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Story 2

Tony Conaway

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tony Conaway has written and ghostwritten everything from blogs to books. He has cowritten non-fiction books published by McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and Prentice Hall. His fiction has been published in four anthologies and numerous publications, including Clever, Danse Macabre, Linguistic Erosion, qarrtsiluni, and The Rusty Nail.

He has also sold jokes to The Tonight Show. David Letterman won't return his calls.

"When I finished writing Exile from the Perfect World, it felt as if there were many more stories to tell in this universe. I've been working on a YA novel tentatively called Unique, which features different characters but the same universe."
-- Tony Conaway

It was just another ordinary assignment for an Universal Security Agency Operative on an alternate Earth -- until his doppelganger showed up -- and his partner tried to kill him.




Exile from the Perfect World

By Tony Conaway


     I suppose it’s ironic, me and Fawaz getting shot at when we left the library.  Or it’s bad karma.  Or something like that – I'm no genius. 

     I like to read, so I know some things.  But if a subject doesn't interest me, I pretty much ignore it, so I was always struggling in school.

     This was supposed to be a milk run.  This world had a composer named George Gershwin, who was supposed to be the best at composing some sort of music I don’t listen to.  Where I come from, this Gershwin guy was only 38 when he died of a brain tumor back in 1937.

     On this world, George Gershwin lived a long, long time, and wrote music for another 52 years.

     My bosses wanted copies of Gershwin's hand-written manuscripts.  This time Fawaz and I didn’t have to steal anything, or torture anyone, or kill anyone.  All we had to do was walk into the music branch of this world’s New York Public Library and photograph a lifetime's worth of musical scores, hand-written by Gershwin himself.  It took all of yesterday and half of this morning, but it wasn’t hard work.  If this world had computers, we could have downloaded it in seconds.  But the computer revolution was still in its infancy on this world.  So we used what passed for high-tech here: cameras using rolls of something called black-and-white high-contrast copy film.

     This was the first mission in awhile where nobody had to die.

     Then we walked out of the library into some sort of gang war.

     Sometimes we get issued all sorts of nifty gizmos stolen from more advanced worlds.  Useful things, like cool weapons or protective clothing.

     But you don’t get issued the advanced tech for an easy job like this.  All we had were handguns that could pass for the ones sold in this world, plus some gun permits and I.D. which probably wouldn’t stand up to an extended inquiry.  That way, if we were arrested by the local law, we were just two guys carrying guns – not two guys carrying weapons that didn’t exist yet on this planet.

     What we did have was the training to handle a situation like this. 

     We crouched down behind a parked car, and flashed some hand signals back and forth.  I indicated that we should evade the gunfight by moving down the line of cars.   Fawaz, ornery as usual, shook his head and made a different suggestion.  I agreed, not because I thought it was a good plan, but because I wanted to end this.

     We rose and started shooting.  We kept low, using the car hoods for protection.  Part of me was hoping that Fawaz would get killed, so I could get a new, easier-to-work-with partner.  But his plan worked.  We shot at both sides with our jacketed hollow-points.  (They knew how to make JHPs on this world, but they kept them out of civilian hands.) 

     Our rounds had the desired effect: one hit, one target down.  The gangbangers didn't really aim – they just sprayed rounds in the general direction of their enemies.  Our aim was a lot better than theirs.

     Firefights always seem longer than they really are.  It probably took less than two minutes to shoot enough men that both gangs retreated.

     As we watched the survivors move off, I sensed movement behind me.  I whirled in time to spot a shabbily-dressed homeless guy crawl out from behind some bushes in front of the library. 

     He held his hands up to show that he wasn’t armed.  I stared.  I couldn’t see most of his face; a long bill on his cap covered it in shadow.  Something about him bothered me.

     Just then I heard, “Police!  Freeze!”

     We had seen an armed, uniformed NYPD officer earlier, in the library.  Now he was halfway down the front steps, aiming his gun at me.  He hadn’t noticed Fawaz yet.

     It was my turn to raise my arms.  Slowly, I turned to face the cop.  And I said what might as well have been the motto of our Ops Corps:

     “I didn’t do it.”

     Then, from behind, Fawaz put two rounds into the cop and turned him into a slab of bleeding meat.


     My world discovered the multiverse a generation ago.  There is an infinity of Earths, each one slightly different.  On my homeworld, President Kennedy was assassinated, but President Reagan survived an assassination attempt.  On another world, Kennedy lived but Reagan died.

     The Earths of the multiverse are different because history is unfolding in a different manner.  They're also at different points in time.  That is, some of them seem to have started earlier than others.

     On my homeworld, the one the politicians laughingly call “the Perfect World,” techs monitor the news media in a slew of other Earths.  These Earths are almost identical to ours, but approximately three days in the future.  What happens on those Earths will happen on ours three days later. 

     Unless something is done to change those events.

     Each of the similar Earths suffers from terrorism and mass killings.  Suicide bombers.  School shootings.  Product poisoners.

     Since our Perfect Earth runs “three days late” (as we put it), our enforcers try to deal with it by arresting the terrorists before they act.

     That’s why the Homeworld Security Agency arrested me.

     I admit that I was a screwed-up kid.  Alone with my violent fantasies of taking my stepfather’s guns and shooting up my High School.

     Would I have acted on my fantasies?  How should I know?  I'm not a psychiatrist.  Or a philosopher.  I'm just a grunt.

     The HSA presented the evidence to my mother and stepfather.  News reports from five other worlds, pretty much like ours, in which I had killed 8 students and 3 teachers.  It was eerie: the same news anchors my mother watched every evening, saying I’d committed a horrible crime.  My mother herself on camera, weeping, apologizing to the victims.  Our neighbors, saying how I was a creepy kid and they weren’t surprised.

     On at least five worlds, I was a murderer, killed by a police sniper.  It only takes proof on three worlds to convict.

     None of this had happened yet, not on our Perfect World.  And now it wouldn’t.  The Homeworld Security Agency was empowered to arrest me, convict me, sentence me.

     Oh, they were considerate of my mother’s feelings.  They did it all discreetly.  No public announcements.  My mother told everyone that I’d decided to go live with my father in another state, and planed to join the Army after graduation.  No, she didn’t think I’d be coming back.  I’m sure people suspected the truth, though.

     My stepfather didn’t care one way or another, just as long as I was gone.

     I didn’t have any say in the matter.  I was a convicted criminal who hadn’t done anything yet.

     But I was also a physically healthy young man without close personal ties.  The Agency could use me, as an Operative in their Corps.

     They gave me a choice: execution or join the Corps.  I joined.

     So I had my first jump between Earths.  The Corps isn’t based on our Homeworld.  It’s on an Earth where every human died off.  

     I’m barred from ever returning to the Perfect World, the “Earth o’ my birth” (as we Ops call it).  Forever.

     Two months of psychiatric care, some new psychotropic drugs, then boot camp, followed by training as an Operative.  Finally, induction into the Ops Corps, and missions on other Earths. 

     Sometimes they sent us in squads, sometimes in pairs.  I seem to work better with just one partner.  So now I’m teamed up with a surly Italian-American kid who converted to Islam and – on several Earths – strapped a bomb to his chest and walked into a nightclub.  I’ve had partners I liked better than this psycho, believe me.  I’ve been at this for almost three years now.


     Some of the cop’s blood had sprayed over me.  I wiped what I could off my face, then looked around for the homeless guy.  He was gone.

     No one was pointing a gun at us, so Fawaz and I bolted.

     “You could thank me,” Fawaz hissed.

     “You didn't have to kill that cop,” I said.  “I could've gotten away.”  I wasn't sure how, but I was trained in evasion.  I was confident in my skills.

     “Feh.  A Shadowman,” Fawaz said.  “Expendable.”

     “So are we, to the Agency.”

     Fawaz was quiet after that.

     One reason Fawaz is so trigger-happy is this: the HSA has its own tame mullah, who tells all the Muslim Operatives that the only real people are the ones from the Homeworld.  All the other people on all the other worlds are false men.  “Shadowmen” they call them.  No more real than the characters in a video game.

     Not all the Muslim Operatives believe that.

     Fawaz not only believes it, he acts like each one he kills brings him closer to Paradise.

     Mind you, I'm not an innocent.  My kill figures are up in the triple digits by now.  But I try to only kill people who are trying to kill me, and the people that the Agency orders me to kill.

     That hit list is usually scientists who are getting close to discovering the multiverse.  The Perfect World is the only one that knows that the multiverse actually exists, and how to traverse from world to world.

     And the Agency's most important job is to keep it that way.


     Fawaz and I were headed to our pickup location, which is in Brooklyn.  You need a clear space of about 2,200 cubic feet for the transport portal to manifest.  That means a ceiling clearance of 13-odd feet, minimum.  While there are spaces like that in Manhattan, they're astronomically expensive.  The Agency could afford it, but it’s much cheaper to rent a warehouse in Brooklyn.  And less conspicuous.

     First I had to get the blood off me.  Cabbies, on any world, rarely pick up bloody passengers. 

     We slipped into a restaurant I knew from other Manhattans, a soulless diner with a sizable, single-occupant men’s room.  Fawaz walked in front of me, hiding my blood-stained clothing.  I grabbed an “Out of Service” sign from an unlocked utility closet and hung it from a bent nail on the outside of the bathroom door.  Then I went inside and locked myself in.  I tried to wash the blood off my face and hands in the small sink.  My shirt was stained, too, so I told Fawaz to go and buy me another.  We had plenty of cash.  It didn't cost the HSA anything: their high tech printers easily duplicated the local paper money.  Policy was to supply each Operative with enough currency for either a serious bribe or to buy a vehicle, if it proved necessary.

     Someone tapped on the locked bathroom door in Morse code: M-E.  My father – my real father, not my stepfather – taught Morse to me, and we used that as our private door knock.

     Had I taught that code to Fawaz?  I couldn’t remember.  So I unlocked the door and opened it.

     And I saw the homeless guy from outside the library, holding a gun on me.  One of the flashy guns that those gangbangers used – he must have gotten it off a corpse.

     He lifted his head so I could see under the long brim of his cap.

     It was me.


     HSA Operatives often have doppelgangers on the other worlds.  Of course, the doppelgangers aren't multiverse-hopping Operatives there: the Perfect World is the only one with that capability.  As far as we know.

     And not all Operatives are convicted murderers.  Believe it or not, some idealists actually volunteer to be Operatives.  But most Ops are like me, condemned criminals.  And so are many of our doppelgangers.

     But whatever your doppelganger is, president or pariah, the Agency doesn't want you to meet him or her.  Apparently, the temptation to help your otherworld twin is hard to resist. 

     No, the universe doesn't implode if two of you meet.  And we don't go to anti-matter worlds; we've never even found any.  (As far as I know - my security clearance is pretty low.) 

     So, before an Operative goes out, the Agency checks the news media of the destination world.  It tries to make sure that you won't meet your doppelganger.  Preferably, your dop should be dead on the world you're about to visit.

     But the Agency doesn't have any magic sensors to check a whole world.  This ain't Star Trek.  If your doppelganger dropped off the grid, they can't be sure if he's still alive.  Like if your doppelganger has been homeless for three years.

     We do get a pre-mission briefing that includes the status of your doppelganger.  Usually, it's “No dop” or “Dop deceased” or “Dop on different continent.”  If they're wanted for a crime, that's there too, since the local law enforcers might mistake you for your dop.

     A lot of Ops don't pay attention to this part of the brief.  I do.

     Before this mission, my brief said “Dop shot and killed 2 of his schoolteachers.  Presumed deceased.”

     They were wrong.  My dop was in front of me, aiming a gun at my chest.


     He backed me into the bathroom and closed the door.  The place was so small that the gun was touching my chest.

     “What, what are you?” he croaked.  It sounded like he hadn't spoken to anyone in a long time.  He also smelled like he hadn't bathed in a long time.

     “Easy with that.  I'm not here to hurt you,” I said.

     “I thought I was going crazy!  How can you look just like me?”

     I remembered the brief.  This version of me had only managed to kill 2 teachers.  Underachiever!

     But even an underachiever is dangerous when he's holding a gun to your chest.

     Thankfully, just then Fawaz returned.

     Fawaz's knock startled him so much that he turned towards the door.  As soon as he did, I slipped my body out of the line of fire and grappled with him.  I got the gun  away from him without it even going off.

     Then I hit my dop hard enough in the solar plexus to disable him for a minute or two.  I sat him on the toilet, then squeezed around him and opened the door.

     “Thanks,” I told Fawaz.

     He looked around me and saw a figure on the toilet gasping for air.

     “So make this guy a shadow and let's go.  It's almost lunchtime, and this place will be filling up.”

     My mind was racing.  “Give me a second,” I said.  I took the bag with the new shirt that Fawaz brought and closed the door.

     I turned back to my doppelganger.

     “Look, my partner thinks you're in the way.  He wants you dead.”

     My dop stopped gasping for air and looked at me.  I took the tee shirt out of the bag.  It said “I (heart) New York.”

     “I could've shot you back at the library.  I didn't.  If you come with us peacefully, I might be able to keep you alive.  But one word to the cops, to anyone and I will shoot you myself.  Understand?”

     He nodded.  I put on the tee shirt.

     “Can you walk?”

     His breathing had almost returned to normal.  He braced his hand on a wall of the bathroom and stood, a little unsteadily.

     I shoved my old shirt and some blood-covered paper towels into the shirt bag.  Best to dispose of them elsewhere. 

     “Let's go,” I said.


     The Agency usually gives its Operatives the same technology that's currently in use on a target planet.  Except in special circumstances, if the target world has swords, the Ops get swords.  If that world has zap guns, the Ops get zap guns.

     The stated reason is that if an Op is captured, killed, or just loses his assigned weapon, the local authorities won't get a high-tech weapon to examine.  Apparently, once you know something is possible, you're halfway to doing it yourself.  The Number One Rule of the Homeworld Security Agency is to keep our monopoly on multiverse travel at all costs.

     But there's another reason, one that Ops whisper to each other.

     Some Ops have taken their high-tech weapons and made themselves rulers of an otherworld.

     Yes, that sort of thing does happen.  I know, because the Agency once sent me with a team to kill an Op who'd gone native.

     It was over a year ago, before I'd been partnered with Fawaz.  It happened like this: the target Earth was in the grip of a brutal world war, analogous to the Homeworld's First World War.  This world's Germans were about to bombard a big palace outside Paris, which would destroy it.  The Agency decided this was an opportunity to steal paintings and sculptures by artists who were unique to this world.  Everyone would assume that the artwork had been destroyed by these huge Krupp cannons that the Germans were using.

     The artwork was bulky but fragile, so the Ops team was given these self-assembling robots to help them move the art.  Those are pretty neat: they fold up so they look like a heavy suitcase, but they can unfold themselves into skeletal robots.  Plus, the Ops were issued zap guns that could stun a whole crowd of museum-goers and guards.

     Apparently, everything went as planned until the exit.  The artwork was retrieved.  But the Ops team came through unconscious, stunned by their own guns.  And one Operative stayed behind with all the high tech.

     It turned out that the rogue Operative considered himself a patriot.  He was from England on the Homeworld, and this otherworld's Britain was enough alike that he wanted to help them win this world war.  On this world, Germany and its allies were clearly going to win.

     The rogue Operative was pretty smart.  He didn't go to the British government and say, “Hey, I'm from an alternate world and I brought all these neat toys to help you win the war.”  That usually gets you put into an insane asylum and your toys confiscated. 

     Instead, the rogue Op quickly established himself as a genius inventor down in Britain's South African colony.  There are plenty of resources down there, and it's far enough from London that he could operate independently.  In a short time, he and his robots were turning out tanks and aircraft that were twenty years ahead of anything the Germans had.  He was shipping them to England, and the tide of the war was turning.

     As far as I can tell, the Homeworld Security Agency didn't care that the rogue Op had twisted the course of history on this otherworld.  They just don't allow their Agents to go rogue, let alone use high technology for unapproved purposes.

     So the Agency sent a big team to put things right.  I wasn't on the squad that killed the rogue Op.  My job was to destroy one of the high tech aircraft factories, and make it look like Boer saboteurs.  I never found out if the rogue Op had managed to save that England from the Germans or not.

     The point is this: the Agency owns our ass.  Try to disappear on an otherworld, and they will send Ops to hunt you down.  Misusing high tech just makes them want to kill you all the more.

     Something minor, like helping your doppelganger, might not get you executed – especially if you completed your mission successfully.  They might not even find out.  But then again, you couldn't be sure.

     Never forget: the Agency owns our ass.  Until we die.


     Fawaz was arguing with me as I chivvied my doppelganger down the street.

     “Relax,” I told Fawaz.  “People will think he's my twin.”

     “He looks like what he is, a homeless bum!  He stinks!”

     “So he's my drunk, homeless brother.  This is New York – no one cares.”

     “Why are you even bringing him along?  What are you going to do with him?”

     “I haven't decided,” I said.  Which was true, although I was getting an idea.

     Fawaz looked mad enough to shoot us both.  But what he did next surprised me.

     “Look,” he said.  “It's almost noon on a Friday.  There's a mosque on the next corner.  I'm going to go pray.  Friday services take about an hour.  So you have one hour to solve this.  Give me the film.”

     I had my camera and the rolls of film in a shoulder bag.  I handed it over – it contained all the pictures we'd taken of the Gershwin manuscripts this morning.

     “I'll meet you at that statue, there.”  He pointed at a memorial to some dead general in a small park. “At exactly 1:15 pm.  Don't make me have to come hunt you down.”

     And he stomped away, towards his mosque.

     I had no doubt that he meant, “Don't make me have to kill you.”

     I looked at my doppelganger and smiled.  “See, he likes you.  He gave us an extra fifteen minutes.”

     But the guy did stink, enough so that he attracted unwanted attention.

     “Is there a YMCA near here?” I asked.

     “Uh, yeah.  About three blocks that way.”

     “Good.”  I hadn't been able to get all the blood out of my hair in that bathroom sink.  And my dop truly needed a shower.  “Let's grab some clean clothes at this shop, then get ourselves cleaned up.”


     The shop had everything we needed.  In addition to new clothes, I bought us some soap, towels, combs and a toothbrush – my twin's breath stunk, too.

     The fake I.D. they issued me didn't include a YMCA membership, but it didn't cost much to join.  I had to include a small gratuity for them to admit my stinky twin.

     As we showered, I checked out my dop.  Neither of us had any tattoos or identifying marks.  He was truly identical to me.  For once, I was glad I hadn't gone in for bodybuilding like some of the other Ops.  We both had the same wiry build. We even had the same scraggly beards, though his was longer.  Except for the fact that he needed a trim, he was my twin in every sense.

     While he was brushing his teeth (which appeared to be in decent shape), I borrowed a pair of scissors from the desk clerk.

     “What are you doing?” he said, as I got behind him and ran a comb through his hair.

     “What did Mom always say about your ears?”

     “She...she liked them.  She said I should keep my hair short enough so she could see them.”

     My twin didn't resist after that.  I trimmed his hair and beard.  I'm no barber, but I managed to shorten his hair until it was a decent length, like mine.

     My dop seemed pathetically grateful for the attention.

     I'd bought long guayabera shirts for both of us.  Worn outside the belt, they offered easy concealment for a gun.

     We were running out of time, but managed to get to the rendezvous by 1:15 pm. 

     Prayer hadn't improved Fawaz's mood.  “You couldn't have just left his corpse in an alley?  What are you going to do with him?”

     “There were witnesses at the library.  By now, the cops must be looking for two men.  They won't be looking for three men, two of them twins.”  It was a flimsy excuse, but it was the best I had come up with.

     Fawaz just grunted.  “Let's get a cab.  I want to get home.”


     The old-fashioned cab had a fold-down jump seat behind the driver.  My dop and I took the back seat, while Fawaz took the jump seat and glared at us.

     Traffic was heavy.  I was glad - a slow cab ride was the first chance I'd had to relax and assess the situation.

     I had been convicted of a crime that I never got around to committing.

     I was sitting next to a guy who actually had committed that crime (or a version of it), and had apparently gotten away with it.

     And here I was helping him.  By rights, I should be furious that I was convicted for something he had done – even if it was on a different world.

     I should kill this duplicate of me.  Fawaz certainly would, if it was his dop.

     But I'd also had years of therapy.  And, unlike Fawaz, I didn't kill people unless I had to.

     My doppelganger had barely uttered a word since the YMCA.  Now he spoke up.

     “I still don't understand,” he said.

     “Don't worry about it.  Think of me as your guardian angel.”  Then I recalled that he was probably an atheist, like me.  “Or how about this?  You read Joseph Conrad in school?  The Secret Sharer?”  He nodded.  I'd read it, so I figured he had, too.  “Just think of me as your own secret sharer, rescuing his fugitive twin.”

     Fawaz glared at us.  I'm sure he wanted to shoot us both, right there in the cab.  My doppelganger just nodded, as if what I had said made sense.


     Our cab driver hadn't wanted to drive us all the way to Brooklyn, or into this neighborhood.  Fortunately, two additional offers of money changed his mind. 

     We got out of the cab at a small warehouse.  The Agency had rented the entire building.  I unlocked the door with the key I'd been issued and went inside.

     I knew that Fawaz would be at his most dangerous once we were off the street.  We were alone here.  Cameras couldn't transmit between universes – they had to record and be physically transported back to the Homeworld.  High tech cameras can be very small.  But a camera with a recording device that was attached to a drone that would fly into a transport when it manifests?  That has to be big enough to notice.  I didn't see anything like that in the warehouse.

     So Fawaz could safely kill us and tell the Agency that I had been killed in the street battle.  They would have no proof that it had happened any other way.

     I just had to take the risk that he wouldn't kill me until he found out what my plans were for my doppelganger.

     The warehouse was empty except for a darkroom and some contemporary camera gear.  I'd made prints last night of yesterday's photos.  We weren't supposed to return until we were sure that we had good shots of all Gershwin's work.  Well, after the gun battle, we couldn't go back to that library.

     Aside from the darkroom, the only other thing in the warehouse was a chalked circle on the floor that marked where the retrieval mechanism would manifest.

     “Now,” Fawaz said.  “We're here.  Kill the shadow, summon the transport, and let's go home.”

     I angled my body to present the smallest possible target to Fawaz.  “No,” I said.

     Fawaz pulled his gun out.  He was always faster than I was.

     “I want to help my...twin.  We're going to give him all our local currency.  We don't need it any more.  But it can give him a chance at a new start.”

     “You're insane.  He's a witness, so he dies.”  Fawaz aimed his gun at me.  “And I want a new partner.”


     Fawaz looked, unbelieving, at a hole in his side.

     Back in the YMCA, I'd warned my doppelganger that Fawaz would try to kill us.  And I gave him back his stolen gun, hidden under his guayabera .

     Too bad my doppelganger didn't get a kill shot.  Fawaz turned and shot him.

     But that gave me enough time to pull out my own gun and shoot Fawaz dead.

     I went over to my dop.  Fawaz had been rushed.  The round Fawaz shot hadn't quite been a kill shot.  Instead, it had taken my twin's left forearm clean off.

     I tied a tourniquet around the stump while my twin moaned in pain.

     Then I went to work.

     I wanted to double-check that the Agency hadn't planted any recording devices in the warehouse. 

     While I searched, I barked out questions to my twin:

     How did you get away after you shot those teachers?

     Where have you been hiding for the past three years?

     C'mon, talk to me!  I want to know you're still alive!

     But I learned nothing.  All my twin did was moan in pain.

     I finished my search.  If there were any recording devices, I couldn't find them.  The only high tech in this warehouse seemed to be the tiny buttons that summoned the retrieval transport.  Fawaz and I both had one, disguised as key fobs. 

     Then I took the gun and the money belt off Fawaz.  I left the mission objective – the photos of the Gershwin manuscripts – in the camera bag hanging from his shoulder.  The negatives and prints from yesterday I put into a waterproof portfolio, and tucked it into his belt.  And I dragged Fawaz's corpse into the chalk circle.

     Finally, I dragged my moaning doppelganger into the circle.

     He looked up at me in pain.

     For some reason I don't understand, I bent and kissed him on the forehead.

     Then I undid his tourniquet and let him bleed out.

     When he was almost dead, I triggered the retrieval mechanism, and tossed it to him.  Let the Agency think that his dying action was to summon retrieval for himself and Fawaz.

     And let them think my doppelganger was me.

     Maybe they'd notice that the Operative who came back had a bad haircut.  Maybe not.  I'd done the best I could. 

     I also had to hope that my doppelganger had the same fingerprints as me.  They usually do, but I'd had no way to check that. 

     And now I'd gone rogue.  I was no longer one of the Agency's Operatives.

     On the plus side, I had enough cash to last me for a long while.

     On the negative side, I was a wanted man on this world. 

     But if my twin could stay free for three years, I figured I had a good chance of doing the same.  I had a lot more training than he had.

     I had no high tech with me, but I knew that computers would be a good investment on this backwards world.  I hoped to live a quiet life as a wealthy investor.

     And with luck, I'd never have to kill anyone again. 

     Is that too much to hope for?

- END -


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