As Tessa and Sam entered and closed the door behind them, Harry Talbot extended his good hand and said, "God, am I glad to see you!" His smile transformed him astonishingly. It was the bright, broad, warm, and genuine smile of a man who believed he was perched in the lap of the gods, with too many blessings to count.
Moose returned Sam's wallet, uneaten.
After leaving Shaddack's house on the north point, but before returning to headquarters to coordinate the assignments of the hundred men who were being sent to him from New Wave, Loman Watkins stopped at his home on Iceberry Way, on the north side of town. It was a modest, two-story, three-bedroom, Monterey-style house, white with pale-blue trim, nestled among conifers.
He stood for a moment in the driveway beside his patrol car, studying the place. He had loved it as if it were a castle, but he could not find that love in himself now. He remembered much happiness related to the house, to his family, but he could not feel the memory of that happiness. A lot of laughter had graced life in that dwelling, but now the laughter had faded until recollection of it was too faint even to induce a smile in remembrance. Besides, these days, his smiles were all counterfeit, with no humor behind them.
The odd thing was that laughter and joy had been a part of his life as late as this past August. It had all seeped away only within the past couple of months, after the Change. Yet it seemed an ancient memory.
Actually, not so funny at all.
When he went inside he found the first floor dark and silent. A vague, stale odor lingered in the deserted rooms.
He climbed the stairs. In the unlighted, second-floor hallway he saw a soft glow along the bottom of the closed door to Denny's bedroom. He went in and found the boy sitting at his desk, in front of the computer. The PC had an oversize screen, and currently that was the only light in the room.
Denny did not look up from the terminal.
The boy was eighteen years old, no longer a child; therefore, he had been converted with his mother, shortly after Loman himself had been put through the Change. He was two inches taller than his dad and better looking. He'd always done well in school, and on IQ tests he'd scored so high it spooked Loman a bit to think his kid was that smart. He had always been proud of Denny. Now, at his son's side, staring down at him, Loman tried to resurrect that pride but could not find it. Denny had not fallen from favor; he had done nothing to earn his father's disapproval. But pride, like so many other emotions, seemed an encumbrance to the higher consciousness of the New People and interfered with their more efficient thought patterns.
Even before the Change, Denny had been a computer fanatic, one of those kids who called themselves hackers, to whom computers were not only tools, not only fun and games, but a way of life. After the conversion, his intelligence and high-tech experience were put to use by New Wave. He was provided with a more powerful home terminal and a modem link to the supercomputer at New Wave headquarters—a behemoth that, according to Denny's description, incorporated four thousand miles of wiring and thirty-three thousand high-speed processing units which, for reasons Loman didn't understand, they called Sun, though perhaps that was its name because all research at New Wave made heavy use of the machine and therefore revolved around it. As Loman stood beside his son, voluminous data flickered across the terminal screen. Words, numbers, graphs, and charts appeared and disappeared at such speed that only one of the New People, with somewhat heightened senses and powerfully heightened concentration, could extract meaning from them.
In fact Loman could not read them because he had not undergone the training that Denny had received from New Wave. Besides, he'd had neither the time nor the need to learn to fully focus his new powers of concentration.
But Denny absorbed the rushing waves of data, staring blankly at the screen, no frown lines in his brow, his face completely relaxed. Since being converted, the boy was as much a solidstate electronic entity as he was flesh and blood, and that new part of him related to the computer with an intimacy that exceeded any man-machine relationship any of the Old People had ever known.
Loman knew that his son was learning about the Moonhawk Project. Ultimately he would join the task group at New Wave that was endlessly refining the software and hardware related to the project, working to make each generation of New People superior to—and more efficient than—the one before it.
An endless river of data washed across the screen.
Denny stared unblinkingly for so long that tears would have formed in his eyes if he had been one of the Old People.
The light of the ever-moving data danced on the walls and sent a continuous blur of shadows chasing around the room.
Loman put one hand on the boy's shoulder.
Denny did not look up or in any way respond. His lips began to move, as if he were talking, but he made no sound. He was speaking to himself, oblivious of his father.
In a garrulous, evangelistic moment, Thomas Shaddack had spoken of one day developing a link that would connect a computer directly to a surgically implanted socket in the base of the human spine, thereby merging real and artificial intelligence. Loman had not understood why such a thing was either wise or desirable, and Shaddack had said, "The New People are a bridge between man and machine, Loman. But one day our species will entirely cross that bridge, become one with the machines, because only then will mankind be completely efficient, completely in control."
"Denny," Loman said softly.
The boy did not respond.
At last Loman left the room.
Across the hall and at the end of it was the master bedroom. Grace was lying on the bed, in the dark.
Of course, since the Change, she could never be entirely blinded by a mere insufficiency of light, for her eyesight had improved. Even in this lightless room, she could see—as Loman could—the shapes of the furniture and some textures, though few details. For them, the night world was no longer black but darkish gray.
He sat on the edge of the mattress.
She said nothing.
He put one hand on her head and stroked her long auburn hair. He touched her face and found her cheeks wet with tears, a detail that even his improved eyes could not discern.
Crying. She was crying, and that jolted him because he had never seen one of the New People cry.
His heartbeat accelerated, and a brief but wonderful thrill of hope throbbed through him. Perhaps the deadening of emotions was a transient condition.
"What is it?" he asked. "What're you crying about?"
The pulse of hope swiftly faded. Fear had brought her to tears, fear and the desolation associated with it, and he already knew those feelings were a part of this brave new world, those and no other.
"Afraid of what?"
"I can't sleep," Grace said.
"But you don't need to sleep."
"None of us needs to sleep any more."
Prior to the Change, men and women had needed to sleep because the human body, being strictly a biological mechanism, was terribly inefficient. Downtime was required to rest and repair the damage of the day, to deal with the toxic substances absorbed from the external world and the toxics created internally. But in the New People, every bodily process and function was superbly regulated. Nature's work had been highly refined. Every organ, every system, every cell operated at a far higher efficiency, producing less waste, casting off waste faster than before, cleansing and rejuvenating itself every hour of the day. Grace knew that as well as he did.
"I long for sleep," she said.
"All you're feeling is the pull of habit."
"Too many hours in the day now."
"We'll fill up the time. The new world will be a busy one."
"What're we going to do in this new world when it comes?"
"Shaddack will tell us."
"Patience," he said.
"I yearn for sleep, hunger for it."
"We don't need to sleep," he said, exhibiting the patience that he had encouraged in her.
"We don't need sleep," she said cryptically, "but we need to sleep."
They were both silent a while.
Then she took his hand in hers, and moved it to her breasts. She was nude.
He tried to pull away from her, for he was afraid of what might happen, of what had happened before, since the Change, when they had made love. No. Not love. They didn't make love any more. They had sex. There was no feeling beyond physical sensation, no tenderness or affection. They thrust hard and fast at each other, pushed and pulled, flexed and writhed against each other, striving to maximize the excitation of nerve endings. Neither of them cared for or about the other, only about himself, his own satisfaction. Now that their emotional life was no longer rich, they tried to compensate for that loss with pleasures of the senses, primarily food and sex. However, without the emotional factor, every experience was … hollow, and they tried to fill that emptiness by overindulgence: A simple meal became a feast; a feast became an unrestrained indulgence in gluttony. And sex degenerated into a frenzied, bestial coupling.
Grace pulled him onto the bed.
He did not want to go. He could not refuse. Literally could not refuse.
Breathing hard, shuddering with excitement, she tore at his clothes and mounted him. She was making strange wordless sounds.
Loman's excitement matched hers and swelled, and he thrust at her, into her, into, losing all sense of time and place, existing only to stoke the fire in his loins, stoke it relentlessly until it was an unbearable heat, heat, friction and heat, wet and hot, heat, stoking the heat to a flashpoint at which his entire body would be consumed in the flames. He shifted positions, pinning her down, hammering himself into her, into her, into, into, pulling her against him so roughly that he must be bruising her, but he didn't care. She reached back and clawed at him, her fingernails digging into his arm, drawing blood, and he tore at her, too, because the blood was exciting, the smell of the blood, the sweet smell, so exciting, blood, and it didn't matter that they wounded each other, for these were superficial wounds and would heal within seconds, because they were New People; their bodies were efficient; blood flowed briefly, and then the wounds closed, and they clawed again, again. What he really wanted—what they both wanted—was to let go, indulge the wild spirit within, cast off all the inhibitions of civilization, including the inhibition of higher human form, go wild, go savage, regress, surrender, because then sex would have an even greater thrill, a purer thrill; surrender, and the emptiness would be filled; they would be fulfilled, and when the sex was done they could hunt together, hunt and kill, swift and silent, sleek and swift, bite and tear, bite deep and hard, hunt and kill, sperm and then blood, sweet fragrant blood… .
* * *
For a while Loman was disoriented.
When a sense of time and place returned to him, he first glanced at the door, realizing that it was ajar. Denny could have seen them if he'd come down the hall—surely had heard them but Loman couldn't make himself care whether they had been seen or heard. Shame and modesty were two more casualties of the Change.
As he became fully oriented to the world around him, fear slipped into his heart, and he quickly touched himself—his face, arms, chest, legs—to be sure that he was in no way less than he ought to be. In the midst of sex, the wildness in him grew, and sometimes he thought that approaching orgasm he did change, regress, if only slightly. But upon regaining awareness, he never found evidence of backsliding.
He was, however, sticky with blood.
He switched on the bedside lamp.
"Turn it off," Grace said at once.
But he was not satisfied with even his enhanced night vision. He wanted to look at her closely to determine if she was in any way … different.
She had not regressed. Or, if she had regressed, she had already returned to the higher form. Her body was smeared with blood, and a few welts showed on her flesh, where he had gouged her and where she had not finished healing.
He turned the light off and sat on the edge of the bed.
Because the recuperative powers of their bodies had been vastly improved by the Change, superficial cuts and scrapes healed in only minutes; you could actually watch your flesh knit its wounds. They were impervious to disease now, their immune systems too aggressive for the most infectious virus or bacterium to survive long enough to replicate. Shaddack believed that their life spans would prove to be of great duration, as well, perhaps hundreds of years.
They could be killed, of course, but only by a wound that tore and stopped the heart or shattered the brain or destroyed their lungs and prevented a flow of oxygen to the blood. If a vein or artery was severed, the blood supply was drastically reduced to that vessel for the few minutes required to heal it. If a vital organ other than the heart or lungs or brain was damaged, the body could limp along for hours while accelerated repairs were under way. They were not yet as fully reliable as machines, for machines could not die; with the right spare parts, a machine could be rebuilt even from rubble and could work again; but they were closer to that degree of corporeal endurance than anyone outside Moonlight Cove would have believed.
To live for hundreds of years …
Sometimes Loman brooded about that.
To live for hundreds of years, knowing only fear and physical sensation …
He rose from the bed, went into the adjacent bathroom, and took a quick shower to sluice off the blood.
He could not meet his eyes in the bathroom mirror.
In the bedroom again, without turning on a light, he pulled on a fresh uniform that he took from his closet.
Grace was still lying on the bed.
She said, "I wish I could sleep."
He sensed that she was still crying silently.
When he left the room, he closed the door behind him.
They gathered in the kitchen, which Tessa liked because some of her happiest memories of childhood and adolescence involved family conferences and impromptu chats in the kitchen of their house in San Diego. The kitchen was the heart of a home and in a way the heart of a family. Somehow the worst problems became insignificant when you discussed them in a warm kitchen redolent of coffee and hot cocoa, nibbling on home-baked cake or pastry. In a kitchen she felt secure.
Harry Talbot's kitchen was large, for it had been remodeled to suit a man in a wheelchair, with lots of clearance around the central cooking island, which was built low—as were the counters along the walls—to be accessible from a sitting position. Otherwise it was a kitchen like many others: cabinets painted a pleasant creamy shade; pale yellow ceramic tile; a quietly purring refrigerator. The Levolor blinds at the windows were electrically operated by a button on one of the counters, and Harry put them down.