Finally I curled up with a book, a very thick history of the Grand Tradesmasters of All Sarnath, many of whom were real characters, to put it mildly. Stanford Smith was by far the most pleasant and sensible of the lot. He had made a vast number of westerns, films whose location is in dispute between Utah and Mongolia, and the esoteric, substantially incomprehensible motion picture Casablanca, which is still said to be one of the greatest films made in the last several thousand years. The history listed some of the books that attempt to interpret a scene at the end of the film, in which the Inspector throws a bottle of water into a trash can. The scene is so brilliant that no one can understand it. Smith was the sort of person you would like as an older friend, if he hadn’t died a couple thousand years ago.
All good books come to an end. Live Forever and Own All the Money was no exception. I looked up. It was well after dark outside. OK, it’s January. Dark happens early. My mocha pot was empty. I’d really gotten lost in the book, especially toward the end when Grand Tradesmasters were alcoholics, child molesters, lunatics, and monetary reformers, concentrating hard enough that I didn’t think about my pain. I still hurt, a lot. At the end, I’d had to take getting gut-punched. Hard. Things were still uncomfortable down there. Before I started reading I’d remembered to pull up a quilt, so I hadn’t gotten cold. My gifts will protect me from cold, but only when I’m calling them.
A shame so many Tradesmasters were lunatics. For a few moments my memories carried me back to a book I’d read last year, a book on another lunatic, the not-American Ambassador. One fine day, there had appeared in Vienna a man claiming to be the American Ambassador, which he was not. He had an impressive set of papers saying he was the Ambassador not for the American Republic but for a “United States of America”, a country founded in 1776, not 0017, and not to the Empire of the Hapsburgs but to a “Republic of Austria”. The parallel universe crackpots had a field day. Telepathic examination, as a start to curing his delusions, found that he had a full set of wrong memories going back to being a little boy, all memories of a world that does not exist. Particularly alarming were his very detailed memories of ‘the first flight to the moon’, a flight allegedly carried out within the last few decades using, Goddess spare us, a chemical-fueled rocket. The alarm was that he remembered lots of details of the rocket—it had been a boyhood fixation—and careful engineering analysis of this complete bit of absurdity showed that the rocket would have worked, if it hadn’t blown up first. He refused to believe in personas or gifts, even when someone hovered in front of him. He claimed that his “United States” was part of the world’s first technical civilization, that there are no ancient steel and concrete ruins, that writing is not older than homo sapiens, and that Massachusetts had been settled from of all places Britain, in 1600, that being only 20 centuries too late and from the wrong direction. In short, he was stark raving mad.