• 2 •
It was almost six P.M. when I did what, of course, I had been bound to do virtually from the start. My mother had at last gone, and I had plunged deep in my lagoon of guilt because I’d lied to her this terribly, and—much worse—made her late. She really is so concerned to do the best for me. It’s her grail, or one of them. Luckily, I was able to plaster over my lie very swiftly. “I know Clovis is M-B and will never return my feelings,” I’d said, again and again. “It’s just a silly crush. I’ve done what you taught me, and gone through my own psychological motivations. I’m almost over it. But I had to let you know. I always feel better when I tell you things.” Oh, how could I cheat her of the facts like that? Why should I have felt so sure I mustn’t reveal the truth? Eventually she mixed me a sedative and she left me. The sedative was whipped-strawberry flavor and I was tempted to drink it, but I didn’t. Quite suddenly, about ten minutes after I heard the Baxter rumble up out of the roof-hatch, and the Vista had stopped vibrating, what I had said about loving Clovis abruptly struct me as hilarious, and I howled with laughter, rolling all over the couch. It was, possibly, the stupidest thing I could have come up with, even in sheer desperation. One day I might tell him, and Clovis would howl, too.
When I stopped laughing, I keyed the alcohol dispenser and got it to pour me one of the martinis my mother likes. I had another bath, and put on a black dress, and plugged in the hairdresser unit and let it put rollers in my hair. My face in the mirror was white, and my eyes, too dark to be properly green, were almost black I don’t like makeup, actually. It feels sticky on my skin and sometimes I forget I’m wearing it and rub my hand over my cheeks and smear my rouge. But there was a lot of mascara left on I hadn’t taken off last night or cried of this morning. It’s supposed to be runproof, and it partly is I tidied it and added some more, and crayoned my mouth Autumn Beech Leaf. I drank the salty martini, pretending I liked it, and the hairdresser took out the rollers and brushed my hair, and I painted my nails black. All of which, in a way, tells you what I was about to do.
When I dialed the robot operator, my hands and my voice were shaking.
“What number do you require?”
“The number of Electronic Metals Ltd.”
“At your service.”
The video shook with me, in little lines of light, then cleared. There was a small blank area with a man projected like a cutout on it, in one of those four-piece suits jacket, pants, waistcoat and shirt of a matching pale grey silky material, and tinted glasses on a classic nose. He looked cheerfully at me, his manicured hands holding on tight to each other. A small sign lit up in front of him, which said: SWOHNSON.
“Swohnson of Electronic Metals. How can I help you?”
And he beamed and licked his lips. He was eager. For a sale?
“This is just an inquiry,” I said. I pitched my voice over its own cracks and tremors. “You are the firm that sent those robots out into the city yesterday?”
“Er, yes. Yes. Electronic Metals. That’s us.”
“The special and the Sophisticated formats?”
“The specials. Twenty-four models. Metal and reinforced plastic. Sophisticated Format line. All-metal. Nine models. What was your inquiry?”
My white face flamed, but perhaps he couldn’t see it.
“I’m interested in the cost of hire.”
“Hire not sale. Er. We’re thinking of cutting back on that.”
“I happen to know one of the Sophisticated line was hired last night.”
“Oh, yes. They all were. But that was part of the, ah, the advertising campaign. A one day, one night venture. These robots are really for exhibition only. At the present.”
“Not for sale.”
“Ah. Sale might be a different matter. Did you have purchase in mind?”
I wouldn’t let him upstage me. For some reason, he was as nervous as I was.
“No. I had hire in mind. Let me speak to the Director.”
“Ah—just wait a moment—I’m not trying to give a bad impression here.” Human employee, a good job, worried about losing it. I felt mean. “Ah. We have a few problems at this end.”
“With the robots.”
“With, er, transportation.”
“Your robots are locomotive. They were walking all over the city like people yesterday. If I hire one, why can’t it just walk out of the door with me?”
“Um. Between ourselves, not everyone likes the idea of what these magnificent robots can do. A further threat to the last bastions of human employment potential. You know the sort of thing. Bit of a crowd. Bit of trouble.”
“The, ah, the police have arrived. But it’s a peaceful demonstration, so far. Until any violence breaks out, the crowd probably can’t be moved. And if it does break out—well, we’d rather none of our merchandise was in the thick of it—Ah!” He glanced downward, and his eyes behind the tinted spectacles bulged. A white glow was playing over his chin and through the sign with his name. I realized a message panel must have lit up out of sight on his desk console. The message didn’t look as if it was very comforting. “Um,” he said. “I, er, think I said more than I ought. Ha, ha. Look, madam, I’ll patch you through to our contact department on relay. Leave your code and number and E.M. can call you tomorrow to discuss your wishes. Just hold, if you will, and I’ll put you through.”
The video fluttered, and I hit the switch wildly.
And why did I do that? Maybe only because tomorrow was a hundred years away, and would be too late.
And what now?
I walked along the Vista, past all the bubbles of sky, and back again. It was a red dog-end of a sunset tonight. Claret-colored, like Silver’s cloak. Like Silver’s hair.
I thought about the subsistence riots on the news channel. They say no one can really live on a sub. check. Sometimes robot circuits were vandalized by the frenzied unemployed, though usually the built-in alarms and defense electric-shock mechanisms deter vandals. But the news channel had reported a machinery warehouse had burned down in one riot. That was thousands of miles away. But suppose the peaceful crowd outside Electronic Metals got out of hand? Not water, but fire. His face, like a wax angel’s, dissolving—
I ran to the phone and called Clovis again.
“This is Clovis’s answering tape. Right now Clovis is committing sodomy. Call back in an hour, when I regret you may still receive the same answer.”
(Clovis, actually, leaves this message even if he’s gone out to a restaurant, or to the beach for a week. Davideed, who once got the message over and over for two days, rushed to the New River apartment and shouted at the door, which was locked. And when one of Clovis’s discarded, left-behind, just-packing-to-leave lovers opened it, Davideed hit him.)
The sunset turned to hot ashes, and then to cold ones. The night would gather in the city and the lights would flower. The crowd waiting outside Electronic Metals would begin to understand how pretty buildings look when they bum in the dark.
I switched on the local news channel. They talked about a new subway to be built, about a gang fight near the Old River, about a rise in cigarine prices due to the heavy crop losses in one of the more earthquake-active zones. Then I heard and saw the crowd, which had gathered in East Arbor around the gates of Electronic Metals Ltd., and they were growing restless. People shouted before the shabby glass facade. The newscaster told me about robots, how they’re important, and why workers hate them. The news didn’t seem to have grasped that E.M.’s robots were different. Or perhaps they were just trying not to advertise. The crowd went on shouting. There only appeared to be a couple of hundred people. Enough to start a fire. But I would be safe. The policode I wore would protect me, with its guaranty that it takes exact body-readings of anyone who assaults the wearer, while instantly summoning the police. There were police anyway, watching the crowd. I could see their little planes going over and back against the deepening sky of dusk in the screen, and sometimes their lights played on the building and the people.
But if I were there, what would I do? What difference could I make? It was pointless to go, to be there. If I negotiated the mob, who would open E.M.’s door to me with all that outside? I might be a ringleader determined to force an entry.
I left the news channel on as I walked up and down the Vista. Then someone threw a bottle. The camera followed it. It hit the facade of Electronic Metals and shattered.
Outside, across the Canyon, the seven P.M. flyer would be floating like a moth toward the platform. In fifteen minutes I could be over the Old River, in twenty I could be getting off at South Arbor, running the three blocks to East. The Arbors are a rough area, a big trash can of derelict offices and subsided stories not yet rebuilt after the Asteroid tremors, with, here and there, a nightclub perched like a vulture deliberately on the ruins, or some struggling enterprise starting up in a renovated warehouse, with a frontage of sprayed-on glass.
If I let the flyer go, there wouldn’t be another one until nine P.M. If I dialed a cab, I might have to wait for half an hour.
The police would stop anything from happening, and I could do nothing, and here was my unfinished martini, and there my strawberry sedative, and here my purse with my credit card with the thousand I.M.U. a month limit on it, which meant I could not afford a robot. It would be much better if I stayed at home. Much better if I forgot about everything. Starting with the first sight of his hair and the mirror fragments on his jacket, ending with the kiss which had meant nothing to him because he couldn’t feel emotion, except, perhaps, the delight of giving, for which he was randomly pre-programmed.
I almost missed the flyer. There were twenty or so other travelers on it, some in gaudy evening clothes going to the city for a night out, some with grey harried faces, night workers going in to work at some job a robot couldn’t do. But the mechanical driver was without a head.
I don’t recall seeing the city appear in its constellations, or even getting off at the South Arbor platform. I think there were some docile men drinking on a corner as I ran. And then the sky over my head was full of little robot planes, a swarm of them with their lights blinking and their sirens hooting, and buzzing away into the city center.
Almost instantly I met with a stream of people jeering and swearing and arguing. A board trailed on the ground. By means of stray street lamps I read: SCREW THE MACHINES. The surge broke around me to let me through, or else pushed me aside out of its way, and was gone. Bits of glass, scraps of paper, were left in its wake. It seemed the demonstration had lost heat, or been compulsorily broken up before real violence erupted. A solitary police cab cruised up the uneven concrete, showered me over with its spots, registering my code, and nosed on after the crowd, leaving me in the long shadows between the erratic lamp poles.
When I came to it, the gate of Electronic Metals, illumined now in rainbow neon, stood open. Another police car lurked on the forecourt. A knot of human beings huddled in a corner, lost in debate, sometimes caught by a winking light on the police machine that constantly circled them.
It was a strange scene, one I’d often looked at on a visual, or in a side street, but never been part of. But I walked through the gate and across the forecourt. No one paid any attention to me. I touched the visitor’s panel in the door. A luminous dot appeared. It said softly: “This building is now closed.” Since most display warehouses in the city are mechanically staffed and stay open all night, eager for custom, I wondered if E.M. had closed itself for good in dismay.
“I called earlier,” I said to the door panel. “I’m interested—in buying one of your Sophisticated Format robots.”
“Please visit, or telephone, tomorrow.”
“I’ve come twenty miles,” I said, as if that meant anything.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances,” said the door, “this building is now closed. Please visit, or telephone, tomorrow.”
Quite without warning, my legs changed to air, to nothing: I had no legs. I slid down the door and sat in the dirty shadows of the portico, in my black dress. I might have been a robot with my power switched off. I, too, might have been closed for the night.
Presently the people and the police went away. I went on sitting on the ground, like a lost child who doesn’t know the way home. I knew I ought to get up and go and find a taxi. If I stayed here, another police patrol might pick me up, thinking I was ill.
Beyond the gate, I could see the Asteroid burning like a green-blue flaw in the darkness. The skeleton of a tremor-smashed apartment block teetered on a slope, stripped of lives like a winter tree of leaves. I saw it this way, knowing the insecurity of life as I never had before. How smug, how complacent I’d been. Egyptia was right to be afraid.
If I went home, I’d get into bed in my suite in Chez Stratos, I’d pull the green sheets over my head, and I’d never have the courage to come back here. For all I knew, they’d dismantled him. An exhibition robot. Perhaps there was a fault somewhere, the man on the video—Swohnson—had sounded so unsure. Was it more than the unemployment demo? There were always demonstrations. Perhaps the City Senate had approached Electronic Metals and vetoed this omen of ultimate redundancy, men who excelled men in every way.
Finally, I got up, and dusted off my dress carefully, though I couldn’t see properly, even in the neon from the open gate.
What happened next was odd, because it was almost as if I made it happen, somehow. I suddenly concluded that the open gate was a mistake the mechanism left unattended in the confusion, for if the building was shut, so should the gate be. And then I judged how somebody would have to come back and shut it. And about one second after that, a lean black picard drove through onto the forecourt, pulled up, and a man got out. Two lightnings streaked over his upper face—the neon shining in his spectacle lenses. He almost walked into me, and grunted with surprise. He fumbled at his jacket.
“I’m coded,” he said. “Don’t try anything.”
It was Swohnson.
“Are you going,” he said, “or do I, ah, signal the police?”
It would have been nice to say something razor-sharp and succinct. Clovis would have. But it was my mouth, not my wit, that was dry.
“I called you. You spoke to me on the video, earlier.”
“Threats won’t do you any good.”
In a moment he would press his silly code button.
I blurted rapidly: “I decided I’d buy one of the formats.”
“Uh—oh,” said Swohnson. “Oh,” he said, shifting so he could see the candy neon on my face. “Madam, I do apologize. But I never thought you’d come here, after the operator cut us off.”
His indiscretion with me before had caused a row, perhaps, and now he might redeem himself with a sale. Or was he just feeling unorthodox?
“I came back to lock up,” said Swohnson. “Dogsbody, that’s me.” He palmed the door panel. He had been drinking. “Director’s daughter’s lover,” he said, “that’s me, too. My qualifications. How I got the job. Liaison, public relations, locker-up of doors. But I mustn’t put all this onto you, madam.” The door recognized him and opened with a sullen hiss. “Please walk inside.”
He thought I was a rich eccentric. The rich part was easy. It’s awful, the way we have this look to us, of being rich. Eccentric because I waited in doorways in East Arbor, alone, on the off chance people like Swohnson would come by to shut the gate.
In the foyer, which was also glass-sprayed and dismal, he hit some switches and saw to the gate, and summoned a lift. Then he took me up to the shop floor.
The place we came into was a tepid office in leather, and by now my bluff was already turning cold inside me, congealing. I told myself I could back out, so long as I didn’t handprint or sign anything, or as long as I didn’t record my assent verbally on tape. He’d need my permission for any of those. Or, if I did, maybe Demeta would have to honor the transaction? Maybe it would be clever to do just that. But basically I hate lying, big lies. It’s so complicated.
He sat in a chair and a drinks tray came out of the wall. We had a drink. His hands trembled, and my hands trembled. But both our hands still trembled on our second drinks, his around the rye whisky, mine around the lemon juice. I guess we had both, in our different ways, had a rough day. He told me all about Electronic Metals, but I don’t remember what he said. I had to pretend I was alert, or thought I did, the prospective buyer making sure everything was in order, and all my concentration went into that. I think I heard one word in twenty. I still couldn’t quite believe I’d gotten into the building.
“There’s an exhibition formula we have here,” he said, and I heard that because instinctively I knew it was a prelude to the display of E.M.’s wares. “I dreamed it up myself, actually, to show off the three types to full advantage. If you’ll step through?” He drained his glass, took another, and held my arm as one of the walls folded back. “Excuse me, madam, but you’re ver-ry young.”
“I’m eighteen.” Should I have tried for twenty?
“Gorgeous age, eighteen. Can just remember it, I think.” (It occurs to me now, writing it out, that he may have been making a halfhearted pass at me. He was attractive in a stereotyped way, and knew he was attractive and not that he was stereotyped, merely in the mode. And he’d made it with a rich girl before. Perhaps he thought I’d be useful, somehow, if I fell for him and poured cash over him. How embarrassing. I never even thought of this at the time.) “Actually, um, I think I know which of the Formats you’ll choose. It’s proficient in pre-Ast. oriental dance—one of the female Golder range. But wait till you see.”
He knew I wasn’t even eighteen. He thought me an innocent, even if he made a pass, unless he thought I was M-B. How would I be able to tell him now, past the barriers in my throat and soul, that my chosen robot was masculine?
Riven with my shyness, I moved away from his guiding hand, and into the area beyond the reception office. It was a large room we entered, windowless, with a soft suffused light all over the ceiling. The floor was polished.
“Don’t step beyond the red line,” said Swohnson. “Let’s just sit here and see what happens.” Proud of his innovation in the boss’s workshop, he waved us into tubular chairs. Obviously that activated a control somewhere. A slot opened in the far wall, and a woman came through.
She was tall and slender and beautiful. Hair blond as cereal haloed her head and shoulders. Her tawny-yellow cat’s eyes fastened on mine and she smiled. She was pleased to see me, you could tell. A dress like a tulip flame swathed her, and she held a purple rose. Her skin was a pale creamy copper.
“Hallo,” she said. “I’m one of Electronic Metals’ experimental range. My registration is Copper. That is C.O.P.P.E.R.: Copper Optimum Pre-Programmed Electronic Robot.” She half closed her eyes. A stillness seemed to enfold her. The music of her voice grew hushed, hypnotic. “Gallop apace,” she said, “you fiery footed steeds, to Phoebus’ lodging…” She spoke Juliet’s lines in a way I never heard before. The air scintillated, my eyes filled with tears. She spoke of love, knew love, was love. “… If he should die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night—” Two men stepped through the wall. They were Copper’s brothers. One wore a jacket of yellow velvet with medieval sleeves, and white denim jeans. The other wore damson jeans, a sauterne-colored shirt, and a magenta sash from the Arabian Nights. Each smiled at me. Each told me he, too, was registration Copper. They acted a scene together from a drama I’d sat through the month before. It far outshone the original performance. The three copper robots linked arms, bowed smiling to me, and went back through the wall, which closed.
The left hand wall opened.
A man strode through. Hair like smooth black ink, splashing over his head to his shoulders. Black silk eyes. Skin like molten gold. He wore black, his cloak lined with the green of sour apples. His registration, he told me, was Golden G.O.L.D.E.R.: Gold Optimum Locomotive Dermatized Electronic Robot. His eyes smoldered at me, burning through to my deepest awareness. He flung himself suddenly into an aerial cartwheel that flowed and sliced, and landed in strange graceful menacing ripplings and contortions of his frame. It was a dance, but a dance capable of dealing death.
“Based on Japanese martial arts,” Swohnson muttered to me. “Not only elegant, but will make an excellent bodyguard for someone who likes that kind of show. And particularly good skinlinings in this type.” Having started to talk, Swohnson didn’t stop. As the golden midnight figure swirled and leapt, Swohnson said, “the Copper line are the actors, the Silvers the musicians, the Golds are dancers.” He went on, and I forgot to listen. Two women, the golden robot’s sisters, came into the room, their hands lightly connected, and repeated who they were. Their long fingers had long nails, one set jade green, one set jade white. Their trousers were Asian, cream silk, green silk. Above the trousers one wore a bolero and gold-embroidered shirt. The other a waistcoat of emerald spangles, fastened with three malachite butterflies. The dance was slow, incredible, balletic, impossible. Human muscles would have evaporated and human bones dislocated. Their black hair mopped the floor and furled over the ceiling. “Jett'e, lift measured at seven feet from the ground. But they make good teachers. Charming teachers. Wonderful exercise for the human body, even if you can never be as good. My God, they are good, aren’t they?” Swohnson drank his rye and sighed. His attitude to the Golder female robots was not innocent, as mine was expected to be.
They went away, and my heart burst, disintegrated, as it had begun to do when the Coppers went out. I was waiting for the third door to open. This time, it would have to be—
It opened. Silver’s sister came through. Her auburn hair was dressed with blue carnations. She wore snow fringed with blood. A keyboard glided after her on runners. She stood before it, and played something I didn’t know, like a shower of sparks shooting from a volcano. Then she looked at me, smiling. I knew what she’d say. “I’m Silver…”
A man walked through the opening, and I stopped breathing. Because it wasn’t him. Alike, but not like. The same hair, but different. The same amber eyes; different, different. The movements, the voice, the same, the same, yet different. Different, different. Utterly, wholly different. Not like at all. I forget what he wore. I couldn’t seem to see him properly.
“I’m Silver. S.I.L…”
The features of the face weren’t even similar. I was so glad, I could have wept. The silver woman played Vivaldi on the electric piano and the silver man sang a futuristic melody against it, in a beautiful, unrecognized voice. The words were about a star, a girl in love with the star, and the star saying to the girl, “I am too old for you.”
“Dammit,” said Swohnson. “Where’s the other one?”
My eyes blurred. The silver robots were walking into the wall.
“There’s another of the bloody things. I beg your pardon, er, madam. It’s been a helluva day. These exhibition models are in blocks of three. There’s a third one with the silvers. A guy. Damn. Wrecks the whole display. He’s supposed to come in with a guitar. God. You spend days and nights dreaming up these gimmicks, and then the relay screws it. Excuse me.” He went to a wall phone and hit buttons unsteadily. He’d forgotten I would want the Golder format. He was angry because his artistic interpretation had been spoiled.
My eyes were filming over. The lemon juice had a smoky taste. Where is the third silver robot? Where? Where? Oh, he’s in bits, taken apart. Piece of wiring fouled, cog busted. Have to scrap it. Put it in the dustbin. Melt it down. Make it into objets d’art for rich bitches like this fourteen-year-old I’ve got in here right now.
Don’t be stupid. Why are you so obsessed with the idea that he has been… taken to bits.
How could I have—
Swohnson was spluttering at the phone.
“What? Why wasn’t I told? When? Um. Um? I didn’t see it.”
Then he came back from the phone. He looked at me.
“Well, you can judge anyway, bright, er, lady like you. You don’t need to see that other one. He’s just like the other male silver. Of course, some customers would want to see the full physique. Stripped. But really, madam—do I have to keep calling you that?—I don’t think that’s your problem. Is it?”
I gripped the tube arms of the chair, and refused to think about what he’d just said.
“The other robot,” I said.
“Oh, some damn machine left me a memo. Never got it. Something they’re checking for. Er—nothing wrong with the model, you understand.” Even drunk, he recalled his valuable-employee’s lines just in time. “It’s a routine check E.M. runs when we put any display mechanism out. We’re very thorough. The slightest thing—we’ve been testing, perfecting these models for years. How else could we let them roam the city without escort? (Which, actually, I thought was taking a bit of a risk, but, ah, who the hell listens to me around here?) Still. Looks good. Then, um, of course, one comes back and doesn’t check out.”
“What—” I said. I didn’t know what to say. How do you ask after a robot’s health? I was shaking, shaking. I tried to be my mother. “What’s wrong with this one?”
“Nothing. Nothing the E.M. computer can pin down. Just some of the readings are altered. Nothing that affects any of the other, er, models, I can assure you, ah, of that. You know computers. An eyelash out of place… I don’t understand a word of that side of it. Jargon. Nothing for you to worry about. There’s a makeshift check they’ll run here. Then tomorrow it’ll go down to the production center.”
“The production center? The basement. Curious little thing, aren’t you, madam? Can’t take you there, I’m afraid. Big hush-hush. Lose me my wonderful enviable job as doorman.”
“The robot,” I said, “this one, the one that doesn’t check out, is the—one I wanted to buy.” Oh God, how did I ever get it out? His eyes goggled. I swallowed. I couldn’t tell if I was red or white, but cold heat was all over my face, my body. I tried to be self-assured in the middle of the raging of the cold heat and the shaking, and in my breathless, stilted voice: “He was recommended to me by a friend. He’s the one I wanted. The only one.” And then, while Swohnson went on standing there gaping, “If the format is still up here, I’d like to see him. It. I’d like to see it now.”
“Ah,” said Swohnson. Suddenly he smiled, remembering about whisky, and drinking some. And getting some more. “Er, how old did you say you were?”
“Eighteen. Almost nineteen.”
“You see why I’m asking? To buy an item of goods like this, not just a servant but a companion, a performer… in all sorts of ways, you have to be over eighteen. Or we need your mother’s signature. What’s your name?”
“My name isn’t any of your business,” I said, amazing myself. “Not until I agree to buy. And I haven’t, because the one robot I want you can’t give me.”
“Didn’t say that, did I?”
“Then let me see him.”
“Keep calling it ‘him,’ don’t you. Must make a note of that. Most of the callers we’ve had do. Him, her. Really got you all fooled, ain’t we. Good old E.M. Good old my lover’s daddy.”
I shrank, but somehow I kept hold.
“Are you going to let me see him?”
“Visiting the sick,” said Swohnson, viciously hitting on the exact horrid sensation I had, and hadn’t been able to explain to myself. “Okay. Come on. Madam. Let’s go and see the patient.”
Rye in hand, he led me, no longer opening doors for me which were not automatic, so they almost banged in my face each time. I couldn’t go back now and find the way—I didn’t see it. We came into a corridor with unlit cubicles. Then into a cubicle that made a humming noise, and, as Swohnson’s white suede shoes went over the threshold, switched a light on. A cold light, very stark and pale, like in a hospital theatre in a visual.
There was a thing like a closed upright coffin, with wires coming out of holes and into a box that was ticking and whirring to itself.
“There you are,” said Swohnson. “Just press that knob there, and you can see it. In all its glory.”
I was afraid to, and I didn’t move for a long time.
Then I walked over and touched the knob, and the machine stopped making a noise, and the front of the coffin slid slowly up. There’s no point in dragging this out, though I don’t like putting it down on paper, no I don’t. The figure in the checking coffin was swathed in a sort of flaccid opaque plastic bag, to which the wires were attached. Only the head was visible at the top of the bag. And it was Silver’s head, clouded round by auburn hair, but under the long dark cinnamon eyebrows were two sockets with little slim silver wheels going round and round in them, truly just like the inside of a clock.
“You can see a bit more, if you like,” said Swohnson, spitefully. He went to the bag and split a seam somewhere, and so I saw the shoulder and the arm of a silver skeleton, and more of the little wheels turning, but no hand. That had been removed. Swohnson painstakingly pointed this out.
“Special check on the fingers. Important in a musician model. Wonder what else has gone?” He peered into the bag.
I remembered Silver as he played the guitar and sang the songs that were like fires, the fiery chords. I remembered how he kissed Egyptia, and ran lightly down the stair in the gardens with the claret velvet cloak swinging, and how he sauntered along the street, and put back his head to watch the flyer go over, and how he rested his mouth on mine.
“Not very glamorous now, is it?” said Swohnson.
Something odd was happening to me. I felt it uncertainly in my confusion, and got to know it, and was dully, stonily, relieved. I’d been cured of my crush. Of course. Who wouldn’t be?
“No,” I said to Swohnson. “It’s a mess.”
And I turned and walked out of the room.
I waited in the corridor, no longer shaking, until—disappointed—he slunk out and guided me back to the office, where I told him I’d think about it, and when he protested, I said: “I’ll have to ask my mother.”
“Goddamn. I knew you were a minor. Wasting my time—”
“Let me out,” I said.
“Let me out, or I’ll use my policode.”
“Just looking for kicks. I’d like to kick you. Rich kid. Never needed to do a day’s work in your, ah, life.”
“My mother,” I said, “knows E.M.’s Director, intimately.”
Swohnson stared at me. He didn’t believe me, but nevertheless he dimly began to try to recollect everything he’d said about the Director, father of his girlfriend, and E.M., and what he thought of them. And as he did so, he absentmindedly got the lift for me.
I went down, coolly. Self-possessed. I went into the forecourt and the gate opened for me. Not wavering, I walked out The gate didn’t close behind me, and I smiled a superior smile because he’d forgotten to auto-lock it, again.