The Dues to the Unbound

by Pocholo Goitia

We've been watching snot leak from Shiva's 170-year old nose for half an hour, and after a while you start wondering: Do synthesized mucus glands secrete real mucus? People like me know everything about people like Shiva, things like his boot size and blood type. We know his right nostril flares bigger than the left and that he specifically ordered them that way three decades ago. Shiva cries like a two-year-old, but could pin a dozen peak-level athletes without breaking sweat. You hear cartilage break and you flinch, but then realize most of what's breaking are bio-mech prosthetics with artificial nerve endings that could be switched off.

The situation isn't funny, really, so I don't say anything to Diana, the female body standing beside me, sultry with arms crossed over breastplate bearing the red insignia of the Oddyssian Colonial Expedition's Beta division. Hers is a custom uniform of course, perfect body fit for the perfect body, breastplate modified for firm D-cups that cap a tailor-made 24-inch waistline. I look at her for a second but then check myself.

The Odyssian, on the day it was launched, was called mankind's spearhead and last hope. It is the chariot of the first colonial mission tagged for interstellar travel to a habitable planet along the galaxy's inner ring. We were twelve hours from entering an anomalous region of compacted spacetime when this little squabble erupted, a short million miles past the System's comet belt. The anomaly was a wormhole, and it drew asteroids into it. It would shorten our voyage to four hundred years, as opposed to the four hundred centuries it would take if we tried the direct route with our engines capable of still subluminous speeds. These were our last twelve hours in the Solar System--Humanity's only home so far. Fleeting as wormholes are, as soon as we enter this one, it would collapse. We'd be stranded in frontier space for ages. Shiva, the lummox, just had to act up at take a good last look.

Diana and I don't think it, but we are witness to what could be the no-holds-barred match of the millennium. Half the expedition's security force are bruised and bloodied on the floor, the other half are circling Shiva like hyenas around a 600-pound wounded silverback. These men, they worship Shiva like royalty, to them he was the Sultan of Slam. But we caught him programming an escape pod to rocket back to Earth and crash into the Indian Ocean. He wanted to be in it. None of us would have that.

I was the one who caught him and I'm not happy for it. On a shortcut to Communications to mail my will and testament to Earth kin, I come across seven feet and an inch of insane threatening to break my legs if I stepped any closer. Eyes red and running, he issued me mostly with the inchoate mumblings of one given in to lunacy. Shiva's sweat stank of animal, and his heaving made me think of beached whale sharks and genocide. Even with the penknife I keep in my jockstrap, I doubted I could take him, so I yellowbellied myself to the first intercom I could find.

Shiva works the Beta Division strongmen like a whirlwind. He was declared most dangerous man on Earth and Mars, and the Jupiter colonies, for three, sixteen, and sixty-five years, respectively. It is clear that now he is on the edge of somewhere dark, whirling out of mind in some far off shadowland. We've seen this happen to people before, and few of us understand it. When this happens, it's a nine out of ten chance you're not coming back from stark raving madness and having nothing to lose. Shiva was the best of us, immortal human in his prime. To everyone's incomprehension, he now wants nothing of it. I'd call it a case of the space crazies, but this is too serious, even for comedy. This was Shiva for Humanity's sake.

I'm half-enjoying the sounds of carnage and forecasting the cleanup to be run later on when my ears catch a repressed female snivel. Any other time, this would have been a surprise, because Diana had never once cried. When these things happen, these things break your heart.

It was an open secret that we all loved Diana, and Diana, she loved all of us, Shiva most of all. She practically lived in his quarters half the cycle. The rest of the crew had to share her during the other half.

Diana's eyes don't match. When I see her cry, I realize I've almost forgotten how one eye is black and the other one blue. She says they're the only body parts she was born with, hundreds of years ago. Back then, she used to say, when she had a penis.

"Shiva is East African, from Earth, like you," Diana says, fighting one tear, which was falling from Blue. "His reformat is White, but he used to say he descended from a family of fishermen living off the Red Sea coastline. He said that's what he wanted to be--a fisherman, even if it's totally primitive. I thought he was being stupid, sentimental. He always said he wanted to return before the end."

In the fray, Shiva head-butts Iraya Omatar, Earthmoon's fastest runner for twenty-two years, cracking a cheekbone, spilling some more blood I'd have to clean up later. Shiva knees Omatar in the groin and shouts for us to leave him be. He snaps a collarbone with a chop and tosses aside Pluto's fastest swimmer ever, Elisar Eudal, like a raggedy ann. Whoever ruled for no handheld weapons to be brought aboard the Oddyssian didn't anticipate this. Shiva the Destroyer, actually destroying.

Shiva says he couldn't take it anymore. Two hundred years is enough life as it is. He says it should be enough for any of us. He says anything over a century is too much of a bad thing.

Diana says, "I should have listened to him," wiping a tear from Black this time. "I should have seen this coming. I could have helped him." The way she talks it's like she's sharing a secret meant for your ears only, and not for anyone else's.

Shiva's tears are relentless. He screams we'll never learn until it's too late. He says we're all going down in the end. Eventually, all of us would understand, he says. Then he breaks Jupeznik's nose with an open-palm jab. Jupeznik was Jupiter's highest gravitational jumper of the century. Like many aboard the Oddyssian, he represents the pinnacle of humankind's tampered evolution. As System Control would have it, deep space deserved nothing but the best Humanity has: an ambassador party of virtual supermen, of which Shiva was the physical prime.

Manchurian Amidago, Neptune's favorite footballer for three centuries, reeling from a dislocated knee, tries to give Shiva the sales pitch of the generation. He says there is no end because there doesn't have to be. He says people like them could live forever. With conviction and a square jaw, Amidago tells Shiva: We will never go down. Shiva, should we want it, we are no longer men. Should we want it, my dear friend, we are nothing less than gods. The man deserves an award. Shiva breaks his jaw with a left hook. You'd hear the wham and think of sledgehammers and coconuts. Even amok, Shiva hits with a precision that is scientific. He says he'll have all our blood before we stop him. He says he wants to die and we should let him. Then he bites off Jupeznik's ear.

Diana, unable to take any more, turns to me and asks for a big one: if it were possible to--and if I could, please--block the signal from the ship's gravity engine, at least for this hallway. She looks straight at me and takes my hand and there's nothing manly about her touch. It is feminine the way it sometimes means moist the right way and soft the right way. I say I could, but it's against rules and she knows this.

Diana insists. What could they do? Send me back last minute? Spend eight months training a hack replacement? It's the only way. She sounds the way a person ought to sound when stabbing a lover. I think about it and figure that what they could do is sentence me to latrine duty for 400 years. But it doesn't matter. I'm the only person in the room that keeps my hands off Diana, but her charm would work even on androids.

I start to work on a switchboard on the wall behind Diana. The process is simple enough. The ship's automated system itself is difficult to override without proper equipment; but with a penknife and an obsolete palmtop, local power to the gravity diodes could be rerouted manually to another system like the lights. Done properly the transition would be smooth enough for the ship to take five minutes before detecting things amiss, plenty of time for Black and Blue's little plan.

Diana discards her breastplate, revealing a shirt two sizes too tight. She waves her hair, she strikes a pose, the way she does when people flash cameras at her. The fighters sniff her out, they hesitate, and even Shiva's bloody cheeks twitch a little.

I give Diana the signal and she makes a run then a jump. When she's midair, I kill the gravity. The sudden rerouting of power makes the lights flicker: Diana in action appears and disappears in front of me in a hundred flashes before they go stable.

When the lights are back on, time is still. A thousand blood beads are taken to the air with the bodies of beaten meta-human combatants; their broken legs are up and relieved by the cradling zero gravity. Diana leans rested in Shiva's pacified arms, five feet above the floor. Together they begin to radiate a calm almost luminous in the middle of this grand mess. From where I am I imagine whispers of sweet and sad things into Shiva's ear. I close my eyes and listen well and I could almost hear them--little things that are precious and very fragile, secrets to everyone but them.

And because I am weak, because I don't think, because in some strange, sick way I am a selfish selfish man, I make a grab for the wall, and switch the gravity back on.

*

I remember mother when I think of Earth. Sometimes ancient things catch up with you in your head, they make you close your eyes and breathe deep--when that happens to me, my mother comes to mind. Mother doesn't care every System rock and gas cloud and chunk of ice worth the while has been explored and colonized. She says we're spread too much like thin paper already. She says she doesn't want me to leave.

Coming from her, this is easily expected--she spent her whole life a small-town Manila girl, in this place it takes decades for ideas to catch on. These days, thinking forward's what we do. There are too many things happening, and the nine-digit population is growing with the lowest death rate in history abound--sentiment for old, rusting things are a waste of time.

As System Control would say: We must keep moving forward, we must never stop or hesitate; Mankind now knows no exhaust, and is finally unbound by the shackles of space and time.

Mother said I have my father's loony White blood in me, that's why I believe in this crap. I tell her to not to be racist.

I look at mother and flinch. I cross myself out of instinct. She is 452 years old, and she has the biological age equivalent to 99: a terrible ratio. Even for her generation, 99:452 is out of the question. I'd say if you want to look like a corpse, you might as well be one. Then I cross myself for thinking it, and knock on the block of wood I carry around in my pocket. I keep forgetting Mother's house still has wooden walls and furniture. Even for her generation, that's pretty impressive, not to all, but to my standards at least.

Mother wants to know why I signed up for Project Odyssian. She is of course against it, the way mothers like her ought to be. She says my work on Earth is too important. I tell her the Earth would live on fine without me. She says I take after my father. I say I wouldn't know would I?

I tell mother that for S$200,000 a cycle, you could maintain having a healthy 28-year old body for fifteen years. For 500,000 a cycle, you could extend 28 for thirty years more. If, in those thirty years, you get a promotion, or your shit job offers a meaty assignment, you might be able to bring in nine digits annually if lucky. By then, with proper upkeep, an operation or two, 28 could be brought down to 25 or younger.

It's a good deal, yes, but it'll take too long. You'll have a good ratio--and a good ratio is nice. In any bar, it would serve better than any pickup line, and that's good--but it will never be good enough. What I do on Earth would never pay, not in a million years, for what I want. And I want to outlive galaxies.

What mother doesn't understand is the ratios are everything, they determine how high up the ladder you could ever hope to be. People hunting spouses look now to the ratio, not DNA, because DNA, that one-shot wonder purchase, is affordable, even to plebeians. Imagine where you could go, who you could meet, what you could accomplish, with the staggering ratio of 25:?? This stuff of new order--evolution had its day--is Humanity revised or revamped, rethought at light speed. Mortal, after every year, is less and less an adjective for human.

Mother, she tries to be smart sometimes. She lights a cigarette and says human, after every year, is less and less an adjective for human.

*

Jupeznik thinks it is funny the Odyssian's biggest bar is called Valhalla. He says it is so much like Earth to be origin of practices like taking toxic substances in as liquids. Nursing his patched-up ear with a coldgun, he says, "Isn't it ironic that Valhalla was a palace for dead Vikings?" I sip what the bartender calls authentic mead, I think whoever invented these names should get a life. I don't tell Jupeznik, for all I know, he could be one of them.

Jupeznik is 315-years old and has a body that is 21. He has fathered six generations of Jupiter's finest citizens. He says he has been many things. Right now, he is an Earth-mythology enthusiast. He says Earth was the only place archaic enough to have had myths in that way. I think about the way people like Jupeznik always refer to Earth in the past tense. As if it isn't there anymore.

Jupeznik buys me drinks because he likes talking to me about Earth. He says it is fortunate System Control did not limit hiring to just major colonies. He says he was the one who petitioned that the Odyssian needed diversity as much as excellence. He says, "You must have worked your ass off to get into the project." He asks, "What did you do back on Earth?" I tell him we watercultured deep-rooted trees and planted them along the coastlines. I say we did it, among other reasons, to prevent the erosion of natural topsoil. The real kind, I say, the one with history. Jupeznik smiles a smile. "How quaint," Jupeznik says. I tell him we are a sentimental people.

After two rounds of mead Diana steps into the bar. She greets no one and goes straight to the barkeep. She orders a vile of nanobot stimulants, the type that's legal in three colonies and, apparently, in this bar. She settles on a barstool and shoos the barkeep away. Her back is turned on all of us and all our eyes are on her back. Her smell permeates the room--you'd think of things like flowing water and Saturn's clouds, or supernovas in their prime, viewed safely from afar.

Diana injects herself and turns up the dial and immediately you know what she's simming is intoxication. What kind of intoxicant you can't be too sure, but you know it is strong and you know, therefore, that Shiva is still far from fine. People around her, you could tell what they want, to approach and offer smiles, give her pats on the back or maybe trite encouragement. They don't, these people, they've seen so much before. Most have lived long enough to think the gesture to be pointless, old enough to think some things are not to be voiced out, and that stating hard truths is both redundant and unkind. You'd think you'd be wiser given a few centuries of shit.

Diana doesn't stay long, she has many things to do, though in no way, I realize, is she in condition to do them. When she gets up to leave, you'd almost hear the whole place sigh a sigh of both relief and preparation for the loss her absence makes. Jupeznik follows her with his eyes the way you'd think a 300-year-old wouldn't, the way you'd imagine a man in his youthful prime, on the swinging juvenile prowl, would. Jupeznik still is, in many ways, the latter. That he is so high up the ranks of System Control doesn't say much for System Control.

Jupeznik says "Isn't she something?" pointing to Diana, and asks if I know what he means. I pretend I don't, but it's futile, they've been on to me from the start. The Beta Division, the whole crew, they all think of me a bigot: They think I won't fuck a willing woman just because, years and years ago, she was a man. That the said willing woman was also the man who, a lifetime ago, met and impregnated my mother and sired me is information I do not wish to advertise.

After three rounds of mead and one-way conversation about the exploits of Jupeznik, from his first wife to Diana, something deadlocked in my insides bursts out of my control: I blow up and tell Jupeznik, among other things, to shut his piehole. Confused and massively drunk, Jupeznik asks what the devil a piehole means. He says he doesn't appreciate the tone of my voice. The bartender comes over and asks me to leave.

In the bartender's hands are hangover pills--ingenious little things provided in most bars to costumers for free. He suggests I take one and leave the establishment sober, with dignity, and if I'm lucky, still in one piece. Behind him the Beta strongmen get up and approach us, most of them still reeling from the bruises Shiva gave. If I know most of them well, and I'm sure that I do, raising voice to Jupeznik is a criminal offense--enough reason for their broken egos to engage in a battle that this time they know without doubt they would win.

Jupeznik, once a statesman in his earlier years, tells the barkeep this is nothing but a misunderstanding. I tell Jupeznik to shut it, I point fingers at his face. I call him a megalomanic shit too full of himself to just die. I point at all of them and call them sheep to a cult that is leading Humanity into visions of grandeur too dangerous to handle. I don't mean half I say; some of these men, they're my friends, some are nice people, but in this case I can't help it.

I tell the barkeep I've every right to be pissed. I take his pill and say he'd be the same if a legion of men were taking turns banging his father. Some of them don't understand what I mean at first, but to Jupeznik, it is clear immediately. The look on his face gives me no satisfaction. I drink the pill and leave the bar to follow Diana.

*

My mother was a fearful woman. She trembled at night when thunderclouds clashed. She lit cigarettes with shaking fingers and kept her eyes open in bed up until the second she had to close them when sleep took her down. More frequently than not, she resorted to chemicals for rest. She said the fear was a force of habit, and sometimes she said it was God revealing things to her she was too brittle to comprehend without crumbling like dated bread.

With her eyes closed she would tell me there are things out there out of our control, things that could break us no matter how much we have managed to tame the world and our bodies to our bidding. She said long life has done nothing but open her eyes to the impending dreads that are to come, be us willing or not. After blowing smoke to the ceiling with a reverence that is ritual she used to ask me: How would you prevent the big quake from coming? Or the next solar storm's Earthbound shockwave? How long will our ballistics keep rouge asteroids at bay? How long until the next hungry man you come across stops to pull a knife and gut you for drugmoney?

What mother didn't know didn't hurt her, and there was nothing she didn't know. In her little hole in the ground, every newsfeed in the System found a holographic outlet via one of her walls or ceilings. I crept through her house an intruder among beings of light heralding the myriad little dooms that plague Humanity still. In this illuminated age, electrical storms kill millions, populations are evacuated and displaced as stellar nomads; in the fringe colonies children are raped, women are beaten, and the elderly are thrown into airlocks and flushed into the freezing vacuum. Corsairs still raid, wars are still fought, people still hate other people out of an instinct for survival. I walked into mother's house and came out never the same. Always, I left my mother's house with the feeling there is blood on my hands, and blood in the old soil I walk on. The steps I took were through a darkened red stain that was constantly fed and could never be washed away: It has soaked our continents as efficiently as have our oceans. And somehow, we--because Humanity's guilt is mine and my guilt is Humanity's--have spread this stain; our evolution of knives, it has managed to stow away in our frigates to contaminate our proud rock and alloyed settlements that satellite our sun.

Those visits to my mother were days the glories and the pampering of System Control were lost to me. I trembled as result of the doings of my mother and her sentiments for me to stay behind and help salvage a world submerged in its own scar tissue.

But her arguments were as ineffective as her cigarettes were at killing her. Fresh with the images of mother's world of mounting corpses in my head, I did what innumerable of my ancestors did before me. I looked up at the stars and hoped they would provide me with answers. Up there, in one of those hopeful shards of shattered darkness was where we could start anew, without the curses our histories have brought upon us. Only later did this thought occur to me: That our system, smothered in our grime, would look just as beautiful when viewed from those same distances.

*

From the Red Planet, where the last leg of our training was conducted, Earth did look like a star. It looked hopeful. Those were days my Diana was new, and I pointed to her the light that was Earth to tell her it was where I came from. That light is my deeproot, I told her. She giggled and blushed like the girl I thought she was. Our hands were linked and our bodies drew themselves to each other the way planetary bodies shouldn't: we collided with magnificent abandon. On days the Martian storms abated, we stood under the docked Oddyssian's shadow. Those days it was my Odyssian, because its halls were Diana's exclusively to survey and examine before it was inaugurated. And Diana, at that time, was mine. Its curves and sleekness resembled those of the Bradbury and the Hawkins: great ships that came before our time, the prize horses of Humanity. It was then Diana told me the Odyssian was her design, the product of a life so long she tells people it didn't need a beginning. It was a half-truth when

I told her this: I fell in love with Diana because her creation was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She told me, while we made love for the first time in her quarters, in a ship sanitary of biological life, that it was the same reason we loved God once upon a time. Because he created us, and in our eyes we represent everything that is beautiful. And the time we stopped loving God, she said, was the time we started talking up maintenance of ourselves.

Diana, she loved mixing the old pleasures of men: to the Odyssian she brought aged wines and finely distilled spirits. We sipped them between strokes and exchanges of our fluids. She kissed me after cabernet, I licked her neck after tastings of limed martini; she said the experiences were different, the subtle possibilities to feel alive with me boundless, and expressed deep grief at the thought of never reaching them all even when riding an inexhaustible lifeline. She said the best tobacco was still Earth-made, and she rolled cigar smoke in her mouth and blew it into the air between us on the moments before we sank into each other's skin. Diana, with her fine-tuned synesthesia, played the romances of Beethoven from the walls, read old verses from paper stacks on the floor, and said my hands and smells were the final ingredients: The rooms we filled became sweet hazes of sepia in her mind.

When I was inside her, her mismatched eyes were closed, and a betraying moistness slipped from under their lids. Under lust-induced trances she spoke to me, with her voice that was so real I have yet to believe it too was the product of an expensive surgical frenzy. She told me things about the ages I might never experience: watching the Earthmoon being carved slowly into the face of Liberty, living in the cybernetic world of the Hedons for decades, inciting the revolutions of Pluto and being part of their failings, swimming under the healing waterfalls of Venus, chilled to the lukewarm, and staying there for years, away from all concern. She said our world is growing vaster and colder by the minute, and the people in it are following suit. She said there are still pockets of warmth, and I must attempt to be one of them. She said I must be diligent to age in spite of my adherence not to, she said I mustn't fall into the dangers that centuries taken with youth pose. She said the old only wizened because

they had to, because their bodies dictated that they do, and a fear of the end was a proper incentive to follow. She said the lack of a horizon is a dangerous thing, and that I must make care to not keep my mind in the youthful ineptitude my body will impose upon it. She told me these things with her eyes closed, and her voice in a bedridden whisper. Her manner disarmed me. Once, in bed, I made a joke: I told her she sounded like my mother. And Diana, in turn, with her whisper, asked me to tell her about mother.

And so I did tell Diana about my mother, and her eyes opened, but only for a second.

Diana closed her eyes again, and we continued to make love inside this beautiful vessel of her creation. She continued to tell me things. She told me about her long ago travels in Earth, the planet of all our origin. She told me about crossing oceans in boats, she told me about my mother.

*

We found the body in fetal position, hugging itself--it was mother the way she began in this world. Instead of a womb she had a room of her ghostly news anchors harboring grim circumstances from the eighty-five colonies populous enough to merit inter-system airtime. They crowded her like mourners, or a flock of the religious chanting mock hymns to the dead. I looked at these holograms and thought: They killed her, the bastards, and they don't even know it. I thought: They're murderers and villains all of them; without them, there would be no tragedy. Without them the world would be perfect.

The day she died was the day I came home from Mars, to bid my goodbyes. That day I was looking to kiss her on the cheek, because it was something I haven't done in decades. I would have told her that I had met my father, and he was going to be with me on my long trip. I was going to make it sound like a funny thing. But I didn't want to kiss a corpse, not in front of paramedics.

People insisted, as was the custom, to burn the body and rocket the ashes as stardust to the Sun. They called it bringing the dead home to ancient origins. They said there was no better physical act akin to the idea of stepping into paradise. But I had her buried instead, whole, on land that cost me everything I had then. I knew from the minute I saw her dead face that mother would have wanted soil, and she deserved it.

With my mother's effects were printed images of Diana as a man. He was Nordic-White, definitely, with cheeks of blond stubble. With my mother beside him, I measured through scale and concluded he was no taller than Diana is today. One of his eyes was blue, and none of mine were, but you would say, if you looked hard, that he looked nothing like me except for the eyes. They made me think: Except for a rouge streak of pigmentation I wouldn't have half my father's eyes. They were his last remnants of a long lost evolution.

I have always wondered why it is we note distinct characteristics--that border at times in the fancifully sublime--in the eyes of people, especially people we love. I imagine that maybe we imagine things, maybe because in the grip of our passions we are desperate to find in eyes souls and deep pools of unearthliness--things that would explain much of what we fail to understand. But these globular organs, they are shoved into faces that are, after all, the foundations of their dissimilarities. A set of eyes without a face would look almost identical to another; the distinction of color beyond the tones of brown was always the natural privilege of but a portion of the human pool.

It was on the very hour we were to enter the wormhole that these thoughts first came to me. Through reinforced synthetic glass, I looked into Shiva's eyes before I sent him out the airlock at the request of Diana. Shiva's eyes were dark, like mine--the exact same shade. But my eyes didn't have the strength of his because my eyebrows weren't as strong. My eyes didn't have his power because my cheekbones were never high, nor was the skin that covered them ever bronzed. But I imagined our eyes to be the same, born of the same earth, traceable through distant lineages that would have at one point been one.

Beside me Diana was crying again. She told me one day I will have to do the same to her, when this journey's curse will have taken its toll. She told me she would leave me her eyes, not to wear if I didn't want to, but to keep because it seemed right to do so. This time, I told her this out loud: that when these things happen, these things break your heart.

Then I agreed with Diana. I told her that yes, I will do as she asks, maybe, someday. And I will do it gently. But not today, I told her, and not for years. It would be, I told her, a very big waste.

I went back to the task at hand. I turned a dial, flipped a switch, and sent Shiva on his back hurdling into space. I closed the doors immediately after him. His body would not have been torn quickly by the vacuum, his lungs would not have collapsed with ease. His body was engineered to be strong, chiseled to outwear ages, hardened enough to withstand, to a limit, even forces at the very cosmos' employ. There is little doubt in my mind that he'd have it a subtler way at this point. Shiva, I imagine, enjoyed a very painful death.

end

"The Dues to the Unbound" was first published in Dapitan volume 1 number 4, 2007 (May), edited by Ronald Allan Benusa, then months later, in the PEN-sponsored A Different Voice: Fiction by Young Filipino Writers, 2007 (December), edited by Vince Groyon. The story was first submitted to the latter, but Dapitan, a small, almost guerillaesque venture of (relatively) limited circulation, caught up in the months between the submission to PEN and the actual launch of the anthology. Had anybody cared, it would have almost been likened to a dramatic turnaround in favor of the underdog, parang sports movie. Both books were printed by the UST Publishing House.

Pocholo Goitia studied Journalism in UST and currently works as an academic copyeditor. He has sparingly published stories and articles (both w/&w/o bylines) in various publications, and is working on a novel hopefully to be completed sometime before the decade ends or just right after the next one starts. Apparently, it's harder than he thought.