Genuine / a Green Love Story is a story for this moment

Umi is a corporate intern. Paul is a professional protestor. Umi believes relationships are only sustainable with a strict time-limit. Paul believes he is in love with her, but that shouldn't be. Paul wants to make a difference, and to fix up the world. Umi wants to make a living, and to fix up her father. Neither has all the time in the world. This is a story of being young in crisis times, a story of being local in global times, and a story of being focused in distracted times. If you are truly alert to the time we are living through, it is your story too.

"Genuine - a Green Love Story" is a story for this moment. A love story where the lovers are born divided and meet only through a chaotic event. One lover is leading a Green protest movement fighting Genetic Engineering while the other is a star student indigenous to the crop-producing land. She is hired by the agro-corporation as a special intern, to front a controversial new product and she is taken to Europe, where she walks into his protest demonstration and his life - for a time.

Raffles Hotel, Beach Road, Singapore

      Saqib Safiya came out of his favourite tailor's wearing a satisfied expression and a sleek summer suit run up in four hours. It was too warm to hang around long, or the damp would get the upper hand on the fabric, and his London connection was entreating him back to the airport. All the same, he was glad he'd made the effort to come into town and spruce up. It seemed the young Singaporeans were darting him admiring glances as they bustled by in their shirt sleeves. It would be nice if they didn't all dress like Mormon missionaries, though, Saqib thought. Their smiles don't seem genuine... not quite all there.

      He made an arresting impression, descending the steps to the MRT subway with his salt-and-pepper hair setting off the midnight blue fabric and polished brogues. His stature and way of carrying himself had already passed, in a living will, down to Umi. She was much more agile, especially on the stairs, but Saqib had weather-beaten strength and a disdain that scrub-cut through the commuters welling up to work. There was energy in Singapore he didn't particularly like, grating on his brain which was still hung over from the hill plantations. Saqib never grasped all this commercial hullabaloo, with the millions of small goods changing hands constantly for smaller mark-ups. He savoured the decency of the shirts and the indecency of the Thais. Yet, he was pained to imagine how the Orchard Road clothiers would already be out touting in the shadow of his custom, perching like roosters on their scuffed shop steps. Crowing cheap into the long Asian dawn.

     Humming Jerusalem, he turned into Beach Road and aimed for Raffles Hotel, keeping his eyes religiously down to shun the sight of the tower block extension. "And did these feet, in ancient times / Walk upon England's carpet green?" Carpet green... yes. Sterling Moss! The hotel was still a sort of English outpost, re-worked for rolling suitcases. He recalled a tip-off to avoid the four-digit room numbers denoting a berth in one of the new wings. Though he'd only once stayed the night at Raffles, this principle was lodged in his memory like a scrap of Morse code. Misty memory, he thought. Who was she, exactly? Still, why get all kitted out just to rumple the bloody suit first thing in the plane? Let's give the noble frame a bit of an outing first.

      The hotel atrium was cool but not sterile. The rattan lacquered, but not shiny. Nodding curtly at a phantom footman, Saqib dipped his ring finger in the fountain and made a gesture of playful contrition as he lifted a copy of the Melbourne Age from the mahogany sideboard. A Pakistani cricketer grinned up from the front page, forefinger raised, attributing some slick catch to Heaven. "103 All... ah, Out" smirked the headline. He sidled into the Somerset room, where he could smell decent coffee and hear the snow-white English toast being carapaced by a dozen Hong Kong dentures.

      Even at ten-thirty in the morning, the cafe was lively. He paused by the Chinese piano man who was ritualistically churning out Kipling's "Mandalay."

On the Road to Mandalay, Where the flying fishes play, and the dawn comes up like thunder over China cross the Bay.

      The impossibly young man finished up with a thundery bass arpeggio. A few sparse raindrops of applause blew in from the tourist tables. Saqib gently lilted across the baby grand, "Marvellous old standard. Have you heard the update? On the plane to Myanmar, where the Jolly Generals are... do you know Surabaya Jonny, by the way?" The musician looked nonplussed, so he added "Kurt Weill?"
     "Sorry Sir, no requests yet. Set menu 'til the evening."
      "Pity," replied Saqib. "It's a bittersweet number, or sweet and sour, as you might say. Full of local allusions. Do you get a break between sets? For a spot of calculus revision?"
      He moved with a regretful shrug to the breakfast bar, deciding he had no patience for waiter service. Ladling pineapple onto steaming porridge, he glanced into the mirror above the buffet and surveyed the breakfast crowd. There was a scattering of melancholy old Rajahs dreaming of steamers over their stewed prunes. The odd married couple, chewing silently on fatty recriminations. No-one to talk to there, he thought. In the centre of the room, a bunch of suspected Dutchmen disturbed his eye with guidebooks piled beside their coffee cups. Some wore bright sandals. Amazing, in Raffles. That was a Hanging Offence. Still, I imagine they can't be too choosey these days. Doubtless top-notch sandals. For the cream of casual feet. The thought almost put him off his food, but he dismissed it.

      The French doors to the Palm Court were open, and he made for the humid outside air thinking, Porridge and a Pall Mall, perfect. A lovely green ring around a smoking pipe graphic announced it was still allowed to light up in the hotel's inner sanctum. There was only one couple sitting there, a nondescript guy in his late thirties and a rather elegant woman perhaps a decade older. These two were at least talking with enthusiasm. Bowed over a laptop, they were alternately pointing at the screen and grinning at one another. Like fiances selecting a ring, thought Saqib. The woman was toying with a golden lighter, tipping it end-over-end and tapping it down on the wrought iron table top. The little clacks summoned up some distant construction site. He frowned, surreptitiously watching them from the oleander bower. Perhaps she doesn't know she can smoke out here. He felt a familiar tension in her quick movements and her equine head-tossing. She had a lustrous blond bob haircut that whisked around her chin like waves about a rock. Or perhaps she's trying to resist.

      Now, Saqib was interested. He had in better years enjoyed some of his smoothest liaisons with women who were trying to break old habits, like nicotine, food, gin, golf, or fidelity. A brittle plea to distract and pacify her was calling him, right across the courtyard. The Princess Di Silent Scream. He had always had bats' ears in these matters. And he had a plane to catch in two hours, with Umi at the other end.
      "Beastly," he grumbled, "Beelzebub, how beastly." He put his porridge bowl down with a clatter, and ambled over to a table close to theirs. The couple looked up, and smiled indulgently, as if expecting to accept a scented brochure from an Umbrian cobbler. Saqib flourished his newspaper, and swept the cutlery aside to make space for it. Well, if not copulation, then cricket, he thought. Might hazard an opening bouncer, though.

      "Good morning. Baby Lion City treating you well, or shall we inform the tourism board?"
      The fleshy younger tourist answered, "Hello, good to meet you. Well, since you ask, I do think that they are doing better with simulating metropolitan danger. Seems a lot less safe since I was last here - I think that was the uhf-ficial plan!"
      "Ah," Saqib responded, "did you lose your wallet? That would be all the ex-bankers prowling Boat Quay, looking for marks."
      "No, I mean the cultural safety. It seems less purr-vasive. Must be that new contemporary dance company, or the Tracy Emin show in Changi Arrivals. They just need to mess up the Frappuccinos at Starbucks, and they'll have authentic euro-grunge down pat. But there's always Raffles."
      Saqib tilted his head in contemplation. "Don't count on it. They might well rent this place out for a Bollywood movie, saw it in the paper. Of course, it'd be dressed up as deepest Rajasthan. They'd have to chuck dust about - I expect that would be traumatic. Desiccating times." He sighed artfully, and caught the woman's eye. "Complaints are like Ping-Pong, you know. Satisfying only when the rhythm gets going."
      "Mmm," she purred. "I imagine you have achieved an Olympic ranking, living here?"
      "Well, Olympian stamina, though thankfully I enjoy some remove from this bustle. But I disturb you. Forgive me - the news from the cricket pitch is even sourer than the news from Congress!"

      Laura had been enjoying the intrusion of Saqib's rather political-looking upper-two-thirds, swaying over her table. Mick sat waiting for her cue and gnawing on a shrimp stick. She toyed with the need to focus on the Rome agenda. Yet Saqib's mention of congress had triggered her partisan interest in the suave fellow. She was so sick of being surrounded with passive young guys.
      "Forgive us," she replied, "what are these lovely old places for, if not unexpected meetings? Even unscheduled ones. Would you care to join us for a tisane?"
      "I would be delighted, and might I recommend the mint?"
      "You might well. You might indeed. But won't you need to do something with your driver?" Saqib savoured this oddly flattering suggestion.
      "No, one shouldn't do anything. Particularly in Malaysia, but even here on Diamond Islet - these drivers can backfire."
      "I like that," responded Laura softly. The man looked over at Saqib's paper.
      "Ur, primo! Glad you're not reading the local one. You know what they're calling it these days? 'The Dire Straits Times.' That just kills me." Mick punched the air toward the reading rack of regional dailies under the portico. They were all rice-paper mini mags, made to slide in and out of laptop bags and brains. "I've got the latest Men's Fitness in my stack somewhere, if you're interested I mean, if you're the tarp."
      "Tarp?" enquired Saqib with a frown. The woman intervened with professional speed.
      "I'm afraid you have to correct for dear Michael's vowels. He means type. As in bold, or small. Type."
      Mick sighed. Though the weather was pacifying, he wouldn't wave that dig past.
      "True, though I also like tarp. Troubled Abs Relief Programme."
      "Troubled? Or distressed?"
      "Merely troubled at this hour, thanks for caring. We'll see what lunchtime brings."
      "Excuse the tummy-talk," lilted Laura. "These old jocks never grow up! We just have to grow down to them, if we want any offline company!" She winked.


      A grazing herd of sightseers was shuffling along Millbank toward the Tate, drawn there to dodge the afternoon heat. Like sceptical pilgrims, they sized up relics as they moved, panning for charm. Human statues, fishy restaurant boats, dirty obelisks. A towering Victorian lamp-pole close by was swathed in posters. "Electricians - Estonia Needs You!" blared one, below a Field Marshal's face and finger pointing eastward to a web address. Another placard showcased a puzzled-looking bulldog, "Time for some spine instead of spin? Join BFM - Vote Brackham For Mayor!"

      Umi contemplated the dog's doubts from her perch on a recessed bench. Around her, fagged-out sparrows did over the grass for chip fragments. The concierge at Burberry's had directed her to Lambeth for some street wear, and she was feeling warmer in clogs, jodhpurs and an enormous mohair jersey that hung to her knees. Still tired from the flight and the to-and-fro congestion across the river, she nestled down and allowed herself to simply breathe the grassy, gassy air.

      She wondered how this part of London had looked and smelled when it was the hungry mother of its Empire. She'd seen old maps in schoolbooks portraying Malay palm oil and rubber joining Indian tea and African diamonds, all swept in fat, curving arrows across the globe and up the Thames. Her father had imagined as a child that a huge, empty wok was waiting here. Perhaps he was teasing. She peered down the Embankment for whaling cauldrons, as she'd once seen in Boston.

      A middle-aged man in a light suit joined her stiffly on the seat, and opened his newspaper. After a bare minute, he folded it up, and looked across with a shy smile.
      "Lovely day?"
      "Yes," she replied.
      "Forgive my asking, but you must be sweltering in that jumper?"
      "Excuse me?"
      "You must be hot? In that jumper?"
      "Thank you, I'm fine. I don't know about the horses."
The man cocked his head and let out an amused, high-pitched hum.
      "Well, forgive my intrusion. Perhaps you'd be interested to know that we're sitting just off the Horseferry Road. I work up there. Periodically, with horses - even with jumpers. More often, with dogs." He indicated the building with his thumb. It resembled all the others in the block, excepting the Houses of Parliament. A grey, graceless piece of Power repossessed.
      "I'm Oliver, by the way."
      "I'm interested..." Umi started to reply.
      "Pleased to meet you interested. Could be... but how much, one wonders?"
      "I'm interested in that poster," said Umi, not looking in his direction.
      "What, the Bulldog Brackham one? Rather good, isn't it? He's rather portly these days, so better to have a hound up, than a mug shot."

      Umi uncrossed her legs and leaned forward with her chin in her hands.
      "Possibly, yes. But spine is not a good word to choose. It sounds like the dog's dinner - a spine is made of bones, you see."
      "Well, yes. Backbones. But that's the whole point."
      "How is it?" enquired Umi.
      "What fun, to assist a stranger to these Isles! The message is, 'You Brits!' - that's the bulldog, you know - 'Are you tired of spineless politicians? Elect Brackham, endure no more spin.' Simple as that." The man smiled wanly. "Not that he'd make much difference, I imagine."
      "True," replied Umi, "but the subliminal message is that the dog will chew his last gristle. Dogs have such bad associations, also for Muslims. So, I predict he will not come to power."
      Oliver chuckled. "That's a novel take on it. The English love dogs. Are you a psychology student?"
      "Oh no, I'm just a tourist," Umi replied with a slight grimace.
      "Really? Excuse me, but you're dressed rather well?"
      "Oh, dear," she said.
      "Where have you come from?"
      "Japan, last night. And, from just across the bridge today."
      "I must say, you're the tallest Japanese girl I've ever met! Though you're sitting down now, of course. I imagine you're the tallest I've met! From your distant ankle boots, I'm punting... anyway, there was a dog in that dreadful tsunami you had. He was found out at sea floating on an absolute reef of wreckage, weeks afterwards as I recall."
      "We haven't really met. You did imagine it," said Umi.
      "Fair enough. A daydream. Don't usually see women from your neck of the woods sitting out alone, so I suspect you're right, Madam Butterfly!"

      A band of ruffianly students rambled past, casually shoving and tripping one another. The warm air blanketed the listless violence, the learned fouls. Swinging their motorcycle helmets like disappointed beach-bags, they didn’t stop to talk.

      "I'm interested in posters," she smiled. "I study publicity. Excuse me..." She rose and went over to the lamppost. A fresh placard, just above the bulldog one, simmered and bubbled under its drying glue.
      "Bit of a reader, are you?" the man called after her in laughing tones. "Don't let the grammar get you down!"

      "GREEK LOVE" it proclaimed. "Faith Hope Charity - Unfairest of these is Charity! Keep kicking the F out of IMF. Every night at 6. Info: Ignite fm Radical Radio."

      She peered at the foot of the placard, where a row of symbols set out the disorganizers' names. It seemed odd, that these groups would be so open about who they were, even down to PO Box numbers. A riot of symbols. The silvery old crowfoot of Nuclear Disarmament, then a red dove for the Young Socialists and a white owl with "Sentinels" carved blue on its breast. So many birds, she smiled. New Atheists, New Model Army, the Goethe Institut, BP. Then, another with a Big Ben graphic, the clock tower covered in a see-through sleeping-bag, and the invocation "Occupy Time!" stamped across the sky.

      Oliver's voice broke into her ear, through a sunshine skylight glancing above her russet hair.
      "Looks like Anarchy in the UK's making a comeback, doesn't it?" he groused. "The usual suspects. Sex Pistols, "Seventies types."
      "They wouldn't encourage this in some countries," Umi replied carefully.
      "I should think not! What about Singapore? Fifty lashes with the rattan. How do you rebel out there, if you're a healthy teenager in need of a spanking?"
      "Young people take humorous ID photographs and leave the booths messy."
      "That's a bit lame. That wouldn't burn up much testosterone, if you'll pardon my French."
      "Pardonne. Testosterone is metabolised rather than burned. It'as a hormone, and not a sugar. A common misapprehension, Oliver. Found in animals, rather than in plants."
      He made a British Animal grimace, involving retracting his nostrils and baring his top teeth, a look that he'd never tried out before a mirror but bravely bestowed on women, regardless.
      "Sugar! You are sharp, for a tourist," he parried. "Are you sure you didn't mean a chemist?"

      They continued uncomfortably staring straight at the distressed lamp-post. Oliver pursued his hunch that Umi must be a hard-up, high-end girl between jobs or drivers, and smiled, because it seemed more physical. The women employed by the pub had said they liked his smile.

      "Look at Lord Brackham up there. He's our main testosterone export. Who says Britain has forgotten how to use its hands and its hormones? You know, they once packed him off to California, to put some lead back in those spoiled Latino pencils. But I think that's what we have our celebrities for, at the end of the day. I mean, to have it off on our behalf." He glanced at her briefly, as if executing a parade ground swivel with his neck alone. His teeth were like bone shards in a cooking fire.

      "I didn't say that. Dear me, profanity in the afternoon! Maximum denial, as the dear Americans put it, with group prayers and weepy apologies to grandma in heaven afterwards."
      Umi could almost smell the repressed lust rattling the files in Oliver's briefcase-shaped body. She decided to damp his papers slightly.
      "Well, as I am originating from a Muslim country, group prayers hold no fear for me." There was an expensive click as Oliver stepped back on his heel in shock.
      "You're never a Muslim!" he snorted, as attractively as he could manage. "No, surely? Not in our sense of the word, anyway. Not in the Somali-Sombrestani sense of the word?"
      "In the South-East Asian sense," she said. "East is crucial. It's where the sun rises."
      Oliver doubled up, feigning windedness.
      "Ouf! We're meant to be careful of lone women in clothes too warm for the weather, around here."
      "Be careful, then" said Umi, in a monotone. "Recall your training."
      "You wouldn't be up for lunch? There's a great restaurant just down the road, the Thai Me Up. No, I thought not. Indonesian or Malaysian? I knew you couldn't be Japanese! No wonder you hate that poor old bulldog."

      "What do you do, Oliver?"
      "What is your profession - your job? Do you mind telling me?"
      "Oh, I'm a vet."
      "Really? A veterinarian?" Her voice began to lilt again.
      "Really. Not a Gulf War Vet, though, I promise you! Too young. I'm a Vauxhall vet."
      "That's an army term - Fox hole?" she asked, as she strode across to the pillar by the lamp-post. Below a poster hung a hank of tear-offs, stamped with one black human foot and some erratically-printed words.

      "Free Treaders. The Planet - Remember That? This is a Gaia Flyer! Peaceful March from NT to TNT. Peaceful March? April Fools!"

      She pulled a leaf down, and took it to him. "Oliver - I'm lost! Where is the NT? And where is the TNT? Orient me." She gave him a short smile, trying to keep the elements of promise out of it. "This city seems unduly tricky. Puzzles on all your corners."

      "National Theatre? It's over on Bankside, between the Eye and the new destroyer. If you reach the Late Modern, you've gone too far."
      "The Late Modern, you know. Lenovo-Tate Modern."
      "I see. So, not where they had the Olympics?"
      "God, no. That'd be more of a marathon than a march. Though anything's possible these days - a protest marathon! Make the world a sweatier place, and so forth."
      "And the TNT? Is that a theatre as well?"
      "I really don't know it, if so. Could be one of these gypsy stages, some sort of pop-up," he replied. ‘NT-TNT. It sounds circular, to me. Sounds like a drum track. N-T-TNT, N-T-TNT." He bobbed his head forward with a frown as he tapped out the young man sounds behind his hare's teeth.
      "Shakespears's Globe Theatre? Try to think hard, Oliver!" Umi persisted.
      "Oh, very droll. Couldn't be - that's not far enough. Anyway, nobody stages demos on the South Bank. Not unless they're doing them for the cameras, indoors. Too many exhibitionists over there to begin with. Exhibitionists and blind alleys."
      "I would very much like to find out where this march will be going, you see."
      "God, why? You're not thinking of joining in? Come down and have a look at Bath instead. I'm heading off after work with some friends."
      "TNT," Umi mused. "It's an explosive, of course."
      "Yes, but this won't be. I imagine this protest will turn out a damp squib. A soggy sparkler, at best. Whereas Bath..." he sighed, tilting his face to one side in a renovation bid.
      "Bath sounds even wetter," Umi giggled. Oliver regarded her through narrowed eyes, like a foot-and-mouth appraise in a stockyard.
      "Hum-de-Dum. There's wet, and then there's weird. Let's curl up for the weekend and read some Jane Austen aloud. You know, Darcy in the rain?"
      Umi could hardly believe it. The Tokyo taxi, the Thames embankment. Was she looking more available than before this trip? "Oliver, shall we briefly dehumidify? What do those three letters signify to a born Londoner? TNT? The courier company?" He was shaking his head slowly, dismissing her guesses.
      "Couldn't be, not in the city these days. Nothing moves. Nor Tonto, nor Toronto."
      "Toronto?" she interjected. "Is TNT an air code?"

      "Whoa, my beauty! Toronto. Canada House in Trafalgar Square! Just by Thames National Towers. Thames National Towers - that could be your blind date?"
      "What's in there? Oliver, please be a true English gentleman geographer for me."
      "Well, I think there are a lot of corporates, banks, bailiffs, all those pirates. Shouldn't knock the sick and disabled about like that, but still... and TNTV." He paused, his face waxing over at the insight.
      "It would make sense, I suppose, to finish up a protest at ThamesNet Television. They’re well named! If you put a net in the Thames, you'd most likely fish up something like their schedule."

      Umi picked up a few twigs and pebbles, and laid them out on the bench.
      "River Thames... National Theatre... Trafalgar Square and ThamesNet TV. Diagram not to actual scale! Oliver, can you tell me which of all these bridges the protest marchers would cross between those points?’
      "Oh, that's easy! Waterloo, then left down the Strand. Westminster Bridge, that one over there, is too busy. They couldn't stroll past Parliament and up Whitehall - it's still clogged with tents. I'd favour Waterloo, if they wanted to be sure of getting through cleanly."
      "So show me, please." She touched her improvised map.
      "What, with sticks? Haven't you got a smartphone?"
      "Sticks are faster."
      "You have a point. Start right beside the National. Then, bang up the Strand to the heart of Heritage London!" He span one of her twigs across the river with a light flick. "Not a very long march, I suppose. Not by our parents' standards, nor by Chinese ones. It’s got to be Waterloo!" He sang the bridge's glorious name, and followed up with the chorus.

      Ching Ching! How would you feel if you won the war? Waterloo! Promised to love me for ever more!

      Umi shot him a genuinely puzzled glance.
      "Abba, you know? Swedes, singing about Belgium."
      "I'm very sorry, I don’t recognise that," she replied.
      "No, why should you? Better than the Belgians singing about Sweden, I suppose. That would be a bloodbath." He became pensive, reaching for the 'seventies.

      "It was popular just before punk. Abba's actually made a huge comeback here, as we wander back to Glam Gardens. Thank Eurovision. Typical TNTV fodder, as it happens. Thank heavens Britain's out now. You remember the whole debt debacle? It had to stop, couldn't go on. A pity that the whole thing came down to us against the French. Waterloo again! Promise to pay me for ever more! I'll have to write that down. Stuff that, for a game of soldiers. I'd rather have Brackham than Brussels."

      "Other things to write down," Umi replied, putting on a studious face. "The closest Underground stop to that television station, the scientific name for rabies, and your mobile phone number. Please, in that order!"
      Oliver looked at her closely. "Don't you trust me?"
      "I trust you for your phone number. The rest, we will subject to peer review."
      "You really are a proper student, aren’t you?"
      "Yes, but botany and biology, not geography."
      "Oh, I remember Comparative Biology. I'll show you mine, if you show me yours! That's an old vets' college joke. What's your number? Or, I accept Facebook."
      "My phone number? Its restricted by my employer, I'm sorry."
      "You're hopeless! Rather fun, really. What on earth are you going to do, after you've finished chasing these malcontents half across London? Where will that get you?’
      "Summer school," said Umi bluntly.
      As she logged Oliver's number, deliberately fudging the final digits, she drew breath. Three other men's messages photo-finished across her phone screen. She noted that Oliver had noticed them.
      "Look at the texting swarm! They seem to need me, now! A Quartet. Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass. What would satisfy them, a Flute, or a Drum? Good afternoon, Oliver, until we meet again. You have been very kind and, may I say it, professional?’ Standing, she extended her hand down to him.
      "Oh, you can, dear girl, if you must. Call me for your shots, or when you get lost!"
      "Lost, looking for the Summer school?" she smiled.
      "Or even lost, looking for the summer. I know the back roads - Ibiza."
      "Bless you! Goodbye!"

      Raindrops, few but fat, worried at their hands as they shook, and looked away.

Tokyo General Hospital, Way Out to the Visitors' Garden

      The lusty squelch of rubber on rubber trailed Paul, Umi and Jiro down the hospital corridor. Paul, with Umi shimmering at his side, was savouring the sheer profusion of the material. Oncoming traffic was limited to a lone hospital orderly, pushing some parched lung case toward them. He felt like he was entering an aquarium - the latex, the lemony light, and the oxygen apparatus skidding alongside the patient's chair.
      "Hold your breath! Fish 'Flu case." Jiro instructed them. Paul made a small bow as they passed, mortal to mortal. Flesh to fish.
      "Have you ever wanted to stop smoking?" Umi asked him rather sharply as they guided Jiro's wheelchair into an elevator. An unlit Samurai Superslim in Paul's left hand was interfering with his guidance system, and he'd just grazed his knuckles on the lift door and snapped the smoke in half. He gave a low-tar curse.
      "More that I'm quite keen to start! No, the thing is, total-smoke-freedom seems to belong to a future that I'm not hugely keen to join." An image of Otto leading an army of shaven-headed purity robots out of an interstellar shuttle for a jog flicked through his mind.
      "Yet you say you want to clean the environment?" she persisted.
      "Yeah, but I'm a carbon-based life form, too."
      "Not carbon monoxide?"
      "Not entirely! I think there's a bit of dioxide in me as well! Plus all the water."
      "It would free your hands for other things,’ said Umi with what sounded to him like a mischievous lilt. Paul squeezed the handgrips on the chair to prevent himself humming.
      "True, I could push a range of other barrows. Look, I'll think about it when we're back in London. I don't want the Japanese to think I'm weirder than they do already!" They made their way out through the reception area.
      "Where's bloody Margo?" He scanned the hundred or so chairs holding up a range of invalids. The crowd didn't look any sicker than the contents of an average carriage on the London Underground. Even after adjusting for skin tone, which was worrying. A majority were playing with mobile phones, though only a subset was using them to take pictures of each other. Families of the inmates, probably, not the Great Untreated, Paul thought.
      "These are all civilians," he remarked softly to Umi. "Marguerite texted that the media would be tipped to assemble in the Rose Garden. Tell me if you can see any sign of how to get there! I don't want to ask at the desk and make a fuss. Where does she think we are, the White House?"
      Umi said, ‘Flowers would probably be on the South side, for sun. Do you know the Japanese character for 'South'?" Paul halted and turned to her admiringly.
      "In fact, I do. I played a lot of Mah-Jong as a teenager. It's over there, next to the character for 'Park'!" He indicated a large white 'P' encased in a blue box. A narrow glass sliding door blinked below.
      "I'll read out a few soundbites I've written down first, and then they can ask Jiro some questions. Should only take ten minutes," he reassured her as they trundled. He patted Jiro on the shoulder. The burn treatment foam crackled under the silk. Jiro twisted and whimpered appreciatively like a scratched dog.
      "Paul, you are stinking me!"

      They walked out, and pushed Jiro up to a batch of microphones, jutting up like red-hot pokers in front of a profusion of roses and reporters. Behind the press crews, a clutch of silver minivans were lined up along the kerb. The Rose Garden appeared to be an internal courtyard, but the vans must have got in somehow. Paul's upward glance took in a few patient faces starting down from windows below a parachute of thundery sky. The air was hot and very damp. He imagined he was in a well, or a kettle about to be re-filled. A wave of red light meters and white flashes flickering like muted fireworks brought his eyes down again, to the task at hand.
      Getting to grips with it was complicated by noticing none of the journalists were looking at him. All the cameras were pointing towards Umi and Jiro, who had veered around the microphone bank and rolled directly up to the rose bushes. It looked like Umi had judged the mikes were set too high for Jiro in his wheelchair, and taken the initiative. Paul heard him call back to her, "Not by the yellow - the white ones! I am golden today!" A young sound engineer wearing a cotton ski-suit was nodding as Jiro whispered to him. Stripped of an easy transcript, the journalists were approaching them with huge smiles and outstretched recorders. He heard a few cheeky, irrelevant questions being lobbed over.

      "Jiro, are you a herbivore boy? A nini? Party, party?"
      "Are you with your girlfriend today? Is she American?"
      "What is your favourite flower? Are you out in the garden because you are in love?"
      "What do you think about whale teriyaki, Jiro? Or do you prefer squid?"

      Jiro flinched at the first question but sat the others out impassively with his lacquer cigarette holder clamped in his teeth. He looked like a collage of Franklin Roosevelt and a kamikaze pilot, rolled into one body. People were still standing around, bowing and playing with the lighting cables.

      While they lingered by the flowers, Paul unbundled his notes and tried to attract attention. He climbed the step of the little lectern and stood there waiting hopefully, seven feet tall. On the far side of the garden, he now saw an entrance tunnel between two vans. Behind the barrier pole, a pack of teenagers had bunched up in the gap. A floppy banner was half-raised. The narrow tunnel meant it had slumped like a red shawl between its poles, resting lightly on the heads of the front row of protestors. Were they protestors? They reminded Paul of a religious procession in Spain, minus the Saint-on-a-Stick. Once again, he put off chasing the cameras and gazed at the gathered faces. The power of the spectacle, he thought. I suppose they're all students. Someone's texted out a mobcast - Jiro's sharp when he needs to be.

      Amid the tartans and highlighter pen palette of any old Tokyo teen event, he spotted a couple of European girls clad in cabbagey beachwear. God, I'd love a swim! He was all at once disinclined to move another step, happy to sink into meditative jetlag on his pillar. He imagined emerald mould, then moss, growing quietly up over his shoes and watchstrap, and began dreaming the feeling of a rainforest - the suffocated, dizzying saturation of it. Watery, spongy lungs of the planet, he thought. The uneasy respiration of a waterboarded world.

      Paul glanced over at Jiro, who was now wheeling himself purposefully towards a robot wheelbarrow packed with rakes. The crinkly gold kimono caught a sunbeam, as the garden briefly lit up into a painted screen. He felt quite immobilized, despite a strong sense he ought to be commanding things. Umi, lithe and animated, was signalling to him, but he preferred to just admire her from a distance. Her dress glimmered, and a few more camera flashes spluttered like early-evening fireworks. He felt a thunderstorm must be brewing - the heat, the light, and his lust all supported it. Simply longing to see raindrops coming down her dark body. A stupid bee crawled drunkenly along his sleeve. He let it go. Jiro stopped at the barrow and pulled out a pruning saw. Then he started wheeling madly away, towards the crowd in the tunnel.

      What the hell is he doing now? Paul started awake, jumped down from the podium, and cut across the rose beds to intercept him. He noticed the reporters were still lingering around Umi, which was good. Jiro had almost got to the front rank of the protesters, who cheered as he rolled and ducked under the barrier arm. He waved the little saw in the air and spun his wheelchair round to face the garden, as Paul reached the edge of the microlawn, puffing.
      They faced each other unsteadily. A cold look settled on Jiro's face, which Paul couldn't displace with his breathless grin. He held his gaze, bending with hands on knees.
      "Yankee, go away!" a few in the crowd chanted. "Hiro-S-H-I-M-A!" The red banner jerked up and down, its poles cracking on the tunnel's concrete ceiling.
      "Jiro," Paul called over the din. "Remember, we need to talk to the media about the Hiroshige! MTV Nippon! Let's do that first..." A green water balloon sailed past him and sloshed its guts out on the pavement. Jiro lifted the saw in both hands up to the level of his nose, and his silk sleeves slid back to his elbows.
      The crowd of kids drew in tighter, but none moved to disarm him. On the contrary, they were energized by his bravado. A fresh brace of dripping balloons flew up from behind, rolling towards Paul like detached livers in some gruesome educational circus. As if engaged by the same choreographer, a trash can was hefted over and tumbled through the air spewing brown bunches of flowers and cellophane. Jiro raised his chin as it rolled into the lavender border. He wobbled the hack saw, with an evil glint. Paul could hardly contain his rage at this fresh bout of posturing.
      "What are you going to do with that? Play us a tune?" Trying not to seem impressed, he glanced around the gang of kids. The prettier ones frowned petulantly back.
      "Don't glare at me! I'm not one of your bloody defeated teachers!" he shouted.

      Jiro seemed to take offence. Rising from his chair with the deliberation of a vengeful warlord and punching the air with his free hand, he proclaimed,
      "My Generation of Tokyo! Youth of the Earth! Long enough have we heard the excuses of the turtles in power! The impotent slugs leading our schools. The commercial toads. The media donkeys who bribe us with our own songs. Enough! We are young and rare. They are old and too many. This hospital is a pigsty and we must make sausages! The time has come!"
      "Jiro, please! You're a vegan..."
      "The walrus said, the Time Has Come!" Jiro bellowed defiantly, and cleaved the dank air with a slash of his saw. Paul made a double-take half-turn in the gravel. Had he heard properly?
      "Who did? Who said?"
      "I said!"
      "And who else?"
      "All of us! All of us!" The ratty little crowd nodded solemnly.
      "Yes, you said, 'The time has come!' Who were you quoting?"
      "Mishima-san! Who cares?"
      "No, you weren't. You mentioned a walrus." "Murakami-san! I am the Walrus..."
      "I taught you that, Jiro! The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things! Lewis Carroll. It's OLD, Alice!" There was a loaded silence.

      "You cannot colonize me, namban! I speak for the Regeneration!" Behind him, some students were doing their bit for the war against age, kissing against a wall. One of the green bikini girls, and some frail local bikie. Jiro plucked up the stubby blade and decapitated an iris that had strayed offside. Paul pinched the bridge of his nose. "You're proposing what, exactly?" he enunciated coldly. "Sawing up the pensioners?"
      "If you fail to follow me, you can incinerate me!" He tore aside his kimono, baring himself. On his shining breastbone sat the dot and three dumb plugs of a radiation-hazard tattoo. The camera flashes intensified in a visual crackle. A spotlight slid across the lawn, frisked Paul's back, and then settled on Jiro's full front.

      "Jiro Hitachi, Jiro Hitachi will be known as a polymath and a genius!" Umi's voice, amplified and echoing in the courtyard was so melodic Paul thought it begged for a drum machine to kick in behind it. But why was she talking?
      "Perhaps more than a genius. Androgynous. Hitachi-san is the parent on both sides of this new race of regional saints. Unveiled just this morning at a special gala at the Hiroshige Hotel, we are here now to glimpse the elusive spirit that has given us Ameobanshee! An anime revolution! A velvet underground! Jiro Hitachi - the Havel of Hentai!’

      Jiro dropped his saw, and his jaw, and walked very slowly into the light. He passed Paul silently, though Paul imagined he heard a whispered 'sensei' in the rustle of the silk kimono. As he watched the lean young man progress gravely up the gravel path into soft applause, he couldn't help feeling fondly amused. Baby waves of students now braved the barrier arm, trailing Jiro toward the cameras. A couple nodded to Paul as they passed him, stranded on the botanical border. Paul crumpled his speech notes and pocketed his hands, slowly edging past the oncoming crowd to the garden's perimeter. Umi's voice coiled and uncoiled in his ears. He realised what she was doing. She was buying Jiro with his own vanity. He wished her deep pockets.

      Unsure whether he was in love or in awe, Paul simply resolved not to care, because the two emotions felt delightfully allied that day. The abandoned wheelchair slumped in the alley, from where a couple of cyberpunks and a gothloli girl commandeered it and ran it into the carp pond. The punks looked so young and so well - not like European ones, Paul thought, with their worried old pensioners' faces. He fought off an urge to salvage the thing. It lay on its side, one wheel still turning slowly. Jiro now basked at the pool's far end beside a tarnished golden happy cat, talking to a bunch of cool media kids who looked like hairdressers, and he seemed restored to himself. The torrent of Japanese washed over Paul without a single word gaining foothold. He kicked an empty CD case across the asphalt with a wince.

Heathrow Airport, London

      Jin Lin slid her bat-shaped mouse pointer down the screen. The bat bounced from name to name, on the list of incoming passenger fauna freshly disembarked from Singapore. It was almost naturalistic; the way the little icon alighted and flapped off with a peep of ultrasound. In daytime airport costume, with her hair strained back and netted, Jin looked quite straight. The small flecks of ash embedded in her violet eye liner might just have been picked up on the tube platform at Kensington High Street. No-one would notice - the Singapore Airlines computer centre wasn't quite a cosmetics counter, though it was built into a recess behind one.
      Like a cave behind a waterfall, Salome had observed. A diving hazard for my Rhein Maiden. My Rune Maiden. My Rude Maiden.
      She'd covered a fresh bruise on her wrist with a tennis sweat cuff, and was favouring her other hand at the keyboard. Diving hazards are everywhere, she thought. I'm so sick of these art students. Stepsisters like you, Salome Sprinkle, and your gang. Consisting of Coral Wreath and Dagmar Dogsdottir. Sometimes, Marguerite. What did Paul call them? The Microwave Coven! Jin snorted, smiled, and blushed under her moon-pale make-up.

      On her terminal, there were a few passengers whose names were shaded differently. A screening programme had spotted some inconsistencies, risks and bad smells, and had lowlighted one in twelve for follow-up. With a click, she re-sorted them. Fifteen unhappy names now headed the onscreen list. With five of Her Majesty's Immigration staff assigned to this flight, the tally meant that each officer would need to slow up and question three arrivals, thermoscanners ready to catch any traces of panic. That's what would happen if the shady ones fanned out evenly across the available queues. But a half hour hold-up per window just overshot the acceptable maximum. The AxMax. There'd be grumbling, but it would only escalate to complaints if there was no hope of meeting the friends waiting in Arrivals. Human psychology would first lead the frustrated to seek the best of all possible queues, ducking and changing in quest of some glimpsed advantage. Each queue change technically voided the stopwatches, so the house usually won. Section Seven of the Terrorism Act was posted on the NewsWall; she knew it by heart. The power to detail passengers for up to nine hours, if they don't smell right. The British Crown sat in graphical glory atop the notice. I am a Royal Taster, she thought.

      Today, Otto had commissioned a special job from her. Things had to be taken more seriously. German-style seriously. Operation Ernst. Earnest. The dictionary says this word comes from Anglo-Saxon, eornost, "zeal, strength, solidity, struggle, battle." That was enough for Jin.

      Suspicious passengers were different. It was established that the more risky they were, the less aggressively these ones would behave, trying to clear immigration and customs. Birds of a mangy feather, chances are these names would linger in the corridor toilets, hunt for a smoking room or a ShopOp, and then all bunch up in the same couple of lines like a sports team. You could almost hand them matching tracksuits.
      It was now all about what chances are. Statistics governed the whole risk centre at the airport. In the days when Jin had worked at a hedge fund, she'd seen how the maths of probability took you through most days just fine. However, some days dawned that were bad maths days. In investment, that often meant doubling up the money pumped in, to try and kill the jinx. Like fumigation. In transport, it was different - there were time budgets involved. No-one on this earth had the power to pump in more time.

      All the illegals seemed to have inner calendars for bad stats days, and splashed out on them like spring ducklings into the public spaces. A human reasonableness check had been added, so the computers didn't foul up the airport for aeons. Jin had been let go from her fund job along with most of her floor, and now she was employed as a reasonable human at Heathrow. She counted herself lucky. Some of her ex-colleagues had scattered further west of Mayfair into the prisons system, as Risk Managers or Managed. It now seemed like the year she'd spent in finance had taken place during her infancy - that her Kindergarten years came later.

      Today was turning into a bad screening day. The monitor showed a predicted delay rising to an hour and a quarter - too long, even as a "Welcome to Britain" gesture. Jin's small unit was tasked with cut these suspicions down. She applied filters to passengers based on their length of stay, job, romantic status and facial hair count, singling out the top contestants for a bit more probing. Surnames came into play, too. One of Paul's early sins was to nickname her Attagirl.
      "As in Mohammed Atta," he had drawled. "Didn't they tell you about him at college? Bin Laden’s barrow-boy? Were you even born then, in 2001?"

      Jin parked her little bat on a 'Pierre Moub, France, photographer, 38, single' and clicked to highlight.
      What's to photograph in London, for a Frenchman, she thought. Other Frenchmen?
      'Clarissa McClusky, Scotland, equestrian, 23, single' was flicked in to keep him company under the glowing yellow ribbon. A bit of fun for the fatboys, trying to get her number!
      'Chow Ong Pu, Thailand, trader, 28, married' and 'Hendrijk Broehaave, South Africa, retired at 52, divorced' were shaded and shamed next.
      'Saqib Safiya, Malaysia, surveyor, 57, widower' finished off her list of lone specials for this flight.
      Too many S's sir, step aside, Jin whispered as she saved the changes and pinged their passport numbers down to the arrivals hall for the muscle to play with.

      Shame about that late wife in the Malaysian entry. Why not just 'single?' Widower! He probably poisoned his poor wife, with a hissy profile like that. Otto will be happy, lah? British Security catches Muslim Pensioner and Goes Guantanamo. Which newspaper will he call?

      She got up from her workstation and slipped out to the kitchen for an anti-depressant sandwich. Summertime, she hummed, and the living is easy. The Heathrow Express clattered deep underfoot like a trapped paddle steamer. Otto's already at Camden, she recalled, frowning. He's probably buying lime ice slushies in the market, and leaving the freezer lid open. Shift over. Shit never over.

      One of these mornings, you're gonna rise up singing,
      Gonna spread your wings, and take to the sky
      'Til that morning, you know that nothing can harm you
      With Mummy and Daddy standing by.

      Jin stuffed her cash card hard into the juice dispenser, and made a crackly-radio sound under her breath.

      Stand by, Mummy and Daddy, she whispered.

Putrarandum Plantation, Sarawak

      Sending faxes in the tropics only survived because it was sometimes handy to avoid paper trails or e-mail evidence squatting darkly in some database, waiting for politics to free it for horrible revenge. Saqib Safiya rarely bothered. Such elaborate precautions governed the sending and receiving - hands washed and dried, windows closed, fan on, fag out. Wraparound humidity can create a mood of using toilet paper underwater The Celestial executives higher up had long since jilted the greasy fax-copier machine for encrypted, cloudless SMS. As a result, the fax office on his current survey base, like those before it, was a hive of the old Third World. A hive where the Queen in her portrait was the busiest bee around. A sweaty prefab, plastered on the inside with faded posters of the early silicon age jostling against the royal and governmental pictures in their waterproof carriages.
      Another relic was the Fax Officer, who'd pulled Saqib over to his den as he left prayers with news of a message from his faraway daughter.
      "Family this, family that, all I ever see!" the man grumbled as they crossed the compound. "No business ever, these days, Safiya." He had all the peevishness of an underutilised Brahmin. "Thank heavens for the Western Union concession, or they'd have turned me into a cook!" This with a snort, as if it were an absurd magical trick and an insult to the audience.

      "Come along, come along, you get plenty of tips", said Saqib with a trace of accusation in his voice. That shut the Fax Officer up, and once repaired to his cage he began eating noisily from a biscuit bag, shunting morsels onto his bunched fingers and lifting them fast to his flytrap lips.
      "And you, at least, have a dutiful daughter," he grumbled through cracker shards. Transfixed with distaste, Saqib waited for the grubfeast to peter out. He could see Umi's fax still lodged in the machine, her unmistakable coiled English capitals. When the Fax Officer wiped his lips and reached for it, Saqib stopped him short.
      "Wash your hands!" he growled. The little fellow stooped and jabbered a curse.
      "I may wish to keep it, without your bloody crumbs on the paper. Set an example, F.O.!"
      He strode out onto the mud-spattered ramp that passed for a veranda. He could just smell the oleander, through the soft drink sugar fug. Looking out to the low hills, he wondered at the opinion that time passed slowly out here. It seemed to be already evening, or rather, always evening. The colourless dusk rain was beginning. Gingerly, he uncoiled the paper.

      "Papa, trust you are still well. My job debut wondrous but I received nasty electric shock. Don't worry - secondary only, as mostly absorbed by a Japanese. Please, don't drop everything and come here - I'm now going on to London. I will be at Burberry's Boutique Hotel from tomorrow - call if near a Post Office or a Manager. Good for you if he overhears. My loving respects, Umi."

      A predator or circular saw bit nearby, and the forest spewed up a flight of birds, as he stood stunned. Showers of wormwood rattled on the hut's tin roof and a few bark chips sprayed down, snapping the fax out of his fingers and onto the sodden soil. The message blew around, trailing its wet half like a lame leg, and melted over a log. Saqib watched it dissolve, muttering the hotel's name as a concrete point to grasp.
      The mosquito door slammed with a retort like cheap gunfire, and the Fax Officer moved up alongside him. He wobbled ingratiatingly from foot to foot, dribbling an imaginary ball of mateship and looking for a return pass. Even a tackle would have satisfied him, but Saqib gave him no colour. Instead, he lit a Jalam Kretek cigarette, hoping its incense would drive the fool away.
      "You see that, F.O.? Wind took the bloody fax. Hadn't even read it through twice."
      "Oh, that's an omen, Safiya. A djinn, you might say. You could lift it by sending some alms, if you believe in the fates, but if not you'll have to tread lightly."
      Saqib narrowed his eyes against the cloves smoke, pungent as a cremated bandage.
      "You ridiculous cowcake! You think these parrots are on contract to some clapped-out Ganges genie? Wake up, Govinda. Save your spooks and spectres for your own bunch - you might raise a few Rupees."
      "Listen, Safiya, Djinns are from your side of the Indus, if my memory serves me right. Don't play the serene scientist with me! Your lot would sell nukes to Vanuatu and throw in the canoe to tow them home."
      Saqib frowned for a good few seconds. Then, he let forth a wicked howl of mirth, ending in a rattletrap cough like a dirty bomb.
      "We would, too. Fuck off then, F.O. I can see some Vanuatans in the trees over there. Go and gather in the customers." The man smiled venally and went back inside.
      Freed again to his foreboding, Saqib asked himself why he'd had such a frail grip on the note, and even on Umi herself. His hand was shaking, unstable, A fever, perhaps? He was well dosed on the preventatives. As a child, Umi used to remark that some passing derelict or crone was shaking by age. He was appalled that she'd suffered an accident in Japan, and imagined his precious origami crane igniting into ashes. Since she first told him of the trip in another fax, he had feared her disappearance by earthquake, Tsunami or Yakuza, or some random horror. The shock passed through him, and he grounded it, shaking by age.
      He bit hard on the cloven butt of his dying smoke, squeezing the last numbing infusion onto his tongue. A helicopter clattered overhead and made to set down in the dank clearing. Smoothing his shirt, Saqib trudged off the landing as a company jeep scuttled out with ridiculous haste to retrieve the down-set executive. Why the lack of ceremony these days? When he was young, no-one of rank could arrive without a fanfare and a feast that lasted the night. Now, he could justly expect managers to pop out of wormholes in the soil, grab Cokes from the dispenser with their own coin, sign a few requisitions with a borrowed biro, high-hand the troops and leave. No need even to turn off the rotors.
      Smiling and nodding at the jerking jeep as it passed back, he saw the passenger was texting into his phone and was dead to the greeting. The driver saluted with the only hand he had anywhere near the steering wheel. In the grubby flood-lit wilderness, Saqib conjured up images of London cabs and red phone boxes awash with photocopied promises. The Natural History Museum, he thought. I'd love to see the look on their faces when they look at these under the microscope. He resolved on the spot to fly out with the helicopter when it returned to Kuala Lumpur with its cargo of rising sap. It was late summer in Britain, the only time to visit, for a man with an unreliable chest. It wouldn't take long to pack, the bad chest and the best suitcase.

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