For Philip Larkin
"You're not supposed to be here, kid."
He was old, at least thirty, with the bulky build of someone who'd spent some past time in high-g. His left hand rested on his hip and the nails were bitten, the skin around them inflamed. His index finger was a thing like gold and it made my heart beat faster when I saw it.
"I'd like to purchase passage on your ship. Sir."
The docks were empty. His was the single ship in the bay. Beyond the thick walls the always-present windows showed Saturn, its own rings grander and richer than anything as tawdry as my feeble human-made home. New Akra was like a cheap imitation of Saturn's rings, small and frail and chipped like an old lady's wedding ring. I had had enough of both.
Grey eyes looked me over. Fine wrinkles coalesced around them. "You a runaway?"
He must have seen the answer in my eyes. "I want to leave New Akra."
Home. The word is like an unscratched sore. I thought of my mother, in her hydroponics garden, of all the rotations of the Ring I had lived through so far. There is not much to do on a space Ring with your nearest neighbour being a gas giant. I wanted to see new places. Anywhere would do.
He barked a laugh. "Can't blame you. Still, I can't take you. I'd get into trouble with the House of Justice and my job depends on your people letting me trade here." He scratched an ear. "There're enough freight ships between here and Titan could take my place."
"I can pay," I said, desperately. I had three hundred dinars, printed money, and I pushed them at him.
He didn't move to take the money. His gaze moved over my body again, more thoughtfully this time. "Perhaps you can," he said at last, and waited until I nodded.
"Come with me."
He led me into the ship. It was a dark metallic triangle, blade sharp. Designed to go in and out of Titan's atmosphere and still have near-space capabilities. My first ship. It smelled like old unwashed socks and burnt food left in a small place for too long. Crew quarters were two small rooms enclosed in the belly of the ship. The rest, unseen, was—I imagined—engines and cargo. The forward room was the control room. The other was a small living area with a bed and a kitchenette.
He led me to the bedroom. When he spoke, his voice was very slightly changed, as if someone else was using his voice for a moment. "Stay in there. Don't make a noise until we take off. Don't touch anything."
He closed the door on me. I stayed in place, afraid to move, and waited. A part of me shouted inside, demanding to be let off, to go back home before anyone discovered I was missing. I shifted from foot to foot and tried not to listen to that inner call. I realised I needed to go to the toilets.
There had been voices in the other room and then footsteps and a door hermetically shutting. The change from New Akra's regulated gravity to sudden free-fall told me I had succeeded, that I was no longer on the Ring. Behind me, unseen but in my imagination, the Ring that was New Akra—black and revolving and thin—shrunk in the distance, dwarfed by Saturn and its rings. The door opened.
"You all right in there?"
I tried not to show how close I was to losing bladder control. "Would it be possible to use your toilets?"
Again that bark of laughter. "Through there."
When I came out he was leaning against the wall, examining me. His left thumb was splayed open before his mouth and he was worrying at a loose slice of skin. I watched the gold index finger. His Other? I felt apprehensive. I had never seen one before.
"I'm only going to Titan," he said. "That all right for you?"
I stood, feeling awkward, and watched him tear away the fold of skin and chew it thoughtfully. "Yes."
"Ever been to Titan?"
"No." I had never left New Akra.
He shook his head. "I wish you luck, kid. I really do." Again, the slight change of voice. "Take off your clothes."
I had agreed to his terms; had, in fact, anticipated them. That didn't make it any easier.
Jacket first, followed by T-shirt, boots, and jeans, all heaped up in a pile beside me. He watched as I took them off, and as I stood naked in front of him.
He stepped closer and moved behind me. I felt his breath on my naked back. His hand reached around me, grabbed my semi-erect penis. The Other felt cold against it, and I bit down a sigh.
His bitten fingers were practiced on my cock. He rubbed his thumb against my shaft until I groaned. Then he stopped.
"On the bed," he said. "Lie down."
His hands were on my shoulders and he pushed me, gently. He told me to lie on my stomach. I did, my erection pressing painfully into the mattress, listened to him taking off his clothes.
"Relax." His hands were on my buttocks, then between my legs. He raised me on my knees, slightly—it was an awkward position—and massaged my cock with what felt like moisturizer. I moaned loudly this time, and he pulled back and put his index finger against my anus, the material warm and hard and slick with the cream he used between my buttocks.
"I'm fine," I said. His finger went deeper, withdrew; I felt his erection then, pressing against me, then pushing unhurriedly inside, his left hand masturbating my cock.
Sex was short, and I came before he did. He fucked me from behind and as he did he put his hand in my mouth, the four bitten fingers and the gold. I tasted my shit on his Other.
We lay side by side after that. He reached for a cigarette and lit it. "Not your first time, is it, kid?"
He passed me the cigarette. I took a drag. It tasted sweet. I released the smoke in one long breath and said, "Not much to do on New Akra, most of the time."
Perhaps there wasn't. Perhaps that was why I left. The last time I saw my mother was the night I ran away. She was gardening. She had a small allotment and she grew different kinds of potatoes. She was installing a new drip-line in a row of Goldrushes when I came to her.
She called my name. Then, "You're back early."
"I need to pack. I'm going on a hiking trip with school to the rim forest, in case you'd forgotten."
She wiped dirt on her overalls. "I remember. So you've decided to go."
When she said my name again, I was already turning to leave. She looked like she thought of reaching out, but didn't. She turned back to her plants.
I walked out without saying goodbye.
His name was Helmut and we had sex again shortly after the first time. Then he cooked for me. Potatoes with crispy bacon and a sticky, vinegary taste, with rich roasted sausages that he said were called bratwursts. I only realised how hungry I was when I had eaten a plate and watched Helmut replace it with another large helping. He seemed pleased I liked his cooking.
"Don't cook much back on Titan," he said as he was boiling water. We were at a standard half-g acceleration now, and New Akra was far behind us. "And on the ship, it's never the same only cooking for yourself."
"It's delicious," I said. He had given me a smaller third helping and I was slowing down.
He smiled. I noticed he had stopped biting his nails. "Family recipe. Grandparents were German."
"The European Initiative?"
"Yeah." He began biting the small finger on his left hand.
"What's it like?" I said. "Titan."
"I think," Helmut said, "that you'll be finding that out for yourself."
I remember the scent of the rain, my first morning at Polyphemus Port. The sky through the giant transparent dome was a storm of violent colour and the internal weather matched the clouds outside. The smell of rain filled the streets, the smell of things being washed away and made pure.
Helmut handed me to an immigration officer who agreed to take my three hundred New Akran dinars—"Out of pity, kid, because the money is practically useless outside the bloody Ring"—and who ushered me through a back exit onto a dusty street. "Take this," he said, almost apologetically, and handed me a small paper card. "In case you need to make some cash."
I put it in my pocket and walked away into this new world. The descent to the surface had been fairly smooth considering the volatile atmosphere and I had watched from Helmut's control room as the cloud cover parted suddenly and revealed the wild wasteland below. Poisoned winds had howled on the planes and a maelstrom of colour shifted and tore at the skies. What was it like to grow up here, I wondered, not being able to see beyond the clouds, never to see dark space and the gas giant's cold, majestic light? To live by Saturn and never see its rings? From New Akra, Saturn was always visible through the wide windows cut into the side of the Ring, the view UV-filtered but otherwise unchanged. Titan felt closed and claustrophobic by comparison.
But that smell of fresh rain, the way the dome created a false perspective of vastness when I looked up, now washed away that feeling and left me with a nervous energy and a new realisation. I was now an adult.
Adult age was an undefined number in most of the Saturn system. On New Akra it was eighteen: by running away I had gained adult freedom two years sooner than I would have otherwise. It made me want to smoke a cigarette or get drunk or kiss a girl—
Her voice slapped me from across the road. "What're you looking at?" She was leaning against a shipping crate and I realised that I hadn't even left the port, and that it was bigger than I thought. "Don't they have girls on New Akra?"
"Not as many as boys," I said honestly, which earned me a laugh, and then, "How do you know where I'm from?"
She grinned. "Kid, you're not the first runaway to skulk away from Freight at some ridiculous hour of the morning, looking like there's equal measures of honey and lemon stuck in your mouth. And you scream Bahá'í, even without opening your mouth."
She wasn't much older than me. Her eyes were a deep sapphire, too intense to be natural. Small, pointed ears, hair that was a rainbow of grey and white crystal. "What's it to you?"
"I'm Marija," the girl said and pushed her hand at me. "What's your name, kid?"
I took her hand. It was warm.
I didn't have a name anymore. I didn't want my old identity. For a moment, I wasn't sure what to say.
"Then I'll call you Kid," she said against my silence and I shrugged and we shook hands.
I remember the nights. They were manufactured just as much as back home but they had a different taste. A different feeling in the air. A different buzz. We used to lie on our backs, me and Marija and Ivan, and stare up at the dome and watch the lights play in the skies. I kept searching for a meaning in the language of the clouds, trying to interpret them as secret messages that were meant only for me. If there was a message I was unable to decipher it.
"Do you think there are still stars out there?" Ivan said one night. He was lying beside me, Marija a warm presence on the other side. "Do you think there really is a sun?"
"I've seen it," I said. Ivan turned his head towards me and his breath touched my cheek. "Yeah?"
He thought about it for a moment. "Well, what's it like?"
I said, "Small."
Marija snorted laughter beside me and her fingers trailed the inside of my leg.
"Then I doubt it's still there." His face was close to mine and he was smiling. He had cropped blond hair and a shifting tattoo made to resemble the clouds above as it migrated slowly over his body. "Want to fuck?"
I got up to my feet and looked down at my two friends. "Can't," I said. "I'm doing some work for Antonio tonight."
"You watch your ass," Ivan said and he and Marija laughed.
I waved them goodbye, left the squat and made my way to the Hotel Beaumont, near the main terminal that connected the port to the city. Zuhara waited for me at her usual table, which put her back to the wall opposite the entrance. She smiled when she saw me, and motioned for me to take a seat.
"I'm glad to see you are still alive," she said. Her black hair was tied behind her head in an elaborate pattern and the small scar at the corner of her mouth stretched when she talked.
"Had a good journey?" I asked. Under the table I felt her naked foot run up my leg. I felt the artificial material of her little toe touch me like a spark of electricity.
Zuhara shrugged, then her eyes narrowed. "Been thinking about you on the way back from the Anarchies," she said. She spoke French with a soft Martian accent. "Are you hungry?"
The question and the answer were the same every time. "No."
"Me neither." She stood up and I followed her.
Sex was intense and almost entirely silent. When Zuhara came she bit a cry into my shoulder and made me shout instead. She laughed, pushing me away so there was the distance of her arm between us, and said, "I wish I could fuck you in zero-g."
I pushed closer toward her. "You can if you take me with you," I said.
"Kid!" She hit me on the shoulder in the same place she'd bit me, and it hurt. "I'm not doing a Saturn run anymore. I was going to tell you. I'm going out-system."
Leaving Saturn's system, she meant.
"I know," I said. I had rehearsed this conversation in my head so many times, yet now I could barely get the words out. "You're going to Ganymede. To Jupiter. I want to go with you."
"Kid, there are worse places than Polyport."
"And there are better." I nuzzled her ear and she put her fingers around my neck. They were long and delicate, with sharp nails that dug into my skin until they drew blood.
"You'd look so handsome in a collar," she mused, and for a moment her voice changed to the voice of another. "If only I could enslave you . . ."
My mouth was dry and tasted of copper. "You can."
Antonio had told me how and laughed as he did.
She arched her brows. White teeth bit down on lips and gleamed in the darkness.
I said, "I will enter an ownership contract with you for the duration of the trip."
Her hands were very still. She looked at me, her face striped by light from the high window.
"I will be implanted and time-stamped for the expected length of the journey. I will be entirely under your command." My lungs burned. " I will be your slave."
The stillness remained. Crescent eyes examined me.
"Antonio can arrange the implant. For a price, of course."
"You thought it all through, didn't you?" she said. "I'm impressed." There was an inexplicable sadness in her voice, but predominating it a naked hunger, and she nuzzled my neck, her tongue flickering over the places where she had drawn blood.
"Will you take me with you?" I thought she must hear the desperation in my voice.
Zuhara sighed. "I'll speak to Antonio. Now come back here. I like to test the goods before I buy them."
"You already have," I said, but then her hands were around me and she drew me onto the bed and into her intensity of silence.
The collar closed around my neck as the Ibn Al-Farid—a cargo junk looking, from a distance, like a cockroach with a dark carapace that grew a row of short, stumpy legs bent at an angle on each side—began its gentle acceleration towards the Jupiter system.
I remember the journey in bright flashes of moments, disjointed and unconnected by logic or a coherent sequence of time.
She loved electricity. The collar that reshaped my neural pathways into obedience and love allowed me to refuse a certain level of physical damage. But I obeyed the current, and learned a scream that wove itself into my nerve cells. She always smelled musky to me, in those moments of near-dying. Like a mechanic.
"You are my slave," she said, sitting naked in the chair in front of me, legs splayed, watching me shudder. Her hand rested on her thigh, the fingers drooping down like the leaves of a flower. Moving as she spoke. "My property. I can hurt you. Does that frighten you?"
"No," I said. That moment she looked like a goddess, her dark hair falling down on her shoulders like a frozen nightscape. Her teeth were white, her tongue a red snake moving around them. Her small toe was a gold flash, speaking in whispers.
"Do you love me?"
The pain made my teeth chatter. "I love you," I whispered.
The pain stopped. It left me drained, still shaking. "I can give you pain," she repeated.
"I can also give you pleasure. Sit still."
Something cold touched the back of my head.
Pinchers held my face. There was a short, disconcerting drilling sound.
Zuhara's eyes were pinpricks of light. "I can give you pleasure," she whispered.
My body melted. For a long moment I felt it disappear, leaving me floating in bliss. It was pleasure, pure, bottled and sold. Like me, it was property. Like me, my pleasure was her property.
She came with a shudder and the current shifted and I screamed.
I became a machine, controlled by Zuhara with buttons that made pain and pleasure explode deep inside my brain. I was a robot made of flesh and the sensations flowed through my body like an alternating current, until I no longer knew if I screamed in ecstasy or horror.
I came to love the moments when pain changed to bliss. I sought to plug myself into the machine by myself one time, and when she caught me Zuhara forbade me to touch it again.
God is pain. God is love. God is pleasure.
When she took the current away I lay naked in the too-large bed and hugged myself, and cried.
I remember the halfway point, when the ship turned and for two days we lived in free fall.
I floated in the room, the walls turned into giant cushions. She came to me then, like a dark flower drifting on an unseen breeze, and took me. Her lips were hot on mine and as my hand traced a curve on her lower back she moaned and pressed into me, wrapping herself around my erection.
"Mine . . . ," she whispered. She fucked me in zero-g, and for a short while I was almost able to forget the wire.
"I think I made a mistake," she said later, as I cradled her in my arms. "When I take your collar off, will you be angry with me?"
"I don't know."
"I hope not, Kid," she said. She pushed against me gently and drifted away, a dark flower closing. A hole in the wall opened like a mouth and she drifted through it and was gone.
I remember when she removed my collar. I was on one knee before her, and her fingers were steady against my skin, almost stroking it. Ganymede was outside. I felt unseen eyes on me. Crew.
I felt the band of tightness on my neck loosen, and my brain flared, making my eyes sting, as pathways were altered and love . . . love was removed.
My vision was blurred and I lost my balance and fell. I heard voices in a distorted rumble. Someone touched me and it was like a flame erupting in my side. I jerked, hit out. A shape moved, hit me, bringing pain. . . .
". . . out of here! Quick, through the . . . ," and then the words were a storm again and I lost consciousness.
The joint curved like a penis in my hand and I sucked on it hard, sending its chemicals rushing into my bloodstream and up, and into the brain.
"What do you think?"
The Recorder spread dark wings; its sharp beak opened and pointed at me. It didn't answer, and I didn't expect it to.
"Initial impression," I said. "Taste: smooth but with a hint of drag in the throat and—let me see—a slight aftertaste of tobacco. You'll have to get rid of that."
I took a second drag. The Recorder, as always, stayed mute.
"Initial effects: euphoria—very dim as yet, but it's there—and a sense of growing peace. A slowing down of thought processes. A downer."
I ashed carefully. Toked again.
"I'm beginning to experience some mild hallucinations. Damn, this is quick! The Recorder seems to shimmer around the edges. The black is becoming deeper—I'm thinking of a black hole here, not sure why—and the eyes are glowing stronger—my retinas are getting more sensitive to light, probably."
I smoked the rest.
"Not bad. I feel like I'm in water. The air is pushing against me. Feels warm. A little bit unpleasant, though. Feels a little stormy—the Recorder's beginning to freak me out now—fuck. What did you put in that thing?"
I spent the next two hours mummified in the position I fell onto the pre-cushioned floor in. Paralysed. The Recorder bent down and stared at me, its tiny brain switching to a preprogrammed set of tests, providing me with a series of carefully chosen random pictures and sounds; I was expected to provide a full report on their effects when I regained my speech faculties. If.
After two hours my body began to unwind itself and soon I was able to crawl away. The Recorder followed me.
I made it to the armchair in the chill-out room and sat down. A glass of water materialised by my side and I drank it. The Recorder had followed me inside and now watched me with those large unblinking eyes.
They didn't like you swearing during trials.
"Well," I said after the third glass of cold water. "You saw what it did. Practically mummified. Nice promise of a rush right up to that point. Once paralysed, hallucinations were intense and, um, unpleasant. You give this to someone with no tolerance, they'll be coming out of paralysis screaming. I wouldn't mind screaming myself. You bastards."
"Please keep it professional," the Recorder murmured in Bez's voice.
"You want to keep it professional?" I shouted. I could stand up now, and did. I waved the glass in my left hand. Water splashed the Recorder. "This isn't recreational, is it? It's a fucking combat narcotic!"
"Don't worry," Bez's voice said. "You'll get the usual bonus."
I attacked the Recorder.
"You did good, Kid."
I sat in their office. Behind the window, Jupiter covered half the sky.
"You know we can't tell you what we think it does beforehand," he said, almost apologising. "It can jeopardise the results."
"I know," I said. "That rage attack . . ."
"The final stage," Bez said. He smiled, and I saw the gold-plated tooth in his mouth where his Other sat. "Worked beautifully. We're very pleased."
"How will you get it to spread?" I asked.
He shrugged. "We'll build in a dating sequence. It should only work in the first stage—mild euphoria, mild hallucinations—until the right time, and then . . . then the mummies will rise."
"Our homage to Cardoso's O Segredo da Mümia," the Other said in Bez's voice. When he used the voice it became slightly deeper, and it spoke slower than Bez, as if reminding itself that it was speaking to a slower people. "Did you experience hormonal activity? An enhanced sexual desire, so to speak?"
It paused, then said, "Any craving for human flesh?"
"No," I said, "and no."
"Oh well," the Other said, and Bez's shoulders shrugged. "One out of three ain't so bad."
I rubbed my temples. "Can I go now?"
Bez looked surprised. "Of course. You must be tired."
His waved his hand. "Take a couple of days off. We've got a really exciting prototype that needs testing, but it can wait."
I left them at the desk, noticing Bez's gaze linger on my rear as I advanced to the door, looking back at them warily once or twice.
I didn't like to think it might have been the Other.
There was a Bahá'í temple on my way home and I stopped opposite it as I did every time I came back from the tests, and bought a half dozen of the silvery-grey, delicate tulips that flower only in the greenhouses of Ganymede.
Akal the flower-seller's beard was a dark cloud of coffee streaked with cream. He was a Sikh, and Ganymede born and bred. As he handed me the flowers I saw his thumb, a gold and beautiful prosthetic: his Other, prominently displayed.
"They are lovely, aren't they," he said as he was busy wrapping them. "Special occasion?"
He asked me that every time I bought them. "Just happy to still be alive."
He nodded his head with gravity. "Send my regards to Ekaterina," he said.
"I will. Thanks for the flowers."
He smiled. "It is my pleasure."
I turned away, the flowers held to my chest, and went home.
We fucked twice before she told me her name. The third time we met was at a bar on the Selassie canal; she took my hand in hers and led me into the garden and we stood by the canal and looked up at giant Jupiter in the sky.
"You're Bez's new prodigy," she stated.
"What?" We hadn't spoken more than a few words before. I had not given my name either.
"The Kid. A human drug-testing kit. Rumour has it they want to clone and patent you."
"I could do with the money," I said, and she laughed. "My name is Ekaterina," she said. We weren't looking at Jupiter anymore.
"I know," I said. "I saw your exhibition at the Galerie d'Encyclopédie. The watercolours of Europa. You're very good."
She bowed her head, raised both eyebrows. "Thank you. I'm flattered."
"Call me Kid," I said, and she laughed again and moved closer and I could taste her breath on my lips. She smelled of sweat and cold and ice and I knew who she was, just as she knew me.
She kissed me. Her tongue entered my mouth and her hand embraced my hips and drew me closer. She ran her hand over the small of my back and I shivered and then she reached down between my legs and under my skirt, and touched me. She smiled into my face as she discovered how wet I already was.
"You're like a horny teenager," she said. "Must be the drugs, right?" and then she was rubbing me and I shuddered and lay back on the grass and pulled her over me. We made love.
It wasn't the drugs. It was her.
Bez found me at a place on the corner of Garvey and Mandela, a month after the Ibn Al-Farid entered Galilean space. I was trying to wreck myself with any combination of drugs I could find.
Only none of them really worked.
Bez was a deeper darkness moving in the shadows of the club towards me. He pulled up a chair and sat facing me across the table. I saw the glint of a gold tooth.
"You don't look wasted," he said casually. "In fact, you don't even look stoned."
"You look bored," he decided. "What's that you're smoking now—Plateau, Zion Special Strength? I'm getting stoned just sitting here."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to work for me."
"Doing what?" Not that I cared.
"Look, Kid," he said, and, "I know who you are and I know what you call yourself. Cute. I know where you sleep, what you eat, where you make the money to keep buying those drugs. I even have a low-level neural scan of your brain." His fingertips brushed the tabletop. Then his Other spoke, and it frightened me.
"Your brain," the Other said in the human's voice, "I don't expect you to know this, is an aristocratic small-world network. It means that the number of steps between nodes—or neurons—is very low. And it's aristocratic because it is formed by—or it forms, it is immaterial which—many smaller networks, each dealing with different if overlapping things and each linked to the others by several hubs: gateways. I am Bez's Other, by the way. I can see that it disturbs you."
"I must be stoned," I said.
The Other laughed. "The arrangement Bez and I have is more . . . liberal than is perhaps the norm. I believe most people without Others think that we are merely pets, evolved and bred and made into an accessory. Those who elect to graft an Other might not see it quite so simply—though it is more true than I would have liked. All you should really know, Kid, is that like yours, my mind is also an aristocratic small-world network."
"Fascinating." I took another drag on the Plateau. It was working—it just wasn't working enough for me to care. I had never spoken to an Other before. Grafting was illegal on New Akra. It was an interesting experience tinged with unease, and a repulsion I tried to hide behind the boredom.
"Your neural networks were affected by that . . . arrangement you had on the ship. Attacked, in a way. Some of the gateways in your head were removed. What it did is to make sure your ventral tegmental area, the network that produces pleasure traffic signals, or dopamine, is no longer communicating with the network that processes it, the nucleus accumbens. There is a connection—some of the dopamine traffic gets through—but not beyond a certain point."
I stared at him. At it. "What you're saying is that I can't get high."
"If you prefer to put it that way. You still experience it, though, don't you?" the Other said. It sounded satisfied. "Only not intensely. And you do not form attachment. In our line of work, that is very important."
"So I'll ask you again, what do you want me to do?" I was getting nervous, but the next one who spoke was Bez. "We want you to beta test for us. We make drugs." He smiled, and the Other flickered behind his eyes. "Lots of drugs. We need to test them. And we are very interested in you as a potential employee."
"Work licence?" I said. It sounded crazy. I didn't care. "And a health plan."
"Kid," Bez said, "we can arrange for permanent residency anywhere in the Galilean Republic, a work permit, our own private health care service and a full pension fund. Plus your salary, which will be considerable"—he named a figure—"plus a generous housing allowance." He named another figure. Both were alarmingly large. "Is there anything else you wish for?"
And I thought, what the hell, and asked them, and they said it wouldn't be a problem. Two days later they pumped me full of an experimental cocktail of synthetic opiates that sent me into a three-day coma. By then I was a woman; on the outside at least.
When I got to the house, Ekaterina was in her studio and the door was half-closed. I walked quietly to the kitchen and arranged the tulips in a vase. As I approached her door with the vase in my hands she called my name. My real name.
I pushed the door open and stepped inside. Light streamed in from outside, part artificial, part sun, part gas giant. I put the flowers on the table and bent down to kiss her, and then sat down to watch her work. The light framed her face so that for a moment she was still and ethereal. Above her were high windows, and beyond them, beyond the distant dome, Jupiter was setting.
"I'm home," I said.