Virtual St Mary's Institute for Historical Research

Where St. Mary's Staff and Historians live virtually.

Virtual St Mary's Institute for Historical Research

Where St. Mary's Staff and Historians live virtually.

Missing Member

By Isabel Tifft

Date: May 26th 2018


So, ladies and gentlebeings, I've missed at least one jump and any number of other tasks here. I do apologize! I was unavoidably detained. I thought I'd better explain why.

I went out on some daft outdoor training blah-de-blah (sorry, W, but at the moment that's the best I can do) and was delighted to find what I thought was a perfectly legitimate tumbledown shack. I couldn't get the door open at first, which was odd, because the shack was wood and I didn't expect dry-rotted wood to put up that much resistance.

However, it had a very good overhang, so I curled up, put my pack against the door and lay with my back against my pack, and had a good 5 hours' nap -- not bad for the short nights of summer, especially being outdoors with nothing but my right elbow for a pillow and a rather worn windbreaker for a cover.

As I re-attached my right arm, which seemed to want to fall off, and woke my hips up MUCH against their wishes, I heard a sound.

Right, I know, middle of nowhere, birds and bunnies and weasels and several kinds of owls and black bears and moose, trees that respond appropriately to wind, and I heard a sound? no kidding. Well done, Isy, extra points for observation.

Only, the sound was none of those things. It was a scratchy, plasticky, deliberate sound, and it was coming from the other side of that door.

My pack and I vaulted back 30 feet without touching the ground but once in the middle. The door flew open and a perfect plastic paradise of white surfaces and beautiful screens appeared, rather spoiled by the rags hung about a pole that swayed in the doorway.

Not a pole, as it turned out. An unwashed youth with grubby dark hair flopping about his head stumbled out, barely made it around the side of the shack, unzipped, and let it rip.

I grew up with two brothers, and now I live with two other brothers (not mine.) Also, I used to be an ER (A&E) nurse, and the first thing we do is strip people to the skin so we can check for lice, maggots (you'd be surprised), beatings, lashes, rashes, growths (you'd *really* be surprised) and of course needle-tracks in subtle places. There may be something belonging on a human that I haven't seen, but I doubt it.

In this case, it was the volume that was impressive. It just went on and on. He had to use two hands, there was so much of it. I think he must have wee'd a whole gallon!

Oh, his equipment? Why would I care about his wedding tackle? Never noticed. It came out, it did its job, it went back in. The zip was zipped, the head was lifted with a mighty groan, and the locks stirred, leading me to believe he'd turned his head and looked at me.

"Sorry about that," he groaned, "I've been holding it for yonks. Why did you have to fall asleep right up against the bloody door?"

Which, from accent and content, led me to believe he was British, possibly from Southeast Scotland originally, was educated a lot better than he dressed, and that there was no toilet in his pod.

"Why did you have to whip that thing out and piss right in front of me and God and everyone? Couldn't you go around the back?" I said, nettled.

No, that wasn't inconsistent. It was practical. It was social self-defense. I have learned, with my large boobage, fair hairage, and blue eyeage, never ever to let men cheapen themselves in front of me, or they will surely try to cheapen me. I stand on my dignity like a madonna.

He looked at me, looking down at him... from my height a foot less than his (it's a good trick; I'll show everyone some time) and hung his head. "Sorry," he mumbled, which told me he was over 13 (mumbled) but under 21 (said sorry.)

"Never mind," I said in nice motherly tones, "just try to remember that a penis is like religion: nice to have, but not for showing to anyone who hasn't expressed an interest."

The locks moved, and two long hands with chewed nails came up to part the curtain. I was mildly surprised to see toast-brown skin and eyebrows like crooked raven wings. He looked at me (from eyes Audrey Hepburn would have envied) for a long moment.

I smiled back, quite at ease now that we were dealing with the improbable.

"Are you for real?" He asked.

"Ah," I said, looking thoughtful. "That would be telling."

It turned out that his father (from Edinburgh) had married his mother (from that part of the world variously claimed by Turkey, Macedonia, Persia, Eastern Rome [Byzantium to us], and is probably currently called Northern Iraqi or Kurdish depending on who you talk to, though it's hard to tell for all the explosions) after meeting her at Oxford (hah! The education connection) where she was studying politics and law despite a lifelong fascination with computer programming, and he was managing IT for the computer department and wishing he could study politics and law. So, he supported her while she got her computer science degree, and when she earned 4 times what he could ever have imagined in IT, she supported him while he studied politics and law.

It was ever so sweet.

Politics and law led them both into history, of course. History and an absolute genius with programming supported by a capable IT nerd, led inevitably to the pod.

It was an academic's pod. There was hardware to die for, good chairs which reclined beautifully and had built-in footrests, good indirect lighting, perspex-fronted bookshelves, a hot water spigot coming out of what looked like an Accadian-Farsi dictionary with teabags dispensed below and demerara-sugar lumps in a pocket above, and cup-rings staining logical places. There were no lockers. There were no mirrors. There was no toilet, because of course one could always use the loo at the library (or wherever) and anyway the, um, odoriferousness tends to break in on one's thoughts, don't you find?

I didn't realize I'd said all that aloud until he said, in rather horrified tones, "You mean you've met them?"

I said, "I've known academics and Oxonians. I extrapolated." I looked around at the exquisite and luminous comfort of the space. "Whoever designed this, though, is the real genius."

He said, "Oh, that was me. They couldn't make the space work for themselves, so I just kicked them out for a few days and took out the things they didn't need and put in the things they'd forgotten."

I nodded, giving him a minute to think. No dice. "And the toilet?"

"What toilet?" He asked.


"Oh," he said. "I usually go somewhere rural and go outside. I have a little trowel for --"

"Never mind," I said. "I get the idea. Just dumping through history, are you? Haven't left any insalubrious pathogens anywhere, have you? Oh, but of course not, because if you had, then History would have killed you on the spot." I thought about the visual that gave me. "A horrible way to be found dead. Not becoming at all."

He looked suitably horrified. "I'd die? For doing -- for taking a -- I mean," he stammered.

So I explained some of the ground rules we live by, and told him he had to inform his parents.

I also explained about composting toilets, especially the heat-treating kind. The tiny nuclear reactor we use in the pods in my pocket of reality can easily drive these wonderful devices. The smell is nearly nonexistent and responds well to pure orange oil or pine oil in tiny amounts. The toilet folds up into the wall of the pod, as does the sink; you can only use one at a time, but lifting the toilet brings down the sink, and then lifting the sink opens the door, so it all works rather well. Even the men have been known to wash their hands when it's right there in front of them.

He said, once he could hitch up his jaw and speak again, "They'd never believe me. You have to tell them yourself. Okay?"

I said, "Well, I don't have anywhere to be for a couple of days anyway."

He plugged the numbers in as the words left me, initiated the jump wordlessly, and I fell into a chair, which promptly reclined, dropping me on my face with my feet in the air.

I heard the door open and someone abaft my butt, with a gorgeous caramel voice, say, "Andrew, where on earth have you been? We've been so worried!"

I turned and squirmed into a more presentable position. A Levantine woman of remarkable natural beauty -- with those stunning crook-winged eyebrows she'd given her son -- stood there in an odd-buttoned cardigan and skirt with the slip showing, with an exquisite Liberty scarf knotted perfectly at her neck and sturdy old-fashioned mukluks on her feet.

Peering at me over her shoulder, a tallish fellow with toffee-colored hair drawing back from his face in astonishment said, "Well, and who's your lady friend?"

I spent only three days with them, explaining about composting toilets and raiding their bookshelves, guzzling tea with demerara sugar and commenting on Andrew's sketchups of ways to incorporate some practical (and possibly life-saving) hygiene into their pod.

By an accident of, I don't know, something, their pod is exactly 7'3", just like ours. I wonder if it's a physical thing, like the gaps between orbiting planets -- the physics just push them into certain orbital paths. Perhaps 7'3" just works for they physics of pods.

I saw Andrew hit a key twice on the return trip. It was the tiniest bounce. However, instead of arriving the second day of that outdoor whatsit weekend, we arrived now. I hopped out, raucously wished him well with his engineering and architecture adventures, and cheerfully dashed back, to find I'd been gone for weeks and my name was on the Boards.

I'm sorry to put the Boss to the bother of a second funeral, and I have *definitely* learned to double-check the date before stepping out of a pod, but I can't say I'm sorry.