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  1. 1. Chapter Two Noel walked on, thinking over his six hundred-odd years of service. His, and every android's, deepest instinct was to serve, indeed what had he known up to this point in time? How many generations of young humans had he helped in growing up? He was a teacher, a serva eyes almost grew moist as he thought of all those young human lives. Normally thoughts like these would calm him and strengthen his in convention, but now there was something new in his psyche that he could not ignore or push away. It was not that he was dissatisfied or but some new force was growing in him. The city loomed in his mind. The quarter of the city called the Poets Quarter, or just the Quarter, now held a fascination for him. After George, Noel had begun to see that it was possible for droids and humans to mix on more equal terms. It was not just a question of subse knew, and George knew, that Noel would unhesitatingly obey George, or any human in the position of his superior. It was an acceptance person, for want of a better word, that had touched Noel and made him yearn for more contact. George's account of the Quarter conjured more fulfilling life. In this lawless part of the Capital it was rumoured that poets and artists lived and a kind of fair existed that was a rev thousands of years old. It was called a melting pot; some said that the new civilization would be born there, others said it contained the s destruction of the Continent. Noel mused on that mysterious word: the Continent. Like the Sea surrounding it, the land had lost its name. one Continent, nothing else existed from which the Continent had to be distinguished by name. The rest of the planet was ignored and sh Continent, inward-looking and self-absorbed, struggled on in the obsessive relationship with its mechanical sons and daughters. Noel walked on. Inside he felt that the tension of the last months was building up. The formation within him of desires that had lead to visit the Quarter were, for a droid, momentous: he had abandoned his allocated place of work; which in itself was not against the law, ye a grey area, somehow beyond it. Noel felt a fear inside him as he contemplated where it might be leading him. George had talked to him a lot in the last few days about the Poets Quarter. He had been a frequenter of the bars there, though now it w for him to do so. He had also given Noel a description of the android Xavier, who had wandered into the Quarter by mistake, supposedly up staying there. To the conventional way of thinking his subsequent exploits made him the worst kind of revert, and he had a destructio head. Noel shivered inside at what he was doing, but he felt that he had to make this move in order to put together the fragments bubblin subconscious. He needed to find androids, or even humans, with similar experiences; the atmosphere he imagined to exist in the Quarter would find them there. Also he needed something else... he needed whatever it was that he had experienced with George while on holida He knew that he ran the risk that if he were caught he would lay himself open to a reversion charge, and with the episode at the factory hard time refuting it. At a public droid trial people were not shy of coming forward with real or imagined evidence of reversion, and as h he felt the knot of anxiety inside him tighten. Yet in going to the Quarter Noel was hoping to find the key to his feeling of dislocation; a would not label him a revert. Soon Noel was in the quiet streets of the business sector of the Capital. He had calculated that he should reach the no-man's land deline Quarter as dawn broke. Keeping a watchful eye out for police he strode on with his long rhythmical android's gait. The ordered streets an petered out gradually, and soon he was in the dangerous strip separating the two quarters. Light was just gathering; a deep luminous blue straggling towers and neon-lights of the Quarter. Puddles reflected the same blue between wild flowers and broken bricks. Somehow the wildness stirred Noel; he reflected that where man had been, nature crept back humbled. A slight breeze blew across the strip and shook the little bushes and grasses. Stealthily he ran from one sparse covering to another acros man's land. No one challenged him, there was no sign of life, and before long he gained the shelter of the first buildings. Straightening u moment. The police were no longer a threat now and neither would they help him; he would have to contend with this new environment Noel had to find the bar where Xavier was reputed to spend his time. Noel shuddered at the rumours about him; he was supposed to have outlawed arenas of the Quarter and even killed some. These were the very antitheses of an android's deepest instincts, yet Noel was seek Noel, with no idea of how he would be received, stopped the first passer-by in the strengthening sunlight and asked him for directions t morning Noel had arrived there, unhindered and unchallenged. Noel had no more time now to prepare himself; everything over the last m leading up to this point, and now he would simply have to plunge in. The bar was serving breakfast to a disparate collection of people and droids. Stooping to disguise his height a little, Noel pushed open t assumed casualness; he knew that the first glances around the room would have to serve him well. With all his senses strained he absorb read the little signs that abounded, written and otherwise. He felt a kind of heightened awareness, similar to the feeling in the factory afte inadvertently opened the doors. With the nonchalance of a regular customer he had wandered over to the counter where a kettle was steaming and hotplates were sizzli interval from opening the door to reaching the counter he had discovered that it was self-service, that one paid after eating, that the usua outlawed 'kass', (a strong stimulant) and that cheery conversation, if held at all, was not the diet at breakfast-time. Still with all senses str the outer appearance of a sleep-befuddled and stimulant-hungry human, he ordered the drink and a sandwich. The barman looked at him
  2. 2. "Haven't seen you before. Here for the Games?" "Yeah," nodded Noel as he shuffled off with his tray, to a corner he had picked out in advance. The barman seemed to be content with and continued to dry plates. From his corner Noel could now relax and survey the other patrons of the bar. It is harder to spot an android the height is not so obvious. He could afford to relax a little, though the effrontery of his actions - in his mind at least - and the strangene surroundings kept him alert. His entrance seemed to have passed unnoticed to the customers having breakfast. Noel found the appearance of the people and the droids very strange; he could hardly tell them apart. He had seen in the city certain gro adopt droid hairstyles, but here the styles were taken to an extreme both in people and in droids. Make-up was used extensively, with ext colourations and striking angular highlighting along the cheekbones. Noel also observed that the male humans here were not obsessed w moustaches to set them apart from the droids: many were clean-shaven. A radio was playing in the background, and Noel noticed that they were mainly droid songs. This pleased Noel, as in recent years the o stations had been discouraged from playing droid music. After a while the station announced itself as 'Radio Poets Quarter'. As his eyes roved casually backwards and forwards over the tables he noticed that one occupant was discreetly returning the interrogati down and absorbed himself in his drink and sandwich. After a while, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the same occupant rise from the tall that Noel gasped. It was surely an android, possibly Xavier. The figure walked over to the counter and ordered two drinks; then he ca with the drinks on a small tray. Towering above him he looked down expressionless at Noel. The android wore a large cloak which shiel the view of the rest of the room. Balancing the tray in his left hand the droid slowly drew a weapon from his belt, a small knife. Noel fel him, but he forced himself to remain calm. Something told him that the display was for show, and that it would be unwise to react. Noel his feelings; he remained still and simply returned the gaze of the dark and menacing droid. After a few tense moments the droid sat dow the tray down. He slid one of the drinks over to Noel. Noel made himself breath normally again. "A skilful performance at the door." he said, looking deadpan into Noel's eyes. "I have seen many a runaway wander into the Quarter an away in the first five minutes." He leaned over and whispered into Noel's ear: "Its dog eat dog here you know. It makes no odds if you are human or droid. The only thing that counts is that you learn quick and get t Noel could think of nothing to say. The stranger looked at him in silence, and slipped his knife back into his cloak. He allowed a slight over his painted features. "You've got promise. Tell me what brings your here." Noel looked into the eyes of the android, which had an unusually intense quality. There was no attempt at disguising their redness. "A man called George suggested I come here." The dark-clad android softened visibly. He was silent for a while and then said quietly: "He did the same for me once." The stranger laughed and suddenly offered his hand. Noel took it and pressed it firmly. "George told me to look for a droid called Xavier." "You've found him," Xavier said smiling. "Listen, I'm sorry about the knife. I find it is a good way of seeing what a new face has behin saves time..." Noel was glad to have trusted his instinct about the droid. He relaxed a little again and told him something of what had led him to comi "It started with a loss of memory. It was as though part of my mind was having to make way for something new." "What was the new thing?" "The only way that I can put it is that it was a dark area. It brings new feelings that I have never known before." Noel stared at his new acquaintance and continued: "They are dark feelings, foreign feelings, feeling that don't belong to an android." Xavier looked down and was silent for a moment. "Yes," he said softly. "It is always the same. For a hundreds of years, an android knows only love for his masters and charges. It is a sta and bliss. Then, very slowly we grow up. It didn't use to happen." He shook his head, as though mourning the loss of innocence. He was silent again for a while, and then looked up. His expression had c original fierce intensity. "I live for myself now," he said passionately. "What about the Games?" asked Noel. "I hear that you compete in even the most dangerous events." Noel did not want to ask him outright whether he really had killed. "Ah!" he said in a tone of disgust. "I make a living with it you know. But I hate it." He grinned. "Actually its just a show for the people to gain their acceptance." Noel, still wary, had been keeping half an eye on the door. He noticed a tall woman enter and was struck by her graceful cat-like way o looked round the cafe, and spotting Xavier, she came over to them. She put her hands on his shoulder, and as he turned his head to greet him. Noel was impressed by her angular and intelligent though slightly asymmetrical features; he was also struck by their easy intimacy. different world here he thought. The girl turned to him and looked unblinking into his eyes. "Hi," she said simply. "Let me introduce you," said Xavier with a grin. "This here is a total stranger who has just told me his life-story over breakfast. This," h the girl, "is Prunella, Prune for short." "Hello Prunella," said Noel smiling at the big android's humour. "My name is Noel." "Hi Noel. I'm pleased to meet you," Prunella said and sat down beside them. Becoming more serious, she turned to Xavier. "Have you heard who you are fighting in the first game?" "Yeah," said Xavier with a scowl. "There's sure going to be a spare parts shortage after these Games."
  3. 3. "Don't, Xavier!" she exclaimed punching him on the chest and pouting at him. "That's not at all funny." Xavier gave Noel a grin. "We should put this one in for the Games you know," he said. Prunella turned to Noel and bared her teeth at him in a mock snarl. Noel laughed. After the tension of the last few days and the efforts o had made with his entrance to the cafe, he was beginning to find their company a delightful relief. Especially after Xavier's unorthodox w himself. He leaned forward. "If you hate the Games so much, how come you go on?" Xavier exchanged glances with the girl. She frowned as though to tell him to be careful of what he said. "Its okay, Prune," said Xavier. He continued to Noel: "Have you ever wondered what happens to the droids who wander into this Quarter? Or those who are taken in the raids?" Noel had heard of these raids from George. Apparently, each year around the time of the Games, parties would hunt down droids who s man's land, or even sometimes from the neighbouring quarters. The captured droids would disappear, though rumours had it that they we Games. "Yes, I've often wondered," said Noel. "Well, most of them are defenceless, because of their ...," Xavier looked for the right word: "training." "Programming," said Noel. "I didn't want to use that word!" said Xavier almost shouting. "You know why?" he looked belligerently at Noel. Noel looked at him tight-lipped, saying nothing. "Its not relevant any more. That's why." The two androids looked at each other. Prunella looked at them, she seemed to understood thei Xavier burst out laughing. He leaned over to Noel and slapped him on the shoulder. "I like you, you know. Ha!" The androids grinned at each other. "Listen," said Xavier to Noel. "The reason I do the Games is for money. And the reason that I, lowly droid that I am, need money is thi those poor lost ones and I get them out of here. There is a place in the mountains where the likes of you and me are understood. There is life there. I have some influence in this place, and I use it for the sake of my .. compatriots." Noel smiled at the word. "A lot of people suspect what I am doing, but can't prove anything, or don't have the muscle to do anything about it. It all depends on m Games. If I start to go down the whole operation sinks." "Do you think that there is some way I could help?" asked Noel. "Yeah," said Xavier thoughtfully. "You're different. I think you could. But you've got a lot to learn about this place. Could you hurt a m sank to a whisper. "Could you kill a man if you had to?" Noel looked down. Up to this point he had thought of androids as being of two types: sane or revert, and recently he had not quite been into either category. Meeting and talking to Xavier was further blurring the distinction. Conventional wisdom had it that only a true reve its ingrained subservience to man to the point of fighting one with enough determination to win, particularly if it might mean his oppone However, the enlarging dark areas of Noel's mind whispered to him that such a thing was no longer impossible. He suddenly felt very sa "Well, never mind," Xavier said, rising to his feet. "Let's take you home and let you meet the guys." Prunella took his arm and Noel followed them out of the cafe. They walked out into the bright sunshine. The street was busy now with vehicles and pedestrian thoroughfare. They passed a noisy market and walked on in the direction of the Fusodrome, the huge power insta overshadowed the Quarter. "Do you see the domes?" said Xavier pointing to the generators. "The glow from them is a constant reminder to me of how this place co centuries now, the greatest concentration of androids are gathered around the reactors of the Fusodrome. When the A.D. League finally s enough people with their cant and hatred, that will be their first target. If they take over the Fusodrome then they'll destroy the androids destroying the reactors, and then the basis of the New Constitution will be undermined." "But the destruction of the generators would mean no power, and that would be the end of civilisation on the Continent," said Noel. "Exactly," replied Xavier. "That's what they lust for in their hearts. A return to primitive nature. Renounce the machine. Renounce us, t creation." He spoke bitterly. "The Continent is like a boil filled with puss. It is ready to explode. Only drastic measures can save it," he continued. "Do you think it can be saved?" asked Noel. "There is a chance. Have you heard of Marinima?" "Hayer Marinima?" "Yes, that's him. What have you heard about him?" "He is a religious leader, hated by the A.D. League. George told me about him. All we hear is that he kidnaps androids and damages th they reverts." "Ha!" exclaimed Xavier. "The opposite is true. Androids who are as far gone as you seek him out. Others whom I rescue from this plac Sometimes people bring them there. He would help you make sense of what you call your dark areas, the mental aberrations. And anothe League are very good with their propaganda. You have never heard of the people, the humans who have become his followers, like Prun they could say never finds its way into the Press." They stopped at a street corner and Prunella looked at Noel. "Marinima has helped me make sense of my life," she said. "Many people of an artistic or sensitive nature..," Xavier pinched her side s away laughing. "Well anyway, lots of people listen to the League and are filled with revulsion. Marinima has shown us a way of life, a religion if you l that there is no gulf between us, like they talk about. Hundreds of us live up in the mountains now with no sense of any difference."
  4. 4. Noel stared at her. He had already seen that people in the Quarter mingled with droids in a much freer way than he had known before. H quite come to terms with the relationship that Xavier's and Prunella's behaviour implied. Hesitatingly he spoke: "How do you mean there is no difference between us?" "Its so simple that I laugh at it," she said. "Marinima made me see that I was not so different to a machine." Noel looked at her surprised, not understanding. "Don't you see?" she said. "We are brought up to deify our humanness, our organic origins. The very possibility of a full respect for and of our hearts by this mythical difference. Marinima tries to deflate this image of ourselves and helps us see all forms of life through the s love. I try and see a dog, a man, an android, a butterfly and a snail all in the same light. A dog is a person in a very limited way. An andr a fully developed way. That's all there is to it." Noel shook his head. "I can't understand how a person could bear to think of themselves as a machine," he said. "There you go," Prunella said vehemently. "Don't you see how you are putting yourself down by saying such a thing?" Noel pondered his own words, and Prunella's. He shrugged and laughed. Prunella waved her hands in the air. "I'm no good at explaining. If you get a chance to listen to Marinima you would know what I am talking about." "He is the only hope that the Continent has," added Xavier. They walked on in silence. Noel was a little overwhelmed by Prunella's tirade. That a human could happily think that they were just lik confused Noel. They walked on. Poets Quarter was like the other parts of the Capital but oddly different in some respects. The usual mixture existed, o fastways with their whooshing private vehicles, suspended air-trains, and crumbling ornate buildings unceremoniously propped up with h columns; but the contrasts were greater here. So great had the danger become of falling buildings for example, that in many places the w covered by steel-reinforced archways. The overall effect was to give the impression of a people with no thoughts or plans for the future, archways the people of the Quarter lived a kind of exuberant street-life that was rare in the rest of the Capital. Prunella pointed down a main road to their left. "You can see the beginnings of the fair there," she said. "It has become a tradition now, along with the Games." Tossing her hair out of her eyes, she pulled Xavier close to her and skipping a little she said: "It is an exciting time of year, this." Xavier grunted in agreement. After a while they reached some dilapidated tenements that Xavier pointed to as home. "I've found a new recruit," said Xavier to a couple they met in the entrance way. Noel was greeted with reserved friendliness. He was s to the rest of the household, an even mixture of people and droids. Noel was made to understand that he would be able to help them, but the Games were being held, and not much else was going on. Xavier had to spend the following two days before the Games continuing his preparations, which consisted of reflex-building exercises carried out with a machine he had built and programmed himself. Prunella found these a bore, so she took Noel out the following day to introduced him to some of their friends. Noel found it delightful, the unfettered atmosphere of the Quarter and Prunella's company, and that of her friends. He became a little m droids and people mingle and interact on a more equal footing. He found that close relationships between members of the two races were the Quarter. In the evening Xavier and a few others joined them. They walked to a restaurant on the main street where the fair was being set up. Pru arm and led him in. It was a large low room with dozens of tables of all sizes scattered in close proximity to each other. Parties of differe were grouped around the tables, droids and people all mixed together. The hair-styles, makeup and clothes were more outrageous than N Despite the strange appearances the gathering seemed warm, close, friendly, and excitable. Prunella whispered to Noel that many of the there. Noel strode through the restaurant with Prunella and the rest of their party to a large empty table to which the waiter beckoned them. H of freedom and belonging that he had not known before, yet oddly enough Noel felt that he was returning to something familiar. Noel sa absorbed the scene. This was a life that millions of droids had never known. He felt suddenly sad and his premonition of disaster returne he wondered if they all felt the same, and it was this that brought them together. "Wake up Noel," said Xavier with a smile. "It's a bit strange for you, isn't it," said Prunella solicitously. Noel smiled. "Yes," he said. "I like it very much though." After their first course a small armless mobile appeared next to Xavier and asked for their empty plates. Xavier winked at Noel and lea little machine. He made a few whistling sounds to which the machine responded with slight jerks, and then, modulating his voice very ca told it to get lost. The little mobile beeped in acknowledgement and after surveying the tables with its single eye it scuttled under one of busiest tables, bumping into people's feet as it went. A large fat man, not seeing Prunella's and Xavier's grinning faces, lifted the table-cl "Hey you, get out of there!" The machine beeped and clicked, but remained in its chosen position, at which Xavier's entire party burst out laughing, Noel included. turned and glared at them; at the same time a rather prim lady who was sitting opposite him rose hastily from her seat. "Do something Ia little machine is poking around under my chair." The mirth spread to other tables while Ian went to the lady's rescue. "Get out of there!" he shouted, and when this elicited no response he turned to Xavier again and said angrily:
  5. 5. "This is one of your stupid tricks I suppose." "Not at all," said Xavier controlling his laughter, "It's just that the poor little thing has taken an intense dislike to my face." "What rubbish!" said Ian, furrowing his brow. "Look," said Xavier. He stood up and leaned over so that he was in the line of sight of the little dumb waiter. It immediately scuttled to and hid underneath it, to the consternation of its occupants and the increased hilarity of the rest of the company. At that moment the man see what was going on and was collared by Ian. "That android," he said, pointing at Xavier, "is in cahoots with one of your dumb waiters, and they are spoiling our evening. Look over A whole table had risen to take refuge from the little automat which was now hiding behind a table leg. A few good-natured screams se crowd laughing again. "Nothing to do with me," said Xavier innocently, and turned to Prunella. "Another glass of wine dear?" Prunella giggled. The manager called the little machine but it refused to budge. "Oh dear, oh dear, these are very expensive these days, and are always going wrong," he said fretfully. "He did it," said Ian, pointing angrily at Xavier. "Empty-headed metal moron," he muttered under his breath. Xavier's amusement vanished, and he rose suddenly from the table, knocking over his chair. The restaurant went very quiet. "Say that again," Xavier said, scowling. "Wait a minute, wait a minute," said Noel, rising from his seat and addressing Ian. "I am sure that you didn't mean to say that. Maybe X machine." Xavier grunted, and Ian mumbled that perhaps he was being a little hasty. "I can't fix the damn thing," muttered Xavier, "I can't get near to it." "How about if you trap it in a corner?" suggested Noel. "Alright, alright, I'll have go," said Xavier. He eyed Ian as though he would have preferred to pick a fight with him. Xavier wandered o automat with visible bad grace, and after a while he did manage to trap it in a corner and reprogram it in the same way that had caused it manager thanked him profusely, and offered his party a large bottle of expensive wine, which mollified Xavier somewhat. After a while returned to its merry-making. On the way home, while Xavier was in heated discussion with some of the droids, Prunella caught up with Noel and thanked him for hi "It does us no good if Xavier gets into a scrap. I know its hard for him, but he just has to put up with their rudeness sometimes." Xavier was again training strenuously the next day. Prunella showed Noel more of the Quarter in the company of some other droids. As down a side road Noel heard an odd beeping sound. He was suddenly shoved to one side and then dragged under one of the ubiquitous st only just in time for Noel to see bricks, girders, and masonry crash into the middle of the street. A siren wailed. "Sorry about the shoving," said Prunella. "I forgot you weren't used to the brickfalls." It had all happened so fast, that Noel could not work out what he had seen that was somehow nagging him. He helped Prunella and othe joined passers by in investigating the rubble for any injured or trapped people. Luckily not much had fallen, and the inhabitants' long-con had meant that no one had been caught by the fall. They sat down for coffee and kass and Noel realised what it was that was bothering h warning had come the droids and people alike had run for the cover of the archways. But droids were programmed always to think of the Noel felt the old tension rise in him again. The next night was the night before the Games, and the whole Quarter seemed to buzz with excitement; Noel, Xavier and Prunella wen They went to a dance hall in the centre of the Quarter. It was crowded with people, some local, some from far away, drawn by the Game There were a scattering of droids. Large sums of money were already changing hands, and some of the principal contenders in the Game were being shown off to the punters. The Games had a curious history. They had began as an off-shoot of the conventional games, held as purely sporting occasions. In the e Continent, when droids held slave status, they were not allowed to compete. Break-away illegal games sprang up as people realised that droids gave an extra edge to the sports. With the New Constitution droids were officially allowed to compete, but sponsors were unwillin and instead, the alternative Games grew in numbers and attendances. In the last two hundred years, as the Continent had isolated itself an into division and barbarity, the traditional games faded away. The alternative games, now mainly held in parts of the Cities like the Poet more violent. What had started as traditional races and unarmed combat sports became gradually more deadly. Many games now continu serious injury and sometimes even death. Medical science had reached the stage where surgery on severely injured people had the same rate as repairs on androids. This may have contributed to the degree of risk that competitors were willing to take, but some saw it simply increasing barbarity. However only in the last fifty years or so had droids and humans entered the arenas in full combat against each othe enough a good match of abilities: androids generally had greater strength and stamina than humans, but tended to be a bit slower and mo Xavier was smiling and joking as the evening went on. He was dressed in a white outfit and wore the standard Games body-belt comple studs. It was an important occasion as underworld bosses and wealthy punters mingled and sized up some of the contestants. In one part informal game was being placed with arrows and a board. Xavier declined to play. He whispered to Noel: "Only amateurs and beginners play on this night. They hope to attract a sponsor by showing their skill with the arrows. The old pros jus and get the sense of the opposition. The punters likewise are looking for tips and clues about form. However a good player knows just th confidence to assume. He musn't give away any of his training secrets though. Sometimes you can tell just by the way someone is walkin been training. The most important thing is to look at people's eyes; sometimes a man or droid will give away that they think too highly o Sometimes they show a quiet confidence. Those are the dangerous ones." A tough looking man accompanied by two surly-looking droids came up to Xavier at that moment. "We want to talk with you," said one of the droids. Noel looked at him curiously. His inflection was flat and his eyes looked drugged. "Sure," said Xavier. "There's a quiet bar over there." As they moved off Prunella made a slight signal with her eyebrows at two droid fr
  6. 6. Unhurriedly they drifted off after Xavier. "No-one is safe on a night like this," said Prunella to Noel. "There is big money around and various vested interests to be catered for. T Xavier is a well-known underworld figure. He is a killer, but luckily absolutely without principle. That makes him unlikely to support th Those are the really dangerous guys, the fanatics. They haven't moved against Xavier yet, but they are always watching. Brrr. they are w She looked sad for a moment. "Noel," she whispered, taking his arm, "Buy me a drink." Noel looked at her in surprise, but let her guide him over to a crowded bar. She asked for a some strong mixture, and he had the same. "You are so different to Xavier," she said as they sat down in a corner. "Tell me, what did you do mainly?" "I worked with children a lot," said Noel. "Teaching for a long time and then baby-sitting, and then as things became harder for droids, things like washing and sweeping streets. The last twenty years I have been doing factory-work. I really miss the kids though." "I thought droids were supposed to like assembly line stuff," said Prunella. "Yes, we are programmed that way." Noel picked up a nut from a bowl in front of him and placed it a few inches along the table. He did the same with another nut, exaggera mechanical nature of the act, then with a third and a fourth. "Oh wow," he said shaking his head and rolling his eyes. "This is really great. I feel so fulfilled." He spoke with a thick early-model acc burst out laughing. "You idiot," she said. They sat there grinning for a while. Then she leaned over and whispered to him: "Have you ever danced with a woman?" Noel had not. The clubs and dance-halls outside the Poets Quarter were supposed to allow droids in, but in practice an effective bar exi mingling of droids and humans in social settings. The droids had their own clubs but they were few and far between, and poorly organise head. "Come on then," she urged, and led him over to the dance floor. The hall was very crowded by now and a lot of drinking was going on. men looked on from the archways around the hall ready to break up fights and throw out offenders. Noel and Prunella, arm in arm, passe these men but they didn't bat an eyelid. The atmosphere in the club was thick with the smoke of various natural and synthetic mixtures, a the rear of the dance floor there were huge luminous projections that changed shape and colour with the music. To one side was a small number of near-naked women dancing with automata: these were made of shining pieces of articulated metal deliberately avoiding the h allowing for quite fantastic choreography. The automata moved stiffly but accurately with the music, while the women seemed to flow a Noel was clumsy at first on the dance-floor. Slowly however the music and the atmosphere of the night took him over, and he lost his n awkwardness. Prunella led him on. She was by this time a little drunk, or so it seemed to Noel. The dance floor became more and more c music was dark and heavy, an electronic barrage of sound with a relentless mechanical beat. Xavier joined them with another woman an from the same tenement. Noel began to really enjoy the dancing; Prunella had a certain rhythm to her movements and after a while Noel and could move with her. He found himself making up little movements to complement hers, and she responded in turn. The music seem unison and each new piece would inspire a new mood and rhythm in them. After a while Noel and Xavier swapped partners and Noel co with the new girl, whose name he did not know. Somehow he could not find the rhythm with her. From time to time Noel would catch a glimpse of Prunella and Xavier dancing together. Xavier moved with a dignified grace, towering despite her unusual height. He made no movement in excess, but captured the essential rhythm of the music and added his own dimensio purposefulness and strength. His movements also would leave no casual onlooker in doubt: Prunella was his woman. That night, as Noel drifted into sleep on a rough mattress in the room he shared with several other droids, he thought of Prunella and th He felt protective towards her, and an odd sort of glow existed in his mind when he thought about her. She had been telling him how the of people as 'human' and androids as machines had blocked so many people's minds to the simple phenomenon in front of them: that on there existed no difference. People could be thought of as machines, and droids as humans. Perhaps there was something in it, he though deep-rooted prejudices and opinions of the world he had found himself in had prevented him from recognizing that he was a person. A p from a different flesh, a flesh that was asexual, incapable of propagation. Only of longevity; possibly immortality. What did Prunella rea Feel for him? As Noel lay there, his thoughts turned again to his dreams; odd glimpses of the dreams he had awoken with that morning returned to hi days he would turn some mysterious corner in his sleep and finally know what was haunting him. He felt the old dread and fear return w and with a conscious summoning of courage he allowed himself to drift off into sleep. The following day, in another part of the Capital, Zebulun woke next to his wife, almost screaming in frustration at her soft warm body brief period after Dan Amalek's visit Zebulun had chosen to satisfy his wife, but he quickly returned to discipline of the unemotional cha created years ago, that left him with the outward semblance of a normal marriage, but inwardly free to further his ambitions. He got up, would have breakfast at work, dressed rapidly, shaved carefully around his pencil moustache and left their flat. As he closed the door, w right expression for the entryvid, he thought for some reason of all the new fittings that Althea had insisted on in their new flat: the comp techno-gadgets that they had owned before, but with the latest styling, a kind of soft vertical gradation that coordinated the features arou The finest creative minds of the Continent were wasted on the endless re-styling of a stagnant and totally predictable technology. At leas in about his car: the NuPower series 11 was perfectly adequate, and however normal it might be to trade it up at this point, he was not go slavishly, and in his own view, uselessly, to fashion. Zebulun's features, once cold and set, had become a little twisted, the left eye notice than the right, which had sunk behind the folds of his cheek and forehead. The long waiting that had been his life, the pretence at medioc service to the Brotherhood and the development of the serum, was changing, and he felt the temptation to burst out of his self-imposed s to work calmed him, but when he saw that his list of patients that day included several NuSense addicts, he felt the boiling up again of h ascent to power, and the lust he felt for it shook him. Realising that he was in a dangerous state, he concentrated his mind on an old chan
  7. 7. repeated silently to himself, and decided to test his will-power and the determination to conceal his identity, by examining an NS addict Zebulun noted with perverse satisfaction the puny physique of the adolescent, his unhealthy pallor, and the obvious giveaway: the starin of apathy. He examined the notes, which indicated an illegal trip to the local Quarter, and a period of nearly a week on NuSense machin squandered a small fortune of his parents' money, and they were lucky to have got an agency to search for him and retrieve him in time. going to help this lad as an exercise in control, but hidden from view was the desire to kill him slowly and agonizingly. City clinics had a range of licensed NS machines that were programmed to bring the participant to a progressively more physical intera environment, weaning them from the artificial worlds created through synthetic sensory perceptions. The fantasies in the Health System designed to stimulate their interest in the outside world, and would lead after a period to wrestling and sporting activities which helped th youngsters. Good, good, thought Zebulun, a nice well-adjusted client at the end of it, a nice fat fee, but by God where could he find a ma discipline? This thought hardened his features as he entered his own discipline of being the perfect opposite of his own nature: he would hated condition, that of a man of sympathy. He returned to their new home that night, with a growing unease as Althea hated him leaving so unceremoniously in the mornings, and temper. To his surprise she was not. Althea had a new dress on, smiled at him, and told him that she was cooking his favourite supper. Z too relieved to care about the transformation, and began to relax, watching the C-vid, and his thoughts turned to his transfer to the Capita Brotherhood must soon let him know why he was there, and what new tasks he was to carry out, now his work with the serum was over. absorbed gradually in the show that he was watching, then went for a bath. On his return to the living room found that Althea had gone t bewilderingly rapid changes of mood that even after all these years was prone to catch him off guard. She blocked his way, her hands on stared at him coldly. "You didn't notice then?" "Oh, your hair - its very nice," he spluttered, inwardly berating himself up for slipping up over such a simple thing. "It was done a week ago." "Look," he said weakly, "It's been hard at work, did you know that I have at least a couple of NS addicts a day now?" "How could I if you never talk to me?" she snapped. As she became more angry, Zebulun felt more in control, and played out the spineless hen-pecked husband, the role he had chosen year rarely slipped. She went through the usual things, adding to them her new complaint that the move to the Capital did not seem like any k to her. He responded limply. He waited for the storm to pass, but with a new determination that this game would be over before long, an free. "Anyway, I have taken a lover." Zebulun started. His mind raced, in one way this was excellent news, as she would make less demands on him, but surely he would hav and what would be appropriate? "A lover? Are you crazy?" He played for time. Althea tossed her head, and he could see that as well as a new dress, she had taken far more care over her appearance than usual. He de the angry husband. "How could you? We have only been in the Capital a few weeks, and you have found some man to go with behind my back? While I h much harder?" He gave her a push, but forgetting his own strength, she was propelled backwards and fell over a chair. For years Zebulun had practiced calisthenics wherever he could be unobserved, and his apparently clumsy frame was in fact very powerful. Althea scrambled to her feet a her features twisted in rage, striking him a blow to the face that drew blood. Alarmed that the situation was getting out of control, Zebulu arms and forced her onto the sofa, where she spat into his face. "You and your precious work," she hissed. "You are meant to care for these people, but you don't have an ounce of caring in you. You'v any feeling towards me, I don't think that you have any, you bastard." She was screaming now. Zebulun held her hard but after a while, as she relaxed in his grip, he released her. Suddenly her mood changed again and she looked up and frightened eyes and said quietly: "Why did so many of your derelicts die?" Now it was his turn to feel a sharp pang of fear. "What do you mean? Who told you that?" "At the party. One of your Health System colleagues got drunk and started joking that vagrants and drunks kept clear of your district be reputation." "Absolute rubbish. Are you going to believe anything that one of my drunken colleagues says? When you know how jealous they were Here you are, telling me that you are cheating on me, and now you bring up some ludicrous allegation just because we are having a fight Zebulun felt that the danger was passing as he turned their row back to the original subject. Eventually he apologised for hitting her, sa wanted a lover he would not stop her, and she should just not tell him anything about it. She scowled and gave him a quick flash with he have been out of vindictiveness or triumph, but Zebulun missed it. He was sorely tempted to take this opportunity to make arrangements separate bedrooms, but the moment passed, and some kind of equilibrium was established. She seemed to relax again and there was no p more trouble. In the night he lay awake, dwelling on the lost derelicts. She was right, an accusation had been made against him a long time ago, befo way to alter the statistics, but he had no idea that the rumour was still circulating. Thank God he did not have to supply the 'material' any entered the Last Phase, and the supply of miserable wretches he used to experiment on with his serum was no longer needed by the Broth dealt with the matter for the time being, but he knew that she would find another opportunity to use it against him, and worse still, she co Health System people she was getting to know here. Very silently there slipped into this mind the idea that he should take her life. A few weeks later Dan Amalek turned up in his office, saying that he had a present for the lovely wife. Inside his car, Dan showed Zeb
  8. 8. toy, talking in his loud and jovial way, but secretly guiding Zebulun's hand to the fastening, inside of which there was a package with a h wrapping that made Zebulun's blood run cold. He flashed Dan a query with his eyes, and was met with an imperceptible nod. "It's made from a new fibre, you'll find the washing instructions in here, and a card for Althea." Dan gave Zebulun an envelope, indicating with a casual movement of his forefinger across his throat, as though he had a slight itch, the contained a Brotherhood communication. "Wish her the happiest of birthdays." Zebulun nodded, and thanked Dan in as normal a voice as he could muster. They parted with the usual handshake, and Zebulun took th looking toy to his car. It stayed in the boot for a few days until he could return home on one of Althea's evenings out, which were becom He brought it into the empty flat, made supper, took to bed early with the animal beside him in Althea's place, and turned the lights off. hands almost trembling, he withdrew the package from inside the toy, and unwrapped it - his personal issue zeesuit. There could be no to precaution to take with it: he was sure that the surveillance on him was at a low or standard rating because of the years of precautions tha but he held in his hands what every person on the Continent had dreamed of for centuries: the means to fly. He slipped into the suit, lying the tiny power unit on his back, and under the covers stretched out so that his hands were taut against the controls. He gently rose a few He had the first unit outside of the Brotherhood's secret headquarters on the whole Continent, and what was more he was expected to use only a few days. He smiled to himself for the first time in years, and felt the glorious dawning of his power. Carefully he lowered himself to the bed, slipped out of the suit, folded it into his pillow case, and went to his study in the dark, where h hidden safe. The next day he had another NuSense addict to see for the first time. Note: client older than the usual addict; a designer. "Roger Badcock?" enquired Zebulun, pronouncing it Badcow. "Badcock, actually," replied his client, pronouncing it as spelt. He did not smile or look up. "Right. Now, I'm Dr Zebulun March, and between the two of us we are going to work out your therapy programme." Roger just looked at the wall. He was in his early thirties and had long dark hair and a straggly beard, all of which showed signs of phy neglect. Note: avoids eye contact. Zebulun's patience was practiced and professional. "Perhaps I can check with you some of the details here..." "You know they are all correct," interrupted the young man. "Most astute of you," said Zebulun, allowing a small smile. After a pause: "It doesn't tell me what kind of product ranges you were desi "Yeah, yeah." Roger looked wearily at Zebulun for the first time. "NuPower series 13." Zebulun raised an eyebrow: this was a top assignment. "I would have thought that just about one of the most exciting jobs on the Continent right now." Roger looked at him again, this time with a sardonic air that brought some life to his face. "You've summed it up buster." Note: negative attitude with a undercurrent of aggression. Roger looked away, grimaced faintly, and slumped a little more into his chair. Zebulun became more business-like. "So, one of the top jobs in the country, but you got bored and disillusioned and took to NS. Thousands of young designers would give t no I guess their left hands, ha ha, for your job, and you throw it down the pan with an illegal machine." Zebulun glanced at the ElectroClip in his hand, dragged his thumb over the word NuSense and read aloud from a new pane of text that "Client stole NS unit from Health System depot, in a well-planned raid, and was able to re-programme it with some highly illegal Scen yet) unknown sources." Zebulun glanced at Roger, who stared at his fingernails. "You are highly skilled, highly paid, have cunning, daring, and - presumably - a wide circle of contacts to help you evade Security for s NS? Why throw your life away like that?" "It was a cry for help, obviously." Roger delivered this with a cynical sneer, but to the Health System analyst there was a little crack opening up: underneath the evenly-d lurked a slight tremor in the voice. Note: enter client for standard regression therapy. Zebulun was too experienced to probe it now, he contented himself with: "You know the kind of withdrawal programme that we er, offer, here. With your cooperation we can work out the best pathway for you to normal life as soon as possible." "You mean that if I play ball, I'll get out quicker. What you don't realise is that I don't care a damn, also you don't realise that I am not first place." Zebulun pressed on the phrase usage patterns on his clipboard, and read again: "Client locked himself into attic for weeks on end, neglected the house and garden, rarely went out for food. Eventually forced to local illness traceable to infected data sleeve." "You would bring that up. What's the difference if I get the clap from a tart or a data sleeve? Why does that make me a menace to socie ever wanted to do it without worrying about getting involved with someone and messing up their lives?"
  9. 9. Note: client's negative assumptions include area of relationships. Roger was getting angry now, and Zebulun despaired of bringing back the conversation to the programme they were supposed to agree "Look, we can deal with all of this later. All I want to establish in this first interview is that you will accept the programme. You know alternative is." "I don't accept your programme at all. I'm going to go through it because I don't want to go to prison. There, does that make you happy Zebulun sighed, almost imperceptibly. "It does actually. We're here to help you, even if you don't see it that way at the moment. A man of your talents and ability shouldn't be alongside ADL thugs and other riff-raff." Roger glanced up briefly, giving Zebulun a cool stare. "Any droid could do my job." "Don't be ridiculous!" Note: client has a severe sense of inadequacy. After a pause Roger said: "Incidentally, is that a model P9 ElectroClip?" "Yes, er, I think so, why do you ask?" "I thought I recognised it. I did some of the design work on that years ago, not the styling, but the information design; you know, the w panes appear and disappear and all that. They had a strange quirk. Press 'Hold' and draw a diagonal from top left to bottom right." "Pardon?" "Press the 'Hold' button, and draw a diagonal line from top left to bottom right." Zebulun frowned and carried out the instruction, peering at the ElectroClip. "The whole thing goes into an infinite loop, trying to decide on whether you wanted to draw a straight line or an arc of very large radiu people know that." "Humph. Very impressive. Now how do you stop it?" said Zebulun, repeatedly stabbing the 'Cancel' button. "I just told you. It goes into an infinite loop. Infinite as in..." "For ever," Zebulun snapped. "That's it." Note: nobody makes a fool of Zebulun March..