Listen, zombie. Believe me. What I could tell you—you with your silly hands leaking sweat on your growth-stocks portfolio. One-ten lousy hacks of AT&T on twenty-point margin and you think you're Evel Knievel. AT&T? You doubleknit dummy, how I'd love to show you something.
Look, dead daddy, I'd say. See for instance that rotten girl?
In the crowd over there, that one gaping at her gods. One rotten girl in the city of the future. (That's what I said.) Watch.
She's jammed among bodies, craning and peering with her soul yearning out of her eyeballs. Love! Oo-ooh, love them! Her gods are coming out of a store called Body East. Three young-bloods, larking along loverly. Dressed like simple street-people but . . . smashing. See their great eyes swivel above their nose-filters, their hands lift shyly, their inhumanly tender lips melt? The crowd moans. Love! This whole boiling megacity, this whole fun future world loves its gods.
You don't believe gods, dad? Wait. Whatever turns you on, there's a god in the future for you, custom-made. Listen to this mob. "I touched his foot. Ow-oow, I TOUCHED Him!"
Even the people in the GTX tower up there love the gods—in their own way and for their own reasons.
The funky girl on the street, she just loves. Grooving on their beautiful lives, their mysterioso problems. No one ever told her about mortals who love a god and end up as a tree or a sighing sound. In a million years it'd never occur to her that her gods might love her back.
She's squashed against the wall now as the godlings come by.
They move in a clear space. A holocam bobs above but its shadow never falls on them. The store display screens are magically clear of bodies as the gods glance in and a beggar underfoot is suddenly alone. They give him a token. "Aaaaah!" goes the crowd.
Now one of them flashes some wild new kind of timer and they all trot to catch a shuttle, just like people. The shuttle stops for them—more magic. The crowd sighs, closing back. The gods are gone.
(In a room far from—but not unconnected to—the GTX tower a molecular flipflop closes too, and three account tapes spin.)
Our girl is still stuck by the wall while guards and holocam equipment pull away. The adoration's fading from her face. That's good, because now you can see she's the ugly of the world. A tall monument to pituitary dystrophy. No surgeon would touch her. When she smiles, her jaw—it's half purple—almost bites her left eye out. She's also quite young, but who could care?
The crowd is pushing her along now, treating you to glimpses of her jumbled torso, her mismatched legs. At the corner she strains to send one last fond spasm after the godlings' shuttle. Then her face reverts to its usual expression of dim pain and she lurches onto the moving walkway, stumbling into people. The walkway junctions with another. She crosses, trips and collides with the casualty rail. Finally she comes out into a little place called a park. The sportshow is working, a basketball game in 3-di is going on right overhead. But all she does is squeeze onto a bench and huddle there while a ghostly free-throw goes by her ear.
After that nothing at all happens except a few furtive hand-mouth gestures which don't even interest her benchmates.
But you're curious about the city? So ordinary after all, in the FUTURE?
Ah, there's plenty to swing with here—and it's not all that far in the future, dad. But pass up the sci-fi stuff for now, like for instance the holovision technology that's put TV and radio in museums. Or the worldwide carrier field bouncing down from satellites, controlling communication and transport systems all over the globe. That was a spin-off from asteroid mining, pass it by. We're watching that girl.
I'll give you just one goodie. Maybe you noticed on the sportshow or the streets? No commercials. No ads.
That's right. NO ADS. An eyeballer for you.
Look around. Not a billboard, sign, slogan, jingle, skywrite, blurb, sublimflash, in this whole fun world. Brand names? Only in those ticky little peep-screens on the stores and you could hardly call that advertising. How does that finger you?
Think about it. That girl is still sitting there.
She's parked right under the base of the GTX tower as a matter of fact. Look way up and you can see the sparkles from the bubble on top, up there among the domes of godland. Inside that bubble is a boardroom. Neat bronze shield on the door: Global Transmissions Corporation—not that that means anything.
I happen to know there's six people in that room. Five of them technically male, and the sixth isn't easily thought of as a mother. They are absolutely unremarkable. Those faces were seen once at their nuptials and will show again in their obituaries and impress nobody either time. If you're looking for the secret Big Blue Meanies of the world, forget it. I know. Zen, do I know! Flesh? Power? Glory? You'd horrify them.
What they do like up there is to have things orderly, especially their communications. You could say they've dedicated their lives to that, to freeing the world from garble. Their nightmares are about hemorrhages of information: channels screwed up, plans misimplemented, garble creeping in. Their gigantic wealth only worries them, it keeps opening new vistas of disorder. Luxury? They wear what their tailors put on them, eat what their cooks serve them. See that old boy there—his name is Isham— he's sipping water and frowning as he listens to a databall. The water was prescribed by his medistaff. It tastes awful. The databall also contains a disquieting message about his son, Paul.
But it's time to go back down, far below to our girl. Look!
She's toppled over sprawling on the ground.
A tepid commotion ensues among the bystanders. The consensus is she's dead, which she disproves by bubbling a little. And presently she's taken away by one of the superb ambulances of the future, which are a real improvement over ours when one happens to be around.
At the local bellevue the usual things are done by the usual team of clowns aided by a saintly mop-pusher. Our girl revives enough to answer the questionnaire without which you can't die, even in the future. Finally she's cast up, a pumped-out hulk on a cot in the long, dim ward.
Again nothing happens for a while except that her eyes leak a little from the understandable disappointment of finding herself still alive.
But somewhere one GTX computer has been tickling another, and toward midnight something does happen. First comes an attendant who pulls screens around her. Then a man in a business doublet comes daintily down the ward. He motions the attendant to strip off the sheet and go.
The groggy girl-brute heaves up, big hands clutching at bodyparts you'd pay not to see.
"Burke? P. Burke, is that your name?"
"Y-yes." Croak. "Are you. . . policeman?"
"No. They'll be along shortly, I expect. Public suicide's a felony."
". . . I'm sorry."
He has a 'corder in his hand. "No family, right?"
"You're seventeen. One year city college. What did you study?"
"H'm. Say something."
He studies her. Seen close, he's not so elegant. Errand-boy type.
"Why did you try to kill yourself?" ^
She stares at him with dead-rat dignity, hauling up the gray sheet. Give him a point, he doesn't ask twice.
"Tell me, did you see Breath this afternoon?"
Dead as she nearly is, that ghastly love-look wells up. Breath is the three young gods, a loser's cult. Give the man another point, he interprets her expression.
"How would you like to meet them?"
The girl's eyes bug out grotesquely.
"I have a job for someone like you. It's hard work. If you did well you'd be meeting Breath and stars like that all the time."
Is he insane? She's deciding she really did die.
"But it means you never see anybody you know again. Never, ever. You will be legally dead. Even the police won't know. Do you want to try?"
It all has to be repeated while her great jaw slowly sets. Show me the fire I walk through. Finally P. Burke's prints are in his 'corder, the man holding up the rancid girl-body without a sign of distaste. It makes you wonder what else he does.
And then—THE MAGIC. Sudden silent trot of litterbearers tucking P. Burke into something quite different from a bellevue stretcher, the oiled slide into the daddy of all luxury ambulances —real flowers in that holder!—and the long jarless rush to nowhere. Nowhere is warm and gleaming and kind with nurses. (Where did you hear that money can't buy genuine kindness?) And clean clouds folding P. Burke into bewildered sleep.
. . . Sleep which merges into feedings and washings and more sleeps, into drowsy moments of afternoon where midnight should be, and gentle businesslike voices and friendly (but very few) faces, and endless painless hyposprays and peculiar numbnesses. And later comes the steadying rhythm of days and nights, and a quickening which P. Burke doesn't identify as health, but only knows that the fungus place in her armpit is gone. And then she's up and following those few new faces with growing trust, first tottering, then walking strongly, all better now, clumping down the short hall to the tests, tests, tests, and the other things.
And here is our girl, looking—
If possible, worse than before. (You thought this was Cinderella transistorized?)
The disimprovement in her looks comes from the electrode jacks peeping out of her sparse hair, and there are other meldings of flesh and metal. On the other hand, that collar and spinal plate are really an asset; you won't miss seeing that neck.
P. Burke is ready for training in her new job.
The training takes place in her suite, and is exactly what you'd call a charm course. How to walk, sit, eat, speak, blow her nose, how to stumble, to urinate, to hiccup—DELICIOUSLY. How to make each nose-blow or shrug delightfully, subtly different from any ever spooled before. As the man said, it's hard work.
But P. Burke proves apt. Somewhere in that horrible body is a gazelle, a houri who would have been buried forever without this crazy chance. See the ugly duckling go!
Only it isn't precisely P. Burke who's stepping, laughing, shaking out her shining hair. How could it be? P. Burke is doing it all right, but she's doing it through something. The something is to all appearances a live girl. (You were warned, this is the FUTURE.)
When they first open the big cryocase and show her her new body she says just one word. Staring, gulping, "How?"
Simple, really. Watch P. Burke in her sack and scuffs stump down the hall beside Joe, the man who supervises the technical part of her training. Joe doesn't mind P. Burke's looks, he hasn't noticed them. To Joe, system matrices are beautiful.
They go into a dim room containing a huge cabinet like a one-man sauna and a console for Joe. The room has a glass wall that's all dark now. And just for your information, the whole shebang is five hundred feet underground near what used to be Carbondale, Pa.
Joe opens the sauna-cabinet like a big clamshell standing on end with a lot of funny business inside. Our girl shucks her shift and walks into it bare, totally unembarrassed. Eager. She settles in face-forward, butting jacks into sockets. Joe closes it carefully onto her humpback. Clunk. She can't see in there or hear or move. She hates this minute. But how she loves what comes next!
Joe's at his console and the lights on the other side of the glass wall come up. A room is on the other side, all fluff and kicky bits, a girly bedroom. In the bed is a small mound of silk with a rope of yellow hair hanging out.
The sheets stirs and gets whammed back flat.
Sitting up in the bed is the darlingest girl child you've EVER seen. She quivers—porno for angels. She sticks both her little arms straight up, flips her hair, looks around full of sleepy pazazz. Then she can't resist rubbing her hands down over her minibreasts and belly. Because, you see, it's the godawful P. Burke who is sitting there hugging her perfect girl-body, looking at you out of delighted eyes.
Then the kitten hops out of bed and crashes flat on the floor.
From the sauna in the dim room comes a strangled noise. P. Burke, trying to rub her wired-up elbow is suddenly smothered in two bodies, electrodes jerking in her flesh. Joe juggles inputs, crooning into his mike. The flurry passes; it's all right.
In the lighted room the elf gets up, casts a cute glare at the glass wall and goes into a transparent cubicle. A bathroom, what else? She's a live girl, and live girls have to go to the bathroom after a night's sleep even if their brains are in a sauna-cabinet in the next room. And P. Burke isn't in that cabinet, she's in the bathroom. Perfectly simple, if you have the glue for that closed training circuit that's letting her run her neural system by remote control.
Now let's get one thing clear. P. Burke does not feel her brain is in the sauna room, she feels she's in that sweet little body. When you wash your hands, do you feel the water is running on your brain? Of course not. You feel the water on your hand, although the "feeling" is actually a potential-pattern flickering over the electrochemical jelly between your ears. And it's delivered there via the long circuits from your hands. Just so, P. Burke's brain in the cabinet feels the water on her hands in the bathroom. The fact that the signals have jumped across space on the way in makes no difference at all. If you want the jargon, it's known as eccentric projection or sensory reference and you've done it all your life. Clear?
Time to leave the honey-pot to her toilet training—she's made a booboo with the toothbrush, because P. Burke can't get used to what she sees in the mirror. But wait, you say. Where did that girl-body come from?
P. Burke asks that too, dragging out the words.
"They grow 'em," Joe tells her. He couldn't care less about the flesh department. "PDs. Placental decanters. Modified embryos, see? Fit the control implants in later. Without a Remote Operator it's just a vegetable. Look at the feet—no callus at all." (He knows because they told him.)
"Oh ... oh, she's incredible . . ."
"Yeah, a neat job. Want to try walking-talking mode today? You're coming on fast."
And she is. Joe's reports and the reports from the nurse and the doctor and style man go to a bushy man upstairs who is some kind of medical cybertech but mostly a project administrator. His reports in turn go—to the GTX boardroom? Certainly not, did you think this is a big thing? His reports just go up. The point is, they're green, very green. P. Burke promises well.
So the bushy man—Doctor Tesla—has procedures to initiate. The little kitten's dossier in the Central Data Bank, for instance. Purely routine. And the phase-in schedule which will put her on the scene. This is simple: a small exposure in an off-network holoshow.
Next he has to line out the event which will fund and target her. That takes budget meetings, clearances, coordinations. The Burke project begins to recruit and grow. And there's the messy business of the name, which always gives Doctor Tesla an acute pain in the bush.
The name comes out weird, when it's suddenly discovered that Burke's "P." stands for "Philadelphia," Philadelphia? The astrologer grooves on it. Joe thinks it would help identification. The semantics girl references brotherly love, Liberty-Bell, main-line, low teratogenesis, blah-blah. Nicknames Philly? Pala? Pooty? Delphi? Is it good, bad? Finally "Delphi" is gingerly declared goodo. ("Burke" is replaced by something nobody remembers.)
Coming along now. We're at the official checkout down in the underground suite, which is as far as the training circuits reach. The bushy Doctor Tesla is there, braced by two budgetary types and a quiet fatherly man whom he handles like hot plasma.
Joe swings the door wide and she steps shyly in.
Their little Delphi, fifteen and flawless.
Tesla introduces her around. She's child-solemn, a beautiful baby to whom something so wonderful has happened you can feel the tingles. She doesn't smile, she . . . brims. That brimming joy is all that shows of P. Burke, the forgotten hulk in the sauna next door. But P. Burke doesn't know she's alive—it's Delphi who lives, every warm inch of her.
One of the budget types lets go a libidinous snuffle and freezes. The fatherly man, whose name is Mr. Cantle, clears his throat.
"Well, young lady, are you ready to go to work?"
"Yes sir," gravely from the elf.
"We'll see. Has anybody told you what you're going to do for us?"
"No, sir." Joe and Tesla exhale quietly.
"Good." He eyes her, probing for the blind brain in the room next door.
"Do you know what advertising is?"
He's talking dirty, hitting to shock. Delphi's eyes widen and her little chin goes up. Joe is in ecstasy at the complex expressions P. Burke is getting through. Mr. Cantle waits.
"It's, well, it's when they used to tell people to buy things." She swallows. "It's not allowed."
"That's right." Mr. Cantle leans back, grave. "Advertising as it used to be is against the law. A display other than the legitimate use of the product, intended to promote its sale. In former times every manufacturer was free to tout his wares any way, place or time he could afford. All the media and most of the landscape was taken up with extravagant competing displays. The thing became uneconomic. The public rebelled. Since the so-called Huckster Act, sellers have been restrained to, I quote, displays in or on the product itself, visible during its legitimate use or in on-premise sales." Mr. Cantle leans forward. "Now tell me, Delphi, why do people buy one product rather than another?"
"Well . . ." Enchanting puzzlement from Delphi. "They, um, they see them and like them, or they hear about them from somebody?" (Touch of P. Burke there; she didn't say, from a friend.)
"Partly. Why did you buy your particular body-lift?"
"I never had a body-lift, sir."
Mr. Cantle frowns; what gutters do they drag for these Remotes?
"Well, what brand of water do you drink?"
"Just what was in the faucet, sir," says Delphi humbly. "I—I did try to boil it—"
"Good God." He scowls; Tesla stiffens. "Well, what did you boil it in? A cooker?"
The shining yellow head nods.
"What brand of cooker did you buy?"
"I didn't buy it, sir," says frightened P. Burke through Delphi's lips. "But—I know the best kind! Ananga has a Burnbabi, I saw the name when she—"
"Exactly!" Cantle's fatherly beam comes back strong; the Burnbabi account is a strong one, too. "You saw Ananga using one so you thought it must be good, eh? And it is good or a great human being like Ananga wouldn't be using it. Absolutely right. And now, Delphi, you know what you're going to be doing for us. You're going to show some products. Doesn't sound very hard, does it?"
"Oh, no, sir ..." Baffled child's stare; Joe gloats.
"And you must never, never tell anyone what you're doing." Cantle's eyes bore for the brain behind this seductive child.
"You're wondering why we ask you to do this, naturally. There's a very serious reason. All those products people use, foods and healthaids and cookers and cleaners and clothes and car—they're all made by people. Somebody put in years of hard work designing and making them. A man comes up with a fine new idea for a better product. He has to get a factory and machinery, and hire workmen. Now. What happens if people have no way of hearing about his product? Word-of-mouth is far too slow and unreliable. Nobody might ever stumble onto his new product or find out how good it was, right? And then he and all the people who worked for him—they'd go bankrupt, right? So, Delphi, there has to be some way that large numbers of people can get a look at a good new product, right? How? By letting people see you using it. You're giving that man a chance."
Delphi's little head is nodding in happy relief.
"Yes, sir, I do see now—but sir, it seems so sensible, why don't they let you—"
Cantle smiles sadly.
"It's an overreaction, my dear. History goes by swings. People overreact and pass harsh unrealistic laws which attempt to stamp out an essential social process. When this happens, the people who understand have to carry on as best they can until the pendulum swings back. He sighs. "The Huckster Laws are bad, inhuman laws, Delphi, despite their good intent. If they were strictly observed they would wreak havoc. Our economy, our society would be cruelly destroyed. We'd be back in caves!" His inner fire is showing; if the Huckster Laws were strictly enforced he'd be back punching a databank.
"It's our duty, Delphi. Our solemn social duty. We are not breaking the law. You will be using the product. But people wouldn't understand, if they knew. They would become upset, just as you did. So you must be very, very careful not to mention any of this to anybody."
(And somebody will be very, very carefully monitoring Delphi's speech circuits.)
"Now we're all straight, aren't we? Little Delphi here"— He is speaking to the invisible creature next door— "Little Delphi is going to live a wonderful, exciting life. She's going to be a girl people watch. And she's going to be using fine products people will be glad to know about and helping the good people who make them. Yours will be a genuine social contribution." He keys up his pitch; the creature in there must be older.
Delphi digests this with ravishing gravity.
"But sir, how do I—?"
"Don't worry about a thing. You'll have people behind you whose job it is to select the most worthy products for you to use. Your job is just to do as they say. They'll show you what outfits to wear to parties, what suncars and viewers to buy and so on. That's all you have to do."
Parties—clothes—suncars! Delphi's pink mouth opens. In P. Burke's starved seventeen-year-old head the ethics of product sponsorship float far away.
"Now tell me in your own words what your job is, Delphi."
"Yes sir. I—I'm to go to parties and buy things and use them as they tell me, to help the people who work in factories."
"And what did I say was so important?"
"Oh—I shouldn't let anybody know, about the things."
"Right." Mr. Cantle has another paragraph he uses when the subject shows, well, immaturity. But he can sense only eagerness here. Good. He doesn't really enjoy the other speech.
"It's a lucky girl who can have all the fun she wants while doing good for others, isn't it?" He beams around. There's a prompt shuffling of chairs. Clearly this one is go.
Joe leads her out, grinning. The poor fool thinks they're admiring her coordination.
It's out into the world for Delphi now, and at this point the up-channels get used. On the administrative side account schedules are opened, subprojects activated. On the technical side the reserved bandwidth is cleared. (That carrier field, remember?) A new name is waiting for Delphi, a name she'll never hear. It's a long string of binaries which have been quietly cycling in a GTX tank ever since a certain Beautiful Person didn't wake up.
The name winks out of cycle, dances from pulses into modulations of modulations, whizzes through phasing, and shoots into a giga-band beam racing up to a synchronous satellite poised over Guatemala. From there the beam pours twenty thousand miles back to earth again, forming an all-pervasive field of structured energies supplying tuned demand-points all over the CanAm quadrant.
With that field, if you have the right credit rating you can sit at a GTX console and operate a tuned ore-extractor in Brazil. Or —if you have some simple credentials like being able to walk on water—you could shoot a spool into the network holocam shows running day and night in every home and dorm and rec. site. Or you could create a continent-wide traffic jam. Is it any wonder GTX guards those inputs like a sacred trust?
Delphi's "name" appears as a tiny analyzable nonredundancy in the flux, and she'd be very proud if she knew about it. It would strike P. Burke as magic; P. Burke never even understood robotcars. But Delphi is in no sense a robot. Call her a waldo if you must. The fact is she's just a girl, a real live girl with her brain in an unusual place. A simple real-time on-line system with plenty of bit-rate—even as you and you.
The point of all this hardware, which isn't very much hardware in this society, is so Delphi can walk out of that underground suite, a mobile demand-point draining an omnipresent fieldform. And she does—eighty-nine pounds of tender girl flesh and blood with a few metallic components, stepping out into the sunlight to be taken to her new life. A girl with everything going for her including a meditech escort. Walking lovely, stopping to widen her eyes at the big antennae system overhead.
The mere fact that something called P. Burke is left behind down underground has no bearing at all. P. Burke is totally un-self aware and happy as a clam in its shell. (Her bed has been moved into the waldo cabinet room now.) And P. Burke isn't in the cabinet; P. Burke is climbing out of an airvan in a fabulous Colorado beef preserve and her name is Delphi. Delphi is looking at live Charolais steers and live cottonwoods and aspens gold against the blue smog and stepping over live grass to be welcomed by the reserve super's wife.
The super's wife is looking forward to a visit from Delphi and her friends and by a happy coincidence there's a holocam outfit here doing a piece for the nature nuts.
You could write the script yourself now, while Delphi learns a few rules about structural interferences and how to handle the tiny time lag which results from the new forty-thousand-mile parenthesis in her nervous system. That's right—the people with the leased holocam rig naturally find the gold aspen shadows look a lot better on Delphi's flank than they do on a steer. And Delphi's face improves the mountains too, when you can see them. But the nature freaks aren't quite as joyful as you'd expect.
"See you in Barcelona, kitten," the head man says sourly as they pack up.
"Barcelona?" echoes Delphi with that charming little subliminal lag. She sees where his hand is and steps back.
"Cool, it's not her fault," another man says wearily. He knocks back his grizzled hair. "Maybe they'll leave in some of the gut."
Delphi watches them go off to load the spools on the GTX transport for processing. Her hand roves over the breast the man had touched. Back under Carbondale, P. Burke has discovered something new about her Delphi-body.
About the difference between Delphi and her own grim carcass.
She's always known Delphi has almost no sense of taste or smell. They explained about that: only so much bandwidth. You don't have to taste a suncar, do you? And the slight overall dimness of Delphi's sense of touch—she's familiar with that, too. Fabrics that would prickle P. Burke's own hide feel like a cool plastic film to Delphi.
But the blank spots. It took her a while to notice them. Delphi doesn't have much privacy; investments of her size don't. So she's slow about discovering there's certain definite places where her beastly P. Burke body feels things that Delphi's dainty flesh does not. H'mm! Channel space again, she thinks—and forgets it in the pure bliss of being Delphi.
You ask how a girl could forget a thing like that? Look. P. Burke is about as far as you can get from the concept girl. She's a female, yes—but for her, sex is a four-letter word spelled P-A-I-N. She isn't quite a virgin. You don't want the details; she'd been about twelve and the freak-lovers were bombed blind. When they came down they threw her out with a small hole in her anatomy and a mortal one elsewhere. She dragged off to buy her first and last shot and she can still hear the clerk's incredulous guffaws.
Do you see why Delphi grins, stretching her delicious little numb body in the sun she faintly feels? Beams, saying, "Please, I'm ready now."
Ready for what? For Barcelona like the sour man said, where his nature-thing is now making it strong in the amateur section of the Festival. A winner! Like he also said, a lot of strip-mines and dead fish have been scrubbed but who cares with Delphi's darling face so visible?
So it's time for Delphi's face and her other delectabilities to show on Barcelona's Playa Neuva. Which means switching her channel to the EurAf synchsat.
They ship her at night so the nanosecond transfer isn't even noticed by that insignificant part of Delphi that lives five hundred feet under Carbondale, so excited the nurse has to make sure she eats. The circuit switches while Delphi "sleeps," that is, while P. Burke is out of the waldo cabinet. The next time she plugs in to open Delphi's eyes it's no different—do you notice which relay boards your phone calls go through?
And now for the event that turns the sugarcube from Colorado into the PRINCESS.
Literally true, he's a prince, or rather an Infante of an old Spanish line that got shined up in the Neomonarchy. He's also eighty-one, with a passion for birds—the kind you see in zoos. Now it suddenly turns out that he isn't poor at all. Quite the reverse; his old sister laughs in their tax lawyer's face and starts restoring the family hacienda while the Infante totters out to court Delphi. And little Delphi begins to live the life of the gods.
What do gods do? Well, everything beautiful. But (remember Mr. Cantle?) the main point is Things. Ever see a god empty-handed? You can't be a god without at least a magic girdle or an eight-legged horse. But in the old days some stone tablets or winged sandals or a chariot drawn by virgins would do a god for life. No more! Gods make it on novelty now. By Delphi's time the hunt for new god-gear is turning the earth and seas inside-out and sending frantic fingers to the stars. And what gods have, mortals desire.
So Delphi starts on a Euromarket shopping spree squired by her old Infante, thereby doing her bit to stave off social collapse.
Social what? Didn't you get it, when Mr. Cantle talked about a world where advertising is banned and fifteen billion consumers are glued to their holocam shows? One capricious self-powered god can wreck you.
Take the nose-filter massacre. Years, the industry sweated years to achieve an almost invisible enzymatic filter. So one day a couple of pop-gods show up wearing nose-filters like big purple bats. By the end of the week the world market is screaming for purple bats. Then it switched to bird-heads and skulls, but by the time the industry retooled the crazies had dropped bird-heads and gone to injection globes. Blood!
Multiply that by a million consumer industries and you can see why it's economic to have a few controllable goods. Especially with the beautiful hunk of space R&D the Peace Department laid out for, and which the taxpayers are only too glad to have taken off their hands by an outfit like GTX which everybody knows is almost a public trust.
And so you—or rather, GTX—find a creature like P. Burke and give her Delphi. And Delphi helps keep things orderly, she does what you tell her to. Why? That's right, Mr. Cantle never finished his speech.
But here come the tests of Delphi's button-nose twinkling in the torrent of news and entertainment. And she's noticed. The feedback shows a flock of viewers turning up the amps when this country baby gets tangled in her new colloidal body-jewels. She registers at a couple of major scenes, too, and when the Infante gives her a suncar, little Delphi trying out suncars is a tiger. There's a solid response in high-credit country. Mr. Cantle is humming his happy tune as he cancels a Benelux subnet option to guest her on a nude cook-show called Work Venus.
And now for the superposh old-world wedding! The hacienda has Moorish baths and six-foot silver candelabra and real black horses and the Spanish Vatican blesses them. The final event is a grand gaucho ball with the old prince and his little Infanta on a bowered balcony. She's a spectacular doll of silver lace, wildly launching toy doves at her new friends whirling by below.
The Infante beams, twitches his old nose to the scent of her sweet excitement. His doctor has been very helpful. Surely now, after he has been so patient with the suncars and all the nonsense—
The child looks up at him, saying something incomprehensible about "breath." He makes out that she's complaining about the three singers she had begged for.
"They've changed!" she marvels. "Haven't they changed? They're so dreary. I'm so happy now!"
And Delphi falls fainting against a gothic vargueno.
Her American duenna rushes up, calls help. Delphi's eyes are open, but Delphi isn't there. The duenna pokes among Delphi's hair, slaps her. The old prince grimaces. He has no idea what she is beyond an excellent solution to his tax problems, but he had been a falconer in his youth. There comes to his mind the small pinioned birds which were flung up to stimulate the hawks. He pockets the veined claw to which he had promised certain indulgences and departs to design his new aviary.
And Delphi also departs with her retinue to the Infante's newly discovered yacht. The trouble isn't serious. It's only that five thousand miles away and five hundred feet down P. Burke has been doing it too well.
They've always known she has terrific aptitude. Joe says he never saw a Remote take over so fast. No disorientations, no rejections. The psychomed talks about self-alienation. She's going into Delphi like a salmon to the sea.
She isn't eating or sleeping, they can't keep her out of the body-cabinet to get her blood moving, there are necroses under her grisly sit-down. Crisis!
So Delphi gets a long "sleep" on the yacht and P. Burke gets it pounded through her perforated head that she's endangering Delphi. (Nurse Fleming thinks of that, thus alienating the psychomed.)
They rig a pool down there (Nurse Fleming again) and chase P. Burke back and forth. And she loves it. So naturally when they let her plug in again Delphi loves it too. Every noon beside the yacht's hydrofoils darling Delphi clips along in the blue sea they've warned her not to drink. And every night around the shoulder of the world an ill-shaped thing in a dark burrow beats its way across a sterile pool.
So presently the yacht stands up on its foils and carries Delphi to the program Mr. Cantle has waiting. It's long-range; she's scheduled for at least two decades' product life. Phase One calls for her to connect with a flock of young ultra-riches who are romping loose between Brioni and Djakarta where a competitor named PEV could pick them off.
A routine luxgear op, see; no politics, no policy angles, and the main budget items are the title and the yacht which was idle anyway. The storyline is that Delphi goes to accept some rare birds for her prince—who cares? The point is that the Haiti area is no longer radioactive and look!—the gods are there. And so are several new Carib West Happy Isles which can afford GTX rates, in fact two of them are GTX subsids.
But you don't want to get the idea that all these newsworthy people are wired-up robbies, for pity's sake. You don't need many if they're placed right. Delphi asks Joe about that when he comes down to Baranquilla to check her over. (P. Burke's own mouth hasn't said much for a while.)
"Are there many like me?"
"Nobody's like you, buttons. Look, are you still getting that Van Allen warble?"
"I mean, like Davy. Is he a Remote?"
(Davy is the lad who is helping her collect the birds. A sincere redhead who needs a little more exposure.)
"Davy? He's one of Mart's boys, some psychojob. They haven't any channel."
"What about the real ones? Djuma van O, or Ali, or Jim Ten?"
"Djuma was born with a pile of GTX basic where her brain should be, she's nothing but a pain. Jimsy does what his astrologer tells him. Look, peanut, where do you get the idea you aren't real? You're the reallest. Aren't you having joy?"
"Oh, Joe!" Flinging her little arms around him and his analyzer grids. "Oh, me gusto mucho, muchissimo!"
"Hey, hey." He pets her yellow head, folding the analyzer.
Three thousand miles north and five hundred feet down a forgotten hulk in a body-waldo glows.
And is she having joy. To waken out of the nightmare of being P. Burke and find herself a peri, a star-girl? On a yacht in paradise with no more to do than adorn herself and play with toys and attend revels and greet her friends—her, P. Burke, having friends!—and turn the right way for the holocams? Joy!
And it shows. One look at Delphi and the viewers know: DREAMS CAN COME TRUE.
Look at her riding pillions on Davy's sea-bike, carrying an apoplectic macaw in a silver hoop. Oh, Morton, let's go there this winter! Or learning the Japanese chinchona from that Kobe group, in a dress that looks like a blowtorch rising from one knee, and which should sell big in Texas. Morton, is that real fire? Happy, happy little girl!
And Davy. He's her pet and her baby and she loves to help him fix his red-gold hair. (P. Burke marveling, running Delphi's fingers through the curls.) Of course Davy is one of Matt's boys —not impotent exactly, but very very low drive. (Nobody knows exactly what Matt does with his bitty budget but the boys are useful and one or two have made names.) He's perfect for Delphi; in fact the psychomed lets her take him to bed, two kittens in a basket. Davy doesn't mind the fact that Delphi "sleeps" like the dead. That's when P. Burke is out of the body-waldo up at Carbondale, attending to her own depressing needs.
A funny thing about that. Most of her sleepy-time Delphi's just a gently ticking lush little vegetable waiting for P. Burke to get back on the controls. But now and again Delphi all by herself smiles a bit or stirs in her "sleep." Once she breathed a sound: "Yes."
Under Carbondale, P. Burke knows nothing. She's asleep too, dreaming of Delphi, what else? But if the bushy Dr. Tesla had heard that single syllable his bush would have turned snow-white. Because Delphi is TURNED OFF.
He doesn't. Davy is too dim to notice and Delphi's staff boss, Hopkins wasn't monitoring.
And they've all got something else to think about now, because the cold-fire dress sells half a million copies, and not only in Texas. The GTX computers already know it. When they correlate a minor demand for macaws in Alaska the problem comes to human attention: Delphi is something special.
It's a problem, see, because Delphi is targeted on a limited consumer bracket. Now it turns out she has mass-pop potential— those macaws in Fairbanks, man!—it's like trying to shoot mice with an ABM. A whole new ball game. Dr. Tesla and the fatherly Mr. Cantle start going around in headquarters circles and buddy-lunching together when they can get away from a seventh-level weasel boy who scares them both.
In the end it's decided to ship Delphi down to the GTX holocam enclave in Chile to try a spot on one of the mainstream shows. (Never mind why an Infanta takes up acting.) The holocam complex occupies a couple of mountains where an observatory once used the clear air. Holocam total-environment shells are very expensive and electronically super-stable. Inside them actors can move freely without going off-register and the whole scene or any selected part will show up in the viewer's home in complete 3-di, so real you can look up their noses and much denser than you get from mobile rigs. You can blow a tit ten feet tall when there's no molecular skiffle around.
The enclave looks—well, take everything you know about Hollywood-Burbank and throw it away. What Delphi sees coming down is a neat giant mushroom-farm, domes of all sizes up to monsters for the big games and stuff. It's orderly. The idea that art thrives on creative flamboyance has long been torpedoed by proof that what art needs is computers. Because this showbiz has something TV and Hollywood never had—automated inbuilt viewer feedback. Samples, ratings, critics, polls? Forget it. With that carrier field you can get real-time response-sensor readouts from every receiver in the world, served up at your console. That started as a thingie to give the public more influence on content.
Try it, man. You're at the console. Slice to the sex-age-educ-econ-ethno-cetera audience of your choice and start. You can't miss. Where the feedback warms up, give 'em more of that. Warm—warmer—hot! You've hit it—the secret itch under those hides, the dream in those hearts. You don't need to know its name. With your hand controlling all the input and your eye reading all the response you can make them a god . . . and somebody'll do the same for you.
But Delphi just sees rainbows, when she gets through the degaussing ports and the field relay and takes her first look at the insides of those shells. The next thing she sees is a team of shapers and technicians descending on her, and millisecond timers everywhere. The tropical leisure is finished. She's in gigabuck mainstream now, at the funnel maw of the unceasing hose that's pumping the sight and sound and flesh and blood and sobs and laughs and dreams of reality into the world's happy head. Little Delphi is going plonk into a zillion homes in prime time and nothing is left to chance. Work!
And again Delphi proves apt. Of course it's really P. Burke down under Carbondale who's doing it, but who remembers that carcass? Certainly not P. Burke, she hasn't spoken through her own mouth for months. Delphi doesn't even recall dreaming of her when she wakes up.
As for the show itself, don't bother. It's gone on so long no living soul could unscramble the plotline. Delphi's trial spot has something to do with a widow and her dead husband's brother's amnesia.
The flap comes after Delphi's spots begin to flash out along the world-hose and the feedback appears. You've guessed it, of course. Sensational! As you'd say, they IDENTIFY.
The report actually says something like InsldnEmp with a string of percentages meaning that Delphi not only has it for anybody with a Y-chromosome, but also for women and every thing in between. It's the sweet supernatural jackpot, the million-to-one.
Remember your Harlow? A sexpot, sure. But why did bitter hausfraus in Gary and Memphis know that the vanilla-ice-cream goddess with the white hair and crazy eyebrows was their baby girl? And write loving letters to Jean warning her that their husbands weren't good enough for her? Why? The GTX analysts don't know either, but they know what to do with it when it happens.
(Back in his bird sanctuary the old Infante spots it without benefit of computers and gazes thoughtfully at his bride in widow's weeds. It might, he feels, be well to accelerate the completion of his studies.)
The excitement reaches down to the burrow under Carbondale where P. Burke gets two medical exams in a week and a chronically inflamed electrode is replaced. Nurse Fleming also gets an assistant who doesn't do much nursing but is very interested in access doors and identity tabs.
And in Chile little Delphi is promoted to a new home up among the stars' residential spreads and a private jitney to carry her to work. For Hopkins there's a new computer terminal and a full-time schedule man. What is the schedule crowded with?
And here begins the trouble. You probably saw that coming too.
"What does she think she is, a goddam consumer rep?" Mr. Cantle's fatherly face in Carbondale contorts.
"The girl's upset," Miss Fleming says stubbornly. "She believes that, what you told her about helping people and good new products."
"They are good products," Mr. Cantle snaps automatically, but his anger is under control. He hasn't got where he is by irrelevant reactions.
"She says the plastic gave her a rash and the glo-pills made her dizzy."
"Good god, she shouldn't swallow them," Doctor Tesla puts in agitatedly.
"You told her she'd use them," persists Miss Fleming. Mr. Cantle is busy figuring how to ease this problem to the weasel-faced young man. What, was it a goose that lays golden eggs?
Whatever he says to level Seven, down in Chile the offending products vanish. And a symbol goes into Delphi's tank matrix, one that means roughly Balance unit resistance against PR index. This means that Delphi's complaints will be endured as long as her Pop Response stays above a certain level. (What happens when it sinks need not concern us.) And to compensate, the price of her exposure-time rises again. She's a regular on the show now and response is still climbing.
See her under the sizzling lasers, in a holocam shell set up as a walkway accident. (The show is guesting an acupuncture school expert.)
"I don't think this new body-lift is safe," Delphi's saying. "It's made a funny blue spot on me—look, Mr. Vere."
She wiggles to show where the mini-gray pak that imparts a delicious sense of weightlessness is attached.
"So don't leave it on, Dee. With your meat—watch that deck-spot, it's starting to synch."
"But if I don't wear it it isn't honest. They should insulate it more or something, don't you see?"
The show's beloved old father, who is the casualty, gives a senile snigger.
"I'll tell them," Mr. Vere mutters. "Look now, as you step back bend like this so it just shows, see? And hold two beats."
Obediently Delphi turns, and through the dazzle her eyes connect with a pair of strange dark ones. She squints. A quite young man is lounging alone by the port, apparently waiting to use the chamber.
Delphi's used by now to young men looking at her with many peculiar expressions, but she isn't used to what she gets here. A jolt of something somber and knowing. Secrets.
"Eyes! Eyes, Dee!"
She moves through the routine, stealing peeks at the stranger. He stares back. He knows something.
When they let her go she comes shyly to him.
"Living wild, kitten." Cool voice, hot underneath.
"What do you mean?"
"Dumping on the product. You trying to get dead?"
"But it isn't right," she tells him. "They don't know, but I do, I've been wearing it."
His cool is jolted.
"You're out of your head."
"Oh, they'll see I'm right when they check it," she explains. "They're just so busy. When I tell them—"
He is staring down at little flower-face. His mouth opens, closes. "What are you doing in this sewer anyway? Who are you?"
Bewilderedly she says, "I'm Delphi."
"What's wrong. Who are you, please?"
Her people are moving her out now, nodding at him.
"Sorry we, ran over, Mister Uhunh," the script girl says.
He mutters something but it's lost as her convoy bustles her toward the flower-decked jitney.
(Hear the click of an invisible ignition-train being armed?)
"Who was he?" Delphi asks her hair man.
The hair man is bending up and down from his knees as he works.
"Paul. Isham. Three," he says and puts a comb in his mouth.
"Who's that? I can't see."
He mumbles around the comb, meaning "Are you jiving?" Because she has to be, in the middle of the GTX enclave.
Next day there's a darkly smoldering face under a turban-towel when Delphi and the show's paraplegic go to use the carbonated pool.
And the next day, too.
(Hear that automatic sequencer cutting in? The system couples, the fuels begin to travel.)
Poor old Isham senior. You have to feel sorry for a man who values order: when he begets young, genetic information is still transmitted in the old ape way. One minute it's a happy midget with a rubber duck—look around and here's this huge healthy stranger, opaquely emotional, running with God knows who. Questions are heard where there's nothing to question, and eruptions claiming to be moral outrage. When this is called to Papa's attention—it may take time, in that boardroom—Papa does what he can, but without immortality-juice the problem is worrisome.
And young Paul Isham is a bear. He's bright and articulate and tender-souled and incessantly active and he and his friends are choking with appallment at the world their fathers made. And it hasn't taken Paul long to discover that his father's house has many mansions and even the GTX computers can't relate everything to everything else. He noses out a decaying project which adds up to something like Sponsoring Marginal Creativity (the free-lance team that "discovered" Delphi was one such grantee). And from there it turns out that an agile lad named Isham can get his hands on a viable packet of GTX holocam facilities.
So here he is with his little band, way down the mushroom-farm mountain, busily spooling a show which has no relation to Delphi's. It's built on bizarre techniques and unsettling distortions pregnant with social protest. An underground expression to you.
All this isn't unknown to his father, of course, but so far it has done nothing more than deepen Isham senior's apprehensive frown.
Until Paul connects with Delphi.
And by the time Papa learns this, those invisible hypergolics have exploded, the energy-shells are rushing out. For Paul, you see, is the genuine article. He's serious. He dreams. He even reads—for example, Green Mansions—and he wept fiercely when those fiends burned Rima alive.
When he hears that some new GTX pussy is making it big he sneers and forgets it. He's busy. He never connects the name with this little girl making her idiotic, doomed protest in the holocam chamber. This strangely simple little girl.
And she comes and looks up at him and he sees Rima, lost Rima the enchanted bird girl, and his unwired human heart goes twang.
And Rima turns out to be Delphi.
Do you need a map? The angry puzzlement. The rejection of the dissonance Rima-hustling-for-GTX-My-Father. Garbage, cannot be. The loitering around the pool to confirm the swindle . . . dark eyes hitting on blue wonder, jerky words exchanged in a peculiar stillness . . . the dreadful reorganization of the image into Rima-Delphi in my Fathers tentacles—
You don't need a map.
Nor for Delphi either, the girl who loved her gods. She's seen their divine flesh close now, heard their unamplified voices call her name. She's played their god-games, worn their garlands. She's even become a goddess herself, though she doesn't believe it. She's not disenchanted, don't think that. She's still full of love. It's just that some crazy kind of hope hasn't—
Really you can skip all this, when the loving little girl on the yellow-brick road meets a Man. A real human male burning with angry compassion and grandly concerned with human justice, who reaches for her with real male arms and—boom! She loves him back with all her heart.
A happy trip, see?
Except that it's really P. Burke five thousand miles away who loves Paul. P. Burke the monster, down in a dungeon, smelling of electrode-paste. A caricature of a woman burning, melting, obsessed with true love. Trying over twenty-double-thousand miles of hard vacuum to reach her beloved through the girl-flesh numbed by an invisible film. Feeling his arms around the body he thinks is hers, fighting through shadows to give herself to him. Trying to taste and smell him through beautiful dead nostrils, to love him back with a body that goes dead in the heart of the fire.
Perhaps you get P. Burke's state of mind?
She has phases. The trying, first. And the shame. The SHAME. I am not what thou lovest. And the fiercer trying. And the realization that there is no, no way, none. Never. Never. ... A bit delayed, isn't it, her understanding that the bargain she made was forever? P. Burke should have noticed those stories about mortals who end up as grasshoppers.
You see the outcome—the funneling of all this agony into one dumb protoplasmic drive to fuse with Delphi. To leave, to close out the beast she is chained to. To become Delphi.
Of course it's impossible.
However her torments have an effect on Paul. Delphi-as-Rima is a potent enough love object, and liberating Delphi's mind requires hours of deeply satisfying instruction in the rottenness of it all. Add in Delphi's body worshipping his flesh, burning in the fire of P. Burke's savage heart—do you wonder Paul is involved?
That's not all.
By now they're spending every spare moment together and some that aren't so spare.
"Mister Isham, would you mind staying out of this sports sequence? The script calls for Davy here."
(Davy's still around, the exposure did him good.)
"What's the difference?" Paul yawns. "It's just an ad. I'm not blocking that thing."
Shocked silence at his two-letter word. The script girl swallows bravely.
"I'm sorry, sir, our directive is to do the social sequence exactly as scripted. We're having to respool the segments we did last week, Mister Hopkins is very angry with me."
"Who the hell is Hopkins? Where is he?"
"Oh, please, Paul. Please."
Paul unwraps himself, saunters back. The holocam crew nervously check their angles. The GTX boardroom has a foible about having things pointed at them and theirs. Cold shivers, when the image of an Isham nearly went onto the world beam beside that Dialadinner.
Worse yet. Paul has no respect for the sacred schedules which are now a full-time job for ferret boy up at headquarters. Paul keeps forgetting to bring her back on time and poor Hopkins can't cope.
So pretty soon the boardroom data-ball has an urgent personal action-tab for Mr. Isham senior. They do it the gentle way, at first.
"I can't today, Paul."
"They say I have to, it's very important."
He strokes the faint gold down on her narrow back. Under Carbondale, Pa., a blind mole-woman shivers.
"Important. Their importance. Making more gold. Can't you see? To them you're just a thing to get scratch with. A huckster. Are you going to let them screw you, Dee? Are you?"
He doesn't know it but he's seeing a weirdie; Remotes aren't hooked up to flow tears.
"Just say no, Dee. No. Integrity. You have to."
"But they say, it's my job—"
"You won't believe I can take care of you, Dee, baby, baby, you're letting them rip us. You have to choose. Tell them, no."
"Paul. . .I w-will. . ."
And she does. Brave little Delphi (insane P. Burke). Saying "No, please, I promised, Paul."
They try some more, still gently.
"Paul, Mr. Hopkins told me the reason they don't want us to be together so much. It's because of who you are, your father."
She thinks her father is like Mr. Cantle, maybe.
"Oh great. Hopkins. I'll fix him. Listen, I can't think about Hopkins now. Ken came back today, he found out something."
They are lying on the high Andes meadow watching his friends dive their singing kites.
"Would you believe, on the coast the police have electrodes in their heads?"
She stiffens in his arms.
"Yeah, weird. I thought they only used PPs on criminals and the army. Don't you see, Dee—something has to be going on. Some movement. Maybe somebody's organizing. How can we find out?" He pounds the ground behind her. "We should make contact! If we could only find out."
"The, the news?" she asks distractedly.
"The news." He laughs. "There's nothing in the news except what they want people to know. Half the country could burn up and nobody would know it if they didn't want. Dee, can't you take what I'm explaining to you? They've got the whole world programmed! Total control of communication. They've got everybody's minds wired in to think what they show them and want what, they give them and they give them what they're programmed to want—you can't break in or out of it, you can't get hold of it anywhere. I don't think they even have a plan except to keep things going round and round—and God knows what's happening to the people or the earth or the other planets, maybe. One great big vortex of lies and garbage pouring round and round getting bigger and bigger and nothing can ever change. If people don't wake up soon we're through!"
He pounds her stomach, softly.
"You have to break out, Dee."
"I'll try, Paul, I will—"
"You're mine. They can't have you."
And he goes to see Hopkins, who is indeed cowed.
But that night up under Carbondale the fatherly Mr. Cantle goes to see P. Burke.
P. Burke? On a cot in a utility robe like a dead camel in a tent, she cannot at first comprehend that he is telling her to break it off with Paul. P. Burke has never seen Paul. Delphi sees Paul. The fact is, P. Burke can no longer clearly recall that she exists apart from Delphi.
Mr. Cantle can scarcely believe it either but he tries.
He points out the futility, the potential embarrassment for Paul. That gets a dim stare from the bulk on the bed. Then he goes into her duty to GTX, her job, isn't she grateful for the opportunity, etcetera. He's very persuasive.
The cobwebby mouth of P. Burke opens and croaks.
Nothing more seems to be forthcoming.
Mr. Cantle isn't dense, he knows an immovable obstacle when he bumps one. He also knows an irresistible force: GTX. The simple solution is to lock the waldo-cabinet until Paul gets tired of waiting for Delphi to wake up. But the cost, the schedules! And there's something odd here ... he eyes the corporate asset hulking on the bed and his hunch-sense prickles.
You see, Remotes don't love. They don't have real sex, the circuits designed that out from the start. So it's been assumed that it's Paul who is diverting himself or something with the pretty little body in Chile. P. Burke can only be doing what comes natural to any ambitious gutter-meat. It hasn't occurred to anyone that they're dealing with the real hairy thing whose shadow is blasting out of every holoshow on earth.
Mr. Cantle frowns. The idea is grotesque. But his instinct for the fuzzy line is strong; he will recommend flexibility.
And so, in Chile:
"Darling, I don't have to work tonight! And Friday too—isn't that right, Mr. Hopkins?"
"Oh, great. When does she come up for parole?"
"Mr. Isham, please be reasonable. Our schedule—surely your own production people must be needing you?"
This happens to be true. Paul goes away. Hopkins stares after him wondering distastefully why an Isham wants to ball a waldo. (How sound are those boardroom belly-fears—garble creeps, creeps in!) It never occurs to Hopkins that an Isham might not know what Delphi is.
Especially with Davy crying because Paul has kicked him out of Delphi's bed.
Delphi's bed is under a real window.
"Stars," Paul says sleepily. He rolls over, pulling Delphi on top. "Are you aware that this is one of the last places on earth where people can see the stars? Tibet, too, maybe."
"Paul. . ."
"Go to sleep. I want to see you sleep."
"Paul, I... I sleep so hard, I mean, it's a joke how hard I am to wake up. Do you mind?"
But finally, fearfully, she must let go. So that five thousand miles north a crazy spent creature can crawl out to gulp concentrates and fall on her cot. But not for long. It's pink dawn when Delphi's eyes open to find Paul's arms around her, his voice saying rude, tender things. He's been kept awake. The nerveless little statue that was her Delphi-body nuzzled him in the night.
Insane hope rises, is fed a couple of nights later when he tells her she called his name in her sleep.
And that day Paul's arms keep her from work and Hopkins' wails go up to headquarters where the sharp-faced lad is working his sharp tailbone off packing Delphi's program. Mr. Cantle refuses that one. But next week it happens again, to a major client. And ferret-face has connections on the technical side.
Now you can see that when you have a field of complexly heterodyned energy modulations tuned to a demand-point like Delphi there are many problems of standwaves and lashback and skiffle of all sorts which are normally balanced out with ease by the technology of the future. By the same token they can be delicately unbalanced too, in ways that feed back into the waldo operator with striking results.
"Darling—what the hell! What's wrong? DELPHI!"
Helpless shrieks, writhings. Then the Rima-bird is lying wet and limp in his arms, her eyes enormous.
"I . . .I wasn't supposed to . . ." she gasps faintly. "They told me not to . . ."
"Oh my god—Delphi."
And his hard fingers are digging in her thick yellow hair. Electronically knowledgeable fingers. They freeze.
"You're a doll! You're one of those. PP implants. They control you. I should have known. Oh God, I should have known."
"No, Paul," she's sobbing. "No, no, no—"
"Damn them. Damn them, what they've done—you're not your—"
He's shaking her, crouching over her in the bed and jerking her back and forth, glaring at the pitiful beauty.
"No!" She pleads (it's not true, that dark bad dream back there )."I'm Delphi!"
"My father. Filth, pigs—damn them, damn them, damn them."
"No, no," she babbles. "They were good to me—" P. Burke underground mouthing, "They were good to me—AAH-AAAAH!"
Another agony skewers her. Up north the sharp young man wants to make sure this so-tiny interference works. Paul can scarcely hang onto her, he's crying too. "I'll kill them."
His Dephi, a wired-up slave! Spikes in her brain, electronic shackles in his bird's heart. Remember when those savages burned Rima alive?
"I'll kill the man that's doing this to you."
He's still saying it afterward but she doesn't hear. She's sure he hates her now, all she wants is to die. When she finally understands that the fierceness is tenderness she thinks it's a miracle. He knows—and he still loves!
How can she guess that he's got it a little bit wrong?
You can't blame Paul. Give him credit that he's even heard about pleasure-pain implants and snoops, which by their nature aren't mentioned much by those who know them most intimately. That's what he thinks is being used on Delphi, something to control her. And to listen—he burns at the unknown ears in their bed.
Of waldo-bodies and objects like P. Burke he has heard nothing.
So it never crosses his mind as he looks down at his violated bird, sick with fury and love, that he isn't holding all of her. Do you need to be told the mad resolve jelling in him now?
To free Delphi.
How? Well, he is after all Paul Isham III. And he even has an idea where the GTX neurolab is. In Carbondale.
But first things have to be done for Delphi, and for his own stomach. So he gives her back to Hopkins and departs in a restrained and discreet way. And the Chile staff is grateful and do not understand that his teeth don't normally show so much.
And a week passes in which Delphi is a very good, docile little ghost. They let her have the load of wildflowers Paul sends and the bland loving notes. (He's playing it coolly.) And up in headquarters weasel boy feels that his destiny has clicked a notch onward and floats the word up that he's handy with little problems.
And no one knows what P. Burke thinks in any way whatever, except that Miss Fleming catches her flushing her food down the can and next night she faints in the pool. They haul her out and stick her with IVs. Miss Fleming frets, she's seen expressions like that before. But she wasn't around when crazies who called themselves Followers of the Fish looked through flames to life everlasting. P. Burke is seeing Heaven on the far side of death, too. Heaven is spelled P-a-u-1, but the idea's the same. I will die and be born again in Delphi.
Garbage, electronically speaking. No way.
Another week and Paul's madness has become a plan. (Remember, he does have friends.) He smolders, watching his love paraded by her masters. He turns out a scorching sequence for his own show. And finally, politely, he requests from Hopkins a morsel of his bird's free time, which duly arrives.
"I thought you didn't want me any more," she's repeating as they wing over mountain flanks in Paul's suncar. "Now you know—"
"Look at me!"
His hand covers her mouth and he's showing her a lettered card.
DON'T TALK THEY CAN HEAR EVERYTHING WE SAY.
I'M TAKING YOU AWAY NOW.
She kisses his hand. He nods urgently, flipping the card.
DON'T BE AFRAID. I CAN STOP THE PAIN IF THEY TRY TO HURT YOU.
With his free hand he shakes out a silvery scrambler-mesh on a power pack. She is dumfounded.
THIS WILL CUT THE SIGNALS AND PROTECT YOU DARLING.
She's staring at him, her head going vaguely from side to side, No.
"Yes!" He grins triumphantly. "Yes!"
For a moment she wonders. That powered mesh will cut off the field, all right. It will also cut off Delphi. But he is Paul. Paul is kissing her, she can only seek him hungrily as he sweeps the suncar through a pass.
Ahead is an old jet ramp with a shiny bullet waiting to go. (Paul also has credits and a Name.) The little GTX patrol courier is built for nothing but speed. Paul and Delphi wedge in behind the pilot's extra fuel tank and there's no more talking when the torches start to scream.
They're screaming high over Quito before Hopkins starts to worry. He wastes another hour tracking the beeper on Paul's suncar. The suncar is sailing a pattern out to sea. By the time they're sure it's empty and Hopkins gets on the hot flue to headquarters the fugitives are a sourceless howl about Carib West.
Up at headquarters weasel boy gets the squeal. His first impulse is to repeat his previous play but then his brain snaps to. This one is too hot. Because, see, although in the long run they can make P. Burke do anything at all except maybe live, instant emergencies can be tricky. And—Paul Isham III.
"Can't you order her back?"
They're all in the GTX tower monitor station, Mr. Cantle and ferret-face and Joe and a very neat man who is Mr. Isham senior's personal eyes and ears.
"No sir," Joe says doggedly. "We can read channels, particularly speech, but we can't interpolate organized patterns. It takes the waldo op to send one-to-one—"
"What are they saying?"
"Nothing at the moment, sir." The console jockey's eyes are closed. "I believe they are, ah, embracing."
"They're not answering," a traffic monitor says. "Still heading zero zero three zero—due north, sir."
"You're certain Kennedy is alerted not to fire on them?" the neat man asks anxiously.
"Can't you just turn her off?" The sharp-faced lad is angry. "Pull that pig out of the controls!"
"If you cut the transmission cold you'll kill the Remote," Joe explains for the third time. "Withdrawal has to be phased right, you have to fade over to the Remote's own autonomies. Heart, breathing, cerebellum would go blooey. If you pull Burke out you'll probably finish her too. It's a fantastic cybersystem, you don't want to do that."
"The investment." Mr. Cantle shudders.
Weasel boy puts his hand on the console jock's shoulder, it's the contact who arranged the No-no effect for him.
"We can at least give them a warning signal, sir." He licks his lips, gives the neat man his sweet ferret smile. "We know that does no damage."
Joe frowns, Mr. Cantle sighs. The neat man is murmuring into his wrist. He looks up. "I am authorized," he says reverently, "I am authorized to, ah, direct a signal. If this is the only course. But minimal, minimal."
Sharp-face squeezes his man's shoulder.
In the silver bullet shrieking over Charleston Paul feels Delphi arch in his arms. He reaches for the mesh, hot for action. She thrashes, pushing at his hands, her eyes roll. She's afraid of that mesh despite the agony. (And she's right.) Frantically Paul fights her in the cramped space, gets it over her head. As he turns the power up she burrows free under his arm and the spasm fades.
"They're calling you again, Mister Isham!" the pilot yells.
"Don't answer. Darling, keep this over your head damn it how can I—"
An AX90 barrels over their nose, there's a flash.
"Mister Isham! Those are Air Force jets!"
"Forget it," Paul shouts back. "They won't fire. Darling, don't be afraid."
Another AX90 rocks them.
"Would you mind pointing your pistol at my head where they can see it, sir?" the pilot howls.
Paul does so. The AX90s take up escort formation around them. The pilot goes back to figuring how he can collect from GTX too, and after Goldsboro AB the escort peels away.
"Holding the same course," Traffic is reporting to the group around the monitor. "Apparently they've taken on enough fuel to bring them to towerport here."
"In that case it's just a question of waiting for them to dock." Mr. Cantle's fatherly manner revives a bit.
"Why can't they cut off that damn freak's life-support," the sharp young man fumes. "It's ridiculous."
"They're working on it," Cantle assures him.
What they're doing, down under Carbondale, is arguing.
Miss Fleming's watchdog has summoned the bushy man to the waldo room.
"Miss Fleming, you will obey orders."
"You'll kill her if you try that, sir. I can't believe you meant it, that's why I didn't. We've already fed her enough sedative to affect heart action; if you cut any more oxygen she'll die in there."
The bushy man grimaces. "Get Doctor Quine here fast."
They wait, staring at the cabinet in which a drugged, ugly madwoman fights for consciousness, fights to hold Delphi's eyes open.
High over Richmond the silver pod starts a turn. Delphi is sagged into Paul's arm, her eyes swim up to him.
"Starting down now, baby. It'll be over soon, all you have to do is stay alive, Dee."
". . . Stay alive. . ."
The traffic monitor has caught them. "Sir! They've turned off for Carbondale—Control has contact—"
But the headquarters posse is too late to intercept the courier wailing into Carbondale. And Paul's friends have come through again. The fugitives are out through the freight dock and into the neurolab admin port before the guard gets organized. At the elevator Paul's face plus his handgun get them in.
"I want Doctor—what's his name, Dee? Dee!"
". . . Tesla . . ." She's reeling on her feet.
"Doctor Tesla. Take me down to Tesla, fast."
Intercoms are squalling around them as they whoosh down, Paul's pistol in the guard's back. When the door slides open the bushy man is there.
"I'm Paul Isham. Isham. You're going to take your flaming implants out of this girl—now. Move!"
"You heard me. Where's your operating room? Go!"
"Move! Do I have to burn somebody?"
Paul waves the weapon at Dr. Quine, who has just appeared.
"No, no," says Tesla hurriedly. "But I can't, you know. It's impossible, there'll be nothing left."
"You screaming well can, right now. You mess up and I'll kill you," says Paul murderously. "Where is it, there? And wipe the feke that's on her circuits now."
He's backing them down the hall, Delphi heavy on his arm.
"Is this the place, baby? Where they did it to you?"
"Yes," she whispers, bunking at a door. "Yes . . ."
Because it is, see. Behind that door is the very suite where she was born.
Paul herds them through it into a gleaming hall. An inner door opens and a nurse and a gray man rush out. And freeze.
Paul sees there's something special about that inner door. He crowds them past it and pushes it open and looks in.
Inside is a big mean-looking cabinet with its front door panels ajar.
And inside that cabinet is a poisoned carcass to whom something wonderful, unspeakable, is happening. Inside is P. Burke the real living woman who knows that HE is there, coming closer —Paul whom she had fought to reach through forty thousand miles of ice—PAUL is here!—is yanking at the waldo doors—
The doors tear open and a monster rises up.
"Paul darling!" croaks the voice of love and the arms of love reach for him.
And he responds.
Wouldn't you, if a gaunt she-golem flab-naked and spouting wires and blood came at you clawing with metal studded paws—
"Get away!" He knocks wires.
It doesn't much matter which wires, P. Burke has so to speak her nervous system hanging out. Imagine somebody jerking a handful of your medulla—
She crashes onto the floor at his feet, flopping and roaring "PAUL-PAUL-PAUL" in rictus.
It's doubtful he recognizes his name or sees her life coming out of her eyes at him. And at the last it doesn't go to him. The eyes find Delphi, fainting by the doorway, and die.
Now of course Delphi is dead, too.
There's total silence as Paul steps away from the thing by his foot.
"You killed her," Tesla says. "That was her."
"Your control." Paul is furious, the thought of that monster fastened into little Delphi's brain nauseates him. He sees her crumpling and holds out his arms. Not knowing she is dead.
And Delphi comes to him.
One foot before the other, not moving very well—but moving. Her darling face turns up. Paul is distracted by the terrible quiet, and when he looks down he sees only her tender little neck.
"Now you get the implants out," he warns them. Nobody moves.
"But, she's dead," Miss Fleming whispers wildly.
Paul feels Delphi's life under his hand, they're talking about their monster. He aims his pistol at the gray man.
"You. If we aren't in your surgery when I count three I'm burning off this man's leg."
"Mr. Isham," Tesla says desperately, "you have just killed the person who animated the body you call Delphi. Delphi herself is dead. If you release your arm you'll see what I say is true."
The tone gets through. Slowly Paul opens his arm, looks down.
She totters, sways, stays upright. Her face comes slowly up.
"Paul. . ." Tiny voice.
"Your crotty tricks," Paul snarls at them. "Move!"
"Look at her eyes," Dr. Quine croaks.
They look. One of Delphi's pupils fills the iris, her lips writhe weirdly.
"Shock." Paul grabs her to him. "Fix her!" He yells at them, aiming at Tesla.
"For God's sake . . . bring it in the lab." Tesla quavers.
"Goodbye-bye," says Delphi clearly. They lurch down the hall, Paul carrying her, and meet a wave of people.
Headquarters has arrived.
Joe takes one look and dives for the waldo room, running into Paul's gun.
"Oh no, you don't."
Everybody is yelling. The little thing in his arm stirs, says plaintively, "I'm Delphi."
And all through the ensuing jabber and ranting she hangs on, keeps it up, the ghost of P. Burke or whatever whispering crazily, "Paul. . . Paul. . . Please, I'm Delphi. . . Paul?"
"I'm here, darling, I'm here." He's holding her in the nursing bed. Tesla talks, talks, talks unheard.
"Paul. . . don't sleep . . ." the ghost-voice whispers. Paul is in agony, he will not accept, WILL NOT believe.
Tesla runs down.
And then near midnight Delphi says roughly, "Ag-ag-ag—" and slips onto the floor, making a rough noise like a seal.
Paul screams. There's more of the ag-ag business and more gruesome convulsive disintegrations, until by two in the morning Delphi is nothing but a warm little bundle of vegetative functions hitched to some expensive hardware—the same that sustained her before her Life began. Joe has finally persuaded Paul to let him at the waldo-cabinet. Paul stays by her long enough to see her face change in a dreadfully alien and coldly convincing way, and then he stumbles out bleakly through the group in Tesla's office.
Behind him Joe is working wet-faced, sweating to reintegrate the fantastic complex of circulation, respiration, endocrines, mid-brain homeostases, the patterned flux that was a human being-it's like saving an orchestra abandoned in midair. Joe is also crying a little; he alone had truly loved P. Burke. P. Burke, now a dead pile on a table, was the greatest cybersystem he has ever known, and he never forgets her.
The end, really.
Sure, Delphi lives again. Next year she's back on the yacht getting sympathy for her tragic breakdown. But there's a different chick in Chile, because while Delphi's new operator is competent, you don't get two P. Burkes in a row—for which GTX is duly grateful.
The real belly-bomb of course is Paul. He was young, see. Fighting abstract wrong. Now life has clawed into him and he goes through gut rage and grief and grows in human wisdom and resolve. So much so that you won't be surprised, some time later, to find him—where?
In the GTX boardroom, dummy. Using the advantage of his birth to radicalize the system. You'd call it "boring from within."
That's how he put it, and his friends couldn't agree more. It gives them a warm, confident feeling to know that Paul is up there. Sometimes one of them who's still around runs into him and gets a big hello.
And the sharp-faced lad?
Oh, he matures too. He learns fast, believe it. For instance, he's the first to learn that an obscure GTX research unit is actually getting something with their loopy temporal anomalizer project. True, he doesn't have a physics background, and he's bugged quite a few people. But he doesn't really learn about that until the day he stands where somebody points him during a test run—and wakes up lying on a newspaper headlined NIXON UNVEILS PHASE TWO.
Lucky he's a fast learner.
Believe it, zombie. When I say growth I mean growth. Capital appreciation. You can stop sweating. There's a great future there.