Strong Metallic Arm
? 1990 by Jerry J. Davis
Previously Published in Boundaries of Sanity Magazine
Two red lights blinked on in the bedroom. There was a tiny
but audible "beep" and a countdown began deep in the basement of
the stone mansion. In the bedroom a white?haired white?skinned
woman stirred in her sleep.
She was having a nightmare.
The countdown in the basement arrived at zero. The two red
lights winked green. A signal was sent to the interface in woman's
head and an electro?chemical switch was shut off. The nightmare
disappeared and the woman's body went limp.
Another signal was sent, another microscopic switch thrown.
The implanted interface began a systematic stimulation of her
brain. Information poured out, sharp and clear images, memories,
attitudes, transmitted from the interface to the basement. A copy
of everything that made this woman "Erin Lind" was stripped away
and put into a box for safe?keeping.
The process finished, and Erin resumed normal sleep.
The nightmare, which had been a reoccurring one for the last
few weeks, began again.
Hours later her bedroom curtains pulled themselves aside to
let in sharp morning sunlight, and light Poonjaz music began
drifting out of the walls. TIM, Erin's executive AI, sent a signal
through her interface and she woke up. Erin opened her eyes and
looked around the white room. The dream was still lingering in her
mind, vivid, and she shuddered and sat up in the web. It lowered
her so that her feet touched the ground, and after a moment she
stepped out of it.
When she was out in the hall, heading toward the bathroom,
her husband's voice drifted up to her from downstairs. "Oh, you're
"Yes," she said.
"How are you feeling this morning?"
"Yes." She rushed into the bathroom and closed and locked
the door behind her. She sat heavily on the commode, holding her
hands to her face.
She deliberated for a long while, trying to become rational.
She just couldn't do it, she needed help. She needed the guidence
of the Oricle. TIM, she thought, connect me.
<Would you like me to keep track of the charges?> TIM asked,
a thought-voice in her head.
Yes, she told him. Cut us off when we reach four thousand.
<Working on connections ... connections made. Go ahead.>
Erin closed her eyes and found herself in a white marble
chapel full of misty air. A window high above the altar let in a
brilliant light, which shined down upon the steps where she stood.
She faced the light, and said, "I am still having that dream."
A deep, powerful voice replied. "Is this the dream where
your husband kills you during a fishing trip?"
"How many times have you had this dream now?"
"A lot. I don't know how many exactly."
"May I review your memories?"
The Oracle paused, and the light streaming through the
window became blinding. Erin felt warm, relaxed. She had
completely forgotten that she was sitting on the commode in one of
her upstairs bathrooms. When The Oracle spoke again the voice was
not as loud, it was more personal and fatherly. "Are you going on
this fishing trip with him today?"
"I don't want to."
"The fear you have is irrational, and stems from the guilt
you feel for cutting your husband off from your company."
"I do feel guilty."
"It was a wise choice, Erin, and my advice is for you to
stand firm on your decision. It is possible he married you for
personal gain, we have talked about that before. But beside that,
he has cost you money on his ventures. You're company has lost
some credibility directly because of his actions. He is prone to
scandals. Your actions have been more than fair, you should feel
"I see no implied threat, however, from your husband."
"Are you sure?"
"Nothing is absolutely 'sure.' However, the probability is
small and I see no implied threat from your memories. This fishing
trip is a perfect opportunity to overcome this nightmare."
"I don't know if I can go through with it."
"I urge you to go. Go, have a pleasant time. Chances are you
will never have that nightmare again."
"Well, isn't there another way? I mean, can't you . . ." She
stopped talking as the light was cut off and the chapel around her
faded to black. She opened her eyes and found herself in the
Four?thousand already? she thought.
<Yes,> TIM told her. <Connection terminated.>
There was a knock at the door. Her husband's voice drifted
in. "You're sick?" he said.
Erin hesitated. "I feel a little sick, yes."
"Does that mean you don't want to go out on the boat?"
"I'll, I'll . . . I'll go out on the boat."
"Are you sure, sugar? You don't have to. You shouldn't go if
you're not feeling well."
Erin didn't say anything.
"You want me to get the automed ready?"
"No, I'm not that sick. I just feel a little queasy."
"Maybe you'll feel better after you've eaten something."
"Yes, I think that'll do it." Her hands to her face, she bit
her right index finger. She shivered, the room was cold. "I'll be
out in a minute."
"Want anything special for breakfast?"
"No. I don't care."
"How about some mild chibique, a bit of lime and some strip
"I don't care. Sounds good."
"Okay." His footsteps told her he was heading away.
"Duane?" she called.
His footsteps came back. "Yes, sugar?"
"Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Because I love you."
It didn't sound sincere. Erin thought that it had never
sounded sincere. But, maybe it was. Maybe I'm putting the
insincerity into it? she thought. God knows I loved him. Do I
She said, "Thank you, sweetheart."
His footsteps receded down the hall, down the steps, and
away into the lower portions of the mansion. His withdrawal made
her feel very alone. I'm just a small freak of a woman, she
thought. He has been the only one who's cared for me. She stood up
and looked at her white face in the mirror, her bulging blue eyes
surrounded by wrinkles, her thin white hair. She looked hideous to
herself. A pale freak in a world where everyone was tan,
dark?haired and healthy.
Erin fixed herself up and dressed, then glided down the
stairs and into the dining area. The servant remotes were putting
out the silver plates of the fresh, aromatic chibique, a pile of
soy?bacon strips, and large glasses of malted villomead. Duane was
squeezing a lemon wedge over the chibique. "Good morning, honey,
you look wonderful."
"Thank you Duane. This smells good."
"Pushed the buttons myself."
"Thank you." Erin stared at the breakfast with no desire to
eat. "It looks like you're starting to adjust to not working."
"Hell, honey, when have I ever worked? I can do without
business deals. You were right all along. If I want to work the
nets, I can use my own money."
"You don't hate me?"
"No! I don't hate you. It's a silly little matter, anyway, I
don't see why we got all worked up about it."
It's just me, she told herself. I feel so guilty about
cutting him off from what he loves. He ought to hate me. He really
should. That's why his voice sounds so insincere to me, it's
because my subconscious hates me for doing it to him. That's why
I've been having all those terrible nightmares. Right, TIM? That's
what The Oracle said.
<That is what he was implying,> TIM told her. <Would you
like to review the recent conversations?>
What she really wanted to do is have another session with
The Oracle. It was the ultimate AI, the ultimate psychologist, the
ultimate confessional. It was just that it was so damn expensive.
No, she thought. Not now. I can't go off into a trance at the
breakfast table. She made a valiant attempt at smiling at Duane.
"Do you think . . ."
"What?" he said.
"Do you think we could do something besides fish while we're
out on the boat?"
"Something besides fish?" He said it like it was
"It's been over two months."
"Two months since . . . oh, yeah. I guess it has, hasn't it?
Well." He smiled. The smile seemed genuine enough. "Well," was all
It was a sunny, cloudless day in the islands. Duane had the
boat's top retracted and a breeze blew warm and fresh across
Erin's skin. She was reclined across a cushion at the back,
feeling lazy and at ease. Her fear was gone. The Oracle had been
They had kissed and petted while the boat drifted up the
Dime river from their dock. The love is still there, she thought.
He was up front talking to the Nav AI about the best fishing spots
this season, and she was just lying in the sun, relaxed, waiting
for him to come back. Nobody else seemed to be on the water today;
she didn't feel modest, no one would see.
The sunlight flashed against her closed eyelids as they
crossed the shadows of passing trees. The gravity engines hummed;
she kept her tongue between her teeth to keep them from vibrating
against each other. She felt a strange motion and she opened her
eyes. The boat was slowing, lowering itself into the water.
She could hear it now, the great churning of waters. This
was where the East and West forks of the Dime river met. She
looked over the side as the boat touched the water and floated.
Blue and green waters mixed in torrid upheavals and violent
whirlpools. The river was wide here. Seven kilometers.
The boat turned. "We're going out toward the middle,"
Duane's voice came from somewhere up front, out of sight. "The
biggest fish are out in the middle."
Odd, she thought. He had always said the best fishing was
near to the shore.
Duane made his way back with rods in his hands. "Are you
ready for this?"
"We're going to the middle?"
"The only big fish out there would be a cleotis; they eat
tiny insects. You can't catch them with hooks."
He was smiling.
Erin took a close look at the rods he was holding and
realized they weren't rods at all. They were expensive, programmed
fish guns with intelligent harpoons. "Where's the sportsmanship in
that?" she said.
Duane laughed. "To hell with sportsmanship. I want a big
Erin didn't like the way he'd said that. Her fear was coming
back. He's talking about fish, she told herself. Fish. Regardless,
she found herself in her own nightmare, all the terror was coming
to her, all the horrible helplessness. She sat rigidly in front of
him, unable to move.
There was a signal from her interface, and she heard the
calm, clear thought?voice of her executive AI. <It's nine o'clock.
Would you like to hear the morning report?>
Yes, she thought. Yes, it'll calm me down.
TIM summarized the day's global business since the report
last night. Her labor service, which provided 32% of the robotic
rental and leasing of all of Terranova colony, was still healthy
and thriving. Echoes of her husband's last scandal still had
stocks down 9%, but the company was riding it out. A hacker had
tried to enter her system, but TIM had turned him away. Five new
models of industrial robot were announced by Terranova Machinery.
Other news . . . Erin went into unnecessary details to delay her
return to the real world. Then business was concluded, and she
focused her eyes to find Duane staring at her.
"I can tell when you're interfacing," he said. "Your eyes
get glassy, like when you're drunk."
"I just received the morning report."
"I know, it's nine."
"TIM said another hacker's been trying to get into my
"It wasn't me."
"It wasn't me."
"I wasn't accusing you." Her voice rose. "Why did you think
I was accusing you?"
"You're always accusing me."