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vol iv, issue 5 < ToC
A Visit from the Beatles
Bob Ritchie
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Engine#32020 Animation
A Visit from the Beatles
Bob Ritchie



2020 Animation
A Visit from the Beatles
Bob Ritchie

2020 Animation
previous next

Engine#3 2020 Animation



2020 Animation

2020 Animation
A Visit from the Beatles  by Bob Ritchie
A Visit from the Beatles
 by Bob Ritchie
John, Paul, George, and Ringo dropped in, unhampered by their having been mostly deceased for the last 300 years.

I shivered as they tumbled, like resurrected puppies, through the separation field that kept the burning Puerto Rico afternoon at bay; my space had been cooled to a brisk 45°. Tedders, my ængineer, had learned from the instruction e-manual that though EntiDIs don't perceive temperature, they require the higher density of chilled air to form properly.

"Hey." A little nervous, me. Reacting badly to the cold, my mucous membranes spilled clear liquid down my philtrum. I swiped at it with my cuff, leaving a trail of slime as if a snail had traversed my upper lip.

"Hey." John, recognizable because of his playful green border, dusted off his knees, shook Ringo from his broad forehead, and cracked one of the bit-books that I had set out for refreshment. "Great stuff, Proust. Filling."

"Boys?" I gestured at the serving tray that I had set up next to my production stool.

George moved forward, aura outstretched, "I prefer something lighter." He picked through the 22nd Century Gooftoids, choosing something by reconstituted-Tom. "I laughed so hard reading 'Still Life With Woodpecker' that I retched on my Gretsch."

I smiled. Maybe I would get through this. They seemed almost human. Surreptitiously, I deployed a mini-vac to suck up some stray dust motes floating through a broad swath of light.

I dropped the vac into a side pocket and butt-swiveled on my stool, the perfect host. "Ringo? Anything strike your fancy?" Maybe he smiled. I decided that he had. Mustache love. He paradiddled somewhere near the center of the fog body bending the light in front of me. His nasal voice said, "Me little tummy's all full up. But I'll have a smoke, if you've got one." Sounded smiley. You invent warm, happy breath when the Beatles are in your production chamber. But EntiDIs can't really smoke, even if cigarettes didn't carry a mandatory five-year sentence in a 2072 Pinto. I shrugged. "Sorry."

Warm music tickled my cheek, beautiful. Paul. The cute one. Yes, he breathed melody. Words, no. It had been a condition of his storage. Paul had refused to be spirited away as an Entity-to-Digital Interface until he had been guaranteed that his musico-construct wouldn't be able to speak.

I had seen the original interview on YuckTu: "I'm tired of people criticizing my lyrics. Who says John had a lock on word play?"

So, not a word, not a syllable. Continuous liquid melody. And lovely and lively as only a McCartney tune can be.

"Settle lads. Carry on." I hadn't expected Sir George but recognized the gentle voice.

I rushed in. "I didn't, I mean--" I broke off and searched for feet. "That is, my budget." I tapped a little "d" for distress between my thumb and forefinger. "Tedders," I subvocalized, urgent but not willing to give full throat to my embarrassment.

Sir George's voice strolled down a soft chuckle, patted Paul's melody on the shoulder, and assured me, "No, no. I do all the producing for the lads. Part of the package, as it were."

I stowed my held breath in my pocket, knowing I would need it later. "Oh, well, fine." I went ahead and made the introductions. "Lads, Sir, my name is Dean. This is my studio," I gestured at the 10 by 10 cube, "and I'm hoping that we can make some music today."

"A whistle is as good at a miss, I always say."

Laughing at Ringo's apt words, I jumped off my stool and squatted, stood, squatted. My personal interface was part brain-connect, part kinetiform. Producing--co-producing--the songs would push me to my limits. But I was in peak condition, having prepared myself with a month of cardiovascular training.

On an extruded lip of the near separation field, my music box glowed, waiting, needing only to be infused with the EntiDIs.

"Let's do this, boys, Sir." I motioned with my open hands, sweeping the five vapor-limned EntiDIs toward the music box. John walked into George. Paul climbed into Ringo's cap. Sir George spread wide his field and gathered all together. Five breaths of liquid air coalesced around the blue-tinged, semi-translucent block. As they slipped between molecules, the faint blue glow wavered, steadied, morphed to the pale yellow of energized quiescence.

John's voice vibrated in my auditory cortex, "Could you send up some eggs?"

One of the others chuckled.

"Tedders?" Worry.

A momentary hum, and then his answer filled my ear, "The manual doesn't say anything about how to feed 'em. The bit-books were supposed to satisfy 'remnant human cravings.' Page 16."

"I'm just joking; we're famous for it, aren't we?" My mouth puckered involuntarily. John's Scouse accent tasted of sweetened lemon--sour, but not too. I smiled. It looked as if it would be an interesting day.

"So Wrong You're Right, take 2." Sweat froze on my forehead. The chorus required a 100-meter dash on my part. Tedders, voice all business but pixels bright with delight, added, "Sir G, if I may, the arrangement feels too clean to me. Any ideas to muck it up a bit?"

Though a musician in my own right, I was little more than a facilitator for this gig. That the creative process had jumped the rails and now traveled a route all its own bothered me not at all. The Beatles EntiDIs were the best that Out With the InMusic, Ltd., had to offer. Thousands of "new" Beatles tunes had swelled the official canon over the past three centuries. Only the die-est hard fans remembered where the original list ended and the augmented one picked up--everyone else rejoiced in the Fab Four's continued output. Today we would add "So Wrong You're Right," "DeSign Says," "Pick Up the Peace," and "Love Doesn't Know July."

George licked his guitar on the bridge. Five notes of perfection.

The click of Paul's plectrum snapped forward in the mix, a percussive pop that we would have to EQ down but not eliminate.

Ringo flashed the ring of cymbal, shot the staccato snare. Beats and counterbeats, he juggled hits in dexterous hands.

". . . right," sang John.

". . . riiight," sang Paul, sang George, slathering on tart layers of tonality.

"Sir G?"

A saxophone growled, two measures; a distorted cello screamed from high strings, challenging, menacing. Eight beats of music battle. Roadhouse piano--out of tune enough to jangle--dashed through the arrangement, trailing jags of melody in its wake and spitting cherry pits between swills of gin.


"Fab, Sir George."

"Please, call me Millie."

"Right, then . . . Millie, boys. A little loose on intonation when you're singing the 'mor' of 'tomorrow.' Let's take it again from the last verse."

Ringo counted them in; the 16th-note at four-and sounded and away we went.

So, they were rocking on all four measures.

At the same time that my communicator began to chime, the studio lights dimmed, brightened, dimmed. The communicator's chime turned to hollow "bong" and went silent. I groaned. The take was ruined. I fell out of my handstand and said, "Sorry, lads. We'll need to break for ten." I snagged a clean rag from the collection hanging from the separation field. I double-swiped my face and cheeks, mopping up the evidence of my exertions. I decided that it would be better if we backed up a bit and started from the coda. My arms shook from exhaustion. Morning would arrive too soon, so I would have to put my tired arms behind me and find the strength.

I tapped my knee with my index finger, waiting for the power to come back. The Death of Sparks chopped away huge swaths of voltage every midnight. The symbolic fluctuation of power was intended to remind us that electricity had not always been a free and easy feeling. Nothing essential was interrupted, but lights dimmed or darkened entirely, home freezers experienced temperature variations, personal communicators stuttered and hissed. Or, as had occurred with mine, disconnected the caller with a cheery "Try again!"

Paul's concern stair-stepped down into a minor key, increasing in volume as the pitch fell until John overrode him. "Good boys and gulls shouldn't run with sharpened policies." He swept the open strings of his guitar. The jangle filled my still-dark chamber.

"Sorry, boys." I mentally gnashed my teeth: Tedders had warned me about apologizing to the talent before, but it appeared to be part of my personality matrix, because I always forgot. "Everything will be back to normal in a few minutes." I smelled tandoori chicken and added, "I can have Tedders call down for nickel beer and electron bursts if anyone is hungry."

Ringo spoke up, "All this work, and I'm starving on empty. I'd love an apple."

When I was a boy, my mother had known. That I would be a musician, that I would spend my days and nights lolloping through fields of harmony. "That boy," she would say, "that boy." She never got past the single phrase, and I often wondered whether she had scratch in her record. I once had a vision of Mozart in tight pants, and Mom had claimed that that was all the evidence she needed.

"Tedders, apples for everytone." Feeling expansive, as we had so far consumed less than half of the budget, I added, "And extra plasm when the juice returns."

At my words, the lights brightened to full. Tedders spoke in my ear, low, so no one would hear. No one would: He was speaking in my ear. Something that appeared to have slipped through the racing electrons of his mind. The days of electronic perfection were long past. "Uh-oh, PlagOps."

Already bent and with hands on the floor to resume my handstand, I stood, forcing myself to remain calm. I palmed the separation field, thinking, "head-sized opening" at it as I did.

August in Puerto Rico blazes, even at midnight; the heat shouldered through the opening. A genetically reconstituted mosquito followed, stopping to sup on my arm. What luck! Humidity backhanded me and I staggered back a step before turning my attention to the white-robed PlagOps. "Yes?" Even though we were as original as I knew how to be, my face assumed the smooth innocence I remembered from successful childhood lies. Auto response to authority. No one liked the Ops, whose Latinish motto was "Ars canticum per plagiarus non est," but everyone agreed that, in these days in which everything that could be created had been, they were a necessary evil.

The one on the left had a long nose and a selection of parrots caught in his armpit. He nodded, removing a 'pad from the bag that dangled from the shoulder opposite the wildlife. "Your neighbor reported a repeated A to D to E7 progression. Anything to it?"

It looked as if the man had forgotten to shed: He was dropping hair follicles left and right. Several, swept up on the strong tropic breeze, sailed through the opening. I forced myself to leave the vac in my pocket and held back a curse: EntiDIs are remarkably easygoing and generally low-maintenance but are allergic to almost everything. Behind me, a series of crackles erupted from the music box. Damnit! I forced my downturned lips up and into a smile and explained, "It's John. He wanted a basic blues shuffle and . . ."

The one on the right quick drew a disruptor and shot me.

*     *     *
My head hurt. My mouth was dry. A small mallet played xylophone on my ribs. I opened my eyes. I was in my chamber, but it was dark: The lights had gone completely out. The separation field was, apparently, set on semi-soft: The hard rays of the early morning burned my face, and the fingernail-wetting humidity told me that its permeability index must have been close to 50, maybe higher.

I struggled to sit up. The pain in my head went from distant thump to sweep-screaming slice. Taking care to move without joggling my cracked melon, I twisted around to look at the extruded shelf. Empty. I tapped my thumb and forefinger together.

Boom. "You awake?"

I winced. "Bring down the audio, Tedders, my head." I put a flat palm against my forehead, ensuring that the odiferous feet sprouting from it would become imaginary.

Quieter, Tedders said, "I'm guessing a monster headache. Any other injuries?"

I did the left half of a head shake. The furnace pain that accompanied the move discouraged symmetry. "No--Yes," I amended. "Ribs. But not too bad. I'm guessing that they bore the brunt of the disruptor."

"Do you need a med?" I had modified Tedders so that he couldn't automatically call, well, anyone. Illegal, but freedom of choice was frowned upon, and I guarded mine jealously.

I prodded my ribs. The xylophone playing had softened to patty cake. Still some rhythmatism, but tolerable. Though my head no longer boasted rebel extremities, I nevertheless needed something to take the pain down to merely crippling.

"Give me an analgesic. Nothing black." Black market purchases were traced. I could get out of a prison sentence, but I didn't want any marketing pirates getting hold of my history. Or I would be plagued by 'bot ads for janissary dildos and YuckTu videos of rehydrated kittens.

My music box was gone, but the end of the world remained out of sight. The box was just the mechanism, the machine part of the EntiDI system. The finished files were stored in Tedders. Which made me think--"Were you downjacked?"

"No. They tried to get through the firewall, but the upgrade held." Tedders was silent for almost three seconds. A universe of time to an ængineer. "What?" I asked.

"I did a diagnostic. No retrowipe."

"How can you be sure? Nature of the beast, and all that."

Pride and injured pride warred for airtime, "Come on, I'm Mitproof. Can't be hacked. You know that."

I nodded. My face's overheating reminded me of the current status of the separation field. "Firm up, would you?"

Tedders didn't answer, but a blast of bounced-back conditioned air and the abrupt cessation of burning rays informed me that he had complied with my instruction.

"So, it appears the Beatles have been kidnapped."

"And Sir George," added Tedders.

"Help!" But I couldn't laugh. "How much am I on the hook for?" The analgesic had taken effect, enough that I could stand. I did. The ribs, still, but not much. The headache was a steady murmur of complaint that would make real focus difficult. I could just about think clearly enough to think clearly.

"Over 50,000."

"That sounds like a lot." I had no experience with monetary units. As was the case with most all quotidian matters, Tedders handled the cash.

"It is."

I leaned on the extrusion. "Any ideas?"

Last year, I had opened my chest and hardwired Tedders with a hum that automatically cut in when he was cogitating. Almost inaudible, it was enough to signal that he hadn't gone offline. He wasn't supposed to do that without informing me, go offline, but the perfect consistency of electronic beings had been demolished decades ago by a virus that did no more than arbitrarily insert the occasional discordant command. I had once waited over twenty minutes for Tedders to tell me what strength sunscreen I needed for an excursion to the beach. Turns out he had (arbitrarily) gone offline and was waiting for my "wakeup" call.

I was exhausted from the recording session, never mind the disruption to my consciousness. I called a chair up and sat, waiting for Tedders to suggest our next move. His low hum filled my ears, making me drowsy.

Just as I was about to drop off, the hum cut out and Tedders said, "They're at El Morro."


"El Morro. The 800-year-old fort in San Juan."

"No, yeah, I know where--and what--El Morro is. I just . . . El Morro?"

An oil screen spread across the north separation field. The two men, no longer in PlagOps whites, were flying kites in the open esplanade before the old fort. Just as we tuned in, one of the kites, taken by a gust of wind-machine-blown air, slammed into the protective dome. The stick and paper construction crumpled and fell. I would have cheered, but I was still trying to understand what I was seeing.

The image zoomed in. Long nose. Tedders spoke. "Mickle SinTack. He used to play guitar for a Beatles tribute band, but he was exiled when he insisted on playing 'Day Tripper' with a swing beat."

I closed my eyes, imaging the famous tune as described. I opened my eyes, "Hey. Nice. That would be decent."

I could practically feel Tedders's frown of disapproval. "You know that the Royal Academy of Historic Music--"

I cut him off. "Yes, I know." Old argument. "What about the other guy? The one who shot me?"

The focus shifted from Mickle, reeling in his kite, to the other man. Only it wasn't a man. In the voluminous robe and hood, long nose's--Mickle's--partner had been sexless, but I had assumed. Not a lot of female PlagOps: Women tended to have useful professions. Medicine, empirical ængineering, child proliferation. Only men cared enough about plagiarism to make a career of it.


"Que, que?"

"Long story mangled under exigent wheels, she was born Holly Fulger. Girl meets robot, robot gets frisky, dad hires undiscerning mercenary car crusher. Holgertron."

The logic escaped me, but Tedders had been programed in superevaluationism, so I let it go. I scratched the red bump left by the mosquito, careful not to scratch too hard lest the mosquito luck leach into the open air. On the screen, the woman had turned her back on the torn and broken bits of kite, was walking away from the mess and the fort. "Uh oh." Bad idea, that. Since the Supreme Crust had outlawed the death penalty, litterbugs were shipped to French Guiana and force-fed cockroaches. No danger of malnutrition, at least.

"Do you suppose the red hair is real?" It floated around her as if it had its own, lower, gravity field. I'd read or swallowed something about that. First time I'd seen it in action. Nice.

Tedders hummed for two seconds, then said, "She has a public profile, but her cloud file is closed. You'll have to subscribe to a stalker site. Do you want me to sign you up?"

"No, no." A spectacular mane.

"Is the MaqLev up?" I asked.

"Round-the-clock service commences at 0200. As to the route: All good from the La Guancha/Ponce station to Guayama. You'll have to grab a Googlico from Guayama to Caguas. The Union of Trinitarians and Ingenious Electronic Rocinantes is staging a holiday strike. It is scheduled through 2200. Regular service resumes in Caguas." Tedders paused, continued, "The Old San Juan station is still partially submerged, so you'll need to go to Cataño and catch a hydro in."

All fluffy with thought.

Deciding, I kicked off my slippers and turned, pulling my neutralizer off its hanger and slipping it on. A cabinet with all of my hats swung open. A tongue extruded, at the end of which my San Juan hat dangled. I set it on my head, foregoing a mirror and trusting the gyroscope to set it at just the right angle. A pair of molecular sole protectors oozed up through the floor. I stepped on them, staying still long enough for them to conform to the bottoms of my feet. "Open up," I commanded, "I'm heading out."

The Disney landscapers had out-Puerto Ricoed Puerto Rico. Palm trees and flamboyáns in full flower, white sand and feathery ferns of waving green, flapping elephant ears of plantain trees interspersed with multiple rows of plow-turned earth, all whipped past the separation field that protected the seating area. No sense of movement beyond the continuous blur of brown, magenta, white, and green rushing past. The train's ængineer had set the permeability to 40, allowing the myriad scents of green and wet and sweet and life to brush downy against damp skin, cooling.

In Guayama, I called up a Googlico. It arrived within seconds, already stuffed full with five passengers. Three in front, two in back. Small car, designed for an easy four, a tight five.


"Three minutes for the next one." I contemplated the car, balancing the crowd against the unreasonable wait. Oh well, I shrugged and climbed in the back. The two already seated individuals were teens, leaning like a pair of tipped dominoes against the opposite door. Asleep, it seemed. I sat, relaxed back. The door eased shut, but a loud scraping sound coincided with a grinding vibration, and the door froze for a moment. It swung open and slammed closed, almost before I had time to sit straight enough to avoid being conked on the head. "What the . . .?" Sudden acceleration pushed me against the seat back. Okay, whatever. I noticed the barest aroma of fruit punch and surreptitiously searched each passenger for a drink bulb, but couldn't make out who the lucky devil might be.

The car left the MaqLev station, gaining speed as it turned onto the access road. Full permeability (I presumed a faulty regulator) turned the outside breeze to a blast. I felt rather than heard the soft click indicating that the Velcro in my hat had activated. A hot trickle leaked from beneath. Heat and heat. The sweat of the teen pressed up next to me slicked the nyloodle exterior of my neutralizer. My entire trunk and arms, nice and cool and ready to run to Río Piedras; my legs, head, and hands crushed by the high-pressure heat and damp of a tropic afternoon. The temperature differential would kick the thermoelectric converter into overtime, which would keep the batteries chock full 'o' watts until either the differential scaled back, or cloud cover attenuated the sunblast feeding the right shoulder and arm solar collectors. Molten silver lining.

The car steered on to the ancient highway, 52, just in time for me to catch a glimpse of the Tits of Cayey, a famous local landmark.

The wind blasting my entire right side dwindled to a stop. A faint whine became a loud buzz and was followed by stuttering streams of cold air. Click. The Velcro hooks retreated from my hair.

Tedders said, "The car's environment brain is doing the hokey pokey at a cybercafé in Denmark. I took over."

I nodded, knowing that Tedders would pick up the temporary disequilibrium and interpret my move correctly. Still, I tapped my thumb and forefinger together, Thanks.

At delicious coolth, delighted squeals and cheery comments erupted from my fellow passengers in the front: A woman, a man, and someone old enough to be either one. They were speaking the northern Carrot dialect of 14th century China. Or so Tedders informed me, whispering neutral-flavored somethings in my ear.

I smiled at my now-awake neighbor, a boy-not-man-not-boy. He returned my grin and pushed the heel of his hand into my left eye socket.

Tedders said, "Do the same. Make sure it's his left, your right. Greeting the wrong eye is considered an irrevocable pledge of fealty. You'll have to move to the Mongolian steppes and serve as a Sundays-only stepstool until he reaches the age of majority in . . ." Tedders hummed. The boy jolted upright, eyes wide. His hand remained in place, but he looked at me as if I had just invaded his mind. Which Tedders sort of had: He had shot a tight-beamed burst of ultrasonic into the boy's ear canal and measured the bounce off the tiny hairs inside to estimate age. ". . . six months. Then you will be released to serve his children in the same capacity until his death or his oldest child's--well! boy or girl, quite the progressives--assumption to the throne."

"They have a monarchy in Mongolia?"

"Lord no, not for centuries. This kid's name is Julio Jake. He and his family are traveling back to Santurce where they own and operate a cheapeatery called More Authentiquer Mongolian Barbeque."

I persisted, "But they're from Mongolia?"

If Tedders had had hands, he would have steepled them before answering. "They are from a version of Mongolia that exists in three of the five databases to which you are subscribed and to which, therefore, I have access," he said. "Other than that, their origin story is opaque."


I put the heel of my hand into the boy's left eye socket and renewed my smile. He said, in unaccented NorthAm, "Peace beans," and lowered his hand.

"Peace beans," I replied, and lowered mine.

"Live in San Juan?" he asked.

I shook my head. "No," I said, "Ponce. I'm rescuing the Beatles."

Studying me rather more closely than I had expected, the boy said, "Groovy." He removed an em-smoke from a neck pouch and squinched his face, hard a-thought. The end sparked, turned bright blue, cycled to red and back again. A thread of steam twisted up and away from the bright end.

The older woman--the titular driver, as she was sitting in front of the token steering wheel--turned and spoke to the boy, "JJ, don't bother the man."

"It's okay," I said.

Tedders said in my ear, "Migue, no other name listed. The mother, I assume."

With what seemed to me to be deliberate nonchalance, the woman said, "I couldn't help hearing--" She remained swiveled, but paused to pluck the steering wheel from its place and hand it to the like-aged man seated beside her--"that you are rescuing the Beatles. Does that pay well, then? Beatle rescuing?" Sensitive ear mine, distinguishing between double e double t and eat. How had she known? She continued, saying, "JJ hasn't committed to the restaurant, and we so want him to do something monetary." She planted an elbow in the man's ribs; he grunted, grimacing, taking a timeout from tapping his fingers on the dashboard. She added, "Don't we, dear?"

"Sure," said the man. He hooked the wheel on a coatrack and went back to raising and lowering his fingers. "Gimme a minute. Gotta finish." He added something that sounded very much like the word "anal," but which I figured had to be something in the other language.

Migue shrugged and said to him, "I know, but they can't let you disinter the pony without its explicit permission, so . . ."

He said, "anal" again. She shrugged again and brought her attention back to me and her son. "Our religion is just so interesting. Would you like--"

I didn't even bother subvocalizing, but shouted, "Eject me, Tedders!"

My seat shot up through the car's topfield. I dropped a handful of lightly salted popcorn on the occupants below, regretting that I hadn't had time to meet the other two. The chair's onboard jets took over and Tedders maneuvered me to a quaint little parking lot with a history (or so he informed me as we descended). We had already almost arrived in Caguas when the woman had fired her opening salvo at my belief system. Tedders said, "The MaqLev station is in walking distance."

Sure enough, three meters to my left, an infomercial announcing the wonders of the PR-MaqLev a-salsaed my ears, trumpets EQed too piercing and the bass more solid thump than sinuous thick.

I contemplated the walk, grumbling, "You know I have to avoid non-professional exercise."

Tedders said, "Don't worry; labor in the acquisition of materials is deductible. Those taxmen think of everything!" I had programmed the sigh out of him: too annoying. But it seemed he was trying to reverse my modification. Anyway, something that wasn't a sigh but wasn't a word hopped into my ear canals and took a squat.

Steam (100% not-faux) billowed from the single track and the speaker on the platform screeched with the metal-on-metal sound of sliding drive wheels as the arriving train shuddered to a halt. Tedders had already bought my ticket. I swung off the boarding platform, landing with an audible thud in the half-full carriage.

Uneventful but for the equine protest.

Riderless steeds paraded up and down each car's aisle, posters demanding an expansion of the minimum-wage law to include geldings and mules plastered to their flanks.

I stopped one of the protesters and asked, "Any tips for the fifth?"

The blue roan, silver contacts flashing, snorted through his nose. Tedders translated, "'Fuckh offh, mateh.'"

I laughed and gave my companion a sugar cube, rubbing his cheek with my open palm.

Moments later, Cataño station hove into view.

The next hydro wasn't due for ten minutes, so I settled onto one of the plastic seats of the dock's industrial swing set and played with gravity. Laughter surrounded me as fellow passengers arced into the sky, high enough to slap the playdome's separation field. My stomach whoopsed, reminding me of the deal that the Earth and I had made when I was a boy: I don't attempt to break her surly bonds; she doesn't slam me unceremoniously to her surface: I relaxed until the ever-reducing pendulum was slight enough to allow me to dismount. The arrival whistle blew as I was hopping out of the harness. I tottered to the gangplank. The antiskid material felt like sandpaper beneath my feet. My sole protectors were naturally gripping (were, in fact, acting the Scheherazade to my caliphal extermities ), so I didn't worry about slipping on the damp ramp.

A raucous "caw" sounded above me. Lovely bird. Real, I think. Lovely poop. I blasted the schmutz from my shoulder with a brief activation of the nyloodle field and reminded Tedders to renew my subscription to Ethnic Monthly.

The hydro raced past the antique Isla Grande airstrip to the right. A biplane, coming in low, pulled up, avoided ending up in the Bahia de San Juan by less than a meter.

"I should rent one of those the next time I have to come up here," I commented to Tedders, "looks fun."

"I can hire it now to take you home, if you like." I watched the plane taxi to the end of the runway. The pilot climbed out, removing her helmet. A mass of red hair exploded outward to fall gently against the pilot's neutralizer-covered back.

"Glory be," I said.

"Indeed," answered Tedders.

"Do love me a coincidence."

"All hail the cheap device," agreed Tedders.

I thought the zoom in my lenses. Red filled my visual field. I clicked back one level.

"You didn't tell me that she had a beauty mark."

"I know how susceptible you are." Tedders hummed; I waited for more. "As you might expect, her genome isn't listed in her public profile. There's no way to know whether or not the mark is real."

I couldn't tear my lenses away. She was a way-fox, without a doubt.

The hydro began to simultaneously slow and sink. Now subject to the water's topography, the craft began to dip and sway. I gripped the rail to maintain my balance. "Real or not, I can overcome it. No deception is too great if she has the Beatles."

"Shall I message that last to her?" Excising the "sigh" code had been hard enough. No way would I be able to get rid of the sarcasm. It was integral.

I ignored him. "Go ahead and see if she is available to hire. I hope she's a better pilot than she is a kite flyer." The near miss on her landing assumed greater significance.

I thought for a moment, then asked Tedders, "You're sure that the tax code will let me deduct all this exertion?"

"The accountant will squeal, but I can ride his programming."

I vaulted over the rail, fully activating my neutralizer as I did. My San Juan hat mewled in fear. Water. I forgot about that. I landed with a splash. The Velcro hooks turned to claws.

"Ow! Tedders, shoot him some hatnip. Get his mind off the H2O-ness of the situation."

"You ignored the materializer renewal notice. My metaphoric hands are figuratively tied."

With the neutralizer keeping me afloat, I scissor-kicked my legs, using several arm sweeps to get me going in the direction of the rocky escarpment that bordered the extended airstrip on three sides. Six meters. It took me a few minutes, but at swim's end, I found myself on a narrow strip of rocky beach. After shaking the water from my ears and soothing my hat, I mounted the vertical face, scaling the low cliff with a minimum of effort. Tedders's advice on handholds and the sticky grip of my sole protectors helped.

Reaching the top, I let myself flop into the sparse weeds. Sprawled for a moment in the drying sun, I turned at a soft scrape.

Red. No, Tedders had told me her name. Something awful. "Holgertron," I said.

She recoiled, blanked her face, said, "Pretend I'm pointing a weapon of pain or injury at you." She had one hand bladed over her eyes, which were squinted against the brightness of the afternoon sun. The other she held in the shape of a gun, the finger barrel pointed at me.

I held up my arms. Drops of water fell away from my arms into my eyes. Several hit my hat, which hissed in protest.

"What, no disruptor?" I went for casual, tapping to Tedders to call cross-enforcement.

Holg--Red frowned and the arm holding her hand sagged. "PlagOps yanked my converter. You know how long it takes to charge a disruptor using only those little solar panels that come in the box?"

Hot asphalt cooking my legs, I struggled to bring my body vertical and get my feet under me. "I really need the Beatles back." She didn't say anything. Only stiffened her arm so that her finger once more pointed directly at my forehead. My hands are pretty big, so I knew that I could outgun her. But already positioned and pointed, Red had the advantage.

I put both hands on the ground in order to get myself in a balanced squat. Red stepped back; her thumb wavered.

"Hold on," I said, leaning forward a fraction, shifting my weight onto the balls of my feet, "I'm trying to get comfortable, here." I watched her closely for any sign that she might be relaxing her guard, any sign that that finger might shift away from its precise and deadly aim.

"Stall her for five minutes. CE is on the way."

I contemplated instructing Tedders to cancel the call. Control was heading my way on galloping feet.

Instead, I looked up at Red and asked, "Why? EntiDI rentals are pretty low. And even if you were a street musician, you could always use a free production shelter." The nyloodle outer layer of her neutralizer, an attractive vest with an embroidered guitar--Gibson Les Paul--on the left-front panel, had alternating strips of real nylon and she didn't have pierced ears--no way was she a street musician. Interesting that they were metal, though. Her ears.

I was surprised to see tears in her eyes.

"It's not like that. Really, but . . . Stay there. Really. Please? Don't move?"

I nodded but remained poised on the balls of my feet.

She opened her gunhand and touched the strings of the embroidered guitar. A jangle of notes sounded. "Just a second." She closed her eyes and brought her left hand to the fret board. She poised her right hand, her gunhand, over the strings. Deep breath and she began to play.

"Oh god!" I couldn't help it. She was awful. Without my willing them, my emergency hands clapped themselves over my ears. All thoughts of gunplay fled my mind, evicted by music so ugled that it made even 21st reggaeton seem beautiful by comparison. The original uncoordinated jangle of that first unintentional touch was a symphony next to the awfulness she was now producing.

A piercing siren cut through the noise. Never so glad.

She whipped her head around. Before she could fist her gun, I thrust up from my prepared squat and wrapped both hands around her wrists. Training for a session never seemed so fortuitous.

"Don't!" I commanded both her and Tedders. The neural whip that Tedders could deploy via my palms would be overkill; the knee that she was lifting to destroy my nuts would probably hurt.

Neither of them listened.

I woke up in the back of the racing firebulancecar. The pain I had imagined was worse. Loosely webbed to the stretcher next to mine, Red curled and straightened, repeating the movement over and again and accompanying the cycle with grotesque grunts (that, remembering, were infinitely more filled with music than her playing had been. Rhythmic, too, so maybe there was hope).

My crotch was full of spikes.

The agent, seeing my open eyes, reached into a slit in his full-body neutralizer and pulled out a demerit pad. "The neural whipping is gonna cost you. You'll have to stay after jail."

I strained against my own stretcher's webbing. Reliving VR playground bullying long past, I let my voice turn sullen in answer. "She started it."

"Yes, and she'll be sent to the Principle Office." The 'caster on his forearm pinged. He lifted a hand to pause our conversation, turning his attention to his arm. "Sir."

The spikes had attenuated, becoming needles.

I realized that Tedders had not yet made his presence known.

"Nossir, she's still out."

At his mention of my companion in detention, I turned my head to look at her. Her ears sparkled in the low interior light. She uncurled one final time and her body gave a long shudder. The grunts became a sough. Still looking at his 'caster, the agent reached a hand out to the frame of the stretcher and touched a sensor with his extended index finger. The webbing cinched down on Red's now-still form.

"Is she okay?"

He ignored me, still focused on his lifted arm. "PlagOps? En serio?" He scowled. A fine layer of enmity coated his skin. What he heard from the 'caster on his arm wiped away the rancid oil, replacing it with a clean layer of deference.

"Of course, sir. Right away, sir."

Lowering his arm, the agent stared at me with speculation so loud that I flinched from the decibel overload. Head pain from earlier violent assignations flared. I worked through the throb, struggling against the webbing.

"No trip to the Principle for either of you." He pursed his lips and swiveled to look fully at Red. After a moment, he tapped the same sensor that he had before, and the webbing retracted into the stretcher bars. Turning to me, he reached out to do the same, but held off for a moment. "You're not in trouble. Sitting up is okay, but no attacking. Got it?"

"Course." Needles had become the stiff hairs of a roused Alsatian Shepherd.

First he swept the screen of his demerit pad. "I had your pal sitting in the corner, thinking about all reasons that you don't deploy a neural whip. But the Captain said to let him go, too."

Tedders's voice erupted in my head. "Well I . . ."

I pressed my forefinger to my thumb, held it there. Tedders lapsed into silence.

The agent tapped the frame, the webbing retracted, I sat up. My head had an opinion about the sudden move. Palm to forehead, I held back the crowd straining to leap from my temple. A good moment for sprouting rebel limbs, were I so inclined. "Ham and cheese!" Bursting from pursed lips at full throat.

The agent cringed, but settled when I remained quiet. No full-length limbs, but I was certain that that bump humping into my lifeline was a little piggy going to market.

"Where're we going?" I asked the agent, though I knew that the best answer would come from Tedders.


I released my grip on Tedders and let him speak. Vituperation exploded in my ear. I winced and waited. Finally, he said, "CyberCrime." Before I could tap the question, he answered it: "My guess is that this is not about me or my little modifications. We're two small potatoes. There is some major potato salad going on."

In the other stretcher, Red sat up and cursed. Me, primarily, but æssistants and cross-agents came in for some constructive criticism, as well.

The agent blanked his face and crouch-walked to the front of the vehicle. "Five minutes," he threw back, then lowered himself into the passenger seat.

I couldn't think of anything to say to Red. I nodded an unseen "thanks" or "okay" or "when's lunch" to the agent but settled on silence as my best current strategy.

"The Beatles EntiDI is under atthack by the BombylBee bug." Double F for fortissimo. His voice stomped on the crowd in my head. Red's hair had recovered and was once again a crimson nebula. The Captain's ffeet left no visible impressions on her skull; nevertheless, her slitted eyes were narrower than a Billybaptist's mind when contemplating evolution.

The Captain was a tall man with a wide trunk, big shoulders, and thick arms. His was the kind of body that you were careful not to put in the toaster or you would end up electrocuting yourself when you tried to pry it out with a knife.

"What did you think you were doing?" He spat, "Civilians!"

"I don't know, Captain, she and her partner came in, disruptors blazing. Overkill is only a word. What she did was an entire verse. And it wasn't in let's-C Major; it was you'll-B-flat minor." I turned to the slit-eyed monster and held out my hand. "By the way, I'm guessing that you already know my name, but let's make this formal. I'm Dean." Hang city. I withdrew my hand, probably only imagining that Red had burned her initials onto my palm. I turned to confront the Captain once again. Red face, warm feet, isn't that what they say? I wanted to peek under the desk--see if they were glowing. "You know, some kind of computer bug, I get it: obligatory patches and essential updates, but a disruptor to the noggin and Beatleknapping? And why PlagOps?"

Captain Excited sat back, letting the hands of his chair rub his belly. Some of the choler drained out of his face. More calmly, he said, "The BB bug is eradicating Beatles music. Not by killing the Beatles EntiDI, but by laying coded eggs in the songs that the EntiDI assists in creating. The eggs hatch and eat the music from the inside out. More than 100--"

"One hundred and twenty-six," said Red, cutting in.

The Captain frowned, but nodded, and picked up the narrative, "Okay, 126 pieces in the new canon have been destroyed."

Stunned to silence. "When you say destroyed . . ."

"We got this this morning." The Captain fingered a monitor out of his desktop and thought open a video file. In it, a song bubble was collapsing in on itself. Notes burst in shards from the collapsed bubble and floated in the remnants of the song's weakened gravity, seemingly unable to fall into the melody. "Times 126," said the Captain. He puckered, whistling the monitor back into the desk, and added, "You just be thankful I played it without the audio."

Grim, grimmer, grimmest.

In my ear, Tedders reminded me, "PlagOps, disruptor, Beatleknapping, holding you at fingerpoint."

"Right." I pressed down on the tops of the chair arms, raising myself an inch. "It's bad. And if this lowly musician and producer can do something he will . . . I will, but," I sat back in the chair and raised my pinkie, "PlagOps," I raised my ring finger, "disruptor," I raised my middle finger, "Beatleknapping," I raised my pointer finger and, closing the others, aimed it at Red, "and holding me at fingerpoint."

Anger seemed to be her go to. Instead of looking abashed, ashamed, or alarmed, she attacked. Voice laden with sarcasm, she raised her forefinger. "Under that hat, you were a soaking-wet stranger appearing on the runway when I was in the middle of an op. At the same moment that I recognized you, I recognized that my having, mm, disrupted your day probably hadn't made me the light of your life." She raised her middle finger. "Whatever else we do, we have to isolate the Beatles and go over their construct." She raised her ring finger. "What the hell do you expect? You won't answer your communicator, your lights suddenly go out, the cube entrance disappears. Assume the worst and do your best, that's what the manual says." She raised her pinkie finger and then fisted her hand and lowered its controlling arm to the arm of the chair. Frowning, she turned to the Captain and said, "PlagOps."

He grimaced. "There is no way to tell when a song has been infected. And when it happens to one, any other song bubble in the immediate vicinity will also fall to the bug."

"But Captain, then you must isolate the original canon before something happens. It's priceless!"

He nodded and removed a water from a drawer, offering both Red and me one, as well. We accepted our waters and he continued. "We've done that. Of course."

Relief, sure, but I didn't see the remaining problem. "What, then?"

The Captain leaned his bulk over the desk and honked my nose. "I'll get to that. You asked why PlagOps." His chair groaned when he sat fully back. "The bug starts by chowing down on the tastiest bits of each song, the odd and enchanting harmonic progressions and sound experiments that differentiate a Beatles song from one made by a group of kids with guitars, drums, and a well-appointed production cube. So, extract the character and creativity and, often enough, what's left?"

It hit me. I, IV, V7. The proto-change. The Ur change. Certainly when Neanderthals were getting tired after a long session of twistin' the night away, one of the hairy lugs must have tossed a minor seventh into the fire in order to bring things to a final resolution. PlagOps. They had music theory at their mindertips and analytic chops that regular cops couldn't access. Red and her partner hadn't busted into my cube looking for plagiarized songs, they had done so assuming that the new, stripped-down piece that we had been working on was a gutted, about-to-implode neo-Beatles masterpiece. Strip away Sir Martin and the studio and what was "Strawberry Fields Forever"? I, IV, V7.

I didn't want to nod, but I had to admit that it all made sense. And Red and Mickle. They came clear: The old those who can't do chase down those who might be able to bromide.

"Yeah." I nodded, scratched the side of my head. "But then we're done here, right? She got the EntiDI," I indicated Red. She turned away. "You'll probably need to quarantine my recording, so I'll have my ængineer cough up the tracks--be sorry to lose 'em, but considering the stakes . . . Good of the nations and all that."

The Captain had a rusty stain on his one cheek. It spread outward, coloring his entire face. He shot a look at Red. She squirmed in her chair. "I appeal to you," he said, "as a red-blooded musician."

Red, at my side, hid her face in a swath of namesake.

"Holgertron here took kind of a hard line with the lads, stormed the walls of the Bastille, as it were."

"It was Mickle," she averred.

The Captain turned the full force of his tension on her, shouting, "Don't be a child. Of course it was you. Mickle couldn't analyze his way out of a Gregorian chant. You gave the downbeat; he followed your baton." Cap slammed the desktop with the flat of his forehead, making a dent in the what appeared to be genuine fiberboard. He pulled open a drawer and placed a music box in the concavity. My music box. I couldn't know that: They all look the same. Still, screw up the trope if it wasn't mine.

"This is an exact replica of your box, down to its right-spinning electrons. Holgertron tried to crack open the original and it blew. Mickle bore the brunt of the blast." The Captain bowed his head. After a moment, he lifted his eyes to mine. Grimmed. Continued. "You know about machine DNA?" He shoved the box with a thick finger. I answered with half a head shake, back to the same asymmetry of pain avoidance. "Exactly: there is no such thing. But based on the notion that there should be, we cloned your original box from scrapings that we got off Mickle's left eyeball. Everything as was, including the Beatles EntiDIs, the recorded tracks, even the weather."

"Hot, humid, a 65% chance of rain." I supplied.

He looked at me with new respect. "How did you know?"

"I was there, innit?"

The Captain nodded and leaned back. "We reached out to the owner of Out With the InMusic, a slicky boy from the Seychelles. He demurred, at first, but prudent application of armed insistence resulted in his handing over both his primary matrix and his cloud codes. I have an agent on the way to the server farm. I forbade the use of weaponized Milk Duds, but my man's a cunning Git; he'll find a way to destroy all the backups." The Captain's pensive look asked my receptive one to dance. "Yours was the only copy out." I nodded, thought for a while. He thought for a while. Red thought for a while. We all thought for a while.

My foot-tapping tattoo in 7/8 snagged his attention, bringing his focus back to the matter at hand.

"All interesting, Captain, but what do you need from me?" I bass-drummed the last word with a hard kick of my heel.

Instead of the Captain, Red spoke. "When the box blew, it destroyed the bug. Vapo-rubbed it completely."

I cheered, maintaining my applause until both she and the Captain took their final bows. As the audience filed from their seats, I asked, "If mine was the only copy of the EntiDI out, then that's good news, isn't it?"

Red lobbed my question at the Captain. He caught it deftly and resumed the explanation. "Good, but no longer enough."

I motioned for him to continue. He pushed a button on his desk and behind him, three sets of floor-to-ceiling curtains parted, letting in the last of the afternoon light. I could see from the view that we were high over Santurce, maybe 20 stories up.

He said, "Most people don't know this, but EntiDIs--not just the Beatles, but all of them--are programmed to leave a tonal watermark in every piece of music in whose creation they are involved."

"I didn't know that."

"What I said," replied the Captain, nodding. "The watermark helps with copyright issues, but it also offered the bug coder a handy home for his bug. It turns out that the steady diet of neo-Beatles music caused it to mutate."

I counted my fingers. "Mutate how?"

He sneezed.

"Gesundheit." Red and Dean duet.

He snuffled into a sudden tissue. An alarm sounded.

The Captain shoved himself to his feet, grunting with the effort of getting that body going. He leapt to the center set of windows and, with his free hand, punched the real-glass. A network of lines spread out from the point of impact. Red (not Red, red) splattered against the pane.

"What the? . . ."

Tissue covering his mouth and nose, he finger-painted the crimson mess across the glass. An image emerged. I recognized the husband in the Googlico. A shout built in my belly, erecting scaffolding across my lower lip. Red grabbed my arm, holding me back. The shout erupted, inarticulate anger and frustration. Clamping her hand in mine, I jumped for the window, rotating so that I would hit it with my shoulder. I smashed through, pulling Red along, trusting that our neutralizers would protect us from hungry glass teeth.

We fell, we fell, we fell. Wind and whoosh. Gravity happy to say hello. To say Gotcha! When the ground was closer than it was far, hat twisted in the air, flipping Red's and my bodies up, and landed softly on all four feet. Protected by our neutralizers from the worst of the physics, Red and I collapsed to the bare dirt, with her on top of me. Damned mixed blessings.

I didn't waste time. "Tedders, where's the restaurant. That family's. You said it was in Santurce. We're in Santurce." I pushed Red to her feet. Once erect and stable, she turned, offering me her hand.

"What are you talking about?" she asked as she pulled.

I shushed her with an uplifted finger.

Tedders said, "One block east, two blocks south. They're in what used to be an apartment building and which was turned into . . . Okay, this is getting interesting."

"Turned into what?"

Red opened her mouth to speak again. I kissed her hard, locking her tongue in mine to keep her quiet until Tedders finished.

"The All You Need Is Love Church of the Proototype."

I unlocked from Red and said, "Proototype?"

Tedders hummed. A long one, almost 15 seconds. After twisting to check that the sun was behind me, I started east, pulling Red along with me.

Red. "What are you . . . where are we going?"

Tedders. "Typo." Her voice at my ear and his voice in it made me realize that--"Audible, Tedders." I turned to Red, "Red, Tedders, Tedders, Red." In the face of Red's explosion of questions, I held up my hand and explained, "Tedders is my æssistant and my æengineer."

"Are you nuts? Personal æids were outlawed a decade ago after the physicultists reprogrammed theirs to self-destruct and took out downtown Montreal."

I said, "I remember. It was some kind of mess having to do with the illegalization of petroleum-based body oils."

We reached a cross street. I turned right and stepped into the flow of traffic, caroming off a passing pseudo-pod. Red righted me, and traffic parted to flow around us. In an area of moving calm, we headed for the opposite side of the street.

"Thanks," I said. I knew from Tedders's directions that we were on the right track. A faint sound, becoming louder, informed me that our destination was near and nearing.

"Thanks, nothing," protested Red, "what are you doing with interdicted tech?"

I ignored her. "Tedders, this church thing. You should have known about that when we were back in the car! I might not have been so quick to eject, if . . ."

Out loud this time, Tedders said, "I didn't run a complete check. I thought names and profession would be enough. Who knew that there was such a thing as the All You Need Is Love Church?"

Red said, "The all you what is what church?" She dragged her heels.

I pulled her by the arm, and then overrode Tedders, repeating for him, "The All You Need Is Love . . ." I laughed, lit by the beautiful dawn of understanding. "AYNIL, anal." We arrived at a short street that turned to the right. I heard a fanfare of trumpets and faced toward it. Standing at the end of the street was a tall building that had been painted all the colors of the rainbow. Three-D portraits of the lads at different ages adorned every level. An old-time propane-burning banner had been draped across the overhang that protected the building's entrance: "All You Need Is Love Church of the Proototype." Next to the building, a small converted residence bore the sign More Authentiquer Mongolian Barbeque. I wondered how this nice Beatles-worshiping family from somewhere my æssistant may well have imagined had ended up in the same city that was the birthplace of the Free Puerto Rico from the Smells of Rigidity movement.

*     *     *
Migue explained, "Sometimes you just spring into being. And when that happens, best you take advantage." She had lovely hands. "Besides, Their sacred work shouldn't be diluted." She was surrounded by the multiple glows of an even dozen music boxes. She indicated her mumbling, finger-moving husband, "Rocky designed the BombylBee bug. It was supposed to consume only the neo-Beatles catalogue, but--"

"Mutation, right, we know." Red nodded, relaxing carefully on the antique Beatles bench. "Any idea how that happened?"

Migue dropped a hand on her husband's shoulder. "Rocky thinks that the wildly differing styles of music caused a kind of rapid evolution, forcing the bug to expand its tastes. Music hall, jazz, baroque, it became voracious. The fact that each piece had a watermark made it easy for the bug to jump. Now it eats whatever it can find." She moaned, saying, "It won't stop mutating. It recently acquired a taste for disco."

I perked up, "But that's great! Program it to feed on rap and zpd rock, and you'll be doing the music world an immense service."

Migue stiffened, turning on me the weight of her disapproval. "We of the AYNIL Church of the Proototype are not musicists. Sound and let sound. Our only goal with the bug was to rid the world of false songs." She began to wring her hands. Seated close to the distressed woman, Red was sprayed by flying drops of sweat. Still, she leaned into the mist and said, "You couldn't know."

"Oh, but we did." Wide eyes, shining.

JJ, cassock flapping, burst into the nave, pausing long enough to sketch the sign of the apple. "Maddy found them!" He dashed over to where the four of us lounged. Rocky drank fruit punch. Lucky devil.

JJ dragged a pulpit to our little group and made himself comfortable behind it. "It is written," he said, "that George, having been allowed to contribute only a fraction of the holy works, should thereafter be known as 'the Quiet One.'"

"Yea, verily," intoned Migue. Rocky mumbled rhythmically; drank more punch. Lucky devil.

A chorus sounded from a second-floor interior balcony, "I me mine, I me mine, I me mine."

"And John, Paul, and Ringo saw that it was good, bestowing upon us the peace that passeth underfaction." JJ put up his arms and began to sway back and forth. The chorus repeated the chorus. But oh, didst the narrative come in two beats early, sowing rhythmic discord: "And the Beatles, together always in spirit, knowing that history would distort each member's contributions, did cause to be saved a secret catalogue comprising all recordings, equal in number; and it were ten qbytes long and one hundred qbytes deep, with fruit-flavored piping and a place to store their favorite pets."

Gasping for breath, JJ collapsed to the floor. From the transept, a tall girl with white tennis sandals and belt entered, solemnly air-guitaring. She spoke in E Major and could be neither dissuaded nor put on pause.

"We praise you, oh Beatles, from whom all true music flows. Our BB bug will destroy all other musics, profane and/or copyrighted."

Coming from my right, a whir and a faint breeze. Rocky, still quaffing punch (lucky devil), now had a keyboard. The highly contagious human–machine interface was considerably less plastic than legend had it. I scootched closer to Red, putting as much distance as I could between myself and the anachronism under his moving fingers. "Moving," a conservative term of sober description. Flying, whizzing, snicker-snacking. The brutalized keyboard fell to pieces. The balconied chorus whooed, falling in a faint to the linoleum tile below.

Wide in the space above our heads, a funnel began to spin, sucking up papers and cigarette butts that had disappeared circa 2027. The sharp scent of bitter almond eddied around my ears, but that was much too informal, so it began to edward, instead. I beheld a vision of butternut taking up residence in Red's swirling coif. It applied for a visa but was refused on the grounds that confederate soldiers seem reluctant to tip over 10%.

"Red," I shouted over the maelstrom above. Her silvered ears rotated in my direction. But the storm thundered with the voice of Zeus (a clever ventriloquist, but nevertheless troubled by words with the letters m, b, and p, and--to a slightly lesser extent--f and v).

"RED!" I screamed.

She jerked away from me. "I'm right here," she said, "use your indoor voice." She pinched the fabric of my neutralizer between scarlet fingers.

The tall girl, Maddy, I assumed, was doing the solo from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Behind her, an entire library of music spheres--not the Beatles, I was certain--exploded in a multicolored spray of fruit punch. Rocky moaned, but continued to pound the wrecked keyboard.

And stillness.

The glass door at the far end of the nave swung open. Soft tropic air, a short man with wrinkles in his eyes, two of the big cockroaches that look as if they could play defensive tackle. Entering the suddenly silent space, the short man. With wrinkles in his eyes. He carefully examined each of us. Red held his gaze for longer than any of the others, but he considered each of us: me, the supine boy, the soloing girl, the eyes-still-wide Migue, the punch-drinking Rocky (lucky devil). The man nodded and swallowed a vitapack, apparently not needing a glass of water.

He gulped, nodded again. "Okay. Carry on."

Chaos resumed.

*     *     *
By sunrise the following morning, the Beatles EntiDIs--separately and as a group--were destroyed, along with nearly all recorded music, antique sheet music, the transcriptions of Schoenberg cereal (gawd help us) recipes made by his amanuensis, Richy, and one of Babe Ruth's lesser home runs. I mourned about being unable to see John's last hairpiece, feel Paul's abrupt inhalation, buckle beneath the weight of George's convictions, chide Ringo for his rude comments about my addiction to milk, or listen to one more gorgeous Sir George arrangement.

Red--at odds with Captain Excellent and his merry band of married-but-willing men--I convinced to move down to Ponce, something that few San Juaneros would ever willingly do. I helped her with the legalese that resulted in the eviction (with prejudice) of the old composer who had lived next door to me for as long as the Pope has been shitting in the woods. She moved in after the fumigation.

As we stood together, before the altar of Freddy, she promised that she would never again commit music; I promised that I would task Tedders with finding a way to delete the name "Holgertron" from the collective memory.

"Mongolia," I sang, the newest only song in the world, "at sunset shines with a shiny shine."

Tedders chimed in on the next line, "at sunrise gleams with a gleaming gleam."

Red shot me with her hand.