two of your soldiers. I am short on sleep, and it made me hasty and careless. My deepest apologies to you for this accident.

"No one recognizes this man?" the Don asked his lieutenants. They did not, but described the stranger as well as they could. He didn't sound like one of the Armenian bandits or the Filipino pirates, the Don decided; and would any of them write Italian like this? It seemed there was a lion in their midst, looking for a lost cub; best not to lose any more wolves in pointless fights.

"Alright," he said, cutting off his number two man with a wave. "Watch him, but leave him alone. If he meddles in our business, let me know."

And that should have been that.


After searching for Xochitl all day along the wharfs and Fort Mason and the Pacific beaches just outside the Golden Gate, Adam changed clothes to pick up Graciela. A shoe hitting the floor startled him to full wakefulness, and made him realize he'd started to nod off while dressing.

God! When was the last time he'd put off going to sleep for so long? Had he ever? He was usually wiser than this, or he'd not have lasted so long. No last-minute cave or crypt or tunnel for him; he always slept in perfect security, in a refuge planned years ahead of time. One was waiting for him now; but first Graciela, and then Xochitl, had kept him here.

He desperately wanted to do right by them both. But with Graciela, whom he loved, it simply wasn't possible. While Xochitl, whom he'd never met (but thought he owed a debt to), seemed to be hiding from him.

Give it two more days, he decided. If he didn't find the Nahuatl woman this weekend, he'd have to hire a third party to do so, and try to foolproof their confirmation of her identity.

To go to sleep not knowing whether she'd be found, not knowing whether she were whom he surmised her to be, knowing that he might not even learn after he awakened, would be another torment almost as great as leaving Graciela behind.

But he just might have to suffer them both.


"An-yang haseyo, Mr. Kim," Adam said to the proprietor of the Il San Restaurant. The tall, thin Korean's face lit with joy.

"An-yang haseyo," he replied. "You speak Korean?"

"Only a little," Adam lied politely, in that language. "I believe we have a dinner reservation for eight o'clock. I am Mr. Evenson, and this is Miss Corona."

"It's a pleasure to meet you both," said Mr. Kim, and bowed. "Please follow me." They did, after leaving their shoes near the door.

The Il San was a very posh restaurant, located not in Chinatown, but between the Embarcadero and the Airport. The view from their table was dominated by the Bay Bridge, outlined in lights. A harbor boat full of tourists floated slowly past, gaily lit. Fog masked the East Bay shore, hiding the lights of Oakland.

Eyes followed them to their table. Most of the patrons were Korean, either members of the San Francisco Korean community, or businessmen from the old country. Adam was an oddity, short and compact like most Koreans, or most Asians for that matter, his face not quite European, but definitely not Asian, despite the almond-shaped eyes. Graciela was hildaga pura, and lovely.

She saw there were no chairs. The diners folded their legs under themselves on mats, and the tables were only high enough for their knees to fit under. "No matter how clean it actually is, the floor is considered dirty," Adam said. "Can you kneel without using your hands?"

"I'm a Catholic girl," she said, and knelt elegantly, as if in a pew at Mass. Adam smiled, and did the same opposite her.

There were no menus, but the tiny waitress seemed ready to repeat the selection all night if need be. It all sounded the same to Graciela, lots of ah and ng sounds. "How brave are you?" asked Adam, "and would you prefer a fish, beef, or vegetable main course?"

"How brave am I?" Graciela repeated. "I don't know. Is the food very spicy?"

"It can be as hot as the hottest Indian food, or the hottest Spanish cuisine," he said. "I wasn't thinking of that, so much as—well, a popular main course is dog soup."

"Dog soup?" she said, not too loud.

"From a breed of dogs raised for it, not stray mutts, but yes, dog soup," Adam said. "Another delicacy, though not a main course, is deep-fried silkworm larvae."

"Are you pulling my leg?" she asked.

"Maybe later. OK, let's stay fairly Western. Would you like beef? Korean beef is very good."

Presently the waitress came back, with several others, and started putting little dishes all over the table, leaving space only in the middle. "Careful, very hot," she said, and smiled brillantly at Graciela. Graciela smiled back, not knowing why.

"What is all this?" she asked.

"This is kimchi," Adam said. He looked over the table, and called out something. A reply came back, with laughter.

"I thought kimchi was rotten cabbage," Graciela said.

"Kimchi is various vegetables, pickled or fermented different ways. About half of these appetizers are kimchi, the rest aren't, strictly speaking," Adam said, holding up a square of something so dark a green it was almost black, using his chop sticks. "Want to try it? It's pretty good."

"I don't seem to have a knife or fork," she said.

"Knives aren't part of Korean dinnerware. They'll bring you a fork in a moment; you heard me ask for it. Meanwhile, want to try this?"

She opened her mouth, and he placed it on her tongue. Not much taste, she decided, but crunchy. "A vegetable?"

"A sea weed," Adam said, "like the kind Japanese sushi is often wrapped in. Koreans eat lots of sea weed."

"Really? Wait; those are bird eggs."

"Yes, hard boiled; eat them just like hard-boiled chicken eggs," he said, cracking and peeling a brown one with black spots.

"And this orange stuff?"

"Now that is very, very hot; be careful with it. You mentioned 'rotten cabbage'; that's fermented cabbage, 'rotten' the same way sauerkraut is 'rotten'; or beer; or cheese. Koreans won't eat cheese, by the way, they think it's disgusting."

"The way I think fried bugs are disgusting?"

He nodded. "Exactly that way. They won't drink root beer either, though they took to Coke and Pepsi right away. De gustibus non disputandum. For that matter, the ancient Romans ate some things that would turn your stomach."

Perhaps fortunately, their beef came then, in a single metal dish a foot and a half across; cubes of meat an inch on a side. More sea weed of a different color came too, and dishes of soy sauce, more little bird eggs, a fork for Graciela, and fresh chop sticks for Adam.

"I don't want to keep complaining," Graciela said, "but these pieces are too big."

"Good, though, aren't they?" He said something to the waitress, who laughed and went away. She was back right away with big scissors almost like tin snips, only with curved blades. "Fingers out!" she warned Graciela, then snip-snipped all the cubes into twos and threes.

"Why didn't they just serve them that size to begin with? Or give me a knife?"

"An inch across is the usual size; the meat stays hot longer. And diners don't have knives; the waitress cuts the meat for them if they ask for it." He looked at her. "Are you angry?"

"Maybe a little," she said. "I thought I was a grown-up woman, but all this is so strange, and you take it in stride, and they're laughing at me."

"Well," he said, "they are laughing at you; but Asians, Koreans included, laugh at anything different from their customs. They can be the nicest people in the world; when I was in Korea on business, every single person I met, bar none, treated me like his or her own personal guest. But I almost got thrown out of the country before I could get out of Seoul International Airport."


He nodded. "I didn't see the party who was supposed to meet me, so I beckoned to a porter to help with my bags. First the porter tried to beat me up, then the airport cops started waving their batons at me, then the customs people started yelling in my face—all this before I had any Korean except the phrases in the Berlitz book. Fortunately my Korean friend showed up just then to explain to me what I'd done wrong, and to tell everyone else I hadn't meant anything by it."

"What had you done?"

"Just beckoned, with a thumb and forefinger, like a dumb Westener."

"Beckoned? You mean—"

He grabbed her hand. "Don't do it here!" he said. "Turns out it's an obscene gesture in Korea, like giving someone the finger here. The way you call someone to you in Korea is like this—" he held a hand out, palm down, and moved all the fingers together, like scraping something towards himself, only without moving the hand itself.

"But couldn't they see you were American?"

"They don't care," he said. "Most of the world's cultures are so conformist, they make Americans in the Fifties look like free-love, pot-smoking, do-your-own-thing hippies by comparison."

And pretty much always have been, too, he added to himself.


Graciela lurched into Adam as he put her key into the lock on her apartment's front door, and laughed. "Oh, I think I'm drunk," she said.

"Never try to match Koreans, Russians, or Finns drink for drink," he said, not much better off himself.

"Good thing tomorrow's Saturday," she said, clinging to his shoulder. She rested her head on him while he unlocked the door and opened it.

"Okay, Cinderella," he said, "this is your stop. The coach has turned back into a pumpkin, the horses are all mice again, and you need your bed."

Instead of straightening up, she put her arms around his neck, and pulled his mouth down to hers. He almost fell over from drink and sleepiness and surprise, before he shifted his weight to support them both.

He ended the kiss gently. "Come on now."

She smiled at him. "Aren't you coming in?"

He unwrapped her arms from his neck, but held onto both her hands. "Graciela—I'm leaving Monday."

"Oh," she said. Then, still not understanding, or not wanting to understand, she asked, "When will you be back?"

He couldn't think, in his sleepiness, of a gentle way to say it; his silence said it for him. "You aren't?" she said.

"I can't," he said miserably.

"Can't what?" She wrenched her hands away and stood straight, the beginnings of anger burning away the alcohol. "Look at me!"

"I am," he said softly.

"Are you married?" she asked.

"No, it's not—"


"No!" he protested.

"I see! So it was all a game to you, was it? I'm not good enough for you, right? Not rich enough, maybe!"

In frustration, then, he grabbed her, wrapped her clawing hands behind her, and kissed her. Put all his love, all his desperation, all his wish to be with her, into the kiss; all the loneliness of the centuries, and the millenia. Somewhere in there she started kissing him back. When he stopped, they were both crying.

"At least tell me why," she whispered through her tears.

"Graciela," he said, and it was like another kiss. "I can't."

"Won't, you mean."

"Can't. Really, I can't."

She hit him then, fist in the face. "Go, then! In fact, go to Hell!" Then turned, while he stood there white-faced, entered her apartment, and slammed the door on him.

Once again she had woken him all the way up. He stood at the door, and stared at it. Sniffing wetly, he tasted blood, even as a drop fell from his nose to the floor. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and held it to his nose. Touched the keys lightly, still hanging in the door; they jingled faintly. Then turned, and walked away.

Graciela leaned against the door, face pressed to the wood, and breathed in great, ragged gasps, as if all the oxygen had gone from the air. She heard him touch the keys. She heard him walk away. She slid down the door, and curled on the floor, and burst into weeping, as if she would never stop weeping again.


Adam didn't know, and wouldn't have cared, that the punk with the pimples and the two broken arms was named Lennie Travaglio. Lennie had a brother, Willie Travaglio; and Willie was a good hater. Willie had beaten Lennie senseless many times, and in the usual course of things would do so again. But no one was allowed to break Lennie's arms but him.

The Don said leave the stranger alone. Willie would leave him alone, all right; after he'd broken a few arms, a few legs, maybe done some fancy carving. Willie knew what the guy looked like, now all he had to do was find him, and get started leaving him alone. Rest in peace, bastard.

All Friday Willie looked for the guy, found nothing, and got madder and madder. He could have been shooting pool, drinking beer, groping his girl; instead he had to pay back the fucker who'd busted up his little brother, and the asshole had disappeared.

Saturday was just as bad. Willie stalked through the mobs of tourists and flocks of pigeons, as likely to kick one out of his way as the other. Downtown was a bust; the Mission didn't have him; Chinatown hadn't seen him. Willie cruised down Geary past "St. Mary Maytag", the church that looked like the twirly thing inside a washing machine, and started looking through the Richmond District. Decided to go by the Zoo, long as he was here; the herd of shaggy buffalo always gave him a laugh.

And there was the bastard who maimed his brother, sitting on a park bench talking to Crazy Maria! If he thought she could help him find anybody, he was crazy himself. Willie found a parking space without too much trouble; it was late afternoon, shaping into evening, and the tourists had already started heading for their hotel rooms and restaurants.

When he reached the bench, they weren't there! Then he saw them, the other side of the skate rental place, walking towards a white convertible parked in one of the curbside spaces. Willie checked the knife in his pocket to make sure it wasn't caught on anything, smiled, and started walking towards them.


Xochitl her mother had named her, after an ancient warrior queen. Her grandfather had cut the cord at birth with an obsidian blade he made himself. Then he broke the blade and buried it secretly, along with the afterbirth. That was almost the last thing that was done right in her life.

Grandfather was a priest of the People, but he was the last priest, and the three of them were the last of the People. After the Speaker of the People realized that the metal-clad, bearded strangers weren't Kukulcan's people, and their leader wasn't the Feathered Serpent returned, he ordered them slain as the bandits they were. Their leader he slew himself; but it was his last act. The barbarians slew him and his greatest nobles in escaping from the banquet, then returned during the funeral games, with all the other barbarians of the Valley of Mexico, and slew all of the People. Fewer than a hundred escaped; and now, four hundred years later, there were only three, in exile in this cold northern land.

Instead of welcoming the sun up with the hearts of sacrifices, Grandfather lit a tiny fire and made tea, while Mother dressed Xochitl in the cab of the pickup truck which was all they owned. Instead of mixing blood in her hair to make it a pleasing color, Mother had to leave hers black, and tie it up out of the way with an old rag. Then they would drive to whatever field needed weeding or harvesting, and Xochitl stayed with the truck while Grandfather and Mother worked in the field. When she was five years old, she joined them there.

Spanish they spoke with the other workers, bits of English with the bosses, on the rare occasions they saw white men in the fields; but Nahuatl, their own language, among themselves. Every word was precious, like beaten gold, or quetzal feathers; for if they forgot a word, it was forgotten for all time.

The best times were the evenings, after they'd eaten their bit of dinner and put out the fire. They'd sit in the cab of the truck, with the stars shining high above (until the windows fogged over), and Grandfather would tell stories. Feathered Snake and Coyote, Quetzalcoatl and Coyotl, were her favorites; the warrior god and the Trickster. But there were others, Nine Shell Knife the king, Eagle who caught Snake and ate him on the Cactus, Worm at the heart of the World, all the stories of her People, more stories than People now. "Remember," said Grandfather in the dark cab. "Remember," said Mother on the other side of her. Then they would sleep, the grown-ups leaning against the locked doors, Xochitl curled on the seat between them, or stretched out with her head in Mother's lap, a scrap of rag for a blanket.

Grandfather died when she was eight, high noon in a shadeless field, the temperature over a hundred; just collapsed all at once, like a sack of bones. "Heart attack," they said, "heat stroke," they said, "just worn out and used up."

Then it was just Mother and her in the cab at night, telling each other the stories. Sometimes Mother would weep, because she could remember only part of a story; or because she missed Grandfather, or the man who had been Xochitl's father; or just from weariness, or loneliness, or hopelessness. Those were the times that scared Xochitl the most, when her mother wept.

When Xochitl was twelve years old the truck died. "Sorry, lady," the Anglo at the garage told her mother. "I'd install the part for free, really I would; but they just don't make it any more."

So then they couldn't get to the work, or even go from town to town looking for work, without standing by the side of the road for long, empty hours in the heat and the dust. Sometimes they got rides; but sometimes Xochitl had to wait in the sun, while Mother and the driver of the car or truck were inside. She didn't like that much; the noises they made scared her.

Sometimes Mother got a job for a while, cleaning floors or doing laundry or anything white people didn't want to do; but even then, sometimes, they didn't get money, only food or a bed to sleep in. They had no papers, so to protest would mean being sent to Mexico. Xochitl had never been to Mexico, but thought it must be a very bad place, if being sent there was so scary.

Finally la migra caught them, men with sunglasses like cops, who talked at them in Spanish and English, and yelled as if that made understanding better. The last time Xochitl saw Mother, she was being held by two men while a grim-faced woman put handcuffs on her wrists. But she'd already given Xochitl the little bit of money and food they had; now she began fighting the Anglos, yelling and kicking and biting and screaming. But in all that were Nahuatl words, too: "Run!" and "I love you!" and "Remember!"

Xochitl ran. For twenty years she ran, from the fields of the Central Valley to, finally, San Francisco; from thieves, rapists, bullies, tormentors of every kind, not always successfully. And she remembered that once, she had been loved. And she repeated the stories to herself, over and over.


Adam went back to the Presidio. There was no sign that anyone had used the boulder nest again. Disappointed, he tried to think where she might go next.

Tracking a person is rarely a matter of following one mark after another. Even a careless American will not leave a print with every step, and a wild creature like Xochitl would leave very few. Mostly the terrain itself restricts where a person can go. Impassable woods, unknown mountain passes, the need to find water, and other factors determine the path of the pursued. None of these were specifically true in the City, but the principles were the same. Xochitl needed water, shelter, and food, preferably fresh food begged from tourists or bought with money they had given her, rather than retrieved from garbage cans.

Eight blocks south of the Presidio, Golden Gate Park ran for over three miles, from Stanyan Street west to the Ocean. Not only did it have woods for shelter and lakes and drinking fountains for water, it also had tourist attractions like the Arboretum and the buffalo enclosure. Adam decided to look there before giving up.

An hour later he sat on one of the benches along Kennedy Drive, watching Xochitl feeding leftover hamburger bun to squirrels. Some tourist had given her a whole Big Mac in the Music Concourse while Adam watched. Like a wild animal afraid her food would be taken away from her, she had retreated from the museum area to eat it. Adam's heart ached to see how her stomach, shrunken by long privation, wouldn't let her eat the whole meal. Biding his time, he watched her devour the meat and the salty fries, before giving up on the rest.

She sat on a bench across the road and down from him, tossing bits of food to animals, talking to herself. Adam's ears confirmed what he had expected; the ramblings that gave Crazy Maria her name were the legends of her people, muttered to herself in Nahuatl, in an attempt to keep them alive. He walked over and squatted down in front of her. "Hello, grand-daughter," he said in the Nahuatl language.

She looked at him, and he wasn't one of the People. Or was he? The faces of her mother and her grandfather had faded, and they were the only People she'd ever known. He wasn't white, that was for sure, or black, or Spanish.

"Who are you?" she said in Nahuatl. "Why do you call me grand-daughter?"

"Thou art Xochitl, art thou not?" he said, using forms she hadn't heard in twenty years or more. "I am the walking spirit of thy grandfather's grandfather's grandfather. I have been looking for thee for a long time, all over the wide world."

"You're a liar," she said, out of a lifetime's bitter experience.

"I am moonlight on silver, obsidian at midnight. I fade, even as I speak to thee. But before I am gone, let me take care of thee. The last princess of the People should lack for nothing."

"Oh, you lie so sweetly," she said.

"Anything I said in this language would be sweet to thee; well I know it. But I do not lie. I am wealthy; let me arrange for thee while I can." He got up, slowly, and sat on the bench beside her.

"Oh," she cried, "where wert thou when I needed thee before? When my mother needed thee? When my grandfather did?" She began to snuffle, clumsily and messily.

"Ah, my flower, my little star," said Adam in Nahuatl, and hugged her close. He gave her a handkerchief and rocked her while she cried. She couldn't be even forty years old! "If I had known, if only I had known," he said to himself, in Keftiu.

Finally she stopped weeping. He kissed the top of her head, dirty hair and all, and stood. "Come with me, sweet heart," he said, and held out his hand. She took it.

Between relief at finding Xochitl, grief over Graciela, sleepiness and weariness, it was small wonder that the first he knew of the attack was the knife piercing his side.

But surprise was the only advantage the street punk had. Adam was stronger, faster, tougher, and more experienced. It would've been a cliché to say that he'd been in more knife fights than his attacker had eaten breakfasts. But it was also, literally, true. Adam clamped his right hand on the knife, holding it exactly where it was, spun left, and hit the knife wielder in the face with his left elbow. Xochitl heard teeth break, winced, and put a hand over her own bad teeth. The punk's brain sloshed in his skull, and he fell without a sound, unconscious and probably concussed.

Adam looked around. Golden Gate Park, this late in the day, was largely deserted. The De Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences were closed, and the little glade where the attack had taken place was the other side of the Japanese Tea Garden from them, anyway. He could hear cars on Park Presidio Boulevard, but trees blocked vision between.

"Can you lift him onto your right shoulder?" he asked Xochitl. She looked doubtful; she'd lived too long on a poor diet, and wasn't strong. Nevertheless, under his eye, she managed it, and the two of them carried the gangster, one arm over her right shoulder, one arm over Adam's left, south to his car at Fifteenth and Lincoln. Adam opened the trunk, they shoved the punk in, and Adam locked it. Xochitl didn't ask why they hadn't just left him where he'd fallen, for which Adam, snappish from the pain of his wound, was duly grateful. It didn't seem the time to explain that the punk had stopped breathing, and Adam didn't want to leave any evidence for the police, self defense notwithstanding.

Mostly he was angry at himself for letting the punk kid walk up behind him and stick him with a knife! Holding it still, so that it didn't wiggle around and do more damage, and let more blood leak out, was forcing him to drive one-handed, but that was just an inconvenience. If the blade had been longer than a pocket knife, or the punk had cut his throat, Adam could have died just then. And if that had happened, he'd've been so embarassed and humiliated, he told himself, that he'd've had to haunt himself!

OK, really need to get sleep soon, he thought.

Yet despite the unexpected encounter, Adam was satisfied with the day's work. Looking over at his passenger, he saw that Xochitl had fallen asleep. Holding his muscles tight around the burning pain in his side, he drove south and east through twisting, climbing streets to his lawyer's house. He turned the wheels against the curb and set the parking brake carefully, on the steep street; then he shook Xochitl awake gently.

"Say nothing about the man in the trunk," he said in her language, as he pressed the bell on the wrought-iron gate outside the door.


The ring of his doorbell made Bogale Makonnen look up from his book, a frown on his heavy dark face. It was not that it was so very late, and it was Saturday night anyway. But the time between dinner and bed was his time for reading, and all his friends respected that. So either a stranger was ringing his bell, or something was very wrong.

The doorbell rang again. Bogale put a leather bookmark in his place with a sigh, put the book down on the table next to his reading chair, and got up. On the way to the door the damned bell rang a third time! "Yes, yes, I am coming!" he shouted. When he got to the door, he pulled it open with a crash, then stopped in amazement.

Adam Evenson, the young nephew of his old friend Abel (Christ have mercy on him), stood in the doorway, half held up by a street creature in filthy rags. It was an appalling spectacle to appear on a respectable Ethiopian lawyer's porch!

"Bogale," Adam said, "by Christ and all the saints, I beg your help."

Xochitl understood not a word. Bogale was amazed again. "You speak Amharic?!!"

"Yes," Adam said in a thin voice. "Please…"

"Come in, come in," the lawyer said, and led the way to a couch, where he helped Xochitl ease Adam down. "Are you badly hurt?"

"You should see the other guy," Adam said in English. He pulled his coat open with his left hand, revealing that his right hand was holding the handle of a knife stuck in his right side. "I need a doctor you trust," he continued in the Ethiopian's language, "then your services as a lawyer."

"This is very bad," Makonnen said. "I should call the police."

"Bogale," Adam said breathlessly, "You were my uncle's lawyer since 2716, in the calendar of the Romans. He told me how he got you out of Ethiopia, and what you have done for him since then. Please, by the friendship between my house and yours, help me."

"How can I say no to that?" Makonnen said. Within the hour a doctor was there. "This is Alem," Bogale said. "You may trust him."

"Hello, Alem," said Adam, and described, in precise medical terms, exactly how he was wounded, exactly how the knife lay, and exactly what the damage was. "And do you wish to treat the injury, too?" Alem said waspishly; just as dark as Bogale, but slender, with glasses. "I only came to bring you supplies, is that so?"

"By no means, Doctor. I just wanted you to have as much information as possible," Adam said with a fragile smile. Then Alem (Adam never learned his last name) drew out the knife, marveled at how little blood came with it, felt for internal bleeding and found none, injected local anaesthetic, sewed Adam up, and bandaged him.

"No doubt a clever fellow like yourself knows the signs of internal bleeding, yes? And will watch for them, yes?" Alem said.

"You have my word on it," Adam said in Amharic, wrote the doctor a check for his services, and thanked him again.


Xochitl threw up in the cleanest toilet she'd ever seen, in the fanciest bathroom she'd ever dared to enter. She didn't want to dirty it with her spew, but between hunger, and weariness, and the fear and shock of the last two hours, it was the toilet or the floor, no other choice.

She didn't know the white man who'd stabbed the man or ghost she accepted now as one of the People; but she knew his kind. He was a predator, the kind of animal she'd run from ever since she'd been on her own. Of course he would try to kill anyone who would help her! That's what that kind of animal did. Still on her knees by the toilet, she hung her head and wept, desperately sick of the world and the miseries it went on inflicting upon her.


Bogale's niece and office assistant, Lakech, was a proud, independent young woman with a B.A. in Psychology, working towards her Master's. How dare her uncle call her and ask her to take care of some street creature, as if she were some village girl fit only to do menial chores! She was too angry to drive; she stomped up the hill to her uncle's house, rehearsing curses he probably wouldn't believe she knew, until she unloaded them on him, and quit!

Then Uncle Bogale took all the force from her argument, the dirty silver-tongued lawyer, by telling her how shameful it was to ask her to take care of some dirty woman off the street, telling her how smart she was, and how accomplished she was, and how it disgraced the memory of her father, the brother whom he'd loved so much, but he had no one else to call upon now but her, and wouldn't she please do this one thing for him, before she quit his employ and doubtless never came to see her poor old uncle again?

It was most unfair! Lakech knew she was being played, yet had to admire the artistry of it. By the time he was done, she was feeling sorry for him, even though she knew better. Stalking down the hall like a cat balked of its prey (if she'd had a tail, it would have been switching dangerously!), she was about to fling the bathroom door open with a crash, when she heard sobbing from within. All the misery of the world was in that sobbing, like a child who's been mistreated all of her life. It was like a child's sobbing, unpracticed, full of messy snuffling. Lakech felt her heart melt.


There was a knock on the bathroom door, then it opened, and a black girl came in. She wasn't dressed like the black girls Xochitl saw on the streets. Like the man who'd opened the street door for her and her spirit-ancestor, this girl had more modest clothes than the street girls of her age that Xochitl was used to, and didn't reek of too much perfume. Xochitl guessed they weren't Americans; they certainly weren't street.

The girl said something; Xochitl didn't understand a word. She shook her head. The girl said, in English and Spanish, "Food? Comida? Are you hungry? Hambre?"

"Sí, yes, food please, por favor," said Xochitl. The girl nodded, flushed the toilet, and helped her up. In a warm kitchen, she gave the Nahuatl woman a ceramic bowl of thick Ethiopian red lentil and onion soup, a heavy metal spoon to eat it, and fresh cold milk in a glass, not a cardboard fast-food container.

"More? Más?" Xochitl said hopefully, after gulping it down. Lakech temporized, afraid that the poor creature would vomit if given any more right away.

"Yes, but first clean," said the girl. Back they went to the bathroom, where the girl took away her clothes, filled the tub, and helped her get in. She hadn't been bathed since she was ten; she fell asleep while Lakech washed and shampooed her hair, scrubbed her, rinsed her, and dried her off. She barely woke enough to put on (new! clean!) pajamas, and crawl into a (soft! clean!) bed in a (warm! safe!) room. "Thank you so much," she said in Nahuatl, and crashed into sleep.


"She's fed, clean, and asleep," Bogale Makonnen told Adam.

Adam kneaded the back of his neck with his left hand. "Don't say 'sleep' to me," he begged.

Bogale was surprised how concerned he felt. But Adam was very much like his uncle, and the old man had been a good friend. "You look like you could use forty years of it yourself, my friend."

"That's the plan," said Adam. "Now, have I made clear what I want you to do? It's not your understanding I doubt," he added, "but my own clarity."

"Set up a trust fund with the Foundation for the young lady upstairs, and see to her physical and mental health needs, including American citizenship. Set up another Foundation trust fund for one Graciela Luisa Corona, but don't tell her about it unless she finds herself in need of the money. Have you declared legally dead as soon as possible, if something should happen to you. Amend your will so that your personal estate is divided between the two ladies."

"Thank you. I know it's asking a lot, but how soon can you have all that ready for my signature?"

"If it is an emergency, I could have the documents ready by tomorrow afternoon. But they will have to be probated, you know."

"All I can do is sign them. The rest I have to leave to you."

"You are trusting me quite extravagantly," Bogale said. "This sole executorship could be used by an unscrupulous person to take all your money, and quite a bit of Foundation money, as well."

"But would an unscrupulous person warn me? My uncle believed in you. I'll just have to rely on his judgment," Adam said with a smile.

At the door, Adam paused. "One last thing. Someday, when she's ready for it, give her this." He took a CD case from his coat pocket and gave it to the lawyer.

Bogale looked at the unmarked disk inside. "What is this? It is not labeled."

"No," Adam said. "It's all the legends of Xochitl's people. My voice is not good, but there was no one else to sing them."

"This may be worth a lot of money."

"I doubt it," said Adam. "Who would accept it as authentic? Nevertheless, it's priceless—to Xochitl."


Graciela sat up. She hadn't imagined it! Someone was knocking on her door at—she looked at the clock by her bed —two in the morning. Now who—"Adam?" she whispered.

No, no, I'm mad at him, damn it, said her mind, while her feet raced for the door. He's going to hurt me, said her heart, thumping painfully in her chest. Oh no, said all of her, seeing him through the peephole, and Yes! at the same time. She hastily undid the bolts and threw open the door.

By rights it should have been very awkward. They didn't let it be. Whether he seized her, or she flew to him, no one could have said. But as soon as the door was out of the way, they were in each other's arms, kissing each other, and uttering endearments between the kisses.

After a few moments Adam said, "You must be cold," feeling how thin her pajamas were, and seeing her bare feet. He picked her up, with a grimace for the wound he'd forgotten, and carried her into her apartment, closing the door with his foot.

"No," Graciela said, when he would have put her down, "through there," and pointed.

"Are you sure?" he said, in one last try for sanity.

"Querido," she said, and began kissing him again, light as a sparrow in his arms, her hair falling like ink all around them. Reason fled. He carried her to her bed, and laid her down upon it.

Then they made love, slowly, deliciously, with infinite attention to detail. He kissed every inch of her, from head to toe, and then worked his way up again. And she him, discovering his wound, and being promised he would tell her about it, and everything else—later.

Much later, as it happened, after hours of kisses and caresses, after tongue and hand had brought fiery climax to them both, after she had lowered herself carefully upon him and climax came again, after more kisses, and a shower they shared, and back to bed to lie in each other's arms, for the moment quite, quite spent.

So do two people discover each other, and learn each other fully, the first time they commit themselves together. Oh how often it grows familiar, even conventional, and the first fire is lost even to memory, over time! But for them there would be no other occasion. He knew it, she sensed it, and they made love as if the world were ending; because for them it was.

"You do love me," she said, with conviction.

"I believe that I've never loved anyone as much as I love you," he said. "Isn't that foolish? I've known you only three weeks, and I love you so very dearly. And still I must go."

"Tell me why," she said, believing him, accepting him, and needing to know. Later she would hurt, later she would cry, all her life she would miss him; right now she said, simply, tell me why.


After eighty years awake, he said, I need to sleep, just as an ordinary man does after sixteen hours. And as he sleeps for eight hours, so I sleep for forty years.

For thousands and thousands of years this has been so. I live at two speeds at once; for the days pass by me at the same rate they do everyone else, when I'm awake, and for eighty years or so I live as other people do, only I don't sleep. And then for forty years I sleep, and wounds heal, and missing parts grow back, and I wake to face the world again. So I live at one rate, the rate of everyone else; but I sleep and age at another, where 120 years is one day.

And that is why I must leave you, my darling, he said, stopping for a moment to kiss her deeply. Not because I want to—oh, how much I don't want to! But I last woke in 1909, by the year count of the Christians, and I am weary unto death for lack of sleep.

I don't know my exact age; I'm far older than calendars. I was born when the glaciers covered Europe, and my North African home was lush and green and filled with life. The tribe to which I belonged followed the herds of antelope and zebra and giraffes, picking off the young and the weak, as did the other predators, the lions and jackals and giant weasels.

I was fifteen years old or so when I stopped falling asleep. My tribe almost killed me then, for it marked me as one of the monsters, the giants and ogres and other things the human race frequently produced back then. But they let me live, and I repaid them by becoming a great hunter and a great scout. With all night to hunt or scout or just to think, I could do a lot for them.

That first time I was only awake twenty years or so before I fell asleep. I don't know why. I've seen others like me down the ages (very few, and more in earlier times than lately), and the first waking period can be anything up to the full eighty years, for no reason I can figure.

Most of us die when first we fall asleep. Our tribe thinks us dead and buries us, and we suffocate in our sleep; or embalms us, and so murders us unwittingly; or abandons us, and animals devour us; or we die a host of other ways, as we lie there defenseless.

But the sons and grandsons of my contemporaries came to revere me by the time I fell asleep, and kept watch over me. As I lay dead but unrotting, for year after year, reverence became something more. By the time I woke, I was their god.

And nearly died again, for upsetting their religion and their politics. A sleeping god was a cornerstone of society; an awake one was just a trouble maker.

So I left; and ever since I've wandered the world, living forty years here, forty years there, and sleeping another forty in some secure haven I prepare ahead of time.

I know that the Chinese dragon is a lion, because I remember when the proto-Chinese drew that symbol and still recalled what it meant, a couple of thousand years before they became a single nation. I know that the feathered serpent of pre-Classical Mesoamerica is a lion, too—because they took it from me, when I came here during the Dark Ages, bearing a lion's head on my shield. Not knowing lions, which had gone extinct in the New World thousands of years before, they saw the picture as a snake's head surrounded by feathers, and called me Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan, Feathered Serpent.

And that's the other reason I stayed awake so long this time. Xochitl, by her language, is the last descendant, not of me (I've never been able to have children), but of the people who knew me. They thought I would come back some day, as others have thought, before and since. So when Hernán Cortés landed, the Nahuatl Speaker, Mocteczuma, didn't fight him as hard as he should have, thinking him me. Then he changed his mind, and killed Cortés, and the Spanish and their native allies massacred the Nahuatl. So an entire civilization died, because of me.

To rescue the last of them is the least I can do.


"But couldn't you come back, when you woke?" Graciela said, warm and lovely in his arms.

"I never come back," he said gently. "Either everyone I loved is dead, or worse still, they aren't. If they're alive, after forty years, they look at me unaged, and they curse me, and hate me. My heart can't take it any more. If I don't go back, then in my mind they're still alive, and they still love me."

"My poor love," said Graciela. "How long have you lived like this?"

"I don't know exactly," Abel/Adam said. "The Ice Age in which I was born lasted from about 1.64 million years ago to ten thousand years ago, the scientists say. If forty years age me eight hours, then 43,800 years age me one year. I was about fifteen when I stopped sleeping, and I seem to be about 38 now—a million years ago is about right."

"I saw the migration out of Africa, a band or tribe at a time, over generations. I helped raise the walls of the first cities, and the ones after those, and the ones after those, the earliest that are known today. I saw the first Chinese kingdoms founded, and the kingdoms of India, and of Egypt. I saw the settlement of the European plain by waves of people from the Near East and western Asia. I sailed on the boats that discovered Polynesia. I saw the Americas settled the first time, and the second, and the third; and I was living here when the fourth wave began, from Europe this time."

"Did you see Atlantis?" Graciela asked.

Adam laughed gently. "Atlantis is a myth, love. One of the Minoan islands, Thera, was a volcano, and it blew up. That's where your legends of Atlantis come from. I was asleep in a nobleman's tomb in Kemet—Egypt—when it happened, but I woke up not ten years afterwards."

"And you can't die?" she said softly.

"Of course I can," he answered. "Shoot me, stab me, hit me with a car, set me on fire—but I'm very good at staying alive, or I'd be long gone. Another part of my makeup is, bit by bit I grow stronger, and tougher, and taller. In the last few generations people as a whole have shot past me in height, but only a couple of centuries ago I was a very tall man. Tall or not, though, I'm tougher than a bear, and stronger than an ox."

"And you won't be back?" she said again.

"Querida, it's going to be hard enough losing you," Adam said. "Please don't ask me to lose you twice."

"I've never told anyone else what I've told you," he went on. "Anyone else I would have promised to come back, or just slipped away in the night. But I couldn't stand to have you not knowing what happened to me, to be hurt that way, to come to hate me. To be long-lived is to lie, constantly, to everyone you meet for age after age—who you are, where you come from, what you know, everything about yourself. To you, only to you, I just couldn't lie."

"Thank you for telling me," she said, and pulled him close.


On Monday a package was brought to the Don, which had been left in one of the places his people did business. In it was a human finger, adorned by a ring; a knife; and a note in purest Sicilian of a bygone age.

My very dear sir, it said,

I observed the close attention and careful lack of interference which your people awarded me after our last communication, and I thank you for your very great courtesy. It is wonderful to see that honor and family are still respected by some in these degenerate times.

Unfortunately, the bearer of the enclosed finger and knife (which I send for no purpose except that of identification) chose not to obey your instructions. He attacked me with the knife, and has paid the price for his folly.

I regret the demise of another of your people at my hands, but please believe, sir, that he left me with no alternative. If it pleases you, know that he wounded me before he met his end.

I wish I could make this up to you, but I have found my grand daughter, and am removing her from this city at once. I very much fear that you will never see either of us, or the body of your soldier.

Please accept, sir, my fondest esteem, which you have earned by your wisdom and courtesy.

The Don flicked the box containing the finger and the knife with a hand, distastefully. "Whose are these?" he demanded.

"Signore, they belong to Guglielmo Travaglio, the older brother of Leonardo Travaglio, who survived this person's first attack," the Don's number two man said.

"His attack?" said the Don. "I think not."

"So," he said, "the stranger is gone? Willie Travaglio is gone? And who else?"

His second spread his hands. "Some derelicts, perhaps. They come, they go, they die even. Who knows?"

The Don scowled. "Most unsatisfactory. Bah, the matter is beneath us. Dispose of this trash, and forget it."


The oldest man in the world drove carefully east on Interstate 80 out of California in a clunker bought for cash, the afternoon sun beating down on the back of the car, looking for a turnoff he'd last seen almost sixty years ago, and stayed away from ever since. He'd reset his odometer at the Nevada border, and began to concentrate when it reached 50. Presently he pulled over and stopped.

He opened the trunk. The body inside had been wrapped in many layers of plastic sheeting, and then zipped into a used sleeping bag bought with cash at a Goodwill store. It had stiffened in rigor mortis and then passed beyond that. He placed the bundle over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, and began to walk away from the road, walking north into the trackless desert.

On this last chore the images from his past rose around him like a wave, threatening to overwhelm him with memories. Memories from cold and wet places especially tormented him in the Nevada sun. It would've been wiser to do this at night, when it was cooler. But he feared to miss some poorly-remembered landmark, and his desperate sleepiness didn't allow him to wait any longer.

He saw the war canoes, full of strong brown men armed with clubs and shields, crash through the surf to the beach. Were they Polynesian canoes in New Zealand? Kwakiutl canoes in Oregon? No matter.

Thunor and Tiw faced him in the holmgang, snarling hate and defiance, the faces of the whole village watching the three of them.

He parted the bushes with shield and sword, and there was a pyramid; but not one of the smooth sealed edifices of the Kemtiu. This one was flat-topped with stairs up the sides, and had a whole city around it. So they did have cities, after all!

The snow stung his face as he raced to keep the reindeer from escaping. It was a stubborn bull, who didn't want to stay with the herd. He threw himself on the shaggy neck, and the Sami shouted approval.

Stars blazed in the cold air, and breath steamed from their lips. The old Hindu walked him through the strange roofless walls and buildings, which were really instruments for measuring star positions, and explained how they were used.

"I'll kill you!" Rasputin shouted. The giant Russian, over six hundred years old, didn't yet realize that the American soldier he faced was another like himself, but far older. He charged, filthy hands reaching…

Adam stopped. The boulder before him, tall as he was, flat on one side, was his destination. It weighed tons; and under it was the key and papers for Adam's resting place. He set down his burden, took a drink of water from the canteen on his belt, and rested a moment.

The stars burned in the desert air. Men had lived on the Moon now for eighteen years, and the first Mars expedition had been approved by the U.N., to be built in orbit starting in 1991 or 1992. There was talk of an expedition to Titan, too; and right now, in orbit, buoys marked where construction teams would lay the keel of man's first starship—if the Childe people were men. Maybe his next life would be on another world?

Adam started awake in panic, realizing that he'd dozed off and slept through sunset. He shivered, and began carefully stretching and warming up.

He was stronger all the time; forty thousand years ago he wouldn't have been able to shift the rock in front of him. Sixty years ago it had taken all his strength, and he'd been rested and unwounded. But sleeping without careful preparation against discovery meant death; he had to move the rock, wound or no wound.

He didn't have to lift it, or push it along the ground; just tilt it from one flat part of its bottom to another, uncovering the hollow beneath it. The desert ground, baked into a cement-like crust that yielded a stone only reluctantly, was his enemy; but gravity would actually be on his side, once he passed the pivot point.

He put his back against the stone, and slowly began pushing, laying into the burden gradually, rather than jerking his muscles. In softer ground, his boots would have dug great holes, assuming the soil gave him purchase at all. Here in the desert, the hardpan dented only slightly beneath his feet. He put his whole body into it, making a total effort with every muscle, for long, long minutes. Then he let up, as carefully as he'd started.

The rock didn't seem to have moved; but there was, he was pleased to note through the pounding of his head, a hairline crack in the desert cement at its base, all the way around.

He took a little more water, and a thought struck him. Laughing softly, he pulled down his pants, and pissed along the base of the rock, right on the crack. Maybe it would soften the rocklike ground. It couldn't hurt, he thought, as he fastened his pants again.

He laid into the rock again, and exerted all his strength. After a few minutes, he felt it begin to move. Then a searing pain doubled him over, and the boulder shifted back.

"Merda," he muttered, dabbing at the blood on his shirt; "Shit," in Latin. He'd pulled a stitch or two, reopening the wound. It had felt like being stabbed all over again.

No matter. Unless he tore himself apart, or bled to death before getting to sleep, he would heal whatever he did to himself tonight. He'd healed a spear thrust to the gut once, the loss of an eye another time, even a broken back.

Once more he took up the slack in his body, and shoved against the rock—ignoring his weariness, ignoring the throbbing in his head, ignoring the blood tickling him as it slid down his belly. And the boulder, finally, tilted, rocked through forty degrees, and stopped in its other position.

Adam slid to the ground, curled himself around the pain in his side, and just breathed for a few minutes.

At last he got to his hands and knees, reached under stone, and pulled out a pouch of thick leather. It was dry and cracked, but still intact. The papers inside weren't even yellowed; they'd seen no light or moisture for six decades. The key with them he put carefully into his wallet.

Next he picked up Willie's remains and pushed them into the hole. He didn't worry about how they bunched up, as long as all the sleeping bag was inside the broken crust marking the rock's original position.

One more effort, then. The rock moved in one direction more easily than the other. One hard push, and it slipped away from him and crashed back into place with a crackling of crushed bones. Once again it stood exactly as it had for sixty years; only now, instead of hiding papers for him, it was the anonymous headstone of a man who'd knifed him.

Adam pounded the desert cement around the rock's base back into sand with a hand-sized rock, then threw the rock as far as he could away from the road, further yet into the desert. In a few days or weeks of sun, the seal around the boulder would be solid as ever, with no crack to show he'd ever broken it.

The walk back to the car was easy, with no burden, with his object gained, with no sun burning down on him. He tossed the pouch onto the passenger seat, got in, and started the engine.

The desert stars, undimmed by city lights, were no brighter than his hopes. Men learned, and civilization moved forward. Twice in the last hundred years, artificial retroviruses has been turned loose—first the high-tech, sharply-targeted Green Cold, then the crude HIV virus, which by comparison was much harder to catch, had a lower fatality rate, and differed much less from its natural simian antecedents. But weapons always got turned into tools, and maybe, just maybe, before he was a biological year older, the rest of mankind would be long-lived, too.

He drove onto the highway and accelerated. He would buy a new car in Reno and continue on; he hadn't lived this long by sleeping in earthquake country. All his promises for this life Adam had kept, but he still had miles to go before he slept.

About This Story

I attended the meetings of a writers group when I lived in Oregon. One of the first things I submitted to them was a version of this story, under the title "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". There were no useful or helpful comments from the group, which I would gradually realize was typical of them.

The main character naturally doesn't go around thinking about who he is, and where he comes from, any more than the rest of us do. I think Paul McCartney said it best, when he told an interviewer, "I don't get out of bed in the morning and look in the mirror and say, 'Good morning, ex-Beatle Paul. How are you today, ex-Beatle Paul.' I'm just me, you know." Or something very close to that, anyway.

But "writing for publication" requires that you immediately tell the reader what's going on, because the reader is assumed to have the attention span of a six-year old and no interest in trying to figure anything out. Oh yes, a car chase or a gun fight is mandatory, too.

So most of the comments were things like "I got bored waiting to find out who he was," with a sprinkling of things like "he wouldn't last five minutes in a bar fight," and "sex with a knife wound! What a man!" that showed they hadn't understood the parts about strength and stamina, or even knew that not all sex acts require the man on top, pumping away as hard as he can. And these were writers, some of them, and would-be writers, the rest of them!

Anyway, I put it aside for a few years. When I set up my web site, I knew that "Lion" would be on it someday, but there's so much else I had to do, and…

On February 10, 2003, the hard disk of my computer developed bad sectors, and I took the whole thing in to a little shop to get it fixed. That meant no computer for a week; what would I do in the meantime?

What I did was write "Lion" from scratch, without any reference to the first version, which was backed up on CD but inaccessible. By the time I got my computer back, on the 18th, I had 50 pages of single-spaced handwritten lines, with a lot of new stuff in it. For example, the Sleep of Reason storyline wasn't even a glimmer when I did the first version of the story; and I hadn't been to Korea, so no scene in the Korean restaurant.

It took me until March 4th to select bits of the first version to use in in the second, type the whole thing into my computer, and put it on my web site. And now that I'm recreating my web site, I've rewritten the story and posted it under the title "Graciela"; I'm going to reserve the title "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for the series and future collection. I'd be pleased to hear from anyone who wants to drop me a line, whether praise or constructive criticism. Just don't expect any car chases or shootouts.

—Leo David Orionis
San Ysidro, California
a.d. 4 Kalendas Martias, 2771 A.U.C.
(Monday, February 26, 2018 A.D.)
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