home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



3

There were three bottles of Slaumot and Clovis, Egyptia and I sat and drank them in the fire and candlelight. Jason and Medea drank coffipop, which, when I was fifteen, always gave me instant hiccups. The twins sat on the floor across the big room from us, playing a macabre version of chess Jason had invented. They might steal some of the pieces, but Egyptia wouldnt care. She knew she wouldnt live beyond this night. She had two visions of her death. One was when she first entered on the stage. Her heart would burst. Or she might die at the end, the strain having been too much for her. It wasnt at all funny. She meant it, and she was scared. But, more than all else, she was scared of the fact that she was to dramatize Antektra before an audience. It wasnt an enormous theatre, and it might not fill. A couple of critics might be there, and a visual crew would film a shot or so, as a matter of course, and then probably not show it. But to Egyptia, it was more than all thiswhich, if it had been me, would have terrified me sufficientlyalthough, far less than it would have done before my debut in the streets. It was her fear of failing herself that gnawed on Egyptia. Or, as she put it, of failing Antektra. She would say portions of her lines, pace about the salon, sink on the couch, laugh madly, weepher dramatic makeup was genuinely tear-proof, fortunately. She sipped the Slaumot, and left butterfly wings of gilt from her lips on the glass.

Shes a virgin. Her sexual electricity has turned in on itself. She is driven by grief, anguish and fury. She is haunted by the demons of her fury. How odd she should sound so cognizant of these emotions which truly I dont think shed ever felt. And the descriptions of Antektras state, obviously footnotes, learnt off like her linesA whirlwind of passion. Am I capable of doing this? Sometimes Ive felt that the power of this part is inside me, like a volcano. But now Have I the strength?

Yes, said Clovis.

Yes, I said.

My rook tortures your rook to death, said Jason across the room.

The power, said Egyptia, prowling like a leopardess between the candles, may consume me. I dont mind, I truly dont mind if I die, if it kills me. So long as I can die with this task accomplishedOh, Jane. You understand, dont you?

Yes, Egyptia.

Clovis yawned, hiding in his longer hair as he did so, and I thought of Silver. Not that Id stopped thinking of Silver. When I was twelve, I had a psychosomatic toothache for months in one of my back teeth. I took painkillers every three hours, which dulled the pain but didnt get rid of it. The nag of it went on and on, and so I got used to it, and only thought about it at the end of each three-hour unit when it would flare up to new violence. This was how I felt now. My awareness of danger and distress, my concern for Silvers concern at my absence, the hopeless trap I was in and apparently couldnt move out ofthese were the dull pain. The wine, the familiarity, Egyptias fear were the painkillers. The pain was slight and bearable and I could almost put it from my mind. But then the light moved on Cloviss hairredand the pain flared. I almost rushed, each time, from the apartment and away into the night. Clovis could surely contain the twins. But they would know theyd been right. And Cloviss unspecified help would be lost to me.

He wore an embroidered shirt, too, under the silk and velour jacket. He was so rational about Silver, yet the copied influence was there. Could I trust Clovis? Well, I had trusted Clovis, if not with my address, with everything else.

My queen buys her freedom by allowing your knight to cut off her left hand, said Medea.

I do hope, said Clovis, theyre not actually inflicting these injuries on your chess set, Egyptia.

The worlds a chess set, said Egyptia. (A quote?) Oh, bow your neck to the bloody dust. Kneel to the yoke, humiliated land. This is not the world. The gods are dead. Kneel, for you must. Relinquish pride, and kneel.

My knight castrates your knight.

He cant. My knights in full armor.

Well. Theres a weak link.

The floor over there must be strewn with severed members, said Clovis.

I couldnt even call Silver. There was the phone in the foyer, which the caretaker might answer, but I couldnt remember the number. And even if I did, to call would be, again, to reveal there was somebody at home I wanted to reach. Perhaps, if I excused myself to use the bathroom, I could call on one of Egyptias extensions upstairs, experimenting till I got the number rightno. A blue call-light came on in every other phone console when one was operational. Jason and Medea would see it. Theyd be watching for it.

Chloe couldnt be here tonight because Chloe had a virus. Why hadnt I had a virus?

Women of the palace, said Egyptia, my brother was a god to you. Yet to these beasts he is carrion. He is left for the kites to chew upon

Oh my, said Clovis, now the plays getting to sound like the chess game. Do you think my weak stomach is up to this drama?

Dont mock me, Clovis, shouted Egyptia in despair.

Its half past ten P.M., said Clovis. Im going to call the taxi.

Oh God, cried Egyptia, is it time to leave?

Getting that way. Jane, pour her another drink.

I wasnt sure about that, although she seemed incapable of drunkenness in her frenzy. She had dressed in her costume and put on her makeup here because of her emotional rift with the rest of the company. They give me nothing! she said. To Egyptia, of course, the rest of the cast were the support mechanism to carry her, and sadly they hadnt realized it. Or else they had.

Now I fetched her grey-blue fur cape coat, on the inside of which some of the body makeup was sure to rub off. Shed bought that coat the day I took Silver with me to Chez Stratos.

Oh, Jane. OhJane

Im here. I sounded mature and patient. Concerned, kind. Just a touch compassionately amused. I sounded like Silver.

Ja-aaaa-nnne

She stared at me. The guillotine awaited her, and soon the tumbrel would be at the door.

You are going to be so good, I said to her. So good, the Asteroid will probably fall on the Theatra Concordacis.

Clovis came in again in a little while.

Months to get through, he said. Itll be by the pier in half an hour. He looked at me, and added, sotto voce, The cab rank was the second call.

Clovis I said, realizing hed put his unspecified plan into action.

Later. He glanced at Jason and Medea, who were thoughtfully watching us. Better kill everyone else on the board off quickly, pets, we leave in ten minutes.

Oh. The awful play, said Jason.

You dont have to come, Clovis said.

We do, said Medea. We want to be with Jane. We havent seen her for so long.

Christ, what a strange night, Clovis said to it, as we stepped out into the enclosure before the lift shaft.

Whats wrong with it? asked Jason.

How should I know? said Clovis.

The lift came, and Egyptia trembled in my arms. As we went down to the ferry, the night rose up the jewelry buildings. There was a great stillness, but that was only the coldness of the snow. The ferry was deserted, and the cab was waiting at the other side of the water.

We reached the Theatra about eleven-fifteen P.M., after walking up the Grand Stairway and by the tunnel foun-tain, which didnt play in winter. But it was the exact spot where I had first seen Silver.

There were quite a lot of people about the main facade. We went around the side, and into the bleak backstage, and into Egyptias bleaker dressing room. When the reluctant wall heater had been activated, Egyptia stood shuddering.

My father slain, my brother slaughtered. Death is the legacy of this House of the Peacock. Everyone go out. Everyone but Jane. Jane, dont leave me.

Well wait outside, said Medea. I knew theyd watch the door.

I had to stay, anyway, now, for Cloviss news. Whatever it was. I was really past caring. Schizophrenic, as before, I existed here, and I existed in a sort of precognitive limbo of rushing home to the flat on Tolerance.

In the corridor, the young man I remembered was called Corinth clumped past in metal toeless boots and a metal scaled cloak, eating a chicken leg morosely.

The handsome thin man, who had directed the drama, looked in twenty minutes later, flustered and chilly.

Oh, so you got here, he said to Egyptia. Her eyes implored him, but he was finished with her. There would be no other productions for Egyptia here, despite her handy wealth. One could see that in his face. Just a last piece of advice, dear, he said. Try to recall there are a couple of other people with you in the cast.

She opened her lips, and he walked out, banging the door so it almost fell off. The place was not in good repair.

They hate me, she whispered, stunned. I was generous to them, I shared my home with them, my love. I was part of them. And they hate me.

It wasnt the hour for truth. Or at least, for only one kind.

Theyre jealous, I said. They know theyll be out-shone. Anyway, everyone was against Antektra, too, apparently. It might be helpful.

The screech of the peacock, she said, the bird of ill-omened and curse-laden death.

I retouched her body makeup. I wondered if I could have done what she would have to do, and some part of me began to tell me I could, and to visualize Id be just as scared as she was, and maybe more.

Jane, youve changed so much, she said, staring at me in the smeary mirror, seeing me for the first time. Youre beautiful. And fey. And so calm. So wise.

Its the company I keep, I said before I could stop myself.

Is it? She was vague. Shed forgotten, just as Clovis reported. Do you have a lover, Jane?

Yes, Egyptia. A silver metal lover.

Maybe.

And then, startling me: What happened with the robot, Jane?

Well. I steeled myself. Hes wonderful. Now and then.

Yes, she said wistfully, more beautiful and more clever than any man. And more gentle. Did you find that? And those songs. He sang me love songs. He knew how I needed love, that I live on love Wonderful songs. And his touchhe could touch me, and

Just as I felt I could no longer bear it, shocked to find the old wound still raw, she was silenced. A dreadful siren squealed over our heads and we flew together in mindless fright.

A tinny laugh followed the siren. Patently it was a joke theyd rigged for her benefit. Five minutes to curtain-up, Egypt.

I thought she might have a fit. But instead, suddenly she was altered.

Please go now, Jane, she said. I must be alone.

Outside, Jason and Medea fell in beside me.

We have seats in the third row. How bourgeois of Clovis to ask for those. Youve got Chloes seat, which is the least good. Funny you didnt have a seat of your own, if you knew you were coming here.

But in fact, funnier still, for Clovis had done a juggling act and changed the seats around. To their consternation, the twins found they were in the first row; alonenot even seated together.

What a shame, said Clovis. Theres been some kind of mix-up. Doubtless part of the theatres vendetta against all of us.

The twins would now have to sit through the whole play getting cricked necks from turning to see if I was still there, two rows behind them.

As Clovis and I sat down on the end of the row, he said, I suggest you leave after Egyptias first speech. I gather ten idiots rush down the aisles, and when they reach the stage, theres a storm. The special effects are rather gruesome. Eyes and intestines unsurgically removed. I shall look the other way, but Jason and Medea will be riveted. I think you should go then. If they notice, itll take them half an hour to fight their way out, and with luck theyll collide with the second relay down the aisle, which is a procession of some sort. Jason and Medea had turned around and looked at us, and Clovis waved at them. If they ask me, Ill say you left to be sick.

Theyll know that isnt true.

Of course. Id forgotten your reputation for implacable indifference. It still wont help them very much.

Clovis, you said you would let me have some cash.

Tomorrow, you and he take a cab along the highway to route eighty-three. Can you get the fare for that?

Yes.

Leave the cab at eighty-three and walk down to the Fall Side of the Canyon. Be there by noon.

Thats only a few miles from my mothers house.

Is that important? I doubt if youll meet her. The spot was decided on because its clear of the city and inside the state line, which should mean no observers, official or otherwise. And because Gem can land the VLO there.

What?

Vertical lift-off plane. Those nasty noisy odorous flying machines, like the Baxter your mother so prizes. Gem is a test engineer and pilot for the Historica Antiqua Corporation. He will borrow a crate from the museum sheds, as he often does, land in the Canyon, and take you wherever you want to be. He said he would, about an hour ago when I called him. Hes relatively imbecilic, by the way, so if you dont tell him your boyfriend is a robot, Gem will never guess, which may prove rather a bore for Silver. However, Gem will bumble you along and youll arrive somewhere. Then hell come back and spend the evening with me, God help me. Honestly, Jane, the things I suffer for you.

Clovis, I

Take whatever luggage you want, short of a grand piano. Theres plenty of room in those things. Therell be a piece of hand-luggage in the cabin, with some money. Units, and some bills if I have the time to crack them down at a bank. Arent you going to cry, fling yourself on the carpetif there is one in here, oh, yesgo into a paroxysm of gratitude? Fawn on me? Faint?

No. But Ill never forget what youve done for me. Never.

Gem will be pleased, too. But Ill try not to think about that.

I wish

You wish I were heterosexual so we could run away together instead.

I wish I could thank you properly, but there isnt any way.

I cant even be godfather to your kids, can I? Since you wont have any.

I might. The way Demeta had me. Silver would make an amazing adoptive father, I should think. I never had a father.

You didnt miss a thing, said Clovis. And the lights, with no subtlety, either due to incompetence, poor equipment, or would-be brilliant innovation, went suddenly out.

The audience exclaimed, vaguely disapproving.

Jane, he said then, theres one damned important thing I forgothave to be shorthand. Listen: Jason finding youa homemade device of hisa homing device. Check any clothing you might have met him in before today. Look for something small.

What did you say?

You heard me. Its obviously not wonderfully accurate, but that is how they got as close as they did. Its been their new game for a month.

But I

Eerie reddish-ochre light appeared under the curtain as it rose. We fell silent, I with my mind boiling.

A homing device? Patience Maidel Bridge, Jason running by me, and MedeaI needed to go on thinking about this, but then the bare stage yawned before me, clothed only in drifting, bloodstained smoke. And out of the smoke, along a raised platform, walked Egyptia, stiff and blind-eyed, glittering in her metals.

For a second, I wondered what would become of her. But what had become of her was Antektra, and all at once I knew it. She seemed like a lunatic escaped from the site of an explosion, deafened, dehumanized. Her awful beauty hit the eyes. She lifted her hands and held out a blood-daubed (this was going to be a very gory production) drapery.

Bow your neck, she said to us, bow your neck, and in the midst of everything else, my heart turned over, for shed repeated her lines. And then the hair rose on my scalp, as I deduced hair might be doing all over the reasonably well-filled theatre. For her voice dropped like a singers, seemingly one whole octave: Bow your neck to the bloody dust. Kneel to the yoke, humiliated land.

She stood there, melodramatic, insane, and we hung on her words, breathless.

This is not the world. The gods are dead.

I shivered. She had come from the grave.

Of course she would behave as if no other actor existed. They didnt. They were shades. Only Antektra lived in her burning agony, her broken landscape.

Relinquish pride, and kneel.

I sat there, mesmerized, as before. There was no sound anywhere until the raucous clash and clatter of arms. The ten warriors galloped down the aisles, and the audience reacted now with approving squeaks.

Weep, you skies, Egyptia cried out, over the noise of war. Weep blood and flame.

The warriors converged before her. Thunder banged. Lightning raged across the stage. Caught in its glare upon the platform, Egyptia herself seemed on fire.

Go on, Clovis muttered.

What?

Get out, you fool.

Oh I stumbled up and almost fell out into the aisle. Under cover of strobe-lighted fire and fury, I ran for the exit and out into the sanity and freezing truth of the city night.

I only had enough coins to take the downtown bus, and it came very late. When I reached the stop and got off, it was already one twenty-six A.M. by the buss own clock. I had been gone over ten hours. Clovis hadnt thought of my leaving a man waiting, only a machine. Even though Clovis didnt really believe that anymore. Had I, however helpless I was in the clutches of my friends, basically thought the same? Of course he would be calm, unperturbed, reasonable about my long, long, inexplicable absence, when I had previously stressed to him the danger I reckoned we were in. Of course he would. Mechanically reasonable.

I ran along the streets, and it was like running through solid dark water, the night was so curiously intense.

When I ran into the room of our flat, he was standing in the middle of the rainbow carpet. The overhead light was on and I saw him very clearly. Seeing him was like seeing the Earths center, finding my equilibrium again, landfall. But he stood completely still, completely expressionless.

Are you, he said to me, all right?

Yes.

Lucky you caught me in, he said, Ive been out since seven, trying to find you. I was just going out again.

Out? But we agreed

I thought you might have been hurt, he said gently. Or killed.

The way he said it, for which I cant find words, rocked me, numbed me like a blow, driving all the words and thought out of my head. And because the words and thought and the events of the evening were so important, I immediately began to push my way back through the numbness toward them, not waiting to analyze his reaction and my reaction to it.

No. Listen. Ill tell you what happened, I said prosaically, as if in answer to the question I had, I suppose, expected from the rational, unperturbed machine.

So I told him, rapidly, all of it. He listened as Id asked. After a moment, he sat down on the couch and bowed his head, and I sat beside him to finish the story.

I couldnt get away. I didnt dare. Even to call youI wasnt sure of the number of the phone downstairsand then I had to wait for Clovis. It seems so crazy, but are we going to do it? Leave tomorrow, go somewhere else? Like two escaping spies. I think we have to.

Youre so scared of this city and what you think it can do, he said. To get out is the only thing possible to us.

Youre blaming me? Dont. I am scared, with good reason. Ive been scared that way all afternoon, all night.

He put his arm round me, and I lay against him. And sensed a profound reticence. He might have been a mile off.

Egyptia, I said, slowly, testing, but I wasnt certain for what. Egyptia is astonishing. I only saw her speak a few linesSilver, whats the matter? I dont even know if you can be angry, but dont be. It wasnt my fault. I couldnt come here. And if you think that was being stupid and panicking, at least believe it was sincere panic, not just stupidity. And after what Clovis said about homing devices Oh, God, Id better check

But his arm tightened, and I knew I wasnt supposed to move, and I kept still, and silent, and I waited.

Presently he began to speak to me, quietly and fluently. There was scarcely a trace of anything in that musical singers voice of his, except maybe the slightest salt of humor.

On one or two occasions, I can recollect saying to you that you were trying to get me to investigate myself emotionally, something that I wasnt geared to do. It turns out I was wrong. Or else Ive learned to do it, the way Ive learnt a number of other things, purely human knacks. When you were gone

I whispered, I really couldnt

I know. I also know youre alive and intact. I didnt know it until you came through that door. If I were human, Jane, Id be shaking. If I were human, Id have walked into every free hospital this side of the city and hurled chairs about till someone said you werent there.

Im so sorry. I am, I am.

Strangest of all was the inner process through which I put myself. During which I imagined that, since you were dead somewhere, I would never be with you again. And I saw how that was, and how Id be. You asked if I could be afraid. I can. Youll have to believe, with no evidence, that inside this body which doesnt shake, doesnt sweat, doesnt shed tears, there really is a three-year-old child doing all of those, at full stretch, right now.

His head was bowed, so I couldnt see his face.

I put my arms around him and held him tightly, tightly.

Rather than joy in his need, I felt a sort of shame. I knew Id inadvertently done a final and unforgivable thing to him. For I had, ultimately and utterly, proved him human at last: I had shown him he was dependent on his own species.


2 | The Silver Metal Lover | 4