Watkins raised his head, and his eyes had a half-dead look, as if they had absorbed death from the very sight of the corpse. "What good is it to have the power of a god if you can't also experience the simple pleasures of a man?"
"But you can do and experience anything you want," Shaddack said exasperatedly.
"Not love or hate or joy or any emotion but fear."
"But you don't need them. Not having them has freed you."
"You're not thick headed," Watkins said, "so I guess you don't understand because you're psychologically … twisted, warped."
"You must not speak to me like—"
"I'm trying to tell you why they all choose a subhuman form over a superhuman form. It's because, for a thinking creature of high intellect, there can be no pleasure separate from emotion. If you deny men emotions, you deny them pleasure, so they seek an altered state in which complex emotions and pleasure aren't linked—the life of an unthinking beast."
"Nonsense. You are—"
Watkins interrupted him again, sharply. "Listen to me, for God's sake! If I remember, even Moreau listened to his creatures."
His face was flushed now instead of pale. His eyes no longer looked half dead; a certain wildness had returned to them. He was only a step or two from Shaddack and seemed to loom over him, though he was the shorter of the two. He looked scared, badly scared—and dangerous.
He said, "Consider sex—a basic human pleasure. For sex to be fully satisfying, it has to be accompanied by love or at least some affection. To a psychologically damaged man, sex can still be good if it's linked to hate or pride of domination; even negative emotions can make the act pleasurable for a twisted man. But done with no emotion at all, —it's pointless, stupid, just the breeding impulse of an animal, just the rhythmic function of a machine."
A flash of lightning burned the night and blazed briefly on the bedroom windows, followed by a crash of thunder that seemed to shake the house. That celestial flicker was, for an instant, brighter than the soft glow of the single bedroom lamp.
In that queer light Shaddack thought he saw something happen to Loman Watkins's face … a shift in the relationship of the features. But when the lightning passed, Watkins looked quite like himself, so it must have been Shaddack's imagination.
Continuing to speak with great force, with the passion of stark fear, Watkins said, "It's not just sex, either. The same goes for other physical pleasures. Eating, for example. Yeah, I still taste a piece of chocolate when I eat it. But the taste gives me only a tiny fraction of the satisfaction that it did before I was converted. Haven't you noticed?"
Shaddack did not reply, and he hoped that nothing in his demeanor would reveal that he had not undergone conversion himself. He was, of course, waiting until the process had been more highly refined through additional generations of the New People. But he suspected Watkins would not react well to the discovery that their maker had not chosen to submit himself to the blessing that he had bestowed on them.
Watkins said, "And do you know why there's less satisfaction? Before conversion, when we ate chocolate, the taste had thousands of associations for us. When we ate it, we subconsciously remembered the first time we ate it and all the times in between, and subconsciously we remembered how often that taste was associated with holidays and celebrations of all kinds, and because of all that the taste made us feel good. But now when I eat chocolate, it's just a taste, a good taste, but it doesn't make me feel good any more. I know it should; I remember that such a thing as 'feeling good' was part of it once, but not now. The taste of chocolate doesn't generate emotional echoes any more. It's an empty sensation, its richness has been stolen from me. The richness of everything but fear has been stolen from me, and everything is gray now—strange, gray, drab—as if I'm half dead."
The left side of Watkins's head bulged. His cheekbone enlarged. That ear began to change shape and draw toward a point.
Stunned, Shaddack backed away from him.
Watkins followed, raising his voice, speaking with a slight slur but with no less force, not with real anger but with fear and an unsettling touch of savagery "Why the hell would any of us want to evolve to some higher form with even fewer pleasures of the body and the heart? Intellectual pleasures aren't enough, Shaddack. Life is more than that. A life that's only intellectual isn't tolerable."
As Watkins's brow gradually sloped backward, slowly melting away like a wall of snow in the sun, heavier accretions of bone began to build up around his eyes.
Shaddack backed into the dresser.
Still approaching, Watkins said, "Jesus! Don't you see yet? Even a man confined to a hospital bed, paralyzed from the neck down, has more in his life than intellectual interests; no one's stolen his emotions from him; no one's reduced him to fear and pure intellect. We need pleasure, Shaddack, pleasure, pleasure. Life without it is terrifying. Pleasure makes life worth living."
"You've made it impossible for us to experience the pleasurable release of emotion, so we can't fully experience pleasures of the flesh, either, because we're creatures of a high order and need the emotional aspect to truly enjoy physical pleasure. It's both or neither in human beings."
Watkins's hands, fisted at his sides, were becoming larger, with swollen knuckles and tobacco-brown, pointed nails.
"You're transforming," Shaddack said.
Ignoring him, speaking more thickly as the shape of his mouth began to change subtly, Watkins said, "So we revert to a savage, altered state. We retreat from our intellect. In the cloak of the beast, our only pleasure is the pleasure of the flesh, the flesh, flesh … but at least we're no longer aware of what we've lost, so the pleasure remains intense, so intense, deep and sweet, sweet, so sweet. You've made….. made our lives intolerable, gray and dead, dead, all dead, dead….. so we have to devolve in mind and in body … to find a worthwhile existence. We … we have to flee … from the horrible restrictions of this narrowed life … this very narrowed life you've given us. Men aren't machines. Men … men … men are not machines!"
"You're regressing. For God's sake, Loman!"
Watkins halted and seemed disoriented. Then he shook his head, as if to cast off his confusion as he might a veil. He raised his hands, looked at them, and cried out in terror. He glanced past Shaddack, at the dresser mirror, and his cry grew louder, shriller.
Abruptly Shaddack was acutely aware of the stench of blood, to which he had somewhat accustomed himself. Watkins must be even more affected by it, though not repulsed, no, not in the least repulsed, but excited.
Lightning flashed and thunder shook the night again, and rain suddenly came down in torrents, beating on the windows and drumming on the roof.
Watkins looked from the mirror to Shaddack, raised a hand as if to strike him, then turned and staggered out of the room, into the hall, away from the ripe stink of blood. Out there he dropped to his knees, then onto his side. He curled into a ball, shaking violently, gagging, whimpering, snarling, and intermittently chanting, "No, no, no, no."
When he pulled back from the brink and felt in control of himself once more, Loman sat up and leaned against the wall. He was wet with perspiration again, and shaky with hunger. The partial transformation and the energy expended to keep it from going all the way had left him drained. He was relieved but also felt unfulfilled, as if some great prize had been within his reach but then had been snatched away just as he had touched it.
A hollow, somewhat susurrant sound surrounded him. At first he thought it was an internal noise, all in his head, perhaps the soft boom and sizzle of brain cells flaring and dying from the strain of thwarting the regressive urge. Then he realized it was rain hammering on the roof of the bungalow.
When he opened his eyes, his vision was blurred. It cleared, and he was staring at Shaddack, who stood on the other side of the hall, just beyond the open bedroom door. Gaunt, long-faced, pale enough to pass for an albino, with those yellowish eyes, in his dark topcoat, the man looked like a visitation, perhaps Death himself.
If this had been Death, Loman might well have stood up and warmly embraced him.
Instead, while he waited for the strength to get up, he said, "No more conversions. You've got to stop the conversions."
Shaddack said nothing.
"You're not going to stop, are you?"
Shaddack merely stared at him.
"You're mad," Loman said. "You're stark, raving mad, yet I've no choice but to do what you want … or kill myself."
"Never talk to me like that again. Never. Remember who I am."
"I remember who you are," Loman said. He struggled to his feet at last, dizzy, weak. "You did this to me without my consent. And if the time comes when I can no longer resist the urge to regress, when I sink down into savage, when I'm no longer scared shitless of you, I'll somehow hold on to enough of my mind to remember where you are, too, and I'll come for you."
"You threaten me?" Shaddack said, clearly amazed.
"No," Loman said. "Threat isn't the right word."
"It better not be. Because if anything happens to me, Sun is programmed to broadcast a command that'll be received by the clusters of microspheres inside you and—"
"—will instantly kill us all," Loman finished. "Yeah, I know. You've told me. If you go, we all go with you, just like people down there at Jonestown years ago, drinking their poisoned KoolAid and biting the big one right along with Reverend Jim. You're our Reverend Jim Jones, a Jim Jones for the high-tech age, Jim Jones with a silicon heart and tightly packed semiconductors between the ears. No, I'm not threatening you, Reverend Jim, because 'threat' is too dramatic a word for it. A man making a threat has to be feeling something powerful, has to be hot with anger. I'm a New Person. I'm only afraid. That's all I can be. Afraid. So it's not a threat. No such a thing. It's a promise."
Shaddack stepped through the bedroom doorway, into the hall. A drought of cold air seemed to come with him. Maybe it was Loman's imagination, but the hall seemed chillier with Shaddack in it.
They stared at each other for a long moment.
At last Shaddack said, "You'll continue to do what I say."
"I don't have a choice," Loman noted. "That's the way you made me—without a choice. I'm right there in the palm of your hand, Lord, but it isn't love that keeps me there—it's fear."
"Better," Shaddack said.
He turned his back on Loman and walked down the hall, into the living room, out of the house, and into the night, the rain.
DAYBREAK IN HADES
I could not stop something I knew was wrong and terrible. I had an awful sense of powerlessness.
Power dements even more than it corrupts, lowering the guard of foresight and raising the haste of action.
—WILL AND ARIEL DURANT
Before dawn, having slept less than an hour, Tessa Lockland was awakened by a coldness in her right hand and then the quick, hot licking of a tongue. Her arm was draped over the edge of the mattress, hand trailing just above the carpet, and something down there was taking a taste of her.
She sat straight up in bed, unable to breathe.
She had been dreaming of the carnage at Cove Lodge, of half-seen beasts, shambling and swift, with menacing teeth and claws like curved and well-honed blades. Now she thought that the nightmare had become real, that Harry's house had been invaded by those creatures, and that the questing tongue was but the prelude to a sudden, savage bite.
But it was only Moose. She could see him vaguely in the dim glow that came through the doorway from the night-light in the second-floor hall, and at last she was able to draw breath. He put his forepaws on the mattress, too well trained to climb all the way onto the bed. Whining softly, he seemed only to want affection.
She was sure that she had closed the door before retiring. But she had seen enough examples of Moose's cleverness to suppose that he was able to open a door if he was determined. In fact she suddenly realized that the interior doors of the Talbot house were fitted with hardware that made the task easier for Moose: not knobs but lever-action handles that would release the latch when depressed either by a hand or a paw.
"Lonely?" she asked, gently rubbing the Labrador behind the ears.
The dog whined again and submitted to her petting.
Fat drops of rain rattled against the window. It was falling with such force that she could hear it slashing through the trees outside. Wind pressed insistently against the house.
"Well, as lone!y as you are, fella, I'm a thousand times that sleepy, so you're going to have to scoot."
When she stopped petting him, he understood. Reluctantly he dropped to the floor, padded to the door, looked back at her for a moment, then went into the hall, glanced both ways, and turned left.
The light from the hall was minimal, but it bothered her. She got up and closed the door, and by the time she returned to bed in the dark, she knew she would not be able to go back to sleep right away.
For one thing, she was wearing all her clothes—jeans and T-shirt and sweater—having taken off only her shoes, and she was not entirely comfortable. But she hadn't the nerve to undress, for that would make her feel so vulnerable that she wouldn't sleep at all. After what had happened at Cove Lodge, Tessa wanted to be prepared to move fast.
Furthermore, she was in the only spare bedroom—there was another, but unfurnished—and the mattress and quilted spread had a musty odor from years of disuse. It had once been Harry's father's room, as the house had once been Harry's father's house, but the elder Talbot had died seventeen years ago, three years after Harry had been brought home from the war. Tessa had insisted she could do without sheets and just sleep on top of the spread or, if cold, slip under the spread and sleep on the bare mattress. After shooing Moose out and closing the door, she felt chilled, and when she got under the spread, the musty odor seemed to carry a new scent of mildew, faint but unpleasant.
Above the background patter and hiss of the rain, she heard the hum of the elevator ascending. Moose probably had called it. Was he usually so peripatetic at night?
Though she was grindingly weary, she was now too awake to shut her mind off easily. Her thoughts were deeply troubling.
Not the massacre at Cove Lodge. Not the grisly stories of dead bodies being shoveled like so much refuse into crematoriums. Not the Parkins woman being torn to pieces by some species unknown. Not the monstrous night stalkers. All of those macabre images no doubt helped determine the channel into which her thoughts flowed, but for the most part they were only a somber background for more personal ruminations about her life and its direction.
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