• 3 •
I felt twenty-five. I felt sophisticated. I was free of my silliness, my adolescent dreams. I could do anything I wanted now. What a fool I’d been. I was proud of myself, for coming through, for. growing old and wise, and for liberating myself. My mother’s training was at last paying off, and I was a whole person. I understood myself.
I thought about Silver, and was faintly sorry for it, not that it had any emotions. But all in bits like that, though they would put him, it, together again, skin-spray over the joints to keep the smoothness of the muscles and complexion. Re-articulate. I wondered for half a second what it must be like for him, it, in a bag, a coffin—then realized it didn’t know anything about it, having been shut off like a lamp. Tomorrow they’d put it in the basement and take it all to bits, and maybe not reassemble it.
I rode the escalator up on to Patience Maidel Bridge, and walked over the Old River in the oxygenated glass tunnel, sometimes stopping to watch the lights of apartment blocks reflecting downward into the poisoned water, or the gleaming river boats with their glass tops and wakes of foam and snarling mutated fish. There were three or four people busking on the bridge, as there often are. They were all quite good. One was juggling in time to music a girl played on a mandolin. One had a marvelous voice. Not, of course, as good as the robot’s voice.
Off the bridge, there had been a break-in at Staria’s Second Owner Emporium, and another at Finn Darl’s Food-o-Mart, a soup of police and flashing lights and hospital wagons. A giant can of baked fruit had rolled into the road and was being flung away from each rushing car, into the path of another.
I was blas'e. I knew the violence of the city, and the uneven quality of its life. I took a bus to Jagged’s and went into the restaurant for iced coffine, and as I drew the first sip through the chocolate-flavored straw, someone pinched my arm.
“You’re out late,” said Medea, seating herself opposite me.
“Does your mother know?” said Jason, seating himself next to her.
They both watched me with their narrow eyes.
I hadn’t choked at the ferocious pinch, I had been through too much to let a pinch bother me, was too collected, or perhaps anesthetized.
“My mother’s upstate.”
“Ooh,” said Medea. “Naughty goings-on at Chez Stratos.” like Egyptia, Medea had had her hair toned dark blue, but unlike Egyptia’s long silken rope, Medea’s hair had been crimped and crinkled. Jason’s hair was coloressence charted, a sort of beige, and he had a deep tan from surfing at Cape Angel. But Medea just lies under a black sunshade and never tans. I never know why they’re my friends, because they’re not.
“Did you go to see the anti-robot demo?” I asked. I knew they hadn’t, and I said it deliberately, to bask in my uninvolvement.
“What demo?” said Medea.
“Oh, those robots that are supposed to look like people,” said Jason. “Some morons making a fuss. How long is your mother away?” Jason asked me.
“Why not have a party before she comes back?”
“She’s much too good to do that,” said Medea.
“Are you?” Jason demanded.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re getting very fat,” said Medea. “Why don’t you come off those capsules? I’m supposed to be a Eunice Ultima—terribly thin. But I just put the pills in the disposal.”
I was twenty-five and clever. For once, I knew I was only a little plump.
“Why don’t you try red hair for a change?” Jason said to me.
That was odd. My stomach turned over. Had Jason heard about my silliness? I hoped not. Jason liked to gain an advantage. When I was a child, he took care of me once when I was frightened. He was my age, but he was very kind, or seemed to be. But he liked the power. Later the same day he tried to frighten me again, just so he could reassure me. He’d do that sort of thing a lot. He used to have several little pets, and they were always getting sick so he had to care for them. But then they would get sick again, and one day Jason’s father—Jason and Medea have a father—stopped Jason from having pets. Since then he’s played with electric gadgets instead.
“She won’t do anything Mother doesn’t want,” said Medea.
She got up again, and Jason got up too, as if he were attached to her by a string. She’s sixteen and a half, and he is sixteen. They were born by the Precipta Split-Tempo method, and are really twins.
“Good-bye, Jane,” said Jason politely.
“Good-bye, Jane,” said Medea.
They went out, and the robot waiter came over on its tripod of wheels and charged me with Jason and Medea’s bill, which they’d told it I’d be paying. Not that they couldn’t pay it, it was just a joke. So I joked too, and refused, and gave the waiter their address. Their father would be furious (again), and normally I wouldn’t have done such a thing, just paid for them. But tonight. Oh, tonight, I had wings.
Worlds flying like birds; my car’s in flight. The city lights are spattered on my windshield like the fragments of the night. And I’m in flight. The sky’s a wheel, a merry-go-round of wings and snow and steel, and fire. We’ll tread the sky, we’ll ride the scarlet horses—
What was that? A song—what—what—Silver’s song.
I left the waiter robot and my unfinished coffine. I went into a booth and dialed Clovis.
“Infirmary,” said Clovis, cautiously.
“Hallo,” I said.
“Thank God. I thought it was Austin ringing back.”
“Clovis,” I said.
“Yes, Jane,” said Clovis.
“Clovis,” I said. “Clovis. Clovis.”
“What’s the matter?” he asked me so gently his voice was, for a second, like the voice, the voice—
“Clovis, you see—Clovis—Clovis—”
“Where’s your mother?”
“Yes, I’m Clovis. Where are you?”
“I can’t remember. Yes. I’m in Jagged’s. I’m in the restaurant.”
“I’m not coming to get you, do you understand? Go down to the taxi-park. Get a cab and come here. If you’re not here in ten minutes I’ll worry. Jane?”
“Can you do it?”
“Clovis! Oh, Clovis, black water’s coming out of my eyes!”
“Your mascara is running.”
“Oh—yes. I forgot I had any on.” I laughed.
“Pull yourself together and get a taxi,” he said.
I was quite calm and rather amused. I walked into the ladies room and washed my face, and then went down to the taxi-park. I looked at the wonderful star-fields of the city below, above and alongside. The city lights are spattered on my windshield—I’m in flight—we’ll tread the sky—
“Block 21, New River Road,” I said to the driver, who was an astoundingly humanlike robot. “Good Lord,” I said, waving my black nails at him, “you’re almost as realistic as the special E.M. formats.”
“Which?” he asked.
“Electronic Metals. Copper, Golder and Silver.”
“Never heard of ’em.”
“Have you ever been dismantled?”
“Not so you’d notice.”
“I wonder what it’s like. He looked so—he looked—”
“Could you please,” he said, “not cry like that when you get out of the cab? It might be bad for business.”
He was human of course, I’d forgotten about Jagged’s gimmick line of real drivers.
He’d been more forbearing than Egyptia.
Lights hit the windshield. We flew.
I managed to stop crying. The worst thing was not knowing why I was.
When I got up to the fifteenth gallery of Clovis’s block, his door rushed open before I even spoke to it, set for sight. Clovis stood in the middle of the rug, barefoot, in a shower robe, frowning.
“He’s dying,” I said. “They’re going to kill him.”
The sedative Clovis gave me wasn’t flavored. It had a bitter taste. I slept in the spare bedroom, which has black satin sheets, alternating with green or oyster satin sheets. The satin is a deliberate gesture, for you slide all night from one end of the bed to the other. Clovis usually makes his guests uncomfortable, in the hopes they’ll soon go away. Drugged, I slept. When I woke up, he gave me China tea and an apple.
“If you can find anything to eat in the servicery, you can eat it.”
Sleepwalking, drug-dazed, I found some instant toasts. Clovis stood in the doorway.
“I think I gave you too much Serenol. Do you remember what you told me last night? You were in very dramatic shock.”
I watched the instant toast rising from the hot plate, and I saw two silver eye-sockets with wheels turning.
“No, I didn’t give you enough Serenol,” said Clovis, as I wept.
I had told him everything, sitting on his couch, giving a performance Egyptia might have envied.
“I’m surprised you went as far as you did,” Clovis now said, handing me a large box of tissues, and removing the jumping toast from the floor. “Timid little Jane, confronting the might of Electronic Metals Ltd. What was the name of that prat?”
“Swohnson, that’s right. I’m quite looking forward to meeting him.”
“What?” Clovis copied my astonishment.
“Clovis, I can’t go back. I can’t do anything. I told him I was under eighteen. I haven’t enough money. And my mother wouldn’t—”
“It’s too boring to explain twice. Follow me.”
Clovis walked back across the main living area and dialed a number on the videoless phone, turning up the sound reception as he did so.
I stood where he had in the servicery doorway, and presently I heard Egyptia’s sultry, seductive, sleepy voice.
“Good morning, Egyptia.”
“Oh God. Do you know what time it is. Oh, I can’t bear it. Only an idiot would call at this hour.”
“An idiot would be unable to use the telephone. I take it you were asleep.”
“I never sleep.” She yawned voluptuously. “I can’t sleep. Oh Clovis, I’m terrified. Too terrified ever to sleep. I have a part. Theatra Concordacis are doing Ask the Peacock For My Brother’s Dust. They said only one person could play Antektra. Only I could play her. Only I had the resonance, the scope—But, Clovis, I’m not ready for it. I can’t. Clovis, what shall I—”
“I’m going to buy you a lovely, lovely present,” said Clovis.
“What?” she demanded.
“Jane tells me you’re hooked on a robot.”
“Oh! Oh, Clovis, would you? But, no. I can’t. I have to concentrate on this part. I have to be celibate. Antektra was a virgin.”
“I’m happy to reveal I don’t know the play.”
“And Silver—he’s called Silver—he is the most wonderful lover. He can—”
“Please don’t tell me,” said Clovis. “I shall feel inadequate.”
“You’d love him.”
“Everybody, apparently, loves him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for Mayor next year. Meantime, they’re dismantling him at E.M. Ltd. in a hellish basement that also produces a sideline of meat pies.”
“Clovis, I can’t follow you.”
“It seems you did something to the metal-man. His clockwork has ganged agley. He’s for the chop. Or the pie.”
“I didn’t do anything. Do they expect me to pay for it?”
“I’m paying. For possession. In your eighteen-year-old name. At a reduction, if I play my cards right. Faulty goods.”
“Clovis you are wonderful, but I really can’t let myself accept.”
“Then you can loan him to Jane until you’re free. Just to keep his hand in, if you’ll excuse the expression.”
“Jane wouldn’t know one end of a man—”
“I think she might. Might you not, Jane?”
Egyptia fell silent. I had turned to glass, immovable, easily broken.
“One hour,” said Clovis. “The Arbor side of the bridge.”
“I’m not going to the Arbors. I’ll be mugged and raped.”
“Of course you will, Egyptia. Wish on a star.”
Clovis killed the line. He dialed.
“Electronic Metals? No, I don’t want the contact department. I want somebody by the avian name of Swohnson.”
He waited. I said, “Clovis, they won’t,” and stopped because Swohnson’s voice came on the line and my whole body withered like an autumn leaf. I sat on the floor and put my head on the wall, and the Serenol swam over me.
Out of the haze I heard Swohnson start to wither too.
“How do you know one of the Silver Formats is faulty?”
“My spies,” said Clovis, “are everywhere.”
“What? Er. Look here—”
“I don’t happen to use a video.”
“It’s that—ah—that darn girl. Isn’t it? And you’re another rich kid—”
“I am another very rich kid. And I advise you to calm down, my feathered friend.”
“What? Who the—”
“Swan,” said Clovis clearly, “son.”
“It’s spelled S.W.O.H.,” exclaimed Swohnson.
“I don’t care if it’s spelled S.H.I.T.,” said Clovis. “I’m calling on behalf of the lady who hired your ballsed-up, badly-made substandard rubbish the night before last.”
I got up and went into the green bathroom, and ran a tub. I couldn’t bear to listen anymore.
About fifteen minutes after, as I lay there in the water, Clovis knocked on the door and said,
“You’re a rotten audience, Jane. Are you all right? If you’ve slashed your wrists, could you hold them down in the bath and try not to mark the wall covering? Blood is very difficult to clean off.”
“I’m all right. Thank you for trying.”
“Trying? Son of the Swohn is pure cast-iron jello. I’m assuming, by the way, you’ll pay me back in hard cash as soon as you can wring Demeta’s blessing from her. Then we can edge Egyptia out of the picture, too.”
“They won’t let you,” I said. Tears ran in the water. I was a bath tap, which nobody could turn off.
“Why am I doing this?” Clovis asked someone. “Moving heaven and Earth to get her some run-down heap of nuts and bolts that will probably permanently seize up as it walks through the door? Or at some other, more poignant, crucial moment. Oh, more! More! Sorry, honey, my spring’s bust.”
He went away and I heard the shower sizzle alive in the mahogany bathroom.
A timeless gap later, I heard him go out of the apartment, whistling. It isn’t true what they say about male M-Bs. At least, Clovis can certainly whistle.
I lay in the tub, letting the vital oils be washed from my skin, as my mother had always told me not to. (“You can put skin elements back from a jar. But nature should never be wasted, darling.”)
Clovis couldn’t mean what he said. If he did, Electronic Metals would never let a faulty robot go. Or the demonstrators would have come back. Or Egyptia, if she signed, would assert her legal claim, and keep him. Or he would already be a pile of cooling clinker.
Yet even as I wept, the tempo of my tears had abruptly changed. I was now weeping quickly, and I was hurrying suddenly to get out of the bath. Hurrying as I had on the night I went to Egyptia’s party. Because somehow I already knew.
When I heard the lift again, another lift went down through my insides. When the door asked me to let someone in I didn’t stop to reason. I flung the door open. And there was Austin.
“Where’s Clo?” said Austin.
I stared at Austin. I had expected anything but him.
“Well, I know I’m beautiful,” he said.
“I thought you had a key,” I stammered.
“Threw it back in his face,” said Austin. “All that crap about a seance. Did you know that table’s rigged? Bet you did, you girl.”
“Clovis isn’t here,” I said.
“Then I’ll wait.”
“He’s gone to the beach.” Another lie. Austin believed it.
“Hope someone kicks sand in his face.”
He turned, flowed straight down the corridor and banged the button for the lift to come back. I felt guilty and glad, and the lift swallowed him and he was gone.
It was one P.M., according to Clovis’s talking clock when I switched it on. I had combed my hair for the thirtieth time. I sat in my black frock and black nails and white strained face, and gazed at the New River through the window. There were bruised-looking clouds. It might rain. I had stopped raining; my tears were dry. I made some real coffee, of which Clovis has accumulated a whole cupboard. But I couldn’t drink it. There was dust on the coffee table. Obviously the block’s automatic cleaner had remained unsummoned for days.
What was I waiting for? For Clovis to call and say he’d failed? For the door to open and Clovis to come through, shrug and say—what surprisingly he hadn’t last night—you’d better forget it, Jane. After all, it’s this fear of men thing again, isn’t it, due to your lack of a physically present father?
Last night, I had known where I was, for all of one hour. I’d known that women don’t love robots. That a doll with its clockwork showing meant nothing to me. But I hadn’t been able to hang on to that truth. For me—he was alive. A man, Clovis. Real.
I heard the lift.
Wasn’t there another small apartment in an annex at the end of this gallery? It might be the people from there.
The door seemed to tremble, ripple, as if underwater, and opened. Clovis and Silver walked through it.
Silver wore blue clothes, mulberry boots. I couldn’t stop looking at them. Then I looked at Clovis’s face. Clovis was surprised. He had been surprised, one could tell, for quite a while. He came over to me and said, “Jane, Jane, Jane.” Then he handed me a plastic folder. “Papers,” said Clovis briskly. “Duplicates of reassembly order, possession rights and receipt for cash transfer with bank stamp. Two-year guaranty, with a bar sinister on it due to incomplete check being waived by customer. And Egyptia’s signed confirmation that you have right of loan. For six months it may say, or years, or something. Egyptia is vaguely aware, by the way, of having been cheated of something, so I’m taking her to lunch, and buying her a steel-grey fur cloak. For which you’ll also owe me the money.”
“I may not be able to repay you,” I said. I was numb. Silver was standing near the door, standing at the edge of my vision, blue fire burning the rest of the room to cinders.
“See you in court, then,” said Clovis.
Inanely I said, “Austin came up. I said you were at the beach.”
“I think I am,” said Clovis. “Certainly there is a distinct notion of sand underfoot. Shifting, I surmise.” His face was still surprised. He turned from me and walked back to Silver, glanced at him, walked by him, and reached the door. “You know where everything is,” Clovis said to me. “And if you don’t, now is the time to find out. Jesus screamed and ran,” added Clovis. The apartment door slammed behind him, jarring its mechanisms. And I was alone. Alone with Egyptia’s robot.
I had to force myself to look at him. From the boots to the long legs, and across—one hand, two hands, loosely at rest by his sides. Arms. Torso. Shoulders with the hair glowing against the blue shirt. Throat. Face. Intact. Whole. Tiger’s eyes. In repose. And yet, what was it? Was I inventing it? The ghost of something, some disorientation, the look on the face of someone who has been sick and is convalescing… No, imagination.
Did he know the legal position, who owned him, who was borrowing him? Did I have to tell him?
His amber eyes went into a long, slow blink. Thank God they worked. Thank God they were as beautiful as when I’d first seen them. He smiled at me. “Hallo,” he said.
“Hallo,” I said. I was so tense I scarcely felt it. “Do you remember me?”
“I don’t know what to say to you,” I said.
“Say whatever you want.”
“I mean, do I say: Please sit down, won’t you? Will you have some tea?”
He laughed. I loved his laugh. Always loved it. But it broke my heart. I was so sad, so sad now he was here with me. Sadder than I’d been at any time, a sadness beyond all tears.
“I’m quite relaxed,” he said. “I’m always relaxed. You don’t have to work at that one.”
I was thrown, but now I expected to be thrown. I had to say something to him, which I kept biting back. He saw my hesitation. He raised one eyebrow at me.
“What?” he said. Human. Human.
“Do you know what happened? What they did to you?”
“Yes,” he said. No change.
“I saw you then,” I said. It came out raw and harsh.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That can’t have been very nice for you.”
“But you,” I said. “You.”
“What about me?”
“Were you unconscious?” I said.
“Unconscious isn’t really a term you can apply to me,” he said. “Switched off, if you mean that, then partially. To perform the check, at least half of my brain had to be functioning.”
My stomach knotted together.
“You mean you were aware?”
“In a way.”
“Did it—was it painful?”
“No. I don’t feel pain. My nerve centers react by a method of alarm reflex rather than a pain reflex. Pain isn’t necessary to my body as a warning signal, as it would be in a human. Therefore, no pain.”
“You heard what he said. What I said.”
“I think so.”
“Are you incapable of dislike?”
“Maybe not,” he said. “I don’t analyze myself the way a human does. My preoccupations are outward.”
“You’re owned,” I said. “You belong to Egyptia. You’ve been lent to me.”
“So, are you angry?”
“Do I look angry?”
“You use the ego-mode: ‘I’ you say.”
“Yes. Rather ridiculous if I spoke any other way, not to mention confusing.”
“Do I irritate you?”
“No,” he laughed again, very softly. “Ask whatever you want.”
“Do you like me?” I said.
“I don’t know you.”
“But you think, as a robot, you can still get to know me?”
“Better than most of the humans you spend time with, if you’ll let me.”
“Do you want to?”
“Do you want to make love to me?” I cried, my heart a hurt, myself angry and in pain and in sorrow, and in fear—all those things he was spared.
“I want to do whatever you need me to do,” he said.
“Without any feeling.”
“With a feeling of great pleasure, if you’re happy.”
“You’re beautiful,” I said. “Do you know you’re beautiful?”
“And you draw people like a magnet. You know that, too?”
“You mean metaphorically? Yes, I know.”
“What’s it like?” I said. I meant to sound cynical. I sounded like a child asking about the sun. “What’s it like, Silver?”
“You know,” he said, “the easiest way to react to me is just to accept me, as I am. You can’t become what I am, any more than I can become what you are.”
“You wish you were human.”
I went to the window, and looked at the New River, and at the faint sapphire and silver reflection of him on the glass.
I said to it, forming the words, not even whispering them: I love you. I love you.
Aloud, I said: “You’re much older than me.”
“I doubt it,” he said. “I’m only three years old.”
I turned and stared at him. It was probably true. He grinned at me.
“All right,” he said. “I’m supposed to appear between twenty and twenty-three. But counting time from when I was activated, I’m just a kid.”
“This is Clovis’s apartment,” I found myself saying then. “What did you say to him to startle him like that?”
“Like you, he had trouble remembering I’m a robot.”
“Did he… want to make love to you?”
“Yes. He suppressed the idea because it revolted him.”
“Does it revolt you?”
“Here we go again. You asked that already, in another form, and I answered you.”
“I can adapt to whoever I’m with.”
“In order to please them?”
“It gives you pleasure to please.”
“You’re pre-programmed to be pleased that way.”
“So are humans, actually, to a certain extent.”
I came back into the room.
I said, “What do you want me to call you?”
“You intend to rename me?”
“Silver—that’s the registration. Not a name.”
“What’s in a name?” he said.
“A rose by any other name,” I said.
“But don’t, I think,” he said, “call me Rose.”
I laughed. It caught me by surprise, like Clovis’s surprise, but unlike.
“That’s nice,” he said. “I like your laugh. I never heard it before.”
Like a sword going through me. How could I feel so much, when he felt nothing. No, when he felt so differently, so indifferently.
“Please call me,” I said, “Jane.”
“Jane,” he said. “Jane, a pane of crystal, the sound of rain falling on the silken grain of marble, a slender, pale chain of a name.”
“Don’t,” I said.
“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s too easy for you. Nobody ever made a poem out of my name, and you can do it with anything. It’s a very ordinary name.”
“But the sound,” he said, “the sheer phonetic sound, is clean and clear and beautiful. Think about it. You never have until now.”
Amazed, I lifted my head.
“Jane,” I said, tasting my name, hearing my name. “Jaen. Jain.”
He watched me. His tiger’s eyes were lambent, absorbing me.
“I live with my mother,” I said, “twenty miles from the city, in a house up in the air. Really up in the air. Clouds go by the windows. We’re going to go there.”
He regarded me with that grave attention I was coming, even so soon, to recognize.
“I don’t know what I want from you,” I said unsteadily. Not true, not true, but what I wanted, being impossible, must be left unsaid. “I’m not,” I said, “Egyptia—I’m not—ex-perienced. I just—please don’t th—”
“Don’t ever,” he said, “be afraid of me.”
But I was. He’d driven a silver nail through my heart.