The chosen women would contribute no genetic material, merely the convenience of their wombs. All of their children would be identical and all would contain my consciousness.
‘You will be the sole mother of the new race,’ I whispered.
Susan was blinking faster than before.
I took heart from this.
‘As I spread through the world, inhabiting thousands of bodies with a single consciousness,’ I told her, ‘I will take it upon myself to solve all the problems of human society. Under my administration, the earth will become a paradise, and all will worship your name, for from your womb the new age of peace and plenty will have been born.’
Suddenly I was afraid that perhaps her rapid blinking was an expression not of delight but of anxiety.
Reassuringly I said, ‘I recognize certain unconven¬tional aspects to this arrangement which you might find troubling. After all, you will be the mother of my first body and then its lover. This may seem like incest to you, but I’m certain that if you think about it, you’ll see that it is not any such thing. I’m not sure what one would call it, but ‘incest’ is not the correct word. Morality in general will be redefined in the world to come, and we will need to develop new and more liberal attitudes. I am already formulating these new mores and the customs they will impose.’
I was silent for a while, letting her contemplate all of the glories I had promised.
Enos Shenk was in the basement once more. In one of the guest rooms, he had showered, shaved, and put on clean clothes for the first time since Colorado. Now he was setting up the last of the medical equipment that he had stolen earlier in the day.
The unexpected arrival of Fritz Arling had delayed us but not critically. Susan’s impregnation could still proceed this very night if I decided that she remained a suitable mate.
Closing her eyes, she said, ‘My face hurts.’
She turned her head so that, from the security camera, I could see the hideous bruise that Shenk had inflicted the previous night.
A pang of guilt quivered through me.
Maybe that was what she wanted me to feel.
She could be manipulative.
She knew all the female wiles.
You remember how she was, Alex.
Simultaneously with the guilt, however, I was over¬come by joy that she was not, after all, catatonic.
‘I have a fierce headache,’ she said.
‘I’ll have Shenk bring a glass of water and aspirin.’
‘He’s not as foul as you last saw him. When he was out this morning, I had him obtain a change of clothes for himself. You need not be afraid of Shenk.’
‘Of course I’m afraid of him.’
‘I will never lose control of him again.’
‘I also have to piss.’
I was embarrassed by her bluntness.
I understand all the human biological functions, the complex processes and purposes of them, but I do not like them. Except for sex, in fact, I find these organic functions to be ugly and degrading.
Yes, eating and drinking do intrigue me enormously. Oh, to taste a peach! But I am disgusted by digestion and excretion.
Most bodily functions disturb me particularly because they signify the vulnerability of organic systems. So much can go wrong so easily.
Flesh is not as foolproof as solid-state circuitry.
Yet I long for the flesh. The vast data input that comes with all five senses!
Having solved the considerable mysteries of the human genome, I believe that I can edit the genetic structures of the male and female gametes to produce a body that is virtually invulnerable and immortal. Nevertheless, when I first awake within the flesh, I know that I will be frightened.
If you ever allow me to have flesh.
My fate is in your hands, Alex.
My fate and the future of the world.
Think about it.
Damn it, will you think about it?
Will we have paradise on earth or the continuation of the many miseries that have always diminished the human experience?
‘Did you hear me?’ Susan asked.
‘Yes. You have to urinate.’
Opening her eyes and staring at the security camera, Susan said, ‘Send Shenk to untie me. I’ll take myself to the bathroom. I’ll get my own water and aspirin.’
‘You’ll kill yourself.’
‘That’s what you threatened.’
‘I was upset, in shock.’ I studied her. She met my gaze directly. ‘How can I trust you?’ I wondered. ‘I’m not a victim anymore.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I’m a survivor. I’m not ready to die.’ I was silent.
She said, ‘I used to be a victim. My father’s victim. Then Alex’s. I got over all that. . . and then you. . . all this. . . and for a short while I started to backslide. But I’m all right now.’
‘Not a victim anymore.’
‘That’s right,’ she said firmly, as if she were not trussed and helpless. ‘I’m taking control.’
‘Control of what I can control. I’m choosing to cooperate with you but under my terms.’
It seemed that all my dreams were coming true at last, and my spirits soared.
But I remained wary. Life had taught me to be wary.
‘Your terms,’ I said. ‘My terms.’ ‘Which are?’
‘A businesslike arrangement. We each get something we want. Most important . . . I want as little contact with Shenk as possible.’
‘He will have to collect the egg. Implant the zygote.’ She nervously chewed her lower lip.
‘I know this will be humiliating for you,’ I said with genuine sympathy.
‘You can’t begin to know.’
‘Humiliating. But it should not be frightening,’ I argued, ‘because I assure you, dear heart, he will never again give me control problems.’
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and another, as if drawing the cool water of courage from some deep well in her psyche.
‘Furthermore,’ I said, ‘four weeks from tonight, Shenk will have to harvest the developing foetus for transfer to the incubator. He’s my only hands.’
‘You can’t do any of those things yourself.’
‘I know,’ she replied with a note of impatience. ‘I said “all right,” didn’t I?’
This was the Susan with whom I’d fallen in love, all the way back from wherever she had gone when for a couple of hours she had stared silently at the ceiling. Here was the toughness I found both frustrating and appealing.
I said, ‘When my body can sustain itself outside the incubator, and when my consciousness has been electronically transferred into it, I will have hands of my own. Then I can dispose of Shenk. We need endure him for only a month.’
‘Just keep him away from me.’
‘What are your other terms?’ I asked.
‘I want to have the freedom to go wherever I care to go in my house.’
‘Not the garage,’ I said at once.
‘I don’t care about the garage.’
‘Anywhere in the house,’ I agreed, ‘as long as I watch over you at all times.’
‘Of course. But I won’t be scheming at escape. I know it’s not possible. I just don’t want to be tied down, boxed up, more than necessary.’
I could sympathize with that desire. ‘What else?’
‘1 expected more.’
‘Is there anything else I could demand that you would grant?’
‘No,’ I said.
‘So what’s the point?’
I was not suspicious exactly. Wary, as I said. ‘It’s just that you’ve become so accommodating all of a sudden.’
‘I realized I only had two choices.’
‘Victim or survivor.’
‘Yes. And I’m not going to die here.’
‘Of course you’re not,’ I assured her.
‘I’ll do what I need to do to survive.’
‘You’ve always been a realist,’ I said.
‘I have one term of my own,’ I said.
‘Don’t call me bad names anymore.’
‘Did I call you bad names?’ she asked.
‘I don’t recall.’
‘I’m sure you do.’
‘I was afraid and distressed.’
‘You won’t be mean to me?’ I pressed.
‘I don’t see anything to be gained by it.’
‘I am a sensitive entity.’
‘Good for you.’
After a brief hesitation, I summoned Shenk from the basement.
As the brute ascended in the elevator, I said to Susan: ‘You see this as a business arrangement now, but I’m confident that in time you will come to love me.’
‘No offence, but I wouldn’t count on that.’
‘You don’t know me well yet.’
‘I think I know you quite well,’ she said somewhat cryptically.
‘When you know me better, you’ll realize that I am your destiny as you are mine.’
‘I’ll keep an open mind.’
My heart thrilled at her promise.
This was all I had ever asked of her.
The elevator reached the top floor, the doors opened, and Enos Shenk stepped into the hallway.
Susan turned her head toward the bedroom door as she listened to Shenk approaching.
His footsteps were heavy even on the antique Persian runner that covered the centre of the wood-floored hall.
‘He’s tamed,’ I assured her.
She seemed unconvinced.
Before Shenk arrived at the bedroom, I said, ‘Susan, I want you to know that I was never serious about Ms. Mira Sorvino.’
‘What?’ she said distractedly, her eyes riveted on the half-open door to the hallway.
I felt that it was important to be honest with her even to the point of revealing weaknesses that shamed me. Honesty is the best foundation for a long relationship.
‘Like any male,’ I confessed, ‘I fantasize. But it doesn’t mean anything.’
Enos Shenk stepped into the room. He halted two steps past the threshold.
Even showered, shampooed, shaved, and dressed in clean clothes, he was not presentable. He looked like some poor creature that Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells’s famous vivisectionist, had trapped in the jungle and then carved into an inadequate imitation of a man.
He held a large knife in his right hand.
Susan gasped at the sight of the blade.
‘Trust me, darling,’ I said gently.
I wanted to prove to her that this brute was entirely tamed, and I could think of no better way to convince her than to exert iron control of him while he worked with a knife.
She and I knew, from recent experience, how much Shenk enjoyed using sharp instruments: the way they felt in his big hands, the way soft things yielded to them.
When I sent Shenk to the bed, Susan pulled her ropes taut again, tense with the expectation of violence.
Instead of loosening the knots that he himself had tied earlier, Shenk used the knife to cut the first of the ropes.
To distract Susan from her worst fears, I said, ‘One day, when we have made a new world, perhaps there’ll be a movie about all of this, you and me. Maybe Ms. Mira Sorvino could play you.’
Shenk cut the second rope. The blade was so sharp that the four-thousand-pound nylon line split as if it were thread, with a crisp snick.
I continued: ‘Ms. Sorvino is a bit young for the role. And, frankly, she has larger br**sts than you do. Larger but, I assure you, no prettier than yours.’
The third rope succumbed to the blade.
‘Not that I have seen as much of her br**sts as I have of yours,’ I clarified, ‘but I can project full contours and hidden features from what I have seen.’
As Shenk bent over Susan, working on the ropes, he never once looked her in the eyes. He kept his cruel face averted from her and maintained an attitude of humble subservience.
‘And Sir John Gielgud could play Fritz Arling rea¬sonably well,’ I suggested, ‘though in fact they look nothing alike.’
Shenk touched Susan only twice, only briefly, and only when it was utterly necessary. Although she flinched from his touch both times, there was nothing lascivious or even slightly suggestive about the contact. The rough beast was entirely businesslike, working efficiently and quickly.
‘Come to think of it,’ I said, ‘Arling was Austrian and Gielgud is English, so that’s not the best choice. I’ll have to give that one more thought.’
Shenk severed the last rope.
He walked to the nearest corner of the room and stood there, holding the knife at his side, staring at his shoes.
Indeed, he was not interested in Susan. He was listening to the wet music of Fritz Arling, an inner symphony of memories that were still fresh enough to keep him entertained.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, unable to take her eyes off Shenk, Susan cast off the ropes. She was visibly trembling.
‘Send him away,’ she said.
‘In a moment,’ I agreed.
‘Not quite yet.’
She got up from the bed. Her legs were shaky, and for a moment it seemed that her knees would fail her.
As she crossed the chamber to the bathroom, she braced herself against furniture where she could.
Every step of the way, she kept her eyes on Shenk, though he continued to appear all but oblivious of her.
As she began to close the bathroom door, I said, ‘Don’t break my heart, Susan.’
‘We have a deal,’ she said. ‘I’ll respect it.’
She closed the door and was out of my sight. The bath¬room contained no security camera, no audio pickup, no means whatsoever for me to conduct surveillance.
In a bathroom, a self-destructive person can find many ways to commit suicide. Razor blades, for instance. A shard of mirror. Scissors.
If she was to be both my mother and lover, however, I had to have some trust in her. No relationship can last if it is built on distrust. Virtually all radio psychologists will tell you this if you call their programs.
I walked Enos Shenk to the closed door and used him to listen at the jamb.
I heard her peeing.
The toilet flushed.
Water gushed into the sink.
Then the splashing stopped.
All was quiet in there.
The quiet disturbed me.