D for Dolcett. That's all they’d tell me. Not even what the name meant, who "Dolcett" was. The owner, I suppose.
It’s strange at home, now. We’ve all had sex with one another (except for me with Mum – ewww), so it’s hard to know just who should sleep with whom.
Mum doesn’t approve of my sleeping with Pat, as she says she doesn’t trust her - and, besides, I’m too young. But then, if she bunks down with Pat herself, that leaves me with her boyfriend, and she’s even less keen on that (it’s true I’ve had sex with him, but we’ve never actually spent the night together – not sure I’d like to, but then again, not quite sure I wouldn’t). So that pretty much leaves each of us on our own. Except that, in practice, she ended up with him and I ended up sneaking off to finish up the night in Pat’s arms again.
But then they got all dolled up and went out.
“Don’t wait up,” they said. “Don’t worry if you don’t hear from us … We’re on assignment.”
Yeah, right. On assignment. A right pair of Glam Metal Detectives, they looked – not an inch of non-see-through material on either of them (Mum looked great, I had to admit … Pat, on the other hand, was just sex on legs. I had to pinch myself to stop from going over and kissing her right then and there).
So there I was, tossing and turning, all on my lonesome, with only my little toys for company – and you know, they’re great and all, but they’re no substitute for the real thing.
And I got to thinking.
Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places on the official sites?
If you want to make something unfindable – or rather, if you want to make it unfindable for everyone except the people who have the key, how do you go about it? You publish under a false name, at a fake address – yeah, yeah, all that’s fairly standard. But how do you hide from repetitive search terms?
I guess you can have an agreed-upon code – that’s possible. “Apple-blossom” stands for “machine-gun,” and so on. But how do you tell people which words mean which things?
I remember one day when I still used to go to school, one of the maths bots got sidetracked one day and started to talk about secret codes.
He said that you had to count on someone intercepting your secret messages, and that if they had enough text, sooner or later they would crack it through letter-frequency or some such technique.
“Imagine you have a steel box with a secret message in it,” he - it - said. “You lock it up with your own padlock and key and send it to the friend you want to read it. But he can’t open it, of course, because it’s locked and he doesn’t have the key. So instead of spending lots of time trying to pick the lock (which is what anyone who intercepted the box would do), he simply puts his own padlock and key on it and sends it back to you. So now you have a steel box with a secret message inside and two locks on it. But the important thing is this. You unlock your padlock with your key, and return it to him, and he unlocks his padlock and key and that way he can read the message. In other words, there is a way to exchange a message without ever exchanging the secret key that unlocks it.”
He went on to explain that the difference between encrypting a message and locking it in a steel box was that it doesn’t make any difference in what order you unlock two padlocks, but it usually does make a difference what order you decode them in. The point is, though, that keys are easy to intercept if you have to send them to people, but they’re much more secure if you don’t share them with anyone.
So let’s say that these stories on the Internet are the message in the steel box. They’re being sent out to anyone who wants to read them, but that most or all of those people have no idea of the key, or even if there is a key. They’re locked and invisible because no-one knows they’re there – and even if they do know, they have no idea what’s in them.
Sending the box back with your own padlock attached, though, what’s that? I guess that every time someone reads one of the stories, that could send information to the original host / author … that way he or she would know that someone had at least received the message.
The way to find them, then, would be not really to look for them at all – rather, they’d cross your path or they wouldn’t, you’d find them and be intrigued by them (if that's the kind of thing you're intrigued by).
And yet this agency on earth must have found them and got worried by them, if they decided to send an agent to Mars (that’s if any of that story is actually true, of course). So they must contain something subversive. Unless the mere fact that they were so difficult to find was in itself evidence of subversion.
I shook my head to clear it. This was getting me nowhere – just chasing my tail round and round the mulberry bush.
So what was all that stuff about the woman obsessed with her own arse? “Burmese Days,” he called it?
Burmese Days proved to be no use. It was the title of an old novel written by a man called George Orwell, which was (the index told me) the pseudonym of one Eric Blair. It was about a man called John Florey, who got into trouble because his native mistress wouldn’t leave him alone when he tried to get married to a white woman. He committed suicide as a result.
Burma is the old name for Myanmar, one of the border countries between India and the Chinese conglomerate.
“Arses” was no help either – just endless pictures of girls’ (and guys’ – and even aliens’) behinds. Ars longa vita brevis: Art is long and life is short. That was in Latin, written by a man called Horace. Strange name for a poet – Horace Horsecollar.
Latin – tons of Latin authors listed: Apuleius, Catullus, Caesar, Livy, Ovid, Propertius, Virgil. Any specialise in writing about love and sex? Most of them, it seemed. They all had married mistresses and spent their time whining about it.
One of them actually wrote a long treatise on how to pick up girls – and then a sequel on how to get rid of them. Oh, and then he got sent into exile for writing disreputable poems …
Exile to the border regions: mistresses, love affairs. I started to click on a few more links from him. Pictures, statues, texts of the poems …
There was a certain fascination about it all, one had to admit. He’d got the emperor’s granddaughter (or was it his daughter? Opinions seemed to vary. They were both called “Julia,” anyway) to go to bed with him. Or maybe it was just that she liked reading his poems. Or that her lover/s had used the poems as an instruction manual on how to seduce well-brought-up, aristocratic girls. Anyway, there was some connection between her committing adultery and him being sent off to the Black Sea.
“As far away as Mars.” That’s what one of the write-ups said. Could that be it? Was that the link? Was Burma – Myanmar, rather – a mask for Mars? A place as far away to the ancient Romans as another planet is for us?
I shook my head. This was all very well, but I hadn’t got any close to finding … whatever it was I was searching for. The reason my Mother and my lover were going undercover to some freaked-out nightclub. The answer to all our troubles – for this guy who'd come into our lives, at any rate: the one who was using us as bait to flush out his quarry.
There had to be some way to turn the tables on him, get him off our backs. Unless he really was our friend, unless the person or people he was hunting really were worse than him.
Until I found that out for certain, I preferred to believe my enemy’s enemy was my friend.