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Davis, Jerry - Strong Metallic Arm

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Davis, Jerry - Strong Metallic Arm

     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

     up!"

     "Yes," she said.

     "How are you feeling this morning?"

     "Sick."

     "Sick?!"

     "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?"

     "Yes."

     "How many times have you had this dream now?"

     "A lot. I don't know how many exactly."

     "May I review your memories?"

     "Yes."

     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

     no guilt."

     "Thank you."

     "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

     bathroom.

     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

     steaks?"

     "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

     still?

     She said, "Thank you, sweetheart."

     "No problem."

     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

     inconceivable.

     "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

     he said.

     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

     absolutely right.

     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?"

     "Yes."

     "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

     fish."

     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

     system."

     "It wasn't me."

     "What?"

     "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."

     Erin thought this over. She had accused him a lot recently,

     and she was right every time. My god, she thought, he's hacking my

     system. "Why are you hacking my system?"

     "See?"

     "Duane, my system is my livelihood and my life."

     "I have a present for you," he said.

     "I don't care. Duane, what are you trying to get out of my

     system? If you want information just ask me for it."

     Duane had turned and was digging in a pack for something. He

     found something small and produced it, showing it to her. "You

     know what this is?"

     She looked at it briefly. A small black crystal of some

     sort, it looked like cheap jewelry. He peeled something off the

     back, reached forward and, before she could stop him, placed it

     against her skin between her breasts.

     "It's pretty," he said. "Do you like it?"

     She pulled at it; it wouldn't come off. "Duane, what is

     this?"

     "A pretty jewel."

     "It is not. It's ugly and it's stuck to me. Duane . . ."

     "It's okay, it'll come off if you soak it in water for a

     while. Don't you like it?"

     "No, I don't . . . I don't wear this kind of jewelry. Duane,

     what is going on? Tell me, please, I'm getting frightened."

     "Well, I can tell you now. That is a tachyon signal

     blocker."

     She stared at him in shock.

     "I don't want you talking to your executive for a while, so

     I waited until after your report. Now I have about 8 hours of your

     undivided attention."

     "I don't think this is funny. I want this thing off me now."

     The boat slowed and stopped. They had reached the middle of

     the river, a good 3.5 kilometers from land in either direction.

     Duane picked up the fishing guns from the deck beside him.

     "You know, " he said, "that crystal really does look nice on

     you. I mean, it's really set off. Something so black and shiny

     against your white skin. I've always found you beautiful, Erin,

     I've never had to fake that."

     "F?fake . . . what do you mean?"

     "It's not important now. Hey, do you feel like a swim?"

     Erin shrank back. Her dream! It was her dream! "Don't touch

     me," she said to him in a low, shaking voice. "I've already sent

     for the police, your signal blocker isn't working."

     "That's a lie."

     "You don't know that!"

     "I know you, sugar." He grinned.

     Erin was desperately calling out for TIM, but the interface

     signal was completely blocked.

     "This is your pole," he said, indicating one of the fishing

     guns. He turned and casually fired it out over the water. The

     harpoon shot out in a great arc, trailing strong, dangerously thin

     monofilament. He held it out for her, and said, "Here."

     She made no move to take it.

     He shrugged, and put it in a holder. Then he turned and

     fired off his. "This is a special lure," he said. "It's custom

     made."

     Erin gave up trying to call for TIM. In desperation she set

     her interface to record.

     "Don't you want to fish?" he asked.

     Very slowly, fighting for control, she said, "I want you to

     take me home, now."

     "But we haven't caught anything yet."

     She began crying. This was terrible --- it was really

     happening. "You're going to kill me," she said.

     Duane sighed. "Yes, I am. You're right."

     "Oh God," she said, sobbing. She was crying and shaking in

     terror.

     "Come on, Erin. What is death, anyhow? We're ready for it.

     We can survive it. What's there to be afraid of?"

     "Why are you doing this?" she screamed at him, her voice

     cracking. Tears streamed and her nose was running.

     "I mean, all that'll happen is you'll get into a new,

     younger body," he said. "You'll only be away from the business for

     a few days."

     "I don't want to die!" she cried.

     "Come on, Erin. Get into the water, let's get this over

     with."

     "I don't want to drown!"

     "You won't drown, I promise. I've made sure it'll be

     absolutely painless. You see, this is going to be a fishing

     accident. You're going to fall overboard while we're fishing. My

     lure is going to mistake you for a fish. The lure will hit you in

     the head, boom, that's it. You'll feel nothing. The signal block

     will come off in the water, and they'll find your body. You wake

     up in a new body. Ta?da! Everything's better."

     Erin dove to the right of him, trying to get past to the

     front of the boat. He grabbed her, his arms around her stomach,

     and lifted her over his head. She struggled in blind terror,

     kicking, squirming. She hit him somewhere that stunned him. He

     dropped her to the deck and staggered backward, groaning. Erin hit

     the deck hard, landing on her wrists, and one twisted back with a

     sickening crack. Pain shot up her arm like fire.

     She rolled over onto her back, holding her injured wrist

     against her chest. Erin had never broken a bone before, she was

     shocked by how much pain was involved. She accessed her interface,

     chose body controls, and began raising her pain threshold.

     Duane recovered, and came toward her.

     "No!" she screamed.

     "Come on, you bitch!" He bent down to pick her up.

     Erin placed both feet against his chest and shoved with her

     legs. He flew backwards, a surprised look on his face, hit the

     edge of the starboard deck and tumbled over into the water. There

     was a large splash, and Erin saw water droplets spray up in a

     fountain and come raining down. She thought immediately of the

     lure, and that it would get him. Panting, she crawled to the

     starboard side on knees and elbows and looked over.

     He was swimming in place, looking up at her.

     "Why did you do it!" she screamed at him. "Why?!"

     "It'll get me, now."

     "Oh, God," she said. "Why?"

     "I suppose I deserve it. I deserve to die."

     She was crying. She couldn't believe this it was all so

     insane. She didn't want him to die. "Why did you want to kill me?"

     "I don't want to kill you."

     "You don't, you why did you do this? You broke my wrist!"

     "I'm sorry." He looked up at her with his wide brown eyes.

     Erin extended her good hand out to him. "Hurry," she said.

     He grabbed her arm, put his feet against the boat and pulled

     her headlong into the water. The coldness of sudden immersion

     shocked her, her body going stiff as she sank. Currents pulled her

     from side to side, twisting her around. She opened her eyes,

     sought the surface. Long, pastel green and blue streaks of light

     surround an area of black. In her panic she couldn't make any

     sense of what she was seeing.

     It was the bottom of the boat. It was sliding away, the

     currents carrying her along faster than above. Erin fought the

     shock off, forced herself to swim even as terrible shivers like

     drafts of ice ran down her arms and sides. The water was murky,

     then clear, then murky again, and a translucent thing came into

     view, a thing like a twisted, spinning icicle. A whirlpool. Erin

     broke surface right beside it, and it pulled her around. She

     sucked in air with a gasp, paddling with one arm and kicking. The

     boat was twenty yards away. Duane was climbing over the railing,

     dripping water.

     She screamed out his name, her voice filled with all the

     pain, shock and dismay she was feeling, and watched as he turned

     and looked at her, wet hair half over his eyes, his face stoic,

     expressionless. She had to keep turning her head to see him, the

     whirlpool pulling her in a circle. He picked up his fishing gun

     and put it in its holder, tightening the clamp. Then he sat with

     his back to her, looking down at his feet.

     She kicked her legs and thrusted with her good arm, getting

     away from the whirlpool, heading further downstream and a little

     toward the shore. Erin had no idea how long the filament line was

     for the lure. If she could get out of its reach she might last

     long enough for the signal blocker to come unglued. A quick signal

     to TIM would bring rescue.

     The water became a thing repulsive to her, a pool of menace.

     The lure could be anywhere, but no matter where it was she knew it

     was heading toward her. She got away from one whirlpool to be

     sucked into another passing vortex, this one in a swift finger of

     current that took her farther away from the boat. The boat kept

     turning, the holder lifting and maneuvering the fishing gun to

     keep the line from tangling with the boat or wrapping around

     Duane. From glancing back at the holder she could tell where the

     filament was leading. It seemed to always be pointing at her.

     She heard a high-pitched whine and a sharp squirt, something

     leapt out of the water and past her head, missing her. The

     filament landed on her shoulder and slid against it, slicing into

     her flesh. She pushed it away from her, but the lure came looping

     back, jumping again and narrowly missing. It was deliberately

     aiming for her head, tuned into her cephalic waves. Duane wasn't

     worried about her recording, the lure was programmed to home in on

     her interface.

     Erin pushed against the sharp filament but it was growing

     tight, a loop around her neck. She flailed in the water, loosing

     her mind to the terror, and her foot caught the filament as the

     lure came around again. The filament cut into her shoe, pulling

     the lure short as it swung around. Something hit her in the chest,

     so hard it took her breath away. It was like someone swung a large

     metal hammer right into her. She felt weak and sick. The water

     around her grew cloudy and dark with blood.

     At the signal of an impact, the fishing gun on the boat

     began automatically reeling in the line. It pulled the loop around

     Erin taut, pulling the line right through her. Erin felt distant

     tugging, and then an explosion of white as her spinal column

     severed. As her body was being pulled toward the boat, her head

     sunk slowly into the darkness of the river. Her interface, passing

     out of range of the signal blocker, began sending the death call.

     #

     Slowly rising in volume, but still just barely audible,

     alpha-state cycle music swirled around Erin . . . piano notes

     hitting in precise, beautiful harmony across the sad bursts of the

     saxophone. Erin sat up, staring at the blank, smooth, creme-white

     of a wall. She didn't wonder where she was, she already knew. The

     last thing she remembered was going to sleep the night before. Her

     current thought, the thought that was in her mind as she became

     aware, was her ahnya-ha; the last conscious thought she had before

     death.

     He killed me. That was it, repeated twice. It was encoded in

     her death call, the call that caused this "backup" of her mind to

     be loaded into her master computer. She knew the room she was in,

     it was a program called Office. Office was designed to allowed her

     mind to operate with a phantom body in a phantom space inside her

     computer.

     "TIM?" Her voice seemed flat; there was no echoing of her

     voice from the walls. "TIM, what happened?"

     "I have reviewed recorded memories and have decided to

     shield you from them to prevent trauma," TIM said, a voice from

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