MeiMei estimated she’d have about thirty seconds to talk to her father before the line was overwhelmed, so she blurted out an apology and incredibly lame alibi. She heard herself say, “I didn’t want you to worry,” and caught Tuan’s headshake and half-smile. What’s to worry about having your only daughter chased on the high seas by murdering booty bandits, harried by gunboats and having unprotected sex with a strange man?

She turned to Denny and said, “My father says thank you. He knew your guesses would be correct.” She frowned slightly and covered the phone with her hand to say, “Is that something about that football pool craziness?”

Denny placed his palms together under his chin and bowed from the waist. “Tell him it was the least I could do in service of a true master.”

MeiMei started to say something about that silliness but her head jerked as she heard the upstairs phone–the ivory-yellowed Princess sitting amidst the dark, carved/lacquered dynasty pit of her parent’s bedroom–pick up. She braced herself for the gusher of shrill Mandarin endearments and scoldings that blasted into her ear. She loudly blurted out, “Duì bù qi, MuMu,” and leaned back to ride it out. She was sorry she couldn’t meet her father’s eyes and do the long-suffering eyeball roll they’d been working on since she could talk, but she knew he was seeing her do it.

At last she tried another old ploy, pitching her voice below the slipstream of her mother’s ejaculations and speaking quickly in English. “I’m fine, Daddy. I’ll call every day until Mom settles down. Oh, I met a great guy. I hope you can meet him.”

“I will guess,” the co-champion Guest Guesser of Washington State said over the tenuous connection of electron-bouncing satellites. “Narcotics king? Pirate of Mediterranean? Ancient stone warrior?”

“Very funny, Dad. He’s a doctor of…”

The tirade of relief/blame came to a halt so suddenly she thought the line had gone dead. Then her mother purred, “He a doctor?”

Among the pantheon of attributes of the Chinese race, few rank higher than Increased Offspring and Filial Obedience.

MeiMei clicked the phone shut and handed it back to Denny with a grateful smile. Behind him and the Sonny Crocket stand-in she saw a pretty Mexican girl who a guy in Mexican Marine fatigues and flight jacket was trying to chat up and getting conspicuously nowhere. She turned back to Denny and said, “Say, think my friend and I could hitch a ride back to Kansas?”

Denny looked around: the Gilligan shacks on the Caye, the clear water of the lagoon lapping the piles of the swaying dock, the screaming green of Tobacco, the lines of tiny isles running out in both directions, creating a false horizon between the profound blue of the Caribbean and the unfounded blue of the sky. He looked back at her and said, “You sure?”

MeiMei was having a hard time concentrating, rather than staring out the windows as the helicopter wafted along the reef. leaning slightly to starboard to give a better view.

Denny hadn’t paid enough attention, on the flight out, to Lluvia’s thrilled reaction to her first flight. He’d been more interesting in jabbering at Townsend, asking question the spy found inane and sharing nuggets of detecting experience whose wisdom had reduced Town to a hair away from throwing him out into the sea.

But on the trip back, he leaned forward, tapped the pilot’s shoulder and asked if he could fly lower and slower so Lluvia could enjoy the scenery. Lluvia had rewarded him with a melting smile and the pilot had enthusiastically welcomed her into the front seat to better enjoy the incredible view of the water and stunning proximity of one damned cool pilot.

But there were questions to be answered and MeiMei wasn’t dissuaded by her difficulty in getting anywhere with her interrogation. Denny had no idea how she’d been located and didn’t want anybody to know that; Townsend was professionally reluctant to reveal his methods and gizmos. And didn’t want to tip his hand by being extremely inquisitive as to what had made this pretty, slight, seemingly innocuous Asian woman important to Aphra Alisander and therefore the GOP. That would wait until they landed. At which point he’d have her detained for questioning if he had to. He’d had it right up to his dreamy blue eyes with not knowing what he was involved in.

Tuan had been uncharacteristically silent, just holding MeiMei’s hand as she drilled queries at the two snoops and got nothing out of it but frustration.

He’d given up on figuring it out, other than the obvious role of surveillance devices and a pretty good idea where they were concealed, and his usual curiosity was bubbling up in the thrumming frame of the copter.

He leaned up to ask the pilot, “Why doesn’t this thing have tail rotors?”

The pilot, striking out bigtime with Lluvia, was proud to spiel his machine. “Not required. Channels draft to side thrusters. I direct if here.” He touched a bluntly military joystick control. “This is a beautiful ship, MacDonald Douglas 902 Explorer. We have six of them, patrol for narcos“.

Well, more for illegal immigrants from Cuba lately, but that wasn’t very glamorous and he didn’t like the smug looks and even snickers when he told Americans that the Mexican armed forces were patrolling to keep out wetbacks from poorer countries.

“Do the thrusters create any ground effect when close to objects?” Tuan asked. “If you are heeled over on landing, for instance?”

The pilot was delighted to discover he had a passenger who actually knew something about aerodynamics and would sit still for him rattling on about it. Tuan listened, nodding and absorbing while MeiMei fretted at her inability to get straight responses on how these two jocks had turned her up. She wouldn’t have been all that shocked to learn they were delivering her to Ronchel’s yacht’s helipad, but had made her peace with that risk.

Townsend meditated on how he could turn his possession of the hotly-sought Dr. Chiang into something he could take home wagging his tail and Denny kept his eyes fixed on Lluvia’s face as she drank in the beauty and exciting swoop of the littoral terrain below. She gawked out the window like a child and at times would turn to him and point something out below, her eyes shining. Denny had decided that whatever this McChopper had cost, it was well worth it to keep that light shining.

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So they were a bit languid, paddling along just inside the reef, passing strings of islets like an emerald necklace strewn along the spine of the sea. Talking the multi-level language of new lovers,saying some pretty silly stuff for noted scientists. But in the mid-afternoon, Tuan pointed at a somewhat larger clump of greenery far ahead and said, “There should be a phone there.”

“Oh, yeah, the phone.” MeiMei felt one more stab of guilt at having neglected calling her parents. Then had the sudden thought, “How about you, OB? Isn’t your Mom worried sick by now and just waiting to make you guilty about it?”

She was unprepared for the bitter grunt from behind her. And the harsh way he said, “She’s dead.”

She stopped paddling and looked over her shoulder at Tuan, who continued to steadily paddlewheel the kayak forward. She thrust her paddle out so his would strike it, and held it there while he stopped moving and stared at her. She said, “You’re generally pretty good at talking. Tell me about it.”

He drew a deep breath and looked past her to the horizon. “My father was as All-American as they come. He was in the Navy. Retired now. He’s probably responsible for my noted ‘generalism’.”

“A sailor,” she said, just marking time while he got to it.

“An officer on a nuclear submarine. Most people don’t realize it, but submariners are the most educated military personnel in the world. Every man on a U.S. submarine is cross-trained to every other job on the sub. In a disaster, people get killed or sections flooded, so any man on board has to able to step in and do the job of any other crew member. No other branch of the service can make that claim.”

Intrigued with the size of that despite herself, MeiMei said, “Wow. So the cook knows how to run a nuclear reactor?”

“Exactly. Dad was a navigation officer going in, but after a couple of years on the Ashville and New Orleans he was also a mechanic, cook, gunner, nuke physicist…during the Carter admin he wanted to be physicist and peanut farmer. And he just kept on learning. He’s in school now…I think he wants to cross train with everybody on the planet.”

Let’s get back on the hot topic, MeiMei thought. “So he met your mother in the Philippines.”

“Yep,” his voice had taken on some animation, but slammed flat again. “Subic Bay. Ever heard of it?”

“Don’t think so. A navy base?”

“A huge navy base. Pubic Bay, the swabbies called it before Aquino kicked us out. And with good reason.”

He stopped for a minute and MeiMei waited him out. Then he shrugged, still without looking at her, and said, “San Diego has such a big Filipino population because a couple of generations of sailors married prostitutes and brought them home, then they dragged their families over.”

“Come on, Tuan.” she didn’t care if it was an exaggeration or not, she could see the hurt starting to ooze out of it.

“My mom, the war bride. And she didn’t change her ways much after she hit the States, apparently. Very common, you get these Flip fleet widow places, ex-Luzon whores hanging out looking for kicks and tricks. And mom was the queen of the crowd.

“Oh, Tuan. That’s really a…”

“…shame? I felt that way at the time Got me in fights. Might have driven me to the books. Definitely drove me to martial arts.”

“Any in particular?”

“Aikido, mostly. I always thought the best offense was a good defense.”

“That’s a good one all right.”

“You too?”

“Yeah, my dad was a devotee, used to teach me. Sent me to Roger Chun’s dojo–the most brutal sensei in Seattle. Then he developed other martial interests.”

“Such as?”

“NFL football.”

“Ah, the Way of the Empty Helmet.”


“Ah yes, our backstory continues. Dad divorced Mom and kicked her out when I was in like third grade. He told me she was dead.”

“Harsh. But maybe easier on you.”

“Possibly. I saw her a couple of times later and know what? He was right.”

MeiMei palmed the paddle to brace her hands on the gunwales and carefully turned around to face him. He stuck a blade into the water for more stability as she pulled off the tricky maneuver and ended up on her knees, facing him. She slid her hands along the hull until her face was a foot from his. She hadn’t had any idea of what to say, but as she faced him it bubbled up out of her.

“Give me time, Tuan. I’ll make it up to you.”

He let out something that could have been a cry of joy or a sob of pain or anything in between and reached to embrace her.

So they tipped right over into the sea.

Bobbing in the water, both of them laughed uproariously. He grabbed the turtled boat with one hand and pulled her close with the other.

“I’ve got all the time in the world,” he said. “And it’s all yours.”

Three hours later they were sitting in a bar on Tobacco Caye, laughing about the sign in fluent Belize Creole, “Ef you doan got 18 yeahs, you caan drink likah heah.”

And listening to the short, shiny-black barmaid tell them that nowhere in the tumble of little shacks and stilt buildings that comprised Tobacco Caye there was no telephone except some ship-to-shore rigs. They were on their second bottles of yeasty Belikan beer when they heard it coming.

Unmistakably some sort of aircraft. Tuan saw the Belizean girl’s face furrow in concern. Not seen as a good thing. He stepped over to the wall of the bar, the top half of which was swung out on a hinge to provide major ventilation and shade out in front. It came in low and fast, stopped on a dime beside the long, rickety dock, and settled down on pontoons. A large, military grade chopper, was his impression. All white and painted with obscure arms inside the logo “Armada de Mexico“. Almost certainly not a good thing.

He looked at MeiMei, who stared at the helicopter nudging up to the dock. Where their kayak was tied, bobbing in the propwash. Calmly he said, “I’d say we are going to end up talking to them.”

MeiMei nodded, her face drawn tight. She stood up, visibly squared her shoulders, and walked over to take his hand. Together they walked out of the bar and down the dock towards the patrol helicopter.

Two men hopped to the deck and nothing about them made Tuan feel any better. Except that they were obviously not Mexicans. One looked like the guy with the Ferrari on the old “Miami Vice” program, the other was wearing a trench coat and a very hard look.

In a low voice to MeiMei he said, “These guys look like the law. That might actually be a good thing.”

Yeah, right, MeiMei was thinking. She hadn’t cowered in terror under an inverted hull in the night hiding from gypsy ninjas. They’d been cops, too. In Mexican military craft. She gripped Tuan’s hand harder as the two walked down the dock towards them.

As they came up, the one with the forties’ hat stared at MeiMei and slid his hand inside the breast of his trenchcoat. Tuan gathered himself for a doubtless futile leap and felt MeiMei doing the same.

Then they were right on top of them and the trenchcoat said, “Are you Doctor Mayflower Chiang?”

Mayflower? Tuan thought, as MeiMei gave a guarded nod.

Then Denny pulled the cell phone out of his coat, handed it to her, and said, “How about calling your mother?”

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They didn’t get that early a start. Because what with one thing after another, they hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep. Around five in the morning, under a setting cusp of moon, MeiMei had lain with an ear to Tuan’s chest, trying to modulate the throb of his heart with the soft beat of the waves. And it came from her mouth unbidden, “Out whole time together has just been sort of a big honeymoon, hasn’t it?”

And immediately cringed. First night with a guy and you’re saying “M-word” type words? Why don’t you just tell a guy you’re planning a felony caper the first time you meet him? Oh, wait, did that one, too.

But Tuan immediately stroked his hand up into her hair and drew her forehead up for a kiss. “It feels that way, doesn’t it? We should package this experience, offer it with all those ‘Wedding In Paradise’ hucksters on Isla. We could hire some vicious pirates and patrol boats for the thrills, give them sunburn with UV wands and little packets of sand to sprinkle into their cracks.”

She felt her laughter moving her breasts around on his ribs. “Would it be too trite to say I’d like to just stop the clock right here and now?”

“What? You’re Chinese and your mother doesn’t have any grandchildren yet and you’re talking about arresting time on circumstantial evidence?”

Whoa. Now he was talking kids. Grandkids even. For two people who just spent a couple of weeks sleeping together in cramped quarters and peeing in each other’s presence, but didn’t hook up until a few hours ago, they were sure shifting up to cruising speed in a hurry. She looked at his silhouette in the fading moonlight and thought, hold that “Whoa”, though.

“If you stop the clock, everything just freezes, right?” Tuan was softly stroking her flank, but was obviously focused elsewhere for the moment. “Just stay in the moment, don’t change. Of course we can probably move around, right? Walk, eat. Various motion-driven activities. But time will cease to be a factor?”

“Kind of a snooze button for aging and nagging reality.”

“Well what would happen if you stopped the calendar?”

What that line stopped was her whole train of thought. She’d never really entertained the concept of an actual end of history. Real and, well, literally carved in stone. “Well,” she said after a few minutes of mental sifting and composing, “I guess if it froze up on only one day, you’d want it to be a good one.”

“Good point,” Tuan said thoughtfully. “Nobody wants to stop the clock during a root canal operation. You’d definitely want a Kodak moment at the tip of your time pyramid.”

“Time pyramid? Is that a real concept or one of your home-made bombs? I guess I tend to think of Mayan time concepts as circular. Wheels within wheels and all that.”

“And where you find those stone calendars, how far do you ever have to look to see a pyramid?”

“The end of your nose, more or less.”

“Have you actually counted the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun? Are there really 365?”

“At Chichen? Sure. There are 365 going up and 3000 coming back down, is the joke.”

“Ah, narrow little steps. Strait is the gait. There are students of the Gizeh pyramids, like Thompson, et. al. who say the design there is essentially a squaring of the circle. Pi meets phi. And that they are calendars.”

“I’m more partial to the Invaders’ Landing Pad theory, myself.”

“Well, the thing is… can you stand another big egotistical general theory lecture?”

“Only if I thought it was leading somewhere carnal and libidinous.”

“One step at a time, my dear. That’s what this little jot of verbal jazz is all about.”

He shifted his weight slightly and made sure she was comfortable. Then looked up into the starfield and said, “Squaring the circle has always intrigued the great minds. Over the years one form keeps suggesting itself to solve the various mathematical, engineering and mystical problems involved: the pyramid. Pyramids, wherever and whenever, tend to be seen not only as landmarks, but as calendars: anchors and signposts in time and space, breaking the infinite sky into our numbers of days. Carving our very steps into numbered stones.”

MeiMei, having learned she could toss solos into his jam without disturbing the flow, said, “And nobody measured and numbered and named the moments of the heavens as precisely or as obsessively or as impressively as the Maya.”

“Possibly,” Tuan returned, “Mayans are the ‘New Egyptians’, in pop culture, aren’t they? But we get so fascinated with the Mayan Calendar and all its interlocking wheels, intricate design, and exotic symbology, we often forget that we have our own ways to enshrine time: equally complex wheels carving not the time of the heavens, but the cycles we invented ourselves.”

He raised his arm to press a wrist to MeiMei’s ear and she heard the almost inaudible ticking inside the plain steel case she had noticed the first day she met him was a Rolex Mariner.

“Our years stack up, one on the other,” he said, “Like squared-off steps. While Mayan years revolve like seasons. We set hours and minutes and seconds in endless circles around our square girds of days and years, often unaware of the

tiny cogs that mesh beneath the machined surface of our lives. These mechanisms of our own minds replace the sweep of worlds through the skies above us, names of Gods get lost in the tyrannous proliferation of mere numerals.”

He stopped and MeiMei nuzzled him a little, said, “Not a bad monologue, but I think it needs some more laughs. And sex.”

As it happened, Tuan agreed with that critique and bent to the task. But paused to say, “You know, we all tend to see time as being like a chunk a day, and they just sort of pile up into this infinitely rising tower. Each newly-minted block of time kind of pushing the old ones back. But there’s another way of looking at it that I rather prefer.”

“This better be leading somewhere hot, moist, and nasty, amigo.”

“Bear with me four point five seconds.”

“I’m bare and I’m about as with you as it gets. What’s on your mind?”

“The idea is, time is actually pulled forward by the future. The time dimension doesn’t really come with a little ‘This way up” arrow. It’s possible that it tends towards a singularity that has already happened, or is always happening and waiting for us to catch up to it. The way a dream happens instantaneously and the whole plot and pageant of it is just dragged along over how long it takes for your consciousness to make the transition.”

“Yipes. You silver-tongued devil.”

“Well, what I’m trying to say is, you have an idea that a single moment can turn everything that led up to it into a curtain rising, all past just prelude for the major, singular event.”

He moved over her, burrowing between her waiting legs, cupping his hands around her head and looking directly into her. “The moment we first touched. Like this. It turned everything leading up to it into a honeymoon.”

MeiMei didn’t say a word, just crushed her mouth to his and used her hands, feet and everything she could muster to draw him as deep inside her as she could and hold him there.

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“So what are your theories on The Big Bang?” MeiMei spoke softly from down in her throat. Pensive, ultra-relaxed, but still playful. She held a homemade “CocoLoco”: rum from a metal flask in the seemingly endless stores in the kayak’s hull, mixed with the milk in the shell of a coconut he’d found on the beach and chopped open with a machete from that same floating warehouse. And felt absolutely and stupendously great.

“I think it was fantastic,” he replied lazily, lying with his head outside the tent, staring up at more stars than anybody else would have any use for. “I think it’s the most singular thing that ever happened. And I’m hoping it’ll happen again soon.”

“Men,” MeiMei murmured in his ear. She had rolled up on one elbow to sip from the coco, but now reached across his bare torso and slid her equally bare breast along his rib cage. He bent the wrist that passed under her waist, cupping her butt in just the nicest way ever. She didn’t really feel like laying here making cool repartee. She felt like jumping up and down and whooping and hollering. Had actually done quite a bit of that a few minutes before. Not to mention some tremulous shivering of timbers, clenched toes pointing at the sky, and quaking like a flushed fawn under aspens. And not to by any means mention some various groveling and gesticulating and walloping of the kind a decent writer wouldn’t think of mentioning by any means. And now that single touch of his hand on her ass had caused her to consider the possibility of another such episode in the fairly foreseeable future.

“If you’d read the brilliant monograph I co-authored with Steven Hawking, you’d know that I’m more a proponent of the Steady State theory.”

“That’s fabulous, OB. Do you or Steven want to go steady?”

“I’d go with him, if I were you. They say he’s hell on wheels.”

“Oh, that was tacky. Even from a hard scientist.”

“Well, less so, now. Hard, that is. Still plenty tacky.”

MeiMei set the coconut down and nuzzled him a little, sniffing him out. She still had a hard time believing that she was not only getting laid, but even edging over towards those Harlequin Romance sort of trappings she’d had so little time or opportunity for in her life. Smart, famous, funny… what else? Oh, yeah, rich and owned a sailboat. All that and also in shape with pretty good muscle definition and a pronounced stamina. Those pussy pirates probably killed me after all, she thought. And I must have been a damned good little girl.

It hadn’t exactly been sudden. To say the least. He probably could have had her however long ago it was that she knocked on his door naked. Brought her a towel in the shower, stepped in, and stepped up. She kind of doubted she’d have made much objection. Swimming along under the inverted kayak with the searchlights, motor launches, and blue beanies out there had softened her outlook, as well. She remembered thinking, This has got to be the sort of situations where the imperiled heroine ends up under four-poster damask with a improbable bustier and a side order of pectorals.

Then there was that moment this morning, when their masks had touched and he’d just put his hands on her. Like you’d walk in and put your gloves on the side table. Just touched her in a way that obviously had no practical intentions, but seemed so natural she’d barely registered it: just looked into his eyes behind the wet glass and knew they were almost there yet.

But for some reason, it was late afternoon when she’d known for sure that she was going to bed with him that very night. If you want to call sprawled on a beach “bed”. Not, she thought as she stared up through the heavy, scented darkness into the deepening cup of stars and listened to the wind rustling the palm fronds in syncopation with the rhythm of the low windward-side surf just yards away from them, that any silk sheet, Tempurpedic setup compares to this.

They’d beached the kayak and pitched the tent, eaten a light snack of coconut slices and canned salmon–of all things–and gone for a sunset walk along the confectioners’ dust beach, wading in and out of the transparent water. She’d spotted an odd stick that looked like a stringbean, floating vertically in the shallows, then realized it was some sort of pod. It bobbed along in the wavelets of the lee shore, bumping its bottom end along the finely fluted sand bottom. She’d picked it up to examine, turned questioning eyes to Tuan.

“Glad you asked,” he said. “Because that’s a very interesting part of a pretty relevant process.”


“It’s a mangrove seed,” he proceeded serenely. “Falls into the water and goes with the flow. When it gets into shallow water, it does what you just saw. Sooner or later, with a little luck, it gets stuck, stands there in the water. And starts putting down roots.”

“Ah, I get it.” MeiMei just loved it, put the seed back in the water and squatted to watch it keep on bumpin’. “Then it grows up and puts out those limbs that turn into roots and roots that creep up and become trunks.”

“Exactly. Even if the reef wasn’t built up to the surface yet, that seed could snag in five inches of water and start growing vegetation.”

“And then it would catch silt…”

“And birdshit and floating junk and whatnot. Start creating it’s own currents, where silt gets dropped on it’s lee side.”

“And you’ve got a swamp or something out here in the middle of the ocean.” She thought about it. “And it would look like land, wouldn’t it?. Like a little island. We saw some of those yesterday.”

“And pretty soon it would be a real island, real land. Start having little beaches. Waiting for the next opportunistic traveler.”

“A guy from Fodor’s guide?”

Tuan led her up the beach to the edge of greenery and picked up a coconut. “Toss this on the beach,” he said.

She made a show of shot-putting the coconut almost to the waterline, where it rolled to a stop.

“If you keep tossing it, it’ll always end up like that,” he told her. “Notice the way it’s shaped, not really round, but not really conical. It’s a shape that lets it get into position automatically any time it’s washed ashore.”

“And once it gets settled in, your island has trees.”

“Which means things stay put a lot better.”

MeiMei thought of the huge stone trunks she’d seen lying on the bare reef, but could see what he meant. “It’s all about design.”

“That, what you just said right there, is at the heart of my whole general theoretical meandering,” he said lightly, but she felt the serious import of it. “You look at coral, they’re little jelly creatures the size of barley. Screening the sea for calcium to build a skeleton to protect them. But it doesn’t protect them from death, and the next one that drifts along builds his little shack on their remains. And you end up with one of the largest things in the world. Then you get things just happening by on the next wave and the way they’re made, the way they’re shaped, ends up building land out of the sea.”

“So you just take the right décor group, add water, stir and you’ve got a continent.”

“I woke up once in grad school. Whichever grad school. Berkeley, I think. Slumped over some cubicle desk in the library stacks and there was this note written on my knee in felt tip pen. It said, ‘Who designed the city of coral?’ Want the punchline? I couldn’t find a felt tip pen anywhere around the desk.”

“Intelligible design?”

“I’m still working on that. I’m not the only physicist who realizes he’s just one equation or variable from getting into theology.”

She walked down to the water and stared at the mangrove pod, still pogo-ing along. And kept staring. It was a message sans bottle, she felt. She looked up and he was looking right into her eyes. “You just get the right elements, with the pre-existing design, and set them afloat,” he’d said. “Then all it takes is time.”

And from that point, it had taken exactly one hour and seven minutes until she’d tossed her head back onto the sand, moaned, and felt the docking procedure complete itself.

And now here they lay. Building an island?

“Something you said yesterday,” she said, speaking almost directly into his ear. “About the universe not expanding out forever, but like reaching limits and starting to contract? Is that what you mean by steady state?”

“Not exactly. And I have to admit it appeals to me in a non-scientific way at the moment. Kind of, oh, I don’t know…a romantic folly of sorts.”

“Is that anything like a sweet nothing?”

“Yes, but more mechanistic than rococo, like a BMW. I look at the idea of the universe inflating into Everyness, then deflating to what Nothingness would be if there were even a nothing to think nothing about and what hits me is…”

He leaned forward and touched touched his hand to her shoulder.

“That in millions of years, this net of time that is unfurling around and through us will recoil, and that we will once again be here, together, right on this beach.”

Mei kissed him, then said, “But in reverse motion. Shouldn’t hurt the sex part any.”

“But then we’d paddle away backwards, I’d end up in my living room wandering why a genius millionaire with Abs Of Semi-Steel should be sitting there alone, and you’d be dashing away into the night on a backwards SkiDoo. And we’d wander off to separate lives. Go through our childhoods, once again without appreciating them, and end up as gleams in our fathers’ eyes.”

“But then the yo-yo would hit bottom, wouldn’t it? And start reeling the string back in.”

“And here we’d be again. And not even bored with it. This moment has legs. It won’t go away.”

“More like it’s one of those moments that keeping going away, but you know they’ll come back without even calling first or warning you to get dressed.”

“I’m warning you right now. Don’t even think about getting dressed. I like your concept though. I’m trying to think if there could be a theorem for it. Chiang’s Law of Conservation of Eroticism.”

“Physics, pah. It fades in the light of antiquity. It’s the Myth of Eternal Return.”

“Got a ring to it. Joseph Campbell?”

She shook her head, whisking him off with her sun-damaged hair. “Eliade, Trask and Smith. Princeton Press. But the first time I heard ‘eternal return’ my immediate thoughts were my mother terrorizing Nordstrom’s and The Bon shopping for clothes… oh my God.”

“You can just call me OB. I mean you’ve seen me naked, and all.”

“My mother! I haven’t called her in three weeks! She’ll be frantic. She’ll call out the Marines! I have to get to a phone.”

“Okay. Tomorrow we’ll hit Tobacco Caye. They’ll have something. Probably a soup can with a string.”

“Tomorrow’s great.”

“Which leaves tonight. What’s left of it.”

“Well, speaking of Return and Steady State and Infinite Expansion…”

“Have you ever wondered what came right after the Big Bang?”

“Oddly, no.”

He reached, then handed her their tropic isle cocktail. “The big coconut.”

She pushed the drink aside and moved over on top of him. He felt her breasts flatten on his chest, her legs straddle him. She leaned her head forward and all that thick black hair fell around him, like a cloak of starless night that fell around them and hid them from the world.

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