When Androids Visit Omaha

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When Androids Visit Omaha

By Iolanthe Portmanteaux


You may forget,
but let me tell you this:
someone in some future time
will think of us.
— Sappho


I have nothing anything against Omaha, Nebraska per se. I can't blame Omaha for what happened to me. In fact, I was only near Omaha when everything happened. I travel — that is, I used to travel a lot for business, and there are many cities that I've passed through but never seen. Chicago, for instance: I've spent many an hour in O'Hare Airport, but have never set foot in the city itself. Even in Europe — and I know this is a crime — but although I've knocked around Gatwick and Charles-de-Gaulle countless times, I've never experienced either London or Paris.

Such is the fate of the business traveler.

I've often repeated the terrible airline joke ("Breakfast in London; lunch in New York; dinner in San Francisco; baggage in Buenos Aires”) but at least I have the excuse of actually having lived it more than once.

Those are my credentials, my bona fides, as a seasoned traveler. I am so hardened, so jaded, that I've turned over my travel planning to my young assistant. I have no idea what criteria she uses when lining up the legs of my journeys — and I never ask. I suspect that she looks for a series of short flights with unusual change points. Since turning my interaries over to her, I've never been late, often been mildly surprised, and — best of all — am far less bored on my arrival.

But still... Omaha? I almost wanted to ask what her reasoning was this time, but I didn't and I won't. I don't care to disrupt the only random element in my otherwise predictable life.

One thing I'm sure of: when she sent me through Omaha, the last thing she had in mind was a meet-up with androids from the future. It's not something that anyone could anticipate. I'm pretty sure it's an experience that fate reserved exclusively for me.

Although, when I consider my last statement, I have to admit: I have no way of knowing whether it's true. Maybe in the distant future, androids, when they gather, speak wistfully of Omaha and environs. For all I know — for all that anyone knows — Omaha may very well be the number one destination for time-travelers who like to throw elaborate monkey-wrenches into other people's lives.

This isn't a long story, so I'll try to tell it quickly. As you'll see, most of the details have no importance whatsoever. The details are like packing material. If it weren't for them, the story wouldn't reach you in one piece.

As I've explained, due to the creative planning of my assistant, I had a connecting flight in Omaha. When I landed in Eppley Field, it was 8:45 AM on a Tuesday in January. I fully expected to leave Eppley Field less than two hours later, at 10:30 AM. My luggage was checked through, my carry-on was light, and the airport is small, so I was pretty leisurely about finding the gate for my second flight.

Like most airports, there are huge windows — glass walls, basically — through which you can see the tarmac. It's a big view: you see planes in various stages of waiting, loading, unloading, taking off, and landing. All very standard. Through those windows I could see that the ground was wet from a recent rain, and that it wasn't raining now. I could see the sky as well: it was partly cloudy. Patches of blue broke through here and there. It certainly didn't look like it would rain again — or snow, for that matter. Good weather! Good news for travelers, or so I thought.

How wrong I was! Imagine my astonishment when I heard the agent at the gate use the words bad weather when she spoke to the angry couple ahead of me in line.

I didn't appreciate the bad news, which clearly meant a delay, but even so, I felt sympathetic to the poor agent. She was very young, very thin, very fragile-looking. Certainly she didn't deserve the abuse the man ahead of me was pouring on her. She was flustered. She struggled to be patient. Her cheeks were red, but much to my admiration, she didn't lose her temper. Not even a little.

And yet the man ahead of me couldn't stop complaining. The situation was awkward, unnecessary, and uncomfortable. Still, I kept my tongue and minded my own business — that is, until he began to call her names: incompetent, stupid, imbecile, idiot, ... I'm sorry, but I had to intervene.

"Hey," I told him. "That's enough."

He turned toward me, full of indignation. He sized me up, and I could see he was a little taken aback by the fact that I was taller and more fit than he. Even so, he didn't back down. Showing his teeth, he growled, "Why don't you mind your own damn business?"

"It is my business," I informed him. I wasn't angry, but I was quite firm. "I'm waiting in line while you're wasting her time and mine. You're indulging yourself by abusing her. She's explained to you several times that there's a delay. Whatever the cause, it's not her fault."

"Well, I never—" he began.

"Obviously not," I told him. "So why don't you take a walk and cool off? And don't come back until you find your manners." He opened his mouth to reply, but I cut him off, saying, "I'll be watching."

Red-faced and muttering, the man gathered his things and cleared off. His wife tried to give me an indignant look, but her would-be withering glare fell apart when I simply smiled in response.

Once the couple was gone, the agent quietly thanked me.

"Sorry you had to endure that," I said. "But uh, leaving that aside, did I hear you say there's bad weather?" I smiled as I glanced at the windows. She followed my glance, then looked down, picking up the ticket that I'd set in front of her. After witnessing the previous pair of passengers, I was determined to be kind, patient, and non-confrontational.

"Yes," replied tersely, her eyes still looking down as she punched my ticket code into her terminal. "Not here, obviously. But the weather is very bad in Chicago and Denver."

I scratched my head. "But I'm not going to Chicago or Denver."

"I understand that. I can see your ticket right here. Unfortunately, your plane is stuck on the ground in Chicago, waiting to take off. Until that plane arrives, we don't have a plane out for you. We're anticipating a four-hour delay at this point."

"Okay. So I can expect to take off at, uh, 2:30 this afternoon? That's not bad."

She hesitated and quickly glanced around her before answering in a quiet voice. "If all goes well, yes." She looked me in the eye as she spoke. "At this point we're saying that your flight will leave at 2:30."

In a voice as quiet as hers, I observed, "You don't seem too confident about it."

"If you check back in 90 minutes, I might know better."

I thanked her and decided to take a long, late breakfast. I dallied as long as I could, but even so, I couldn't stretch my meal any longer than 25 minutes. Which left me with an hour and five minutes to kill. So I went on a wander, and by pure chance ran into the same harried ticket agent. She was in a hurry and her cheeks were even redder than before. She would have rocketed right past me if she hadn't stopped to hunt for a tissue in her handbag.

"Hey," I said softly. "Did something happen? Are you alright? More rude passengers?" She nodded silently. I offered her my handkerchief, and told her it was clean. She took it gratefully. There were two tiny tear droplets hanging on her eyelashes, the way dew clings to blades of grass. "I remember you from before," she said, dabbing at the corners of her eyes. After a few sniffs and snuffles, in a soft wail, she asked, "What is wrong with people? Why doesn't anyone have any manners?"

"I don't know," I replied. "They were probably raised badly."

"Maybe," she agreed. "Do you know what? You are the only person who's been patient and polite today. The only person. Can you believe that?"

"I'm sincerely sorry to hear it."

"Well, listen," she told me, stepping a little closer so no one could overhear. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone — for some stupid reason we're supposed to stall and make everyone wait — as though THAT would make things magically better — anyway, the storms over Denver and Chicago have gotten worse. A lot worse. I can tell you for sure and certain, that there aren't going be ANY flights going in or out of here today." She sniffled and snuffled, and then she added, in a confidential tone, "I'm telling this to you and only to you. Please don't tell anyone else, because I could get into trouble. You've been nice, so you deserve to know. The other people, well — the other people can just go fuck themselves. Pardon my French."

I smiled, and she laughed a little. "So listen: if I were you, I'd go check into a hotel right now, before the rush. The Eppley Grand is just fine. Believe me, nobody's leaving Omaha today." She drew a deep breath and let it go. She seemed slightly more relaxed and calm. "Okay," she said. "Listen. When I get back to my terminal, I'm going to book you on the first flight out tomorrow, and I'm going to upgrade you, to at least business class."

"Wow, that's really nice of you! You really don't need to do that, though."

"Yes, I do. Business class, first class, you won't get bumped while we work through the backlog."

I was taken aback by her kindness. "The other people must have REALLY been mean to you!"

Her jaw set and her lips tightened. "One man spat in my face," she told me, and turned crimson.

We chatted for a few brief moments. I tried to encourage her. I did make her smile and laugh, and that made me feel better as well. Then, with a deep sigh of resignation, she returned to her work. Acting on her recommendation, I took a cab to the hotel. It was a pretty short ride — the hotel is right behind the airport, on the side away from the city. My room overlooked the river and Route 29. There was nothing beyond. Oddly, it gave me the feeling of being in outer space.

Happily I'd packed enough clothes and toiletries in my carry-on to get me through an unexpected overnight, so while the extended layover was inconvenient, it wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was kind of nice to have a little time to myself. After checking in, I phoned the people who were expecting me. By the time I was done, I was ready for a late-afternoon snack and an large, ice-cold beer.

When I returned to the lobby, I found it crowded and noisy. The reception desk was mobbed with people, and both the lounge and hotel restaurant were full. It turned out that the ticket agent's advice had been quite timely. If I'd waited, I might not have found a room! At least not in this hotel. In any case, she'd done me a solid favor.

I spotted a pair of armchairs that appeared to be the last empty perches, so I quickly settled into one of them, and picked up a menu from the table near my chair. A waitress was approaching, so I quickly scanned the selection. While I was occupied in that way, a man's voice asked whether the other chair was taken. I told him, "Go right ahead" almost without looking at him. He was still settling into his chair when the waitress arrived.

So as not to waste her time I quickly ordered a cajun burger, medium, an order of onion rings, and a large draft. "I'll have the same," the newcomer added. When she asked our room numbers, I said, "625." He waved his hand dismissively and said, "No — put it all on mine: 626."

I thanked him, and he said, "Well, when I heard your room number, I had to go you one better."

The waitress hesitated, and touched her pen to her lips. There was a look on her face that was both wary and amused. "So... is 626 really your room number?"

He looked puzzled. "Certainly — why wouldn't it be?"

"Honestly? You made it sound like a joke."

He grinned, and said, "No, no — not a joke! Um, look here—" and he pulled out his key card in its envelope. The number 626 was clearly written there.

She shrugged and smirked. As busy as she was, she hadn't moved on. She stood there, looking at the man. Somewhere behind her, a voice called out, "Waitress! Oh, waitress!" but she ignored it.

He looked up at her. I noticed that his hair was the usual sort of helmet-like cut favored by conservative men. Also, his clothes were an usual color. Maybe you could call it burnt crimson?

"It was both," he told her, still smiling. "A joke and the truth." He shrugged and then extended his hand to her. "My name is Ensign Whitlock. Ensign is my name; it's not any kind of military rank or anything."

She gave a noncomittal "Huh," but didn't take his hand. "Where are you from, Mr Whitlock?"

"I'm from the future," he told her. I blinked a couple of times.

"Naw," she replied, nearly in a guffaw. "Naw, you're definitely not from the future." She shook her head. "You look like you're from the seventies." Then she glanced at me, said, "I'll be back with your beers in a minute," turned on her heel and left us.

I took a look at Whitlock, and immediately understood the waitress' remark about the seventies. I'm a guy; I don't usually notice how people — especially men — are dressed, and until now I was intent on ordering my food. But now that I had a chance to look him over, I could see this guy was decked out in an unusual style — definitely eccentric, and clearly NOT futuristic.

For one thing, his clothes were 100% polyester. There was no doubt: that familiar plastic sheen is unmistakeable. His leisure jacket and pants were, as I said, burnt crimson. The pants were flared; not bell bottoms, but still a call from the distant past. The jacket featured two large patch pockets, and big, one-inch buttons all the way up. The lapels of his jacket and shirt were big enough to land a plane on, as we used to say back then — something like eight square inches of real estate. His shirt, also polyester, was a dark reddish brown, divided into squares by by crisscrossing pale red diagonals. His shoes were, of all things, chocolate-brown suede ankle boots.

Definitely not from the future, as the waitress had said.

She returned pretty quickly with our beers. We raised our glasses politely to each other. I introduced myself, then said, "So, Ensign... was your father a Navy man?"

"No, not at all. He was uh..." Ensign paused, as if looking for the right word. "Well, let's just say he was a little strange. To put it as simply and briefly as possible, the man just liked the sound of the word, and he gave it to me as a name. I often think about changing it, but I've never found an alternative that I like better."

"Hmmph. Yes, I guess a name like Frank or Joe would seem pretty plain by comparison."

As it turned out, Ensign was quite an engaging conversationalist. If you ignored the way he was dressed, he looked like the sort of guy you'd see on TV: a news anchor, reading the evening news. He was blessed with a full head of brown hair and an intelligent face — not movie-star material, but certainly good looking. His voice was pleasant, and he was well informed.

We talked all the way through our burgers and onion rings. He ordered a second pair of beers, along with some bratwurst and those big, soft pretzels, and wouldn't let me pay.

When the waitress returned with the second round of beers, she smirked and asked Ensign, "Tell me: is the beer better now, or in the future?"

"Without hesitation, I can definitely say that beer is much better now."

"Why? What's wrong with future beer?"

"In the future, in my time, the current trend is to make beers as sweet as possible. It's horrible."

"Don't you have any choice?" she asked, still smirking, "I mean, it's the future! You must be able to get whatever you want."

"Even in the future we're not free from fads and trends and market forces. Yes, you can go out of your way and buy whatever beer you like. But if you stop in any shop, you mostly find fruity beers and sugary beers."

"So you come back to our time to get some IPAs, is that it?"

He made a face. "No — IPAs are the same idea in reverse. IPAs are really just a contest to see how awful a beer can taste."

"Hmmph," she said. "So I guess you're going to stock up on beer before you return to the future? Do you have one of those cars with the doors that flip up, like in the movie?"

He blinked at her several times before responding. "Um, okay. Yes, I will do some serious shopping before going back, but no, I don't have a car at all."

She twisted her mouth to the side, but having run out of questions, she returned to serve other patrons.

I'm not a big drinker. I usually stop at one. And these beers were pretty big, by my standard. When I order a beer, I expect to be served a pint. These glasses held 22 ounces, which is almost a pint and a half.

Even so, after drinking one big one, I didn't feel any effect from the alcohol. I simply felt hydrated. And, I guess, a little playful, so following the waitress' lead, I asked Ensign, "If you bring a case of beer back to the future, won't that create a problem?"

"Why would it?"

"I, um, learned in college physics that time travel isn't possible because of the law of conservation of matter and energy."

"Oh, yes? And how does that enter into it?"

"Matter can't be created or destroyed, but it you cart that beer into the future, you're doing both, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not destroying anything. I'm taking it with me."

I didn't know how to answer that. I sipped my beer. The waitress was better at playing this game, not me. So I dropped it.

After a bit of silence, Ensign observed, "I thought you'd ask me about the butterfly effect."

I shrugged and replied, "What about it?"

"You wonder if I might interfere with history, that I might inadvertantly make a small change that massively fucks up the future."

"Yeah. I mean, suppose something historic or important was supposed to happen in room 626 today? But it can't, because you're in there." I gestured to reception, which was still surrounded by travelers seeking a room. "One or two of those people there may get turned away, and some chain of events kicks off..."

"That could happen," he acknowledged.

"What if someone from the future went back and killed Hitler? Then, no World War II, no Nazis, ..."

"It has happened," he informed me.

"Someone went to the past and killed Hitler? If they did, someone else must have gone back and prevented it?"

"To put it simply, yes."

"But no," I protested, and as I did, I realized that the beer had more of an effect that I realized. But I wasn't drunk; I was just a little buzzed. Not drunk, but having drink taken, as the phrase goes. "If someone went back and killed Hitler, no one in the future would know about him! So no one would go back and fix it!"

"The same person went back."


"Yes, and he stopped himself."

"I thought that you couldn't meet other versions of yourself."

Ensign laughed. "What exactly would prevent that from happening?"

"How would I know?" He flummoxed and confused me. I gestured helplessly, and finally hit on a cogent objection. "Look, you could go back in time and do something that prevents you from ever being born!"

Ensign nodded. "Sure."

"And then you'd cease to exist!"

"Uh, not necessarily." Ensign drummed his fingers on the table.

"Why not?"

"It depends on... things. On the context and the sequence..." He paused thoughtfully.

"Listen," he explained, "There was a period we call the Wild Wild West, when time travel was new, and the first travelers got up to all sorts. Everything you think can't happen, did happen. Some of it had to be undone, but most of it we left that way. Now it's a little bit better regulated. Also, we've found that usually when we change something, the consequences aren't much different. For instance, when there was no Hitler, the war happened anyway, with all its associated horrors. In some ways, it was worse."

"How could it be worse?"

He sighed. "Things can always be worse."

We went on drinking, and talking about time travel. Honestly, he made it sound like a real thing. The alcohol relaxed me, made me smile, and I felt like Who cares if what he says is nonsense? He talked a good game. At the very least, it was entertaining.

I lifted up my glass. Maybe four ounces remained. Over the liquid, through the empty part of my glass, I caught sight of our waitress, away on the other side of the room. Seeing her in profile, I was struck by how attractive she was. And she had an intelligent face. I don't know how I didn't notice earier.

"Ensign," I said, gesturing to her, "You should take that waitress to the future with you."

He looked me in the face, as if studying me. Then he asked, "Why?"

"I dunno. She's cute. She's smart. It could be an opportunity for her." I had a little difficulty getting the word opportunity out of my mouth correctly.

Ensign shrugged. "I suppose. But what about you? Would you like to go to the future?"

"Me? No."

"No? Why not?"

"What would I do there? I'm sure I wouldn't be qualified for anything at all. Even the menial labor is bound to be highly advanced."

Ensign considered my response for a few moments, then said, "You're right. You're better off here, now." Then he leaned toward me, and in a confidential tone added, "But I could do something that would improve your life immensely, without moving you in time at all."

"Oh, yes? What is that? You going to give me stock-market tips? Winning lottery numbers?"

He seemed to consider this for a moment, then said, "No. Something better. I was thinking more along the lines of granting your deepest wish."

"My deepest wish? What, like a genie in a bottle?" I waved off the idea. "What's that saying? Wishes are for horses, and beg— beg— oh, I forget. Besides, I don't have any wishes, let alone a deepest wish."

"Oh, you do," he assured me. "And I know what it is."

"Well, then you know far more than I do," I told him. Then I up-ended my glass, drinking the last few ounces. I stood and took a breath. Thank goodness I'm not driving, I told myself. Aloud I said, "I need to use the bathroom. I'll be right back."

"You okay there?" Ensign asked.

"Sure as shiloorby," I replied, slurring whatever I meant to say.



While in the gents, I splashed some water in my face and drank a little from the faucet. Two beers — is that all you can handle? I asked myself. I stared at myself in the mirror for a bit. It seemed to steady me. Anyway, I've had enough. It's about time for a sandwich and some coffee.

When I got back to my chair, Ensign had anticipated my desire for a sandwich. "It's a turkey club," he informed me.

"Ah, my wish come true," I quipped.

There was also a full glass of beer for each of us. This time, a pint. "Oh, thanks," I told him, "but I may have had enough already. I was just telling myself it was time to switch to coffee."

"Oh, fine," he said. "No problem. It's just a beer you'll never have again, but I think you'd like at least a taste. If you don't want to drink it, I won't be offended."

"Beer from the future, eh?"

"Yes, it's made from ancient grains and aromatic herbs."

"Ancient grains?"

"Amaranth, kamut, spelt. Maybe others."

"Mmm." I took a sip. It was incredibly cold and amazingly refreshing. It cleared my head; as if I hadn't been drinking at all. I felt as though I was drinking from a mountain stream. There was no bitterness. The hops were quite subdued. "Is there honey in this?"

"Yes, a little," he confessed. "is it too much?"

"No, it's—" I took another sip. "This is the most perfectly balanced beer I've ever tasted. It's... incredible!"

"Oh, good! I'm glad you like it."

Ensign reached down beside his chair, into his briefcase and extracted a sheaf of papers. Eight-and-a-half by eleven, stapled in the upper left corner. Maybe 25, 30 pages. "I brought this from the future, too," he told me, and set the papers in my lap. The title page read POETRY by Anonymous. His eyes were fixed on my face. "Do you recognize this?"

"Uh, no, not at all. Poetry's not really my thing."

"It's okay," he assured me. "You can tell me."

I turned over a few pages, reading a phrase here and there.

Ensign confided, "As far as I've been able to determine, you wrote this between 10 to 15 years ago."

"No," I countered. "Not me." I drew another healthy sip of the beer from the future and took a healthy bite of the sandwich.

He pulled his chair a little closer to mine. "Listen: I've spent a lot of time and money researching this, and I am 100% sure that you wrote this book of poems."

"Sorry, man. It's not me." I stopped to read one or two pieces. They were all brief. Some were incomplete. I'm no judge of literature, but in my humble opinion the writing seemed good; maybe even top-notch. But it wasn't mine. "These are all poems about wanting to be female," I observed. "Not my cup of tea. Not my — oh, I get it! You think that this is my deepest wish!"

"I know that it is," he said.

"No," I repeated, and the word seemed to reverberate. But only that word. The sounds of the room, of the people around us faded. Everything around me suddenly looked different, as though it were all made of glass, or under glass, or something. "I feel like I'm far away," I said, "and somebody needs to turn down the reverb. Whoa."

I looked at my drink. "Ensign, you put something into my drink. What was it? How could it clear my head, then make me feel so effed up?"

"It's two substances," he explained. "Different specific gravities."

"Specific gravities," I repeated. "God, that sounds like a New Jersey beach town, doesn't it? Like right after Red Barn? No, uh, Red Bend. God." I snapped my fingers. "Count Basie was born there. Red Bunk."

Ensign touched my arm. "Ethics require me to inform you that I am an android without portfolio."

"Lovely," I replied.

"I must also tell you that I have been legally granted both sentience and autonomy, with full effect."

"Does that allow you to put a roofer in my drink? It isn't right. Ethics, my grandmother!" I found myself panting, and realized I had a tight grip on the arms of my chair. Didn't anyone notice the state I was in? I tried to look around, but aside from Ensign, everyone else looked distorted, as though I saw them through coke-bottle glasses.

"You can't do this," I told him. "And you're way way way way off. I didn't write that shit. I don't want to be a girl. Besides, what do you care?"

"In my time, and for a century before, this is one of the most famous collections of poetry in the English language."

"Ssss — hard to believe. Isss just a handful of... stuff."

"Have you heard of Sappho?" Ensign asked.


"Less than a tenth of her output survives. Only one of her poems is complete; the others are fragments; and in some cases all we have is a single word."

"She was famous because she was a lesbian," I objected.

"That's not true at all," Ensign contradicted. "She's famous because she was the greatest lyric poet of her age, just as you are that poet in your own time."

"Again: not me. I am not that man. Even if I was, why would you care?"

"Oh," he laughed. "Haven't you heard the old saying? There's nothing worse than an android with an obsession."

"So don't be an android," I retorted.



I blinked, and everything changed. A moment before, I was sitting in the hotel lounge, goggle-eyed and panting. A moment after, I was lying on a bed.

"In my hotel room?" I asked. "No, this is the mirror image of my hotel room. Everything is on the wrong side."

"Symmetry," Ensign told me. This is room 636. All the even rooms go this way; all the odd rooms go the other way."

My head was clearer, but I couldn't move. Well, I could move my head, but nothing else. I looked down at my body, lying flat on my back on this hotel bed.

"What the hell are you up to?" I asked. "I mean, leaving aside the fact that you have the wrong man, what in blue blazes are you trying to accomplish? And what now — is this a third drug? Another specific gravity?"

"Yes, exactly," he replied. "The last preparation. See... now... I'll tell you everything.

"I have -- or had -- a mission to find you."

"No," I interrupted. "You said you wanted to find the anonymous poet, the one who wrote that stuff about being a girl."

"Yes." He hesitated. "Well, in a word, I was obsessed. I went over budget. //Way/// over budget. I went backwards from the time when the book appeared in print, which is fifty years from now. It turns out it was found in a trunk in an attic. Then I went forward and back, to find out who put the trunk in the attic, and where they got it from, and where it was before that, and so on and so on and so on. So much sliding back and forth in time, watching that trunk, trying to find out where it all began. It was tedious. And expensive."

"And then?"

"And then I was told to rein it in. I had to shoot Luke or give up the gun, as you say."

"Nobody says that."

He made a dismissive gesture. "I had narrowed it down to 172 candidates. You're one. And then I came up with a strategy. So yeah, I'll admit that you're probably not the author. I watched your face as you looked at the poems, and it was clear they meant nothing to you."

"So what's your strategy?"

"I only have three trips left," Ensign confessed. "This is one. On my next, I'm going to steal that trunk in that attic before it's found. On my last, I'm going to present it to the publisher in the name of a certain trust, and the future profits will more than make up for my... excesses."

"That's kind of shifty. It's just plain dishonest, if you ask me."

"Yes," he agreed, looking down shamefacedly. "But no one will be asking you."

"So what happens to me?"

"Well, in order to make this... literary theft... palatable, we had to do something for you, and that is to grant your deepest wish."

"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, no. You can't make me into a girl. I don't want it."

"But see...," he explained, "No one will ask you. It will simply be a part of your... of the literary legend."



When I woke, it was morning. I was still lying on the bed in 626, and I was alone. I never saw Ensign again. There came a knock on the door. It was room service. I saw a women's wallet on the desk. It was full of twenties, so I gave the boy one, and he was falling all over himself from gratitude and embarrassment.

Why embarrassment? Because I was wearing a short nightgown. It was white with a light red trim. And under it? A nice little body. Not one to stop traffic, but one that might cause a man to walk into a door and apologize. And then: flawless skin, little feet, a cute little face with a cute little nose, topped with fine white hair.

All in all, a dream. And yet, it was no dream.

"Red Bank," I said out loud. "Count Basie was born in Red Bank."

Hmmph. I remembered that. Finally. Now, when it didn't matter.

For no particular reason, I looked up and to the left, and information came flooding into my brain. When I looked down, it stopped.

I spent the day in my room, going through the contents of my wallet and purse. I went through the clothes in the closet and those in my luggage.

To my surprise, I was already somebody. I had an identity, a bank account, a home — or at least, I had a home address. And, I had a plane ticket out of Omaha, first class, next week. I guess I was meant to use the time to prepare, to get used to being... well, not someone else, but the new me.

Why aren't I freaking out? I asked myself. Why am I so accepting? This is someone's deepest wish come true. Not mine... but even so...

I spent several hours each day consulting the material that comes flowing down when I look up and to the left. As it turned out, Ensign had turned me into an android. Or placed me into an android. Or transferred me into an android. I don't know the proper term. But here I am: android girl.

Through the closed door of my room I heard the shrieks of the cleaning woman when she found the dead body of the man I was. I'm sure it looked like natural causes. It would have been nice if I could call a few people to explain and offer condolences, but of course, I demurred.

Now I had a life, a fresh start, a youth not wasted on the young. And I had a lot of sexual curiosity.

It wasn't bad, as dreams-come-true go, even if the dream wasn't mine.

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A little bizarre

Glenda98's picture

And very amusing!

Glenda Ericsson


erin's picture

You done it again! You consistently write stories I wish I had written but know that I couldn't. :)

Twisty as a self-abusing worm, as ironic as Julius Marx's eyebrow, as surprising as an Ice-9 cocktail, oh my!

Hit me again. :)


= Give everyone the benefit of the doubt because certainty is a fragile thing that can be shattered by one overlooked fact.

Crikey! Picture me blushing here

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Thanks -- your comment really means a lot to me. It's also educational -- I have had a brush with Ice-9 some years back, but I had to google to find out Julius' secret identity.

I've actually been noodling over this idea since September 2020, and just now took a look at my original notes. I didn't remember, but the original idea was very much longer and insanely complicated. I honestly had some trouble following what I'd typed and seeing how it fit together. This present piece is what happened after some serious Michelangelo-ing, where everything that wasn't "story" got lopped off.

thanks so much!


- io

I'm musing over that question now

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

I'm musing over that question now. I know you were joking, with that Philip K. Dick reference -- but you've set me off, thinking about her inner life.

I've got to go scribble some notes before it all fades.


- io

Any story

that has me thinking of Phillip K Dick has to be good. This is just a place where I can make that joke and expect a lot of people will get it.

Very nice!

Erisian's picture

Thank you for the enjoyable story!

not nice, Ensign!

hope the poor man doesn't end up suffering from dysphoria !


at the very least

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

At the very least, programmed to not freak out.

- io

Well done

An interesting and clever story that could easily have a follow up with the newly created android going out in the world.


Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

I appreciate the comment very much. It was pretty hard to make this make sense at all, so I hadn't given any thought to what follows. Thanks for the note!

- io

Eppley Grande?

I laughed when I read that. Being from Omaha, I love the story. I'll have to see if I scout out Ensign. You never know, he MAY still be around!

Great story!


Shout out to Omaha

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Thanks for your comment! I was hoping someone from Omaha would stop by. Let me know if you see Ensign. You might catch him stocking up on beer.


- io

NEVER have a layover in Omaha! ;)


Eppley is an awesome little airport to fly out of -- or in to. But changing flights would be a pain if you have to change concourses, since you would have to exit the security area to go between Concourse A and B ... and go through security again. Also, that breakfast? Good luck getting that without exiting the concourse! LOL!

I still thought this was a great story. You had me going for a while, but I agree with Erin. NICELY DONE!


Shout out to Omaha

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Thanks for your comment! I was hoping someone from Omaha would stop by. Let me know if you see Ensign. You might catch him stocking up on beer.


- io


Wendy Jean's picture

One of the stranger stories I've read this year, but I liked it.

Strangely enough I flew out

Strangely enough I flew out of Omaha quite a few years ago to a week long class and one day while waiting for a ride to the class I overheard a conversation, the man said he had stuffed his suitcase full of beer to take home as he lived in a dry county.
Maybe he was related.

"Pain drips ..

"Pain drips", wrote Sappho //
Twenty five centuries ago //
And she's immortal.


At least I know I did write this ... :) Form is Haiku.

Androids in Omaha

Their time travel ethics are still very questionable. He murdered a person who seemed to be a pretty nice guy. He also installed a modified copy in an artificial body. They only share a few memories. This may be true of yourself as you compare your young self and your mature self, but that unique person is ended prematurely for no reason other than to look like the android had completed his self assigned mission. I don't think this android should be trusted with a time machine. I think it was Keith Laumer in Dinosaur Beach who determined the proper use for a time machine was to go back and prevent the invention of the time machine. Oddly enough that was the mission of another android. This is a good story and very well done, it just pushed a button or two unexpectedly, but that is one of the reasons I read.

Time is the longest distance to your destination.

There's nothing worse than an android with an obsession

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Thanks for the compliment and the thoughtful comment. I've read it several times because I want to do it justice.

I can see why you mentioned Dinosaur Beach. I just read the synopsis and went and ordered a copy. Your comment about the android trying to prevent the invention of the time machine has got my brain whirring. I have to scribble some notes before reading it. Those damn androids are always getting up to something!

You're certainly right about the ethics being questionable. We clearly differ on the nature of that question: In my mind, the problem is consent, but for you it's murder -- a word that doesn't appear in the story. The concept isn't there, either.

Other words you used that don't appear in the story are "copy" and "modify." The narrator says they were turned into, or placed into, or transferred into an android. If this person doesn't feel they were killed, why should you? They have the potential for immortality, at least within the limits of her hardware, and the life of our solar system.

I also don't understand why you've imported the idea that the android girl has "a few" of the narrator's memories. Why wouldn't she have them all? There's nothing in the story to suggest such a thing.

- io


Enjoyed this a lot. Thought it was very nice of our protagonist to help and be kind to the ticket agent. And while the android's tale was outlandish, the whole all worked well to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. Well done.

>>> Kay


Emma Anne Tate's picture

This popped up in “random solos” today. God, I love that feature!

Iolanthe, I am absolutely in awe of your writing, and this short story is a perfect example of why.

Often when I’m reading a story I’ll cut and paste a line that jumps out at me as particularly great, so that I can talk about it in the comments. This time I cut “Maybe in the distant future, androids, when they gather, speak wistfully of Omaha and environs.” I could write an essay about this one sentence, with its beautiful understated irony.

But here’s the problem. There were at least ten sentences that were equally good, and if I copied any of them, the Omaha sentence would be lost. I had to resolve this crushing dilemma by the usual means of throwing up my hands.

I’m a bit glad I didn’t read this before I wrote MaxWarp, as your Android does bear some resemblance to Ensign Worm. I’m finding this happens to me often. The more I read, the more I realize that it’s all been done before. :) But the virtuosity of your prose is really amazing. Thank you for this thoroughly enjoyable tale!


My father always warned me to beware of alien ensigns

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Thanks, Emma -- you are super-kind.

Wow, I'd forgotten almost everything about this story. Reading it now was one surprise after another. It is funny that we both foisted our scuttle-work on the ensigns, isn't it? And given them the same misguided attempts at hitting current Earth fashions.

This story did come to mind two nights ago while we were watching a sappy movie about a couple who meet in an airport and are of course soul mates... and the man says, "The airport was the perfect place for it to happen, because when you're at the airport you're not in one place or the other. You're kind of nowhere." (or words to that effect)

And I thought, how perfect! It really is true that in an airport you are in a way subtracted from ordinary life. Ursula Le Guin's Changing Planes is along those lines.

Anyway, thanks for calling me back to this story. I had a few good laughs re-reading it.

Ensigns, away!

- iolanthe