T1 : After We'd Gone
The 'aliens' left Planet Earth. There was no formal announcement -- they just stopped appearing in public. The news media received confirmation of our departure via leaks from the mainland Intelligence services long before the message was passed on to the nation's politicians. Even so, about a month went by before the papers would agree, at the end of August, that we had really gone.
During this time, we Survivors moved to other apartments in other posh parts of London and made a few cosmetic appearance changes. The former military people among us -- Frosch and Iktar -- took charge of placing clean breaks in our trails and severing our connections with the past. As for the rest of us, well, the group had acquired a lot of resources and we were devoting a lot of time to wondering what to do next.
We were also, apparently, letting our imaginations roam a bit. I could tell that Tolshivar had something on his mind when he dropped round to Iktar's and my new apartment on the first Friday of September to deliver a copy of the sci-fi film club's provisional winter programme. I could also tell that Tolshivar was unlikely to say anything unless pushed.
"I won't laugh," I remarked when we had sorted out the must-see films.
Tolshivar looked at me, debating internally. Then he shrugged. "Call me paranoid but I think someone has my new flat under observation."
"Could it be the police checking out some super-crook, who's also living there?" I returned, taking him seriously as the best way of avoiding embarrassment.
Tolshivar shrugged again. "I don't know, mate. I've tried sneaking up on the people I think are watching me but I'm not getting anywhere. I go to where I'm sure they're lurking and there's no one there."
"Which suggests either that they don't exist or they've got you well spotted and they split when you drop out of your normal behaviour pattern. Or what passes for normal in the pre-dead. Or they leg it if you disappear unexpectedly."
"So what do I do about it?"
"Well, you could always get someone to watch your back and spot who's spying on you."
"Is that you volunteering?" Tolshivar said hopefully.
"Ik would probably be a lot better at it than me. Except that she's busy on some top secret project."
"We can always bring her in if the two of us don't get anywhere," Tolshivar decided. "Shall we get on with it?"
In the end, after about a week, we called in Frosch rather than Iktar. Both Tolshivar and I felt that we were trying to sneak up on ghosts. When following Tolshivar, I became certain that there were people watching us but I was never been able to get a good look at them -- which was highly frustrating for someone who can sneak around invisible to the pre-dead and, presumably, undetectable.
Frosh was amused at first and later intrigued when he had no better luck than me. His reaction was to call in some professionals. Ten days after Tolshivar had shared his problem with me, Frosch called us to his apartment for a report. Frosch had used a detective agency based in France. The good news was that their agents had provided lots of photographs of the watchers. The frustrating news was that all attempts to trace the identities of the watchers had come to dead ends.
By now, Frosch was feeling challenged. He used some of the contacts made during our alien period -- of necessity, at one remove -- and he got results eventually. On the last Friday of September, he issued a general invitation to all Survivors currently in London to come along to his apartment to find out what was going on. The bad news, when Frosch got round to it, was that he had ended up at the Trimorate.
"Their screening programme must have found some more people who can detect Survivors, like that guy Clade, who got written off when he tried to use his Sword of Darkness on Iktar," he added as a final bombshell. "Looks like they've got on to us somehow."
"So you're saying they stumbled on us by accident?" Iktar remarked. She was taking one of her rare breaks from her project. Hathor was also with us. She was now living in the same building as Frosch but on a middle floor rather than the penthouse level.
"It's difficult to say while they're keeping one of their people on duty at their headquarters round the clock," said Frosch. "So there's no way one of us Survivors can get in for a quiet look around without them knowing."
"So you're saying that as far as finding out what they're doing is concerned, basically, we're screwed?" said Tolshivar.
"Not exactly," Frosch said with a confident smile. "We still have conventional methods of penetration at our disposal."
"What, blokes in ninja outfits zapping everyone, stripping the computers and getting a pick-up from a helicopter on the roof?" laughed Iktar.
"Maybe blokes in ninja outfits, certainly no zapping and nothing as conspicuous as a chopper," laughed Frosch. "I'll look into it and get back to you."
"Do we see some level of threat in this and are we all going to have to move again?" I said, voicing what was on everyone else's mind.
Frosch reduced his smile to a neutral expression. "Possibly and possibly," he said. "But we're all quite used to moving now, aren't we?"
When the rest of us left his flat, we all faded out to a mist, rather than beaming out, before heading for home. We had left behind our 'alien' visual tricks -- although we still kept our 'alien' weapons in reserve. Iktar stayed for about twenty minutes of fairly pointless discussion at our apartment. Then she left to get on with her project.
By then, Tolshivar and I had started to wonder who else knew about the Trimorate's activities. We were asking ourselves what might be in Scotland Yard's files about the post-dead. Or the files of the police forces around the world.
We suspect that the qualification for becoming a Survior is genetic. If that is so, then it's possible that serial killers and master criminals have survived in the past, and they may have flaunted their invulnerability. After all, we have been pretty restrained but we have done our share of liberating goods from safes and strongboxes.
"Only when they were associated with illegal drugs," said Tolshivar.
"Come to think of it, there would be something in the public domain if some other Survivors had been running riot like that," I added. "And if there isn't, it means that either master criminals don't Survive or they have the gumption to be discreet. Or no one believes them if they say they're post-dead. But even so ..."
"It's a big world and human history has been going for a fair time," said Tolshivar. "And the pre-dead are bloody good at covering things up."
"This is just the sort of thing the Nazis would have been into," I said. "They were very hot on the weird and wonderful end of the scientific spectrum."
"Maybe there's something in the records the Yanks captured from them after the war. If you could only find the right archive and if you can read German if it's not been translated."
"I think we've been here before. Intelligence services, secret governmental organizations seeking to find and control Survivors because they're 'go anywhere, see everything' people."
Tolshivar nodded. "We're in 'talk yourself round in circles territory' again."
Frosch took a week to lay his hands on the information which we needed. The rest of us assumed that his French private detectives had earned themselves a huge bonus by penetrating the Trimorate's headquarters. The truth of how our existence had been detected was simple and obvious. One of Trimorate's 'sensitives' had just happened to come within range of Tolshivar in the street. Her training had taught her not to disregard the vague feeling of unease which she experienced when in the vicinity of a 'psychic phenomenon'.
She had lost Tolshivar after following him around for half an hour. The Trimorate had stationed all five of their 'sensitives' in that area and they had detected Tolshivar again two days later. Then, with pictures of their suspect available, the Trimorate's allies in the Intelligence services had tracked the suspected Survivor to his lair.
Worse, the surveillance operation had also told the watchers that Tolshivar was in contact with two more suspected Survivors -- Iktar and myself. The Trimorate knew of our existence, and they had pictures of us; but at a policy planning session, they had decided to concentrate their resources on Tolshivar in the short term.
The Trimorate was proceeding cautiously because, we suspected, they did not know what sort of Survivors we were -- natural or artificial. The Trimorate's leaders all seemed to think that we are products of a top secret project funded by the United States' military and conducted in the UK as a means of evading issues of legality and accountability. As slightly better news, Frosch added that no one had made any connections from natural Survivors to the 'aliens'.
"Wouldn't it be nice to get off this planet for a while?" Iktar remarked when Frosch gave his attention back to his drink. He was on German brandy at the moment.
"We could always leave this country for a while," I said. "That would probably do the job just as well."
"What I'd like to know," said Tolshivar, "is what these characters are planning to do with me when they've finished watching me."
"They haven't decided," said Frosch. "The Trimorate is divided, two to one, over whether to requisition any natural Survivors they find, as the dead have no human rights, or whether to make them an offer. And I should think the military and the government are having the same debate behind their backs and planning to squeeze the Trimorate right out of things in due course if we turn out not to be products of one of Uncle Sam's Black Projects."
"The question is, if we're natural Survivors, what to you offer someone who has access to everything?" Iktar remarked.
"The other question is," I added, "how do you contain Survivors if they can melt through conventional containment systems?"
"All questions that no one seems even close to answering," said Frosch. "The Trimorate or anyone else."
"What are the Trimorate planning to do with us when they have us under their control?" said Hathor. "Assuming they make us an offer."
"They're still hoping that a close study of Survivors may give them the key to doing it themselves," said Frosch. "And in the meantime, they think they can use Survivors as intelligence gatherers, both to protect the group and to aid its financial future, and also as an ultimate line of defence if a bunch of dangerous aliens drops in."
"I'm not sure if I want to be involved in the Trimorate's or anyone else's plans," said Iktar. "We're doing perfectly okay on our own."
"At the same time," I mentioned, "I wonder if we have some sort of moral obligation to keep an eye on the Trimorate."
"Why? Out of a sense of obligation to the defence of our home planet?" scoffed Hathor.
"I was thinking more of whisking other natural Survivors away from what will be a state of slavery if the Trimorate gets its way."
"Good point," said Frosch.
"I wonder if these sensitives can identify individual Survivors?" said Hathor. "Or do they just get a general reaction which tells them a Survivor is present but not whether it's a different one?"
"How do you mean?" Frosch asked with a frown.
"If Iktar met Tolshivar in Prethon's form," said Hathor, "would the sensitives know that it's not Prethon and that they are seeing a female Survivor?"
"That's something we can check out easily enough," said Iktar.
"If we feel we have to." Frosch struck a cautionary note.
We talked until we started going round in the same circles. Out of the discussion came a decision for most of the group to drop out of sight for a while to give Frosch's detective agency a chance to investigate the watchers further. Tolshivar and I agreed to stay in our usual orbits and let the Trimorate's agents keep intermittent tabs on us for the moment. But all further group meetings were to be held out of London.
Our initial priority, we decided, was to find out exactly what the Trimorate knew about Survivors and their plans. We also identified a number of other questions which needed answers:
- Are the Trimorate thinking of wiping us out after gathering all our secrets because they see us as a threat?
- Do they have other natural Survivors in captivity, possibly using the same sort of mental tricks that they worked on Petron, the Iraqi refugee who was 'killed' by Antony Clade in Hyde Park?
- Or do they have a particularly good deal on offer?
These were all things which we needed to know in order to make sensible plans.
We concluded our meeting with the sensible decision to let Frosch use several different foreign firms of investigators to draw up an 'order of battle' for the Trimorate. 'Know your enemy in detail', Frosch assured us, is a sound policy for all situations.
In due course, Frosch called another meeting at an out-of-town location. We gathered on an upper floor of a multi-storey car park, which was under construction. There was no one else around on a dark, October Sunday evening -- the project wasn't urgent enough to justify weekend work -- and we had an extensive, if windy, view of our surroundings.
We all found somewhere to sit -- not being a dust magnet means that we can perch on pretty well any surface -- and we gave our attention to Frosch. He got right down to business.
"The Trimorate have seven 'sensitives', not five as we thought," he began.
"Ah, a magic number of them?" Iktar remarked.
"Who spend a lot of their time just wandering around London looking for Survivors," Frosch added.
"How many have they found?" I asked.
"Tolshivar was the fourth," said Frosch. "Their records list that bloke killed in the park plus two others before us. None of them were willing to co-operate."
"Awkward lot, us Survivors," Iktar remarked.
"They've also logged some fleeting contacts." said Frosch. "Possible Survivors they weren't able to catch up with. Which keeps the Trimorate optimistic that there are other Survivors are around. If they just keep at it, they reckon, they're bound to make contact with more of us."
"As finding me proved," said Tolshivar.
"Right," said Frosch. "And finding Tolshivar living at a fixed address led to different treatment for him. Instead ringing his doorbell and introducing themselves, they decided to keep him under observation to see if he was in contact with any other Survivors."
"A plan that paid off nicely," I remarked. "Do you know how long they're planning to keep it up?"
"Not much longer," said Frosch. "They think you and Iktar are the only other Survivors Tolsh knows. But at the moment, the Trimorate are arguing round in circles about how to make First Contact with Tolsh and his mates. They want to get things exactly right. And find out as much as they can about the mates before they make a move."
"In circles, seems to be how most groups end up arguing," said Iktar. "So are we going to hang around until they sort out their First Contact protocols?"
"Speaking for myself, I'd say the Trimorate look like a bunch of control freaks and not at all like potential partners in a programme of mutual discovery," I said.
"Right," said Tolshivar. "It'll be all what we can do for them and bugger all for us in payment for all the time we give them."
"There are other places to be than London," Iktar agreed.
Frosch looked at Hathor. She gave a Gallic shrug. "If we can travel across the Atlantic in about fifteen minutes, we could all go and live in New York. Or the South of France."
"I'm still waiting for a couple more reports to come in," said Frosch, "but I can't see them changing any minds. I'm thinking of setting up a new base in Berlin."
"Looks like we'll have to think where we want to go and get you to buy us a company apartment there," said Tolshivar. "I fancy trying California seeing I'm earthquake-proof."
"Okay, we're all agreed?" said Frosch. "London has had it for the moment?"
"Looks like it," said Iktar.
"Okay, get in touch when you know where you want to live." Frosch offered us a flourish of a salute and faded to a thin mist.
"So the aliens really will have gone pretty soon," I remarked to Tolshivar as Iktar copied the flourish and headed off elsewhere.
"And the poor old prime minister never got to meet them," laughed Tolshivar.
"Thinking about the aliens," said Hathor, "it would be fun to beam in to the EU Headquarters in Brussels and tell them we've arrived to make contact with their planet. And when they say that's already happened, look worried and ask if a Hadukar called Prethon was in charge because he can't be trusted."
"Why, what do I do that's so terrible?" I asked.
"Gain the confidence of less advanced planets and strip their assets," said Hathor.
"That would get the Eurocrats trembling," laughed Tolshivar. "We ought to do that next April first."
"It would certainly get the stetdevretners worried," I agreed.
"What is that? Stetdevreters?" said Hathor, reminding me that French is her first language despite the American accent.
"It's alien-speak for bureaucrats who say 'no' to everything worthwhile as a reflex," said Tolshivar. "Usually out of sheer idleness."
"I never really learned your alien language," Hathor admitted.
"The basics are: stet means 'no'; stetan means 'nothing'; and stron means 'I'm outa here!'" said Tolshivar.
"I think they use the alien language a lot more in the States," I mentioned. "Where they're used to no one being able to understand what anyone's saying. Apart from gan davol. I've noticed lots of people here in London using it like pukka aliens. Like the prime minister's sister-in-law."
"What does that mean?" Hathor asked.
"It's another of Tolsh's inventions," I said. "Gan means 'fairly' with a sense of 'fairly okay'. Davol means 'enough' in the sense of 'just about enough to get the job done with no room for manoeuvre'. In fact,
Gan davol makes 'so-so' look like an expression of wild enthusiasm."
"I had better remember that," said Hathor. "It's bound to become French, too. The way our language sucks up English. Okay, what are you guys doing now?"
"We're off to our science fiction film club in an hour or so," said Tolshivar. "It's clones and telepaths night. Should be good for a laugh. Why, do you fancy coming along as a guest?"
Hathor shrugged. "It's the best offer I have had all day."
"Okay, all you have to do is make yourself a couple of inches shorter," Tolshivar added.
"The psychology of height," Hathor remarked. "We can still look like ourselves but no one will believe we are the same people if we make ourselves smaller. For the simple psychological reason that it is easier to make yourself seem taller but it is not so easy to make yourself look shorter."
"And most people would prefer to be taller rather than shorter," I added.
"Very well," said Hathor, "Tonight, I shall be a tiny French lady with two not so big English friends."
With the rest of the world to choose from, I found it quite hard to settle on the location of an alternative base. Assuming that I had a lot of years ahead of me, I knew that I could visit a lot of places. Picking number one was the problem. Leaving England meant that I would be depriving myself of my customary diet of television programmes. But given a digital TV system and a really long life, I realized, no one need miss out on anything.
The sheer number of digital channels means that they have to keep repeating everything from the 'Golden Age of TV' to keep the adverts separated. Everything from the first re-run of last season's big hit to digitally cleaned-up 'I Love Lucy' in authentic black and white can be found somewhere on the digital spectrum. And there has to be more to life than sitting in front of the goggle box at the same time every week.
The world's bureacrats and politicians had not forgotten the aliens. As I took a greater interest in the world at large, seeing I was on the verge of inhabiting a part of it, I was amused to learn that creating alien contact protocols had become a boom industry. The usual suspects were willing to discuss the problem at great length in fancy hotels at great expense to taxpayers everywhere.
Surprisingly, there was also a counter argument to the effect that all the discussion was unnecessary. The objectors believed that we Earthers will be the contactees, not the contacters, and the aliens who contact us will bring a thought-out a set of protocols with them. So we Earthers will be able either to use the aliens' protocols directly or use their protocols as a model for a set of our own.
There was also a growth in Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) projects to find out where the recently departed alien visitors had come from. Researchers wishing to claim a bigger share of time on their local radio telescope pointed out that the aliens had to have a base within a few light years of our solar system and that they had a really good chance of finding it.
The only slight problem for the SETI mob lay in someone exposing a serious alien hoax. The nerds in California had been very quiet for a long time. It was probable that they would try again too recklessly and get themselves caught trying another alien scam. Or that the gang which had bamboozled Signorina Amarni so successfully in Italy might have imitators.
Of the two scenarios; deception by Survivors or fraud by Earther criminals; only the latter was likely to be a problem, I concluded. If the FBI, or the CIA, were to trip up some greedy American Survivors, the whole thing would be covered up immediately once the security agency realized the score.
It is the instinct of any government and its civil servants to cover up something as dramatic as the discovery of the existence of Survivors -- people who are still around when post-dead. In the United States, in particular, where the influence of the Church is still quite strong, the news of a 'heaven on Earth' will be most unwelcome.
God-bothering Yanks will be willing to shovel on mountains of cover-up to ensure that the established Church continues to enjoy its tribute. But grasping politicians and their allies will cause the most trouble. Which brings up an interesting question. Do the First Contact Protocols apply to Survivors? Especially if they're not an alien life form as such, but definitely not 'Life as we know it, Jum.'
Will survivors be granted any sort of status? Bearing in mind the legal doctrine that dead have no rights at all, how much of a special case can the post-dead become? That question is something to keep the lawyers in lunches and fast cars. But there are always deals to be cut -- if only with some research foundation.
Given the whole world to choose from, I found myself rejecting alternative after alternative, and becoming increasingly unwilling to be chucked out of London by the Trimorate. But I knew that I had to go. The risk of being detected by one of the sensitives was too high if we had no means of detecting them.
And then suddenly, everything changed.
Frosch called the London group, including Hathor, to a meeting on an upper floor of a building under construction in Bromley. We were under orders not to reveal that we knew any Survivors other than Frosch when we solidified in a gloomy expanse of glassed-in concrete. It was another wet, October night and the space was lit with what Frosch called 'parking lights', which provided just enough illumination for burglars to move around without tripping over anything.
Frosh arrived a couple of minutes later. Then four strangers solidified in an uncluttered area and marched over to join us. Frosch performed introductions. The other lot, Alexia, Trivana, Kaspar and Jordin, two female and two male, called themselves the Oversight Committee. Their group title took on meaning when Frosch added that they were watching the activities of the Trimorate.
Jordin seemed to be the group's speaker, if not the leader. He had made himself over six feet tall and he looked like a lean, athletic thirty-year-old. Jordin gave us a quick history of how his group had been monitoring the Trimorate almost since the organization was formed. His basic message soon came through. He wanted to warn the rest of us off.
"We're taking care of this problem," Trivana added in an uncompromising tone. She was nearly as tall as Jordin and stamped from a female version of the athletic mould.
"Delighted to hear it," Tolshivar returned, unfazed.
"Do you really think we're going to give you an argument?" Iktar added.
"As I've told you," said Frosch. "Our only interest reason for investigating the Trimorate is to protect ourselves from them. And I don't think anyone else will argue with that."
"Doubt it," said Tolshivar.
"Yeah, well, we've got that in hand; the investigation side," said the Jordin.
"Yeah, well, we weren't to know that, were we?" Tolshivar returned the hostility in full measure. "And how can we be sure you people are up to the job?"
"Is it worth picking a good place to watch the punch-up?" I remarked to Hathor, rather surprised that she had not got stuck in, too.
"I don't think starting a punch-up is going to get anyone too far," Alexia said frostily. She was the only one in the other group with fair hair, which she wore in a windswept style.
"Don't you just love it when people don't realize you're taking the Mickey?" I remarked.
"I think you need to realize you don't give us orders," Frosch said to Jordin.
Hathor muttered something rapid Parisian French, which was too fast for me to make out. The look that Alexia gave her suggested that her French was fluent.
"She's French?" Kaspar said, wearing an expression of disbelief. His dark hair was short and looked almost painted on. He had lean, perfect features, and I suspected his Survivor self looked little like his pre-dead self.
"So?" said Frosch.
"I've always suspected other nationalities could persist," Jordin. "And here I have proof."
"If we're agreed the Trimorate are your province," I said, "can we forget them and get on to hearing something about you? Like how long you've been post-dead and what you do with yourselves when you're not watching the Trimorate?"
We learned that the others, who called their survival beyond death persisting, had been living 'in the cracks' in London for about 20 years, amusing themselves by keeping a close eye on Parliament, the police, embassies, spies, the intelligence services, etc. They looked on London as their home and they were determined to find some way to block the Trimorate's sensitives. Like we Survivors, they did not wish to become involved in the ambitions of the pre-dead or to submit to their control.
I think that hostility, at least initially, is inevitable when group meets group. We remained two distinct groups during that meeting. But I gave Kaspar, who seemed the most approachable of the 'Persisters', my address in case he wanted to meet us without the expectations of others in the background.
Tolshivar had picked out his new base in San Francisco and he was paying me a flying visit to tell me about the view from his apartment when Kaspar arrived a couple of days later. He and his group had discussed the matter and he had been appointed a liaison officer to our group, which was a much more formal arrangement than I had been expecting.
'Living in the cracks' meant that the Persisters were not weighed down with the possessions that we Survivors had accumulated. Kaspar was surprised by our lifestyle. Someone post-dead with an apartment containing a library, cable TV broadband Internet access and a drinks cabinet was a novelty for him. His group had not thought of going into business, never mind to the extent which Frosch had reached. Neither had they done much travelling. Kaspar was amazed to find that Tolshivar was relocating to the United States instead of to somewhere else in England. I could see that contact with us was going to broaden his group's horizons considerably.
We spent several hours chatting, and Kaspar sampled most of the bottles in the drinks cabinet. Alcohol had no effect on him, of course, but he could appreciate flavours to our limited extent. Just before Tolshivar left, and after our guest had gone, he remarked that we'd made a fair start on corrupting the lad. If Frosch wanted to recruit Kaspar for one of his schemes, he looked more than ready to defect.
Iktar arrived as I was washing up the glasses -- even the escape from life provides no escape from such small chores for someone who doesn't think it's worth using the dish-washer for three glasses. Iktar had something to tell me, but it took half an hour and two glasses of our blue alien drink to get her round to her message. Iktar was going off with Frosch to look over another of his ideas. She felt that she would be away for about three months. "We're getting too cosy together," she told me finally, meaning the two of us.
"And that's a bad thing?" I said in a fairly neutral tone.
"Familiarity breeds contempt."
"Not in me, it doesn't. Why, do you feel contempt for me?"
"Bad choice of words. What I mean is, we have so much time ahead of us, we can refresh our relationship by spending time apart and having lots of separate experiences to talk about when we get together again. If we decide to get together again."
"What you mean is, you were on your own for fifty-odd years after you became a Survivor and you want to see if you can do it again?"
Something like that."
"You're exercising your right to independence."
"I suppose so. I might not be gone for as much as three months."
"That sounds like you're sure you'll be coming back."
"Hathor's been dropping hints that it's about time I learned French. And the best way to do that is living in France."
"Can you get English cable TV over there?"
"If you've got enough money, you can get anything anywhere, these days. Where you live is becoming increasingly irrelevant."
"You mean, we're heading for the sort of planetary society the aliens were looking for?" laughed Iktar.
"Could be," I said with a nod. "I wonder if Frosch is planning to tell Jordin and his gang we were the aliens?"
"That could happen in time. We Survivors and Persisters could well form a planetary society first and give them a lead."
So we all split up, we of the London Group, and headed off in different directions for a while. Kaspar maintained contact with me and he and the members of his group became increasingly frequent visitors to the apartments which Hathor and I had acquired in the south of France. We learned, in time, that the so-called Oversight Committee represented just one-half of Kaspar's group.
As they met other friends of ours -- Xanthe's gang, Borgan, Daphre and Loriva at our old farmhouse and New Zealander Fereng, they began to appreciate the range of possibilities available to the post-dead.
In fact, that coming together of Survivors and Persisters is now recognized as a decisive moment in our joint history. Driven mainly by Jordin, we began to seek out others of the post-dead rather than just stumbling across them in the course of our activities. That greater range of contacts gave us more and more information about who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
We now tend to look back on ourselves as we were at the turn of the Twenty-First Century and wonder at how naive and lacking in direction that we were. And yet, I still try to stay in touch with who I was then because I think we also combined an essential sense of fun with our adventures. As Tolshivar puts it, great age may bring great wisdom, but it also tends to take the spring out of the funny bone.