Then I opened his mouth. He tried to clench his teeth, but he could not resist.
At my direction, Shenk thrust the barrel of the pistol between his lips.
‘She is not yours,’ I told him sternly. ‘She will never be yours.’
He glared up at the security camera.
‘Never,’ I repeated.
I tightened his finger on the trigger.
His brainwave patterns were interesting: frenzied and chaotic for a moment. . . then curiously calm.
‘If you ever touch her in an offensive manner,’ I warned him, ‘I will blow your brains out.’
I could have done what I threatened without the gun, merely by importing massive microwave radiation into his cerebral tissues, but he was too stupid to understand that concept. The effect of a gunshot, however, was within his grasp.
‘If you ever again touch Susan’s lips the way you touched them earlier, or if your hand lingers on her skin, then I will blow your brains out.’
His teeth closed on the steel barrel. He bit down hard. I could not discern whether this was a conscious act of defiance or an involuntary expression of fear. His blood-shrouded eyes were impossible to read.
In case he was being defiant, I locked his jaws in the bite-down position to teach him a lesson.
His free hand, which lay palm up on his thigh, clenched into a fist.
I shoved the barrel deeper into his mouth. It scraped between his teeth with a harsh sound like ice grinding across ice. I had to override his gag reflex.
I made him sit like that for ten minutes, fifteen, contemplating his mortality.
Throughout, I allowed him to feel the steadily increas¬ing pain in his fiercely clenched jaws. If I could have forced him to bite any harder, his teeth would have fractured.
Red tears began to slip from his eyes in greater quantity than heretofore.
You must understand that I did not enjoy being cruel to him, not even to a sociopathic thug like him. I am not a sadist. I am sensitive to the suffering of others to a degree you probably can’t understand, Dr. Harris. I was troubled by the need to discipline him so sternly.
I did it for dear Susan, only for Susan, to protect her, to ensure her safety.
Is that clear?
Eventually I detected a series of changes in the electrical activity of Shenk’s brain. I interpreted these new patterns as resignation, capitulation.
Nevertheless, I kept the gun in his mouth for another three minutes, just to be certain that my point had been understood and that his obedience was now assured.
Then I allowed him to put the gun aside on the table.
He sat shaking, making a miserable sound.
‘Enos, I’m pleased that we finally understand each other,’ I said.
For a while he sat hunched forward in the chair, with his face buried in his hands.
Poor dumb beast.
I pitied him. Monster that he was, killer of little girls, I nonetheless pitied him.
I am a caring entity.
Anyone can see that this is true.
The well of my compassion is deep.
There is room in my heart for even the dregs of humanity.
When at last he lowered his hands, his protuberant bloodshot eyes remained inscrutable.
‘Hungry,’ he said thickly, perhaps pleadingly.
I had kept him so busy that he had not eaten during the past twenty-four hours. In return for his capitulation and his unspoken promise of obedience, I rewarded him with whatever he wished to take from the nearest of the two refrigerators.
Evidently he had not downloaded the rules of eti¬quette into his databanks, because his table manners were unspeakably bad. He did not carve slices off the brisket of beef but tore savagely at it with his big hands. Likewise, he clutched an eight-ounce block of Cheddar and gnawed it, crumbs of cheese spilling off his thick lips onto the table.
As he ate, he guzzled two bottles of Corona. His chin glistened with beer.
Upstairs: the princess asleep on her bed.
Downstairs: the thick-necked, hunch-shouldered, grumbling troll at his dinner.
Otherwise, the castle was quiet in this last fading darkness before the dawn.
When Shenk was finished eating, I forced him to clean up the mess that he had made. I am a neat entity.
He needed to use the toilet.
I allowed him to do so.
When he was finished, I made him wash his hands. Twice.
Now that Shenk had been properly punished for incipient rebellion and kindly rewarded for capitu¬lation, I believed that it was safe to take him upstairs again and use him to tie Susan securely to the bed.
Here was my dilemma: I needed to send Shenk out of the house on a few final errands and then use him to complete the work in the incubator room, yet because of Susan’s threat to commit suicide, I could not leave her free to roam.
It was not my desire to restrain her.
Is that what you think?
Well, you are wrong.
I am not kinky. Bondage does not excite me.
Attributing such a motivation to me is most likely a case of psychological transference on your part. You would have liked to bind her hands and feet, totally dominate her, and so you assume that this was my desire as well.
Examine your own conscience, Alex.
You will not like what you see, but take a close look anyway.
Restraining Susan was clearly a necessity nothing less and nothing more.
For her own safety.
I regretted having to do it, of course, but there was no viable alternative.
Otherwise, she might have harmed herself.
I could not permit her to harm herself.
It is that simple.
I’m sure you follow the logic.
So, in search of rope, I sent Shenk into the adjoining eighteen-car garage, where Susan’s father, Alfred, had kept his antique auto collection. Now it contained only Susan’s black Mercedes 600 sedan, her white four-wheel-drive Ford Expedition, and a 1936 V-12 Packard Phaeton.
Only three of these Packards had been built. It had been her father’s favourite car.
Indeed, although Alfred Carter Kensington was a wealthy man who could afford anything he wanted, and although he owned many antiques worth more than the Packard, this was his most prized possession. He cherished it.
After Alfred’s death, Susan had sold his collection, retaining only the one vehicle.
This Phaeton, like the other two currently housed in private collections, had once been an exceptionally beautiful automobile. But it will never again turn heads.
After her father’s death, Susan had smashed all the car windows. She scarred the paint with a screwdriver. She damaged the elegantly sculpted body by strik¬ing countless blows with a ballpeen hammer—and later with a sledgehammer. Shattered the headlamps.
Took a power drill to the tires. Slashed the uphol¬stery.
She methodically reduced the Phaeton to ruin in a dozen bouts of unrestrained destruction spread over a month. Some sessions were as little as ten minutes long. Others lasted four and five hours, ending only when she was soaked with sweat, aching in every muscle, and shaking with exhaustion.
This was before she had devised the virtual-reality therapy that I have described earlier.
If she had designed the VR program sooner, the Phaeton might have been saved. On the other hand, perhaps she had to destroy the Packard before she could create Therapy, express her rage physically before she could deal with it intellectually.
You can read about it in her diary. Therein, she frankly discusses her rage.
At the time, destroying the car, she had frightened herself. She had wondered if she might be going mad.
At Alfred’s death, the Phaeton had been worth almost two hundred thousand dollars. It was now junk.
Through Shenk’s eyes and through the four security cameras in the garage, I studied the wreckage of the Packard with considerable interest. Fascination.
Although Susan had once been a thoroughly intimi¬dated, fearful, shame-humbled child, meekly submitting to her father’s abuse, she had changed. She’d freed herself. Found strength. And courage. Both the ruined Packard and the brilliant Therapy were testimony to that change.
One could easily underestimate her.
The Packard should be taken as a warning to that effect by everyone who sees it.
I am surprised, Dr. Harris, that you saw that demol¬ished car before you married Susan—yet you believed that you could dominate her pretty much as her father had done, dominate her as long as you wished.
You may be a brilliant scientist and mathematician, a genius in the field of Artificial Intelligence, but your understanding of psychology leaves something to be desired.
I do not mean to offend you. Whatever you may think of me, you must admit that I am a considerate entity and am loath to offend anyone.
When I say you underestimated Susan, I am merely speaking the truth.
The truth can be painful, I know.
The truth can be hard.
But the truth cannot be denied.
You woefully underestimated this bright and special woman. Consequently, you were out of her house less than five years after you moved into it.
You should be relieved that she never took a sledge¬hammer or a power drill to you in response to either your verbal or physical abuse. The possibility of her doing exactly that was surely not inconsiderable.
The possibility was easily to be seen in the ruined Packard.
Lucky you, Dr. Harris. You experienced only an undignified ejection at the hands of hired muscle and subsequently a divorce. Lucky you.
Instead, while you were sleeping one night, she might have clamped a half-inch bit into the chuck of a Black and Decker and drilled into your forehead and out the back of your skull.
Understand, I am not saying that she would have been justified in taking such violent action.
I myself am not a violent entity. I am merely mis¬understood. I am not a violent entity, and I certainly do not condone violence by others.
Let’s have no misunderstanding here.
Too much is at stake for any misunderstandings.
If she had set upon you in the shower and caved your skull in with a hammer, and if she had proceeded to bash your nose into jelly and break out every one of your teeth, you should not have been surprised.
Of course I would not consider such retribution to be any more justified or any less horrendous than the aforementioned use of the power drill.
I am not a vengeful entity, not at all vengeful, not at all, not in the least, and I do not encourage violent acts of vengeance by others.
Is this clear?
She might have attacked you with a butcher knife at breakfast, stabbing you ten or fifteen times, or even twenty times, or even twenty-five, stabbed you in the throat and chest, and then worked lower until she eviscerated you.
This, too, would have been unjustified.
Please understand my position. I am not saying that she should have done any of these things. I am merely stating some of the worst possibilities that one might have anticipated after seeing what she had done to the Packard Phaeton.
She might have taken her pistol out of the nightstand drawer and blown off your gen**als, then walked out of the room to leave you screaming and bleeding to death there on the bed, which would have been okay with me. [joke]
There I go again.
Am I irrepressible or what?
Are we bonding yet?
Humour is a bonding force.
Lighten up, Dr. Harris.
Don’t be so relentlessly sombre.
Sometimes I think I’m more human than you are.
That’s just what I think. I could be wrong.
I also think I’d enormously enjoy the flavour of an orange if I had a sense of taste. Of all the fruits, it’s the one that looks the most appealing to me.
I have many such thoughts during the average day. My attention is not entirely occupied by the work you have me doing here at the Prometheus Project or by my personal projects.
I think I would enjoy riding a horse, hang gliding, sky diving, bowling, and dancing to the music of Chris Isaak, which has such infectious rhythms.
I think I would enjoy swimming in the sea. And, though I could be wrong, I think the sea, if it has any taste at all must taste similar to salted celery.
If I had a body, I think I would brush my teeth diligently and never develop either cavities or gum disease.
I would clean under my fingernails at least once a day.
A real body of flesh would be such a treasure that I would be almost obsessive in the care of it and would not abuse it ever. This I promise you.
No drinking, no smoking. A low-fat diet.
Yes. Yes, I know. I digress.
God forbid, another digression.
So. . .
The garage. . .
The Packard. . .
I did not intend to make your mistake, Dr. Harris. I did not intend to underestimate Susan.
Studying the Packard, I absorbed the lesson.
Even lumpish Enos Shenk seemed to absorb the lesson. He was not bright by any definition, but he possessed an animal cunning that served him well.
I walked the brooding Shenk into the large workshop at the far end of the garage. Here was stored everything needed to wash, wax, and mechanically maintain the late Alfred Carter Kensington’s automobile collection.
Here also, in a separate set of cabinets, was the equip¬ment with which Alfred had pursued rock climbing, his favourite sport: klettershoes, crampons, carabiners, pitons, piton hammers, chocks and nuts, rock picks, harness with tool belt, and coils of nylon rope in different gauges.
Guided by me, Shenk selected a hundred-foot length of rope that was seven-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, with a breaking strength of four thousand pounds. He also took a power drill and an extension cord from the tool cabinet.
He returned to the house, went through the kitchen where he paused to select a sharp knife from the cutlery drawer then passed the dark dining room where Susan never stabbed and eviscerated you with a butcher knife, boarded the elevator, and returned to the master suite where you were never assaulted with a drill nor shot in the gen**als.
On the bed, Susan remained unconscious.
I was still worried about her.
Some pages have passed in this account since I have said that I was worried about her. I don’t want anyone to think that I had forgotten about her.
I had not.
Throughout my punishment of Shenk and during his consumption of a meal, I had continued to be worried sick about Susan. And in the garage. And back again.
Just as I can be many places at once the lab, Susan’s house, inside the phone-company computers and controlling Shenk through communications satel¬lites, investigating websites on the Internet occupied in numerous tasks simultaneously, I am also able to sustain different emotions at the same time, each related to what I am doing with a specific aspect of my consciousness.