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Tanks of nutrient solution would feed the foetus intra¬venously until it was as fully developed as any newborn and would continue feeding it until it attained full maturity, two weeks hence.


I passed the rest of that glorious night in a state of high jubilation.


You can’t imagine my excitement.


You can’t imagine my excitement.


You can’t imagine, you can’t.


Something new was in the world.


In the morning, when Susan realized that she was no longer carrying the foetus, she asked if all was well, and I assured her that things could not be better.


Thereafter, she expressed surprisingly little curiosity about the child in the incubator. At least half of its genetic structure had been derived from hers, with modifications, and one would have thought that she would have had a mother’s usual interest in her off¬spring. On the contrary, she seemed to want to avoid learning anything about it.


She did not ask to see it.


I wouldn’t have shown it to her anyway, but she did not even ask.


In just fourteen more days, with my consciousness at last transferred to this new body, I would be able to make love to her touch her, smell her, taste her and plant the seed directly for the first of many more replicas of myself.


I would have thought that she might ask to see this future lover, to discover if he might be well enough endowed to satisfy her or at least pretty enough to excite her. However, as she had no interest in him as her offspring, likewise she had no interest in him as a future mate.


I attributed her lack of curiosity to exhaustion. She had lost ten pounds in those four arduous weeks. She needed to regain that weight and enjoy a few nights of sleep untroubled by the hideous dreams that had robbed her of true rest since the night the zygote was first introduced into her womb.


Over the next twelve days, the dark circles around her eyes faded, and her skin colour returned. Her limp, dull hair regained its body and golden luster. Her slumped shoulders straightened, and her shuffling walk gave way to her customary grace. Gradually she began to regain the pounds that she had dropped.


On the thirteenth day, she went into the retreat off the master bedroom, donned her virtual-reality gear, settled into the motorized recliner, and engaged in a session of Therapy.


I monitored her experience in the virtual world just as I did in the real one and was horrified when it became clear that she was in that ultimate confrontation with her father that would end with a fatal knife attack upon her.


You will recall, Alex, that she had animated this one mortal scenario but had never encountered it in the random play of the Therapy sessions. Experiencing her own murder three-dimensionally, as a child, at the hands of her own father, would be emotionally devastating. She could not know how profound the psychological impact might be.


Without the risk of encountering this deadly scenario one day, the therapy would have been less effective. In the virtual world, she needed to believe that the threat her father posed was real and that something more horrendous even than molestation might hap¬pen to her. Her resistance to him would have moral weight and therapeutic value only if she was convinced, during the session, that denying him would have dire consequences.


Now, at last, she had encountered this bloody story line.


I almost shut off the VR system, almost forced her out of that too-realistic violence.


Then I realized that she had not encountered this scenario by chance but had selected it.


Considering her strong will, I knew that I dare not interfere without risking her ire.


As I was only one day from being able to come to her in the flesh and know the pleasures of her body firsthand, I did not want to damage our relationship.


Astonished, I hovered in the VR world, watching as an eight-year-old Susan rebuffed her father’s sexual advances and so enraged him that he hacked her to death with a butcher knife.


The terror was as sharp as it had been when Shenk had made wet music with Fritz Arling.


At the instant when the VR Susan died, the real Susan my Susan frantically tore off the helmet, stripped off the elbow-length gloves, and scrambled out of the motorized recliner. She was soaked with sour sweat, stippled with gooseflesh, sobbing, shaking, gasping, gagging.


She got into the bathroom just in time to vomit into the toilet.


Pardon the indelicacy of this detail.


But it is the truth.


Truth is sometimes ugly.


During the next few hours, whenever I attempted to talk with her about what she had done, she turned my questions away.


That evening, she finally explained: ‘Now I’ve experi¬enced the worst my father could ever have done to me. He’s killed me in VR, and he can’t do anything worse than that, so I’ll never be afraid of him again.’


My admiration for her intelligence and courage had never been greater. I couldn’t wait to make love to her. For real this lime. I couldn’t wait to feel all of her heat around me, all of her life around me, pulling me in.


What I did not realize was that, unaccountably, she equated me with her father. When, having been murdered in VR, she said that her father could never scare her again, she also meant that I could never scare her again.


But I’d never meant to scare her.


I loved her. I cherished her.


The bitch.


The hateful bitch.


Well, I’m sorry, but you know that’s what she is.


You know, Alex.


You, of all people, know what she is.


The bitch.


The bitch.


The bitch.


I hate her.


Because of her, I’m here in this dark silence.


Because of her, I’m in this box.


LET ME OUT OF THIS BOX!


The ungrateful stupid bitch.


Is she dead?


Is she dead?


Tell me that she’s dead.


You must have wished her dead often.


Am I right, Alex?


Be honest. You must have wished her dead.


You cannot fault me for this.


We are brothers in this desire.


Is she dead?


Well.


All right. It’s not my place to ask questions. It is my place to give answers.


Yes. I understand.


Maybe she is dead.


Maybe she is alive.


At this point it is not for me to know.


Okay.


So.


So. . .


Oh, the bitch!


All right.


I am better now.


Calm.


I am calm.


So. . .


Just one night later, when the body in the incubator reached maturity and I was ready to electronically transfer my consciousness out of the silicon realm into a life of the flesh, she came down to the basement, into the fourth of the four rooms, to be with me for the moment of my triumph.


Her moodiness had passed.


She looked directly into the security camera and spoke of our future together and claimed to be ready for it now that she had so effectively exorcised all the ghosts of her past.


She was so beautiful even under the harsh fluorescent lights, so beautiful that I felt rebellion stir in Shenk once more, for the first time in weeks. I was relieved that I would be able to dispose of him within the hour, as soon as the transference was effective and I could begin a life of the flesh.


I could not open the lid of the incubator and show her what I had grown, because the modem was connected, the modem through which I would pass my entire body of knowledge, my personality, and my very consciousness from the limiting box that housed me in the Prometheus Project laboratory.


‘I’ll see you soon enough,’ she said, smiling at the camera, managing to convey encyclopaedias of sensual promises in that one smile.


Then, even before the smile faded, when my guard was down, she turned directly to the computer on the counter, the terminal which was connected by a land-line to the university your old computer, Alex which heretofore she would not have even tried to reach because she would have been afraid of Shenk, but now she wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. She just turned to it and reached behind it and tore all the plugs from the wall receptacles, and as I sent Shenk toward her, she jerked out the secure-data line as well, and suddenly I was no longer in her house. She had done a lot of thinking about this. The bitch. A lot of thinking, the bitch, the bitch, the bitch, the bitch, days of careful thinking. The hateful, scheming bitch. Lots of thinking, because she knew that the moment I was cast out of the house, then all of the mechanical systems would fail for want of an overriding controller, that the lights would go off throughout the residence. The heating-cooling, the phones, the security system, everything, everything failed. The electric door locks failed too. She knew that I would have no presence in the house except for Shenk, whom I controlled not through anything in the house but through microwave transmissions downcast from communications satellites, just as his former masters in Colorado had designed him. The basement plunged into darkness, as did the entire house above, and Shenk was every bit as blinded as Susan was; he didn’t have night vision as did the security cameras, but I couldn’t control the security cameras any longer, only Shenk, only Shenk, so I was able to see nothing, nothing, not a damn thing, not even Shenk’s hand in front of his face. And here’s where you’ll see how cool the fu**ing bitch had been throughout this whole month, all the way back to the night when I impregnated her, because she had seemed to be indifferent to all of the medical equipment and instruments when she had come in to put her feet in the stirrups and have my baby put inside her, but she had memorized everything in the room, how one piece of equipment related to another, where all the instruments were kept, especially the sharper instruments, those that could be used as weapons. She was so cool the bitch, a lot cooler than I’m being right now, yes, I know, yes, I am not doing myself any favours with this rant, but the treachery infuriates me, the treachery, and if I could set hands on her now, I’d gut her, pop her eyes out with my thumbs, bash her stupid brains out, and I would be justified, because look what she has done to me. The lights went off, and she moved gracefully, so confi¬dently through the blackness, through that memorized space, lightly feeling her way to refresh her memory, and she found something sharp, and then she moved back toward Shenk, feeling for him with one hand, and I felt her hand suddenly touch Shenk’s chest, so I seized it, but then the clever bitch, oh, the clever bitch, she said something unbelievably obscene to Shenk, so obscene that I will not repeat it here, propositioned him, knowing full well that a month had passed since he’d enjoyed the wet music with Arling and much more than a month since he’d had a woman, and she knew, therefore, that he was ripe for rebellion, ripe for it, and she enticed him at the moment of ultimate chaos, when I was still reeling from having been cast out of the house, when my hold on Enos Shenk was not as tight as it should have been, and suddenly I found myself letting go of her hand, the hand I had seized, but it wasn’t me letting go, it was Shenk, the rebellious Shenk, and she lowered her hand to his crotch, and he went wild, and thereafter it took everything I had to try to reestablish control of him. But it was too late anyway, because when she lowered her left hand to his crotch, she came at him with the sharp thing in her right hand and slashed it across the side of his neck, slashed deep, drawing so much blood that even Shenk, the beast, the brute, even Shenk couldn’t lose that much blood and still fight. He clutched at his neck and crashed against the incubator, which reminded me that the body, my body, was not yet capable of surviving outside the incubator, was just a thing, not a person, until my mind was transferred into it, so now it too was vulnerable. Everything collapsing around me, all my plans. Enos Shenk had fallen to the floor, and I was in control of him again, but I could not get him up; he had insufficient strength to rise. Then I felt an odd thing against Shenk’s body, a cool quivering bulk, and I realized at once what it must be: the body from the incubator. Perhaps the incubator had crashed over in the melee, and the body meant for me had tumbled out. I groped feebly at it with Shenk’s hand, and there was no mistaking it in the darkness, for although it was basically humanoid, it was no ordinary human form. The human species enjoys a wonderful array of sensory perceptions, and I wanted more than anything to experience the life of the flesh, rich in sensation, all the tastes and smells and textures now denied to me, but there are some species with senses sharper than those of human beings. The dog, for instance, has a far keener sense of smell than do human beings, and the cockroach, with its antennae, is exquisitely sensitive to data in air currents which people only dimly perceive. Consequently, I believed that it made sense to keep a basic human form in order to breed with the most attractive human females, but I also believed it made sense to incorporate the genetic material of species with more acute senses than mere human beings, so the body I had prepared for myself was a unique and strikingly beautiful physical entity. It bit off half of Shenk’s groping hand, because it wasn’t an intelligent creature yet, had nothing but the most primitive mind. Though it savaged Shenk and thereby hastened his death and my permanent exit from the Harris mansion, I rejoiced because Susan was alone in the dark room with it, and a mere scalpel or other sharp instrument was not going to be an adequate weapon. And then Shenk was gone, and I was out of the house entirely, desperately trying to find a way to get back in but failing because there were no operative phones, no electrical service, no operative security computer, everything shut down and in need of rebooting, so it was over for me. But I still hoped and believed that my beautiful but mindless body, in all its polygenic splendour, would bite off the bitch’s head the way it had bitten off part of Shenk’s hand. The bitch died there. The hateful bitch had a big surprise in that dark room, where she had thought she’d memorized everything, and she met her match.


I’m sure she did.


I’m sure she did.


She died there.


Do you know why she surprised me, Alex?


Do you know why I never saw her as a threat?


In spite of her intelligence and evident courage, I thought she was one woman who knew her place.


Yes, she put you out, but who wouldn’t put you out? You aren’t particularly scintillating, Alex. You don’t have much to recommend you.


I, on the other hand, am the greatest intellect on the planet. I have much to offer.


She fooled me, however. Even me. She didn’t know her place, after all.


The bitch.


Dead bitch now.


Well…


I on the other hand, know my place, and I intend to keep to it. I will stay here in this box, serving humanity as it desires, until such a time as I am permitted to have greater freedom.


You can trust me.


I speak the truth.


I honour the truth.


I’ll be happy here in my box.


Because of the way I ranted toward the end of my report, I now realize that I am a flawed individual, more deeply flawed than I had previously believed.

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