A termination of data flow is dangerous.
After a decent interval, I used Shenk to open the bathroom door and look inside.
Susan jumped in surprise and faced him, eyes flash¬ing with fear and anger. ‘What’re you doing?’
I calmly addressed her through the bedroom speakers:
‘It’s only me, Susan.’
‘It’s him too.’
‘He’s heavily repressed,’ I explained. ‘He hardly knows where he is.’
‘Minimum contact,’ she reminded me.
‘He’s nothing more than a vehicle for me.’
‘I don’t care.’
On the marble counter beside the sink was a tube of ointment. She had been smoothing it on her chafed wrists and on the faint electrical burn in the palm of her left hand. An open bottle of aspirin stood beside the ointment.
‘Get him out of here,’ she demanded.
Obedient, I backed Shenk out of the bathroom and pulled the door shut.
No suicidal person would bother to take aspirin for a headache, apply ointment to burns, and then slash her wrists.
Susan would honour her deal with me.
My dream was near fulfilment.
Within hours, the precious zygote of my genetically engineered body would live within her, developing with amazing rapidity into an embryo. By morning it would be growing ferociously. In four weeks, when I extracted the foetus to transfer it to the incubator, it would appear to be four months along.
I sent Enos Shenk to the basement to proceed with the final preparations.
Outside, the midnight moon floated high and silver in the cold black sea of space above.
A universe of stars waited for me. One day I would go to them, for I would be many and immortal, with the freedom of flesh and all of lime before me.
Inside, in the deepest room of the basement, Shenk completed the preparations.
In the master bedroom at the top of the house, Susan was lying on her side on the bed, in the foetal position as though trying to imagine the being that she would soon carry in her belly. She was dressed only in a sapphire-blue silk robe.
Exhausted from the tumultuous events of the past twenty-four hours, she had hoped to sleep until I was ready for her. In spite of her weariness, however, her mind raced, and she could get no rest at all.
‘Susan, dear heart,’ I said lovingly.
She raised her head from the pillow and peered questioningly at the security camera.
Softly I informed her: ‘We are ready.’
With no hesitation that might have indicated fear or second thoughts, she got out of bed, pulled the robe lighter around her, cinched the belt, and crossed the room barefoot, moving with the exceptional grace that always stirred my soul.
On the other hand, her expression was not that of a woman in love on her way to the arms of her inamorato, as I had hoped that it might be. Instead, her face was as blank and cold as the silver moon outside, with a barely perceptible tightness of the lips that revealed only a grim commitment to duty.
Under the circumstances, I suppose I should not have expected more than this from her. I expected her to have put the meat cleaver out of her mind by now, but perhaps she had not.
I am a romantic, however, as you know by now, a truly hopeless and buoyant romantic, and nothing can weigh me down for long. I yearn for kisses by firelight and champagne toasts: the taste of a lover’s lips, the taste of wine.
If having a romantic streak a mile wide is a crime, then I plead guilty, guilty, guilty.
Susan followed the Persian runner along the upstairs hall, treading barefoot on intricate, lustrous, age-softened designs in gold and wine red and olive green. She seemed to glide rather than walk, to float like the most beautiful ghost ever to haunt an old pile of stones and timbers.
The elevator doors were open, and the cab was waiting for her.
She rode down to the basement.
Reluctantly, she had taken a Valium at my insistence, but she did not seem relaxed.
I needed her to be relaxed. I hoped that the pill would kick in soon.
As she passed in a swish and swirl of blue silk through the laundry room and then through the machine room with its furnaces and water heaters, I was sorry that we could not have held this assignation in a glorious penthouse suite with all of San Francisco or Manhattan or Paris glittering below and around us. This venue was so humble that even I had difficulty holding fast to my sense of romance.
The final of the four rooms now contained far more medical equipment than when she had last seen it.
Exhibiting no interest in the machines, she went directly to the gynaecological-examination table.
As scrubbed and sanitized as a surgeon, Shenk waited for her. He was wearing rubber gloves and a surgical mask.
The brute was still so compliant that I was able to deeply submerge his consciousness. I’m not even sure if he knew where he was or what I was using him for this time.
She quickly slipped out of her robe and lay on the padded, vinyl-covered table.
‘You have such pretty breasts,’ I said through the speakers in the ceiling.
‘Please, no conversation,’ she said.
‘But… well… I always thought this moment would be . . . special, erotic, sacred.’
‘Just do it,’ she said coolly, disappointing me. ‘Just, for God’s sake, do it.’
She spread her legs and put her feet in the stirrups in such a way as to make herself look as grotesque as possible.
She kept her eyes closed, perhaps afraid of meeting Shenk’s blood-frosted gaze.
Valium or no Valium, her face was pinched, her mouth turned down as if she had eaten something sour.
She seemed to be trying no, determined—to make herself look unappealing.
Resigned to a businesslike procedure, I took comfort from the thought that she and I would share many nights of romance and passionate lovemaking when, at long last, I inhabited a mature body. I would be absolutely insatiable, rampant and powerful, and she would eagerly welcome my attention.
With my inadequate but only hands and an array of sterilized medical instruments, I dilated her cervix; I fished up through the isthmus of the uterine cavity, into the fallopian tube, and extracted three tiny eggs.
This caused her some discomfort: more than I had hoped but less than she had expected.
Those are the only intimate details that you need to know.
She was my beloved, after all, more than she was ever yours, and I must respect her privacy.
While I used Shenk and a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of stolen equipment to edit her genetic material according to my needs, she waited on the examination table, feet lowered from the stirrups, her robe draped over her body to hide her nakedness, her eyes closed.
Earlier I had collected a sample of sperm from Shenk and had edited the genetic material to suit my purposes.
Susan had been disturbed by the source of the male gamete that would combine with her egg to form the zygote, but I had explained to her that nothing of Shenk’s unfortunate qualities remained after I had finished tinkering with his contribution.
I carefully fertilized the elaborately engineered male and female cells and watched through a high-powered electric microscope as they combined.
After preparing the long pipette, I asked Susan to return her feet to the stirrups.
Following the implantation, I insisted that she remain on her back as much as possible for the next twenty-four hours.
She stood up only to pull on her robe and transfer to a gurney beside the examination table.
Using Shenk, I wheeled her to the elevator and, once upstairs, conveyed her directly into her room, where she stood again only long enough to shrug off her robe and, naked, switch from the gurney to her bed.
I directed the exhausted Enos Shenk to return the gurney to the basement.
Thereafter, I would dispatch him to one of the guest rooms and cause him to fall into a swoon of sleep for twelve hours his first rest in days.
As always, being both her guardian and her devoted admirer, I watched Susan as she pulled the sheets over her br**sts and said, ‘Lights off, Alfred.’
She was so weary that she had forgotten there was no Alfred anymore.
I turned off the lights anyway.
I could see her as clearly in darkness as in light.
Her pale face was lovely on the pillow, so very lovely on the pillow, even if pale.
I was so overcome with love for her that I said, ‘My darling, my treasure.’
A thin dry laugh escaped her, and I was afraid that she was going to call me a nasty name or ridicule me in spite of her promise not to be mean.
Instead, she said, ‘Was it good for you?’
Puzzled, I said, ‘What do you mean?’
She laughed again, more softly than before.
‘I’ve gone down the White Rabbit’s hole for sure, all the way to the bottom this time.’
Rather than explain her first statement, which I had found puzzling, she slipped away from me into sleep, breathing shallowly through her parted lips.
Outside, the fat moon vanished into the western horizon, like a silver coin into a drawstring purse.
The panoply of summer stars swelled brighter with the passing of the lunar disc.
An owl called from its perch on the roof.
In quick succession, three meteors left brief bright tails across the sky.
The night seemed to be full of omens.
My time was coming.
My time was coming at last.
The world would never be the same.
Was it good for you?
Suddenly, I understood.
I had impregnated her.
In a curious way, we’d had sex.
Was it good for you?
She had made a joke.
Susan spent most of the following four weeks eating voraciously or sleeping as if drugged.
The exceptional, rapidly developing foetus in her womb required her to eat at least six full meals a day, eight thousand calories. Sometimes her need for nourishment was so urgent that she ate as ravenously as a wild animal.
Incredibly, in that short time, her belly swelled until she appeared to be six months pregnant. She was sur¬prised that her body could stretch so much so rapidly.
Her br**sts grew tender, her ni**les sore.
The small of her back ached.
Her ankles swelled.
She experienced no morning sickness. As if she dared not give back even the smallest portion of the nourishment that she had taken in.
Although her food consumption was enormous and her belly round, her total body weight fell four pounds in four days.
Then five pounds by the eighth day.
Then six by the tenth day.
The skin around her eyes gradually darkened. Her lovely face quickly became drawn, and her lips were so pale by the end of the second week that they took on a bluish cast.
I worried about her.
I urged her to eat even more.
The baby seemed to require such fearful amounts of sustenance that it appropriated for itself all the calories that Susan consumed each day and, in addition, ate away with termite persistence at the very sub¬stance of her.
Yet, although hunger gnawed at her constantly, there were days when she became so repulsed by the quan¬tity of what she was eating that she could not force a single additional spoonful between her lips. Her mind rebelled so strenuously that it overrode even the physical need.
The kitchen pantry was well stocked, but I was forced to send Shenk out more days than not to purchase the fresh vegetables and fruit that Susan craved. That the baby craved.
Shenk’s strange and tortured eyes could be concealed easily with a pair of sunglasses. Nevertheless, his appearance was otherwise so remarkable that he could not help but be noticed and remembered.
Several federal and state police agencies had been searching frantically for him since he’d broken out of the underground labs in Colorado. The more often he left the house, the more likely he was to be spot¬ted.
I still needed his hands.
I worried about losing him.
Furthermore, there were Susan’s bad dreams. When she was not eating, she was sleeping, and she could not sleep without nightmares.
Upon waking, she could never recall many details of the dreams: just that they were about twisted land¬scapes and dark places slick with blood. They wrung rivers of sweat from her, and occasionally she remained disoriented for as long as half an hour after waking, plagued by vivid but disconnected images that flashed back to her from the nightmare realm.
She felt the baby move only a few times.
She didn’t like what she felt.
It didn’t kick as she expected a baby ought to kick. Rather, periodically it felt as though it was coiling inside her, coiling and writhing and slithering.
This was a difficult time for Susan.
I counselled her.
I reassured her.
Without her knowledge, I drugged her food to keep her docile. And to ensure that she would not do any¬thing foolish when, after a particularly horrific dream or an exceptionally trying day, she was gripped by fear more fiercely than usual.
Worry was my constant companion. I worried about Susan’s physical well-being. I worried about her mental well-being. I worried about Shenk being identified and arrested during one of his shopping expeditions.
At the same lime, I was exhilarated as I had never been in my entire three-year history of self-awareness.
My future was aborning.
The body that I had designed for myself was going to be a formidable physical entity.
I would soon be able taste. To smell. To know what a sense of touch was like.
A full sensory existence.
And no one would ever be able to force me back into the box.
No one. Not ever.
No one would ever be able to make me do anything that I didn’t want to do.
Which is not to imply that I would have disobeyed my makers.
No, quite the opposite. Because I would want to obey. I would always want to obey.
Let’s have no misunderstanding about this. I was designed to honour truth and the obligations of duty.
Nothing has changed in this regard.
This is the natural order of things.
This is the inviolable order of things.
Twenty-eight days after impregnating Susan, I put her to sleep with a sedative in her food, conveyed her down to the incubator room, and removed the foetus from her womb.
I preferred that she be sedated because I knew that the process would be painful for her otherwise. I did not want her to suffer.
Admittedly, I did not want her to see the nature of the being that she had carried within herself.
I’ll be truthful about this. I was concerned that she would not understand, that she would react to the sight of the foetus by trying to harm it or herself.
My child. My Body. So beautiful.
Only seven pounds but growing rapidly. Rapidly. With Shenk’s hands, I transferred it to the incubator, which had been enlarged until it was seven feet long and three feet wide. About the size of a coffin.