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Excerpt from Any Other World Will DoExcerpt from Any Other World Will Do
Part I: Barcelona

The untented Kosmos my abode,
I will pass, a willful stranger;
My mistress still the open road
And the bright eyes of danger.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
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October 1986

VIKRAM BHAT weaved his way down the corridor, the train’s swaying motion making him appear drunk, and stopped at a half-full compartĀ­ment. He looked inside and found what he’d been looking for—a potential recruit. The young man, shabbily dressed and a bit pale with a tangle of dark brown hair, was not much more than a kid. Vikram had been casting around for fellow travelers for years with little success, but, he figured, what the hell. He slid open the door with a kershhlunk and stepped inside.

The train had pulled out of Gare Saint Lazare just before dusk, and Vikram now noticed the elderly couple sitting across from the kid in the dim compartment. He greeted them all with an “Hola!” and fell into the seat beside the kid, Spain in front of them, the setting sun on their right. The young man glanced away from the book he was reading to appraise him. Vikram, a leather satchel slung across his shoulder, wore a linen sportcoat and pants that looked slept in, blue sneakers, and no socks. He had an open, friendly face, and appeared to be Indian and fortyish, despite being neither.

“Are we all heading to Barcelona?” he asked them, repeating it in French for the benefit of the old couple, who nodded tersely, the stern look on the old man’s face inviting no further small-talk.

“Madrid actually,” said the kid.


Vikram was inured to his presence being politely ignored, so it didn’t bother him. He possessed the detachment of a perpetual observer, a tourist light-years from home. He raised an eye at the pulpy cover of the paperback the kid was trying to read. Though he didn’t recognize the cover, with its half-naked blue alien staring back at him, he knew the title.

“Is that Skygarden?” he asked.

As it was printed in large block letters across the cover, the kid could hardly say no. “Yeah,” he said. “You’ve read it?”

“Years ago,” said Vikram. “The author—Tor Bass—he was rather an odd goose, as I recall. Ever read any of his other books?”

The kid shrugged. “Just Blue Moon,” he said. “It was good.”

Vikram smiled a crooked, approving smile. “I’m Vikram, by the way,” he said.


“I’m surprised you can still find his books,” said Vikram.

“I inherited some of my dad’s old paperbacks,” said Miles, closing the dog-eared book and resting it in his lap.

“I think his best was The Harpies of Ganymede,” said Vikram. “Do you know it?”

Miles shook his head.

“It was never one of his more popular books,” Vikram admitted. “It was sort of an homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy, set on the moons of Jupiter.”

“I never took Bass for being very religious,” said Miles.

“Well, no, unlike Dante, Bass took a fairly dim view of heaven.”

Miles nodded. “That would make sense,” he said. “Skygarden is kind of like a version of heaven to the first.”

“Right,” said Vikram. “The idea of paradise is a fairly universal religious delusion.”

“Well, what about, uh...” Miles began. “I mean, don’t Hindus believe in reincarnation?”

“I guess,” said Vikram. “That is, I assume so, but I’m no expert. I don’t go to temple, or wherever it is Hindus go.”

“Oh.” Miles smiled, disarmed. “I never really went to church regularly, either,” he admitted. “When I was little, though, my parents did make me go to Sunday school. One time, I remember my teacher was going on about what heaven would be like, and I started crying. When she asked me what was wrong, I said, ‘I don’t wanna go to heaven!’ She said, ’Why on earth not?’ And I said, ’Because it sounds so boring.’”

Vikram blinked in surprise. “I bet the other kids loved you,” he said.

“I remember my teacher said, ’Well, you probably won’t have to go there for a long time, anyway.’”

“Hah—probably,” said Vikram. He liked this kid. He was thinking Miles showed real promise as he drew a pack of smokes from his breast pocket and shook one up to his mouth. He started patting down his coat and pants looking for a light when the old man cleared his throat and gestured at the sign just above the ashtray that read NE FUMEZ PAS.

Ah, oui. Merci,” he said. Stowing the cigarette back into its pack, he said to Miles, “Say, I take it from your clothes and backpack up there that you’re poor. Buy you a drink?”

“I mean—” Miles’s eyes darted unconsciously up at his second-hand backpack and back at Vikram, seeming momentarily lost for words. “Okay,” he said.

In the bar car, Vikram smoked freely while they talked well into the night over several drinks. Because he never bothered to modulate the way he presented himself to different people, Vikram came across as guileless, and so near strangers would open up to him as if he were their therapist. Miles told Vikram about the death of his father a year earlier, the story of the last time he saw him, and how he spent his last year of high school and the summer after back in Chicago working odd jobs, saving up money so that he could fly to Europe once he turned eighteen.

“So you ran away from home,” said Vikram. Like me, he thought.

“I guess so,” said Miles.

Aimless, young, and untethered, Miles seemed ideal. Vikram already felt a strong attachment. Of course, he wasn’t immune to flattery, and resurrecting the name Tor Bass, someone he hadn’t thought of in years, might have colored his judgment. If Miles worked out, though, Vikram could have a matched set to bring home. But he was getting ahead of himself now.

“You should come to Barcelona,” he said.


Vikram told him about where he was living, a shared apartment above the Hotel Kashmir, a lively and cheap establishment with a bar and a revolving group of young backpackers. Miles looked interested and seemed agreeable.

The next morning, however, a rail strike detained them just over the Spanish border in the town of Portbou. Vikram, accustomed to this sort of thing, assured Miles that it would last no more than twenty-four hours. But when Miles learned that Portbou had a beach, he decided to leave the station and explore the town, try to see if he could camp out by the sea.

“Oh,” said Vikram. “See you in Barcelona?”

“Maybe,” said Miles, sounding more noncommittal in the light of day.

So the two went their separate ways—Miles to camp on the beach, and Vikram, not wanting to force things, to stay in the station awaiting the next train, wondering if he’d ever see the kid again.