City of Night / Page 10

Page 10



“Adorable,” Benny agreed. “But it would look better in pink.”


“They don’t seem to have it in pink.”


“Too bad. Pink. In pink it would be terrific.”


Members of the New Race were encouraged to have sex with one another, in every variation, as often and as violently as they liked. It was their one pressure-release valve.


They were, however, incapable of reproduction. The citizens of this brave new world would all be made in tanks, grown to adulthood and educated by direct-to-brain data downloading in four months.


Currently they were created a hundred at a time. Soon, tank farms would start turning them out by the thousands.


Their maker reserved all biological creation unto himself. He did not believe in families. Family relationships distracted people from the greater work of society as a whole, from achieving total triumph over nature and establishing utopia.


“What will the world be like without children?” Cindi wondered.


“More productive,” Benny said.


“Drab,” she said.


“More efficient.”


“Empty.”


Women of the New Race were designed and manufactured without a maternal instinct. They were supposed to have no desire to give birth. Something was wrong with Cindi. She envied the women of the Old Race for their free will, but she resented them most intensely for their ability to bring children into the world.


Another customer, an expectant mother, entered their aisle.


At first Cindi’s face brightened at the sight of the woman’s distended belly, but then darkened into a snarl of vicious jealousy.


Taking her arm, steering her toward another part of the store, Benny said, “Control yourself. People will notice. You look like you want to kill her.”


“I do.”


“Remember what you are.”


“Barren,” she said bitterly.


“Not that. An assassin. You can’t do your work if your face advertises your profession.”


“All right. Let go of my arm.”


“Calm down. Cool off.”


“I’m smiling.”


“It’s a stiff smile.”


She turned on her full dazzling wattage.


“That’s better,” he said.


Picking up a little pink sweater featuring colorful appliqued butterflies, displaying it for Benny, Cindi said, “Oh, isn’t this darling?”


“Darling,” he agreed. “But it would look better in blue.”


“I don’t see it in blue.”


“We really should be getting to work.”


“I want to look around here a little longer.”


“We’ve got a job to do,” he reminded her.


“And we have twenty-four hours to do it.”


“I want to decapitate one of them.”


“Of course you do. You always do. And we will. But first I want to find a really sweet little lacy suit or something.”


Cindi was defective. She desperately wanted a baby. She was disturbed.


Had Benny been certain that Victor would terminate Cindi and produce Cindi Two, he’d have reported her deviancy months previously. He worried, however, that Victor thought of them as a unit and would terminate Benny, as well.


He didn’t want to be switched off and buried in a landfill while Benny Two had all the fun.


If he had been like others of his kind, seething with rage and forbidden to express it in any satisfying fashion, Benny Lovewell would have been happy to be terminated. Termination would have been his only hope of peace.


But he was allowed to kill. He could torture, mutilate, and dismember. Unlike others of the New Race, Benny had something to live for.


“This is so cute,” said Cindi, fingering a sailor suit sized for a two-year-old.


Benny sighed. “Do you want to buy it?”


“Yes.”


At home they had a secret collection of garments for babies and toddlers. If any of the New Race ever discovered Cindi’s hoard of children’s clothes, she would have a lot of explaining to do.


“Okay,” he said. “Buy it quick, before someone sees us, and let’s get out of here.”


“After we finish with O’Connor and Maddison,” she said, “can we go home and try?”


By try, she meant “try to have a baby.”


They had been created sterile. Cindi had a vagina but no uterus. That reproductive space had been devoted to other organs unique to the New Race.


Sex between them could no more produce a baby than it could produce a grand piano.


Nevertheless, to appease her, to mollify her mood, Benny said, “Sure. We can try.”


“We’ll kill O’Connor and Maddison,” she said, “and cut them up as much as you want, do all those funny things you like to do, and then we’ll make a baby.”


She was insane, but he had to accept her as she was. If he could have killed her, he would have done it, but he could only kill those he was specifically directed to kill.


“That sounds good,” he said.


“We’ll be the first of our kind to conceive.”


“We’ll try.”


“I’ll be a wonderful mother.”


“Let’s buy the sailor suit and get out of here.”


“Maybe we’ll have twins.”


Chapter 21


Erika had lunch alone in a dining room furnished to seat sixteen, in the presence of three million dollars’ worth of art, with a fresh arrangement of calla lilies and anthuriums on the table.


When she had finished, she went into the kitchen, where Christine stood at the sink, washing the breakfast dishes.


All food in this house was served on one pattern of Limoges or another, and Victor would not permit such fine china to be put in the dishwasher. All beverages were served in either Lalique or Waterford crystal, which also required hand washing.


If a dish sustained a scratch or if a glass was chipped, it must be discarded. Victor did not tolerate imperfection.


While certain machines were necessary and even beneficial, most of those invented to take the place of household servants were viewed by Victor with scorn. His standards of personal service had been formed in another century, when the lower classes had known how to attend, properly, the needs of their betters.


“Christine?”


“Yes, Mrs. Helios?”


“Don’t worry. I’m not going to discuss my sexual problems with you.”


“Very good, Mrs. Helios.”


“But I’m curious about a few things.”


“I’m sure you are, ma’am. Everything is new to you.”


“Why was William biting off his fingers?”


“No one can really know but William himself.”


“But it wasn’t rational,” Erika persisted.


“Yes, I had noticed that.”


“And being one of the New Race, he is rational in all things.”


“That’s the concept,” Christine said, but with an odd inflection that Erika couldn’t interpret.


“He knew his fingers wouldn’t grow back,” Erika said. “It’s as if he was… committing suicide, bite by bite, but we’re not capable of self-destruction.”


Swirling a wet fabric whisk inside an exquisite porcelain teapot, Christine said, “He wouldn’t have died from ten severed fingers, Mrs. Helios.”


“Yes, but without fingers, he wouldn’t have been able to serve as butler. He must have known he would be terminated.”


“In the condition you saw him, Mrs. Helios, William did not have the capacity to be cunning.”


Besides, as they both knew, the proscription against suicide included the inability to engineer circumstances that required their termination.


“Do you mean… William was having like a mental breakdown?” The thought chilled Erika. “Surely that isn’t possible.”


“Mr. Helios prefers the term interruption of function. William was experiencing an interruption of function.”


“That sounds much less serious.”


“It does, doesn’t it?”


“But Victor did terminate him.”


“He did, didn’t he?”


Erika said, “If one of the Old Race had done such a thing, we’d say that he’d gone mad. Insane.”


“Yes, but we’re in all ways superior to them, and so many terms applicable to them cannot describe us. We require a whole new grammar of psychology.”


Again, Christine’s words were spoken with a curious inflection, suggesting that she meant something more than what she said.


“I… I don’t understand,” Erika said.


“You will. When you’ve been alive long enough.”


Still struggling to comprehend, she said, “When you called my husband to report that William was biting off his forgers, you said, ‘We’ve got another Margaret.’ What did you mean by that?”


Rinsing a plate, carefully placing it in the drying rack, Christine said, “Until a few weeks ago, Margaret served as the household chef. She’d been here almost twenty years, like William. After an… episode… she had to be removed. A new Margaret is being prepared.”


“What episode?”


“One morning as she was about to make pancakes, she began to smash her face into the hot, greased griddle.”


“Smash her face?”


“Over and over again, rhythmically. Each time she raised her face from the griddle, Margaret said time, and before she slammed it down again, she repeated that word. Time, time, time, time, time—with much the same urgency that you heard William say tick, tock, tick, tock.”


“How mystifying,” said Erika.


“It won’t be… when you’ve lived long enough.”


Frustrated, Erika said, “Speak plainly to me, Christine.”


“Plainly, Mrs. Helios?”


“So I’m fresh out of the tank and hopelessly naive—so educate me. All right? Help me understand.”


“But you’ve had direct-to-brain data downloading. What more could you need?”


“Christine, I’m not your enemy.”


Turning away from the sink, blotting her hands on a dish towel, Christine said, “I know you’re not, Mrs. Helios. And you’re not my friend, either. Friendship is akin to love, and love is dangerous. Love distracts the worker from maximum accomplishment, just as does hate. None of the New Race is a friend or enemy of the other.”


“I… I don’t have that attitude in my program.”


“It’s not in the program, Mrs. Helios. It’s the natural result of the program. We are all workers of identical value. Workers in a great cause, subduing all of nature, building the perfect society, utopia—then onward to the stars. Our value isn’t in individual accomplishments, but in our accomplishments as a society. Isn’t that correct?”


“Is it?”


“Unlike us, Mrs. Helios, you have been allowed humility, and shame, because our maker likes those qualities in a wife.”


Erika sensed a revelation coming from which she wished to turn away. But she, not Christine, had insisted on opening this door.


“Emotions are funny things, Mrs. Helios. Maybe it’s better, after all, to be limited to only envy and anger and fear and hate—because those feelings are circular. They turn endlessly back on themselves, like a snake swallowing its tail. They lead to nothing else, and they keep the mind from hope, which is essential when hope will never be fulfilled.”


Shaken by the bleakness in Christine’s voice and in her eyes, Erika was overcome with sympathy for the housekeeper. She put a hand consolingly on the woman’s shoulder.


“But humility and shame,” Christine continued, “can grow into pity, whether he wants you to feel pity or not. Pity to compassion. Compassion to regret. And so much else. You will be able to feel more than we feel, Mrs. Helios. You will learn to hope.”


A heaviness came into Erika’s heart, an oppressive weight, but she could not yet grasp its nature.


“Being able to hope—that will be terrible for you, Mrs. Helios, because your destiny is fundamentally the same as ours. You have no free will. Your hope will never be realized.”


“But William… How does this explain William?”


“Time, Mrs. Helios. Time, time, tick, tock, tick, tock. These disease-resistant, amazing bodies we possess—how long have we been told they will last?”


“Perhaps a thousand years,” Erika said, for that was the figure in the self-awareness package of her downloaded education.


Christine shook her head. “Hopelessness can be endured… but not for a thousand years. For William, for Margaret-twenty years. And then they experienced an… interruption of function.”


The housekeeper’s hard shoulder had not softened under her mistress’s touch. Erika withdrew her hand.


“But when you have the capacity for hope, Mrs. Helios, yet know beyond all doubt that it will never be fulfilled, I don’t think you can make even twenty years. I don’t think you can make five.”


Erika swept the kitchen with her gaze. She looked at the soapy water in the sink. At the dishes in the drying rack. At Christine’s hands. At last, she met Christine’s eyes again.


She said, “I’m so sorry for you.”


“I know,” Christine said. “But I feel nothing whatsoever for you, Mrs. Helios. And neither will any of the others. Which means you are… uniquely alone.”


Chapter 22


The Other Ella, a restaurant and bar in the neighborhood known as Faubourg Marigny, an area now as funky and soulful as the French Quarter had once been, was owned and operated by a woman named Ella Fitzgerald. She was not the famous singer. She was a former hooker and madam who had wisely saved and invested the wages of the flesh.


As Aubrey Picou had instructed, Carson and Michael asked the bartender to see Godot.


An elderly woman put down the beer she was nursing, swiveled on her barstool, and took their picture with her cell phone.


Annoyed, Carson said, “Hey, Granny, I’m not a tourist site.”


“Screw you,” the woman said. “If I knew for sure a tour carriage was nearby, I’d run you into the street and shove your head up a mule’s ass.”


“You want to see Godot,” the bartender explained, “you go through Francine here.”


“You mean less to me,” the old woman assured Carson, “than the dinner I vomited up last night.”


As she transmitted the picture to someone, Francine grinned at Michael. She had borrowed her teeth from the Swamp Thing.


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