A Short Story

I wrote this story in 2010 for 'Shine', a Science Fiction anthology, based on optimistic visions of the future. Its editor, a Dutchman called Jetse de Vries, let it be known , he was looking for short stories which predicted a near future which was hopeful. This was brave as so many SF stories are dystopic and full of doom and gloom. I had just visited the amazing Tekos school in Southern Russia, where I decided to base my story. I was delighted it was accepted and sits among some great stories, many written by well known SF writers. Some of my predictions for 2020 came about and some didn't. Enjoy!

Russian Roulette 2020

‘Take it off?’ Wingnut was incredulous. ‘What do you mean, take it off? Hey, MV, Colleen’s telling us to take off our ZiSleeves!’
MV was distracted by the Russian girl in the blue dress. Dazzled. Who did she remind him of? A little Amish looking, perhaps. Hair in a braid. No makeup. And her arm didn’t glow with LED lights. His own ZiSleeve bleeped at him. It was Jeezbob from New York. ‘Come on man, your move.’ They were in the middle of an exciting game of Robodroids. MV was cornered in a hell-hole by vicious robots, with no way out.
Wingnut poked him sharply. ‘Hey dude, listen up, this is serious shit!’
MV reluctantly disconnected his earchip and put his attention on his teacher. Was she saying ‘take your ZiSleeves off’?
Colleen knew she had a rebellion on her hands. Like when the school banned earchips during assembly. Trying to tear this lot away from their ZiSleeves was tantamount to gouging out their livers. These kids were truly in the grip of what psychologists called weblock.
'This is dogshit,’ whined Wingnut. ‘Let’s get back in the Solaritza and skedaddle back to the plane.’
‘You know we can’t do that- we don’t have permission to land in LA before
schedule.’ Flights were severely restricted, not only to cut emissions, but to curtail the spread of rapidly mutating viruses.
Wingnut looked horrorstruck. ‘Then let’s go back to the Expo in Moscow.’
Wingnut had loved Crystal Island- the largest solar powered building in the world, full of avant-garde technology and newly launched Web 4.0 applications. He had purchased 3D glasses and 3D Sims for his ZiSleeve and was dying to immerse himself in juicy porn world. He’d had a peek on the bus and immediately experienced being slammed between bouncing tits and arses. God it was good.
‘What kind of backward crap dive have you brought us to?’, snapped Rachel. She objected to being wrenched from her avatar, Astrid, who had just purchased a castle (charging it to Daddy’s account of course). She was looking forward to buying outfits that befitted being Queen of such a castle. Her IMVU playmate had just bought a black steed and looked fabulous on it! The unfortunate fact that in her first life, Rachel could warm her hands between the fat folds on her stomach, made it even more imperative to buy the gold bikini for her gloriously slim, Second Life self.
‘Do we really have to?’, whined Enrita, looking like the spoilt Brazilian princess she was, zapping microbes with her nano-wand. Her wealthy family had exchanged the gated suburbia of Rio for Los Angeles when food riots had got out of control. Not that LA didn’t have food riots. Plenty of them. It was just that LA cops had more sophisticated weaponry - like ray guns to paralyse the starving mobs.

‘Mamae will freak out if she can’t get hold of me.’
Colleen sighed. She knew it would do them all good to extricate themselves from the Controller, as she called it- so like Big Brother it was scary.
‘We want a reason!’
Colleen approached Rada, the girl in the blue dress, who had met them off the Solaritza. ‘Could you explain why they have to take their ZiSleeves off. They are like a third arm. They will not take them off for even a moment’
Rada faced the hostile group.
MV videoed her to Jeezbob, texting, “whaddya think of this chick? Knockout tits. No bra!”

     ‘We welcome you warmly to our school.’ Her voice and presence were mesmerising. The sun shone through her dress, emphasising her womanly shape. Even Wingnut stopped fiddling with his 3D glasses and gawked.

  In a voice that would tame a hoard of starving rioters, she continued in impeccable English.  ‘We will give you an orientation talk in our hall, followed by lunch. This part of the school is techno free, for many reasons. We request that you remove all phones, sleeves and electronic gadgets.’

     She immediately quelled the low rumbling that swirled in the courtyard by pointing to beehives nestling under the eaves of the building. 

   ‘One of the reasons is that your equipment interferes with the bees. We believe it may disrupt their dances.’

     They all looked up at the beehives. Some incredulous. Others curious.

     Fortunately this did make sense. Most of them had spent the last two Springs in apple orchards, hand pollinating apple blossom. Tedious and time consuming but necessary, as in 2017 there were no apples in the stores. No one knew for sure why bee colonies were disappearing at such an alarming rate all over the world. A variety of culprits such as pesticides, varroa mites and oscillation frequency from radio towers were implicated. Perhaps this Russian girl was right. And there was something about Rada’s voice that was authoritative without sounding bossy.

   ‘Well I’m keeping my nano-wand,’ muttered Enrita, who zapped all surfaces for germs wherever she went.

   Rada continued, ‘We keep our Web equipment over in the Tech block. She pointed to the other side of the large quadrangle, attractively peppered with trees and flowers. ‘You can put it over there.’

     Nobody moved. Colleen looked to MV. Armed with a scholarship to Yale, he was the most popular boy at school, the highest Flashtrix scorer and boasted the greatest number of PipStream followers.

    MV tore his eyes away from the delectable Rada and noticed trestle tables outside the Tech block. It made sense to get on the right side of this chick. He wanted her. And MV was renowned for always getting the girl he wanted.

     ‘Come on dudes, let’s put our gear on those tables in the sun. At least the batteries can get recharged.’

    Rada rewarded him with a stunning smile.

    ‘I’m in, dude,’ he texted Jeezbob.

    MV walked slowly across the quadrangle, his forefinger manoeuvring his way out of the trap Jeezbob had set. He finally hit off the sound with a big sigh. The air crackled with the rips of zi-cro pulling apart, as he and his classmates reluctantly disconnected themselves from Mother Web. Glancing reproachfully at the beehives, they laid down their gizmos.  Some still owned the bulkier ZiPad-3, but the flexible ZiSleeves were now all the rage. They were lighter and enabled simultaneous screens to operate. MV liked to maintain his supremacy on Flashtrix , joust with Jeezbob, download ZiTunes, upload ZiNaut, keep up with PipStream and watch baseball.

     MV felt naked without his ZiSleeve and rubbed his left arm. It looked skinny and pale compared to his other. He was also dismayed to notice his skin fungus had spread. Mysterious skin diseases had become rampant. Well at least he didn’t have asthma or diabetes like half of his classmates, or small genitalia, a scourge of boys born after 2012.  He shuffled back across the quadrangle with his fellow web orphans, their school logo glowing green from the back of their T-Shirts. They filed in into a spacious hall with polished wooden floors.

  ‘The future cannot be predicted but futures can be invented’, was inscribed in gold above the entrance.  A 3D painting that looked like a Hubble photograph vibrated off one of the walls. Light shone down through a myriad of stained glass panels. It was almost like a Church- a wooden vaulted space which sparkled with refracted light.  Another beautiful girl was addressing the group.

   ‘Hello our most revered guests. My name is Tania. We welcome you to Tekos  School.  May we co-create a positive vision for the future, in this our Space of Love …’…   Wingnut rolled his eyes and muttered, ‘I’ll give you some positive lovin’ baby!’

   As Tania continued her welcome, MV looked around in awe. The room’s splendour matched that of the outside.  When he first emerged from the Solaritza, the Tekos bus which had brought them to this school in the Krasnodar region in Southern Russia, he had been impressed.  Attractive low rise buildings nestled against a blaze of green forest. He had zipped an image into Archipedia, at the very point when Jeezbob  forced him into a bunker full of rayzoids, so hadn’t yet seen the answer.  He automatically tapped his non-existent ZiSleeve to retrieve it. Damn. He would have to ask instead.  As the Americans were being shown to their quarters after Tania’s welcome, MV found Rada .

       ‘Like your buildings. Who’s the architect?’

      ‘We are. We designed it ourselves.’


      ‘Yes and built it too.  This is the third building we have constructed. The first two were burnt down.’

      ‘Burnt down! By who?’

      ‘By ‘whom’, surely?’

      ‘Yeah, yeah, whom, whatever.’ She was really unnerving him.

      ‘Oh, by the Church.’

      ‘The Church?’

      ‘Yes, a local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. They think we are a cult and are dangerous.’

       Rada and Tania, demure in their braids and cotton dresses, certainly did not look dangerous.

       ‘The Church burnt you down? You must be joking.’

       ‘No’, laughed Rada. ‘When Communism collapsed, the Church vied with the Mafia for control. Alexey11, the first Patriarch, reputedly ex-KGB, was very rich and drove a BMW.  A perfect example of a new breed of autocrat, jostling for power.’  .

    ‘What a drag!’

    ‘A drag?’

    ‘Demoralising to have to rebuild,’ he translated.

    ‘No not at all. Our designs have improved a lot! We have incorporated more sustainability.’ She pointed up at the walls. ‘Used more natural products. Our buildings breathe- they are healthier. And we have managed to accommodate the bees  better in the new design.’

     ‘Why don’t you have them in the garden?’ (Like normal people, he refrained from adding.)

    ‘Oh, they love being near us. They thrive better and they create beautiful honey for us.’

       MV ignored this as loony and loopy. Reminded him of that sugary, whole-earth business his grandmother was into.

     ‘The bees are very fragile at this present time- they are a barometer for how much we have wrecked the world, so we take extra-special care of them.’

       The front of the building was graced by a spectacular, 3-dimensional piece of art. His right hand automatically went for the Digiclick, to send it to Wikiflickr. Again he had the unusual task of having to ask a real person.

      ‘Who’s the artist?’

     ‘We are- we students created it together.’

     MV was stunned. He had heard that this school was exceptional; that kids young as fifteen were completing university degrees, excelling in Maths and Physics. This had been the whole point of Colleen forcing them away from the Crystal Park- to check it out. Most of the Tekos kids had gone home for the summer but three seniors, Rada, Tania and Vassily joined their principal Michael Shchetinin, as hosts for their American visitors.

      ‘Shove over MV! Hogging all the chick action again!’ It was Wingnut, barging in as usual. ‘Hiya Rada. I’m Wingnut.’ He ogled her.   


      ‘Yes, let me introduce Wingnut,’ said MV, ignoring Wingnut’s unbelievable social ineptitude, ‘called so, not because of his political views, or sticky-out ears, but because he resembles the old Ninja character from the affluent times. And his father is still rich as fuck.’

      ‘Ri-ich as fuck ?’ repeated Rada, quizzically

      The way the well elocuted ‘fuck’ burst forth from those rosebud lips was enough to send Wingnut into a paroxysm of hysterical giggling. He didn’t know where to put his goofy self.  He went automatically to his Zi. He had no idea what to do without it. No wonder his grandparents smoked themselves to death, he thought.  Without zyburbia at your fingertips, what else was there to do?

     By this time the trio had circled back to the hall where drinks and lunch were laid out. Sumptuous salads, freshly baked breads and pies overspilled the plates. 

    ‘Ooh, cherry pie!’ Wingnut swooped. ‘That looks cocklickin’ good.’ He couldn’t stand the way that Rada was looking at him. Spooky. He dived into the cherries, drowning himself in their delectable sweetness. He, like his classmates, was embarrassed to eat naked, as it were. They couldn’t bear being without their earchips for non-stop music, their screens for the latest podcast or video, or their Zi-boards for surfing and texting. Rada, Tania and Vassily were attentive hosts. There was so much TALKING going on. It felt a bit much!

   ‘How can you guys stand it without Live-stream?’ Rachel asked, stuffing her mouth with potato and beetroot salad. ‘Don’t you even have laptops?’

     ‘Yes, I have a laptop and a phone’, said Vassily but they are in the Tech building. I only use them sometimes, and then in the evening.’

     ‘God, how boring. What do you do?’

     ‘It is not boring at all. We dance, sing, have fun.’

      Rachel nearly spat beetroot in disgust.

    After lunch there was a massive rush for the ZiSleeves.

    Rada reached for MV as he set out to join the surge.  Her touch on his pale arm was warm and inviting.  ‘Would you like me to show you the forest, MV?’  

    He felt his eyeballs burning as she looked into them. He thought of his PipStream, which would be overflowing; and Jeezbob, waiting for his next move. ‘Yeah sure,’ he said uncertainly, ‘after I do a quick pip shuffle.’

    A flicker of her disappointment flashed between them. He felt like a junkie; starving for his next fix. However he was reminded of another kind of fix altogether; the way her arse curved brought warmth to his groin. He’d heard Russian girls were hot.  ‘Okay,’ he said impulsively, ‘I’ll come.’ He couldn’t remember the last time he had even gone for a walk, let alone without his ZiSleeve.

    Rada led him through a garden that radiated out from behind the Tech building. Flowers spilled onto paths, intricately laid with attractive stones. Rada picked a daisy and threaded it into her braid. The clear skin on her face glowed in the streams of sun that filtered through the trees.

   She led him through the solar garden and past the windmills.

   ‘Are you totally off-grid here?’

   ‘Of course,’ she trilled. ‘We have very hot summers and in the winter when the wind sweeps down from the Steppes, the windmills take over. Like how you would say…?’ She chose her words carefully. ‘The demented howling of the wind is miraculously converted into the sounds of a flute concerto by Mozart- beautiful to listen to on a wintry evening.’ 

  “You are beautiful to listen to all the time.” The thought bubbled from him like within a cartoon. The way she spoke fascinated him.  Her words held a beauty that stirred a small neglected pebble floating somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. It felt starved of juice. He promptly dismissed the sensation as sentimental hogwash.

       They walked towards a forest of cedars that swayed tall and majestic, whispering their distinctive hum in the breeze.  MV breathed the sweet pine scent into his lungs.

      ‘Do you have forests near you?’ asked Rada.

      ‘We did have but they are disappearing fast.’ MV tried to push the dreadful fires of 2016 out of his mind.  Angeles National Forest had been razed to the ground, taking with it many human lives including those of his favourite uncle, aunt and cousins. ‘In the north of California some forests do remain, but many are dying.’ He looked up at the cedars but did not see the tell-tale brown foliage which was causing the demise of many of those trees. ‘Your trees look pretty healthy.’

      ‘In Russia, forests cover 45% of the land mass- the most extensive reserves in the world. Also this area is full of rivers, mountains and rich black earth. In the last ten years there has been a massive cleanup of the industrial pollution that was a legacy of Stalin, and the American factories which poured in during the 1990s. Now our trees are very happy. They love to supply us with fragrant air.’ She went up to one and spread her arms upwards in worship.

    “Oh no, not a treehugger too”. This thought bubble was rapidly followed by another. “This babe is in perfect position for me to ram her against the tree trunk.”

     But before this thought could be brought to fruition, Rada skipped lightly away and led him into a glade with a pond. She ran about frolicking and did several cartwheels, her light summer dress cascading over her womanly body in such mesmerising whirls that MV couldn’t tear his eyes away. Her reddish gold hair escaped from its braid and fell in waves down her back.

    “Wow this chick is hot- I’m sure she ain’t wearing knickers!” If only he could vid-port this gorgeous sight to Jeezbob.

     ‘Can you cartwheel MV?’

       Cartwheel! MV had never cartwheeled in his life- that was so uncool! He shook his head vigorously.

    ‘Oh please try.’ With that she did a series of perfect arcs around him ending in a spectacular somersault.

    ‘Well-er-er-,’ he stuttered.

     ‘Oh, come on. Try!’ Her eyes danced, green like the light through the trees. So hard to resist her plea.

      So he tried. It wasn’t good. His ZiSleeve arm was weak and the other crippled by a wii tennis injury.  He crumpled unceremoniously to the ground, cursing violently.

     Rada ran up to him with concern and massaged his arm. He felt the pain ease. He smelled the mead of her breath. Now was the time to make his move. Slip his tongue into that honeyed portal. But something stopped him- a strange emotion. Was it shyness? This was bad- he needed  Jeezbob to knock some macho sense into him. What was wrong with him? He always found seducing chicks so easy.

      ‘Let’s go for a swim. It is so hot!’

     With that she peeled off her dress and dived in.  He was right. No knickers. Hell! She came up laughing. ‘Come on.’

     MV was still reeling with shock at the glimpse of her brown body unencumbered by undergarments.

    ‘Come on,’ she repeated.

     MV was not averse to skinny dipping, but this was something else. She was expecting him to take his clothes off and dive in.  Just like that. In such a natural  innocent way. He thought ruefully of the skin fungus that had spread over his back.

    ‘Come on MV- it is wonderful in here.’ Her pearly teeth shone in the glints of the water. It did look inviting and he was sweltering.

    As she disappeared under again, he took his clothes off and dived in, catching his breath as the cold hit.  But within a few seconds he was up and paddling. Divine. Very different to the pools in LA. No chemicals- just pure water. Rada was splashing about and laughing with infectious delight, her hair plastered in a thick wodge over her forehead. He thought of all the LA girls who never wet their sleek hairdos, preferring to preen in gaggles on edges of swimming pools, showing off their latest designer swimsuits.

     Rada splashed him.  He had such an urge to splash her back.

     She playfully splashed again. This time he did splash back and they had a glorious orgy of splashing. He felt exhilarated. Like a kid.

     She then jumped out and spread-eagled herself on the grass, offering her body to the sun. He climbed out slowly, mesmerised by the bush of gold curling hair, bejewelled with droplets of water, that sprouted over her pubus. It looked unruly, untidy, wild. Every girl he had ever seen naked was either shaved or clipped. He had an immense desire to run his hands through it. Or film it with his Zi-Lens and put it on YouTube. He envisioned the title with a chuckle. ‘Wild beaver on the loose.’

      “Now dude,” enticed the inner seducer. “Now is the time to tease apart that bushy fuzz and jump her. Look, she’s just lying there asking for it.”

     “Yes jump her!” responded his inner gallery of observers, including Jeezbob with his rakish grin.

     But instead he collapsed next to her, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his body.

    Rada had picked up his T-Shirt and was examining the school logo glowing from it.

   ‘Groovy, eh?’ said MV proudly. ‘Silica nanoparticles blended into a light-emitting  gel, then printed onto the cotton to form pixels. The gel consists of a ruthenium compound that emits a bright light when a voltage is applied to it, along with an electrolyte and …..’

     Rada looked away and dropped the shirt.  He was taken aback, just when he was in full flow. He had been instrumental in getting these logos embedded in schoolwear. The girls back at school had been impressed. And had shown him how much.

    ‘Ruthenium!’ said Rada ‘That is a rare trace element! I thought you Americans had learnt your lesson, plundering the planet for your endless vanity!’

    ‘But this technology’s from Japan. You must admit it’s amazing? The way the letters sparkle?’

   She shrugged. ‘It is not interesting to me. I prefer the sparkle on the water, the blue-green glow on a blowfly, the glinting of dew in the grass. And it is certainly not as interesting as the sparkle that comes from your eyes.’ She looked deeply into them. Such a pure look. Again she reminded him of someone. Who the hell was it? Then he felt a strange emotion- like prickles of tears at the back of his eyes. Was he going to cry?

     ‘What do the initials MV stand for?’

     ‘Hey dudika, no-one, but no-one knows that!’ He drew back, welcoming the anger that squashed unfamiliar feelings.

     ‘Really? But surely your mother must know.’ 

Was this girl dumb, or just silly?

   ‘Of course she knows. She gave me the stupid name.’

   ‘But what name is it?’ She was persistent

   ‘It is such a dumb, embarrassing name- it truly sucks.’

    Rada screwed up her nose quizzically. ‘But she must have given it to you for a reason.’

   ‘Well yes, it was my great-grandfather’s name. He was from Ukraine.’

  She sat up with alacrity.

   ‘Ukraine? So your family comes from this part of the world?’

    ‘Yeah but a long time ago.’ He was distracted by the bounce of her breasts as she became more animated. The pink nipples bobbed enticingly.

     ‘So what was your great-grandfather’s name?’

      ‘Miroslav.’ He spat out the word with disgust. ‘Can you imagine such a name in sophisticated LA? Horrible.’

    ‘Miroslav.’ The name rolled off her tongue like a bubble of poetic syrup. So different to his pronunciation. She jumped up and started cartwheeling in glee. Naked. God he wished he had his Zi-Lens!

    ‘That is such a beautiful name.  Do you know what it means?’

     ‘Fuck no. I don’t want to know.’

     ‘It means “peace”. Do you mind if I call you Miroslav?’

      ‘Only in private. Not in front of my classmates.’

      She looked slightly dejected but agreed.

     ‘What about your name, Rada? What does that mean?’


    They dressed and walked back. MV felt strangely refreshed and peaceful. Perhaps there was something in the meaning of a name after all. Rada did radiate happiness like he had never seen before.

      Rada skipped ahead, cartwheeling occasionally. She was so wholesome- like a kid but also a woman- he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Back in LA he would have fucked this chick by now. But Rada aroused him in a whole different way. He felt warm and his skin tingled all over.

       Back at the school, the afternoon sun was settling over the cedars. He saw his mates sitting outside the Tech building absorbed within their Zi worlds. He felt a strange revulsion. His own ZiSleeve sat on the trestle table, lonely and winking furiously. He moved towards it leadenly. He zi-croed it on. It felt like a shackle.


   Vassily watched Rachel’s ZiScreen over her shoulder, as her avatar, resplendent in a gold bikini, was about to be seduced by Demoloron on his black steed.  ‘Rachel,’ he interrupted. ‘Did you know that the futures you keep dreaming up in Second Life, you can dream up in real life.’

   ‘And did you know Vassily, you are annoying me intensely,’ replied Rachel, her cheeks wobbling exasperatedly. ‘Why don’t you go and dance or whatever the fuck you do in this stupid place.’ Vassily immediately leapt up and did a Cossack dance right there in the courtyard, in front of her. An old man with silver hair took up an accordion and played it in accompaniment. Rachel turned away scornfully.

  ‘Who’s that old geezer?’ Wingnut asked Colleen.

  ‘That’s Mikhail Shchetinin, the guy who started Tekos, this school over 25 years ago. He’s about to give a talk.’

    ‘Jeez. Spare me,’ said Wingnut, getting up to go.

     ‘Wait,’ commanded Colleen.  ‘I think you should stay and listen.’ Separating Wingnut from his zyberworld was like dislodging a prehistoric mammoth from permafrost. But she had promised Wingnut’s father she would try. It was he who had  invented the ZiSleeve, so he felt responsible that his only child had disappeared up it, so to speak.  He had arranged the plane for the school trip, as a reward for Wingnut’s class finishing school. The only way he could entice Wingnut to visit Tekos, was the promise of the Moscow Expo first. Colleen sighed. How was she going to prise Wingnut away from the Web by even a millimetre? Tania came to her aid by announcing in front of the gathering, that she would be translating. Wingnut decided that Gorko the Viking having his way with Saxon slave girls would have to wait. Instead he feasted his eyes upon Tania as she began to translate for the benevolent-looking old man.

  ‘The present is not something that has just happened to us, we have all participated in its creation…..’

   ‘Yeah’, thought Wingnut, admiring her blonde, blue-eyed beauty, ‘I could create a perfect sex slave out of you darling.’


    Next morning MV was woken by singing. Cursing, he went to the window. He’d been up half the night catching up with pips and downloads. Just a few hours away from his ZiSleeve was lethal. It mustn’t happen again.

    Out of the window the garden looked resplendent in the morning sunshine. Tripping through it barefoot was his nemesis, that temptress Rada. It looked like she was singing to the flowers. Bloody hell- what a kook!  Colleen had made such a mistake bringing them to this Godforsaken place.

     Well it must be near midnight in New York- time for a game before Jeezbob hit the sack.  He closed the curtain.  Jeezbob had manoeuvred him into a cave full of unexploded mines, and the sound of whizzing, banging and explosions drowned out that wretched singing.

     A shaft of sunlight slipped through a crack in the curtain and caught his face. Dammit. It reminded him of the sparkle on Rada’s pearly teeth. He went to the window. Oh God she was cartwheeling again. As she came up, she spied him.

     ‘Come, come outside! It is so wonderful out here.’ He was torn. Then he saw the quote above his door.

    "If we don't change our direction, we'll wind up where we are headed."

    Boy, was this place trying to brainwash him? He decided to take his ZiSleeve with him. As protection.

      ‘Oh okay, but I’m not doing any more cartwheels.’

      ‘Of course not- I want to show you the gardens.’

      ‘Just for a short while.’ Out he went, armoured with his ZiSleeve.

      The garden was bursting with vegetables and flowers. Cabbages the size of footballs swelled out among a riot of nasturtiums.

     ‘You grow all your own vegetables?’

      ‘Yes, and fruits, and healing herbs. We use permaculture techniques.’

        ‘Do you guard your gardens?’


      ‘Why not?’ In LA, gardens had sprouted everywhere- disused lots, sides of roads where guerrilla gardeners had to become more guerrilla-like to protect their produce. MV earned extra money by patrolling gardens at night, entertained by his ZiSleeve of course.

    ‘Well Miroslav’. She lowered her voice as she said his name. Despite himself he thrilled at the way she pronounced it. ‘We have plenty of gardens in Russia. And land.  You must remember the Soviet Union collapsed twenty years before the world financial crash of 2009.  Fortunately most people, even those in the cities, still had access to a dacha and garden. In the early 1990s while Russia boiled out of control in a soup of intrigue, power and greed, these gardens saved Russia from starvation and possibly another revolution.’

   ‘Revolution may have been a good thing.’

    ‘No Miroslav- our country was worse than a battered, bloody dog after seventy years of revolution. In 1995 there emerged from the Siberian Taiga my heroine, the eco-mystic Anastasia, who persuaded hundreds of thousands of people to turn away from the transient attraction of luxury consumer goods, and delight in the simple pleasures of planting seeds and creating gardens. By the time Capitalism cracked apart, President Medvedev was passing legislation for people to acquire land cheaply, so they could be self-sufficient. What was great was that these people were well educated and technically literate and brought their new knowledge to the land. My parents were successful city people who became quickly disillusioned with a Western copycat lifestyle; they traded their concrete coop in Moscow for an eco-house in the countryside, at first commuting while they built it.’

   Her eyes sparkled as she spoke of her parents. ‘Oh Miroslav I wish I could take you to visit them, so you could eat one of the apples from the tree they planted when I was born. It would help your skin condition.’

    MV looked at the rosy flush of her skin and longed to touch it- to somehow infuse it into his own.

  ‘So what is so special about this school?’ He had avoided going to Shchetinin’s talk, pleading Zi overload.

  ‘We learn how to create a positive future.’


   ‘In many ways, but basically by relating to each other and thinking.’


   ‘Yes most people only use a fraction of their thinking capabilities.’

    ‘Well I don’t.  I think all the time.’

    ‘Miroslav, you never have time to think- a slave to your ZiSleeve.’

    ‘I’m thinking the whole time- responding to hundreds of pieces of info every day, through my live-Stream.’

    ‘Just Nowism; downloading data. Reacting. Not retaining it.’

    ‘Yes I am.’

     ‘I doubt that. When do you contemplate deeply, sharpen your understanding- ponder whether something optimal in the present may not be optimal in the future? Do you observe nature for example? Work out the true laws that govern everything?’

    ‘Well-er….’  MV thought of his mother who commented sadly that old-fashioned daydreaming had disappeared?

    ‘Well Mirloslav- the deep, quiet thinking process is alien to many today because of the influence of the technocratic world. People spend their entire life marshalling their thoughts towards using and creating better widgets and gadgets. You are seduced by these substitutes for real life.’

    MV’s wii injury throbbed. His ZiSleeve winked and beeped.

   ‘Miroslav, the planet needs greater consciousness, reflective awareness, not just technical fixes.’

   ‘Substitutes! You are unbelievably arrogant! You should have seen the amazing  devices at the Expo. Technology that will save our planet.’

   But MV was back at Moscow’s Crystal Island.  His eyes glazed over. ‘You should have seen the robots.’

  ‘Just clever inventions, nothing more.’

  ‘Inventions? Robots will take over.’

   ‘Only the brains behind them will take over. Our brains. Technology is created by us; by our thoughts.  It is us humans who are amazing. Robots at best, are useful servants.

    ‘Look at this ZiSleeve! I can get any piece of information I want at any time. I’m being better educated than anyone in mankind’s history.’ MV’s Zi bleeped obligingly in emphasis. ‘I’m proud to be part of a cross-fertilization that’s driving a generation of new scientific knowledge and technological innovation at an unprecedented rate.’
    ‘Yes that is good- it makes you flip from topic to topic easily and you learn a lot quickly, but it also makes you lazy. Your mind is continually searching for input- the latest disaster, the latest news, the latest- what do you call it? Thrill.’ She pronounced it “T’rill”.

     MV had to acknowledge that point.  Each day brought an exciting breaking news story on ZiNet- plenty of them- cyclones, fires, riots, floods, sieges. There was even a special part of YouTube called SiegeTube where people could tune into their own reality siege. It felt dull if a day went by without a disaster to tune into.

     ‘But it is good to be tuned into the world. I am connected to millions of people in real time. Live-streaming.’

   ‘Real time?  A delusion. Just an impression of real life. Live-streaming enslaves you to the web. Why are we here? How can we save the planet? How do we relate to each other? They are the real time questions.’

    ‘I am relating to others all over the globe. Strangers reach out to each other- open up, express themselves more easily. I respond to so many people.’

     ‘Yes but you never have time to deeply ponder. You are mesmerised by the web like a baboon is to a red bottom. Easily led. Never stopping to think.’

    MV struggled to put aside the image of the baboon following a bottom. ‘But amazing movements have been achieved by as you call it, ‘red bottoms’. The massive  Internet led cleanup in Estonia in 2008 and the dramatically successful City Food Banks started in Holland in 2009 by Kim Bunt, have spread all over the world. People are clearing rubbish, and starving people in major cities can now eat fresh, locally grown produce.’

   ‘Yes, I admire Kim, but for every one of her there have been ten charlatans spreading doom and gloom- creating a negative future and influencing 1000s of gullible followers.’

    MV thought of all the 2012 doomsayers- like Jonas Potter whose followers avidly ingested his tweets on how the planet was destroying itself by greed and would end on Dec 23rd 2012; who sailed with him on a plastic barge to the floating plastic debris in the Pacific, which had grown larger than Texas, to await the end. When it didn’t happen, Jonas persuaded the group to immolate themselves; a perfect example MV had to admit, of what Rada described as ‘creating a negative future’.  MV shuddered, remembering the images of burning bodies and plastic which flashed on every screen across the world.

    And then a few days later another siege dominated the screens. The world quickly forgot the plastic martyrs, whose charred remains had still not sunk to the bottom of the filthy ocean.  

      They came to a wooden seat and sat down.   

   ‘Are you trying to tell me that my online stuff is bad.’

    ‘No, I am online too.’ 

    ‘You are?’

    ‘Yes I am in communication with gardeners all over the world. Kim is one of them.’


    ‘Yes I have several hundred thousand followers in Russia alone on TwitRus.’

     MV’s mouth fell open. As a fifth grader he had boasted the most Twitter followers of his age group, but it had peaked at 10,000 before Twitter sank without trace, just like Jonas and his followers.

   ‘What I’m saying Miroslav is that you think the Web is the be-all and end-all of life.’

     ‘But it’s great, being in touch with so many people everywhere.’

    ‘I agree.  Our gardeners’ forum is amazing and a fantastic vehicle for disseminating valuable information and support. But it is not a substitute for direct contact. This is why Colleen has brought you here. Tekos teaches you how to have both. What Shchetinin helps us discover is that we humans have so much more creative potential than we dare imagine. It is not dependent on the Web. We become easily enslaved by technology, fear, greed, envy. He set up this school so students can flower into who we truly are. And when we contact each other- look into each other’s hearts, share each other’s dreams, the potential for healing the planet explodes a thousand times! And you will see the positive results beginning to manifest in the Krasnodar region.’

    ‘But the Orthodox Church obviously doesn’t think so?’

    ‘Oh, many priests don’t want people to take control of their own destinies.’

    The way she looked at him made him want to dive away into his music, his videos, his games, anything to escape those orbs of green fire trying to ring him in. Off-grid world was unnerving. Made him feel uncomfortable. At least with his ZiSleeve he was in control. He was king of his castle. He could dictate all.

   ‘I’m hungry. When’s breakfast?’

    ‘Stay here in the sun. It’s good for your skin. I will bring breakfast.’

     MV didn’t resist. Besides he could reconnect his earchip and disappear into music.

    Rada brought back a tray of watermelon, apricots and muesli.

   ‘This muesli is packed with cedar nuts from our trees. So healing for your body.’ She touched his cheek.

    “Oh no, no escape!” he thought, sinking his teeth into succulent watermelon, trying unsuccessfully to listen to the latest track from Blazedinger.

    ‘We grew these watermelons. Full of sunshine and water. We are lucky to have plenty of both.’  

   MV disconnected his earchip resignedly. This chick sure liked to talk a lot.

   ‘Miroslav, who do you have direct contact with? Your family?’

    MV thought about his mother complaining that the kids were always absorbed in their ZiSleeves.  She had tried to ban Zis at dinner but he and his brothers caused such a fuss, she gave in.  Now WebMother accompanied them at meals. RealMother began blogging  other mothers, all complaining about their mono-syllabic families gripped by weblock.

    ‘You eat together?’ Rada interrupted his thoughts.

     ‘Well, sort of.’

    MV’s Zi winked like an alien between them as they crunched their muesli.

     ‘You eat together with your Zis?’

     ‘Well, er-yes.’

     ‘So who do you have real contact with? Girl friends?’ MV thought of all the girls he’d bonked with his ZiSleeve on! He felt another strange emotion. Was it shame? He feigned a coughing fit.

     ‘Do you ever take your ZiSleeve off?’ 

     ‘Er-no, yes. I switch it off at baseball matches. Dammit Rada,’ he spat out a watermelon pip.  ‘I like this technology.’

      ‘I’m not saying anything is wrong with the technology- it is how we use it. The technology is there to serve us. For example our solar greenhouses extend the growing season.’ She pointed to the glass structures glinting in the solar garden. ‘It’s our relationship with technology that is important- either we dominate it or it dominates us.’

        They finished their breakfast. The group were getting ready to go out in the Solaritza.

        ‘Come see our Tech block.’ She took his hand and dragged him through the door of the wooden building, inscribed with, ‘Never doubt the power of a small group of thoughtful, committed people to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.’
        ‘Wow,’ said MV, marvelling at the inside. ‘Cool. You do have some serious bit of kit.  Holographic screens. Your own databanks?’

      ‘Yes, two of them- we are able to store valuable information without being held hostage to web pirates and unpredictable crises with bandwidth.’

    MV thought of Wingnut who used up more bytes than a starving crocodile. Not that it bothered him. Just charged extra bandwidth to his dad’s account.

     ‘And here is our server.’

    MV had done a summer internship for Wingnut’s father. Here was a chance to show this smart-arse broad, a thing or two. He fired a question at her.

     ‘So what’s your PUE for this?’

     Rada didn’t even bat one of her gorgeously curved eyelashes.

    ‘Oh it hovers around 1.05.’

    MV’s mouth dropped open. Even the most energy efficient servers didn’t score so low.

    ‘Yes,’ Rada continued. ‘We take our Power User Efficiency very seriously. We don’t like to waste precious energy on ancillary functions. And because it comes straight from the sun and wind, we are even happier. Oh, there’s the Solaritza, ready for boarding.’

     ‘Oh by the way, where do you plug the bus in?’

    ‘We don’t. Our Solaritza is capable of converting and storing energy when there’s no sun, with nano-antennae which absorb infrared rays.’

MV texted Jeezbob. ‘This chick is driving me mad- invading my headspace, man.’

   ‘Just fuck her brains out, dude. That will shut her up.’

He was too ashamed to tell Jeezbob that he hadn’t even snogged her yet.

       The Solaritza took the group on several excursions, including Krasnodar city with its abundance of trees, gardens and fountains; crucial as cities all over the world sizzled in higher temperatures. A large industrial complex which once housed Philip Morris was now a myriad of gardens on various levels, swarming with people who resembled industrious ants. Tania informed the visitors that these were once factory workers who decided that feeding the city’s inhabitants with fresh produce was better than making cigarettes which were slowly killing them.

     They went to the Sea of Azov and brought back a crate of fresh fish.

     They soaked in thermal and salt springs which were abundant. MV noticed his skin fungus fading.

     On other days, Shchetinin invited the group to tackle an issue that interested them, Tekos style. This was so different from the classroom approach they were used to. Shchetinin did not ‘teach’ anything. He offered himself, Tania, Rada and Vassily as resources if needed, and showed them tools they could use to tackle seemingly insoluble problems. One involved drawing ‘rich pictures’ with coloured pens. MV scoffed. ‘Child’s play!’ He resented the absence of his ZiSleeve. But was astounded by the new ways of seeing the problem, this facilitated. The group was encouraged to deepen contact with each other, to really listen and to bounce ideas off each other. This fostered greater depth and clarity and a sense of collective potential. It was as if a new collective organ of sight was opening up.  Often the group would lapse inho deep silence. MV, despite himself, found this surprisingly nourishing; just a silent communion where he found he could access a deeper place within himself. Invariably profound insights would bubble up. The group would be energised and ideas would fly around like brilliant fireworks.

    Rada told them how the presence of the Tekos School had affected the Krasnodar region; how students had gone out into the community and helped people envision a positive future and begin working towards implementing it. This was often met with great resistance initially- for example  when they wanted to close down the Pepsi Cola factory. However, like in the Philip Morris case, the positive vision won, and a new enterprise evolved. The place was now run by local people, making local produce such as berry juices, jams, wines and cedar nut oil.

    So the days at sunny Tekos rolled by. For some it was interminably slow; for others it was rushing too fast.

    Rachel had been persuaded by Vassily to walk each day, and feast only on morsels of fresh fish and berries. She could feel the fat falling off. Demoloron, on his black steed, was fading fast into zyberspace. She had little desire to follow.

     Enrita found that washing dishes in the summer kitchen and sharing a joke with the others was fun. Her nano-wand gathered dust in her room.

    Wingnut clung desperately to his porn world, but kept wanting to follow Tania around.

   MV felt he was on a roller coaster. The more he found out about Tekos the more questions he had, and the less he felt attached to his ZiSleeve. His total obsession with Rada continued, unabated.

     One morning MV woke with a start and raced out to Rada who was doing her usual routine of singing to the flowers.

     ‘I now know who you remind me of! You have her body and a certain look in your eyes-  Guidolon’s girlfriend, Trisuron.’

    ‘Oh Miroslav!’ Rada leapt up and hugged him. It took his breath away. ‘Trisuron is my heroine- I am a great follower of the weekly adventures of Guidolon, the Giant Space Chicken. This series is so popular in Russia. I want to be like Trisuron. A ray of love beams from her forehead with which she melts away the latest giant monster. This is what I aspire to.’

   Rada sprang up and did Trisuron’s victory dance. So sexy, funny, delightful.

   MV stared enraptured. This girl never ceased to amaze him.


         ‘What do you dream of, Miroslav?’

It was a hot afternoon after one of Shchetinin’s  sessions. MV and Rada had just been cycling.

      “Dreaming of bonking you darling.” The thought bubble rose unbidden.

      She must have caught his look, or worse, read his mind. ‘No, I don’t mean immediate gratification.’

       He caught his breath. Was she a witch?

      ‘What do you dream of in the future?’

    He thought of the dreams he’d had as a kid- become a baseball star, be captain at school…

    ‘Go to Yale- work on saving the dying oceans.’ This had been the topic in today’s Shchetinin group and they had come up with some brilliant ideas.

     ‘Sounds good,' her eyes twinkled. 'What about a family?’

     ‘You must be kidding, I’m only 18.’

      ‘I dream of a man who is worthy of me, with whom I can create a space of love. I see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Our own piece of land with an orchard, a garden, and where we can live in joy with our children.'

    She looked at him, her eyes blazing; he felt sparks flying from them.

    He felt naked in her gaze. He found himself feeling decidedly unworthy of her. Rada’s laugh, tinkling through the trees, and the quality of her attention, stirred something deep within him. He remembered hiking with his mother, in the beautiful Angeles National Park long before the terrible fire. He saw her dejected face when he refused to accompany her the next year and the next. Great sadness swept over him. So many lost opportunities. He decided then and there that he would go hiking with her when he returned. And he silently vowed never to wear his ZiSleeve at dinner again.


    ‘Jeezbob help! This girl is driving me wild- I don’t know if I’m coming or going!’

    ‘Well I sure hope it’s more coming than going, man.  Get a grip- slam her against a garden wall. You know they love it!’

  “You don’t know this girl,” thought MV.


     Rada took MV to a large dark cellar. The shelves were stacked with produce in bottles. Strings of garlic and bunches of dried herbs hung from hooks. Intoxicating odours enveloped him. She took a jar of cherries and opened it. The smell hit him.

   ‘Close your eyes!’ She slid something wet, round and squelchy into his mouth.

   The taste of the cherry was just divine- he opened his eyes to see her licking sticky red liquid off her fingers.

   ‘Wow, that’s amazing’. It was even more delicious than anything he tasted when he had the munchies after smoking weed.

    ‘The secret is in the bottling. The fruit must go straight into the jars after it is picked and sealed in immediately with beet sugar or honey’. A drop of juice glistened  on her lips.

    ‘Rada,’ dared MV, ‘Have you ever been kissed?’

    ‘Many times, by my family and friends.’

    ‘No I mean, by a boy? A man?’

     ‘Oh no, Miroslav- that would be mixing juices and I intend to do that only with the father of my future children.’

    The countless girls he had bonked indiscriminately, whirred before his eyes; he felt shame.

     She picked up some jars of peppers, beetroots and cucumbers and put them in his arms. ‘For lunch!’ She also took some cherries.

    ‘I will make these into cherry dumplings. Especially for you.’ She licked her lips with such an enticing look, his legs turned to jelly.


   A trip was planned to the Dolmens, ancient spiritual tombs, in the nearby hills. Rada was staying behind to work in the garden. MV mumbled an excuse to Colleen-  ‘overflowing inbox ’.  Wingnut decided to stay behind too, ensconcing himself behind the Tech block so he could watch his porn ‘without being judged by these freaks.’ He, or strictly speaking his avatar Gorko, was embarking on another sex slave game in the bowels of Second Life. A secret enclave where huge wads of cash were needed, as the players sank deeper into their lustful orgies. “That stupid Tania”, he thought, “she says money can’t buy happiness. Well she’s wrong. Gorko with his huge 3D cock can buy as much happiness as he wants.”

      MV sat in the quadrangle chuckling at the latest from LaughTube. He watched Rada coming from the garden with radishes in her hands. She smiled warmly at him as usual, but then her face darkened.  MV turned to follow her gaze.

   He saw shadowy figures creeping around the edge of the main school building, carrying what looked like cans. The unfamiliar smell of petrol hit his nostrils.

   ‘Stop right there!’ commanded Rada.

    One of the figures jumped up. He approached her carrying a gun.

     MV, who was hidden behind an apple tree, quickly pipped Jeezbob.

    ‘Hey we’re being attacked.’

    ‘Yeah,’ pipped back Jeezbob. ‘I can see it all.’

   ‘Really?’  A picture  of the garden flashed onto his screen. MV looked up. He understood. Wingnut, abandoning Gorko, had quietly climbed up a tree behind the Tech block, with his Zi-Lens.  He shivered as he recorded the scene below. This was the best reality TV people could watch- but it was dangerous for the recorders. Most of them got shot. Wingnut hoped against hope, he wouldn’t be noticed. This would be such a scoop for SchoolTube.

      MV watched breathlessly as the men moved into the quadrangle. He was now in full view.  One ran up to MV shouting at him to take off his ZiSleeve.

     MV felt like he was divesting a weapon as he ripped it off. He didn’t dare look up at Wingnut, hoping all was being relayed to Jeezbob. Knowing Jeezbob was in the frame, so to speak, comforted him. They both knew how to get out of tight spots.

      He was led at gunpoint further into the quadrangle.

     Rada was calmly standing in front of the ringleader.

     ‘Hello Dangovich. Before you burn us down again, why don’t you let me show you around. Tell you about what we do. You can invite your boss.’

    Dangovich felt her gaze uncomfortably warm on his face.

   ‘Stop staring you wi-itch or I put bullet between zose green eyes.’

    MV thought Rada was wasting her Trisuron ray of love on such a dickhead. But what could he do? He so wanted to protect her- to be worthy of her.

    ‘Leave her alone, dude,’ he dared. The honcho span round.

   ‘Ah, stupi-id Americanyitz.’ He spat at his feet. MV sprang back in terror, feeling as rattled and useless, as Guidolon the giant Space Chicken.

    ‘This proves you are cult,’ Dangovich spat at Rada. ‘Mi-ixing wi’zis cheap scum.’

     Dangovich grabbed MV by the neck, and put the gun to his face.

    He had strict orders. To burn the place down. It was assumed it was empty for the summer. But if any cult members were around, they must not be harmed. That would only make martyrs of them.  But the boss hadn’t said anything about ‘filt’y Americanyitzi’.

    “God,” thought MV, “this is similar to that game I played with Jeezbob where we were attacked by a Triad gang. How did we get out of that?”

    The reality was so different.  He was terrified.  Dangovich reeked of garlic and sweat. That, plus the cold metal against his cheek was vomit inducing. Nausea and terror had never been part of zyber-games.

      He caught Rada’s gaze- it was so beautiful, reassuring, calming. Trisuron looking at Guidolon. He managed to take a breath.

      ‘Let him go,’ Rada said. ‘He is a visitor.’

      “What an inane thing to say”, thought MV.

       ‘Vi-isitor hey? Bringing stupi-id ideas to zis country!’

       ‘Hello, Comrade!’ said MV, feebly.

        Dangovich gave him a look so icy that the Pole caps would not dare melt another centimetre, his breath so pungent that MV’s nose nearly dropped off in protest.

      In NewYork, Jeezob was staring open-mouthed. His finger throbbed. He wished there was something he could click to wipe this asshole out. ‘Siege,’ he pipped. 

     ‘Siege! Siege! Siege!’ was pipped all over the world. ZiFlickr relayed the images to SiegeTube. Web addicts everywhere glued themselves to their screens.

     Wingut trembled as the scene unfolded. It was all he could do to stay up in the tree and not fall out.

    Rada calmly thought through her options- just as long as MV and Wingnut didn’t do anything unexpected.  She sent a look at MV with the intent, “Everything is fine- no heroics.”

    MV misread the look and thought. “She looks naively calm- I’ll have to save her.”

    Rada knew this was a big test for her. Of everything she had learnt. Could she keep love in her heart in the face of adversity? Could she do what many others had done before her? Mandela had lasted 28 years; Aung San Suu Kyi , 26 years; the Dalai Llama, 55 years. She, Rada, was 18 years old. She didn’t think she could last 5 minutes. She recalled tears of joy when the Dalai Llama triumphantly re-entered Lhasa.  She quelled her trembling knees by remembering what Suu Kyi said. “You must never let your fear take over- if you do they have won.”

She must focus on a positive outcome for this situation. She took a deep breath. Like Trisuron she must send out a ray of love.

   ‘Dangovich, put the gun down.’

    Dangovich, studiously avoiding her green eyes, prodded MV. He hadn’t had so much fun in years; not since he’d been bodyguard to Alexey, the Patriarch.  

     ‘Americanyitz! You knaow Russian Roulette?’ Dangovich pointed the gun to the ground and pulled the trigger. There was an ominous click. ‘The next cli-ick could put a hoawl in your stupi-id head.’ He shoved the gun back into MV’s face.

     ‘Clusterfuck scumbag!’ shouted Jeezbob, scaring his cat. 

     MV thought he would faint. He could see Rada’s eyes. Was that light coming from them?

    ‘Dangovich, please let the American go,’ she said in her melodious voice.

    Dangovich caught the way she looked at MV.

   ‘Ah, so you like zis boy hey?  Well we make him dance for you before we shoot his brains out.’

   With that he pointed at MV’s feet. This was too much for MV. ‘Do you know everyone’s watching you, asshole.’ He yelled pointing up at Wingnut. ‘You are on screens all over the world!’

   ‘Oh no,’ thought Rada.

     Dangovich swung around, saw Wingnut, and fired.  Wingnut came tumbling down. Birds in the trees scattered in fright.

    Screens across the world went blank!

    Jeezbob froze in horror, frantically pushing different keys; trying to find news channels, anything.

     Two of the thugs shoved a trembling Wingnut into the quadrangle. MV was hugely relieved to see him alive.

     ‘You okay, Wingnut?’ Rada asked anxiously.

     ‘Everyone knows what you’re up to. What a scumbag you are,’ shouted MV, wishing he didn’t sound like a strangled chicken. ‘Pictures have already gone out all over the world.’

   Dangovich turned menacingly towards him but was startled mid-turn by a loud ringing from within his jacket. He pulled out an old Z-iPhone.

     If phones could swear and appear irate, this one did.  If it were in a cartoon, angry faces, sparks and bubbles of Slavic expletives would be exploding from it.

   Dangovich blanched a sickly parsnip colour.  He held the spitting gadget at arm’s length and gestured his men towards their car.

    ‘You lu-ucky zis time, you wi-itch. I have orders to gao immediately.’

    With that Dangovich and his thugs all piled into their vehicle and drove off, tipping over petrol barrels as they went.

     Rada ran over to the barrels and righted them. ‘Don’t want the fumes to hurt the bees,’ she said, looking up at the eaves.

    ‘Hey, how about me? I nearly got shot. You care more about those damn bees than me.’

    She walked back. ‘You were never in any danger, Miroslav.’

   MV felt like he was in a Guidolon episode where the guys were stupid and ineffectual, and the heroines sassy and victorious. He looked around to see if Wingnut was listening, but he was busy tapping on his ZiSleeve and reconnecting to the world.

    ‘What do you mean, I was in no danger? Dangovich was playing Russian Roulette with me.’  MV fervently wished his voice would come down out of chicken register.

    Just then the Solaritza swooped in and Colleen, white as snow, leapt out.  ‘Are you okay? Rachel saw it all on her Zi and we returned as fast as we could.’

     Shchetinin hurried across the courtyard and hugged Rada.

     ‘You just missed Dangovich. Apparently the boss was not happy about his boys being splattered all over SiegeTube. Ordered him to abort plans and get out.  It was wonderful that Wingnut recorded it. He is the hero.’

     Tania ran over to Wingnut, hugged him, and started searching his body for bruises. Wingnut ripped off his Zi and let himself snuggle into Tania’s warm body. Wow this felt so much nicer than anything Gorko got up to.

    MV felt terrible.

    He followed Rada who had gone back to the garden.

   ‘I so wanted to be a hero, but I was useless.’ What he really wanted to say was, “Oh Rada, I so want to be worthy of you.”

    ‘Not at all,’ said Rada, looking up from picking sweetcorn. ‘You saved the day by alerting Dangovich to the fact that the world was watching what a thug he is. He hated that. Not what he had in mind for the image of the Russian Orthodox Church.’

   That night there was a feast. Enrita helped grill perch and carp in the summer kitchen.  MV and Wingnut, the heroes, were feted and toasted with berry wine.

    ‘To MV and Wingnut,’ toasted Shchetinin, Tania translating.  ‘Thanks to them, the SiegeTube video has already had a million hits on YouTube.’

     ‘Yeah!’ Wingnut  punched the air.

    ‘Yes, and what is excellent news is that the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch saw the video. He was so impressed with how Rada handled the situation and how the place looked, that he wants to come and visit- to start a dialogue with Shchetinin.’ Whoops of joy filled the quadrangle.

    ‘Another toast!’ proffered Rada. ‘Here’s to build up of trust, contact and using the Web to facilitate that. If it wasn’t for our American guests the event would not have been recorded. Three cheers for Live-Stream!’

    As the cheers died down, Shchetinin took up the accordion and played a lively tune. Vassily leapt up, grabbing Rachel for a dance. She did not resist.

      Rada approached MV.  ‘Oh Miroslav,’ she whispered. ‘You still look so miserable.’

     ‘Just like Guidolon, I was chicken shit.’

     ‘But what else could you have done?’

    ‘If I was stronger or knew karate, I could have flattened the bastard.’ MV felt tears springing from his eyes. ‘I’m sorry, my Trisuron’. The ‘my’ slipped out unbidden. Rada caught it with a tiny flutter of her eyelashes.

     ‘Well my Guido, I had another plan, but yours was much better.’

    ‘What was your plan?’

    ‘Ah for me to tell you that, you will have to get to know me more,’ she said coquettishly.

    ‘Oh Rada I want to know you so much more.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I want so much to be worthy of you.’ Finally he had said it. ‘But I will be leaving soon.’ He looked dejected again.

     Rada leaned up to him and ever so gently put the tip of her tongue into his mouth. The scent of berry wine and mead was intoxicating. The delicate lick produced waves of liquid pleasure, far more delicious than anything MV had experienced in his whole life. His loins felt on fire.

    She darted away.

   ‘Well Miroslav. You will be back.’ Her eyes sparkled green fire. ‘We have now officially mixed juices.’    

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