Diamond Dogs

 

 

I'm not even going to attempt to chronicle the bad years between 1996 and now. Basically it's all out there in the public domain and if you're really interested you can read the newspapers or even Lara Croft's memoirs, if you've got money to burn. To cover it in a sentence or two, Lara killed me three times; once in the ruins of the Golden Pyramid of Aea, once at Parajito Mesa when she discovered that - out of my love for her - I'd genetically altered her, and once in Helheim. Each time I found a loophole. I had either triggered the Christian Resurrection and came back in time, or had the remains of my brain rescued from a pool of subzero Eitr and my real and electronically stored memories inserted into a cloned body. It's all very dull. Needless to say I was left with a new body and a faulty memory. Thank the Lords of the Sea and the Sky that I wrote a diary.

Amanda had become, shall we say, a bit flaky. She changed allegiance more times than Joel Cairo, and I realised that the mixture of genes from Tihocan and myself must have generated some flaw, for she was little better than Chloe of the Golden Hair and her other sisters. She would always be the eternal teenager, deprived of a real childhood and swept by floods of hormones and resentment. She was a foolish girl, but I forgave her. I loved her, and more to the point, fifty percent of the time she did something really useful, like saving my ass. She was Atlantean, but she seemed older. From the faux naive ingénue that I'd sent to befriend Lara Croft in Bolivia she'd grown into a bitter blonde, like a cowgirl forced by age and poverty to start tricking in a small town bar. All quite ridiculous for a woman who was a Princess of Atlantis and an Assistant Director of the extremely prosperous Natla Technologies. Maybe her association with Fluffy the Wraith or her Dais trips to meet her historical sisters had warped her in some way. Neither I nor her brothers Nas and Das had much of a clue, but we supported her as best we could.

So - to start somewhere - one day there was a family meeting at Parajito Mesa on the 1st of January, 2010.

"Happy American New Year's Day!" I said, raising my glass.

"Happy New Year, Mama Jackie!" said Nas and Das, in unison.

Nas, in a military uniform and sporting a full beard, was the spit of his Uncle Qualopec and has inherited his uncle's grasp of the martial arts. He had recently been appointed a Major in the newest brigade of the 1st Armored Division, the 7th Brigade - founded 2009 and nicknamed "The Young Ironsides" - based out of Fort Bliss, NM. He was on more or less permanent temporary assignment to the Far East - due to his language skills - and was currently stationed in Camp Zama, Japan, doing ‘humanitarian work’, whatever that meant. With him was his bizarre "fiancée", Bea Bartak, a blackly clad Transylvanian minx who was dossing around the Far East under the guise of "teaching English". He'd met her in some sort of ghastly drug den in Laos whilst on leave, and I couldn't really see her doing his career much good. I thoroughly disapproved, and I could see Ms. Bartak coming to an untimely end unless he got bored of her soon. A Royal Prince should be guided by more than his loins, I thought. On the only hand I couldn't help but remember my previous disastrous attempts at matchmaking within the Family and so, for now, I kept my doubts to myself. Naturally Amanda adored her.

"Happy New Year, Mrs. Natla" said Bea, in her Dracula accent. She handed me what looked like a bunch of straw.

"Happy New Year to you, dear," I said. "What is … this?"

"It's a vetula. An image of the Old Woman that we pagans worship."

I looked at her to see if she was joking. Which "Old Woman" was she referring to exactly, I wondered?

"Pagans?" I said, after a moment.

Bea looked nonplussed. "You know …" she began, looking to Nas for help.

"Oh, pagans!" I said, to break the silence. "I've heard of this … neopaganism, now that you mention it. So which deity or deities do you pagans worship?"

"Oh Mother!" said Amanda. "Give it a rest."

"We don't worship any deities," said Bea, with a vampy pout.

"Ah," I said. "Well thank you for the … whatever you called this thing. I'm sure it will bring me luck." I made a mental note to throw it in the furnace before I caught fleas off it. Maybe one day I'd introduce Bea to the Lords of the Sea and the Sky. If she lived long enough.

"Come on, Bea," said Amanda, getting to her feet. "Let's go get baked."

"I didn't give you permission to step down from the table," I said, plaintively.

"No, you didn't," said Amanda, with a toss of her brittle blonde hair, and she dragged Bea away.

"I apologise, Mama Jackie," said Nas.

"Don't worry, darling. At least Bea isn't boring. And I expect it from your sister."

"Amanda has her uses," said Das, in that quiet voice of his. "She keeps us in touch with the shallower end of American culture. We supply the bread and she supplies the circus."

Das looked a bit like a young Ghandi, with rimless glasses that he didn't need, but which he claimed helped preserve his eyesight during the many hours he spent at the computer screen or wading through dusty libraries. As always he was dressed immaculately in a single breasted brown suit, complete with a striped tie in dark burgundy red and a light blue silk square in his breast pocket. He was based in Bangalore, where he was Visiting Professor of Nanobiotechnology. Like Nas, he spent most of his time on the business of Natla Technologies, but the endowments that we handed out to civil, academic and military projects meant that few questions were asked. Like Harry Wales in the British Army or those members of Asian Royal Family in academic positions, on paper Nas and Das were just the same as their peers, but in reality they were a race apart, only playing at being part of the command hierarchy.

"In a way we're probably better off with them retiring," I said after refilling everybody's glasses. "I have a plan to take over the world that I want to discuss with you boys, and Amanda would only start going on about how much she doesn't want to be in charge of the southern hemisphere."

Nas and Das exchanged glances.

"Another plan to take over the world?" said Das, softly.

"Aren't we fairly well positioned as it is?" echoed Nas.

I smiled. "Hear me out. I know you boy think that I'm just a megalomaniac just for the sake of being a megalomaniac, but you have to see it from my point of view."

"Mama, we love you," said Das. "We only want you to be happy."

"And we realise that you feel that it is your duty as the only remaining ruler of Atlantis to return Earth to the happy state that it enjoyed during the Golden Age," said Nas.

"But your plans always seem to go awry," said Das, pushing his spectacles up and blushing. "The last time we almost lost you."

"Hear me out, darlings," I said, patting their hands. "If you disapprove, then I won't put my plan into action. Fair enough?"

They looked at each other, doing that telepathic twin thing.

"Sounds reasonable," said Nas, squeezing my fingers.

"Mama Jackie," said Das, kissing my cheek.

I leaned back in my chair, steepled my fingers and took a deep breath.

"My plan," I said, "is to be elected President of the United States."

* * * * *


My plan had two parts, and neither of them involved ancient technology or fireball-throwing Atlanteans, at least not unless strictly necessary.

I'd studied Wikipedia and as far as I could see there were only a few things that one needed to become President. One had to have a seat in a lower tier of government, have lots of money and have lots of popularity, however underserved. I wasn't sure if one had to be born American, but I had enough paperwork to say that I had been, and one could even have held a ridiculously inappropriate former job - like "actor" or "trust fund drunk" - whereas I, I was a self made "captain of industry", wasn't I?

My research suggested that one could become President not only as a Senator, but also as a member of the House of Representatives - like Lincoln or Quincy Adams. However an examination of the political parties - the Democrats and the Republicans - left me unenthused, not least because the concepts of democracy and republicanism struck me as incompatible with the rule of a God King. As a result I decided that I was going to stand as an Independent in the 2010 election for the Governor of New Mexico. The incumbent, Dick Bilson, was out of time, and the other candidates - according to the files kept on them at Natla Technologies - included an actor who had once provided the voice for the magic car in a kid's program, a corrupt former Air Force pilot who destroyed anybody who stood in her way, an Evangelical sheriff, a bisexual nymphomaniac who had once been cited for stalking and a shady individual who probably had links to drug smuggling. None of them were particularly rich, at least not compared to me.

The second part of my plan, other than to become Governor, was to become unassailably popular, and nothing works better in my opinion than bribery.

I called a meeting at Natla Technologies and laid out my proposal.

"I suggest," I said, "that we offer the people of New Mexico beauty, health and a greatly extended life span. Free of charge."

* * * * *


The Natla Tech adverts, starring me, started going out in late February. Here, for your edification, is part of one of the scripts.

Voice over: Edgar Allen Poe once said beauty of whatever kind excites the human soul to tears.

(Montage of shots of film stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt in their swimming costumes.)

Since before Ancient Egypt and Cleopatra, the age old secrets of beauty have been handed down from generation to generation.

(A naked actress made up as "Hollywood Egyptian bathing in a bath of asses milk.)

Hippocrates, the medical genius of the Ancient Greeks, said that life is short, but is this still as true today?

(Greek bust of Hippocrates. Cracks appear across his face and the statue falls to pieces.)

Health is more than just the absence of illness. It is a positive feeling of vitality, energy, optimism and an overall sense of well-being. True health is being able to say "I feel good" for no particular reason other than being alive.

(Clips of beautiful young people doing callisthenics in the nude.)

Cut to me sitting behind a desk wearing a smart lab coat, a lowish cut blouse, a tight 'above the knee' skirt and an excellent pair of Manolos. As I speak I stand up and come round to sit on the front of the desks, showing my incredible legs to their full advantage.

"Hello. I'm Jacqueline Natla, the CEO of Natla Technologies, and I'm no spring chicken. Wouldn't like to know my secret?"

I laugh like a 50's film star.

"Seriously though, I can make your most vivid dreams come true. Have you ever wished that your face would change its shape? Maybe you've always wanted a longer nose, wider, thinner lips or a larger forehead?"

Fade to an animation showing the face of a dumpy white trash housewife morphing into mine.

"Here at Natla Technologies we have the technology. We can rebuild you. And it won't cost you six million dollars."

Shot of me visiting a bright laboratory set and being shown a test tube filled with glowing pink gunk, by a glamorous actress playing a scientist. I make a tick on my clip board, she unpins her hair to let it fall loose whilst removing her retro glasses and we laugh together like we are about to have sex.

Cut back to me sitting on the terrace at Parajito Mesa sipping an espresso.

"It's true. We can give you a breast enhancement whilst replacing all of your internal organs, and it's all absolutely free. You'll live twice as long and twice as fast, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. Sign up to our program today. You don't have to be worth it, because after all; we'll charge you nada at Natla's."

Fade from a close-up of me grinning in a vulpine way to a last wide shot of me and about a hundred actors in lab coats standing outside a computer-generated version of a beautifully landscaped Natla Tech lab, and waving cheerfully as the camera backs up into the sky to be swallowed by storm clouds. End on announcement saying that the advert had been 'approved by the Committee to Elect Jacqueline Natla Governor of New Mexico'.

* * * * *


I'd laid the ground plan for new Natla Tech labs long ago, starting in the 1950's when I'd built medical facilities for the Mexican miners in the Natla Zinc Mine.

The mining site was on the edge of an Indian reservation owned by the Chiricahui people, and after a lot of negotiation they had allowed me to build the Lunar County Indian Hospital on the outskirts of the town of Izee. That was in the 70's.

Now in the twenty tens I had decided that I needed to situate the organ culture facilities next to the Lunar County Hospital. More to the point, I wanted the new facility to be on Chiricahui land. Although culturing organs from patient biopsies - livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs and so on - was perfectly legal, and although the pioneering test cases had been carried out on Philly bladder patients ten years before, I wanted to create as little potential for interference from the federal government I could. Any objections would be tied up in Tribal Law for years.

In the meantime I'd start work. By the time anybody could stop me I'd be Governor, and the problem would be a cat of a different coat.

There was a snag, though, and his name was Chief Freemont Elkhorn.

I met him in his office on the reservation. He resembled Marlon Brando in the Godfather, and was dressed in a rather cheesy chamois jacket with tassels across the shoulders. He was smoking a disgusting tobacco pipe and drinking straight from a can of domestic beer. He must have been in his eighties. He was flanked one each side by two great-grand-daughters, Jicarilla and Maria, both heart meltingly beautiful. They looked like the sort of dream hippy girls who had mythically got naked at Woodstock.

I began to explain about how I wanted to build a Natla Tech Lab next to the Indian Hospital so that I could start my "Health and Beauty" program.

Freemont scratched his ear for quite a long time before gracing me with an opinion. "I feel that is unwise," he said, "to allow you to build anything new on Chiricahui land since you are not of Chiricahui blood."

The beautiful Jicarilla consulted a note on her clip board. "In the olden days under the Blood Quantum Laws, nobody could claim to be Chiricahui unless they could prove one eighth ancestry," she began, earnestly. However I was smiling at her in such a warm and frankly lustful fashion that she stammered to a halt, blushing to a warm terracotta colour.

"Surely that's just racist nonsense," I said. "What does it matter who builds the facility? You'll all benefit from the free health care, and from the influx of patients who will use local goods and services ..."

They were staring at me with a sort of horror, and I realised my gaffe. One doesn't describe people who are isolationist and proud of their "tribal identity" as racist, at least not if they are Native Americans. Clearly they were classified as victims, and as such could not be called racist. All that killing and raping - when they did it to other Native American tribes it was "noble savagery" and when they did it to the white settlers it was merely "freedom fighting". I readjusted my world view hastily.

"May I tell you of a Cherokee legend?" said Freemont, whose look of horror seemed only marginally different from a look of suppressed amusement.

"Why Cherokee?" I said.

"It's a good story," said Freemont, shrugging.

"O.K."

"Cherokee legend tells of a white snake that devours Indian land and people. Many generations later, a young Indian learns its ways and drives a stake through its heart. In the end, the legend concludes, only Indian blood will be left, and people will be lining up to try to prove they have Indian blood." He sat back and puffed his pipe.

"That's rather ..." I found myself struggling to think of a polite description. 'Stupid' seems a bit rude. I settled on "gnomic" with a silent prayer to the Lords of the Sea and the Sky that the word wouldn't signal a dislike of vertically challenged people.

Freemont coughed and stared at me for a long second. "Well, Miss Natla," he asked, eventually. "Are you the white snake?"

"Well ... I don't think so," I said, smiling at Maria, who looked furious. "May I tell you a story in return, Chief Elkhorn?"

"Please do. It isn't Cherokee, is it?"

I laughed. "About ten years ago, just after the Human Genome was first published, researchers began to fan out over the planet taking blood samples and starting to map the inter-relationships between various nationalities and families. This was a scientific technique that didn't rely on dodgy legal documents or suspect family trees or folk tales. It nailed once and for all who was related to whom and where they came from. However one nation in particular was very unhappy about it. Can you guess which?"

Freemont merely raised an eyebrow and started fiddling with his pipe.

"When American Indians first learned of the project, they were loudly opposed. They cited cultural and spiritual reasons. They cited their common world view. They said that Indians were tired of serving as test subjects. After more than 500 years of colonization, they said, characterized largely by deceit, exploitation and annihilation, they were extremely skeptical and cautious, both for legal and political reasons."

"Very wise," said Freemont, although his great-granddaughters were shifting uneasily.

"Now - I could have come here today with all sorts of research proving beyond a doubt I was part Chiricahui. After all, documents can be forged and testimony can be bought and I'm a rich woman. If I was the 'white snake' you described, no doubt that is exactly what I would have done. Instead I have just walked up to you and talked to you, straight to your face, with no dissembling."

"She has a point, Shi'choo," said Jicarilla.

Freemont snorted. "She has a forked tongue," he said, without much conviction.

"Tell you what," I said. "Let's all have blood tests. Me. You. All the Chiricahui on the reservation. We'll get it analysed and see how closely we are related. I have a feeling that your ancestors and mine have more in common than you realise." After all, I sensed the remnants of the Mayan Regiment of Atlantis in their faces.

That broke the ice. Freemont smiled at me at last. "Beer?" he said, handing me a can.

"Only if the ladies are joining us."

In the end we decided to forget the business about who was an Indian and who wasn't an Indian, and they gave me my go ahead, subject to our lawyers hashing out the details.

That night we all went down to the local bar for Texan style steaks. After Freemont went home, I ended up in bed with Jicarilla Elkhorn.

Soon afterwards, after the signing of an agreement that would make the Chiricahui richer than Midas, the building of the new Natla Tech facilities at Izee Township began.

* * * * *


I had long realised, due to the proximity of so many New Mexican military installations, that my ranch at Parajito Mesa was not monitored routinely by satellites. At least so it seemed, as there were no pictures of me in the tabloids. I could happily "wing up" at home, and my Atlantean security contingent would keep even the most accidental observer at bay.

Sometimes I went for a bit of a fly for the exercise as it was more fun than jogging. At other times I'd saddle up my favourite horse, Minnihaha, and ride with my wings spread in the breeze. It felt good.

Today I was galloping across a flat singing along to my mobile phone.

"Every time I look at you
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
"

I was so engrossed that I failed to see the dune buggy heading towards me from six o'clock. I'd stopped to give Minnihaha a breather and was drinking from my water bottle when the vehicle zoomed up along aide me, causing Minnihaha to rear up and my to fall to the ground.

"What the good Gods?" I shouted as I got to my feet, but stopped short as I was confronted by Bea Bartak. She was seated at the driver's seat of the buggy and staring at me as if I was a flasher in the park.

I retrieved Minnihaha's reins and walked over.

"Good morning, Bea," I said, flapping my wings once or twice to shake off the desert dust, before folding them neatly.

Bea was stammering and shrinking back in her seat. "You've got wings," she said, in her bizarre Transylvanian accent.

I extended one wing to examine it. The sun shone through the red membrane between the digits, turning Bea the colour of freshly spilt blood.

"Yes," I said. "Courtesy of Natla Tech. Nice, aren't they?"

"It is ... not possible." She had begun to sweat and it wasn't due to her choice to wear black on a blazing hot day.

"Maybe not, but they look cool and it beats hang-gliding."

"You can't fly?"

"Sure I can fly."

Bea got out of the car, and fingered my wing. "But everybody knows that you couldn't generate the lift to raise a human body. Like Leonardo's flapping flying machine. It'd never work."

"You've never heard of ornithopters."

Bea suddenly froze. I saw her irises pinprick and the blood flee from her face. She took a step backwards.

"What?"

She was getting back in the buggy, never taking her eyes off me. "Strigoi. Strigoi morţi," she was muttering.

I put a hand on her shoulder and she shrieked like a girl.

"What are you talking about? What is Strigoi morţi?"

Bea's kohl-ringed eyes began to fill with tears. "Vampire," she whispered.

It probably wasn't the right response, but I burst out laughing. I attempted an impression of the Count from Sesame Street. "Listen to ze musik of ze children of ze night," I declaimed, vampishly. "Don't be so ridiculous. I'm not dead, I don't drink blood and I'm outside in broad daylight."

Bea was searching my eyes. "Oh," she said.

"I adore garlic and besides - how could I remain looking this fabulous if I couldn't see myself in a mirror? Edward Cullen must have a makeup girl following him around continually to stay so pretty."

"Oh," said Bea again. The terror in her expression was slowly being filled with another emotion, one that I didn't like the look of much.

"What?" I said, grasping her shoulder again. I took the buggy keys out of the ignition.

"Nothing."

"I can see ... greed," I said, slowly. "You're thinking - what a scoop."

"No, I'm not."

I leaned towards her overly pierced ear. "Let me just tell you - these wings are an industrial secret."

"I don't work for you," blurted Bea and then realised that she'd given herself away.

That was it; she had to die.

Part of having my brain rewired was that although I might not be able to remember much of the 1960's, for example, I'd gotten much better at flying.

I grasped the struggling Bea under her armpits and lifted us slowly into the air, a huge cloud of dust billowing out all around us.

"Tarfa proasta!" snarled Bea, trying to twist around and bite me.

"Bite me and it'll get worse," I said.

Bea suddenly stopped wriggling. She reached around and tried to stroke me. She managed to plant a kiss on my mouth so that I had to head butt her.

"Vă rog, ai milă,"," she whispered.

"Would you show me any mercy?" I retorted.

We had risen about sixty feet above the ground and - like a bird dropping a tortoise - I was looking for a suitable rock. I had just spotted an outcrop that would provide a convincing scene for a staged car crash when my mobile rang in my ear

I tutted in exasperation. "Can't I get a moment's peace?" I said, accepting the call.

"Mother, I can see you," said Amanda's voice, over the sound of galloping hooves. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Oh, nothing darling," I said, somewhat breathlessly. The exertion was beginning to get to me.

Turning slowly in the air I spotted a horseman approaching, and the glint of binoculars.

"Amanda!" yelled Bea. I slapped a hand over her mouth, almost dropping her in the process.

"What the fuck?" said Amanda. "Why have you got Bea up there?"

The gig was up.

"Just giving her a bird's eye view of the ranch."

I stopped flapping and allowed us to coast back to Bea's buggy. Amanda galloped up and leaping from the saddle, took Bea into her arms.

"She was going to kill me," sobbed Bea.

Amanda frowned. "Why?" she said. I could tell that she was thinking that it was unusual for me to murder anyone without some kind of reason.

"Ms. Bartak was threatening to go to the newspapers," I said, mildly, mopping my brow and wiping Bea's black lipstick from my fingers.

Amanda pushed Bea away and held her at arms length.

"What?"

"I didn't say anything about the press," wailed Bea.

"And I didn't say anything about dropping you from one hundred feet so that you burst like a watermelon," I said.

Amanda was aghast, but not with me. She grabbed Bea's chin and glared straight into her face.

"You idiot!" she hissed.

"What?" protested Bea.

"You can't mess with my mother," said Amanda. "She will so fuck you up."

"Will she?"

"I ... I can't even think of the right word."

I bestowed a deific smile on the both of them. "Biblical?" I said.

Amanda started nodding rapidly. "Twelve plagues, Passover, Armageddon, something like that. Smiting."

"Verily smiting," I said, rinsing some water around my mouth and spitting it out onto the ground. "With great wrath."

I went over and put my hand on Bea's shoulder.

"However, bygones. I forgive you. You are the beloved of my beloved Nas after all. But no publicity. I'd hate to have to kill yet another family member."

"OK," said Bea in the tiniest of tiny voices, her smeared makeup making her look like a water-logged panda. She had clamped her knees together in a way that suggested she was in desperate need of an emergency bathroom break. "Whatever you say, Mrs. Natla."

"Just Natla, please. Plain simple old Natla.

* * * * *


There was this guy - the evangelical Sheriff - and he wanted me to meet him in a television studio for a "moderated debate". It seemed fair enough to me, much as I despised democracy. As I understood it you put your arguments in the form of rhetoric to the demos and they decided if you were fit to rule them. Of course by birth I was obviously fit to rule them, but if they wished to play out a charade to convince themselves that they held the levers of power, so be it. Besides, I welcomed an opportunity to show off on TV. The sooner that the peoples of America got to know their future Queen the better.

The Evangelical Sheriff - Benito Arpaia - would not have cut it in Atlantis. He was little more than a simpleton. However he was popular amongst a bunch of death cultists who described themselves as "Evangelicals" and who stifled all debate by quoting misinterpreted chunks of their particular version of the Bible, specially translated to appear to confirm as "the word of God" their every prejudice and bigoted belief. I'd read of Jesus - apparently unlike myself he wasn't hostile to misfits, criminals and the mentally ill - but even he would have had trouble with this lot.

We started off with a statement, two minutes worth, and whereas I focussed on the excellent free health and beauty care afforded free of charge to the good people of New Mexico - "it'll cost you nada with Natla" - Mr. Arpaia launched into a garbled attack on modern medicine, denouncing as some sort of a "slaughter of the innocents" the services offered by Natla Tech. His "buzzwords"` included "stem cells", which we didn't use, "dead foetuses", all our foetuses were alive and well, and "murder of unborn children" - which as far as I knew we didn't offer as a service, although I was open to a well thought out business proposition.

Sheriff Arpaia wasn't afraid to be a stereotype. He started to quote the Bible at me.

"Does not St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians say that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit received from God?" he thundered in what I took to be a bizarre imitation of the soul singer James Brown. "You are not your own but that you were bought at a price. You should honour God with your body!"

I raised a polite hand. "What's the relevance of that?" I said. "You've lost me."

"Replacing your body with one grown in a test tube is the work of Satan, Madam."

"Test tubes?"

"Yes, test tubes, Madam!"

I let a look of sympathy cross my face. "Doesn't Corinthians also say that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable?"

Now it was the Sheriff's turn to look confused. "And your point is?"

"Surely it means that one's holiness is not dependent on the form of one's earthly body. In other words, God doesn't care about plastic surgery."

"Who are you to dare to tell us what God thinks?" The Sheriff looked genuinely aggrieved.

"I'm merely quoting the word of God," I said. "Doesn't Corinthians also say that the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality? If that isn't an advert for organ transplants I don't know what is."

"You speak of the 'word of God' as if you believed in it," said Sheriff Arpaia, glaring at me. "Are you a Christian, Madam?"

"No," I said politely, "but are the words of the Bible are rendered any more or less true if an agnostic quotes them?"

The Sheriff drew himself up to his full height and hitching his thumbs in his belt, addressed both me and the world behind the television cameras.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell," he chanted, more for the benefit of the audience than for mine. He obviously loved the sound of his own voice.

Again, in the mildest possible voice, I quoted back at him. It was like debating with a child. "Does it also not say that we should tend the sick, feed the hungry and generally try to better those less fortunate than ourselves? Surely that is exactly what we at Natla Tech are seeking to do?"

Sheriff Arpaia went a very vivid shade of purple. "You mock Christianity, Madam," he said.

"I'm not mocking you," I said. "I just don't understand why you think that the ability to quote scripture would make you a good executive. I expect that even Satan knows the Bible off by heart."

Fortunately at that moment the moderator decided to step and ask about our views on various topics.

In response to a question about capital punishment, I - like the Sheriff - vowed to overturn the "no executions" stance that New Mexico had recently taken.

"However," I added, "if you're going to kill somebody, let's get on with it. I propose to add a very short time limit for appeals against the sentence. It seems to me both inhumane and a waste of tax payer's money to lock up a condemned man whilst lawyers get rich pretending that they can save him."

"Aren't you worried about miscarriages of justice?" asked the moderator.

"Of course," I said. "We should make sure that the people who deliver death sentences are competent to do so. Any unjust sentences that subsequently come to light should result in the punishment of the justice officials concerned, possibly even to the imprisonment of the jury. I shall set up a committee to investigate the possibility of donating the entire estate of a mistaken judge - in compensation - to the family of any man unjustly executed."

That got me strange looks from the panel and a round of applause from the audience.

"Surely nobody would ever dare convict anybody under that system?" said the moderator.

I smiled. "I see no reason why the same system shouldn't be applied to criminals who have been unjustly freed. I'm sure that if a defence lawyer was made aware that he faced the full weight of the law if his client was subsequently proved guilty, it would focus his mind."

"Nobody would dare take on a defence case."

"It certainly would speed things up," I said. "Guilty men would have to remain defenceless, whilst innocent men would have help."

Sheriff Arpaia was gaping at me as if I'd just grown horns and a tail.

"The moral is - make sure you have an air tight case before you come to trial, which is the system that we already have, surely?" I said.

The Sheriff harrumphed. "That's idiotic, Madam. The police would never arrest anybody."

"My dear Sheriff, I would support the system already used in your own county. I'd allow the police to administer a light thrashing to miscreants if they didn't feel confident in taking them to trial. Unlike yourself, however, I wouldn't limit the thrashing to poor coloured people."

There was a murmur and a shifting from the audience. They'd started to look slightly glazed but now they perked up.

"That's ... an outrageous accusation!" said Sheriff Arpaia.

"Really? I thought you were proud of your department's treatment of illegal immigrants and racial monitories? 'Benito the Leader'? Isn't that the nickname you gave yourself?"

I'd done my homework. Various unfortunate Mexican men had turned up injured or dead in Arpaia's jails, or at least that's what the local liberal troublemakers claimed.

The audience were starting to snigger.

"If we are descending to gutter level and flinging mud about," said the Sheriff, "how would you like to comment on the rumours that you are a practicing lesbian?"

There was a general gasp of schadenfreude, and I couldn't help but burst out laughing. It seemed a strange country where one's sexual preferences were thought more important than murder.

"Honestly, Sheriff," I said, with my best smile. "How ungallant. In answer to your question, I did experiment when I was younger. I'm not going do a Clinton and say I 'didn't inhale'. But I'm not here to tell people how to behave in the privacy of their bedrooms."

"Sounds like a charter for child molesters and perverts to me."

"Except that being a lesbian is not against the law as far as I'm aware, and I'm really only interested in law and order."

"Madam, I tell you now that the God-fearing people of New Mexico do not want an amoral woman in charge of 'law and order'," said the Sheriff in a rather aggressive voice.

"Your insinuation that only those of us free of temptation are suitable to run for Governor is ... un-Christian," I replied, with a tinge of admonishment. "Who would you rather have as your commander in chief - a holy fool or the devil you know?"

The rest of the debate was rather boring, as the Sheriff and I agreed on nearly everything from hating central government to supporting gun ownership. We both stressed the importance of being able to torture enemies of the state. We both agreed on the divine right of America to rule the world, although I didn't mention that in my case by "divine" I meant myself. I even got to rhapsodise about my darling Captain Nas, which made me look both patriotic and motherly. The press coverage the next day seemed to say that I'd won the debate, mostly for my honesty. One blog used a Star Trek word that I'd never heard of - they called my proposals on justice "Cardassian". I looked it up and decided to take it as compliment.

* * * * *


The new clinics at the Lunar County Indian Hospital were finished and we needed an "event" to get it off the ground, something that would attract nationwide attention. Cutting a ribbon and smashing a bottle of champagne didn't seem to be enough, and I knew from experience that the more conventional advertising that we bought the more people would be alienated.

"We need a leper healing moment or the casting out of a demon," I said to Das, who was over helping to get the facility up and running.

"Maybe you could cure a famous paraplegic?" said Das, smoothing his silk tie under his lab coat.

"Like whom?"

."I'll ... do some research into it, Mama Jackie."

"A pretty young white girl would probably get the most coverage," I said.

The irony was that in the end it was the very opposite of a pretty young white girl that caught my eye. The TV was on in my office, sound down, when I caught sight of one of those non-news news items that one gets on early evening magazine shows.

Diamond Jim Cetus was a 60 stone African-American who was giving some trouble to the fire and medical services. He was wedged in the upper bedroom of a small garret and was in imminent danger of multiple organ failure. They were trying to stabilise his condition long enough to demolish the wall of his house and winch him onto a flatbed truck using a crane.

I picked up the phone. "Das - I think we have our candidate. Take a lawyer and a laptop down to the house and let me chat to this Diamond person."

They managed to get in and help the Natla Tech laptop in front of Diamond's face. I've seen some pretty strange things in my life, but this man - his eyes and mouth were almost buried in huge rolls of fat - made me kinda angry. What sort of society allowed him to become like this, I wondered? When I ruled the world, this sort of thing would be eliminated. It was as if some cruel and unusual punishment had been inflicted upon him.

"Hello, Mr. Cetus. My name is Jacqueline Natla, CEO of Natla Technologies. You may have seen my adverts?"

"No, sorry Ma'am. I haven't seen them."

"Call me Jackie. Do you prefer Diamond, or Jim, or Mr. Cetus?"

I explained to him about our program.

"We can fix you up with transplants to fix your heart and liver and kidneys - all free of charge - and if you like we can discuss some surgical strategies to reduce your weight. But only if you want to. If you have anything about your appearance or health that bothers you, we can help you."

Diamond gave a rumbling laugh from deep in that behemoth of a body. If he could have smiled through the fat, he would have done. "Are you kidding, Jackie?" he said. "Do you do whole body transplants?"

"Why don't you come in and I'll personally discuss your options with you?"

"They can't move me, Ma'am. The door's too small."

I smiled at him. "Don't you worry about a thing, Diamond. We can stabilise your health right there and then get you out of your home to our hospital at Izee in Lunar County."

Das ran the extraction like a military operation. Firstly he and the doctors hitched up Diamond to a heart/lung/dialysis machine of our own design. After reassuring Diamond that his house would be made good, Natla Tech engineers removed the wall to his second floor bedroom. A large fork-lift device was used to move Diamond and his bed out of the room and gently, ever so gently, down onto a specially designed Natla Tech flatbed truck, multi-wheeled, with superb suspension. An air conditioned carapace folded over him and his doctors and the vehicles, attended by a convoy of police and press made the slow journey to Lunar County Indian Hospital.

I rang the local police chief.

"Is by any chance Mr. Cetus on the local DNA database?" I said.

"I can't tell you that, Ms. Natla."

"Not even under the Freedom of Information legislation?"

"That applies to your own data, Ma'am, not other peoples'."

"How ridiculous. Can I buy the information then?"

"Are you attempting to bribe a public official?"

"Define 'bribe' for me," I said.

Eventually we agreed that in exchange for a large donation to the retired police officers' fund he was allowed to tell me that Mr. Cetus was on the database even though I wasn't allowed to access the information held.

"That's all I need," I said.

Diamond was in a bit of a state. In addition to the aforementioned multiple organ failure, he had fading eyesight from diabetes, necrotic patches of skin impregnated with food that had got trapped between the folds of his flesh, and premature arthritis from the strain that his bulk had placed on his bones and joints. He had gangrenous bedsores, a mouth full of ulcers and rotting teeth. For any normal medical facility he would have been a bit of a handful, but for Natla Tech he was an ideal test case for us to show our wares.

"Ms. Natla," he whispered to me. "Can you really fix me up?"

"I believe so, Diamond."

"Is it true what the doctors have been telling me - that I can look however I like?"

"Of course," I said, taking his sausage fingers in my hand.

Diamond looked abashed, or at least I think he looked abashed, as his looked permanently flushed and his eyes watered constantly.

"You don't have to be shy," I said. "I'm here to serve you. Tell me your dreams."

He beckoned me to him and whispered into my ear.

"My," I said, straightening up. I was impressed with his ambition. "That might be quite a tall order for any other outfit than ours. Are you sure?"

So the treatment began.

We force grew new internal organs for him. His fractured bones were replaced with the light constructs that I myself had used to allow me to fly. His old skin was removed in sheets, grown in culture, re-coloured and replaced. Fifty of his sixty tons were sliced away and taken away in biological waste bins. New muscles were stitched into place, and he was given new blue eyes. His hair was altered, the various organs added or removed from his body. My arachnobots scuttled about in his system, knitting fibres and blood vessels and cartilage. His face and skull were reshaped, his arms and legs re-proportioned.

One day, as I was waiting for the brand new Diamond to come back to full health, Amanda crashed through my office door without knocking.

"Hello, Amanda," I said evenly.

"Hello, Mumsie," she said, throwing herself into a chair and putting her boots up on my desk.

"What on earth are you wearing on your feet?"

The boots were clunky, knee length, and covered with straps and buckles.

"They're Libby Plate Elevator Boots," said Amanda, with a faintly malicious smile.

"How very unladylike. Could you possibly elevate them off my very expensive Parnian desk? It's made from six exotic woods."

"Very green."

"What can I do for you?"

"I have a business idea."

"Do you?"

She threw onto my desk top a catalogue printed on recycled paper.

"What's this?"

"It's stuff for Goths, Mother. Rock horror ornaments. Fake Satanic mass stuff."

"Ghastly silver bling. Ill-fitting and ill-made black clothing," I said, gingerly flicking through the pages. "Kitsch china statues of anatomically incorrect dragons."

"Yes," said Amanda.

"So what is your idea?"

"I was thinking - your clinic produces lots of human fat. As a waste product."

"We do tend to remove a lot of excess adipose tissue."

"So I was thinking - candles. Made from human fat."

I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

"Who on earth," I said, handing the catalogue back to her, "would want such a thing?"

"Devil worshippers. Death cultists. Slightly pretentious emo kids. We could make a fortune."

I gently steered her out of the room, smiling as kindly as I could manage.

"Even if it were legal, darling Amanda, we already have a fortune. Besides, the good voters of New Mexico would be rather startled by their potential governor behaving like Hannibal Lector, don't you think?"

"Doesn't what you are doing already make you look like some mad Nazi doctor?" said Amanda, halfway out of the door.

"I have taken the good Nazi ideas - improvement of the human race using science - and discarded the bad Nazi ideas, such as racism, homophobia and genocide," I replied. "I offer to volunteers what the Nazis enforced without a mandate. Now - will we be seeing you later for dinner?"

And so came the day for the unveiling of our first lab-built Sonnenkinder.

Das and I stood at a podium in the Natla Tech Press Center.

I gave an unsubtle speech which I won't bore you with, ostensibly about what a humanitarian I was but with the subtext "me good, vote me Governor".

"And now I'd like to introduce you to our latest patient, Diamond Cetus, whom I'm sure you all saw being rescued from their home by Natla Tech a couple of months ago. Das, if you could ...?"

Das led in from stage right the new reborn Diamond. Looking out at the press corps, I have never seen so many journalistic jaws hit the floor.

"Navidad Gravidad, New Mexico Times," called out a grizzled old hack after a moment. "Surely this isn't the same person?"

Diamond had gone for a square blonde cut with highlights, and was showing off long blonde legs beneath a pink puff skirt. She'd opted not only to lose her weight but also her gender and skin colour. The new Diamond had all the perky appeal of her heroine, the young Britney Spears.

"Hi!" said Diamond, with a bright white bread smile, half turning to the audience to show off her new hot figure. "It really is me, Diamond Cetus."

The press crops burst out laughing, causing an injured tear to glisten in Diamond's eye and Das to put a protective arm around her shoulder.

I fixed them with my kindliest imperial glare.

"Those of you would seem to implying some sort of fraud here might want to contact the local law enforcement office, where Diamond's DNA is kept on file," I said, with flinty good cheer.

The story made all the nationals and we were off and running.

As for Diamond, I'd changed her body but I hadn't altered the genetics of her brain. All the things that had led her to obesity in the first place - sadness, self-indulgence, greed, lack of impulse control - were still lying dormant in her cerebellum, waiting for her to hit a bad patch. After a semi-successful pop career, the birth of a baby, a drunken car crash and a spell of heroin abuse she killed herself with a drug overdose, probably accidently. She achieved immortality as a gay icon, the first transgender beauty from the labs of Natla Tech.

"It's odd," I remarked to Das. "Here in America there is this theory that all men are born equal."

"It's the American Dream," said Das, sipping on a cup of camomile tea. "A sort of egalitarian fascism."

"Whereas in reality only a few of us have the genes to rule."

"People are strange, Mama Jackie."

I reflected that it was certainly well past time for America to get a leader such as myself to save them from their self-imposed confederacy of dunces.

"And with your help, Lords of the Sea and the Sky, I will once again come into my birthright," I prayed, facing the rising sun over the desert.

For a moment, it was if I saw a face appear in the pink disk just above the horizon. It reminded me of someone, and a faint chill gripped me. As fast as it was there the face was gone, but I recognised it and I perceived its blank Apollonian expression as it examined me as an ant under a magnifying glass.

* * * * *