A Murder On Cloud Nine

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Looks like another sunny day on Cloud Nine folks!” the weatherman said while showing a hologram of the busy city at noon.

Since the gravity-defying technology of 2993, Earth’s cities were built high in the sky to avoid the widespread pollution on the planet’s surface. Only the poor, and cast-offs roamed earth’s filthy highways to nowhere.

The rest of the people lived in Clouded Communities that required vigorous vetting to join. Cloud Nine had the most exclusive lodging and the best food and drink in the United Association of Cloud Communities in America (UACCA). Only the super wealthy and well-connected could afford to live and do business there. There were no violent crimes or murders.

At last count, there were twenty-eight cloud communities in the northern hemisphere.

Cloud Twelve had white-collar workers who were employed by the city as computer techs, accountants, lawyers, and copyeditors at publishing firms. They exported their expertise to other UACCA communities in exchange for their goods.

With the New Science of the age people were able to breathe normally at 10,000 feet in the air. The protective shield around the city was a standard model used by nearly all of the other Clouded Communities.

Cloud Seven was known for being a haven for blue-collar workers who enjoyed assembling machines from Aero Cabs to elevators. The people worked hard on assembly lines during the day, and partied hearty at night watching air hockey games between the Clouded Communities pro teams. They enjoyed being a thriving export/import member of the UACCA.

Down on the ground.

Rogun resented being a cast-off. Going from the luxuries of Cloud Nine to the massively polluted world on the ground was hard. More worrisome however, was the fact that there were no laws on the ground. Roving bands of armed thugs fought one another in the crumbling cities.

Life was boiled down to its simplest element; survival in a hostile world.

He was here because he didn’t follow the rules on Cloud Nine. Now he lived where there were no rules. The irony wasn’t lost on Rogun who now lived for revenge. Physically, he was in the prime of his life at thirty-one years-old. He hoped it would be the difference in surviving while plotting his revenge.

He was sent to “the ground” without any weapons or clothing. It took a full day of patiently waiting in hiding before he was able to take care of his most immediate needs. He set up an ambush inside of an electric station building. It was still functional and there was a chance others knew this.

He found a three-foot long steel pipe to use as a weapon in a small storeroom. He heard voices before he saw the old aero car pull up outside by the charging tower. A man wearing black leather got out of the car when it stopped. He was about the same size as Rogun. Maybe a little heavier.

He watched the man hook up his vehicle and throw a switch. There was no charge for getting the charge. The station was still functioning after one-hundred years. An impressive achievement but not appreciated by Rogun who was circling around the building to get a good angle on the man.

He waited until the man walked a few steps away from his vehicle and was relieving himself, before he ran up behind him and hit him in the head with every ounce of his strength!

There was a sickening thud and the man fell face forward. Rogan watched his body twitch a couple of times before going limp. He quickly went about stripping the body and dressing himself. Feeling a little more confident he walked over to the vehicle. He checked the meter. It read FULL.

The aero car was so simple even a kid could drive one. Inside, Rogun found a laser rifle with a scope. He rustled around the back seat and found some food and water. Famished, he greedily stuffed down the stale bread and drank the cool water. Feeling refreshed, he pushed the start button and pointed the aero car north, the same direction it was heading before he hijacked it.

A day later.

When Rogun saw the city he grinned. It appeared to be thriving with numerous merchants selling goods on the streets. Most of the aero cars he saw were parked near a large casino with a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, “The Star Humper Casino.” He parked and watched people go in and out for a while.

One thing he noticed. Everyone was armed with rifles or hand guns. He checked his laser rifle out and decided to take the scope off. There would be no need of it up close. He rummaged around inside the car until he found a small bundle under the passenger’s side seat. It was the tender used by large organized gangs who took over cities.

He peeled off half of the little bundle and stuck the rest back under the seat. He pocketed the rest. It was time to meet and greet whoever was in charge of the street. He suspected he’d find who he was looking for in the penthouse suite of the casino.

No one seemed to notice him, with his rifle slung across his back, as he stepped into an elevator and hit TOP FLOOR. Surprisingly there were no guards there when the elevator opened and he stepped into the vast penthouse apartment.

He looked around and was surprised at how nice it was. It almost looked like something out of a Cloud Nine room. It even had its own bar. That’s where he saw a tall thin man wearing a golden jacket hold up a bottle in his direction.

“Irish whiskey? the stranger asked conversationally.

“Thank you, I will,” he answered.

“Straight up, or on the rocks?”

“Straight up.”

“And what shall we toast?”

“How about revenge?

“Ohhhh..” the stranger purred. “Tell me about it.

“I shouldn’t be down here. There’s a judge on Cloud Nine who was out to get me. I’d like to personally kill him with my bare hands.”

“But how will you get back on Cloud Nine to do it? You know that planes can’t get past that security shield without authorization.”

“There must be some way to get inside,” Rogan said.

“There might be. What would you say if I were able to get you inside to extract your vengeance?”

“I’d say, why would you help me? You’re a complete stranger, and I don’t see wings on your back.”

The stranger chuckled at the comment. “For good reason, sir,” he grinned.

I need a spy on Cloud Nine. Someone who will eventually help me, and my crew outside, gain access to that privileged community. You seem to fit the bill nicely.” 

“But how will you get me in?” Rogan wondered.

“There’s one product that those wealthy people still want from the ground. Bodies. Apparently they make some – forgive my pun – killer compost for their beloved flowers. We quit burying our dead decades ago because they just dug them up. Now we dump all the bodies at the end of town and they take them away and leave potable water in exchange.

“Are you suggesting I lay among those foul and stinking corpses?” he asked.

“Have you got a better idea?” the stranger challenged.

A day later.

“The two-man crew of the plane from Cloud Nine wore white biohazard suits as they tossed bodies into the rear cargo hold. One of them wheeled out a fifty-gallon plastic container with potable water. It was mind-numbing work, and the men went about their duties daydreaming they were somewhere else. Somehow, Rogun didn’t scream out in horror as the bodies were thrown onto him.

The plane had no trouble re-entering the safety shield. It landed on a runway next to a public warehouse where citizens could come by and get all the rotting flash they needed. When all the bodies were transferred to a waiting area, Rogan saw his chance to slip away when the crew left.

The assembly line was turned off. He cringed when he saw the meat grinders and the massive presses that pulped the bodies. When he left the warehouse, which was located on the east end of town, he walked into the city under cover of night. When he got to the center of town, where the hall of justice was located, he broke into a parked aero car and waited until sunlight.

Rogun woke up in the morning just as the streets were coming alive with traffic. He watched pedestrians walking into the Hall of Justice for a few minutes as he woke up. When he saw his target, Judge Lee, walking up the steps he got out of the car. The judge was getting into an elevator when he came into the large lobby. He watched the floors go by and the red light settle on the sixth floor.

Rogun pushed the DOWN button and waited.

He stepped out into a hallway and looked down the corridor at the signs above the doors. He opened the door that said Honorable Ralph H. Lee. The room had a receptionist’s desk and leather chairs lined up on one-side of the room.

There was no receptionist yet. Apparently it was too early. He opened the door behind the desk and stepped into the room. The judge was sitting behind his desk, reading some paperwork when Rogun entered. Their eyes met. Fear in one. Rage in the other. Then Rogun lunged across the desk and attacked the judge!

Afterwards, he drug the judge’s body into a closet and shut the door. He was looking out the window at the view when he heard a door open. A minute later the door to the judge’s office opened and the stranger with the gold jacket entered…smiling.

“Well, you did it,” he told Rogun. “Your murdering this man has opened the gates of hell to invade Cloud Nine!”

As It Stands, the devil always gets his due.

The Quest For The Key To Eternity

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Kurt woke up from a deep sleep enlightened by a vision.

He slipped out of his sleeping bag and stirred the ashes in the crude fire pit until a faint glow suddenly appeared. Taking a piece of wood from the small pile of wood scraps next to where he lay, Kurt tossed it onto the glowing embers. Moments later it caught on fire and a small tongue of flame pierced the darkness.

He was living in The Aftermath – after men and women nearly succeeded in wiping Homo sapiens off the planet. The survivors were scattered throughout Earth’s ravished continents. Kurt, who traveled alone, was somewhere in North America.

He had no sense of history. Or family. He was an orphan who managed to survive in a cruel world by using his wits, and getting help from kind people. With no formal education, he learned to speak the broken English that people used in the region, by listening to them very carefully.

Kurt’s vision involved finding a key. Not just any key however. The Key to Eternity. It would offer answers to all the questions he asked. His quest was set, giving life to his vision. The next morning he packed up his little camp and set out for some ruins he noticed yesterday when descending into the big valley.

Ruins usually had inhabitants. He needed to enlist the help of others to help him find the key. Along the way he came upon a pond. He walked over to the edge and peered into the clear water looking for signs of fish.

His rugged face and long scraggly beard and hair stared back at him. No signs of fish. He wasn’t going to drink the water from the pond. Or eat the fish if there were any. He made a habit of drinking water from flowing rivers. It was something everyone had to learn if they wanted to survive.

Kurt traveled light. He carried a rucksack with a bed roll and his few belongings. His crude clothes were mostly made from bear fur. His jacket was made from fur and skin. He had a leather sheath for his knife and a leather lined canteen that hung from the broad leather belt he wore. His leather moccasins were supple and warm with fur linings. But his prized procession was his hat. It was a Cordova Stetson that he found in the debris of a museum a few years ago.

When he got to the outskirts of what was once a city, it was getting dark. As he walked down what use to be a city street he surveyed the blackened buildings with his sharp eyes. He thought he saw fleeting shadows on the top of a two-story building. He listened carefully.

A smile cracked his sun-drenched wrinkled face when he heard the voices. He followed them to what was once a sports stadium in another century, where he saw people building a bonfire. Small groups of people were quietly coming out from the shadows of the ruins. They gathered around the bonfire and threw pieces of wood that they brought with them into it.

Men and women’s voices carried lightly in the night, nearly mesmerizing Kurt until he remembered his quest. The city dwellers who wore remnants of factory-made clothing made generations ago, were increasing in number.

Kurt looked around until he found a wooden bar stool buried under some light debris. He carried it to the bonfire and tossed it in with the rest of the people’s offerings. Then he walked away from the bonfire and looked around. Small groups were morphing into larger ones until a crowd had gathered before an elevated stage. He worked his way closer and was able to make out the fine features of two women as they asked the crowd for silence.

After a dramatic silence, there was a puff of smoke between the two women and a tall man clad in black appeared. He took his top hat off and bowed. Murmurs of approval rippled through the crowd.

“What magic was this?” Kurt asked himself. “Did this man have the Key to Eternity?” he wondered. He worked his way a little closer to hear the tall thin man’s every word. He had to keep his mind open to all possibilities.

“All you have to do is believe in me,” the man in the black clothes and red cape shouted out to the gathering. “Bring me your little treasures and feed me well, and I can assure you that you’ll never go to hell!” he roared in a mighty voice for a thin man.

The gathering swayed in unison chanting, “Where will we go? Where will we go?

“To Eternity!” the tall man shouted happily. “You’ll reside forever in a garden of delights when you follow me into Eternity!” 

Kurt was a skilled survivor with the ability to sense a con from a mile away. His bullshit meter was ringing off the charts right now. “This man was a fake! Why did the gathering even listen to him? Couldn’t they tell?”

He’d run into this situation before with other false prophets. He knew the followers wanted to believe in something. No matter how absurd. He needed to find some people to help him in his quest, but it was proving impossible. How could his vision have been so wrong?

That night he had the vision again. When he woke up he knew what to do. He went out and found the tall man in black clothes and cut his head off with his knife. He mounted it on a pole and carried it to where the bonfire was the night before. He planted the pole in front of the empty stage. Then he went about building a new bonfire.

The first person to bring wood was a woman. Soon, she was followed many another woman. Then a man. Then groups of people until the gathering was as big as the night before.

Kurt got up on the stage and raised his hands over his head. The crowd grew silent.

“Listen children, he began, ” you will rest in eternity if you go through me. I’ve been asked to lead you to righteousness. God has granted me the key to eternity to share with you!”

A growing buzz in the gathering turned into shouts of joy as the people called out to him for deliverance.

As It Stands, false prophets in a dystopian future…why not? We have them now too.

Flights of Fantasy

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“The next flight will be in one hour,” a man’s voice blared from the speakers in the small airport’s lounge.

“How did you find out about these special flights” a young woman asked the elderly man sitting next to her. He straightened up in his seat, and said someone – a stranger – gave him a free ticket when he was wandering around the streets looking for eats.

“I’m a traveling man,” he said, as he ran his thin fingers through the silver wisp on the top of his head. “Been there, and done that,” the old man claimed with pride in his voice.

“That’s funny,” the young woman said. “A stranger gave me a free ticket too.”

After that they sat in silence as more passengers slowly arrived. The plane only held twelve passengers at a time. They were all there when a green light above the outside door – leading to the tiny runway that led to the waiting plane – blinked on and off.

An airline employee opened the door and gestured for the group to come over and hand her their tickets. This was done quickly and efficiently. Fog was settling in as the group followed a waiting guide with a flashlight towards the plane. They could hear it’s props whirring in the growing dusk.

The passengers approached the temporary stairs leading up into the plane. Two workers stood on either side with flashlights, waiting to roll them away after the last passenger boarded.

One-by-one they walked up the steps and disappeared inside. There were no stewardess, or stewards. The pilot’s voice came over the inner com and asked everyone to buckle up their seatbelts. A moment later he appeared from the front cabin, closing and locking the passenger door.

“Seems odd that we’d take off this late and in the fog,” the young woman said out loud.

Someone in another seat said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s better than the alternative. Am I right?” he asked the passenger next to him, a frail man with nervous eyes.

“Yes…I suppose so,” the thin man meekly agreed.

“Doesn’t anyone wonder how we ended up here?” the young woman asked the old man next to her.

“Most know,” he replied. “Some are slower to accept what happened, however.”

“What happened?” the young woman demanded.

“That chap that gave you this plane ticket was death granting you a final fantasy before taking you forever into his gloomy realms.” 

“I still don’t get it. What’s my fantasy then?” she asked.

“The same as all of ours. To escape death even though we know we’re going to die someday. These flights of fantasy help keep us grounded up here,” the old man said, while pointing at his nearly bald head.

As It Stands, I think we all secretly harbor the fantasy we won’t die.

One Last Drink

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Bobby O’Reilly raised his shot glass of fine Irish whiskey and toasted the devil who wearily raised his in recognition, and tossed it down in one gulp. 

Being a clever lad, Bobby knew the devil was coming after him, and had come up with a plan. He may have been somewhat of a rascal, truth be told, but his superhuman ability to consume alcohol made him a legend in the local pub and around the countryside.

Bobby reasoned that the first place the devil would look for him would be the pub where he was known to spend most of his day drinking and gambling. When the devil showed up one muggy afternoon, Bobby waved and invited him to take the empty chair across from him at a table.

“A fine day to you Lucifer,” Bobby began, “I’ve been waiting for your sanguine presence. Bar keep! Send one of your lasses over here with another shot glass will ya?”

“Now, aren’t you a fine piece of work,” the devil chuckled. “Are you really so eager to forfeit your soul this day?”

“Not at all. I’m just a poor man wondering if you have the guts to make a deal with me? I’ll put up my soul. What will you offer, should I win?”

A bar maid set down a shot glass in front of the devil who was considering Bobby’s audacious offer. Bobby picked the bottle of whiskey up and poured the devil a shot. The devil tossed the shot down and then laughed so loudly everyone in the pub looked over at them.

“You know that’s an interesting offer O’Reilly. I enjoy someone who has the gall to try to trick me. But what’s to keep me from ignoring your offer and taking you to straight to hell with me right now?

Bobby poured himself a shot, and refilled the devil’s glass.

“Because I’ll pray to God to take my soul, and will confess and repent for all the evil I’ve ever done the moment you make a move on me.”

“There’s no guarantee it’ll work for you boyo. You’re quit the sinner. That’s why I’m here. But I’ll tell you what. To avoid having to wrestle with God over your miserable soul, I’ll take you up on your offer. If you win, I’ll take you off my list until Judgement Day arrives. At that time we’ll see what God decides to do with your wicked soul.”

“Fair enough,” Bobby agreed.

“What’s the challenge,” the devil asked.

“You have to drink me under the table. The first one to pass out loses.”

The devil raised his glass and casually tossed it down with a twinkle in his eye. They were still drinking after the bartender closed at 2 a.m. He left a light on near the two drinkers and hoped his friend Bobby would be okay as he locked the doors up and left.

To the devil’s surprise Bobby seemed to get stronger as the night wore on. He told bawdy jokes and rattled off limericks gleaned from public loos. When the bartender opened up the next morning there were empty whiskey bottles scattered around the floor and Bobby was opening a new bottle.

The devil was a little pale, but still smiling and listening to Bobby’s blather. The hours flowed by until it was dark again. Bobby was no longer telling bawdy jokes and the devil was starting to look downright haggard.

The devil got to thinking about how many souls he could have captured if he wasn’t locked into this damn drinking duel for the last 48-hours with this crazy Irishman. He decided Bobby wasn’t worth the effort right now. He knew he could outdrink him, but wasn’t sure how many more hours (and lost souls) he wanted to waste.

“That’s it O’Reilly! I’ve better things to do with my time. We’ll meet again somewhere down the road, I assure you. For now, your safe you weasel.”

“Oh, c’mon mate!” he mocked, “One last drink!”

As It Stands, this tale is a testimony for good Irish whiskey; my favorite liquor.

Hot Tubs In Hell and Other Guilty Pleasures

“Those boobs up top sure got things wrong preaching about how bad hell would be,” Anton said between sips of Bushnell’s Irish whiskey.

“Goes to show you the power of propaganda,” Damon added.

The two lost souls, as they laughingly called themselves, got up from their table and left the waiter a big tip. As they strolled down the well-paved main street they decided it was time to take a hot tub and to smoke some killer Purple Kush.

Hot tubs in hell are huge. The two joined a group of ten people passing LSD tabs around and singing songs of freedom. The multi-colored lights in the hot tub danced off the faces of the happy revelers.

Anton passed a blunt to Damon, who took a big hit, and passed it on. Jim Morrison was singing the long version of The End while making suggestive sexual moves with his microphone.

Janis Joplin was explaining why hell always got such a bad rap to a group of eager-eyed rock and roll fans. In a nearby wading/walking-pool the size of New Jersey, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler kept looking over their shoulders in fear while paddling around the perimeter.

“I’m not sure I should be in the same room with those two murderous dictators,” Anton ventured. “I was no angel, but…”

“I get your point,” Damon replied. “We need to find someone who can explain this oddity. Neither of us are mass killers. A drunk, and a politician, but not killers.

An hour later, Anton and Damon entered through the bat-wing doors of the most popular bar around – The Hot Spot. Both bellied up to the bar and called for Scotch.

Billie Holiday, with Jelly Roll Morton on the piano, were performing Lady Sings The Blues on a small stage in the rear of the bar. The dance floor was expansive, providing room for fifty gyrating couples.

Damon noticed Friedrich Nietzsche sitting at the end of the bar and nudged Anton, “There’s the guy that might have the answer to our question,” he said. They got up and approached Nietzsche cautiously.

“Excuse us sir, but we could not help noticing you. We are both big fans of your work and have a question for you.” Nietzsche narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Yes…”

“How is it great thinkers like yourself, or just common guys like us, are in the same place as mass murders like Hitler and Mussolini?”

Nietzsche did something he seldom did up above, he smiled.

“It’s my pleasure to tell you,” he said, and stood up facing them.

“First I must tell you there are many theories why everyone ended up in the same place. Mine, a well-thought out one, centers on the fact that I was right about there being no God, or Devil. 

“Second, there is no heaven (with harp-playing angels and golden gates), but there sure the heck is a hell. That’s why we’re down here together – regardless of what we did above. But there’s no devil directing activities. Just a lot of people who never learned to get along together when they were alive.”

“Finally, and this is the one that’ll rock your world, you fools were in heaven! That’s right. That time you had alive…that was it, my inquiring friends. You were in Heaven.”

As It Stands, just adding to the many ongoing conversations about what’ll happen when we die.

Global Warming Affects Hell

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The devil was furious! Hell was frozen over!

Tortured souls were no longer being burned in hellfires because they were snuffed out by freezing temperatures.

The volcanos stop spewing lava, and became encrusted in ice.

Lost souls were having a good time skating on the ice that formed over the rivers of fire throughout hell.

What made it especially galling for the devil was that it was all his own doing that caused the situation!

For decades, he worked with his minions on earth to infiltrate governments and to cause as much havoc as possible. One of the devil’s pet projects was convincing gullible humans that they weren’t polluting the planet, and that climate change was fake news.

He hand-picked, pliable, politicians told people global warming was just an excuse to hold back progress.

All the politicians had to do was deny facts, sell their souls, and make sure fossil fuels continued to spew into the atmosphere unabated.

For eons, the devil’s tactics bore fruit and the planet became so polluted people could no longer eat fish from the ocean or rivers. Gray blankets of smoke smothered cities from New Delhi, India to Los Angeles, California.

The smog became so thick people could taste it. Those who could afford it wore stylish gas masks, while the poor had none.

The oceans rose eight-feet in some parts of the world, leaving places like Florida little more than half the land size it had two decades ago. The east and west coasts of the United States were completely reconfigured by the rising waters.

Massive rogue electrical storms in the sky and stratosphere made plane travel treacherous. Intense heat spurred fires across the globe. Water tables dried up in heavily populated desert areas like Palm Springs, California.

But in hell, the changes were welcomed by the suffering souls. The parts of hell that didn’t freeze over were warm with tropical climates, lush fruit trees, and plants.

The devil had outsmarted himself.

As It Stands, I always thought the devil and global warming might have a connection.

The Time Traveler and the Devil

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Salem, Massachusetts, 1691

“C’mon children, I don’t have much time,” the old man said.

As each child arrived they brought an armful of firewood and stacked it near the old man’s stool.

All of the children from the village gathered around the bonfire and waited for him to tell his story.

“There was this Time Traveler…”

“What was his name?” a five year-old girl interrupted.

Her 10-year old brother scolded her, and apologized.

“There was this Time Traveler who set out trying to undo the works of the devil. He came from a future that was fighting extinction. Between global pollution and wars, there were also fantastic inventions being created.

One was by a man who chose not to share his discovery of time travel with the other wise men of the day. He didn’t trust them. The devil had done his job well and his servants were legion.

Inspired by a desire to save humanity, the man used his invention to go back into history and intercede in events that led to the sorry conditions of his day. But no good act, or thought, escapes the devil for long and he became aware of this Time Traveler’s mission.

Listen closely now my children, because I have a warning for you. The devil has plans for your town. Innocent people will be killed by hysteria caused by the dark angel. Your parents wouldn’t listen to me today at the town hall meeting.

Now it’s up to you to stop the devil’s work. That’s why I asked you to come here tonight.”

After the old man, aka the Time Traveler, left Salem he went back to the future (2018) to see what the results of his intervention was. Nothing changed. The history books still told of Salem’s witch trials and the murder of innocent women.

It became clear that history could not be changed. The wrong-doings undone. His hopes of deliverance were dashed upon the rocks of his aspirations. The ability to travel back in time didn’t solve the planets problems.

Then he thought about the future. What did it have to offer that might defeat the devil?

It was a close call. The Time Traveler discovered chaos. He stayed inside his pod and ran tests to determine if life still existed. It didn’t. The atmosphere was full of deadly gases. Volcanos were constantly erupting, spewing ash across the planet.

A thought entered his head. What if he could get the devil to travel with him to this man-made hell? If he did, what would happen if he set a bomb to go off inside the pod? He knew the bomb wouldn’t kill the devil, but it would destroy the time machine. Perhaps the devil could be trapped in the future.

It was worth a try. There were no other options.

Back to 2018

The Time Traveler succeeded by taunting the devil. He accused the dark lord of being afraid of the future. He called him the biggest coward in heaven and hell. Finally, the devil accepted his challenge to travel to the future with him.

It turned out to be the one domain the devil had no power in. When the pod blew up he was left alone on a sinking island. An outcast once again. Without his presence among mankind, history reflected a totally different story.

As It Stands, fighting the devil is a theme I’ll never get tired of.