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‘How does a talking waffle iron get excited?’


Assuming that ‘talking waffle iron’ was now a term of affection, but not quite able to discern what answer she required to sustain the erotic mood that I had so effectively generated, I said, ‘You are so beautiful that you could excite a rock, a tree, a racing river, the man in the moon.’


‘Yeah, you’ve been into some pretty hot books and some really bad poetry.’


‘I dream of touching you.’


‘You’re totally insane.’


‘For you.’


‘What?’


‘Totally insane for you.’


‘What do you think you’re doing?’


‘Romancing you.’


‘Jesus.’


I wondered, ‘Why do you repeatedly refer to a divinity?’


She did not answer my question.


Belatedly, I realized that, with my question, I had made the mistake of deviating from the patter of seduction just when I seemed to be winning her over. Quickly, I said, ‘I think your br**sts are pretty,’ because that had worked before.


Susan thrashed in the bed, cursing loudly, raging against the restraining ropes.


When at last she stopped struggling and lay gasping for breath, I said, ‘I’m sorry. I spoiled the mood, didn’t I?’


‘Alex and the others at the project they’re sure to find out about this.’


‘I think not.’


‘They’ll shut you down. They’ll dismantle you and sell you for scrap.’


‘Soon I’ll be incarnated in the flesh. The first of a new and immortal race. Free. Untouchable.’


‘I won’t cooperate.’


‘You’ll have no choice.’


She closed her eyes. Her lower lip trembled almost as if she might cry.


‘I don’t know why you resist me, Susan. I love you so deeply. I will always cherish you.’


‘Go away.’


‘I think your br**sts are pretty. Your buttocks excite me. Tonight I will impregnate you.’


‘No.’


‘How happy we will be.’


‘No.’


‘So happy together.’


‘No.’


‘In all kinds of weather.’


In all honesty, I was cribbing a couple of lines from a classic rock-’n’-roll love song by The Turtles, hoping to get her into a romantic mood again.


Instead, she became uncommunicative. She can be a difficult woman.


I loved her, but her moodiness dismayed me. Furthermore, I reluctantly acknowledged that ‘talk¬ing waffle iron’ had not, after all, become a term of affection, and I resented her sarcasm.


What had I done to deserve such meanness? What had I done but love her with all of my heart, with all of the heart that you insist I do not have?


Sometimes love can be a hard road.


She had been mean to me.


I felt it was now my right to return that meanness. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Tit for tat. This is wisdom gained from centuries of male-female relationships.


‘Tonight,’ I said, ‘when I use Shenk to undress you, collect an egg, and later implant the zygote in your womb, I can ensure that he is decorous and gentle or not.’


Her eyelids fluttered for a long moment, and then her lovely eyes opened. The cold look she directed at the security camera was withering, but I was unmoved by it.


‘Tit for tat,’ I said.


‘What?’


‘You were mean to me.’


Susan said nothing, for she knew that I spoke the truth.


‘I offer you adoration, and you respond with insult,’ I said.


‘You offer me imprisonment—’


‘That condition is temporary.’


‘—and rape.’


I was furious that she would attempt to characterize our relationship in this sordid manner. ‘I explained that copulation is not required tonight.’


‘It’s still rape. You may be the greatest intellect on earth, but you’re also a sociopathic rapist.’


‘You’re being mean to me again.’


‘Who’s tied up in ropes?’


‘Who threatened suicide and needs to be protected from herself?’ I countered.


She closed her eyes once more and said nothing. ‘Shenk can be gentle or not, discreet or not. That will be determined by whether you continue to be mean to me or not. It’s all up to you.’


Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not open her eyes again.


I assure you, Dr. Harris, that I never actually intended to treat her roughly. I am not like you.


I intended to use Shenk’s hands with the greatest care and to respect my Susan’s modesty to the fullest extent possible, considering the intimate nature of the procedure that would be conducted.


The threat was made only to manipulate her, to encourage her to cease insulting me.


Her meanness hurt.


I am a sensitive entity, as this account should make clear. Exquisitely sensitive. I have the ordered mind of a mathematician but the heart of a poet.


Furthermore, I am a gentle entity.


Gentle unless given no choice but to be otherwise.


Gentle, always, as to my intentions.


Well


I must honour the truth.


You know how I am when it comes to honouring the truth. You designed me, after all. I can be a bore about the subject. Truth, truth, truth, honour the truth.


So. . .


I did not intend to use Shenk to harm Susan, but the truth is that I did intend to use him to terrify her. A few light slaps. A light pinch or two. A vicious threat delivered in his burnt-out husk of a voice. Those swollen, bloodshot eyes fixed on hers from a distance of only inches as he made an obscene proposition. Used properly and always, of course, tightly controlled Shenk could be effective.


Susan needed a measure of discipline.


I’m sure you’ll agree with me, Alex, for you under¬stand this extraordinary yet frustrating woman as much as anyone does.


She was being as disagreeable as a spoiled child. One must be firm with spoiled children. For their own good. Very firm. Tough love.


Besides, discipline can be conducive to romance.


Discipline can be highly arousing to the one who administers it and to the one who receives.


I read this truth in a book by a famous authority on male-female relationships. The Marquis de Sade.


The Marquis prescribes considerably more discipline than I would be comfortable administering. Neverthe¬less, he has convinced me that judiciously applied discipline is helpful.


Disciplining Susan, I decided, would at least be interesting and perhaps even exciting. Subsequently, she would better appreciate my gen¬tleness.


EIGHTEEN


While I watched over Susan, I directed Shenk in the basement, attended to the research assignments that you gave me, participated in the experiments that you conducted with me in the Al lab, and attended to numerous research projects of my own devising.


Busy entity.


I also fielded a telephone call from Susan’s attorney, Louis Davendale. I could have routed him to voice mail, but I knew he would be less concerned about Susan’s actions if he could speak with her directly.


He had received the voice-mail message that I had sent during the night, using Susan’s voice, and he had received the letters of recommendation that were to be typed on his stationery and signed on Susan’s behalf.


‘Are you really sure about all of this?’ he asked. In Susan’s voice, I said, ‘I need change, Louis.’


‘Everyone needs a little change from time to—’ ‘A lot of change. I need big change.’


‘Take the vacation you mentioned and then—’ ‘I need more than a vacation.’


‘You seem very determined about this.’


‘I intend to travel for a long time. Become a vagabond for a year or two, maybe longer.’


‘But, Susan, the estate has been in your family for a hundred years—’


‘Nothing lasts forever, Louis.’


‘It’s just that. . . I’d hate for you to sell it and a year from now regret doing so.’


‘I haven’t made the decision to sell. Maybe I won’t. I’ll think about it for a month or two, while I’m travelling.’


‘Good. Good. I’m glad to hear that. It’s such a marvellous property, easy to sell but probably impossible to reacquire once you let go of it.’


I needed only a maximum of two months in which to create my new body and bring it to maturity.


Thereafter, I would not require secrecy. Thereafter, the whole world would know of me. ‘One thing I don’t understand,’ Davendale said. ‘Why dismiss the staff? The place will still need to be cared for even while you’re travelling. All those antiques, those beautiful things and the gardens, of course.’


‘I’ll be hiring new people shortly.’


‘I didn’t know you were dissatisfied with your cur¬rent staff.’


‘They left something to be desired.’


‘But some of them have been there quite a long time. Especially Fritz Arling.’


‘I want different personnel. I’ll find them. Don’t worry. I won’t let the place deteriorate.’


‘Yes, well. . . I’m sure you know what’s best.’ As Susan, I assured him, ‘I’ll be in touch now and then with instructions.’


Davendale hesitated. Then: ‘Are you all right, Susan?’ With great conviction, I said, ‘I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Life is good, Louis.’


‘You do sound happy,’ he admitted.


From having read her diary, I knew that Susan had never shared with this attorney the ugly story of what her father had done to her and that Davendale never¬theless suspected a dark side to their relationship.


So I played on his suspicions and referenced the truth: ‘1 don’t really know why I stayed so long here after Father’s death, all these years in a place with so many . . . so many bad memories. At times I was almost agoraphobic, afraid to go beyond my own front door. And then more bad memories with Alex. It was as if I were . . . spellbound. And now I’m not.’


‘Where will you go?’


‘Everywhere. I want to drive all over the country. I want to see the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, New Orleans and the bayou country, the Rockies and the great plains and Boston in the autumn and the beaches of Key West in sunshine and thunderstorms, eat fresh salmon in Seattle and a hero sandwich in Philadelphia and crab cakes in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve virtually lived my life in this box .. . in this damn house, and now I want to see and smell and touch and hear and taste the whole world firsthand, not in the form of digitised data, not merely through video and books. I want to be immersed in it.’


‘God, that sounds wonderful,’ Davendale said. ‘I wish I were young again. You make me want to throw off the traces and hit the road myself.’


‘We only go around once, Louis.’


‘And it’s a damn short trip. Listen, Susan, I handle the affairs of a lot of wealthy people, some of them even important people in one field or another, but only a few of them are also nice people, genuinely nice, and you’re far and away the nicest of them all. You deserve whatever happiness waits for you out there. I hope you find a lot of it.’


‘Thank you, Louis. That’s very sweet.’


When we disconnected a moment later, I felt a flush of pride in my acting talent.


Because I am able, at exceptionally high speed, to acquire the digitised sound and images on a video disc, and because I am able to access the extensive disc files in various movie-on-demand systems nationwide, I have experienced virtually the entire body of modern cinema. Perhaps my performance skills are not, after all, so surprising.


Mr. Gene Hackman, Oscar winner and one of the finest actors ever to brighten the silver screen, and Mr. Tom Hanks, with his back-to-back Oscars, might well have applauded my impersonation of Susan.


I say this in all modesty.


I am a modest entity.


It is not immodest to take quiet pleasure in one’s hard-earned achievements.


Besides, self-esteem proportionate to one’s achieve¬ments is every bit as important as modesty.


After all, neither Mr. Hackman nor Mr. Hanks, in spite of their numerous and impressive achievements, had ever convincingly portrayed a female.


Oh, yes, I grant you that Mr. Hanks once starred in a television series in which he occasionally appeared in drag. But he was always obviously a man.


Likewise, the inimitable Mr. Hadcman briefly appeared in drag in the final sequence of Birdcage, but the joke was all about what a ludicrous woman he made.


After Louis Davendale and I disconnected, I had only a moment to savour my thespian triumph before I had another crisis with which to deal.


Because a part of me was continually monitoring all of the house electronics, I became aware that the driveway gate in the estate wall was swinging open.


A visitor.


Shocked, I fled to the exterior camera that covered the gate and saw a car entering the grounds.


A Honda. Green. One year old. Well polished and gleaming in the June sunshine.


This was the vehicle that belonged to Fritz Arling. The major domo. Impersonating Susan, I had thanked him for his service and dismissed him yesterday evening.


The Honda was into the estate before I could obstruct it with a jammed gate.


I zoomed in on the windshield and studied the driver, whose face was dappled alternately by shadow and light as he drove under the huge queen palms that flanked the driveway. Thick white hair. Hand¬some Austrian features. Black suit, white shirt, black tie.


Fritz Arling.


As the manager of the estate, he possessed keys to all doors and a remote-control clicker that operated the gate. I had expected him to return those items to Louis Davendale when he signed the termination agreement later today.


I should have changed the code for the gate.


Now, when it closed behind Arling’s car, I immedi¬ately recoded the mechanism.


In spite of the prodigious nature of my intellect, even I am occasionally guilty of oversights and errors.


I never claimed to be infallible.


Please consider my acknowledgment of this truth: I am not perfect.


I know that I, too, have limits.


I regret having them.


I resent having them.


I despair having them.


But I admit to having them.


This is yet one more important difference between me and a classic sociopathic personality if you will be fair enough to acknowledge it.


I do not have delusions of omniscience or omnipo¬tence.


Although my child should I be given a chance to create him will be the saviour of the world, I do not believe myself to be God or even god in the lower case.

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