A collaboration with Kirk S King
(published 'Masque' 1993)
"I'm afraid because I've never been afraid before."
There was not a flicker upon her staring eyes - the coolest of customers.
"What exactly do you mean?"
I pitched my reply within the range of informality.
"You have not programmed me to be in a blue funk," she told me, her means of speech coarse yet with a lilt: perfectly in tune to that of my wife's voice.
I shook my head and sighed deeply, "Oh, Catie, when I designed you I didn't want to hinder your thoughts and actions with such an expendable human emotion."
The Cyborg Automated TechIntegrated Emboloid did not respond and I wondered why she, yes, she - should miss fear if she did not have the capacity to fear. Gender, too. But how could I refer to my first operational model as an 'it'? After all, simply look at her - how could that beautiful creature be an 'it', even at the furthest stretch of lateral thinking?
Catie had been in the Chair before, travelling to places inaccessible by foot or craft and, after those successful experiments, she had returned safely: ready to compute her sights and impressions unto the disc. Why then did Catie feel perturbed by her next trip? To her, it should be merely another destination. Surely, surely, I had not graced her with the concepts of Hell.
"There are places where people can't go without the accompaniment of fear," Catie continued, picking up on her earlier First Cause fear of lacking fear.
I nodded, as if she were proving the falsity of her complaint. I held back the smile which would have made me seem smug. I had known only subconsciously before but now fully realised that Catie's emotions were upon circles of different emotions, feeding off each other. This, to my mind, proved that souls could exist without souls.
"Imogen's soul's in Heaven."
If she understood my statement, she did not say. She simply stork-legged to the Chair and sat there without any suspicion of fear. I was thankful I hadn't told her the truth of Imogen's soul.
The violet sky belched a cloud, covering the moon, greying the Institute. The lights inside the building automatically brightened, but this, I felt, paradoxically imbued my laboratory with a sense of foreboding. My powers to feel such shades of life had indeed increased once I shook off the madness instilled by Catie's circularity - and once I dealt with my own aspirations vis a vis Imogen. A wife like Imogen was beyond simple bereavement: even if it had been suicide: her body hanging by the neck.
Chaired Catie gleamed, patiently waiting, patiently calculating her inability truly to function on the same parity as her creator. But whether she was subhuman or not, I still needed to fathom how fear could become a concept of an essentially fearless Emboloid. Yet maybe the answer was so simple. Was fear a separate entity? A seed of inquietude fertilised with knowledge? Or simply the result of lacking any sense of the unknown? But my pondering such imponderables was interrupted.
The video screen on my desk flickered and, a second later, Trustman's face followed his voice. The CEO's eyes glanced around the laboratory, hoping to have caught me being furtive: committing the unloggable. His nose was squat against the screen in his own laboratory and his cheeks were puffed red. He was a boar. Even if the pun was worse than I imagined, it was nowhere near as boring as Trustman himself. Although we were in the same field of investigations, we wielded a mutual understanding: we shared the same hate. We were brothers in the strongest emotion possible. Cain and Cain, without the escape valve of Abel.
I spoke with trepidation, having often wondered whether an image on a screen could talk to another image on a different screen. I was adrift in ontological doubt. Yet, when I originally met Trustman in the flesh - so long ago now, it seemed more like a dream than a memory - it was he who had enlightened me regarding embolisms. In fact, the meaning of 'embolism' was diverse, as any dictionary-freak would attest: in fact, so bizarrely wide-ranging, could the word exist at all in a sane universe?
1. Extra day or days prodded into a calendar system to correct a
2. A prayer for delieverance from evil often recited after the Lord's
Prayer - as belt-and-braces.
3. An obstructing clot in the blood vessels.
Reciting the various definitions was almost a prayer in itself. I switched on the screen's override before Trustman could reactivate the automatic surveillance system. There was no time for the likes of him, since Catie was gurgling louder than being Chairbound justified. Her eyes redder, too - bulging on the brink of blow-out. She had guessed, I guessed, that my Heaven was her Hell, or vice versa: it didn't matter which. She was now engorged not with simply a single fear but with a ricochet of several trip-switch terrors. I guessed, too, that Catie sensed the return of Imogen to the body-hanger, with little to be done to prevent it. As if a coat was returning to its hanger with a relentless ghost inside.
My own sense of the matter was that there might be a surplus of Imogen to fit, since she had predictably saddled someone else's soul to her own, rescued it, as it were, from Hell. Or something else's. Or a soul so foreign, even 'something' meant nothing.
Trustman had left his screen for the first time in forty odd years and was banging on my laboratory door! What he had to say, therefore, was more important that I had assumed.
Abruptly, Catie became as limp as her body would allow and her face a frozen mask of contortion that would need neo-plastic surgery. Shadows sweated from her artificial pores and pooled at her feet.
"Cordell!" All formalities vanished as urgency prevailed. "You can't go there! You can't go to a place that doesn't exist!"
The CEO's screams finally opened the electronic door where his fists had merely created self-inflicted pain. He darted into the laboratory and came towards me. Came at me, rather, since where I moved he also followed. Like a shadow that could know no pooling. Grabbing me by my arms, he screeched in my face: "I told you not to do it. You're killing her, Cordell. Can't you see that?"
I glanced at Catie and knew that Trustman was wrong. I was not killing her; I was giving her life. I was giving her the fear that she was so frightened not to experience. In essence, I was giving her Imogen, together with the sublimest fear of all: Imogen's. It all began to make sense. The ensaddled soul would be consigned to the body-hanger in the Institute's cellar. Imogen's soul to Catie. Even mistakes had a purpose.
I grabbed Trustman, our arms and fingers locked like a giant jigsaw and I bellowed in his podgy face, "She is alive!"
Whether, at that precise moment, I meant the embolisms floating in Catie's body or Imogen's soul being hosted by her own body in the cellar, I was never certain. Surely both Trustman and myself were on the verge of a discovery, one that could possibly drive us insane. Or insanely drive us to oblivion.
We continued to struggle until derailed by a shriek from the Chair: a squawking wail that betokened the switch of souls.
Yet, for fear of madness, I relegated the unrefined fear to a different fear. It was a past fear, one I'd already half-noticed. I had coped by channelling it to areas of my mind that knew how to process fears for transmission in easy stages to the brain. The fear in question was twofold. One - CEO Trustman did not quite look like the man I'd seen on the screen for forty odd years. Two - the soul Imogen had saddled to her own soul in Hell had returned to Catie in preference to the rat-eaten body-hanger in the cellar. (Rats could climb literally anywhere - or even fly?) Indeed, the body-hanger had not stayed neat and long in its hamstrung state, in once studious preparation for becoming a restful berth for a soul after its heavy haul from Hell. All to the good, I'd thought. A tidy vessel would not have been fitting for the shrieking soul that had now accidentally found its way into Catie. I sobbed - as it suddenly dawned on me that Imogen was now back in the cellar eating the rat stew of her own erstwhile body. I sobbed again - for Catie.
But such thoughts had yet to become thoughts. Meanwhile, the fact that Catie had spurned one emotion (fear) for another (hatred) was neither here nor there. The searing squawk that would have startled even a plastic monster in a Ghost Train ride at an old-fashioned fair was as nothing to me. But Trustman's face was a mask of the most abject horror - making me feel at least half of it myself. Either this was a bogus CEO in the flesh or his previous screen image was the bogus one. Both could not be real. Both could not be bogus. Each assumption excluded the other, as each fear, upon being sensed, excluded all other fears. As if emotions had to queue up for the mind's attention, with no possibility of overlap - thankfully.
Suddenly, before I could stop him, Trustman had approached Catie's writhing shape and started fondling the breasts I'd built. These swollen glands had been formulated with meticulous care from the most life-like substance, skinned with a satiny finish. Thus, I empathised with the attraction Trustman must have for them. Surely, this was the bogus CEO. CEOs should not make a habit of being both real and sex mad. I clumped him on the head, with the sure conviction that I was justified in so doing. The real CEO would certainly thank me.
Eventually, the Emboloid's screeching and wailing had faded to the back of its throat. Not Catie's voice. Nor Imogen's. But one belonging to the thing I could not even call 'thing'.
Slowly, methodically, it chanted the Lord's Prayer, or, on second thoughts, a bastardised version. The pronoun 'it' didn't fit. But, no matter, I had so many thoughts and emotions in patient line, the wrestling with words was, at the most, insignificant: as were the twin balloons of blood into which Trustman's hands had already pummelled Catie's dead mammaries. Whilst down in the cellar, the body-hanger, I guessed, spun on its suicide cord, throwing off gobbets of centrifugal splatter.
But here I am: Trustman at my feet. Here not there. In the laboratory. Crawling from Catie's erstwhile mouth, squeezing, grinning, jawing, is the thing that looks like me, the me that looks like thing, grinning, jabbering, lisping with no 'S' to lisp, whispering in shrieks, stuttering without faltering: "I'm home, Cordell. Have no fear. I'm home."
And, indeed, home I am: Cordell at my feet.