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."
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?"
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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,
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
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
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
"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