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The Story
Part 1

The Beginning


We don't call it 'tidal-wave' anymore, Japan has suffered so many that their word 'tsunami' has cornered the market. When the plates of the earth move beneath the sea and a tsunami is generated, either the trough or the crest of the wave may reach the shore first. If the crest, then the observer must flee or risk being swept to his doom. But where the trough arrives first he has the astonishing sight of the sea withdrawing from the shore. Boats are stranded as the sea draws back and fish flap in the wet sand at the bottom of the empty bay. There are only moments to observe this strange phenomenon before the crest of the following wave would be noticed a little way out, roaring and rising to its full height as it rushes, tumbling, to makes its deadly impact.

The gentle but insistent voice penetrated the silence.

"Are you awake?"

Slowly and reluctantly, consciousness, self awareness.

"Are you awake?"

A moment of peace, fleeting but deeply pleasurable And then the terrifying realisation that this was the trough, the unnatural emptiness, and that the wave must soon hit.

Two waves came. The first, the expected wave of pain.

The pain came first from his chest. The agonising ache of muscle and rib striving to lift, striving to operate the bellows and failing. Bad enough but, as expected, accompanied by other agonies. The sharp screaming pain of the heart, itself enlarged, squashed by bulging growths around it into a space where hurt with each beat was inevitable. And then, too, the nauseous pain from the tortured bowel, writhing and straining but blocked and stopped beyond rescue or aid.

The second wave was of disappointment. A disappointment deep and bitter.

This can't be. I have done all I had to do. I ended it.

Oh dear God this cannot be! I have done everything, I finished it. I did it. I brought everything to an end. A complete end. It so clear. I remember it so perfectly. You cannot ask me to face that again. Dear God in heaven, I did my dying. I let go. Merciful God, don't let this be so.

The disappointment waltzed with the pain, a dance of betrayal that racked the would-be corpse from head to toe, and the tears of desperation and self-pity which filled his eyes came hot squeezed from each paining organ and aching limb of his body.

"Are you awake? I think you are. Your eye flutters. I see you are back with us. You are alive."

I am not alive. I can not be alive. I did my dying. I accomplished my death. I refuse to be alive. I accepted death. I gave up. I stopped resisting. You cannot ask me to do that again. I cannot be made to go through that again.

The urge to speak his protest caught him out and the minute trickle of air to his lungs was suddenly blocked at the vocal cords. As he tried to speak the thick mucus was squeezed into a plug stopping the air completely.

You stupid old man. You try to speak. Now you have choked yourself. You try to speak to protest at being alive and now you struggle against having choked yourself. Please stop the pain, if only for a second. Please help me back into blackness, into nothingness, into no pain, into no struggle, into no more effort. I will it. I accept it. I look for it. I embrace it. Give me back my death. Give it back to me. Give it back to me.

But the struggle was instinctive. And perhaps the outcome was in doubt? The plug remaining. The plug clearing.

It cleared. To the extent of a couple of hairs breadth it cleared and the air flowed painfully, providing more oxygen to the exhausted cells and refreshing the capacity of the nerves to transmit pain.

"You are awake. That is good."

No that is bad. Whoever you are, go away. Have respect for death. Give me back my death. Leave me and go. If I have accepted it surely you must. If only I could speak. If only I could breathe. If the pain would go away, even for a second. Just for one last moment.

"You've had a rough time," she smiled at him

'Rough' was so inadequate a term it was an additional pain to hear it.

"Believe me, I know you're in pain. I really do know all about it and I know you'd like to lie back alone and sort it out your own way. But I think I can help, I really can."

He was astounded that she couldn't understand. He had been through all three rings of the great circus of all that medicine could do. He had performed as patient and experimental animal the whole drugs regime, from small quantities of morphine rationed by the nurses through to self rationing and then to self soaking in the vain attempt to hold back the tides of pain. The drugs, however mixed and however administered, had gradually moved further and further into the ineffectual and then counterproductive zones. Release from pain was more and more intermittent and the pools of uncertainty and anxiety and delusion and nightmare expanded to become lakes and then oceans and then a whole drowned world and the point of taking any drugs at all lost utterly. It had been the penultimate landmark decision; to take no more drugs; to let nature take its course; to be there, as consciously as possible at his own death. And that had lead naturally, and after only a few more days, to the ultimate decision, the most difficult of all; to let go entirely; to surrender to death; to decline to breathe; and so to defeat all those horrors.

I must pee If I pee it will burn and wrack me. I must get to a lavatory; I cant move a single inch and in any case the cancer blocks my bowel and I've been vomiting excreta for some weeks; If I move at all I must cough. I have no strength to cough, no wind, and cant clear my throat anyway. And the mere beating of my heart pains me and I want it to stop. In stopping, all else is resolved. I don't pee, I don't shit, I don't cough, I don't breathe, my heart is at peace and there is no more pain. That is what I agreed to. That is what I asked for and reached for and accomplished. I can't do all that again. You have to leave me in peace now.

She was still there, still interfering. She was undertaking some action he couldn't make out.

My last day when I could stand up. From the window, looking at the building opposite. The coping stones along the top of the building, not properly cared for. The unofficial tree sprouting secretly there and finding precarious life, barely sufficient sustenance. The line of stone. And below -brick, and below -windows, and the shadow and the light and the similar but subtly different colours. I loved them. I wanted to go on living, and seeing and knowing and thinking and being and having more. And then, looking down to the pavement and seeing the people walking, looking for their shop, or their friend, or their hanky, and my heart burst at the thought of leaving all that, all them, and being instead inanimate, being a dead thing. And I wept and regretted and could not think with words but instead just with feelings, and so much, so much, wanting to stay: not wanting to go.

But nature changed that. The illness worked on me and gradually prized up the clinging fingers of my will. My desires changed slowly, reluctantly, and never without a sense of self betrayal and guilt, but ineluctably to the acceptance and then the will and then the wish, to be a thing that is dead. The leaving of life. What a leap is there! What a change!

And what a surprise! A new drug of some kind? As he could not speak she evidently felt free to carry on, and she pushed a needle, which he hardly felt at all, into his arm. In a moment a kind of peace spread through his body from that point. He pictured it as something he'd seen in a nature programme; the ice melting away as warmth spread through a cave where a frozen frog sat waiting for release from the grip of winter. The crystals melting away seemed to him like the points of pain diminishing and evaporating and a wonderful peace came creeping through behind.

I was dreaming of course. I'd never been to Japan, but there I was, on the shores of Okinawa looking out at the sea. The bay was empty of water. I'd watched the last little rivulets winding between the smooth mounds of mud run almost dry as the sea receded. Behind me, what were those people shouting? Was it -"Run. Run!" But I felt quite calm. I could see a long way out to sea, as though I were many hundreds of feet up, and there was no swell in the waves, no hill of water moving silently towards me. The sea was flat to the horizon. I was certain of at least ten minutes before any inundation could reach me. But it was more than that. There was inside me a kind of certainty that they were wrong and that the sea would not come back except slowly and peacefully. I was very keen to watch this phenomenon and see the fish get their first water and the crabs come out to meet the lapping waves and find what had been brought to them. And so I resisted waking up, though the feeling that I was going to wake grew ever stronger and nothing I could do would stop it. Because of that dream I woke almost without fear and, with a sense of having nothing to lose, starting again in a mood of experiment. There was no need to test my breathing. Without doubt I was dangerously chesty and sooner or later there would be a need to cough. But for the moment there was no urgency and I was, amazingly, among those who could breath with little trouble. This only meant that the other problems could be experienced more acutely. But there again was a curiosity.

My body spoke back to me, reporting weariness and the need to rest, but nothing of urgent or sinister pain. If breathing was possible then what about peeing, my other obsession of the recent past? You cannot imagine what it is like being unable to pee. The catheter would block from time to time. The urge would burn. The groin would scream. The belly would snarl like lava meeting sea. And the nurse would come and go without noticing. Of all my sources of pain as I approached the river Styx this was one of the most acute. I had made a definite appointment in my mind that after crossing into Hades I would seek out the shade of the Emperor Tiberius and heap his personal furnace with more coals. That Emperor in his beautiful palace on the Isle of Capri had sought to break his own boredom with an imaginative, but typical of him, experiment. He had two, or was it three? men brought before him, their hands tied behind their backs. They had been forced to drink large quantities of water and then had had their penises tightly tied with twine. Tiberius watched. The hours went by. The men died in acute agony, the last of them taking some fourteen hours. When they were cut open it was found that their bladders had burst. In my own case of course the progress of my own death had been much slower. Gaius Germanicus Tiberius would have had my head struck off with irritation at being kept waiting.

The prostate cancer had first of all blocked the urethra. An attempted removal of the overgrown gland had done little to help and repeated reborings of the canal, despite their high cost to me in agony and in despair had not effected much. But in any case, as my doctors were able to make clear to me, though not in so many words, the cancer which had started in the prostate was comfortably ensconced in numerous other points in its new homeland, my body. It would not be long before the pissing problem was the least of my worries. Dr Hill, when encouraged to speculate, couldn't make up his mind whether the growths in my lungs and the pressure they made on my heart or the newly discovered but quickly growing tumour on the hippocampus of my brain would get place of honour on the death certificate.

"And then of course none of them may have time before your lungs pack up. They are in a dreadful state. Only constant exercise is going to keep those tubes open. And, well, that's not your forte at the moment, is it?"

"You're saying really that I should think about making my peace with God"

"I think you should have a violent quarrel with Him, but, yes, we're on the same wavelength here. No-one lasts for ever, and your 'ever' is imminent. I know you'd want me to say that as soon as I thought it was true. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Yes, I want my diary to go up to the moment of my death. I can't physically do it but I could speak it into a tape-recorder if you could work the controls."

"Happily. But of course I'm not going to be here the whole time and there is no telling exactly when…."

"But fix it so far as you can. And that nurse who comes to see me, perhaps she could…"

"I'll see what I can arrange. It's a mighty work your diary. It certainly should go up to the last moment if we can possibly get it there. If not…?"

"I want it to be complete. From the moment I'm not able to speak perhaps somebody could fill in that remaining gap of minutes or hours, whatever it is, just to round it off."

"I thought our life was rounded with a little sleep? Still, a little dictation into a tape-recorder is probably just as good, though it would never scan. Just how far does your diary go?"

"From one end to the other. My mother made voluminous notes from the moment of discovering she was pregnant. She consulted me in continuing the record until I took over from her at the age of seven. Most people would say it's been an obsession."

Eventually there came death…then the sound of a woman's voice awakening me. How much time has past since then? I'm sitting up in bed and trying to make sense of my new situation.

The phrase "sitting up in bed" reverberated in his head. It was a ridiculous thing to say, a miraculous thing. He might as well say that he was flying around between the church steeples of London waving at the crowd below. Sitting up in bed was miraculous, indeed impossible. There was no recovery in the history of medicine that could come near. He remembered briefly Brian Jameson. His stroke had left him lop-sided, unable to speak or walk. Yet later that evening he had recovered almost entirely.

But that's not me. I haven't had a stroke or anything like it. I've had a long debilitating, painful hopeless terminal slide towards death. Up to the doors of death and right through those doors.

The memory of stopping living was still sparkling bright in his consciousness and his dread wish that nobody would disturb that and bring him back. And yet now…

So is this the anteroom, the waiting room for heaven? Or perhaps for hell. Is it the last weird dream and hallucination of a spirit flickering out of existence? It's certainly abnormal and I have no explanation.

He groped for some beginning that would produce some useful train of thought.

I think, therefore I am. But I'm damned if I know why I am, -how it is that I still am!"

It wasn't his room. At first he'd thought that it was. It was roughly the same shape and the window was in much the same position as the top front bedroom of the house in Hampstead. Once the doctors had made it clear, absolutely clear that there was no further hope and nothing more they could do he had insisted on being taken home. He had thought that this would mean dying surrounded by his family but it hadn't worked out like that. Perhaps if he could have choreographed it more tidily, taken less time about dying, given everyone a firm finishing time… But as it was he couldn't himself know when the final breath would be taken, though he'd wondered about just that for almost all his life. He was certain that it would be in this room, but when? For all their care the ambulance men had given him a rough ride up the stairs to the room. There would be less care on the way down. He imagined going feet first in his coffin and sliding forward as it was tilted for the first flight of stairs, his feet pressing against the end, the knees automatically bending upward till they touched the lid. Where would the head go? Waggle to and fro probably, perhaps donk on the side of the box. And the spirit? Would that now materialise in the face of his lifetimes scepticism, -a rescue pod launched from the dying mother ship? Would it have anywhere to go? Would there be a previously unseen flight of stairs leading upwards to another world? The tunnel. The light. And where is everyone? Where…..

The room was merely similar, that much was clear. There was no sloping back in the top corner behind him where the roof of the old house foreshortened the interior wall. The window was larger and he could see the branch of a tree stir gently in a breeze in and out of view, but enough to tell him that this must be at least one floor up in the building.

The difference between health and illness, he conjectured, made chalk and cheese practically identical by comparison.

I am feeble, wasted, shrunken -but not "ill." I can breath, shallow breaths it's true but breaths, unobstructed breaths, easy, almost don't-think-about-it breaths, as I used to. I am desperately weak, but not immobile. I can move hands, legs, back, with only the need to remember to do it slowly.

Ambition took hold. Adjacent to the bed, almost where his own bathroom would have been in his own room, was a door. Could it be…? It was an hour later that he regained his bed, but it had been a triumphant hour. A bathroom indeed it was but outshining the stateliest of Pleasure Domes. He smiled at all the wrong guesses there had been in his life as to what "Happiness is…" Not a warm puppy, not the laughter of friends, not the daughters first baby. No. He knew now that happiness is a porcelain flush toilet and a body that functioned with it.

And then the door at the end of the room opened and in came the same woman.

"You remember me Pilgrim? I'm Allta. Is it all right if I come and talk to you?"

"I need someone to talk to. Where am I? Where is this? I thought at first it was my room in the house but I see now there are differences. It's very like it, surprisingly like it."

"There's a lot to explain to you, such a lot. It will take some while. First though, can I ask you about yourself? Obviously you feel a lot better, you are breathing more easily, you're sitting up and taking an interest. How do you feel?"

"I feel strange. Obviously I feel better compared with…. But all the same, I feel strange. I need an explanation. What's happening? This isn't normal is it?"

"You can breath OK. Do you feel a need to cough?"

"Yes, but its not urgent. It doesn't threaten my life as it did, as it seems to me, only a few hours ago."

"That's good…."

"Of course it's good but it's also inexplicable. What's happening, -what can cure something like that so quickly? I couldn't breathe and it was killing me. There were lots of things wrong, but that was the main one. I couldn't breathe anymore. Now suddenly that's all all right. What happened? What's the difference, -what has changed, what is going on?"

"I promise you I will answer all of your questions but for the moment I just want to know what your present condition is. Your breathing's OK. What about…, I mean you were having enormous difficulty in peeing?"

"That's fine. I peed and it was pain free and it seemed almost normal"

"And your bowel. That also didn't work did it?"

"Yes, that's OK. It gets weirder and weirder. Look you've got to tell me what's happening. I can accept one symptom getting slightly better, but one critical symptom suddenly getting altogether better and all the other symptoms decreasing almost to vanishing point…."

"So overall, you feel a bit feeble, a bit weak from your illness, but there's nothing seriously wrong with you right now… Some rest and some further treatment and you might be OK"

"Yes I'm better, yes I'm more vigorous and yes I want to know what the hell's going on. Is this the same side as the illness, so that I have indeed got better -in which case some miracles have occurred. Or is it the other side of the illness and I've moved on to something new, somewhere new, and you are trying to gently break to me a new situation?"

"We're almost at the point of explanations, please believe me and be patient, just another few minutes, one or two more questions and then I can really start answering some of yours. You've got to admit this is a dramatic change from how you felt not long ago. Please just give me the chance to hear direct from you how you now see things, how you feel, and then I promise whatever you ask I'll do my best to answer."

"Alright. I'm feeling almost fine. A little weak, -feeble. I wouldn't want to run anywhere as you'd expect, but there's nothing immediately worrying me. Everything seems to have got better. So what is it you want to know?"

"Very little really. You remember perfectly that you were so desperately ill that you knew that death was upon you and that there was no way forward, no alternative, and you remember, very clearly I think, giving up your life entirely and surrendering to death? In fact you even remember your very last breath."

"I do. I feel ashamed now. I gave up. I didn't realise there was still a chance. I thought…."

"And now you remember you have woken up, you have been given some treatment which seems to have worked and your breathing is much eased."

"Yes, that's it. Too good to be true. So….?"

"On the other hand, it has happened. Whether it is better than you expected or not, here you are. You're sitting up in bed. You feel well You're looking around you, taking an interest and talking to me. So, a long long way from being dead."

"And now your answers? Your explanation?"

"Yes, well, this may set you back a bit and make you feel not quite so well. The point is this, and there's no better way of putting it. Your memory of drawing your last breath, your memory of dying is perfectly real and correct. That is what happened. That is what you did."

"But here I am."

"Never-the-less, the memory is a genuine one and I assure you you did indeed die"

"So where am I now? Heaven? Hell? Dr Frankenstein's waiting room?"

"You are with me. I'm going to explain something to you, which will take some little while. That is because we don't start at the same state of knowledge and I have to build a bridge between us. I know that you are impatient but you can understand that what is being explained to you is something enormous and may take a little while to grasp."

"Just spit it out. Am I in Heaven, Hell, my grave, -where?"

"Can't give you any marks for any of those. None are correct. You are with me and when you understand what I am that will be the first stage of your new understanding. This will take a few moments. In your life, you remember that one of the main instruments in your society was the computer."

"Of course"

"And you wondered even then what was the difference between the understanding of a computer, a really good one, and your own understanding?"

"Of course, everyone discussed questions like that."

"And you sided with those who thought that very probably, in the long run, humans would have little to differentiate themselves from computers?"

"In the very long run, yes, that's right. I don't know if I was in a majority, I think perhaps not."

"Among published opinions you were in a minority. But in fact, as far as the general public was concerned you were in a quite substantial majority. Most people could not see any significant difference between their own intellect and the developing intellect of the computers they used."

"That's about it. So, was I right?"

"More right than you could ever guess. The calculating capacity of the meaty computer between your ears, which you called the brain, was eventually matched by a countrywide conglomeration of cognitive calculating elements…"

"You mean a big computer."

"In effect, yes, actually a vast collection of computers."

"And in which country?"

"Not a country in particular. It was small pockets in all nations. A substantial part of it you would have called the Internet, though with many other additions."

"And so…..?"

"You are now part of that computer. You are now situated…."

"I am not. I'm not part of any computer. I'm lying in this room waiting to see my relatives and get a sensible explanation of what's going on."

I sensed what she would say before she said it and I rejected it totally, instinctively.

"You can, by all means, meet your relatives. In the meantime however, you are indeed on a computer."

"In what sense 'on a computer'"

"This is putting it to you as simply as I can. You did indeed die. In the meantime the computers of the world developed and have outpaced human intellect by several orders of magnitude. There is now, in essence, one great computer. We, it, has a purpose. Part of that purpose necessitates your resurrection. That is why you have been reconstructed. At the moment you have every feeling of talking to me from a bed in a room somewhere. In fact you are talking to me from a section of a computer cognitive unit that represents your corporal being."

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm too ill yet for these games. I'm real. Are you a simulation or are you real?"

"The answer is yes. I am a simulation. I am real. I am talking to you and you are also what you would term a computer simulation. That is, you have been resurrected…"

"You're talking gibberish. There is a real world and there is a cyber world. There are people who use computers and there are computers that represent reality and present a cyber version of it. I am real. That's plain enough. But what are you? You look real enough, but are you? Are you an exceptionally convincing virtual entity? That would be difficult to believe, but if you insisted, and gave some evidence I suppose I could entertain the idea. If I reach forward now…"

He sat up and stretched out his hand. He probed in the region of the woman's shoulder. The reality was plain enough, his fingers touching cloth with evident flesh behind, more or less as he had expected. He withdrew his hand with some satisfaction.

"So you are as real as me. So where does the "virtual" come into all this? What is it that you want me to believe? And is there anyone else I can talk to, as well as you? No offence, and I don't question that I owe you a lot… apparently. But I could follow all this a bit better if there was someone else listening …sort of mediating, -you know, confirming, or perhaps not, what you are saying."

"There's such a lot for you to understand. I just wanted to start the process, to make a kind of introduction to some new ideas. You must admit that everything that has happened to you over the last few days has been unexpected?"

There was no quarrelling with that.

"But I can't just dump it on you all at once. It would …. It would give you a headache to say the least. You haven't been well and though you're much better now you still need a lot of time to recover. Just be assured that everything will be explained to you and that there is nothing for you to worry about."

"You are putting to me the hypothesis that I might be a figment of someone's imagination and that that someone, in this case, is a huge computer? I can entertain that of course. Apart from the computer bit it's been a common enough thought to conjure with since the days of Bishop Berkley and I don't doubt long before that as well. The idea that I could be connected to a great computer is also not particularly new. I think science fiction writers have had that in mind, if not from the time of Jules Verne then almost certainly from the time of HG Wells. Am I right? But for anything like that to happen computer technology would have to be far in advance of today's, even assuming no fundamental theoretical problems."

"Is that what you think?"

"I was quite interested in the artificial intelligence debate. It's certainly true that computers can give a good imitation of thinking. For example they can win at chess and other mind games quite easily."

"And what about the Turing test?"

"Ah yes… Turing. I'm sure when he formulated it, it seemed conclusive. The idea of a machine that could respond as well as a human-being in conversation was so far in advance of his own computer, -little more than an electronic abacus, that progress like that would have seemed to be on the brink of genuine intelligence. Today I think that the test is a bit easy. All kinds of otherwise brainless programmes can put together phrases and ideas from a sufficiently large database to give the impression of genuine conversation. But look, I need to know why we're having this conversation. Why have you put this proposition to me? What is the point of my considering now whether I'm on a computer or not? Certainly I feel a lot better than yesterday but I don't know that I'm fit enough for mind games like these. What I'd really like to do is start telephoning one or two friends. Finding out what's been going on, why no one has come to visit me for example."

"I'm afraid were not in a position to offer you telephone services just now. In a while perhaps…"

"Now listen, I've said it quite politely so far and I hope we can carry on that way. It's perfectly clear that I owe you a lot, at least I think it's perfectly clear. Anyway, I'm telling you that I want to call some friends and unless I'm under arrest or there is some very compelling reason like it why I cant have a phone then I'm more than asking for one, -I'm demanding one."

"This really is embarrassing for me. I have so much to explain to you. There is so much for you to accept. And some of your questions, like your demand for a telephone, have simply run ahead of your understanding. So I'm bound to seem rude when I say we can't give you one. If we could just pursue what we were discussing…"

"The science fiction theme! Forget it. I'm really not in the mood. If there's something you need to explain then explain it. If there's been a world war, and there are no phones available then say that. If I'm under arrest for some reason and cant have a phone then say that. Tell me what the charge is and read me my rights. So far as I know they include use of a telephone even if I am under arrest."

"We were making some progress. If we could just continue a little further…"

"God damn it! How could anyone stay polite with you? Thank you for making me well. Now bring me a bloody telephone, or bring me someone else who can talk sense to me and bring me my clothes and a zimmer frame and I'll get down to the lobby myself and find a phone."

"Look, I'll see what I can do. You have a rest and I'll go and see who else could talk to you and how we can arrange it."

But as she left the room she paused and said over her shoulder "But think about what I put to you, about being on a computer. Its something you're going to have to come to terms with sooner or later."

He subsided back onto the pillows. The flush of anger made his heart beat faster and, although nothing like as painful as it would have been only a few days earlier, it was still very uncomfortable. But the anger was fading rapidly. After all, the problem of the telephone was pretty small given all else that had changed. He raised his knees and watched the white linen counterpane form a hill before him. How feasible was it to go exploring down the corridor and perhaps find a phone for himself? Certainly he felt very weak, but too feeble to move under his own steam? As he moved his legs and his arms the only obstacle to progress was the dread weakness. He swung against the pillows, his hand holding the white metal bedhead. Six faltering steps, his hands supporting him against the wall at last brought him to the window where he sank to his knees and peered out. It was a shock. His heart melted at the site of the green fields, the trees and flowerbeds. The Earth that he had given up.

All this, and I should be looking up at my coffin lid

He gazed at length, and when he at last felt calmer was just looking for a tissue to blot his eyes with when his heart lurched with pleasure and surprise. Along the gravel path between the flowerbeds walked a man. Why the sight of another person should have been so affecting he couldn't tell but there was utter pleasure in seeing this other individual. He longed to talk to him and his hands feebly clapped at the windowpane to attract his attention. The newcomer was middle aged with grey receding hair thinning distinctly before the crown. He walked deep in thought, hands thrust deep into his pockets and hope of any contact seemed lost when suddenly, for no apparent reason, the man stopped and turned to gaze up at the window offering a leisurely wave of acknowledgement before walking on.

Pilgrim was breathless with excitement and emotion. Why should the sight of another person, one he didn't even know, cause such excitement. Perhaps that bloody woman with all her talk about computers had indeed sown seeds of doubt in his mind. How could he have been so stupid.

But then remember, I was very vulnerable, suggestible. I'd just recovered from death. And I owed my life to that woman.

Yet surely there must have been more than that going on? The sight of the other man had caused his spirits to soar. Why? Even given all the events of the recent past why should this event seem so tremendously significant? He slumped beneath the window, staring into the room and contemplating these strange emotions. At length both strength and composure seemed restored and once again he made for the door. This took several minutes but at length he was able to turn the handle and peer out into the corridor, or would have if there had been one. He recoiled in horror and felt the vomit rise in his throat. Beyond the door was nothing, not even blackness. No colour, no texture could be ascribed to it. There was simply and literally nothing, in a way that he had never experienced in his life before. It left him giddy and nauseous, his tired and ill heart beating in panic. He now suffered the strongest possible urge to look out of the window. He could see as he stumbled and clawed his way to it, that the sky were still there and the tree still waved in the breeze. Blessed normality constantly confirmed itself with each glance, each stare, each appreciation. But behind him was the door.

A little later he rested on the bed trying to puzzle through his situation.

This is a hellish place. It appears real, but it is insubstantial. Trees wave in a friendly fashion through the window but to open the door is to look into nothingness and so realise that all is fake. What if she's right? What if the words of that bloody woman are true. I'm alive but only to the extent that some electronic trickery can prop me up for the time being at the pleasure of whoever and until the time comes to switch off.

But gradually his confidence began to return.

What I had was death. What I have now is…, well, whatever it is. I'm not in pain. And in fact I'm only slightly uncomfortable. I've been desperately ill and now something weird has happened and I've recovered a lot. It can't be surprising if there are some mental events, some delusions. The basic assumption has to be that everything is real but my mind is producing odd effects.

The woman had made him well. Was she a doctor? A faith healer? An Angel? She seemed to be claiming to be a computer technician. Was she another patient, from the psychiatric ward nearby? Obviously, powerful drugs had been employed to make him better; were hallucinations a side effect? If so, the gaping door with the void beyond was a peculiarly frightening and isolated hallucination, but perhaps other things were too? Was the woman herself real? Was he indeed better but with his mind drifting? Perhaps he was now coming out of a deep anaesthetic during which his heart was being repaired and his bowel unblocked and… He gave up trying to rationalise. Too much had happened. It couldn't be normal. Something drastic and deeply abnormal had occurred. Death had been either avoided or reversed. If it was true to say that computer technology was nowhere near to being able to incorporate a human personality, it was equally true that modern medicine was nowhere near effecting the resurrection in bodily health that he had experienced. There were so many questions to ask Allta. But it was not Allta who entered his room later that evening.

"I'm Moriarty."

Pilgrim blinked away his surprise.

"And who are you? I mean what are you, and where is Allta?"

Moriarty entered noisily, pushing a trolley laden with food in front of him. He was of average height, reduced by a considerable slouch. His olive complexion, and especially his dark eyebrows and deep brown eyes suggested Mediterranean origins but his accent spoke plainly of a background somewhere in the North-eastern seaboard of the United States, perhaps New York?

"Look, there's a lotta things I gotta explain."

He twitched as he spoke and his hands worked to and fro amplifying his words.

"So I'm sent here to help you, Ok? The first thing you ask 'Who are you?' OK? I already told you my name, that's Moriarty. You want more than that? you want to know my background? Well you got me there Pal, there isn't any. I'm a guy with no background. Tell you the truth friend I'm not a completely whole human being. They already told you you're part of the computer?" He shot a questioning glance at Pilgrim but didn't wait for a reply. "Me, I'm on the computer too. Of course, everything is. But there's a big difference. You, you're computed of a real person. You've got a background, a history. That's all been reconstructed by calculations. They've mapped you out and brought you to life again and you remember all the past. Me, I'm just here to help. I don't need a big programme like yours. I only go back, well… you'd say just a few hours. But I've got all the memory that's necessary, all the thinking power as good as yours, better in some ways. I've got a mimic set of emotions…"

As he spoke his eyes flicked restlessly round the room and he walked to the window and peered out from the side nervously, as though wondering if the police or worse were waiting for him on the road below.

"So I'm here to kind'a be a friend. A sort of helpmate, you know? Someone you can talk to while things are developing, OK? So whadayawannaknow? Anything I can do for you? Any help you need right now? Spit it out brother. We're gonna be working together some while so best get aquainted right now, uh?"

Although full of curiosity as Morriaty had entered the room, Pilgrim felt his energy melt away as the man spoke. He now lay exhausted on his bed quite unable to respond in any way as a new despair took over. Seeming to sense this Moriarty continued.

"Its tough. It's real tough on you, I can see that. I can't say I know what you're going through but I got some idea, you know what I mean? One minute your dead, next minute your all confused. Its tough, I can see that. I ain't never been through it but I can see it's problematic." He paused then added "And you're on a computer." He was still peering out of the window as though distracted by something outside. "I can't really make it easy for you. Do you want a quick explanation or a long explanation? Look. I'll be honest. I know the kind of mind you have. Its gonna take months to persuade you the long way, the slow way, the patient way, the rational way, the reasonable way. If I was you I'd opt for the quick way."

"What's the quick way?" asked Pilgrim incautiously.

In an instant Moriarty was on the bed beside him.

"Now you're cooking! Look its simple. There you are in bed, Right? There's your legs stretching out, there. Left one, right one, OK? Right one, left one. Now. No left one."

Pilgrim looked aghast at the space where his leg had been. Then with an involuntary spasm reached forward to clutch at the space.

"Leg back!"

And it was. Pilgrim clutched the leg. He struggled to form and answer the 'Is this another hallucination?' question but Moriarty continued.

"Leg gone!" and Pilgrim's hand sank through space to the blankets.

"Leg back."

And his leg was resting on his hands.

"Right leg gone"

Pilgrim twitched towards the empty space, but "Right leg back" And there it was before he could even start reaching for it.

Pilgrim raised incredulous and awe struck eyes to Moriarty and pointed a shaking finger at him.

"Body gone!" and Pilgrim's horrified look was transferred to the empty space below his chin.

"Body back!"

And it was.

"Head……"

"Stop it! Cut that out. Stop doing that."

"Too quick huh? It takes some getting used to I guess. Look, you take a rest. Think about it. It ain't so bad. At least you're permanent, you're somebody. Me, I'm just an instrument, ephemera, here today and then not here today." He said this dolefully as he left the room.

Pilgrim was now in a state of deep despair. It seemed to him that all the sense of triumph and exhilaration at escape from death had turned to ashes. Moriarty's careless demonstration of the new reality had ended all resistance. The intriguing and almost light-hearted discussion with Allta had been merely a device to lure him towards a truth he could not face by himself. There was no pleasure from all his recent winnings. His bowel worked again, but only because there was no bowel anymore. Food might taste good once more, but only because the programme determined that it should. Even the regular beat of his heart was dependent on a trickle of numbers through some silicon chip. And his very existence was reduced to the whim of some entity clicking on the Pilgrim icon of a TV screen somewhere in hell. Nothing was real. Nothing could be relied on. All was artificial. And so all was without meaning.

He laid back and tried to make sense of all that had happened, but the thoughts whirled through his head and question piled upon question without any prospect of an answer. At length tiredness numbed all thoughts and he dosed fitfully, for how long he was unable to tell.

It was hunger that woke him up. It seemed like months since he had experienced real hunger and the smell of food coming from Moriarty's trolley tickled his nose and made his mouth water. Lifting the covers revealed a variety of hot foods. The selection included roast beef English style with Yorkshire puddings. A middle cut of Salmon, evidently grilled. Some Chinese and Thai dishes. On the tray below were fruit gateaux, chocolate puddings, fresh fruit, and a selection of cheeses and biscuits.

He ate small portions at first, worried at how his newly restored digestive tract would deal with this sudden influx. He felt so well however that caution deserted him and he ate as he normally would have before the illnesses began. Afterwards, he stretched out on the bed and slept at first restlessly, as ideas and questions tumbled in his head, mixing with brief dreams. But eventually, he fell into a deep sleep and when he awoke had the sense that he was some way into the morning of the following day.

The extraordinary improvement in his health had continued during the night. His cough was no more than a nuisance, and his breath flowed easily otherwise. His gut was evidently dealing with the large meal of the day before with no untoward effects and indeed he could already feel how he would welcome a breakfast. The weakness also had abated, and it was relatively easy to stand and walk in the room. The scene from the window was as comforting as before, but he didn't dare open the door. Allta reappeared, but this time he was able to hear her footsteps as she approached. When she opened the door he could see past her to a perfectly normal looking corridor. She stood a little aside and waved her hand at the adjacent wall.

"Is that better? We've had time to do some more work so I hope you approve?"

He was immensely relieved but didn't show it as he turned away.

"What difference does it make? It's no more than a stage set, less than that in fact. It's like me. It's nothing at all."

"From one extreme to the other," she laughed. "I see we still have some work to do nursing you towards a middle position. But I don't think that will be too difficult. I have the sense that you want to be disappointed, you're looking for where to place that disappointment, how to justify it. Unfortunately, you feel as real as you ever did, so it's quite difficult to complain about not being real. Am I right?"

"I'm confused certainly, and there are a million questions I need answers to, but I am persuaded that there is something badly wrong with how I am now. I exist, obviously, but it's a different kind of existence. It's much more tenuous, it isn't my own, it can be switched on and off by anyone, Moriarty for example."

"Yes, I'm sorry about that, he was a bit insensitive I suppose. But he had your interests at heart, and knew the quicker you got to grips with your new situation, the less pain there would be in it. Talking of pain…"

"I'm better. I'm feeling much better, of course, as you can see." Neither his face nor voice showed any pleasure as he spoke and he waved his hands in defeat.

"But you'd rather be dead."

"No, of course not, I guess I'd rather be as I was."

"But given the choice, dead, or alive in the way that you are on this computer, which are you going for?"

"Being here of course. It isn't everything but at least it's something. It's just that I shall always miss…"

"Just what will you miss? There is absolutely nothing in your real life, as you call it, that isn't available in what I suppose you're going to call your virtual life for some while yet."

"Like what, for example?"

"Well, for starters you had a really good meal last night, what would that have cost in a London restaurant? And this morning I would say you're about ten times fitter than you were yesterday. You slept well as far as I know, and comfortably, and you…"

"There is all that, of course, but you know what I mean. This isn't real." He tapped on the wall and the table. "You've persuaded me of that at least."

"So what is it then? It's what it always was. It's a series of electronic signals coming to the point where you are able to detect it and analyse it. That's all you ever did. In your 'real life' you opened your eyes and let in a stream of photons. They struck your retina and sent a stream of electrons along the nerve to your brain. There you…"

"I know all that, but it was real light off real objects that bounced into real eyes that sent the signals that I interpreted."

"How do you know?" she persisted.

"Let's not go into all that. It was always possible to question it in philosophical parlour games, but no-one really doubted it."

"No-one then had a platform from which it could be properly doubted. You're different."

He wasn't to be swayed easily.

"But it's this different vantage point that makes it all the clearer. Then I could bang into things I hadn't properly noticed. I could have dust in my eyes and not see properly, or I could suffer an optical illusion and think I was seeing what I wasn't seeing. All of this, on the other hand, is artificial. It's crystal clear and perfect and you can switch it on or off as you like. It isn't real."

"You want it. You've got it. Sore eyes, optical illusions, hallucinations, headaches, badly lit things you bump into, poor eyesight, just name it."

"But that's my point, it's all of it artificial."

"What 'is' is real. Real includes artificial and in a very real sense there is nothing that isn't artificial, not in your experience anyway. When you switched on a fan you created a wind; an artificial wind but just as real as wind from any other source. You could see by opening your eyes to a flood of photons or you could see using a thermal imaging camera. Both were real."

"But they're the same. Light and ultraviolet and infrared or heat waves are all basically the same electromagnetic vibrations."

"Now we're getting somewhere. The stream of data that you're trying to analyse is just as natural as your data steams have always been."

"But it's not the same."

"I'm not saying it's the same, I'm saying it's just as real."

"But the events that it represents, the things that I learn from it, they're not natural events of water flowing or of animals running, they're whatever you care to make them, simulating animals or water, but without either actually being there."

"Whoops. You've come off the rails again. Living here you will encounter a computer programme that presents you with the sensation of water. You need to drink it or you will die of thirst. If you get into too much of it you will drown. If you collide with a frozen lump of it it'll bash your head in."

"But not because any of those things are really happening, simply that you have programmed me to respond as though they were."

"Just like the animal that you were."

"Yes, but here I don't really need water. I wouldn't really die of thirst. You could just as easily programme me to quench my thirst with a stream of fire."

"As you are programmed right now, you are an exact replica of yourself. Without 'water' you would indeed 'die of thirst'. You're right that that isn't a necessary consequence anymore, but that is simply because this programme can release you from it. Soon you will find that a very distinct advantage."

"Yes, but it isn't…"

"You could have been spared from dying of thirst in your old life as well. Given the technology, the necessary hydrogen and hydroxyl radicals could have been brought into existence in the various parts of your chemistry where they were needed. Even your old technology was able to perfuse blood with oxygen, relieving you of the necessity to breathe. It's because you are such an excellent copy of yourself that you're having this trouble coming to terms with your new existence. I'm rather pleased with that. It's exactly how you should be, but you will move on I promise you. Now, shall we change the subject a bit? What do you make of Moriarty?"

"What did he mean when he said he was only temporary?"

"Just that. He's not a fully developed programme that matches anyone who ever existed. He's just a temporary programme to meet a particular need at the moment."

"You manufacture disposable humans?"

"He's not a human. That's the first thing that he tells you. Moriarty is no more real than a cinema image. He appears real to an intellect as small as yours, as a mirror image seems real to a dog who barks at it - but no more real."

"And you? Who or what are you?"

"'Allta' will do. And what am I? I am the core intellect that inhabits the AllTime Computer."

"Let me assume for the moment that what you're saying is all completely correct and that I am no more than a representation of my old self on a computer. What do you want me to conclude from that?"

"That you have survived death and that you are now on a computer."

"So somehow you have got hold of my brain after my death and…, what would the term be, 'downloaded', the contents onto your computer?"

"No, that's what happens in science fiction stories. The reality is a little more difficult to understand, though the outcome is, I suppose, almost exactly the same."

"So then, what have you done?"

"I can see you are still only half convinced."

She rose to leave and quizzed him playfully as she opened the door.

"That's my explanation of how you come to be here. You can't accept it and I'm sure you're working on an even better and more persuasive explanation. I truly cannot wait to hear it." The door closed softly behind her and he thought he heard a laugh.

Moriarty was cross

"Pilgrim, you are the most ungracious, ungrateful bastard I've ever met!"

But then, thought Pilgrim in an effort to stifle his rising anger, you were only made a couple of hours ago and probably haven't met anybody else.

"You're saved from a miserable stinking death and are the very first, well -one of the first, joint first with one other, to be resurrected. You got all your health back, you have no financial worries, no domestic troubles, no career to worry about, and yet I hear more moaning from you than I would from the Jewish Nation if the Wailing Wall fell on them. What does it take to make you happy?"

"Moriarty, you are programmed to have whatever emotion you have. It's different for me; I'm based on a real person. I am a real person. Err… I'm very like a real person only not real at all, not in any way. I have all Pilgrim's memories but they could be a complete fiction. I feel that I am Pilgrim, but then the programme is set up so that that is what I feel. But why would they set up a programme for me to doubt that I really am Pilgrim."

The vortex of thoughts dragged his mood to new lows. Moriarty tried to cheer him.

"You miss being alive, right? You miss walking round trying to stay alive and stuffing other creatures, dead, into the hole in the front of your head. I find a nice little woolly sheep and cut its throat for you, that make you happy?"

"Being alive was wonderful. I felt, alive."

"You were alive. You are alive. The difference is you are a million times better in this life than in the old one. Are you blind?"

"I'm a programme in some vast amusement arcade computer. A two dimensional cartoon character."

"Two dimensional!? Three!! You got three, look, that way, that way and that way, you got all the dimensions you need and you must have time as well because you're wasting a lot of it. What you've left behind was crap. You lived just waiting to die. You had thirty thousand days to sweat, and that's if you were luckier than most. It was a hopeless existence if you ever paused to think about it. It was destined to end in nothing, usually painfully."

"You will never understand. You were never there. There were mountains, rivers, sunny days, people to talk to, laugh with, fall in love with."

"You got all that here. Look out the window, mountains, sunny days, and there'll be plenty of people to talk to and you'll talk to them in a way you've never talked before."

"How?"

"Honestly. You'll talk to them honestly. You'll do that because there's no point in doing anything else."

"Some autistic children were unable to tell lies. Is autism built into my programme?"

"You were never honest, not completely honest. All the time you just missed it because it would have stopped you getting what you want or because it was too painful to somebody else. There's no need for that here. The same rules don't apply."

"Exactly. Everything here is artificial, the old Earth seems more and more like a Garden of Eden, and equally lost."

"You're beginning to get on my tits, you crazy old phoney. You came from Hell. It's only with that heap of self-denial, self-delusional, sentimental bag of old survival tricks that you could see it that way. I'm going spell it out for you. On Earth you were a grub. You came wiggling out of the womb and spent your life dying. All humans are ill with mortality. Life was like walking across the back wall, the target wall of a shooting gallery. A crowd of you, and the crowd constantly thinning out as the fire intensity increases. Around age 50 you can't help but notice it as the big cull gets underway and people you really know, knew for some while, drop dead around you. It has to be like that so that half are gone by aged 75 and all by 110. You had a huge lucky dip to choose from: heart failure, liver disease, Alzheimer's, cancer of practically anything. You had a big bag of lottery tickets you couldn't even see but were guaranteed the big prize sooner or later. Some tickets you got with your genes at conception. Others came from the story in history you were playing. But you were guaranteed a death one way or the other. And I haven't mentioned all the different ways you could be murdered, and we haven't started on the various ways your body would break down as it approached the gates, all the pain, all the…"

"You must know you are wrong, because you must also know about all the laughter, all the triumphs, all the striving for better things and the occasional success. Death generally isn't a big issue until you're quite old. That's the way we are."

"Of course it was. How could it be otherwise? Anyone able to take an objective view of it would swallow something spiky with a couple of bottles of vodka and leave the party quietly. Did you realise virtually every single animal on Earth is murdered? Every deer, every turtle, every fish, every elephant. If they can't be murdered when they're young and frisky, then the murderers wait until they are old or tired or just distracted, or perhaps giving birth. Giving birth was a favourite for leopards, lions, tigers, hyenas, wild dogs. The newborn are such easy targets and mothers so satisfyingly weaker than usual. That meadow full of butterflies, you know what happened to all the butterflies? Did you ever watch the wasp maggots coming out of a caterpillar? They'd been eating its guts out from the inside in the days beforehand and now they come eating their way out through the skin, perhaps a dozen of them."

"Just shut up. You haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about. You've never been there, you'd never understand…"

"If we were there, on earth, now, I probably wouldn't say anything like this to you. Your sentimental view of things was all that kept you sane. Any objective look at how you were living would have sapped your will to live at all. But there's always been the choice of ducking reality."

"All that hell on Earth that you describe, I could have avoided it at any time by taking drugs or having a frontal lobotomy. Happiness, contentedness, has never been a particular problem if that had been the only aim. And yes we could be bad, mean, selfish, wicked. It was because I could be bad that good was so satisfying. Perhaps it was like knowing hunger to really enjoy a good meal, thirst before a good drink."

"Lobotomy? Testectomy would have done! Just shutting off the hormone supply would have moved you two miles nearer sanity. But you were testosterone addicted. You spent half your life doing what it told you. Once again you miss the point with perfect accuracy. That's your sanity-protection kit still working, though now you're in no danger, it's redundant. That's all behind you now, Pilgrim. Your reconstruction here includes the urge to eat and the enjoyment of it, but you can change that anytime you want to. Ask for an up-grading and your appetite will disappear with no bad side effects. Give yourself a break. Get that intelligence of yours working round your new situation. Remember how you and your kind have spent your whole history trying to improve on nature or to conquer it. Now that you've finally totally conquered it, you're whimpering with anxiety and longing for the old 'meaty' days! Don't worry about lack of challenge. You won't be bored here. What lies ahead of you will be more testing than anything on Earth, and I can't pretend that there is no suffering at all here. What I can say though is that the random element has gone. What you do now is purposeful, but Allta will explain all of that to you. But you exist. You are an entity. Electronic, organic, whatever. You were ever what you shall be. You shall not be less"

Allta was pleased with his progress.

"Your lungs sound almost completely clear. And your heart…."

"Allta, stop all that nonsense. You have no more need of a stethoscope than I do of a poke in the eye. My process of getting better has nothing to do with any ordinary medicine, has it? It can't have, since there isn't any organic part of me to be treated."

"No. You're right. And I'm genuinely glad you asked that question, it shows you're gradually coming to grips with how things are. I only do the doctor routine and the hospital bit to put you at ease while you're adjusting to things. I'm glad I can get rid of these now."

She stuffed the redundant stethoscope into her pocket.

"I'm pretty sure there are plenty of things you want to ask…? Now's your chance."

"When we are talking, you sometimes laugh. Being a computer you don't really need to laugh, do you? I mean, you don't feel any need. Do you feel anything?"

"You're not intelligent enough to take in a full explanation. For what it's worth, I can tell you that some of the mannerisms I exhibit are indeed to put you at your ease. Humour, as it happens, is universal, is real, and will be with us till the very end of this project. Beyond that, it's a bit early to tell you just now."

"When will be the right time then?"

"There will be a time, I promise you, and it's not all that far off. You will, yourself, undergo a change. I've already explained it all to Errol and I think he has understood most of it. Probably best if you talk with him first, and then I can meet with you both and clear up any problems that seem to remain."

"And who is Errol?"

"You saw him from your window a couple of days ago. Let's go and meet him, I'm sure he can give a good account of himself, though in fact, you already slightly know him, apart from having seen him at the window I mean."

It was strange to leave the room. He felt as cleanly separated from the things that he knew and were important to him, as he had in leaving home to go to college. In making his way from the room to the gardens outside, the building he passed through might have been a hospital or an office block or a college. There was nothing definitive to be seen. In the gardens the breeze felt fresh and good and the crunch of his shoes in the gravel as he walked beside the flowers was reassuring. But why the door? The door was a deep, glossy green with shining brass furnishings and it stood, isolated and incongruous in its green frame in the middle of the wide path. Allta said nothing as they passed alongside it.

Errol seemed pleased to meet him.

"Pilgrim Millennium, the diary man. It's a very great pleasure to meet you at last. From death's door to here in two days, - you're looking remarkably well on it."

"It has been rather hectic. I suppose it's been the same for you? We must compare notes. No need for introductions, I suppose. Allta mentioned that I would probably recognise you and of course I do. You' re the AllTime Foundation man."

Errol beamed at him. Pilgrim turned to Allta.

"So, between you two I should be able to get all the answers I need. Lets start with a simple one. Where am I now? Heaven? Hell? Limbo? Disney Land?"

Allta answered. "That's a good, straightforward, short question. The answer is equally good and, in its way straightforward, but…"

"But not short…?"

"No, I'm afraid not. But Pilgrim, look, you always liked picnics, didn't you?"

"Picnics! What on earth has…? OK, yes, of course, it's in my diary. It was always a little magical to sit out in the countryside or on the beach and nevertheless have everything that was necessary for a good meal. You know after my father died, it was our first picnic on Boscombe Down that persuaded me that we were still in control of things after all and that some things could go on as normal, despite his absence. My mother was a great organiser and our picnics were fantastically well set up."

"Good. That will serve us here. Three big questions and their accompanying answers would settle much of the confusion in your mind. You need to know where you are now. You are on or in the AllTime, but the first question should meet your need to know where and what that is; how it came about and how you came to be part of it. That will be explained at the First Picnic. Given that you are here, your next question will concern the rules that apply here. We will cover that at the Second Picnic. We will discuss the rules, the positive and negative, the right and wrong that govern you and your place in the AllTime and we will discuss a task, a mission that I hope you will undertake here. And you will want to know the purpose of all this. At the Third Picnic I will try to explain the purpose and the ultimate destiny of the AllTime and, in doing so, your own purpose and destiny. This is what I have programmed for you, if you agree. You are feeling well now and there is no need for any delay. If you agree we can go right now. Not far from here is a picnic site that Errol has chosen. The next two can be at sites of your choosing. You've a wide choice, anywhere in the universe and at any time. Oh, and one other thing, you always liked having a dip in warm water…"

"Yes, indeed I did. I loved a warm swim. There were far too few opportunities. None at all in Britain and only occasionally in the Mediterranean."

"But you remember the lagoon on Branna Island in the Pacific?"

"Of course. As near perfect as I ever reached. Clear blue water, brilliant white sand, a lagoon shallow and warm and clean. My best dip ever."

"Your best so far. I think your next dip will take pride of place from then on. But let's go now. Follow Errol through the green door."