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5

I remember the hospital in little blurred white flashes, like damaged film. I neednt describe that. Or the pain, which didnt stay in any part of me, but ran through all over me, so that even to turn was awful. I remember being helped to use the lavatory, moaning with pain. All these pains were physical. Below, beneath, beside them all, a thin grey pain that was not physical ran on and on like a tape. I dreamed sometimes. I was a child, and someone had thrown my black fur bear into a fire. It was coming apart and melting and I screamed with horror. I also dreamed that I was taken to meet my father, the man who had supplied the sperm for me to be born. But whenever I arrived where he was supposed to be, he wasnt there anymore. These are symbols. I didnt dreamI didnt dream of him.

I didnt come fully conscious until I was in a room I knew, and for a moment couldnt identify. Then I moved a little, and my foot skidded. The sheets were dark green satin. And then Clovis was sitting on the arm of a chair, looking at me.

Two things. His hair was still long, but dark now, not dark red, de-molecularized. And his face was hollow, which made him look oddly holy.

Im sorry about the sheets, he said. I forgot. I can change them tomorrow.

Clovis. I was in Cloviss spare bed, in Cloviss apartment. I was with Clovis. Who had betrayed us. My mouth was dry. I said softly, Hallo, Judas.

He slowly shook his head, as if he knew fast gestures made me giddy.

No, Jane. Not me.

Did I feel anything? Did I want to hurt him, to kill him? No. I didnt want anything. I didnt even want to die anymore. It was too much trouble. But I was obliged, having started the conversation, to go on with it.

You called E.M. You told them where wed be.

I did not.

Where you knew wed be, because youd promised me the VLO would come.

It did come. Who do you think found you? The hapless Gem. He put a tourniquet on you and got you in the plane. He then flew that impossible crate over the city, which is strictly illegal, and landed on the roof of State Imperial Hospital. The place was packed with quake casualties stacked like sardines, but he wouldnt move off until they took you in as well. I never knew he had it in him. I dont think he did. He is now on opium-based tranquilizers, which are not going to put the color back in his cheeks. Christ, Jane, what a bloody foul thing to do to yourself.

If it came, it came too late. You made sure E.M. would get to us first.

It was late because half the Historica sheds collapsed in the tremor. Gem got the VLO out past security as soon as he could.

I dont want to talk to you. I dont want to be here.

All right. I know you think Im the villain of this rather sordid plot. Ill leave you alone. Just stay put until youre stronger, and then you can go.

He got up and walked away into the blur that misted the edges of my vision. When the blur had almost swallowed him, he said, Your mother called. She calls every hour. Do you want her to come over?

I suddenly began to try to cry. It was very difficult. The tears wouldnt come. It was like trying to give birth to a stone. When I stopped trying, my heart was thundering, and Clovis was standing over me again.

Jane

No. I dont want my mother. I shut my mouth.

Presently Clovis went out. Then I tried to get out of the bed. The last thing I remember is that I couldnt.

There were large white sealed and waterproof bandages on my wrists. In another month, I would go back to have the stitches out, and then I could book up for the treatment that would take the scars away. Clovis wrote to tell me this in a note he left lying on the coffee table. He said he would pay for the treatment. Or Demeta would. Hed gone out and left the place to me on the day he thought I was strong enough to get up. He seemed to trust me. He seemed to know I wouldnt repeat my earlier performance. Why should I? I hadnt the energy. It takes a lot of determination to die. A lot of conviction. Unless someone helps.

The note also said hed asked Demeta not to phone, but a couple of times the phone sounded, and I knew it was her. The second time I reached out blindly and switched it on.

Hallo, Mother, I said.

Whoops. A male voice, laughing. I may not be enormously butch, but Ive never been mistaken for anyones mother before.

I sighed. I thought about being polite. At last I said, Im sorry.

Thats okay. Any chance of Clovis being there?

No. Hes out.

Dammit. Would you tell him Leo rang?

Would I?

All right.

Leo. L as in Love. E as in Edible. O as in Oh my God why doesnt this M-B idiot get off the line.

Leo, I said dully, missing his wit, I suppose offensively.

Good-bye, he said, and switched off.

I scribbled across the bottom of Cloviss note to me: LEO CALLED.

I went into the green bathroom and lay in the bath three or four hours. Sometimes I would try to cry. My mind went plodding on and on. Its wrong to repress grief. Was I repressing grief? I thought about Silver. I tried to cry. No tears would come. Id cried for so many trivial reasons, over visuals, dramas, books, out of embarrassment and childish fear. Now I couldnt cry.

When I heard the lift come up, I was glad, with a sort of deadly gladness, not to be alone anymore. I heard Clovis come into the apartment, and move about there, and once he whistled a snatch of tune, and then stopped himself suddenly.

Perverseness made me go out of the bathroom, carrying my robe, naked, and walk across the room in front of him to the bedroom. He stared at me as I passed, then turned away.

I got back into the spare bed and lay there, and eventually he came in.

Are you hungry? The servicery is bursting with food. Truffles, p^at'e, eggs ang'eliques, roast beef mince on toast.

I became aware it gave me a horrible relief to ignore him, providing he was there to be ignored.

Then suddenly he yelled at me.

Christ, Jane, it wasnt me. Do you want me to tell you what happened?

I didnt reply and he began to curse me. Then he went out again. I lay a long while, and then my stomach began to growl with avid hunger. My hunger was far away but insistent. Finally I got up, and opened the guest closet where hed neatly hung all my few clothes out of the bags. My stomach growled and gurgled, and I touched my clothes, and remembered how I had worn them with Silver, and I tried to cry, and the tears wouldnt come. The black, paint-spotted scruffy jeans, taken in so badly at hips and waist and taken in so much. The fur jacket. The embroidered wool dress. The Renaissance dress. The emerald cloak, its hem stained by melted snow, and here, at the back, this dress Id never actually worn in the slums, this black dress Id worn the night I went to Electronic Metals and saw all the robots perform, all but Silver. For Silver, who was too human to check out, was in the cubicle, eyeless, handlessI opened my mouth to scream, but I didnt scream. What use was grief or terror or rage? Who would they move? Who would set things right? The law?

The Senate? God? But I pulled the black dress from the closet and held it up before me, and saw with uncaring surprise that one of the sleeves was ripped out.

I stood there a moment, then I let the dress fall. I picked up my robe and put it on again. I walked out. Clovis was reclining on the couch among the black cushions, drinking applewine.

I see Leo called, said Clovis. What it is to be irresistible.

It was Jason and Medea, I said.

Your note says Leo.

You know what I mean. It was Jason and Medea.

It was Jason and Medea seems grammatically unsound. They were Jason and Medea, perhaps? It was Jason, and also it was Medea.

Stop it, Clovis. Just answer.

Would you believe me?

The sleeve in the black dress.

Jasons device was stuck on the fabric. Color absorbent, so almost invisible. About the size of your little fingernail. But very adhesive. I didnt think youd want it in your clothes anymore. I put it in the garbage disposal. If you want to go on being poor, Ill buy you a new dress. Or a new sleeve.

I went into the servicery and made instant toasts and ham and eggs and ate them standing by the hatches, greedily. I didnt think of Silver as I ate. Or of Jason. Or of Medea.

Clovis had put some Mozart on the player. When I came into the room again, he was sketching something, I dont know what it was.

If youd like to know the truth, he said, I will tell you.

Does it matter?

I think so. To me. I dont like this idea you have that Im the modern miniaturized version of the Black Death.

I stood at the window and looked out at the river. The light was going, and a tin-foil of ice glimmered on the water. The mud was long gone, cleaned away. Jewels lit the buildings. So what?

Did you know, Egyptia has become a star?

At the Theatra? I asked.

Not precisely. Most of the Theatra fell down in the tremor. An antiquated shed indeed. A lovely line for the visuals, though. They called her The Girl Who Rocked The City. And what was the other one? Oh, yes, how could I forget? The Girl Who Brought The House Down.

Im glad, I said, parroting, minus feeling, my earlier thought, that it didnt happen when the play was on.

No. It happened during the party afterward. Oh, yes, we were all in the auditorium at five past five, drinking some rather filthy champagne, when the bloody roof fell in on us. It was a damn silly evening anyway. The drama. Egyptia. She cant act, you know. She just is. But the magic of Egyptia consists of her own self-hypnosis. She believes in herself, despite what she says, and its catching. Shes a star all right. There are contracts signed for a visual. Theyll be shooting in Africa. Shes already over there. Im telling you all this for a reason, he said. You may abruptly want to know where she is.

I had been at this window, I had said to the reflection: I love you. And he had known. A pain came through me so vast, incapable of expression. I pressed my forehead to the glass. Why hadnt they let me die? I would be in blackness now, or in some spiritual state which no longer cared, no longer had any links with a soulless robot. For he had been only the sum of his metals, his mechanisms. Soulless, timeless.

Jane, are you listening?

Yes. I think so.

Had he been afraid? Despite what he said to console me? Hed virtually pretended he disbelieved in pursuit, when he reckoned it a fact, to console me. Had it been like pain for him to die that way, although he couldnt feel pain? Id taught him to feel pleasure, or rather, hed taught himself, through me. But if pleasure, why not agony? Id let him learn fear and need. And hed let me learn to live. And all I wanted was to die.

Oh, Jane, said Clovis. He was standing by me, and awkwardly, with none of his normal elegance, he took my hand. Please, Jane. You have to get over it. No. You wont ever get over it. But you have to get over this.

Why? I asked. I think I wanted to know.

BecauseOh God, I dont know. Why do you?

Because, I said, he told me there was all the world. Because he told me he was a part of me, that hed be with me all my life and that nothing could change that. Because now Im the only part of him thats left. They took him to pieces and put him in a fire.

I know, Clovis said. He held my hand.

Melted down. Scrap metal.

I know.

Im all of him thats left. All of him therell ever be anymore.

And the tears came and I cried tears. And Clovis, not wanting to, but amazingly gentle, held me.

I cried then, and now I dont think Ill ever cry again, the rest of my life.

Much later, he told me how E.M. had known about us, and how to find us.

Id left the theatre and the play had gone through to more and more enthusiastic responses from the audience.

Egyptia had held them, and gradually most of the cast gave up trying to bulldoze her from the limelight. This was their livelihood, and a winner is a winner. By the second interval, the actors were in and out of her dressing room, having frozen roses sent in and making love to her. And she, generous, vulnerable Egyptia, had taken them all back into her heart. In the last scene, Antektra stabs herself, a libation of blood to appease the rampaging shade of her brother. It went on film, with everything else. The visual crew, overcome, were fighting to push out shots on the three A.M. local newscast. In the wake of all this, the party was riotous. Clovis, whose inclination was to leave, was cornered by Leo, an actor-manager from a rival company who had come to sneer and stayed to cheer. He was playfully trying to persuade Clovis to act Hamlet in a new skit version of the play called Bloody Elsinor when the tremor hit the building. At first it looked like nothing, and then the ceiling cracked in half and lumps of plaster and cement crashed into the auditorium.

Nobody was killed, but casualties were various, and this time the blood was real.

Clovis, unscathed, emerged from shelter to discover Egyptia standing up on the stage, white even under her makeup, rigid, in a sort of catatonic trance.

Shed always been so afraid of earthquakes. Her dreams and her fantasies of death and destruction had prepared her for this moment. She knew she had reached a pinnacle, and she knew the gods could sweep her from it. But she stood in the middle of carnage and she had survived. She hadnt apparently noticed until then I wasnt there. But when she started to come back from her trance she asked where I was. And Jason, mopping up his own blood from sundry cuts, said, Janes gone back to the slum to play with her robot lover. And, in the face of her non-comprehension, he had elaborated on his magical device and how hed almost tracked us. I can see now, Jason and Medea would never have told any authority about us. It was more fun to have us to themselves; they didnt want to end the game. But EgyptiaI think I know what went through her head.

She must have heard and been aware, unconsciously, of what had been said about E.M.s Sophisticated Formats. She must have been consciously aware from her own experience that it was more than true. The wonderful lover, the wonderful musician. Men could become redundant, shed said. And of course that really meant, humans could become redundant. And I think, just the way the mob of unemployed hate the machines that take their work away from them, Egyptia knew the terror of losing what she had only just got hold of. She was a genius. She had sensed it in herself. Now everyone knew it, and fell before her feet, and her Destiny opened in front of her like a shining road. But what if a machine had more genius than she did? Oh, I dont suppose she thought it through. Egyptia doesnt think, she feels. As Clovis said, she just is. Probably, at the beginning, after the Babylon party, the actors had talked a lot about Silver, and how clever he was. Maybe they talked about the other robots, too, the ones that could act. Sometime, some seed had been planted in her. The earth tremor was like an after-imageor a fore-image. It had been for her the omen it had seemed for me. She was still half Antektra, and Antektra was good at reading portents. It shook her, liberated her even as it threatened her, into the grisly savagery of the id. She went home, still mainly in her trance, and Corinth went with her. Perhaps she made another kind of comparison that night, and it clinched matters. For if Silver was superior in her bed, he might also, so easily, be superior in her profession. About nine A.M., as Silver and I were walking up through the city, she called Electronic Metals. Legally she owned him.

Illegally, I had him. But they could probably find me. Someone had me tabbed. Then she gave them the address of Jason and Medea.

Jason wouldnt have wanted to cooperate, but E.M. had the City Senate behind them, pushing. Arms were twisted. I hope it hurt a lot. E.M. took Jasons homing transmitter, and their luck was in. Medea told Clovis all this later, including Egyptias part. Especially Egyptias part. Corinth, wandering from Egyptias bed, had spread the tale by then anyway.

That night I came away from Electronic Metals, twenty-five years old, self-assured, knowing I didnt love him, that a piece of electric equipment meant nothing to me, and I walked into Jaggeds restaurant and I sat drinking coffine through a chocolate-flavored strawJason, or Medea, had pinched me on the arm. A ferocious pinch. It was typical of them. I hadnt even choked on my drink. What the pinch was, however, rather than a cheery social opening gambit, was the gadget being stuck firmly on my sleeve. Tiny, camouflaged, not detected. I thought theyd done it the night on the bridge, but it was that earlier night, in Jaggeds, that theyd been waiting for prey, and rejoiced when I was it.

I must have bored them at first. I went to Clovis, and then I went to Chez Stratosthey could guess my goals from the directions the trace ran to. And then I went, what a surprise, to the slums. And stayed there.

(Having taken it off, why did I pack that dress to take with me into exile? There were others. I never even wore it. A symbol, perhaps, that I had redeemed him from death, that first time. It was that dress which killed him.)

Theyd really tried quite hard, the twins, to find me. I think even that night we met them on Patience Maidel Bridge, theyd been working their way around, portioning the area, looking. The weakness of the homing device was that it faded off inside a building. It had been easy for them to deduce that if I went to New River and the trace failed, I was in Cloviss apartment block. Or if I went out toward the Canyon and it failed, then I was at my mothers. But in the slum, intrigued, theyd hunted up and down, never quite able to unearth my location, near, never near enough. And then, when it really did matter, Silver and I left the block on Tolerance, with the black dress packed into one of the cloth bags, and the signal came up like a star. By the time E.M. had confiscated and begun to operate the pickup of the transmitter, there was only the thin shell of a taxi to blur the trace. They found it simple to come after us, even allowing for the post-tremor traffic and diversions. Simple to catch up with us at the Fall Side. And the VLO was late.

So that was how it was. I shant comment on it anymore. Its done.

And I think I can stop writing now, I think so.

Maybe my arms will ache less when the stitches come out, or it might be a psychosomatic pain, and will last months or years, or all the rest of my life.

Im glad it wasnt Clovis. Im glad that time Jason called, Clovis switched the phone off at once. Egyptia is like a story someone told me. I dont even hate her. You need energy for hatred, too. My mother called and I spoke to her. It was like speaking to someone I dont know. We were polite. She says my I.M.U. card works again, two thousand a month. And my policodes being renewed. I thanked her. I wont use her money. Somehow, Ill find a way not to. The policode I left behind at the apartment on Tolerance. Clovis mutters about providing me with one when the new coding comes through. Chloe came to see me. She didnt know what to say. Leo came in with Clovis the other night, and stayed two days. Clovis is beginning to look hunted.

I still wish Id died. Thats a fact. But I couldnt do it again. Im too afraid to do it now. That horrible, creeping, deadly warmth, like freezing to death. The gathering dark, the stars of my lover whirling in it.

Sometimes now I dream of him. I dream of him as he was when I saw him that time, eyeless, the clockwork interior exposed. Great hammers pound on him. Furnaces dissolve him. He seems to feel nothing. When I wake up, I lie and stare into the darkness of Cloviss spare room.

A night or so ago, after one of these dreams, I got up and put on the light and started to write this last chapter.

I told Clovis about this writing. Its a book now. An autobiography. Or is it a Greek Tragedy? Clovis said, Dont try and publish it, for heavens sake. Theyll throw you in jail. I hear the food is awful.

Somehow, I never thought of publishing. Only of someone coming on the pages, years from now, buried in the ground in a moistureproof container, say, or hidden under a random floorboard in the slum.

But its pointless. There isnt any reason. Reasonless. All of it.

Its strange. I didnt want to start writing this last part, and now I cant seem to stop. You see, when I stop, I break my last link with him. With my love. Yes, hell always be with me, but not him. Ill be alone. Ill be alone.

But I am alone. These pieces of paper cant help me.

And so Ill stop writing.


4 | The Silver Metal Lover | CHAPTER FIVE