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“KMN,” Megan says.

“That bad?” Bill asks her.

Megan nods. "I love our child. But he sticks to me like a limpet."

Bill takes Mo from her arms. She grabs her dojo bag and is out the door before you can say Jack Robinson. Since she took out the Good Listener back in June, and discovered in mid-air her preternatural gift as a fighter, Megan has been tearing up the local martial arts scene. Teachers from every discipline across the greater Detroit area deluge her with offers of free private instruction. Everyone wants to attach themselves and their school of fighting to this prodigy. Megan says yes to all of them, goes to their houses of pain, soaks up what they have to offer, moves on.

“Wanna stumble around?” Bill asks Mo, and proceeds to stumble around with him. At eleven months Mo walks like a drunk trying to prove he’s sober. After a while they end up on their backs in the playroom looking up at mobiles. The end of infancy turns out to have a lot in common with fishing--it's just hanging out, noticing things, and trying not to get hurt or wet as one moves from place to place. Instead of slippery rocks, there’s hard floors and sharp furniture corners. Instead of waders, there’s diapers. Instead of fish, there’s light, sound, words, faces, the dog coming at you. Instead of trout, there’s Mom and when she’s not around, Dad--no junk fish but no Mom either.

“Mo’,” Mo says, starved after his nap. Bill let him sleep two hours right on the playroom floor. Well, Bill fell asleep with him. Mo (short for Maurice, though his second and really only word so far is mo, possibly short for either mom or more, his first being tampoo, anybody’s guess) is a champion sleeper and only his full diaper woke both of them mid-afternoon. He’s plowing through mac ‘n cheese, Bill a grilled cheese sandwich, when Megan comes in sweated and happy.

"What was today?” Bill asks.


“Hurt anybody?”

“Oluṣọni thought he had my number and wanted to impress his advanced group. It didn’t work out for him.”

Megan puts Mo down early and tells Bill she’s ovulating. Here we go again, Bill thinks as he showers. Megan says two close together is good--she has a brother just eighteen months older. Bill doesn’t know much about babies except what he’s learned in the last eleven months, so he takes Megan’s word for it. Making babies is like making love only more serious. Sometimes Bill feels like a salmon on the way back to the spawning pool--that when he’s done making this baby, he’ll be done period. Of course raising live young is not milting. He won’t be done for decades, some would say ever. But Bill still can’t help wondering if this is his real final purpose. They want two so when they’ve conceived this one, it’s all upstream.

“I love you more,” Megan tells him as he falls away from her, her hips tilted upwards on a pillow.

“You are the center of my pond.”

“Money is the devil,” Candy says as she writes that year’s check and slips it in her pocket. It turns out this expression exists in every culture. Spare sheep carry more mischief than wool, that sort of thing. What Candace means is that her brother Cane has complicated thoughts toward her, he being her heir apparent, and she having fourteen times his net worth. “You have to give the devil his due.” She and her ecst-, Chooch, are hanging out in their suite at the Buckberry before dinner.

Candy and Cane started out 263 years ago with the same inheritance. Their parents fell into Arenal volcano and Candace put her money into conservative funds managed entirely by AyeEye--meaning the oversight of the AyeEye was also AyeEye--and just left it there through twelve corrections, two bubbles (outer space mining, deep-sea vent farming), three bull markets and two cow markets (prosperity built on long-term planning, restraint of the self-destructive mechanisms of unregulated capital). Candy never found a breedmate, then decided not to mate with him when she did. Cane bred repeatedly and never finished a contract before moving on. At one point he was father to five different under-thirty-seven-(age of majority)-year-olds. Candy “lends” Cane cash every December, both of them knowing these zero-interest-in-repayment loans are gifts. Does this calm Cane down? Au contraire, he takes the loans as evidence that Candy has more than she knows what to do with (does anyone ever not know what to do with more?) and, like a blackmailer, just keeps coming back. Candy loves Cane--hell, everybody loves Cane--and has no objection to giving him what she would otherwise give to charities, which is considerable. And that will have to do because being someone’s heir means less every decade, inheritance having gone the way of the common cold (well-understood, rare), death (fickle, statistically and temporally remote) and taxes (SOS, Social Oldness Security, comes out of paychecks, extracting up to 99.99 percent of compensation. Neo-liberal executives kept insisting the value they brought to their corporations was ten thousand times that of the employee who cleaned their bathrooms or corrected their written work. So rather than cap salaries, which was politically unfeasible, pre-taxation brought salaries in line, the highest paid earning a maximum of thirty times the lowest paid, which of course put all of society in the same boat and reversed the I-me-mine social values that had taken hold. Candy and Cane’s wealth is grandmothered and fathered in--they are from the last generation exempted from the new inheritance laws, which allow heirs a maximum of five million dinars, a comfortable nest egg but nothing on the order of the fortunes that accrued in the period of untaxed wealth. This incentivizes spending it all except that last five million, but spending isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when making and saving money is at the core of one’s personality, and one doesn’t die.)

Cane is coming in for a week of skiing, really coming for his yearly check (the handing over of the piece of paper a charming anachronism both he and Candy cherish). Candy is down in the Smokies for a month with her old beau Chooch. Chooch is also broke but doesn’t know it cause he just skis, always has, and then fishes in the summers, going from ski to fishing guide and back again in worlds where money is way down the list of concerns below weather and snow-or-river conditions, injuries, personality of clients. Chooch and Candy have drinks, then eat and drink a bit more before heading upstairs to their rooms. Wealth means getting things that make sense, not showing off. Like two-room suites so she and her old flame don’t have to creep around when their sleep schedules diverge, which is pretty much always. They ski all day, bathe, dine and make love, then Candy sleeps like a baby. Chooch is on guide-schedule, hardwired even when he’s not working, so he hits the sack at nine after he figures out tomorrow’s ski or fishing routes, wakes at four as if it were time to load the truck or the drone with gear and lunch for the clients, and heads out. Since he’s not working, he just starts climbing in the dark to ski new snow at dawn. Candy sleeps until eight and catches up with him at the mountain lodges. So a suite is sweet, worth every dinar.

The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee are a skier’s paradise since Global Cooling. “Ski the South” stickers on drones and RV hovercrafts are often paired with “Smoky? All I See is White,” and “No Playing on Powder Days.” New England is too cold and avalanche prone, since the CDC (Center for Deliberate Climate) famously underestimated the effect of particulates deposited in the stratosphere. The White Mountains kill dozens of daredevils who, despite full bubble suits, manage to ricochet off hard things like trees and boulders at speed. Yes, the Smokies are the place to be in the East, depths still under twenty new feet mid-winter, except on big snow years, avalanche danger low to moderate. Candy loves Thunderhead--it’s where her cousin Brandeis taught her to huck cliffs--but she skis them all--Guyot, Le Conte, Chapman, Big Frog, Mingus.

Was a time when money couldn’t buy you love or legs, and the fate of ski-bums was that, when they finally got some money, they were married with mortgages, jobs and children, maybe a dog. Then when they finally got some time their knees were shot, ACLs snapped, cartilage in fragments. Nowadays, skiers come back strong after the breeding years. Knee injuries are annoying but you can always grow a new pair or go biomechanical, and everyone has joint-assist underlayers that anticipate strain and do compensatory work. So even if one knee is weak, the Brady Pliability Biomech Underlayer takes over. Only problem is the stuff gets a little smelly if you forget to sanitize every night while you recharge the syntho-muscle fibers. Two ways to freshen Bradys without damaging the biomechanics--TideNanos, which march out of their tiny Tide house, the size of a box of wooden matches with its own little orange roof and green-shuttered windows, edit out dirt and bacteria, and then tromp back to barracks. Or the Arm and Hammer Neutralizer, a collapsible terrarium-sized-thing attached to a compact printer-looking-thing which analyzes stink and does chemistry using gases to break down funk, leaving everything fresh as a daisy or whatever floral overlay you choose. Candy Neutralizes, even though chem cartridges cost more than the Neutralizer itself (Candy hates to part with a dinar, loathes being taken for a sucker). She does her Brady drawers and tops, though never with anything of Chooch’s, God love his musky self. Most women Nano cause the system’s easier to pack, but Candy can never believe the microbots have left her drawers and trooped back into their matchbox, with its tiny swinging door, Gorilla glass windows and solar panels on the little roof. It distracts her, while she skis, to imagine the little fuckers crawling around in her britches.

As far as money buying a person love, Candy knows it doesn’t but also knows that she can fly anywhere she wants to be with her ecsts-es. Amoragamy was so neato-keen when she was in her first century, and like all youth she thought it was the be-all and end-all of social experimentation and sexual freedom. Now it’s old hat, but it still feels cool to her to be able to reach out to any of the boy and girlfriends she had before she settled down, to meet up with them anywhere on the planet, paying their way if they need an assist. Makes her feel wicked and sophisticated. Imagines the look on her mother’s face each time she tells Ron, her forever mate, I’m meeting Chooch in the Smokies or Laura in the Pyrenees. Have fun, Ron tells her, as if she had said she was going out for girls’ night. And he means it. Ron is not possessive so much as pragmatic, and he knows that their lovemaking gets a nitro blast every time she comes home from adventures with an ecst-. In theory, he sees his old flames too, but in practice he’s too monogamous and busy with his startup (he’s a fine furniture inlayer and has a business background, and was in the first wave of folks who understood that, with third-wave industrial capabilities, fine artisanship was going to be big, and large-scale production was going to be smaller, as sources of both individual and corporate profit, so founded International Artisanal Projects Fund.) The most interesting part of amorogamy is that it forces Candy to recognize her personal limits. Rather than thinking she is thwarted in her capacity for happiness by Ron, she has found that she is only so happy no matter who she is with or what she is doing. Pretty happy, but then gloomy at regular intervals. This makes her partnership with Ron way easier, especially for him. Their first two hundred years together now look like a continuous struggle, and they both wonder how they got through them, especially without the justification and distraction of breeding.

Making love with Chooch after dinner, Candy marvels again at his strength. He does all those wonderful moves, fucking her while walking around the suite, she riding him and he no more aware of strain than if she were a fanny pack turned to the front of his body for easy access. She’s no miniature--she stands just under eighteen new feet and weighs 178 new kilos. He’s not so much big as cabled, his tendons and muscles lacking give, providing purchase, as if he were mostly mechanical which he’s not, just a joint here and there. No, he’s all outdoorsman power, strength and skill forged in marathon workdays fielding current and gravity. Half river, half mountain, all man.

Afterwards she showers and goes to sleep in his arms, he asleep before she is with that discipline that allows him to spring into action hours before dawn. His breath is warm and sweet on her cheek. His chest radiates heat like summer rock. She slips out of his bed and returns to hers.

Cane takes a limodrone to the Buckberry, tips the kid who opens the door and signals a valet who unloads his skis and bags. Makes his entrance into the lobby, enjoying the eyes, especially the women checking him out but also the men weighing him, his physique, clothes, attitude. Before the elevator doors open, he shares a smile with a curvy lady in fuzzy boots the size and color of her two Maltese. Then he’s rising to the top floor and heading to the familiar suite across the hall and down a ways from Sis’s. Chooch is all right--knows his place and doesn’t care about money. He and Cane get on, Cane not asking Chooch to tell him he skis well (he doesn’t), Chooch not asking Cane to treat him like an old breedmate of Candy’s (he isn’t). Chooch overtips the valet. He pours a bath and a drink and hell, it’s already a ski vacation.

Sure, it’s Candy’s money, he thinks as he soaks. But they’re a family and everybody has herhis job. Cane is in charge of genetics and he has been productive, forging alliances and producing offspring with not one, not two but three bright, attractive women. This during a hundred-fifty years in which reproduction dropped steadily, before death was as rare as birth and the number mysteriously paused at 5,395,293,439 for a remarkable 37 days (births and deaths re-pairing within six hours). There’s only so much one man can do, Cane thinks, but he added his five while Moms and Pops fell into the volcano (talk about shitty guide service) and that made plus three, even if he and Candy cash it in, which he guesses they will eventually but when? Dementia turned out to be not only stoppable but reversible. You can’t fix stupid, Grampa used to say before he started confusing the cat with his son and, to be fair, the two creatures had identical personalities. Turns out you can fix stupid, creating neurons in situ, starting school over with reading and writing and so on right up through advanced degrees, turning morons with crazy or no ideologies into enlightened mofos in their three-hundreds. Meanwhile Candy did her thing, worked in banking, hung with rich fellas who never took a dinar from her and gave her stuff, flash drones and one guy even a house along with the usual perks of being beautiful, jewelry and vacations. Candy was and is an investor with a great sense of when and how much risk to take, so her money, their money the way he sees it, just grew and grows, decade after decade. Three hundred years later, she’s loaded.

He dries off, admires himself in the full-length. Everybody trains, either awake or asleep unless they’re so lazy they won’t even work out unconscious, afraid to wake up sore. Everybody has cosmeto-functional surgeries, so goodbye droopy ass and floppy man or woman boobs, neck wattle, Cowardly Lion eye pouches. Hello cheekbones, solid abs ceps and lats, high round butts, jowl-less cheeks and smooth necks in perpetuity. Still and all, not everybody is goodlooking. God’s in charge of that, even if he’s playing eighth trumpet nowadays to Buddha, Gaia, Jesus, Shiva, Mohammed, Mary, and Krishna, in that order. Good old white-bearded fatherly God gave Cane what women like--off-blond hair he keeps just longer than neat, long legs, proud chest, square shoulders, narrow waist, slightly outsize schlong, almost pretty face, lush lashes, eyes just greener than brown eyes are expected to be. Above all, it’s the eyes he has come to depend on to bring women into his sphere of influence. Sure, there have been women who don't give him the time of day, even when he works hard to make them notice and respond, but not many. He lost a bit of his power when he reached his tricentennial, but he’d been told it was just a phase and damned if that wasn’t true. Once he had given up youthful status, he achieved the appearance of a man of middle years who knows his own value, understands something of the world and, above all, can appreciate and take care of a woman. They came at him fast and thick then, partly but only partly because of the babies toddlers and teens he was always carrying chasing or monitoring, that being his breeding time--nothing like conscientious fatherhood to draw female attention. Even when he was done parenting and not yet grandparenting, he was hard to resist. It was the lanky frame and the deceptively thoughtful expression.

So baby sister became in effect the Bank of Hemingway (family name--yes, that Hemingway, direct line) while Cane was the genetic legacy guy. Also, briefly, the literary scion, publishing a first novel to scattered applause, nice reviews, even a prize for the inheritor of Ernest. Was his style Hemingwayesque? Manly, spare? Yes. Did he do it on purpose? A little. Did he really think he could be a writer with the name Hemingway? He did when he was young, and held onto the idea until his hundredth birthday. If you haven’t made it by a hundred, common wisdom says, you probably won’t. But there are always exceptions to these age rules, even in mathematics and music composition. Hell, writers don’t know much about themselves or the world until they’re 150 or so. Sure, they can write about what they think is life, childhood of course, even about love, but how much do they really understand? They have words but no real experience, or so Cane told himself as he propelled himself still writing hard into his second century and fifth novel. He was maturing. He was finding his voice. He read in cafes, sent his stuff to friends, mostly just having and raising children, then grandchildren. That and writing were the things that came naturally to him. At one point he had ten thousand readers, and “made a living” in some sense, never really meeting expenses, but filing taxes on writing income and so forth. Now he was down to a thousand, and though he was writing better, faster than ever, he had the sense he was engaged in a private activity, more akin to meditation than to authorship in the old sense. Art is an act of faith, his teacher-friend-mentor Peter Piper (talk about a hard name to be an author with--though Peter just went for it, breaking through with a story collection, Peck of Peppers) was wont to say. “Write on, Brother,” was his other advice.

Cane dresses ski lodge--money brands but so comfortable and functional he sends the clear signal, I feel how I look, good. Heads down to the bar for a mocktail. Sis shows up when he’s sipping his second gooseberry-and-prickly-pear. She settles into the banquette while he orders her martini. He mimes Shaken, not stirred and Lisa behind the bar smiles. Lisa is barely two-hundred and looks a hundred-fifty, walking over with the drink. Cane will see this walk again at midnight when she lets herself into his suite and strips on the way to bed. They’ve been friends who make love every year since that first winter he and Candy skied here, almost three decades ago. Candy ignores his whatever with Lisa, waits for him to return his brotherly attention to her.

“How are you?” she asks finally, with that patient attentiveness he loves and resents. In that hesitation and care is their whole history, his alcoholism which never required stem-liver transplants but definitely made him an unpleasant and unreliable person for a bit more than eighty years. His three breedings with Marcy, Thérèse and Barb. His on-again off-again literary career. His casual approach to all other work aside from the raising of live young. Also his big brother protectiveness of her, vetting her men and neighborhoods, his installation of security systems in her apartments and homes, fixing of her vehicles whether ground or air. His discouraging the risk-taking Candy has been prone to since she started jumping her bikes off of curbs at age six.

“I’m fine. Linda is fantastic. Busy with the great-grands. You?”

“Tired,” she says, taking a pull of icy gin. “Long winter ain’t over yet.” Candy is a human interaction lawyer who concentrates in breed-agreement renegotiations. When the coldest winter since 1708-09 essentially lasted through from fall to second spring eighteen months later, many couples, with or without brood, went from cabin fever to relationship dissolution. The material implications of these breakups, from custody to property and wealth division, have dragged on in the courts for years. The end is now in sight, but Candy, partner and head of the domestic division of her downtown Skahnéhtati law firm, manages a half-dozen junior lawyers. Candy of course helped her brother through his three breedmate dissolutions. Marcy and Barb were reasonable, even a bit overly accommodating, and Candy’s job was to make sure they received their fair shares as much to help them as to let her brother extricate himself. But that middle one, Thérèse, was confused about money and thought that since she had been the wage-earner, every dinar she had brought home was hers. Cane’s role with their two children, every day parent and homemaker, was somehow invisible, even unimaginable, to Thérèse. Candy handed that work off to another firm when it became clear that Thérèse was troubled.

“How’s the skiing?” Cane asks.

“Chooch is torturing me but I love it.”

“I asked about the skiing.”

Candy punches his shoulder. “He doesn’t stop. He’s so smooth I forget how hard I’m working until my legs just give out.”

“I’m in deep trouble.”

“I need you to ski with us to slow him down. I count on that.”

“Happy to oblige.”

They talk about this and that--Linda, who guess what, wants children. Candy doesn’t bother to tell him that he’s too old to breed again. What does that even mean anymore? He doesn’t bother to tell her that making babies is to him what making money is to her--instinctive, next to unstoppable. She tells him about Ron’s world network of fine artisans and the growing pool of investors. He pretends he gives a कचरा--of course Ron is making money and furniture, that’s what he does. How the guy can tolerate his woman off schussing and schtupping with Chooch is another question. Cane knows jealousy is ridiculous, but he’s secretly intolerant of his women meeting old beaus. I mean he puts up with it because what’s the alternative? Monogamy? But Ron doesn’t even mind while Candy is away with Chooch, Laura, or one of her other ecsts-s, seems to welcome the quiet time in his woodworking studio, office and kitchen.

“Let’s eat,” Candy says, tipping Lisa with a signature and, almost as if this too were a tip, handing Cane his check for ten times more than he made in his best decade as a novelist. The woman loves these old school touches--ink pens, paper checks. Shows her age, which is pretty much the only way it shows, certainly not in her physique and skin. She doesn’t believe in unnecessary surgery but she’ll grow baby skin and get tucks.

“Thanks, Sis,” Cane says. “What would I do without you?”

“You’d be fine,” she answers. They both know it’s true. Fine, but artist poor.

“Smokies? Sure,” Bill says. But he’s thinking (a) Skiing is hard, dangerous and theoretically cold, though with the gear that has come along in his lifetime, it really isn’t. And (b) Taking a toddler on vacation is not a vacation. Not for him. They will have to pack like nomads--diapers, droneseat, toys, along with lots of clothes. For Megan it will be vacation, for Bill it will be Daddy overtime on partial sleep. But he’s up for it. Megan is a great traveler, relaxed, excited, grateful. Hotel rooms make her horny, or hornier, and the first thing Bill packs is the travel crib with one-way sensory sleep tent so that Mo will slumber in silent darkness, hearing no lovemaking sounds, while he and Megan will hear him if he wakes and needs attention. Whoever invented that tech should get an award--except it wasn’t someone, it was Spock--not the doctor, the supercomputer. Still, gratitude.

They leave at the crack of noon and the Station Dragon is full to bursting what with the skis, the ski gear, Mo’s stuffed animals--Axoplasm his dog, Mike his bear, Caroline his lioness, and Tensil his gator. Megan found a cloud chalet anchored to Guyot, mountainside--drop-down ski-out, ski-in float-up. The trip south from Detroit takes an hour with traffic. As they unpack Bill can’t shake the feeling that the whole house and airdock could fall out of the sky at any time, or that Mo could crawl off into thin air and plummet like a wingless cherub. But that’s silly--houses don’t fall, and catcher fields catch. Still, just to reassure himself, Bill tosses a six-pack off the balcony and it doesn’t travel fifty of the two-thousand new feet earthward before slowing to a stop and floating up into his hands.

The chalet is nice but smaller than it looked on the holo. The view to the northwest is toward Roaring Fork and Gatlinburg, and as long as you rotate the house so that whatever window you’re looking out is facing that direction, you could be alone. But if you walk to the other windows or rotate the house without changing windows so that you’re looking east or south, you’re at a ski resort--college kids in their fifties and sixties on spring break, speakers pumping, sexual urges and surgeries on display. Mo is cranky, his nap having been lost to exploring the Dragon, and Bill gets right to work, reading him Stuart Little and stroking his hot brow as he settles slowly down. Megan directs the rolling bags into the rooms and gets acquainted with the kitchen. Mo is just falling asleep when he is woken by the housedrone, a loud antique MajorDromo, returning with Megan’s groceries from the small overpriced Whole Piggly Wiggly that holds everyone in the resort hostage. Bill reads another chapter, and again Mo settles sleepward, clutching Mike the bear. Finally, Mo’s wet thumb tumbles from his lips and his eyes close. Bill finds Megan programming dinner in the kitchen. She hands Bill a pilsner and he is led to the master bedroom.

“Might as well break her in,” Megan tells him, dropping backwards on the bed, rolling onto her shoulders, and shucking her jeans.

Chooch breathes. Climbs Zs up Chapman which is blue in the end of night. He’s in his shirtsleeves, shell tied to his pack, pants open from ankle to knee. When he reaches the summit, he zips up and locks his heels.

He carves his first turns as dawn silvers the treetops. He parts the snow, the air. His legs and back unfurl.

He enters the trees. The temperature drops. His flex deepens. He mows snow around trees as if building a racetrack. Comes out of the glade as the sun Vs Beechnut Gap. The slope levels. He shears a contour line across the top of a field. He is disturbing the snow but feels he is repairing it. He drops over the ridge line and digs a slalom deep and constant. Time stops.

Candy climbs into the shuttle bus in front of Megan. She offers the last seat to Megan with a smile. Her hands, like Megan’s, are taken up with skis, poles, helmet. Megan slides into the seat and looks up at Candy’s battered touring rig. “You been up?” Megan asks her.

Candy laughs. “Slept in. You?”

“Got here last night. Never skied here.”

“I’ll show you around.”

That’s how it starts.

Bill and Mo hang out in the lodge. Mo tries to climb into the fire in the hearth over and over again, raising questions about natural selection. Then there are two of them trying to get close enough to grab embers. The other one wears pink and is repeatedly dissuaded from self-immolation by her mother, who also wears pink. Bill and Mo sport blue. Louisa has a Louisiana twang and a smile that would melt icicles. Mary Louisa is a month older than Mo and doesn’t walk like a drunk, more like a salesperson coming at you in a showroom. She and Mo give up on the fireplace and stare at each other.

“Why look at my girl,” Louisa says.

Mo is drooling up a storm. Bill swabs him down and he doesn’t even blink. Then he takes Mary Louisa in his arms. “Tampoo,’” he says.

“Likes her shampoo,” Louisa says. “What a little sweetie.” Turns out Louisa takes her cocoa with lots of marshmallows and that her breedmate, Dan, is the mountain manager. Their son Danny has been up half the night in his hovercat, avalanche-controlling. Now Dan’s asleep at their farm, which the family has inhabited since before the first Civil War. Louisa runs the ticket office but she’s enjoying year two of her six-year maternity leave. “I can’t imagine going back. I might just retreat.”

Bill tells her he’s feeling the same way. She admits she recognized him from news media but didn’t say anything--when you’re in the resort trade, you leave celebs in peace. “You’re better looking than that fella who plays you in Baker’s Man. More rugged,” she tells him.

“I’m taller.” Bill explains that Morgan’s build is basically that of a toddler, with his outsized head and square body. Looks great on holo, but in real life the actor is a tad top-heavy.

“You’re real,” Louisa tells him. “I see how your eyes work.”

She’s right of course. He takes in the room, what is out of place--the man in the corner holding his seven-year-old too tightly by the arm, the child leaking tears. The beer too close to the edge of the table and the elbow of the thirty-something college boy. Bill’s body automatically responds so that as he answers her, “You know how it is, you do something long enough,” he walks away, leaving her in charge of the brood. He catches the beer as it tips, takes a few steps, pivots and squats by the weeping child. Finds the pricey heating-cooling mitten which the man is angry about the child having misplaced, tucked behind the man’s own fancy apres-ski boot where he himself dropped it.

“You and--”

“Megan,” Bill tells Louisa. “Skiing.”

“Come over for chili and pie tonight.”

“We’d like that.” Mo is stroking Mary Louisa’s hair with all the fine motor control he can muster. “What do you say, Mo?”

“Mo,” says Mo.

Megan follows Candy through the trees. Megan has that cat-and-mouse, chase-scene feeling, pushing a little too fast as the trail narrows, kicking her turns into blind territory, daring herself to keep up with this near-expert. She feels the Bradys supplementing her quads. Someone has cleared this trail of saplings but the matures are closer than ideal. Candy skirts treewells, duck limbs, hop drops. Too much fun. They pop into a clearing, fly two ledges in a row, the second high enough their bodies stretch straight and their butts bounce off their heels when they land.

“Fuck,” Megan says, when at last Candy stops.

“Right?” she says. “You gotta meet Chooch. He’s fast.”

Okay, Megan thinks. That wasn’t fast.

Day sleeping is trippy. Dreams come and go and part of Danny’s mind is always aware of sunlight. He doesn’t work nights except in ski season, and never really adopts the nightwork schedule deeply, just lives it each year, feeling it age him disproportionately, never really rested from mid-December till May wash-out. No one has died in an avalanche at Le Conte for seven years and that’s what scares him. Every seven years for the last twenty-one the mountain has claimed a life, three lives fourteen years ago, always experts skiing columns that shouldn’t have broken loose but did. The backcountry crowd pushes safe--they know snow, but when they see that perfect run, they tilt the odds in their minds. The decision has to be made because first-tracks are first and someone is a short traverse behind. Off they go and, when the avalanche comes, it’s a surprise but it isn’t.

That’s why Danny sleeps the way he does, finishing work in the dark, having soniced the obvious dangers but wondering which of his friends--cause all the extremers are his buddies since he was a boy--are going to make the bad choice, and where. They don’t wear snowballs--multi-airbag suits--cause snowballs wreck the look they want for Instholo clips. The safe ways--having a St. Bernard flying above, ready to melt the snow down to a trapped skier--are expensive and take the badass element out of the game. Like the difference between free climbing and roboroped. So they just ski it out, try to find cover if shelf shears under or above.

In Danny’s nightmares snow compresses, white turns to black. Light is shut out. Powder presses to concrete around limbs--his own, not his own. Life ends.

Cane is warming up, first run of the year on the sunny intermediate run, “Southern Man,” tacky name, great slope. He’s working his turns, feeling his old injuries--the hip, the knee--almost like friends after all this time, companionable and only faintly limiting. He spots a man skiing with a forward-facing kid on his belly and it takes him straight back to skiing with his own toddlers. Let them get the feel for it--the air on their faces, the tilt and glide--so that when they get their training skis, they’ll be ready. Priya, Ishani, Doran, Chrystal, and Chenghiz, his five, all had at least a couple days in the papapoose.

Cane doesn’t end up on the lift with the man and his baby until twenty-five minutes later, having done a second run to the father’s careful one.

“Sweet day,” Cane says.

“Perfect,” the dad tells him, son in lap. The chair floats up the mountain, weather-shield blocking wind and cold. Other chairs float nearby, teenagers smoking and listening to music, though no sound emerges. You can tell what beat they’re hearing by their nodding heads. Smoke swirls out of vents behind them. Some will need stemcell lung work in a decade, not pleasant, but try telling them that, he and the dad agree. Might as well talk to the clouds.

The man is Bill, his son Mo, short for Maurice. The three of them ski together, Cane always happy to ski slow, and something about the man, Bill, a detective on paternity, striking a chord in him. Cane has more women friends than men, but he is of the generations that believe in gender and he feels comfortable with men. The no-sex component simplifies things, even if it is regressive and cis and binary and whatnot. He can’t admit it to his kids or God forbid grandkids, each generation inventing new thought and behavioral strictures, but he’s an old dog not interested in new tricks. Mo is a fun boy, smiling up a storm and making crazy squealing sounds when the men pick up a little speed.

“Five kids, huh,” Bill says when they’re floating up again. “Three breedmates.”

“Linda wants another one,” Cane tells him. “She’s got two from her first two breedmates but it’s been fifty years and she never had a girl. She wants to select. My sister thinks we’re too old, I’m too old.” Cane shrugs.

“Go for it,” Bill tells him as the chair sets them down and floats off. “Hell, look at you two.” Cause Cane is fitting Mo into the papapoose and Mo is laughing and patting Cane on the helmet. “You’re a natural.”

“Yessir,” Cane says as they ski off side by side. “That I am.”

“You too?” Megan says. She likes to talk while they make love. It’s a game, conversing, her expression neutral while she grinds onto him. He is supposed to mirror her calm expression, let his hips move while the rest of him is still. It’s like ballroom dancing. He’s getting better at it.

“A woman and her baby. Both Louisas, both wear a lot of pink. We’re invited for chili and pie.”

“You mean chili pie.”

“No. Both.”

“What time? What should we bring?”

“Seven. Pop. They have beer.”

“She said pop?”


“Haven’t heard that in a while,” Megan says.

“Pop,” Bill says. “Oops.”

“Funny.” It was kinda funny.

“What about you?”

“Candy. Met her on the bus. She skis like… She really skis.”

“I know about Candy.”

“What do you--”

“We met Cane.”

“With the Louisas?”

“No. On ‘Southern Man.’ In the afternoon.”

“You have been busy. Can you believe they called them Candy and Cane?”


Megan rolls off him. A conversational murmur comes from the monitor of the one-way sensory travel crib. Mo is taking his afternoon nap, a little late. Bill slides down her.

“They fell into a volcano,” Bill says, then makes Megan sigh.


“The parents.”

“Well, the names are bad,” Megan says, sweetly because of Bill. “But not volcano bad.”

A seriously grizzled middle-aged man opens the door. Bill and Megan introduce themselves and Mo to Louisa’s husband Dan.

The place is archeologically messy, layered on top with baby equipment, ski clothes and gear, dog paraphernalia, a grey cat, fishing gear, a redbone coonhound, a loom, horse tack, monolithic brown furniture. On the battered walls a history of photography and family--sepia box-camera productions from both sides of the first Civil War, unsmiling black-and-whites, then into the color era, digital, on to still holographs, wigglers, and framed vidclips. Against the right hand wall a ski tuning table, a collection of live animal traps from sizes mouse to coon, telescopes. On the right another long table, a jarring area, bundles of herbs drying, fruits and meats in desiccators. Under the table more saddles, a bluetick coonhound, a smaller loom. In the corner behind a teepee of skis a mama cat with a litter of five baseball-sized kittens awake with closed eyes.

Mo staggers to Mary Louisa and says in a voice like gravel on cardboard, Quite a place you’ve got here. My house floats in the sky. It’s not my real house which is next to my swingset. I brought Tensil and Mike--they’re in my travel crib. How was your nap? Why are those cats the size of socks balled up? You smell great. Does your Mom put perfume on you after she wipes your poop off? Mine uses cologne. Don’t I smell good? I couldn’t stop thinking about you while I was supposed to be napping. My legs were going crazy, and my left arm. I know it’s silly, but I think I’m falling in love with you. My parents met in second grade so there’s a family thing here. I’m not saying we have to commit. I’m just saying let’s not rule anything out.

Mary Louisa plops down on her butt and reaches up to him. He falls on top of her and when they are disentangled (Mo’s coat cushions the fall, and part of the disentanglement involves mothers pulling it off of him while he is rolled left then right, arms extended like a tiny stuntman), she answers him a voice that sounds like rain on tin, high and plinky, Hold your horses, Big Guy. I like you and I was thinking about you in the tub, but not all crushes lead to lifelong intimacy. Maybe this is just a vacation thing. How much do you really know about me? Wait till you see me turn the color of a tomato after I’ve screamed until I can’t breathe. Wait till I throw chicken and peas at you before you decide I’m the one. Those little cats are like poops but they’re alive. I haven’t really figured it out. Cats don’t like it when you pull their tails. Wanna bounce up and down in the doorway? I’ve got a guest bouncy seat next to mine. The guest seat isn’t as good--you can’t bounce as high--but it works. Do you like going high? Do you like spinning? I never get dizzy. My cousin Jer throws up. You do smell good. Yeah, I wear Lady Fortune--the floral notes are a little bright but it covers up that weird zinc ointment smell from my butt butter. You’re wearing Forest aren’t you? Little musky for the under-three-foot man, but it hides that talcum-powder-nutsack-desiccant they dipped you in. How many teeth do you have? We’re having hot dogs chopped up so we won’t choke, and overcooked carrot disks. They’re having beans and meat in a red sauce that tastes like vinegar crossed with hellfire that you can’t spit out fast enough.

“Can I help you?” Megan asks.

“Can you ever,” Louisa says, hugging her, and not just ceremonially but warmly, tightly, as if to learn all about her. “I need about twenty hours a week, if you’ve got it. It would be nice to sleep enough, shower once a day, and think about something besides crushed bananas, naps, diapers and Little Fur Family, a book I liked up till the three thousandth time I read it--Allah save me if I skip a word. Mary Louisa makes me start over. I mean it was mah favorite when Ah was a little girl (the rest of what Louisa says is in a Southern accent too). But you mean can you help right now? Sure.”

She leads Megan deeper into the treasure-filled cave of a house and there is yet another long scarred table on which they arrange cloths, eating bowls and serving bowls with shredded cheddar, sour cream, wooden bowls of corn bread dotted with jalapeño. Coleslaw, butter, hot sauces with funny names in small bottles. Half the bowls are indestructible yet chipped porcelain, half mismatched fine china, thin-shelled, gold-rimmed. They put out sippy cups of milk, mugs for beer, water, pop. Stacks of napkins which, like the clothes spread end to end on the long table, are embroidered linen, stained though clean, not ironed for maybe seventy years. Half the utensils are silver, heavy to touch, the other half mismatched steelware. The baby spoons are silver, with curled handles that enclose the baby’s hand like brass-knuckles.

“So you’re a MMA phenom, a psychotherapist, and a structural engineer?”

Megan nods, though she could say she isn’t a fighter so much as an extremely promising でし to many competing masters. As far as engineering goes, she’s just a consultant, but one who has recently been chief on a project in suburban Душанбе, where a friend needs her help with office tower water-stalsis. Squeezy tubes pushing it up clean, and gravity pulling clean- and waste-water out. She’s been collaborating with bio-engineers who have convinced her the orgo-pipes are finally competitive with the traditional pipes. It takes guts to put guts in office towers, especially near ventilation systems, where the shit could hit the fan at altitude. But Megan has prototypes squeezing away on three continents, with only one incident of incontinence, luckily from a clean uptube.

As far as psychotherapy goes, that’s steady. For a decade Megan was subject to her own Geschäftszeitenbegierde, hours greed. At last she settled down and only does as much as she can handle without getting foggy and what she calls moto-clinical--a state characterized by empathy for everyone but her own family. To her mild surprise this occupational hazard has been little studied, and she wrote a well-regarded paper, “Don’t Love Me Now, I’m Working,” in which she broke down the causes and effects of too much toil in her third chosen field.

“Lucky you’ve got Bill,” Louisa tells her, handing her a logging-camp-size pot of chili that smells smoky and has chunks of kielbasa in it.

“I need him. I tell him. He likes that.”

“Aren’t you smart.”

She bangs a poker on a pendant triangle--the dinner bell. A very sleepy young man appears. “Danny,” Louisa says. “Megan, Bill, and that’s little Mo.” Everyone takes hands including the high chair pair, Louisa holding one of each of their tiny hot ones. Megan takes Mary Louisa’s other hand, Danny hold Mo’s.

“Great to be together. Good to make new friends,” Louisa says. “May everything continue except for things that should stop.”

آمين‎,” the Alaimo-McInty’s say and the Baker-Burkes murmur.

“We haven’t been here all this time,” Dan tells Bill, answering his question. “The place has been abandoned and reoccupied by Alaimos and McInty’s a couple times. Usual pattern, kids off to the big city, but then somebody always slunk back. The longest complete family absence was six years during the second Civil War. Gramma Tessie was a diehard Pounder, and her daughter Christine went off to ag school and came home talking inverse Planck constants. When the fighting started, Gramma joined the Pounder cavalry and threw Christine out. Then Metrics swept through chasing Gramma and her troop south, took over the house for their headquarters. They were here eighteen months but being Metrics, they took pretty good care of the place. Hell, they improved the hell out of it.” He points to all but concealed vents on the floor that are connected to geothermals.

“Wait. I thought you said Christine was New Measure.”

“Gramma joined the Cavalry. She was a hundred and seventy, the Pounder’s second-oldest trooper. That’s her saddle.” Dan indicates a Jenifer, half covered in a chintz rose-pattern, on top of a pile of horse blankets.

“How did it end?” Bill asks. Intrafamily violence is something with which he has some experience.

“After the Measures Measures, Gramma Tessie rode back in with nothing worse than a few laser burns. Then Christine showed up with a new leg and a sonar ear. She and Gramma took each other’s measure so to speak and made their peace. Cooked together, but only by eye, no calibration. Grandpa Daniel called it the pax romano.

The chili is heavy with beans and pork, fiery under the sour cream, over the cornbread. The beer is sweet and dark. Bill feels like a warrior in a Southwestern Valhalla. The grown son can’t stop looking at him.

“I read about you,” Danny says finally. “My friends were all Baker’s Man heads.”

“We don’t have a holo,” Louisa says. “Never have.”

“You read--”

“Books.” Danny crosses the wide room, stands on a tall-backed chair, peels sailcloth off of what turns out to be a bookshelf. He rolls the canvas up on top of the shelf and pulls out Thompson’s Baker’s Man. Bill and Megan exchange a look. There are only a hundred thousand copies. A couple million ebooks move steadily through the digisphere. Bill hasn’t seen a realback outside of his own house in a while. Danny handles it with care. He shows Bill how the book opens of its own accord to the best-known story, “Apple Falls,” about Bill’s best known case, the anti-innovation-murder that was the beginning of the end of the corporation.

“We’re all readers,” Dan says sheepishly. “Just can’t seem to get the hang of moving pictures.”

“Honey,” Louisa chimes in. “No one says moving pictures. You make it sound like we spin our own yarn and weave our own drawers.” There’s a moment of silence before the general laughter acknowledges the spindles and looms.

“Hey,” Danny says. “I fly a Cat. I’m New.” He turns to Bill, still starstruck. “I could take you up, if you want to see the mountains and you don’t mind early.”

“I’d like that. Megan would too but--”

“Settled,” Louisa says. “Yall sleep here tonight. Danny will show you the Smokies before sunrise. Mo will bunk with Mary Louisa.”

“I have a ski date,” Megan says. “With Candy and somebody named Chooch.”

“Oh, Honey,” Louisa tells her. “You better turn in.”

But Meghan doesn’t turn in. The pie is pecan, and she has two slices with ice cream. The talk turns to her work, and next thing they know, Megan and Dan clear some space to wrestle. Dan was all-state. He starts out doing what they all do, trying not to hurt Megan what with his reach, height, and experience. After finding himself moving mysteriously through the air out of what he thought was a stable crouch, thumping onto his back as Megan lands on his chest, her knees stunning the brachial nerves in his arms, he reconsiders. The thumps mildly interest Momo, the mother cat, who blinks languidly as she nurses her five. Momo has more than the usual number of markings, calico or tortoiseshell and white, with splotches of black and orange on her face and a mostly white belly. Strangely, Dan’s concentration and new lack of concern for Megan has no effect on the outcomes of their clinches. They begin in the traditional one-person-on-knees-and-hands, the other reaching across-the-first-person’s-back. Megan flows like quicksilver around and over Dan, or under him pulling him into rolls he does not intend.

“I’ll be damned,” he says after the fourth pin.

Payuq, I’ll break it down for you.”

But even when Dan knows what Megan’s about to do, he can’t stop her. It’s like she shrinks a couple sizes out of his holds and snaps him out from under himself, like a blanket she is whipping to its length along the floor.

“Sneaky,” is all he says, and chuckles.

“Sneaky.” Megan settles into the high position on him. “I like that.”

It would be another dozen years before Megan became a Master and founded her Montreal school, घर, home to Sneaky Style.

Linda knows.

“Linda, Lisa. Lisa, Linda,” Cane says anyway, and orders a huckleberry virgin julep and a Manhattan for Linda. Lisa is cool, putting her elbows on the bar and leaning close, inviting Linda into a just us girls moment about how good Linda looks in her snakeskin sheath and iridescent cape. Lab furs and skins brought fashion right back to where it was in the live-animal era, but without the cruelty. Linda has always looked her best in beast. The gold roses in her ears and the triangle of gold at her clavicle don’t hurt either--Cane is traditional when it comes to love gifts--gold, diamonds, pearls. Gold itself isn’t worth the gold it’s made of since ᚉᚐᚔᚈᚂᚔᚅ Lieper hauled down the ᚌᚑᚂᚇᚓᚅ ᚑᚏᚁ and started the asteroid mining boom, but somehow it’s still a girl’s second best friend. Thank God Lisa’s not wearing the bracelet he gave her, twin to one of Linda’s. Looking at how comfortable Lisa is with the situation, you’d think Cane isn’t the only hotel guest whose bed she shares on a yearly basis. Sigh, sighs Cane. One is surprised. One is never as sophisticated as one thinks.

“She’s lovely,” Linda says generously. Not a hint of accusation, just observation.

Silence, Cane says. Not even a nod. He’s learned a thing or two in the last hundred years. Sixty years ago he would have introduced a new topic--how happy he was when he found Linda in his room. (She just showed up to surprise him.) What kind of trouble her oldest Brad has gotten himself into this week. But now he just lets time flow. Yes, Linda knows he’s sleeping with Lisa, not just the last four days but the last forty years. She apparently decided to put a pause to it, if not a stop, by appearing unannounced in his room at the Buckberry. No, Cane has never mentioned Lisa, though he has made no secret of the happy nature of his yearly check-seeking ski trips. Yes, Linda suspected he would have had either a repeat lover in the Smokies or just found adventures on the fly. Perhaps now that she is thinking of making a baby with him, she’s not okay with that.

Bygones. Abstraction. Woman or women with a small w. This is not Woman, this is Lisa, with those cheekbones, those shoulders, that swagger. Whatever Linda’s attitude was before, now it is volatile. So Cane says a very quiet nothing, a silence which lasts through the mocktail and 炒り子 nosh, five twilight minutes. Cane employs breathing and calming techniques without even thinking I should employ breathing and calming techniques and voilà, the olive branch has floated through quiet timespace and been accepted by Linda without her even knowing she was considering blocking it. Damn, Cane thinks not for the fiftieth time as she weaves her fingers through his, If I had known then what I know now, I’d still be with Marcy, his first breed-partner. But of course he hadn’t known then and if he had, he would have found some other way to undercut that placid love--he was young and dumb, barely a hundred-and-fifty.

He stands and yes, looks at Lisa, smiles, fully turned toward her--no guilt, no subterfuge. “Later,” he says, neither emphatically nor ingenuously, and off he and Linda go toward the lobby to meet Sis and Chooch for their dinner out somewhere expensive he doesn’t have to even think about.

The HoverCat moves over the snow with a rocking gait, both smooth and cumbersome. Danny arrives at a point where he thinks the pack should be tested or just shaken loose. He pauses and releases a thumping pressure wave which Bill feels in his large intestine. The transparent floor takes getting used to too and allows both Danny and Bill to see the surface undulate and start to slide.

They pause, bobbing, below Clingmans Dome. “Definitely want this fracture now,” Danny tells him, pointing out the creekbed runout zone. There would be no rescue of a skier anywhere deep in the pile they are about to put there. “Give it a try?” So Bill does, squeezing the trigger with his thumb, reminiscent of the accelerator he used to run his father’s eight-old-inch slot cars when he was a boy. And just as then, he doesn’t have the touch, so pops a blast of pressure releasing a massive slab.

Danny laughs. “I wanted that graupel out,” he says. “You’ll get the feel after a few.”

They float over the summits and head to Little River. Heavy pack, rime shining in quarter-moonlight. Where the pitch exceeds thirty degrees Danny gives sastrugi on the long slope below Le Conte a good shove, but it holds. Hovers along, testing.

“Popular hill. Don’t want to blow it out.” Bill grunts. Job a lot like his, knowing something might go fatally wrong, guessing, checking in here and there. Spine divides the field from a wide column on the north-northeast shoulder of the mountain. A boulder field part way down gives the illusion of shelter. “Snow coming tomorrow night.” What he doesn’t tell Bill is that The Count is also where five skiers Danny knows of have died, close to the Chickamauga burial ground. Teenagers say the reason people keep dying here is because, in 1811, Felix Grundy dug up the mounds looking for loot, scattering bones and pilfering the famous three-foot rainbow ceremonial bowl with the mysterious shade of purple they all learned about at school. Experts can’t figure out the source of the pigment.

On the stable side of the trail a bear moves swiftly along the treeline. No, Bill thinks, a man.

“Chooch,” Danny tells him.

“I thought he was guiding Candy and Megan.”

“Yup. Having fun before his work day.”

Bill watches the man ripple up the mountain. The effort, the hour, is hard to connect to recreation, the complement to work, which is apparently what taking one’s girlfriend and her new friend skiing is, for Chooch.

They head to Big Frog.

Cane looks at his portfolio and swallows hard. The secret to being an artist is not thinking about money too much or often--if one did, one wouldn’t make art, one would get a job. “You always have more money than you think you have,” Peter Piper taught him. He was an all-around mentor, imparting writing skills, philosophy and technique, sure, but not stopping there. Perhaps more vitally giving Cane life lessons, how to float alongside regular people and get art done. The starving artist is an archetype which no earth surplus of food, energy or shelter will ever erase. The challenge of making art is identity which, in a shame culture, is tied to the commoditization of art, a system in which only the famous and financially successful artist is given the grudging nod. The artist’s career has its high and low points and, except in very rare instances, costs rather than brings money. The living is made peripherally, for the writer, teaching as Peter Piper did, or adorning the halls and walls of the wealthy in the case of the plastic artist, singing comprehensibly and pleasingly for one’s supper for the musical artist, being seductive and charming or appealingly scary for the actor. Instead of teaching, Cane chose the parallel path of the father-and-homemaker to three breadwinning breedmates. It helped too that he had a sister with a good job, bourgeois mortal parents. His job is to be a member of his class, and he does this well. Still, a person has to have and manage some money, and today is one of those days when Cane suddenly has managed to have a lot less.

He brushes his fingers over the eparchment, trying to figure what happened. He placed a small wager--well, a moderate wager, okay a mighty bet--on dollars, a new currency actually made of paper and based, get this, on gold. Sure, gold fell to prices unimaginably low after Caitlín Lieper went into space in her modified Nova (shuttlecraft named after the notorious twentieth-century Ford advertising gaff) and hauled the golden asteroid into orbit around Earth, where it was successfully mined until only a few hundred thousand tons remained, not enough to go back for. What makes the gold standard so appealing, and what made Cane put all his chips on Federal Reserve as the startup was called, was that no one in their right mind was ever going to mine gold again. It is the most stable commodity in the world, both chemically and financially. New uses will always be found for it, and it will never go away as an ornamental, but its value is limited by its properties and its abundance. So that’s the metal side.

The paper side is two-fold. Everyone is fed up with crypto, once anonymous, now trackable to the second and inch. Folks want to spend on the sly, to spend money without leaving a footprint. Then there’s the nostalgic side. Federal Reserve dollars, printed on ancient presses on vintage cotton-linen paper, give a spender a Wild West feeling. Pulling a rubber-banded roll of cash out of one’s pocket and peeling off a couple bills. Dealing from one’s stack of crisp notes. One can’t get enough of these moves.

When Federal Reserve went public, Cane put okay eighty percent of all the money he had into the IPO. Measured? I suppose not, he admits now, cold sweat between his shoulder blades. He can only imagine what Candy would have said if he had consulted her. Still, for the first decade he had felt quite clever, as the stock doubled, doubled again, split, kept rising. He was almost rich for a while there--not Candy rich, but not ever having to worry about making ends meet.

He taps News and thinks Federal Reserve, holding his thone close to his forehead as if that will speed up the neurolink. Scans articles feverishly. Counterfeiting. Fake dollars found in ⵎⵓⵜⵀⵔⵍⴰⵏⴷ, отечество, 家园. His mind can’t take it in--the whole point of paper money was security. Federal Reserve insisted the denominations stay small because that way the paper currency would not be worth the paper it was printed on. Were some artisanal makers, who increasingly made hackers look unsophisticated, printing and using fake dollars just for fun? Yes, this is what he is reading--they are making and giving away pallets of cash for a laugh, in order to disrupt. Federal Reserve is in a nose dive. Cane blinks, reads. The value of the stock won’t come into focus. It doesn’t make sense. It is a small number, and it is of course in dollars, not dinars, so it always came with a suffix of zeros. Until today.

When Megan and Candy arrive at the base lodge for mid-morning break and warmth, Chooch has his usual mountain lunch laid out--hard boiled eggs, a large unpeeled carrot, a hunk of cheddar cheese, three dried out slices of pumpernickel. He has a bota bag of mulled cider but is drinking hot water from the lodge in his collapsible cup. Candy has tried to get him to eat like a tourist or at least to give up his wanderer ways, but he explained that he can pack this lunch in under a minute and that it is just what he needs nutritionally midway through a mountain day. Plus he likes it. It’s also a welcome break from the fancy lunches he has to plan, buy, pack, carry and serve when he guides clients. When he isn’t guiding he skis, eats, sleeps on the fringes, in his vehicles or snow caves he digs.

Candy kisses him lingeringly, showing off to her new friend.

“How was Le Conte?” she asks, after introducing Megan.

“Good snow. Windy below Possum.” He describes a few more trails and what was apparently three laps on two mountains. Megan realizes he has been skiing since two-thirty in the morning and has already covered four thousand vertical meters. “You sleep well?”

“Like a lamb,” Candy tells him. They exchange a look like teenagers who nobody is supposed to know about. With a slight effort, they include Megan in their circle and Chooch tells them their itinerary. He is all guide, making it clear that what they will do will be both fun and challenging but that he is certain they can handle it. He walks through the cafeteria line with them, supervising their lunches as if they were kids who don’t know what’s good for them. He modifies Megan’s choices into a higher-fat lower-volume higher-electrolyte menu. Half an hour later they are hiking up the mountain at a pace that Megan finds excessive and Chooch clearly cannot make any slower. Candy is between the two of them both physically and in terms of pace, chatting with Megan so she doesn’t have to talk, calling Chooch’s name or asking him questions to remind him they are not right behind him. This goes on for three days and two nights or so. Megan hits bottom, then finds a second wind, then gets extremely tired, then finds a third wind, then is just trembling and deeply exhausted for an immeasurable interval, which turns out to have been just over ninety minutes.

At last they balance on Chimney Tops in the sunshine, drink from one of Chooch’s bota bags and each eat a third of a big carrot. Turns out it’s only been an hour and forty-five minutes since lunch. “Carrots keep you regular,” Chooch tells Megan, “even when you’re squeezing your butt cheeks all day. That and cider.” He opens his coat and it turns out there are nine bota bags on different lengths of loop, four on one side, five on the other. The cider is Chooch’s body temperature. He exudes a strong odor that a woman who doesn’t wrestle men would find unfamiliar and unpleasant. But Megan is drawn to it and there is a mammalian moment where Candy somehow knows this--a moment Chooch is used to from guiding women but that Candy hasn’t been in the middle of before. Then they are in deep snow on a long traverse mercifully just downhill enough to glide. They reach an open notch and follow Chooch’s long turns, he having suggested that avalanche conditions are such that they should stay inside his column.

Megan experiences the doubleness that always comes with learning from an expert. She emulates the transition of Chooch’s torso across his center. But the snow that moves like water around him is thick and inconstant under her skis and throws her backwards and forwards. She knows what she wants to do but is not there. It’s Chooch’s strength and weight but mostly his placement that allows him to glide while she is always playing jerky catchup with herself. Again, Candy is the happy medium, not as balanced as Chooch but faster and smoother than Megan. It is a maximum learning moment. It’s as if she’s back in Detroit in a fighting space, taking in, making things up, finding solutions, competing. Chooch stops mid-mountain, then Candy. Megan is far enough back that Chooch has ample time to observe her.

“Nice,” Chooch says, with slightly more than obligatory teacher encouragement. “Now here’s what you need to do.” He begins smacking her not lightly with his ski poles as he describes turns of different types under different conditions. She is getting stuck in her lunges, she is made to understand with thwacks. She is overcrossing her downhill shoulder. She is weirdly opening her left wrist on the pole plant. Overtwisting her right hip past the fall line.

Chooch then has all of them breathe and look at mountains for a while, and off they go. Megan does better at first and wishes Chooch would pause and see her. She will never transcend the desire for acknowledgement and praise, particularly from father figures. Chooch does not pause. Part of his method and one Megan is familiar with is to forge ahead. Strength and technique follow the necessities of endurance and the pack instinct to keep up or be left behind to die. By the time Chooch does stop, because they have reached the valley below Luftee Knob, Megan has gotten tired and reverted to all the bad habits. Chooch doesn’t comment, the equivalent to Megan of a slap across the face. The upshot of this is that Megan will not rest until she has another ski day, an opportunity to show the master her progress. She will sleep badly until then. This learning and showing and need-for-acknowledgement-and-praise is her strength as a power-learner and her curse as far as relaxing and feeling good about herself goes. All this she accepts in much the same way as she accommodates her body’s talents, limits, and quirks.

They make their way back onto the marked trails and Chooch and Candy keep her with them as they sashay through mogul fields. Megan’s legs are rubber and it’s all she can do not to sit back on her skis and beeline it to the bottom. Chooch knows she is maxed and mercifully closes the day out with a lift-assisted hour.

The three of them part company in the parking lot, Chooch enveloping Candy in his winglike arm. Megan is used to strong men, but Chooch is limber and expansive with an understated knowledge of himself in space that would make him interesting to fight or to make love with. He and Candy stride off, she snug against Chooch’s ribs.

Megan calls an UberUber for the short vertical flight to the slope-sky’d condo.

Bill and Mo have done it all. Gotten dressed, skied, napped, eaten, bathed, practiced walking, watched TV meaning HV (holovision--Bill predates it. and still calls HV TV), had a dance party, melted down and cried, cheered up, used a diaper thoroughly, gotten detailed. Where’s Mommy is what everybody wants to know and when she arrives Mo lights up like she’s the real parent and Bill a less-than-favorite babysitter Mo’s been humoring since morning. Love, pure love, and more than that excitement, as if in the presence of royalty and fame, beauty, talent, money--that’s what Mo showers on Megan, who reflects the adoration, excitement and love right back onto him. The two of them in a place that doesn’t so much exclude Bill as blow right past him, an express train of happiness that leaves him standing on the local platform. Which is actually fine because he’s so fucking tired and desperate for solitude. He loves being Dad but it leaves so little room for self-involvement, and man can’t live on love, connection, and usefulness alone. He also needs to stare into space, scratch his balls, daydream, watch random holos, catch up on news that is at once tedious and riveting. He needs to think about himself and nothing. So he goes to the bedroom and is not really jealous of the squeals of delight Mo produces as Megan talks and plays with him. Did he delight Megan like that? He does evoke similar joy in Mo when it’s Dad who hasn’t been seen in a day, Megan has been at home and is old hat, and he Dad has become the magnificent fun-monger who can romp and tickle Mo to ecstasy. But does he make Megan as happy as Mo does? No. Bill amuses her, sometimes even intentionally, but he never elicits the pure rapture he hears in her voice now, twining with her son’s.

When Bill wakes up, Megan is climbing into bed. Mo must be asleep in his rig.

“How was it?”

“Awful,” Megan says happily. “I sucked.”

“Candy’s guy is all that, huh?”

“Chooch is a beast. I slowed them down all day and that was redlining, I mean full out.”


“We’re going again tomorrow. Is that okay?”

“Sure. Mo and I are fine.” But Bill was hoping to ski without the boy for a few hours. He’s been full time with Mo for two days. He had a tentative plan to ski with Cane, just the two of them, at adult speeds. Vacation with a toddler, he thinks not for the twentieth time, is not for the amateur dad. No, vacation is when you dig deep and draw on those inner resources of patience, creativity and grit that separates the poser from the real man. Tomorrow he will mine that lode again and he will appreciate the time with Mo, just the two of them for another twelve hours, if it kills him.

It is midafternoon on the third day that Megan skis with Candy and Chooch that they meet Cane and Bill. For the first time Megan is successfully hanging with the big dog, not nipping at Chooch’s heels but keeping up with Candy and feeling that she has jumped a level and that her teacher radiates approval. They are crossing the meridian of the south-facing descent from Le Conte and Chooch says “stick close” because this is avalanche terrain again and the rhythm of snowfall in the previous days has created a hollow of rotten crystal beneath a hood of new fall, Chooch explained at the top. But the surface layer is the best snow of the season--light enough to push, dense enough to hold one’s skis in a stable embrace. They make a junior goose formation, just three geese, Chooch lead of course, Megan on skier’s left above him, Candy right, an equilateral triangle in descent, the three of them feeling that avian ecstasy of coordinated maneuver.

Megan feels the low-resonance shudder that makes her think of a low jet. Chooch takes his turn into a long U and starts climbing uphill toward his two goslings, moving his legs, his like arms, faster than such length would seem capable of articulation. Did Megan know it was an avalanche? She knew it was a problem. She recognized the quality of emergency in Chooch’s movement, as if he was breaking a death hold.

Cane later described it this way: Bill and I saw my sister and Chooch skiing with Bill’s wife. I took off down Le Conte to join them. After the first few tellings, he believed himself.

The truth was that he saw Candy and he saw the field of powder, maybe thirty-five degrees off horizontal, and was he an avalanche expert? Did he know LeConte was where five skiers had been buried, one disaster every seven years, over the last half-century? Actually, he did know this. Everyone who skied successive seasons here knew. But did Cane know that freaky shit about the native burial ground that the rescue kid Danny told him on the Cat flight out after the avalanche? Did he know about shearing, slabs, collection points? That’s where it gets murky. He didn’t but he did. Never had a course or read about avalanches, but knew about snow from years of skiing. Knew for instance the most dangerous slope was not the steepest, which shed snow, but the very skiable moderate steep. Did he start an avalanche on purpose? That would be way too harsh. But if he was honest, and he was when he was alone that first night when he was finally alone, just before he cracked open the scotch from the minifridge, he would have to have told it like this: I saw Sis. I saw the snow. I wondered for an instant deep in my mind whether it was safe to head down straight above them, straight on top of her and her friends. I did it anyway. All hell broke loose.

Then there was that other thought that he held at arm’s length, looking at it only squint-eyed, allowing it to be a passing thought but never embraced as a description of what happened. I thought about her money, the thought would have been. An avalanche of money that would bury her and that I would ski right up on top of.

Candy never saw the snow until after. She was laughing. Why was Chooch stopping? Why did his vadyl turn into a u-turn? Why was he climbing, his long arms wide in the air, up slope toward her? The goof! He hugged her and picked her up like a sack of potatoes--that’s what her mother would have said. Was he playing with her? Was he going to lean in and kiss her, with Megan right there? No, this was more like a tackle in which the runner is hit so hard momentum is reversed. The air was punched out of her body and she felt cross even before he veered right and lifted Megan up too. In that instant Candy was not pleased that Chooch was picking up this other woman, even if she was Candy’s new friend. Jealous that Chooch was goofing around not with Candy but with both women at once.

Then Chooch crouched, Candy tucked under his left wing and Megan his right, spreading them long over the snow, backs down, faces, eyes on him and the pale blue afternoon sky. He sprang, the women floating on their backs under the sun as if in a mock lifeguard rescue on a lake. Chooch face down, skis horizontal above his bent legs. Still Candy didn’t see the snow--a tangled pile of it they told her later--rush past. She just saw Chooch above her as she floated.

Bill hasn’t witnessed murder in over a year. Here it is again in the sharp, clear light at the top of LeConte. What does murder feel like? It’s the tingle of the cold air. What does it look like? It is the sharp black of a wet rock against white snow. Thought accelerates downhill as the realization comes--something happening in the man beside him. He sees the set of Cane’s shoulders, the integration of the man’s gaze at his sister far below him. The sudden thrust of his chest, legs straightening. It is as if a hawk begins a plunge from sky to field.

Money, of course. What was it Cane told him casually on the wandola this morning, floating up Styx Branch from Huggins Base to Myrtle Point? Not the least concerned about the other four passengers, as if what he was saying was impersonal? “Lost a bundle.” That was all.

Cane’s sister Candy, Megan had told him a couple days back, brought her brother money every year. Their yearly trips to the Smokies were a tradition, the handing over of a paper check of all things an enactment of protection and love. Not enough, Bill thinks as his mind clicks into that almost forgotten state, that of bearing witness to violence. Cane droops toward, at his sister. Not enough love and protection from her this year. The snow slab moves with Cane for a moment--like an optical illusion. Is he travelling? Then the man is standing on almost bare ground, the snow dropping away from him like a quilt being pulled off a bed.

Chooch doesn't curse himself--no time. But what is he doing on the open slope on a sunny afternoon with two advanced ladies sure but with no avalanche training or gear? Later, maybe, he will tell himself he is a damn fool, a showoff, and should have his guiding license suspended, wanting his girl and her talented friend, who he admits brings out the worst in him with her uncanny ability to assimilate technique--wanting to ski in front of them in the hero snow that would make all three of them, but especially vain ass him in front, look fine--contrails of powder streaming from wide leaning turns. Later, he will tell himself he shouldn’t have been in the bowl under those conditions in the first place.

Because that rumble was big snow and he doesn’t decide anything. Just J’s his last turn uphill and sprints the short haul to where the women have pulled almost to a stop. Yes, they are just close enough to each other. He hits Candy hard , then Megan, squats and launches with both of them held against him. He remembers thick bunched shuddering snow tumbling over itself toward them. He remembers seeing Suchimo Boulder, which supposedly looks like the famous sachem in profile. Airborne he did have time to think I hope I’m downhill of Suchimo not about to ram my damn fool head into him and break my neck, serve me right.

“Ow,” Candy tells him. Cane is hugging too hard, and is that whiskey in his glass and on his breath? It is whiskey. How long has it been since she’s seen him with a drink? Only seventy-seven years. “Easy, brother.” As casually as she can, too casually and transparently so. “What’s the occasion?”

Cane looks at his tumbler half full of amber as if he didn’t know it is there on the table.

“You’re safe,” he says.

Candy toasts him with her martini.

“To Chooch,” Cane says, too loud. “Superman on skis.”

He makes Candy describe again the impact of his tackle, the short flight, the landing in deep snow below the famous rock that looks like a man’s profile. Seeing the sea of white and brown rumble past to settle in the stream bed, filling it completely from bank to bank, more snow that Candy thought was on the whole mountain. Understanding then slowly that the three of them could and would have been underneath that had Chooch not done that crazy uphill tackle and jump. Tears rolling down as his body rocked with sobs, saying, “I’m sorry.” The two women comforting the big man as if he were a child, Megan shushing him, Candy kissing away his tears. How long were they there? Minutes before Danny dropped the hovercat onto the snow beside them.

“How many?” the kid shouted in Chooch’s face. He looked enraged.

“Just us,” Chooch told him.

“I started it,” Cane tells Candy now, in the bar. “I could’ve killed you. All of you.”

“You and Bill started it,” Candy corrects him, though she doesn’t really know. “But really it just happened. It was an avalanche.”

Cane nods agreement just a hair too fast, part of Candy registers. As if he was waiting for her to say just that. Not disagreeing that Bill was as much the cause of the slide as he was.

A shiver runs up Candy’s spine. Shock, she tells herself. She remembers that vast accumulation of dirt and white, not so far below the boulder. She has an explanation for the spooky feeling, something about Cane above her on the mountainside. But she doesn’t think it. She leaves the thought buried, frozen.