Silicon And Smoke

(by msulliva@asacomp.com, 22 May 1996)


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From SULLIVANGM@aol.com Wed May 22 00:04:10 1996
From: SULLIVANGM@aol.com
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 00:03:38 -0400
Subject: Story: SILICON AND SMOKE (complete)

[Note - contact address for this author now msulliva@asacomp.com]

Submitted for your approval, a story I have posted to ASFS in three parts,
here complete. I hope you enjoy it.

For all you dreamers out there-


SILICON AND SMOKE


Michael felt drained, exhausted, and happy in way he had not felt in many a
long year as he shut down the computer.  "So I'm not alone after all-."

PLEASE WAIT WHILE YOUR WORKSTATION SHUTS DOWN

So many long, on-line sessions.  So many large bills!  So many hours
exploring his favorite subjects; computing, gaming, reading-and yet,
something had been missing, some possibility overlooked, despite patient
hours of searching.  "There's so much here-surely there's at least one fellow
explorer who would share ALL my interests-even my dirty little secrets."

IT IS NOW SAFE TO TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER

Today he had found it.  ASFS.  No, he was certainly not alone.  Just a brief
perusal of the Newsgroup had proved that he had more company than he ever
dreamed.  Female smoking WAS a legitimate turn-on.  Movies, television,
books, all demonstrated this time and again.  It just seemed taboo for anyone
to come out and admit it.  "Small wonder, with the New Puritanism focused so
heavily against smoking!"  Not in ASFS, though-here was a place to emerge
from the closet, to shed the self-imposed label of abnormality!

And not just in ASFS!  There was a wealth of links to like-minded sites-it
was unbelievable, just  too good to be true.  Prometheus was unbound,
Paradise had been regained.

The discussions, the pictures, the stories-especially the stories.  "Well,
some prefer to let their imagination do most of the work.  Pictures can't do
that-the stories do."

Michael knew it would not be enough to sit back and passively absorb all
these benefits.  He had to give something back!  Something different,
something exciting.

"Start simple," he thought.  A little word processing-just a touch of magic-"
 He restarted the computer.


1.  The Zipless Smoke

Mike enters the fast-food emporium quickly, shaking drops from his raincoat
and umbrella.  This was the worst of all possible weather, he thinks, hot and
muggy with on-again off-again rain.  The air in the restaurant is cool but
clammy, the dehumidification inadequate to the gargantuan challenge posed by
the outside conditions.

The place is hardly crowded at 3:30 in the afternoon.  Just two tables in
use-his eyes glance to the smoking section.  This was one of the few chains
that still permitted smoking, and thus still enjoyed his patronage, despite
the execrable food.  One person-one woman sitting there.  Not eating-just a
wax cup with straw in place.  A small ashtray, with a single butt, white and
unstained.  Not smoking at the moment.  He glances away form habit.  Being
caught looking is definitely uncool, but she is absorbed in reading a
paperback.  Good, he thinks, she seems in no hurry to leave.

He moves to the ordering line and requests a soft drink.  Just a quick break,
he thinks, a drink, a smoke or two, and I'm on my way.   And if I'm lucky-.

He chooses a table with a good three-quarter rear view of the woman.  She
does not look up as he moves to his seat.  Good, he thinks.  She'd have to
twist around to notice him now, unlikely, unless she can sense the intensity
of his interest-

He withdraws and lights a B&H regular as he takes a closer look at the
woman-girl, really.  Her age is indeterminate, but he beauty is not.  She is
stunning!  Almost waist-length blond hair with a slight wave, covering both
ears, bangs low on her forehead.  Slender, but with admirable hips and
breasts.  Petite nose slightly upturned, lips full, large, almond-shaped,
ice-blue eyes, cheekbones high but softly rounded.  Skin white as cream, as
though untouched by the sun, but certainly not unhealthy-looking.  In fact,
she seems much too pretty to be seen in a dive like this.

She is wearing a simple white dress, long, belted in plain leather at the
waist.  A heavy sapphire (or something like it) necklace is draped over her
bosom.  The dress has an odd look, like something out of an old story, but
she does not appear to be in costume--one would only notice the oddity after
careful inspection.

He takes a sip of his drink and a long, contemplative puff on the B&H and
continues to look.  What is she reading?  Ah..."The Fellowship of the Ring."
 Tolkien.  The paperback is well worn, obviously not being read for the first
time.  It's one of his all-time favorites-

The drink is half-gone, his cigarette finished.  He sighed, as it looked
increasingly likely that this was yet another "dry hole."  There are no
cigarettes on her table, and no purse visible.  Not good signs.  Oh well-

She raises  her eyes slightly from the book and glances to the side (nowhere
near his direction, thankfully!).  She reaches into a previously unnoticed
pocket below her belt and withdraws a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
 Michael's pulse quickens.  Things are looking up fast!

He strains to see the pack.  Damn these glasses!  There is no doubt, however;
the pack is plain white, no markings of any sort.  100s by the length,
standard diameter-maybe some sort of generic?  The lighter is white, as is
the cigarette she withdraws.  She gives her head a little shake to get her
hair out of the way (lovely gesture) and places the filter between her small,
white teeth as she thumbs the lighter.

As she moves the flame to the tip of the cigarette, he focused briefly on her
lips.  They are ruby red though apparently without lipstick, and slightly
everted-the kind of feminine mouth he has always felt should belong only to a
smoker.  She has put her book down, apparently ready (like all really classy
smokers) to give her complete attention to the activity at hand.

Now comes the big moment.  She draws the flame gently, sensuously to the tip
of the strangely unmarked cigarette and begins her first puff.  He is pleased
to see no distortion in her face as she draws with apparent gentleness--just
a slight contraction of the lips as she releases the cigarette from her teeth
and seals her mouth around the filter.  Time seems to stand still as Michael
takes a cigarette of his own to join vicariously in the smoking.

Despite the seeming gentleness of her puff, it seems to last an eternity.  At
last she withdraws the cigarette from her lips and holds it in her long,
white fingers, wrists propped delicately on the table in front of her.  But
this Michael, barely sees--she is beginning to exhale.

Michael's viewpoint is perfect for this exhibition.  The muggy air in the
restaurant causes smoke to boil thickly from both the cigarette's lit end and
filter, and the back-lighting from the thinly curtained windows emphasizes
every cloudy detail.

As she withdraws the cigarette from her mouth, she tilts her head back
slightly.  Smoke curls creamily from lips and nostrils and is quickly
inhaled.  Only small wisps, just enough to sexily veil her face, escape her
sudden yet graceful intake of breath.  Her bosom expands as she draws a
seemingly impossible amount of smoke into her slender body.  Then, pursing
her lips and flaring her nostrils slightly, she begins to blow out smoke in
billowing, beautiful clouds, her table almost vanishing in the sudden fog
emanating from her slight body.

Out of the corner of his eye, Michael notices a middle-aged businessman at a
nearby table look up from his newspaper and frown disapprovingly at the girl.
 "If you say a word," Michael thinks, "I'll kill you with my bare hands!"
 Fortunately, he returns his attention to the _Journal_ and does not look up
again.

Meanwhile, this "greatest puff of all time" continues, as a surprising amount
of smoke continues to escape her mouth and nose during the ensuing three
breaths.  Michael shifts uncomfortably in his seat, wishing he could
surreptitiously straighten his shorts.

Could it possibly get better?  It does!  The second puff was even longer than
the first, and this time she exhaled in a very self-conscious manner, smoke
emerging in small bursts only to be immediately re-inhaled, ending with a
series of perfect smoke rings that twine in the air in an almost magical
fashion.  Again, her exhales continue for several full breaths, making it
appear as though smoke was her natural element, all she breathed, all she
_could_ breath.  It was almost more than Michael could bear.

Michael notices through his fog of over-stimulation that her first two puffs
have, somehow, consumed about two-thirds of the cigarette.  "That's can't be
right," he thinks.  "My time sense must be going-but who could blame me?"

It's the last puff that does him in.  She again draws with apparent
gentleness, but the cigarette is consumed almost to the filter. She daintily
crushes it out, tosses her head back, and blows a smoke plume ceiling-ward
which seems to envelop half the restaurant.  As the fountain of smoke starts
to abate, Michael freezes as she turns to face him. looks him in the eye, and
says "Good one, yes?"  She smiles as she speaks, a considerable volume of
smoke escaping with her words.  Without waiting for a response, she chuckles,
turns away, and commences again to read her book.

Michael is at once electrified and embarrassed.  He glances around the
restaurant and notices that (oddly) all of the other tables are empty.  Also,
no one is waiting in the order line and no one is visible behind the counter

He tries to suppress the blush flooding his cheeks, without success.  Any
pleasant stimulation he may have felt is now replaced by anxiety.  "I KNEW
that had to be a performance," he thinks, "but how the hell does she know
about my-interest?  How the hell did she know I was even there?"

At least there was no one else here to see his discomfort.  And as to
that-where was everyone?  Granted the place had almost been empty, but not
this empty!  An odd feeling of unreality suffuses him.  "Well," he thinks, "I
hear the only temptations you ever regret are the ones you resist-"  He rises
from his seat and approaches the strange girl.

Michael is diffident by nature, but this is not the first time he has
approached a girl after being attracted by her smoking.  Once or twice, he
has even tried the "big lie," pretending to be a market researcher for a
tobacco company.  This never worked for him-he usually became flustered and
blew it.  There was no question of lying now-he was far too nervous to bring
it off.  And, after all, he had been invited-sort of-hadn't he?

He reaches her table.  "Uh-miss-mind if I sit down?"

"Go right ahead," she answers, in a not-unfriendly manner.  However, she does
not look up from her book.

Michael sits.  "Uh look, I'm sorry if I-that is, I didn't mean to-"

She looks up at last, an impish smile lighting her face.  At this range, her
beauty is more than stunning, it's almost-blinding.  "A face like this," he
thinks, "could rule the world-"

"Don't be silly, Michael.  Who did you think all this was for?  That fool
with the newspaper?"  A quick glance towards the table re-confirms the man's
absence.  There is, in fact, no sign that anyone has sat there all day.
 Then, it finally sinks into Michael's fogged brain.

"You...know me?  Have we met?"  There was no way he had ever met or even seen
her before.  He would be long in his grave before he ever forgot someone like
her!  And yet-there was something familiar her-not from work, or school, or
certainly any party or bar-not from anywhere he was with-other people?

Her smile grows wider. "My name is Estrella.  Does that help?"

"Estrella-" he stammers.  "That's a very pretty name-a name"  He thinks:  "a
name I made up, damn it!  Pseudo-Spanish, exotic, meaning "star," a good name
for a-for an-Christ, this is the big one!  Psychotic break, a stroke-" but
Michael will not flee.  If this is madness, he will make the most of it.

"Shush, now,"  she says, patting his hand on the table.  "Don't try to think
so much.  It will take some time to sink in, and I'm not going anywhere-for a
while."  His mind races.  Intelligence: 18.  Wisdom:  16.  Charisma:-off the
scale.  "Here," she says, "have a cigarette with me and relax-"

She draws two cigarettes from the mysterious, unmarked pack and hands one to
him, placing the other in her lips.  Desperately wanting to be smooth and
sophisticated, Michael takes her lighter, flicks it, and extends it toward
her cigarette.  "My hand will not shake, my hand will not shake," he repeats
to himself like a mantra.  And it doesn't shake-much.

Estrella cups her hands around his to guide the flame to her cigarette.  Her
touch is cool and infinitely soft on his rough (and somewhat sweaty) hand.
 The flame teases the end of her cigarette, and the epic inhale begins.

As he likes so well (in pretty women, anyway), she is a smoker with no sense
of personal space or shyness about her exhaled smoke.  As it fountains from
her lips it swirls around him, almost hiding her momentarily.  He realizes
that he is sitting like a dolt, staring fascinatedly, with his cigarette
still unlit in his hand.  Quickly, he lights up too, hoping against hope that
she is not laughing at his awkwardness.

"Now," she says, still expelling small clouds of smoke, unbelievably, from
that first puff.  "isn't that better?"  She takes another, more modest puff,
but still fills the air between them with creamy smoke.  "You got me started
with this, you know.  Only you.  But now I'll think I'll continue, in your
memory if for no other reason.  And because it drives Elrond batty.  How do
you like my brand"

He glances at his again forgotten cigarette and takes a small drag.  Cool,
but not mentholated.  Very easy draw, almost as easy as a filterless
cigarette.  Obviously of the finest quality, though he was no connoisseur of
tobacco.

"They're excellent. Where-" he lets the question trail off.  "Your name
is-really-Estrella?"

She laughs, expelling smoke.  "Sure is."

"But I-that is, I-"

"Created me?"  she finishes.  "Not really.  But you sure have invoked me a
lot.  So much, in fact, that I finally decided to meet you in the flesh.

Invoked her?  Michael had been involved in fantasy role-playing games (FRPG)
for over 15 years, first in paper-and pencil versions like AD&D, later on a
variety of computer platforms.  He had participated as both player and
gamemaster, and had written and published several original scenarios for
FRPGs.  Throughout his playing career, he had always had a character named
Estrella, a female elven or half-elven magic-user, very powerful, very
exotic, very beautiful.  He had, on rare occasions, even fantasized about
her, imagining her in the flesh.  But never as a smoker!  Tobacco, if it
existed in these games at all, was used only by men and smoked in pipes.
 Just like in-"The Fellowship of the Ring."

As she continues to smoke with great flair, he looks her over carefully.  Her
hair hides her upper ears, but from what he can see of their bottoms they are
nearly lobeless.  "If I had the nerve to reach out and brush her hair aside,"
he wonders, "what would I see?  Would her ears end in small, delicate
points?"

Her antique dress, of simple white linen with broad pockets, seems more
explicable now.  "Typical garb for an elf!" he thinks, and then adds "I can't
believe I'm buying into this!  I'm a dead man!"  He looks around the
restaurant and marvels at how thickly smoke is layered in the air throughout
the large room.  "looks like the 3 AM aftermath of a Shriner's convention,"
he thinks, pleased.  Smoke filled rooms excited him, if he liked the smokers
responsible for it.

He isn't sure where to go next.  "How-"  he lets the question trail off.
 What kind of answer does he expect?  Does it matter?  Maybe this is one time
he should live in the here-and-now, and damn the fancy rationalizations.
 Instead, he continues "Will you marry me?"

Estrella's smile fades for a moment, as she thoughtfully blows a cumulus
cloud toward the ceiling.  "Michael, that's the nicest offer I've had in
centuries but, sweetie, we just don't have that kind of time.  Look, let me
tell you what I have planned.  I'd like us to get together one last time in a
familiar setting, but after that I'm afraid it's over."

"Over?"  His voice trembles.

"Oh you can still use me as a character, and use my name, but it won't be me
anymore.  I need to move on to other things."  She pouts, blowing smoke.

"What-other things?"  Michael tries unsuccessfully to hide the crushing
disappointment.

"I'd like to say, but you wouldn't understand, honey."  She does not sound at
all condescending.  She pulls an hourglass from her pocket and sets in on the
table.  Taking a last drag from her cigarette, she says, playfully, "Ready or
not!" and blows a great cloud directly into his face, blinding him.  There is
a moment of disorientation-

2.  The Dungeon of Despair

Sir Mikal of Danaan, the 12th level warrior mage, leans back painfully
against the slime-coated stone wall.  He feels exhaustion in every pore.
 Blood still seeps slowly from shallow wounds on his arms, legs, and upper
torso.  The heavy chain mail tunic drags on his shoulders, its weight almost
more than he can support.  His once-pristine, dragon-emblazoned surcoat is
now stained and torn, draping almost in rags across his chest and back.  His
plus-4 longsword, Evilsbane, dangles limply from his right hand, hardly a
threat any more to those foes who might happen by.

"And I paid for this," he thinks, "I goddamn paid for this wonderful
experience."

That last room, now some paces to his left.  How many had been in there?  At
least a dozen orcs, six skeletal warriors, four wights, and a couple of
high-level evil priests just to coordinate the sorry lot against him.  Only
him.  Not a soul to aid him.  He must be nuts!

Well, he is in serious trouble now.  Hardly a hit point to his name, only one
healing potion left, spells exhausted.  What he needs is rest! He gives it a
try.

CANNOT REST HERE.  ENEMIES NEARBY

The messages flashes on the inside of his eyelids.  "Of course I can't rest
here!  No one rests in a dungeon corridor, not if they expect to come out
alive!"  And, of course, no one ever had come out alive from this dungeon.
 No one ever does, until YOU go in.  This time, maybe they're serious!

Save the game then, at least.

CANNOT SAVE HERE

"What the bloody #$@#!  Can't rest, can't save-how do they expect anyone to
play this damn game?"

"A room," he thinks.  "A nice empty room, where I can spike the door shut and
rest.  Just one little room with no enemies.  Is it so must to ask?"  he
mutters a brief prayer to Danu and sets off west down the dark corridor.

The corridor dead-ends.  Two doors, one each on the north and south walls.
 The southern door is large, heavy, and obviously both locked and bolted.
 Mikal doubts he has the strength to batter it down, even with Evilsbane's
help.  The northern door has no visible lock.  That doesn't mean anything.
 It might be tougher to open than the southern door.  Wait-something is
marked on this door-an arcane symbol.

It's a thin, white cylinder, smoke trailing from one end, surrounded by a
green circle. Mikal struggles for a moment with his conflicting store of
medieval and 20th century memories.  "Now there's an anachronism"  He pats
the remnants of his surcoat, but of course there are no cigarettes.  "No
bloody tobacco at all in this game!"  Not delaying further, Sir Mikal boldly
grasps the door handle.  It opens with a subdued click.

Mikal quickly flattens himself against the corridor wall, peering carefully
around the frame to get a look inside the room . He is surprised to see a
richly appointed boudoir, suitable perhaps for a minor princess.  A
four-poster bed with a red silk canopy is barely visible-unoccupied  Good.
 There is other furniture, but impossible to make out from his angle.  He is
surprised at the scene-but not too surprised.  You could find anything behind
these damn doors, and appearances can be deceiving-as he had discovered the
hard way on many occasions.

Abruptly, Mikal bursts into the room.  No one here, at least no one visible.
 There are a couple of night stands, a sizable round table with two chairs in
a pseudo Queen Anne style.  The undisturbed bedspread is white satin, marked
with magical symbols.  "Not a princess, then-a mage, female.  A well-to-do
mage, at that."  He does a quick goodie-scan.  No treasure chests, gold,
weapons.  That's all right, an empty room is treasure enough right now.

Quickly, he pulls a small smith's hammer and four steel pitons from his
backpack.  Four quick strokes each, and the door is spiked shut.  "Nothing's
coming through there without my knowing about it."

He pulls out his last healing potion.  "It won't do a complete job, but it
will help jump-start my nap," he thinks anachronistically.  He quaffs the
potion in a single gulp.  Some of his wounds knit shut, blood dries and
flakes off.  He feels almost human again.

He glances hungrily at the bed, and considers doffing his armor.  "In a game
this realistic, I'll rest poorly with it on.  On the other hand-"

"Well met,  Sir Mikal.

In a move the flesh-and-blood Michael would have been sore pressed to
duplicate, Sir Mikal spins lightly on the balls of his feet, Evilsbane rising
to the "en guarde" position, to face the unexpected voice.

A female elf is seated at the round table, where none was before.  An elf of
surpassing beauty, Mikal notes.  And somehow familiar, as well-.

She holds an odd package of white cylinders in one hand, and a thicker,
flattened white device in the other.  "What sorcery portends?  Speak, elf!
 My steel has little patience!"

"I certainly hope it's not  patient."  She grins.  "Okay, Michael, focus!
 Game suspended!  You can come out of character now.  It's safe here."  A
smile illuminates her face.  "Remember me?  The restaurant? I'm Estrella!

Again, medieval and 20th century memories struggle within Sir Mikal.
 Estrella?  Was it not her he came here to rescue?  If this was truly she, it
was he more in need of a rescue!  A restaurant? Meaning a publican?  Slowly,
recent events come to focus in Michael's mind.

"Estrella?  This is what you meant by a `more familiar setting?'"

"Come on, sit down, have a cigarette with me.  I'm getting frantic waiting
for you to get out of that ridiculous character.  Come on, or I'll start
without you-"

Mikal-no, Michael sits.  He accepts the cigarette, and as Estrella places
hers to her lips, he fumbles in his backpack, producing flint, steel, and a
tinderbox.

"Cute, Michael," she says, flicking her lighter and lighting both cigarettes.
The sight of her first inhale brings Michael back to reality, as a certain
part of him tries vainly to penetrate his protective leather codpiece.

"Yes, of course this is what I meant by a more familiar setting."  White
puffs of lovely smoke accompany her every word.  "Except for cigarettes, your
world is so drab and dull, and the food is awful.  This, now, this was our
greatest adventure, remember?  I was a prisoner, tortured, afraid, and alone,
in the bottom of the Dungeon of Despair.  All your companions were killed or
worse, but you came--alone!--to rescue me.  That's when I first began to love
you, I think."

Hearing her speak of loving him was the most wonderful moment of Michael's
life.

She looks at him with a wistful sadness.  "But this is where I live. Michael,
and where you don't live.  The world of magic, dreams, and high romance.  Oh,
I can do a thing or two in your world, but nothing like this!  Watch-"  the
sadness replaced by her pixie smile, she takes an apparently short pull on
her cigarette, and begins to exhale-and exhale-and exhale!  Billowing clouds
fill the room with a sweet scent as she continues to produce smoke from
nowhere.  It reminds him of a scene from the movie "Excalibur," when Morgan
Le Fay exhales an entire fog bank to confound King Arthur's troops.  That
scene, however, Michael found clumsy,  fake-looking, and entirely
unstimulating.  This, however-

Was almost too much of  good thing!  It was getting tough to breathe in the
smoke-filled room.  No matter-it seems to him a good way to die.  Estrella,
still exhaling smoke beautifully and with every conceivable variation, passes
him a parchment scroll.  "Spell of Underwater Breathing."  "Why yes, "
Michael thinks, "this should work."  With failing breath, he intones the
words on the parchment, which shrivels and vanishes as he completes the
spell.  Suddenly he is breathing easily, able to enjoy the show and the sweet
scent of her white exhalations.

She favors him with an irresistibly impish grin, small wisps of smoke still
escaping prettily from her mouth and nostrils.  "I actually managed to
suffocate Vermithrax with that little trick.  Your world does have its good
ideas, sometimes-"

"You didn't!"  Michael says, remembering the fearsome dragon.

Again, he lovely face saddens.  "But Michael, there's so little time.  And
there is a last gift I wish to give you-"  she glances toward the bed.

For Michael, the promise of that glance pales beside the prospect of losing
her.  "But why?  Why can't we stay together?  Is it the game?  I'll stay
here-with you!  To hell with reality, whatever that means!"  Nothing in the
real world was half so desirable as her.

"It's not that simple, my love.  Even if you could, there are those who would
oppose you.  Ones who you could not overcome, even with your strongest
character-"

Swinging back into his role, Sir Mikal roars ":Where lieth these curs?  I'll
teach them the peril of daring my wrath!  None shall keep us apart, none!
though the Dark Lord himself should bar the way!"

"Dear, please, watch your language!  Don't take the name of the big Foozle in
vain! "  She glances around with unfeigned apprehension, as if expecting a
dire presence to emerge from any corner.  She draws nervously on her
cigarette, blowing smoke all around as if to ward off evil.

It almost makes him want to mention the Dark Lord again.

She manages the most serious expression he has seen on her yet.  "Dear
Michael-dear foolish Michael- when our time here is through, and that is so
soon now, so cruelly soon-I will step through a gate of light-and become just
a memory to you.  You cannot follow me-must not follow me.  Please promise
you won't follow?  Please?"

She was so serious and sad, it broke his heart just to look at her.  "I
promise-"he says, "I will not follow."  Behind his back, two fingers of his
gauntleted right hand are firmly crossed.

Estrella  takes a last puff on her cigarette, filling the already whitened
air once more with her exhalation. Almost solemnly, they rise and approach
the bed.  Michael thinks, "I'm definitely taking my armor off for this one-"

******************************************************************************
**************

Even so, he almost misses it.  Eight times!  If he was tired before, now he
is truly unmanned.  They has shared a last cigarette, the experience of which
only reinforced his conviction not to lose her, whatever the price.  In the
daze of afterglow, he at first barely notices Estrella leaving the bed,
approaching a square of blazing white light that has suddenly appeared in one
dark corner.  Instantly alert, he gathers his weapons and armor quickly and
watches as she walks toward the gate, seemingly in a trance, oblivious to all
around her.  "I'll have to time it precisely," he thinks.  "If I move too
soon, she stop me easily with one of her spells-too late, and-"

Suddenly, the moment is now.  Estrella is disappearing through the gate.  No
time to dress-no time to think-no time for anything.  He leaps from the bed,
reaching the gate just as it begins to fade out-

******************************************************************************
**************

Marie Consuela moves desultorily between the tables in the fast food
restaurant, performing the after-closing clean-up with her normal level of
enthusiasm.  She reaches a table in the smoking section, and finds an
unusually good haul.  A man's raincoat and umbrella-and on the table, an
hourglass of all things, its sands long since run out.  She grabs all three
items.  Such little pay for such hard work-one must take fortune where one
finds it.  She moves on into the gathering darkness.

THE END


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