UNITED STATES—Though he was surfing now from island to island of consciousness, Zorba innately did not read anything malicious into what the bumpkin was saying. Dog…dogs…dogs…barking everywhere, and clusters of keening hawks in the bluer than blue sky he’d beheld as they first trudged from the silo to the farmhouse. Devon Zorba had lost all appetite. His ears drank up the sounds.

When the platters arrived with hunks of steaming beef brisket, down the hatch it went. He was famished, he realized. Devoured was corn on the cob, string beans with pieces of bacon (real bacon which Zorba had never sampled in the Underground Cities), and to top all off, they gave him a big piece of Black Forest cake. It was gone in two seconds.

“You likes it?” said one of the plaid brothers.”

“More?” brought in another of the brothers, wearing an apron.

Then a child, a little girl with yellow eyes, brought out another piece of Black Forest cake, the layers broken up by white frosting. Zorba beheld this new wedge, dotted by cherries on top.

Former Detective Zorba held out a hand to say “no thanks.”

“Go ahead. You doesn’t be afraid of the cake. You’re scared. No reason under the sun not to likes what you should like, that’s something our Mother, Father always said. It ain’t natural.”

Zorba felt the whiff of no tomorrow. You only die once, right? Heedless of all the time playing racquet ball in the police gym this treat would impose, he breathed up the second piece of cake. To be abducted, dragged “up here” drugged by a tranquilizing pill-pod, it was back-breaking work and it seemed perfectly natural for the devout vegan to gobble down beef brisket and now, the second piece of cake. His chief captor, the taller brother raw-boned lad who’d snapped the pill-pod to his spine in the Metro station declared:

“Besides you’ll hurts our feelings. It’s Mother’s old recipe…”

There it was again, the inner refrain of slavery/emancipation that matched his heartbeat. Now Zorba was sick inside about being coerced to eat the Black Forest cake. The rural punk in the plaid shirt didn’t know when to stop selling. He’d already decided to “live it up,” and now the knowledge he wouldn’t be getting to the police gym any time soon stoked fury.

Zorba spoke:

“You slip me a pill-pod, take me to one of the grimy, cobwebbed silos. What’s going on?” there was heat behind Zorba’s abnormally calm voice of Zorba. “Who are you?”

“Jake Twelvetrees,” he said. “How is you feeling?”

“I think I need a nap after that feast.”

“You already sleeps two suns,” spoke Jake Twelvetrees. “We takes you to papas.”
It took two of the brothers to prop Zorba up and slap him awake. There seemed to be, even in the year 2045 the misconception that detectives, even the females like Robbins, were tough guys. All it meant, thought Zorba, was we held back from screaming when we wanted to scream and weeping when we wanted to weeping. Flanked by the plaid brothers, he was propped up from the bunk that called back to him like a long-forgotten smile.

After exiting the bunkroom, Jake led him through a room of Jurassic technology. There was a device with a morning glory horn used to play round black circles, a barrel with a stick for churning butter, a Cathedral-shaped radio—from his research into the land up there—he thought the radio, ancient as it was, should be prohibited under the dogma of “mechanical devices only” that prevailed in this region on the earth’s surface.

It occurred to him that the Twelvetrees clan might enjoy special privileges, a hunch that was soon amply confirmed.

“You gets used to our ways,” said Jake. “Up here this is the year 100 Twelvetrees, a very special anniversary.”

Zorba listened and saw: a magneto engine. . . a cuckoo clock. . . a spinning wheel. . . The room of ancient devices was much deeper than first imagined.

To be continued. . .

Grady Miller is the author of the heart-warming “A Very Grady Christmas”, three Los Angeles Christmas tales https://amzn.to/37pjzMb.