Excerpt for Virtual Wrongs by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Cruise Crisis

Published by Troim Kryzl at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 Troim Kryzl

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“You look tired, eBitha dear. How come? Aren’t you aware we’re supposed to live in paradise? Anything bothering you? Anyone I should beat up, to bring back your smile?”

Vick ducks behind his fists and dances around, boxer style, striking out at the imagined foe. His scarred black face would fit the mean ghost image, but not his flowery shirt and blue shorts. Vick is the alter ego of a pot-bellied craftsman knowingly making a fool of himself.

The pretty lady at his side does him the favor to laugh, shaking her head. eBitha won’t admit she’s indeed tired, never mind why. Some of her circumstances are nobody else’s business. Not even her best virtual friend is allowed that close. Too dangerous, for her originator and her next of kin back up in the real world. eBitha needs to act responsibly, at all times.

This is her break. She has been working since two o’clock in the morning, and will soon be at it again, until eleven. eBitha is on Kartaja time, to make sure no one expects her to attend any meetings in person. Without a real world body, she can’t.

Vick and eBitha have met at the boardwalk cafe, for an early cup of coffee. Their way to start the day, ever since they were released into the 1kYears resort.

Vick won’t go without a proper breakfast for long. Fast forward half an hour, he will reconsider dieting and get himself a full meal at his favorite diner.

An old tradition of his, brought over from real life. His originator Mickey Monrogue only ever loses a perpetual battle with his appetite, never any of his excess weight. No problem for the ghost, he will stay exactly as solidly built as he was on the day of his download. Vick sticks to the traditional schedule anyway, to remind himself of what he isn’t missing. Such joy, to go for second helpings without fear of boosting his BMI.

Out of breath, Vick gives up his shadow boxing and asks the barbot for a glass of orange juice. Well chilled, but no ice cubes. He’s served promptly, as usual.

Taking the first sip activates his techie brain. Vick once again marvels at the perfection of his virtual experience. Tastes exactly like he remembers well chilled orange juice. He even feels a hint of a discomfort, where his originator has a sensitive tooth. Amazing. 1kYears really puts in the extra watt, to ensure a pleasant food and drinks experience.

Recalling a conversation his originator had with one of the founders of the company, when he was on the 1kYears cruise to get himself downloaded, Vick feels his head heat up in shame.

Savory food and drinks are not alone in being vital for a ghost’s well-being. There’s something else that is supposed to be similarly well engineered. Not a thought a decent man should be having in the presence of a young lady. Any onlooker will despise Vick for it.

Vick’s originator has been into 3D printing for too long, no one will succeed in convincing him of ghost privacy. If it’s digital, it can be hacked. It might be hard to break in, it might take long to overcome whatever encryption, but it’s possible. Someone might be reading Vick now, and will consider him a bad boy, for thinking sex in eBitha’s presence. Shame.

Vick is perfectly well aware such a beautiful young thing is out of reach. Surprised eBitha doesn’t mind to be seen with uncle Vick, as she calls him. She looks very much like her originator Tabitha Tiryaki, minus the wheelchair the virtual alter ego is so proud not to need.

Such a pretty ghost should be beaming with perpetual happiness. eBitha looks tired instead. And will soon come up with one more excuse to rush back to her flat. Whatever she’s doing there must be both important and tiresome. But she won’t tell stupid old Vick about it:

“All fine, uncle Vick. And thanks for making me laugh, you’re the best. Need to run now, lots of stuff to do at home, busy day ahead. See you tomorrow!”

One more big smile, and off she runs. Vick smiled back, pretending to ignore the inconsistency. There’s perfectly no housekeeping to perform, in any type of resort accomodation. That’s one of the advantages, of virtual facilities. No dirt. If you spill drinks or food, you will have to wipe up the mess, or call in a servicebot, and that’s about it, for housekeeping. Whatever stuff eBitha is so busy performing day-in, day-out, it’s something else. She knows he knows, and is grateful for him not to ask. Which get’s him the smile. Good deal.

Time for a big plate of Katogo stew. Appreciating he no longer needs to go easy on matoke bananas, Vick heads off towards the diner with a spring in his heavy step. eBitha might be too young and slim to understand, but for him this is paradise.

Toddling along the boardwalk, Vick notices the surfers further up the beach. Quite a crowd out there today, at least half a dozen. But only two worth watching.

The short whitey with the very fair hair, of course. He’s at it every morning, when the surf is at its highest. A fanatic practitioner. Rumored to be flaming mad enough to die every odd day, because he insists on tackling waves that are beyond his surfing skills.

Most resort residents tut-tut such behavior. Vick won’t contradict them, he’s no fan of controversy. But in his inner private, he feels respect for the intrepid surfer. Dying for your passion, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, that’s brave. And a surprise, in a white boy.

The second expert surfer doesn’t do spectacular accidents, but he’s no less impressive. eTrev’s six feet seven black frame looks model athlete even at this distance.

His originator started as a heavy weight boxer before becoming an elite soldier. Or the other way round, the early days of the Trevor Whyte legend are told in many versions. Next he built a security company that is now active across sub Saharan Africa. Perfect antecedents for as much of a police chief as the 1kYears resort turned out to need after all.

After all... Vick smiles at this particular chapter of early 1kYears history. People, especially the happy kind who never experienced any tough, can be so naive.

The resort was not supposed to need any police, according to the rose tinted dreams of its founders. They expected the virtual alter egos of real, more often than not rich people, to behave all by themselves. Folks would download to live peacefully side by side forever thereafter.

Had they asked Vick’s originator, he would have predicted that ghosts would behave no better than the flesh-blood-and-vice templates from whom they are derived. Where there’s people, there’s trouble.

No two years into the experiment, the 1kYears founders had learned what Mickey Monrogue could have told them on day one. The resort needed a law enforcer, to resolve conflicts.

Trevor Whyte was talked into a download. His alter ego eTrev has been in charge of resort security ever since. He’s just one guy, but that’s sufficient. He’s so committed that he’ll abandon his surf board in mid-action in case of an alert. Any alert, from anyone, ghost or bot.

The 1kYears contract stipulates that no ghost is to impede any other ghost in his, her or their freedom and pursuit of happiness. All originators have to sign this clause and accept that their alter egos might otherwise end up in confinement. No signature, no download.

The occasional brute quickly learns that this is no empty threat. And that eTrev always sides with those who called him. The accused will get to argue his case and plead innocent, but he will do so after a chill-off period spent in his flat.

House arrest is eTrev’s answer to any misdeed. His DetainNow device makes it happen at once.

There’s some bar talk around eTrev being one more autocracy. 1kYears is a Ginerian company, a product of MMA creativity, and the Mehut Metropolitan Area didn’t invent civil rights:

“One more police state. Minus the bribes, which makes it all the more awful. There’s going to be a revolution, proud ghosts won’t make do with this for long. Certainly not for one thousand years...”

Not hard, to find a ghost talking like this under the virtual influence. But no action ever happens.

Suits Vick fine. He likes brutes contained. And he’s familiar enough with real police harassment, as experienced by his originator, to spot the difference.

Yes, you can get your fellow ghost arrested in a blink. But being forced to stay in one’s fine 1kYears resort flat, with access to all creature comforts, that’s no drama. Totally unlike rotting in a Pamkala cell, at the mercy of criminals and guards.

And it gets even better. In the resort, if you’re innocent, your house arrest won’t last.

A first hearing will take place in the twenty four hours following your arrest.

Nine fellow ghosts, four ladies, four guys and one non-affiliated, will be recruited by algorithm to hear both sides. They get access to the records. Once they have heard and seen it all, they decide whether the incident is to be considered an assault.

If yes, you stay in detention until the jury has determined your punishment, more house arrest. If no, the accusant will be warned to leave his fellow ghosts alone or risk detention.

It’s all well organized, much to Vick’s liking.

He has nearly reached the plaza with the diners when the eTrev suddenly abandons a good wave in mid run. Crime alert?

A couple of seconds later, eTrev’s head emerges much closer to the beach. He breaks into the kind of ferocious crawl only an athlete can keep up for more than three strokes. This is for real.

Vick pauses to watch where the law enforcer will head. Bit early for one more bar brawl at the plaza. The usual suspects never start going about their daily mischief before eleven. Muffins and mugs much less prone to altercations than burgers and pints.

No. When eTrev reaches the beach, he barely takes the time to pick up his towel and bag before sprinting in the opposite direction, outbound.

What the hell can be happening in the park before breakfast?

The sun is barely up, it’s still chilly. You’d have to walk fast, to keep yourself warm.

There have to be at least two people, a single person wouldn’t need eTrev’s help. There’s no wildlife in the resort, neither in the water nor in the forest. Whatever predator is a fellow ghost.

Vick changes direction to follow eTrev, at his own version of a fast pace. He wouldn’t dream of gawking. Taking an interest and broadening his horizon, that’s not gawking.

There’s no wall or fence surrounding the park, access is free at all times of the day.

The boardwalk just gets broader and greener, houses are replaced by sports grounds, and then comes the point where there’s just greenery. Big trees that would have taken hundreds of years to grow to this size, in real life. Bushes and hedges and an awful lot of lawn. Only the occasional green proves part of the park is also a sports facility, an eighteen hole golf course.

Vick never went further than the football field, preferring a swim for as much sports as he cares to practice. Better for knees that struggle under his weight.

Currently, Vick’s knees are fine. No protests yet, against this prolonged bout of fast walking.

Curiosity keeps him going: What could have happened in this leafy idyll, to send eTrev sprinting?

The law enforcer is no longer in view, has disappeared into a copse a couple of minutes ago. But Vick recalls the general direction well enough to be able to follow.

There’s a path cutting through the mini forest. Despite the sunshine at the far end, no more than one hundred meters away, Vick suddenly feels adventurous. He has been a city dweller all his life. Any more green than a parking lot with a hedge feels like the wild to him.

Reminding himself of the absence of animals, he keeps going anyway.

“Good morning!” go two ladies overtaking him.

Too busy listening to the funny noise of the leaves rattled by the early morning breeze, Vick hadn’t heard them coming. Joggers.

And another one, a very slim guy, coming up fast from behind. And a more bulky guy from the opposite direction, puffing like a steam engine, face as red as the inside of a water melon.

Vick discovers a completely new side to the 1kYears realm. This park isn’t just panorama.

There’s traffic, people are engaging in activities. Far more reassuring than the short moment of loneliness amid such a big lot of nature. Invigorated, he keeps walking.

When the copse finally gives way to the next expanse of lawn, Vick gets to see the full extent of the jogger phenomenon. At least a dozen people are at it.

One tight group of five, running in step, like a ten legged animal. Lone slows, mostly ladies. Lone fasts, mostly men. The pair that overtook him earlier, now catching up on a lone slow man.

eTrev is there, too. He’s with a group of three ladies. They stand out because they stand still, amid all that running. From afar, Vick can’t make out many details.

There’s eTrev still wearing nothing but his surf shorts, the bag and towel he picked up on the beach at his feet.

There’s a tall black lady in green and white jogwear. A massive presence, even when standing next to eTrev.

And there are two white ladies, both so slim their shadows can’t be more than lines on the lawn. The one in the black shirt is talking, waving spindly arms.

Vick keeps heading in their direction, planning for a slow by-walk.

This place is obviously dedicated to running, but there’s no ‘off limits to mere walkers’ sign in sight. And a jogger can switch to walking, if he runs out of breath. Vick’s outfit doesn’t qualify as jog-wear, but it’s casual enough to be considered a non-sporty person’s best attempt.

Approaching the group, Vick manages to make out single words.

Black shirt is very upset, and still doing all the talking. “Ignominy” features a lot.

A very sophisticated word. Black shirt must be an educated person. Whatever happened didn’t physically damage her, she’s standing, and gesticulating effortlessly.

Dark blue shirt nods to black shirt’s tale. Her head bobs up and down like a solar powered good luck cat waves. Whatever the ignominy, it also affects her.

The tall black lady raises her hands to signal she’d like a word, but she doesn’t get the chance.

eTrev’s body language tells her he prefers to listen to black shirt. He’s also taking notes, the conventional, pen and notebook way.

Vick wonders if the offender is already in confinement. The black lady clearly doesn’t agree with the slimmies, but she’s probably not the perpetrator, not aggressive enough.

Up this close, the white ladies look seriously sickly. They wear loose outfits hiding the full extent of their malnutrition, but there’s no flesh on their necks and their knees are bigger than their legs. Such poor creatures shouldn’t suffer additional injury. But nor should they jog. There’s barely anything left of them already.

“... and you can argue as long as you want, and you shut up, this is none of your business, and I don’t care what a medical professional would say, or even if he’s a medical professional, it’s still an ignominy. An ignominy! This is an ignominious attack on my right to enjoy myself, however I please to do it. I-gno-mi-ny. And I want it sanctioned. Sanctioned. And no, it is not enough, to have sent him home. An ignominy calls for a sanction. Sanction, you hear me?...”

“Good morning!” Vick has decided not to add “Any problems, anything I can do to help?”.

eTrev is reputed to feature a solid sense of humor, but they haven’t been introduced. Better to keep a low profile and just greet, like any polite stranger walking by.

eTrev automatically returns the greeting, as does the black lady.

The rackabones in the black shirt reacts with more verve, and not gently:

“Now you mind your own business, fattie! One more word, and you end up back home, too. Might be a good opportunity for a diet, as one look at a mirror will tell you. Just because you can’t keep your own weight in check doesn’t give you permission to comment on people’s sports...”

Vick stops short. The greeting achieved to get him involved, but not exactly as planned. He also strongly doubts there’s a rule against fat guys walking. There was no sign. He looks questioningly at the resort law enforcer in chief.

eTrev doesn’t get to restore peace just yet. The tall black lady cuts in:

“That’s enough now. You apologize to that man. He did no wrong, just said hi. Exactly the same as the doctor. We let you starve yourself to death, you leave us alone, that’s the deal...”

Black shirt doesn’t like that comment, but dark blue shirt doesn’t let her answer. Taking her elbow, she pulls her away to jog off, stating extra loud:

“Come on, Cathy, let’s not waste our precious breath on those big beep idiots. One look at them, we know what’s wrong. Best ignored, the big big beep eyesores...”

eTrev yells after them: “Thank you for retracting your charges, ladies, duly noted.”

Looking at Vick he continues, at a level voice: “Now, sir, please do confirm my favorable first impression and tell me you won’t file any charges? The tempestuous young lady shouldn’t have said what she said, but I’d rather not consider this a matter for policing, OK?”

Perfectly OK with Vick, obviously. And the perfect excuse to stay around.

eTrev doesn’t seem to mind and introduces him to vAlicia, the tall black lady. Next, he leads the two of them over to a group of trees, out of sight of the joggers. They have to turn around, to face away from a particular spot. Like guys do it when one of them has to piss outdoors.

But this is not about full bladders. There’s a faint buzz, before eTrev goes:

“Sorry, sir, for the confinement. The charges against you have meanwhile been retracted. If you wish to claim wrongful accusation and go for, let me check, eight minutes of remediation confinement for your accuser, now would be the moment. I’m advising against, in such minor cases, but it’s your choice. OK to leave it at that and have a nice day?”

A second male voice, very white American, upbeat and loud, answers:

“Sure, no problem, no charges. Just one question, officer, if you don’t mind. How did you manage to talk her out of it so fast? I would have guessed this to last at least an hour, and was just about to get me some coffee. What’s the trick here, officer?”

This proves that all rumors Vick has heard, about confinement, are true.

eTrev does indeed have a device allowing him to beam ghosts to their personal spaces. And back out, at the end of their confinement period.

No messy arrests, no one gets paraded in handcuffs. One moment, you stand where law enforcement found you. Next you’re in your flat.

Vick urges to ask what this feels like, but he can’t just interrupt the ongoing conversation. Instead, he listens to eTrev’s answer:

“No secret ingredient, sir, just luck. Always good to have luck on your side, for policing. This good law abiding citizen here, don’t even know his name yet, sorry, sir, happened to walk by. Your accuser seemed to consider his presence an affront. She was losing her temper, until her friend pulled her away. Off they went, retraction of charges, and out you went.”

Having become a topic of the conversation, Vick turns around to introduce himself to eTrev and his interlocutor. He discovers a white middle aged guy in good shape and well worn jogwear, the advert ready perfect smile confirming a high probability of US origins.

eTrev is smiling, too, but he’s not done trying to understand what happened.

He addresses both vAlicia and the doctor now:

“Any chance the two of you enlighten me, how this situation came about? This was no chance encounter, right? vAlicia, I’m looking at you. If there’s one thing I’m not keen on, that’s letting go a perfectly smooth wave to chase some stupid ghosts for nothing.”

vAlicia doesn’t hesitate to explain, confidently.

She readily admits she did ask doctor Fenner to join her for a jog and have a look at an issue. She knows she should call him eBern, because no titles for ghosts. But he’s still a doctor to her, so that’s what she calls him. And that’s why she asked him to join her.

She had noticed two very thin joggers. They come every day, always running for hours. Despite there being barely anything left of their bodies. No problem for ghosts, but what about their originators? She wanted doctor Fenner to have a look and provide counsel.

eBern nods along to vAlicia’s tale, flashing his perfect smile.

Vick wonders why the guy looks so pleased. His detention was comfy and short, OK. But he still brought himself to the attention of law enforcement, and that’s no point of pride.

vAlicia explains how she and doctor Fenner caught up with the “poor sticks”. And how the doctor, very politely, asked for permission to raise a health question. And how the girls stopped short to scream assault. As if the mentioning someone’s low BMI was an insult.

eTrev keeps up the smiling while listening to the mess.

Vick guesses there’s effort involved, because, honestly, why can’t people just mind their own business? The world would be a far more peaceful place. Too thin, too fat, that’s personal. And bad enough without anyone commenting. Vick feels with the girls.

eTrev isn’t done forcing the smile onto his face. Doctor eBern takes over from vAlicia.

He goes to great lengths to clarify his diagnosis. Two jogging cases of anorexia, his fancy medical word for too thin. An eating disorder, very dangerous. Hard to believe the originators managed to download, in such a pitiful state of emaciation. Anorexia ruins the brain.

The docotor only achieves to boost Vick’s reservations. The poor girls are called mental now, on top of having been declared too thin. This all adds up to a big insult, thrown at them by two strangers. They really had a point, calling for help.

Vick expectantly looks at eTrev. Will the cop live up to his reputation?

Still smiling forcefully, eTrev shakes his head and goes:

“vAlicia, eBern, I understand you acted out of the very best intentions. The resort community relies on its members to care, and care you did, so we owe you, thank you. But please do keep in mind that circumstances are vital. I suggest you refrain from jogging up on people to force them into a conversation about delicate topics. Your worries are justified, I can see that. But sometimes, there isn’t much you can do, about even the most obvious issues. Adults are entitled to acting stupid, both in real life and here in the resort. OK? How about breakfast?”

Vick is pleased with his law enforcer. Exactly how he feels, this very politely worded mix of praise and reprimand. And breakfast sounds like the perfect next step. He nods forcefully.

vAlicia and eBern look like reservations, but they don’t argue. They decline eTrev’s invitation, though, preferring to jog off. Not hard to guess they’re going to resume rubbishing the poor rackabones as soon as they’ll be out of earshot.

This leaves Vick alone with eTrev. The cop superficially dries himself before putting on a t-shirt and flip flops from his bag while asking:

“English or African, the breakfast? Any diner preferences? Your choice, sir, I’ll find something on any menu, never met any cooking I don’t fancy.”

Vick’s kind of guy, definitely. Except for one detail:

“If it’s really the same to you, officer, I love Ma Kya’s all you can eat breakfast at the Lakeside. You get to chose, food and additional spices. And Ma Kya really means it, the all you can eat, third helpings no problem. Just please don’t sir me, officer, you’ll send the place ROFLing.”

eTrev shoots back: “You stop the officer and call me eTrev, I stop the sir and call you Vick, OK?”

With that aspect of their relationship worked out, they’re ready to walk back downtown. Perfect opportunity for Vick to find out more, about resort policing.

The cop only needs few prompts to retell some of his latest best-ofs. Without mentioning names, of course. Except vAlicia’s, because Vick just met her in action.

Vick learns that the lady is a repeat customer. She’s only trying to make the 1kYears resort a better place, but often without waiting for consent. eTrev gets to meet her at least once a week, sometimes twice a day. He reminds her of the rules, she stands down. One day of confinement was sufficient to teach her when to stop pushing.

eTrev explains how there isn’t much crime in the 1kYears resort, overall.

With all imaginable needs virtually met, the ghosts lack a prime crime motivator, greed.

There is no point in cheating or stealing in a place where everything is free. Some ghosts take five yachts to learn they can’t ride more than one at once, but most settle down fast. It doesn’t make sense to use more space and stuff than they actually need for their favorite pastimes.

Leaves passion. Passions. They rage as strongly in this virtual world as in real life.

Romance, or more often the absence of it, triggers most incidents.

Despite the lottery that nowadays makes sure there’s a matching number of lady ghosts around. Most of them don’t care much, for the overblown egos of men rich enough to afford a download. They prefer to stay single. An attitude totally lost on some of the guy ghosts. They stalk, the target ladies balk. At some point, eTrev has to flash the tattoo on his left palm to restore peace.

Because there’s no arrest device. There’s just a tattoo, a circle with a kind of spiral pattern inside, on eTrev’s left palm. It’s considered a symbol of active nonviolence in some cultures, and looks better than the dove used in others.

eTrev only needs to point his ink at an offender and think “confinement” to get him transferred into his private quarters. Neat, fast and very efficient.

Sequestration will turn a ferociously fighting couple into two sensible people wondering why exactly they ended up all alone in their locked personal room in no time.

Besides couple trouble, there’s real world sports, religion and politics triggering the kind of strong feelings occasionally requiring eTrev’s intervention.

He had to separate Verlipool and Carbelona fans throwing beer mugs at each other over a disputed referee decision in the last minute of a Champions League final.

He had to pacify Hindus and Muslims reenacting partition clashes on the occasion of the Mars mission broadcast meant to celebrate shared subcontinental achievements.

He had to bulk process a rabid bunch of all American hotheads who had come to fists over who should have acted when to prevent the collateral desertification of their originators continent.

eTrev has seen a lot, since his download, and is obviously having fun handling it.

Vick’s knees by now resent what they consider a long hike. But with such interesting stories to listen to, it’s easy for him to ignore the pain.

Vick likes how eTrev doesn’t judge. He’s not taking sides, he’s preventing interference.

eTrev is a pure peace keeper. Insults he might be willing to tolerate, up to a point, to allow contestants to let off steam. But never nothing physical, no hint of a threat to use violence. For eTrev, nothing justifies violence. If it occurs anyway, it has to be stopped, full stop.

Vick loves the cop’s attitude. A man can work his way through many hardships and tough times, all feasible. But being subjected to physical violence, that’s a wall. Vick’s originator had the bad luck to hit that wall, the ghost’s feelings are strong.

By the time they reach the Lakeside diner, Vick has grown a fondness for eTrev. He grudgingly admits to himself he longs to be considered the cop’s mate.

Vick prides himself for needing no one while getting on well with all kinds of people. He’s easy going, a listener, good at keeping any mixed feelings private. Works fine, overall. But occasionally, he would like to have a mate. eTrev feels like the perfect candidate for that spot.

At the Lakeside, they select a table close to the door, in case eTrev gets another call over his virtual earpiece. Next, they load their trays under the approving eye of Ma Kya, the barbot. She cherishes customers with an appetite, like Vick. He and his friends are always welcome, and will get served the morning’s specials even past breakfast time.

Once seated, Vick and eTrev go without talking for a while, the breakfast requiring their full attention. Vick appreciates. There’s only so much talking a man can do over the course of a day. Some office folk might manage to chatter throughout, but his originator is a craftsman. You do some talking to define the job. But once that’s clear, you go workshop mode and shut up, to glue yourself to the task. Permanent blabbering, that’s for ladies and babies.

Halfway through his second trayload and over his third mug of coffee, eTrev takes a break from serious breakfasting and asks:

“And how about you, Vick? How long have you been around? How do you like our fake paradise? And the big one, of course: How did your originator get rich enough to afford the ticket? You know what got me here, Vick, my turn to learn about you now.”

Vick grins. He knows this makes the scar across his cheek look worse, the effect sends smaller kids screaming. But none of those around in the 1kYears resort, no download before age eighteen. And eTrev will have seen worse, in the ring and at war.

It’s funny, how each black ghost triggers that famous big question, how he got in.

This era is called is African Decade 3. Their virtual lives are an all-out Ginerian product. The 1kYears HQ sits in the Mehut Metropolitan Area. Both the software and hardware were created in MMA. The cruise liner where most of the downloads take place sails under a Ginerian flag. A venture doesn’t get more African than 1KYears.

The locations of the servers running the show are kept secret, for security reasons. But most bets are on multiple underground facilities distributed across the desert up north, in the Ginerian solar harvesting zones, where the extra gigawatt costs zero marginal.

1kYears is an African company, and Africa is the black majority continent. So why would anyone wonder about the presence of black ghosts?

Vick of course knows the answer, he’s the alter ego of a business man: Old wealth dies hard.

The US and EU might have fallen on tricky times since weather vagaries suddenly obsoleted the better part of their industry and infrastructure. Peak China has come and gone. But there’s still an awful lot of wealthy white and Asian folks around.

Whereas a black guy able to afford even one a-million-dollars-a-pop 1kYears ticket, never mind a full family-of-four set, that suggests illgotten money. Lucky if you get asked, providing you with the chance to explain. Most people make do with assuming the worst.

Vick answers the big question as lightheartedly and bluntly as eTrev raised it:

“Yeah, how did the fat black guy with the ugly scar get hold of all that cash?

That’s always the big questions, isn’t it? Modern day version of the famous early century Yahoo boys? Guns and drugs? Slaves and ransom? Why not all of the above?

Nope, none of the above. My tale involves so much less suspense than yours, eTrev.

Good old Mickey Monrogue, the other me over in real life, he does on demand manufacturing.

Whatever the stuff, whatever the material, be it very small, think braincom implant, or really big, think autonomous building, including all the power and sanitation gimmicks, Mickey will find a way to make it, mostly by printing. And he’ll deliver it, on time, just as agreed.

HQ in Pamkala, 238 formal affiliates. All over Africa and beyond. Made his cash the boring way, by working hard. And filing patents, despite hating all that paperwork, on top, at night...”

Vick is just starting to wonder how to stop bragging when eTrev does him the favor to jump in:

“Boring? Certainly not, Vick. Me, it’s the full awe thing, around all that fancy tech stuff. Back up in real world, it was the weapons. Shooting around the corner, just like school physics says you can’t, that kind of stuff makes my originator’s brain go mushy. What yours does for a living sounds like you can make sense of us, all this ghost business here. Do you?”

There’s real thirst behind eTrev’s question. Vick hates to disappoint, but he has to:

“Sorry, man, I mean ghost, wish I could, really wish I could. It’s not for lack of trying. I did read up on the tech, as best I can manage, and once got the chance to quiz one of the founders. But some of this here, what makes us feel we’re sitting here talking, it’s beyond me.

The basics are clear enough, how all your memories are stored in the cells in your brain, how they manage to read out the full fucking mess during the download. Fiddly as hell, with the stuff packed so tight, and everything all enmeshed with everything else, but that part I get.

Same for the environment, how they make my eyes see Ma Kya, my ears hear you, my tongue taste the spices. Once again, loads of stuff, complicated, but hey, why not? Printing ear bones is fiddly, too, and the meds get it right all the time, so OK for that.

But the soul bit, how my inside is going “Nice chap, the eTrev guy, good talking, wouldn’t mind seeing more of him over the next thousand years”, that part, honestly, my stomach goes tight and my brain says bye bye when I try to figure it out. The manual says it’s an algorithm, but - shit!

I can just hope, hope like hell, that it’s not some fucking big sin we’re living.”

Vick has put it just like he feels it, and eTrev’s forceful nod suggests he’s with him. They share one more moment of silent eating. Some thoughts are better left unspoken.

To Ma Kya’s joy, eTrev goes for a third round, for the sweet tooth. Once he’s back at the table, he munches with gusto for a while, before suddenly asking:

“How about a career in law enforcement, Vick? Would you consider saying yes if I asked?”

Vick at first doesn’t trust his hearing. Never would he have expected this question. But eTrev’s face doesn’t suggest he’s joking. Seeing him serious sends Vick laughing:

“Wow, yeah, very kind of you to ask, eTrev, you just made the day of a fat old man. Very honored, very honored indeed, to be considered for such a job. And thanks for making me believe I’m good at hiding how bad a shape I’m in. I’m done walking for the day, to tell you the truth. Too much of a promenade for weak old legs that carry me less faithfully than they used to. Me trying to chase one of them joggers, I might as well call an ambulance right away...”

Vick doesn’t get to finish his protest, eTrev has other plans with him:

“Bullshit, Vick, I’m not looking for an athlete, I’m looking for a fellow copper. There’s no need to run. You just take one of the scooters, and that’s your speedy mobility all achieved.

Being a good copper, that’s perhaps ten percent about looking the part, which by the way you do. No, trust an old hand, you do, Vick. It’s not about size and shape, it’s about how you stand your ground when meaning business. You’re spot on for that.

But that’s not the point, that’s not why I’m asking you, Vick. Looking the part is just nice-to-have, and add-on. What counts is the ninety percent, being able to go serious and keep thinking straight when people go complicated and make a mess, often around bullshit.

Policing means you’re the rock, they’re the surf foaming up around you. You listen to whatever bullshit the clients come up with, think your own clear thoughts, ask the right questions and sort it all out, preferably without sending anyone to his flat to chill out.

I know your type, Vick, and I want that prime specimen on my team. You’re the quiet guy who’d rather swallow some shit than go trouble, but you won’t stand by idly if a fellow ghost gets hurt. That’s all it takes, for good policing, and I want that ghost. Don’t make me beg, Vick.”

Half an hour and a plate of dates later, an agreement is reached. Vick accepts to give the job a try, over an internship period of six months. Long enough to find out how badly it sucks, to get called to sort out other ghosts mess. Short enough only to count as a blip, compared to the proverbial one thousand years of resort life they’re looking forward to.

eTrev is on the point explain how Vick will get his peacemaker tattoo when he receives the next emergency call. He summarily excuses himself, promises to be in touch ASAP, and sprints off towards the residential area at maximum speed.

Imitating eTrev’s way of talking, Vick tells no one in particular: “This is not about shape and sprints, Vick. Just stand your ground, Vick. Well, looks like lots of sprinting to me...”

“You’ll make a good cop, sir Vick, sir eTrev is right. And he really needs a sidekick. You can ask any barbot, they’ll all tell you sir eTrev does good, but he’s working too much. How about some banana milk, to wash down the dates and celebrate your career move?”

The barbot has the jar all ready, and Vick lets her fill his glass. Ma Kya doesn’t like her clients talking back, she prefers them focused on food and drink. And if she’s sure enough to comment, which she rarely does, this really might be the right job for him.

The two elderly Asian couples at the next table also nodded in spontaneous agreement.

Vick wonders what brought the senior ghosts along. Pretty adventurous, for an Asian quartet, to head for an African venue for breakfast. He makes a mental note to return the favor and give an Asian breakfast a try, one of these days.

Lots to learn, about his fellow ghosts. He feels the weight of his upcoming responsibility, but it’s more interesting than unpleasant. Time will tell.

Over in the residential area, three levels up in the second tower, first flat on the right, eTrev knocks on the door once more, repeating an exhortation he already uttered twice, to no effect:

“Come on, mister and missus Barnier? Can you please open the door? I have been called to assist with whatever trouble you might be experiencing, and I can’t leave without checking all is fine now. Mister and missus Barnier, do you hear me? Can you please open that door?”

eTrev has the means to unlock the door, but this particular superpower is reserved for maximum emergency mode. He won’t force entry unless there’s acute violence ongoing. No sign of such a drama here. Miss Barnier sent out one call for help, and wasn’t heard of since.

Which might mean her husband killed her. Not as much of a big deal in this virtual world as back up in real life. No ghost stays dead for more than a couple of minutes. If she had been murdered, miss Barnier should be back alive by now, and screaming revenge. The silence most probably means there was no murder.

“Come on, mister and missus Barnier? Please do open the door. Just a little talking, won’t take long. Please, mister and missus...”

“You can go away now. All fine, just a mistake. Can you please go away?”

It’s a female voice, barely audible through the door, confirming miss Barnier’s virtual existence. So far, so good. But not good enough for eTrev:

“Miss Barnier, glad to hear your voice. Thank you so much for answering. Could you please open the door now? I need to check all is fine, apologies for any inconvenience this might cause.”

It takes a couple more rounds to convince the victim to show herself. Once she has understood eTrev won’t leave, he’s made to wait for five more minutes before being granted access.

Someone has tried to restore a semblance of order in a hurry. Some of the larger debris must have been shoved into three big garbage bags sitting in the corridor, but the flat is still a battlefield. Pictures torn from the wall, the glitter of small shards on the floor, a damaged chair that looks like it lost a leg when it was smashed into a glass cabinet...

eTrev struggles to believe the Barniers did this to their place. Both diminutive, at least in their seventies, impeccably dressed, they hardly look like vandals. If it wasn’t for Miss Barnier’s damaged makeup, eTrev would have guessed intrusion. But the smears disfiguring her face signal one more episode of couple trouble. And mister Barnier is just staring at the floor, meekly, without saying anything. Couple trouble, definitely.

Once the door is closed, miss Barnier doesn’t lose time and goes, in strongly accented English:

“Fifty years. Fifty shared years, officer. And I catch him watching porn. And not even arty stuff. Cheap disgusting big-breasts-big-buttocks porn. The worst insult. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, he dares defend his actions. ‘Just having some fun’, he dares go...”

eTrev has taken out his notebook. He never needs any of his notes, but the clients like to see him writing. They feel more listened to when he pens along.

The cop is familiar with the Barnier kind of crisis. Happens all the time.

Their originators spent a whole lifetime together, without really getting to know each other. Too busy with their respective lives to notice details. They’re rich, they’re getting old, they want to make it last. In comes an acquaintance bragging about his virtual alter ego. Next stop 1kYears ticket shop, the couple hops onto the cruise liner and get their ghosts.

So far, so according to plan. So wonderful? Nope, not for all of them. Instead of enjoying the best possible life, some of those lucky looking couples use that big expanse of free time to find out more about each other. And they don’t always like what they discover.

Once mister Barnier gets his chance to weigh in, he’ll argue he has been watching porn for decades. So what? This a harmless pastime. Not even poor exploited starlets involved in the making of nowadays. All virtual, zero harm. He’ll balk at his wife crying foul. And he’ll insist he won’t be foregoing. No way to go without for one thousand years.

eTrev’s job is to wait it out. Notebook and pen in hand, he’ll listen to as many iterations of their mutually exclusive final words as it takes them to grasp they’re stuck.

Once this milestone has been reached, they’re ready for eTrev’s advice. His chance to introduce them to the compromise concept. The basic idea is just like what brings the factions to the ceasefire table in real wars. Bombing the country to shreds, respectively smashing the flat, might have felt oh so mighty righty at the height of hostilities. But looking at the result now, and keeping in mind the opponent is still not done opposing...

An hour of arduous negotiation later, the Barniers agree to disagree. The porn topic is declared closed and off limits, until further notice. Mister Barnier will only watch his favorite entertainment when all alone, and never mention. Miss Barnier will develop a routine taking her out on her own for at least four hours, at least three times a week.

Some tension re-emerges around the solo time rhythm, Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. eTrev manages to defuse by introducing Monday-Thursday-Saturday. That’s considered equally unsatisfactory by both, and therefore turns out to be acceptable.

Mister Barnier thereupon declares himself overdue for a peace pint at the Gelbian pub, whereas miss Barnier feels her creative juices surging, ravaged flat needs redecorating. eTrev’s presence on the former battlefield is no longer required.

He bids the couple farewell and walks over to the second tower, where he has his bachelor flat. High time for a shower, to wash off the salt water from this morning’s surf, and to get himself a bit more dressed, before the next call.

eTrev’s one bedroom place looks exactly like he found it on the day of his arrival. Same basic furniture and equipment, not one single personal item around.

His originator moved from boarding school to barracks to boardinghouses without ever acquiring a permanent residence. Trevor Whyte never developed any interior design preferences or collector habits. The ghost does notice that the flats he gets to visit, in his official function, tend to be far more decorated than his own place. He’s prepared to call some of what he sees pretty. But he’s not going to waste time on whether he’d prefer a poster of the Super Eagles or the Verlipool all stars on his living room wall. It’s all there to watch on the gadgets, why bother?

Awarding himself a can of lager, for a mental bloke-to-bloke cheers to Mister Barnier and his peace pint, eTrev settles on the couch and gets out his phone. Normally, he’d prefer the lounger on his tiny balcony, but he can’t have fellow ghosts listening in.

Always the same with vAbeo, this ghost never takes any calls directly.

eTrev gets to listen to a very warmly worded message that promises vAbeo will call back ASAP. No problem. eTrev knows the ghost of the shrink in the 1kYears founder team never fails to call back. With a little luck, he’ll be on in the next couple of minutes.

vAbeo is far easier to approach than Big Boss Boris, the ghost eTrev needs to provide Vick with his confinement tattoo.

In principle, BiBo Boris is easy to find, especially for seafarers. The ghost of the nerd behind the 1kYears software only leaves the huge ‘42 and counting’ catamaran anchored at his private off shore jetty to sail his racer, the ‘lohm’. If the ‘lohm’ is in, so is its sailor.

But Boris is special. Not only does the ghost go by the same name as his originator, which leads to all kinds of wild speculations back up in the real world. He’s also reclusive.

Boris has the means to fend off fellow ghosts. Try approaching his jetty without his explicit prior consent, you’ll get hit by a sudden onset whirlwind that will teach you where not to sail. The 1kYears resort might feel very real, but it’s a virtual environment. And its creator has a couple of special levers at his disposal, for what he considers emergencies.

According to vAbeo, who never tires explaining a friend his originator has been protecting since their shared preschool days, the nerd ghost is no autist. No clinical condition. Boris is just clever, and very rapidly bored by people who aren’t. He’s also a kind soul, hates to cause offense. He keeps himself out of the way to protect people from his temper.

Having been taken to meet Boris on his first day, eTrev tends to side with vAbeos judgement.

When he later heard his fellow ghosts describe the BiBo as the fiercest of mythical black creatures, it took him a while to understand the gossip was referring to what he experienced as one more well educated middle aged gentleman with an MMA accent.

Lightly built, casually dressed, Boris welcomed them on board with an informal “hi” immediately followed by instructions concerning the operation of the tattoo eTrev was there to get. Not the let’s-share-a-pint type, not keen on eye contact, but no antisocial monster.

eTrev raised two questions, to make sure to get his enforcement right. Boris answered readily, without any signs of the sharp tongued impatience he’s famous for. eTrev got it, declared himself ready, and the tattoo promptly appeared on his left palm.

The suddenness of a process affecting his body made eTrev flinch. Noticing his surprise, Boris set out to explain, about him interfacing directly, ghost brain to resort software.

Four sentences in, eTrev felt more lost than impressed. He cut in to apologize for failing to make sense. Boris apologized back, for unwarranted tech talk, and they were done.

eTrev has no reason to fear Boris, but nor was he invited to come back for another visit. He’s not going to try his luck with the BiBo on his own.

A couple of blocks away, vAbeo reaches across eSam nestled up against him on his extra large couch to get hold of his device, going: “Sorry, pretty boy, need to check the alert.”

The answer is a muffled giggle, followed by what roughly translates as “No problem, it’s not as if we were fucking busy here”, followed by a more serious fit of giggling. Only then does eSam raise his head to go, in English this time: “Bet it’s eTrev. Poor chap had to let go a superb wave this morning. Bet he’s flaming mad, and has had it. You need a new copper, vAbeo.”

vAbeo mock throttles the shorter guy with one hand while fiddling with his device with the other:

“Don’t you dare conjure catastrophe. No one ever taught you bloody nuisance that talking about bad stuff makes it happen? Bit more respect for the Gods, fate, or whatever, please. Besides that, yes, it’s eTrev. But he’s mercifully unlike you, he doesn’t do flaming mad. Now you shut up, and no giggling. Just pretend you’re not listening, OK? Or do I need to kick you out?”

eSams head goes back down, signaling willingness to stay and keep quiet. vAbeo holds him down with one hand, for additional precaution, before pushing the call back button.

He doesn’t need to wait, eTrev is immediately on the line, going:

“Hey, that was fast, thanks vAbeo! Hope I didn’t interrupt any important business? Just want to tell you we’re done, we finally got one. Isn’t that great? I’m not into praying, not the church way, but this is a fervent one answered. Was well worth the wait, got us the perfect guy...”

vAbeo has to apply a tad more pressure, to remind the giggler at his side to keep it down. He knows what eTrev is talking about, but he has yet to be convinced and asks:

“A guy, eTrev? As in one more male ghost recruited to the force? What happened to the glorious idea of getting you a lady sidekick, with a more natural understanding of ladytype griefs? Something I’m missing here, I’m afraid. Why the sudden U-turn?”

eTrev takes the question in his stride, doubling up on the exuberance:

“Forget that lady project, for now, vAbeo, we can do that in the next round. My guy is too good to be true, you’ll love him. Imagine a man, and I’m talking about the real thing here, not some wimp that barely failed to come out as a girlie, a true man who manages not to flinch when two ladies call him fat, in public. Which he is, making the insult all the harder to bear. Full self control, a rare gem. And I got mister marvelous to give it a try, for six months...”

vAbeo had put the device down in a hurry, to use both hands to keep eSams head where his protests stay muffled. The bit about the girlie didn’t go down well, and eTrev’s candidate isn’t the only guy in town forced to accomplish feats of self control.

“... And the second best thing about him, he totally looks the part. The dark kind of black, he’s from Pamkala, and with one big scar across his face. Full swing nice looking mean man, that’s gonna work like magic, when the pub goes wild. Nothing calms down a man with a broken bottle as fast as seeing what such a weapon can do to you...”

vAbeo’s turn to giggle, very officially, and ask:

“So tell me, eTrev, how did you manage to meet,.. let me search my old brain for the name... Seriously grown up, totally unlike most of the folks we get here, big bad scar, large set of ears,... Mickey, right? Mickey Monrogue? That’s bound to be your marvel man, or rather his originator. What does the ghost call himself, eMick?”

eTrev sucks in a big gulp of air, obviously impressed, before going:

“Vick, Vick is the name. Don’t know about the originator, but confirm for the ears, absolutely. This guy on a surfboard, no need for a sail to windsurf. How comes you know him, vAbeo? And if you do, why the hell didn’t you tell me about him? We really need that guy.”

It’s mock resentment, but with a serious undertone. vAbeo can’t help admire eSam’s perspicacity. Always playing the clown, but blessed with antennae so sharp he’s often aware of people’s upcoming mood before they even get there. No wonder his originator is such an accomplished salesman. Treading more carefully now, vAbeo goes:

“Sorry, eTrev, my mistake. Please be lenient, and keep in mind I’m a mere shrink. Now that you brought him up, I can see the ghost of Mickey Monrogue doing a good policing job. But I could never have envisaged on my own, apologies.”

It takes a couple of rounds, but in the end vAbeo’s apology gets accepted. He promises to schedule Vick’s tattoo meeting with Boris, and they’re done.

“Oh so sorry, for being me. And thanks for calling me a pervert, that’s so kind of you. And I get chided for not going gay pride? Come again, vAbeo, come again...”

This is one hundred percent mock outrage, and a pretty good imitation of vAbeo’s most soothing voice. eSam’s head is up again, all expectant. Never will he miss an occasion to engage in this particular argument, and he has a point. vAbeo shakes his head anyway, smiling:

“No one called anyone a pervert, pretty boy. He said ‘girlie’, not ‘pervert’. And yes, eTrev won’t be waving no LGBTQ rainbow flag on our behalf. We want that done, we’ll have to do it. Which neither Boris nor me will. Good old don’t-ask-don’t-tell suits us just fine. Same for eTrev, because that’s the traditional way of the military. And you’re getting better at it by the day, aren’t you?

I did bend over backwards, yes. eTrev really sounds like he needs a break. And so please give me a couple of quiet minutes to convince Boris he’s keen on entertaining one more visitor...”

vAbeo stops short, surprised by the eSam’s next laughing fit. His mate is also shaking his head wildly, in disagreement with whichever part of vAbeo’s statement. Not making the next call yet, vAbeo waits for eSam to calm down, to find out more. He gets served, amid more giggles:

“You can ask Boris if... You can like go ‘What’s worse, Boris? A visitor on board, or a pretty...’ Oh, by the way: If I do you the favor, with the tattoo for the new cop man, you do stop calling me pretty boy, deal? That’s a good deal, and pretty boy is so...”

vAbeo can’t help it, he has to join the laughing. He’s no less worried than before. eTrev on the verge of burnout and having to ruin Boris’ week by forcing a visitor on him are no fun . But it’s impossible to think dark next to a giggly eSam crunching a pillow in his fight to talk anyway.

“You call Boris, and you say ‘Odds game, new one, look! What’s worse: The apprentice...’”

eSam once again doesn’t manage to finish what feels so breathtakingly funny. Still involuntarily laughing along, vAbeo sees a potential thread, a possible theme. Too good to be true. Too perfect fairy tale world. Outright impossible. Unless...

eSam has the brains to pull it off. He’s a genius at the most complex kind of abstract thinking. In his late teens, his originator took a mere ten months to progress from unschooled slave to UCLA maths student, getting fluent in English along the way. If it’s at all possible to impress Boris, a very big if, eSam is a contender. And he does visit Boris, windsurfing over once a week.

eSam has been his usual candid about how he befriended Boris.

Not knowing how to contact the nerd ghost and not wanting to bother vAbeo with this errand, he tried his luck. Just windsurfed over, to thank Boris for the perfect waves.

eSam got blown off his board by the customary whirlwind. Instead of swimming back to the shore, chastened, he dived and crawled hard, towards Boris’ jetty. He came very close to drowning, once again, only just made it to the far end, his lungs, arms and legs on fire.

Having taken a while to catch his breath and steady himself for a next hit that somehow didn’t happen, eSam finally walked over to the catamaran.

One step from the boarding plank, he paused yet again. vAbeo had said Boris would kill any ghost trying to board uninvited. No permission, no boarding. He had also said no one would ever get close enough to try. That bit had turned out to be wrong, but the warning still loomed large.

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(Pages 1-37 show above.)