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2

Hallo, Jane.

Hallo, Jane.

Ooh, what a silver face youve got.

Yes, Jane, it is rather silver. Makeup, or did you catch it off him?

Id forgotten, my heart hammering its way through my ribs, my breath snarled up in my throat, forgotten that when you learn to sing you learn to control your voice. But I was doing it anyway.

Catch what off whom? I said.

Gosh, said Jason, what impeccable grammar. Off that peculiar actor friend of yours.

Do they know? How can they be here? As if theyre waiting for me

Dont answer. Switch. Throw them.

Isnt it cold? I said.

Not for you in that lovely green cloak.

Is that his? Medea inquired.

Whose?

Your rude friend.

I have a lot of rude friends.

Oh, said Medea. Does she mean us?

She doesnt want to talk about him. Obviously had a lovers tiff. What a shame, when youre living here in the slums to be with him.

They know. I think they know it all. Do they know where I live? Where Silver is? How can they

If you mean the man with the red hair you saw on the bridge, I said, weve split up, yes. Hes gone east.

East?

Out of state. (Like Swohnson and E.M. and their new line in farm machines.) Theres the chance of a good part there, in a drama.

And left you all alone? In this slummy bit of the city?

Jason, I said, what gave you the idea that I live around here?

Well. Youve left your mother, and your mothers stopped your credit and your policode and all that. Then we asked around rather. Described you very accuratelydiet-conscious, bleached hairAnd we heard about how you sang in the street with your friend whos gone east. How brave, when you cant sing. Do you do it the way we do? Someone said you come here, to this arcade.

Theyd been searching for me. It couldnt be for any reason but pure nosiness and spite. And today was the day Silver and I used to come to the arcadetheyd found that out too, and stationed themselves here, waiting. And, used to coming to this spot at this time, on this day, Id done it without considering. And walked right into them. (They know hes a robot, theyve spoken to Egyptia, or Clovis. They know.) Butthey hadnt found out where we were livingor theyd have turned up there. (I can just imagine their smiling faces in the doorway.) Of course. Nobody did know where we lived, wed never told anyone, even the musicians whose lofts wed visited had never yet been invited back.

Well actually, I said, I dont live this end, at all. Its sheer chance we met.

Ah. A Dickensian coincidence, said Jason.

Where do you live, Jane? asked Medea, smiling, her eyes like thin slices of cobra. How I hated her, and her awful crimped blue hair.

Where do I live? Near the Old River.

And you never open the windows.

Not often.

Its interesting there.

Yes. Anyway, I must go. Good-bye, I said.

Good-bye, Jane.

Good-bye, Jane.

They stood totally static as I walked out of the arcade, and I almost turned and ran for home. But as the cold of the open street breathed over me and my boots crunched in the deeper snow, I suddenly understood Id escaped too easily. With a queasy, dizzying sensation I walked over the road and into Kaceys Kitchens, and straight down an aisle of servicery fixtures. Pausing before a chromium in-sta-mix I saw, reflected in its curved surface, a distorted runny image of Jason and Medea flowing in at the door.

Pretend not to be aware. Find a crowd, lose them.

Oh God. There may not be a crowd. Its cold, and cash is low.

There has to be a crowd.

There wasnt.

Not in Kaceys, not in the Cookery. Not in the dozen or so stores and shops I walked through. I tried to lose them in alleyways, too, twisting and turning, going along walks I only knew because of going along them with him. Darting across hurtling roads, trying to get ahead of themor perhaps, get them run over. But somehow they kept after me. Id see their storefront reflections melt in, a few yards behind mine.

The sun went. The streets darkened with dusk and brightened with extra lighting. It was getting late, and I couldnt go home. I ached with the cold, and with hunger, and with anger and fear. I hurried into a second owner clothing store, and tried to shake them off among the moth-eaten fur coats. I almost thought I had, and then, going through the hats toward the other door, most horribly I heard Jason give a raucous hoarse sneeze. It went through me like a bullet, and then I ran. I ran out of the store, and down the street outside, skidding and sliding, clutching at intermittent lampposts to steady myself. Would they run too? Oh let them fall over and break all their legs

They ran. They must have. I didnt hear them, they ran like weasels, better than me. Without knowing quite how, Id reached the square that led to the all-night market with the fish-oil flares. As I stopped, panting and gasping, with a stitch jabbing in my stomach, they came up, one on either side of me, like the slatey shadows.

Jane, whyever were you running?

Are you following me? I cried.

Are we? Medea asked Jason.

Sort of, he said reasonably. We thought wed walk you home.

Only, the river isnt in this direction at all, Jane.

What now? I let myself gasp for breath, because it gave me time to think, if only I could. I mustnt go toward Silver and the apartment on Tolerance. Nor must I go toward the Old River, since they would go with me right to the door, and I didnt own a door over there.

I dont need you to walk me home, I said.

We think you do, said Medea.

We were certain, with your policode not working and everything, it might be dangerous for you.

You were certain you wanted to see where I lived.

Is there some reason you dont want us to?

Why could that be, Jane?

Were your friends.

Where could I go? Where could I take them, so theyd get bored and leave me alone? I had hardly any cash on me, a few coins, no more. I couldnt go and sit in a restaurant. And I had to get out of the cold, somehow, I couldnt stand it anymore. My hands had no feeling, or my feet. Perhaps Id broken all my toes as I ran and just couldnt feel it yetMy eyes were burning. And theyd say, Youre frozen, you want to go homewhy wont you, if youve got nothing to hide, and no robots stashed there?

Im not going home, I blurted out.

Why not, Jane?

Im going to see Egyptia.

Oh. Both their faces fell. Id scored, and I wasnt sure how and then, You mean that utterly abysmal moronic play shes in.

She kept saying, said Medea, Janes got to come to my first night. Janes got to be there, or Ill die. How could she abandon me like this? Medea frowned slightly. But you arent.

It sounded very like Egyptia when Medea said it, only without Egyptias beautiful voice. And in the midst of panic I felt a stab of guilt. Egyptia had been wonderful to me, and Id never called her to tell her she was wonderful, and that she would be safe. Hoping shed now lost all interest in me and in him, my love who was her gadget, Id shut her from my mind, as if to make it happen by sympathetic magic. But shed shown me no malice. Shed been gloriously, sweetly kind. And tonight was her first night as Antektra, asking the peacock about brothers and dust. Through my own sick fear, I could just visualize her agonies.

Oh, well, said Jason, wed better go with you. We thought of going, actually. At least over to The Island first.

We were walking, the three of us. Their policodes glinted, his on a necklet, and hers on a bangle, and I wished there were no such things and I could kill them. The tremor sites had snow on them. The sky was snowing out stars. Silver! Silver!

Egyptia, Im sorry, but if I get the chance to get away from these creatures, I dont care about youOh, God, give me the chance

Well go over to South Arbor and take the flyer, said Jason.

The Asteroid rose over the broken buildings. In the icy air, it seemed larger than ever, and touched the faces of my escort with a green-blue glaze, but probably it was an optical illusion.

We walked. They didnt speak to me any more. Now and then they said things to each other, sometimes about me.

Actors are awfully stupid.

Yes, it will be a revolting night. But if Jane wants to.

Isnt she thin now? Not right for her bone structure.

Wonder what Mother would say.

They knew they were my jailers. But theyd still failed, so far. They hadnt been led to my home. Id provided a legitimate excuse for not going there, and so they couldnt be certain I was shielding anyone, or anything, from them. Not certain.

We got to the flyer platform in time to catch the four-thirty P.M. As they clambered and clambered me into the lighted pumpkin, I tried halfheartedly to fall back, but they wouldnt let me.

Come on, Jane.

I just remembered, I havent got the fare.

Jason hesitated. Theyre very mean, despite their riches and their thievery, and I wondered for a second if theyd abandon me after all. But then he said to Medea, You can pay for her, cant you?

And Medea, expressionless and hateful, said: Yes, Ill pay. Ill pay for her on the ferry, too. Janes one of the poor, now.

Do you remember, said Jason, when she offered to pay our bill in Jaggeds, and then didnt, and they got on to Daddy and asked him for it? That was ever so funny.

We sat down. The flyer, a golden champagne bubble, drifted forward into the city sky, and I could have wept, from the pain of my thawing fingers, and from despair.

Silver would be expecting me. The streets were dangerous. I had no policode. Would he, even though he couldnt seem to be afraid for himself, be afraid for me? Silver.

Dont the buildings look interesting from here? said Jason. Just imagine, if we had some little bombs we could drop on them. Bang. Bang.

Theyd look more interesting then, said Medea complacently. On fire.

Damn the pair of them. I wish there were a hell, and they could be there forever, screaming and screaming

No, I dont wish that either. That wouldnt make any difference, now.

There was a crowd waiting for the reservoir ferry, and Jason held my arm. Hes scarcely taller than me. I thought of trying to push him in the water off the pier. But hed only swim back.

The ferry came and we got on it. It curved through the water and around the trees to The Island.

The play doesnt start until midnight, lamented Jason. But Jane knows that. Over six hours of listening to Egyptia carrying on.

Do you think, said Medea, we could do something to make Egyptia amused? Like putting some small creepy insects in her makeup boxes?

Ssh, said Jason. If you tell Jane, Jane will tell Egyptia. And that would ruin the surprise.

Or we could put glue into her stockings.

What an intimate idea. I wonder what its like to be intimate with Egyptia?

Oh, Jason, moaned Medea, please kiss my little toeits ecstasy, and it makes me feel like a woman.

I stood by the rail, the water coiling by, not really listening. Somehow I recollect all they said. But its irrelevant. And presently we reached The Island pier, the landscaped gardens, and got off and walked up to the lift, and rose in it to Egyptias apartment.

It was deadlock until then.

By the time Jason spoke to Egyptias door, saying he and Medea were there, and not mentioning me, I was feeling violently nauseated and no longer really cared.

All around the dead pot-plants pointed at us with their petrified claws. The night was strange and glistening and terrible. I recalled how Id come here last and bit my tongue, the only way I could keep any control over myself. It seemed to me that if Lord came to the door again, it would be the end.

When the door opened, no one was there but ourselves reflected in the mirrors as we trooped inside. It was also very silent, though I could smell incense and cigarines and the warm resinous scent of Egyptias entirely convincing pine-cone fire.

No one seemed to be in the vast salon, either, though yellow candles were burning everywhere. It looked so cozy, so beautiful, so sumptuously welcoming, my illness began inadvertently to lift. Then I almost screamed.

The fire had been put in the middle of the floor, and in one of the big shadowy chairs, three-quarters onto it, a head turned, and the flames outlined a crimson halo along dark red hair. It was Silver. It was

If you stole anything from the hall on your way in, said Clovis, please replace it. This advice is for your own sakes. Egyptia, who is putting the finishing touches to her makeup this very minute, is liable to return in the person of Antektra, orworsein hysterics yet again. And much as Id love to see someone murder the two of youGood God Almighty!

I swallowed.

Hallo, Clovis.

Having turned elegantly and slowly, caught sight of me and leapt to his feet, he was now transfixed, and I could see why Id made the mistake. Cloviss curling hair had been grown to shoulder length and lightly tinted red. To copy Silver? Mirror-Bias in reverse? The room shimmered. Wed parted in unfriendship, yet seeing him again I felt such a shock of relief I was ready to collapse on the floor.

Jane. That is you? I mean, under that blond wig and the silver skin?

It isnt a wig. Its my natural unmolecularized color. Yes, its me. I felt blazingly hot now, and unfastened the cloak and held it drooping away from me.

My God. Let me look at you.

He came across the room, stopped about a yard from me, gazed at me and said, Jane, youve lost about thirty pounds. I always knew it. Youre really a beautiful boy, circa fifteen hundred. With breasts.

At which I burst into uncontrollable tears.

Jason tittered, and Clovis said, You two can go through into the servicery and dial the cellar for some wine. A dry, full-bodied redSlaumot, if theres any left.

Are we supposed to do what you tell us? asked Medea.

I think you are, said Clovis. Unless youd like me to let your daddy know what you did last week. Again.

Daddy doesnt care, said Medea.

There you are wrong. Daddy does care, said Clovis. Your daddy was talking to my daddy the other day, and both daddies agreed you would profit by instruction. Your daddy was brooding on the notion of sending both of you off on a study course similar to Davideeds undertaking. Silt. Or something of a reminiscent color and consistency, though a rather nastier odor.

Youre lying, said Jason.

About the subject for study, possibly. Not about anything else. Dont get the wine and prove it.

Like a lizard, Medea slithered abruptly away through the salon. Jason, impelled by the invisible bit of string which connected them, peering back at Clovis, went after her.

My crying, to my surprise, had been tearless, and almost immediately stopped. To see the terrible twins reduced to such an unimportant role dumbfounded me.

What on earth did they do, to give you that hold on them? I said.

Shoplifting and minor arson. I happen to have paid the fine before it got round to their father, who really is thinking of sending them into exile.

Why?

Why not? I felt generous. And now I can blackmail them. I shall need a new seance arrangement, post darling Austin, who, by the way, is a homicidal maniac. Im trusting Jason will fix it, and not booby-trap the rest of the furniture at the same time, which is the price I had to pay before. And now. What about you?

For one thing, how did you know to come here tonight? Did you see the horrendous Ask My Brother To Dust The Peacock advertised somewhere? On a police-wanted placard, for example. Not that Im arguing with your arrival. Egyptia has been driving herself and everyone else mad for the past three weeks. None of her fellow Thespians will talk to her anymore. Im wondering if theyll even consent to talk the lines to her on stage tonight. But at least her wails of Oh why isnt Jane with me? will be appeased.

Clovis.

Yes, Jane?

I looked at him, at this handsome face Id grown up seeing grow up, Clovis, the last remnant of my past. Was he my enemy? I thought so when he called me and took Silver away from me. I thought so when he blushed, and sneered at me, and I slapped his face. But not anymore. Could I trust him and would he help me? As, originally, he already had.

Clovis, I have to leave at once.

If you do, Egyptias death may well be on your conscience. Not to mention mine.

I have to leave, and I need you to stop the twins from coming after me.

Are they likely to?

They hunted me down, somehow, and theyve been following me all afternoon, and I couldnt get rid of them. I couldnt go home. Not crying, I nevertheless was crying, tearlessly again, and desperately, and waving my hands at him because I knew he didnt like to be handled and some part of me kept physically reaching out to him for support.

Jane, obviously Im being unforgivably obtuse. But why couldnt you go home?

Clovis, dont you know?

Let me see. You split with Demeta. Youre living in a hovel somewhere. Or youre a professional damisella della nuita. Why should any of that

Did you see the Electronic Metals newscast?

I never watch newscasts. If you mean, do I know, by a process of imperceptible osmosis, that E.M. is out of business, yes I do. And if ever I saw a senatorial blindfold, that was it. Anything to keep the masses from revolution, I suppose.

I was calmer. I watched him closely.

How, I said, did Egyptia make out, as legal owner of one of their discontinued robots?

How steely-eyed and measuring youve become suddenly. Quite unlike the dear little Jane I used to know. Egyptia? Oh, they called her. They said would she care to return her robot as it was faulty and might set fire to the rugs. Theyd refund her the cash, plus a bonus as compensation.

There was a long silence, and I began to wonder if he was playing with me.

And what, I prompted, did Egyptia reply?

Egyptia replied: Which robot? and, when theyd told her, announced that the robot had been in storage for weeks, and she was too busy to be bothered with fishing it out. As for the bonus, money didnt concern her anymore. Self-knowledge through art was what concerned her. She would be happy to eat wild figs in the desert wilderness, etc., etc.And Electronic Metals backed away and switched off the phone. Since then no further calls, apparently. No doubt they concluded that one unused, forgotten robot in the cupboard of an eccentric, amnesiac and very rich actress was nothing to lose sleep over. Or else they didnt want to increase the wrong kind of public tension by making a scene.

My eyes were helplessly wide.

That was what she said?

That was exactly what she said. I know, because I had the misfortune of being with her when she took the call and said it. Clovis nodded. When she turned from the video, of course, he murmured, I said, with some astonishment, But didnt Jane ever come and demand the robot from you on the grounds of hard cash and true love? And Egyptia widened her topaz eyes, just as youre doing with your jade green ones. Oh! Yes! she exclaimed. Id forgotten about that. Janes got him. Interesting, isnt it.

Shed forgotten

You know what shes like. Completely and enduringly self-centered. Nothing is real to Egyptia, except for herself, and the savage gods who may either uplift or destroy her. You were in love with him, Jane. But Egyptias only in love with Egyptia.

And did you call E.M., Clovis, and tell them the mistake?

Why the hell should I?

Malevolence, I said.

Astonishing me somewhat, he grinned, and lowered his eyes.

Hmm. Youll never let me off that one, will you?

You havent let yourself off. Your hair

Jane. I had him. Ill admit, a special experience. Shakespeare would have flung off a couple of sonnets. But it just made me aware, for the eighty millionth time, what a pile of gormless garbage most of humanity is. What you really want to know is, did I or will I tell E.M. Ltd. that you and heSilverstill cohabit. Which is what I astoundedly presume you are still doing. And what I also presume our own little arsonists in the servicery have found out. J. and M. Investigators Inc.

I drew in a long trembling breath. My voice came out sure and steady and clear.

Yes, Clovis.

The answer is No. Ah, what a relief.

Yes. E.M. means business. If they think hes still walking about

Hed be back to cogs and clockwork status.

To hear him say it, even though I knew it to be so, stunned me, filled me with fresh sickness and horror. And at any moment, the two monsters would be back.

You know, Clovis began to say, I have an awful theory about how Jason tracked you down.

But I broke in: Clovis, can you lend me some money. Or give me some? I dont know if I can ever repay it. But if we could get away from the city, go upstate

That could be a good idea. You can have the money. But just suppose, melodramatic as it sounds, that E.M., or the Senate, have a secret check going on the highways or out-of-state flyer terminals.

I stared at him and through him.

Oh, God. I didnt think of that.

Dont go to pieces. Im inventing an alternative plan. Youll have to stay around a while. Ill need to make a call.

Clovis.

Yes. Thats my name. Not Judas Iscariot, so relax.

What plan?

Well, just like your appalling mother

A voice shattered like glass against my ears, staggering me.

Jane! Jane!

I turned as if through treacle. Egyptia stood on the little stair that led down from the bedroom half-floor above. I had an impression of flashing lights and foaming darkness, a kind of storm, as she launched herself at me. She fell against me lightly, but with a passionate, almost-violence. She clung to me, pent, intense, not letting go. Jane, Jane, Jane. I knew youd come. I knew youd understand and come, because I needed you. Oh JaneIm so afraid.

I felt I was drowning and my impulse was very nearly to thrust her off. But she was familiar as a lover, and her terror communicated itself, a strange, high inaudible singing and sizzling, like tension in wires.

Well go on later, said Clovis.

Clovis

Later, trust me. You know you do. He walked away toward the servicery. Ill go and see how the Slaumots coming.

Egyptia clung to me like a serpent. Her perfume flooded over me, and despite everything, my own panic began to leave me.

My lover was not a hysteric, as I was. He would wait for me, without fear, thinking Id stopped to talk to people we knew, perhaps to eat with them. And Clovis would help us. Help us leave our beautiful home, our friend the white cat.

Egyptia, I said, and the tears tried to come again. Dont be afraid. Its going to be fine. It is, it is.

Then she drew away from me, smiling bravely, and I burst into bubbling laughter, as Id burst into dry tears.

Egyptia was stricken.

Why are you laughing at me?

Because, in the middle of utter chaosyoure so beautiful!

She stood there, her skin like a warm peach with an overall theatrical makeup, her eyelids terracotta and golden spangles, gold spangles also massed thickly on her breasts, which otherwise appeared to be bare. Her hair had been streaked with pale blue, and tortured into long elaborate ringlets, and she had a little gold crown on it. She had a skirt of alternating gold and silver scales, and on her flexible arms were dark blue clockwork snakes with ruby eyes, that continuously coiled round and round.

What was most laughable of all was that, as she stood facing me in her costume, facing me through her terror and her ridiculous egomania, and her vulnerability, I sensed again the greatness in her that she sensed in herself. And I laughed more wildly and harder, until she, with offended puzzlement, began to laugh too.

Impatience, scorn and fondness, and love. Struck together like matches, igniting. Giggling helplessly, we fell onto a couch, and her layered scaled skirt made the noise of tin cans rolling down stairs, and we shrieked, our arms flailing, and her oriental slippers flying off across the salon.


1 | The Silver Metal Lover | 3