Authors: Edmund Cooper
He stroked her breasts speculatively with his knuckles. There was no response. She was inert—as any self-respecting plastic doll should be. He smiled to himself, remembering the vagaries of the night. The dom had disintegrated into sheer femininity. The Peace Officer persona had been shed like a disposable garment, revealing only the million-year-old woman who wanted, above all, to be sexually subdued,
That was something to think about. What if all doms were basically like this? But all doms weren’t. There were those
who were as hard as carbon steel—who had, to all intents and purposes, rejected the million-year programming. Dion knew them well, from personal experience—bitter personal experience. So perhaps Juno was not really a dom. Perhaps she was merely an infra in disguise. That would be one hell of a bisociation. Perhaps she just wanted a riot of rides and a multiplicity of babies.
But no. Beautiful she might be; but basically she was still a shrivel-womb. Babies to her would be messy and sordid—an affront to that superb muscular body.
He got up from the bed and went across to the pick-up by the vacuum hatch.
“A large pot of tea. Eggs lightly boiled. Toast, butter, marmalade. Accoutrements for two. Ten from the time of order. Out.”
Hearing his voice, Juno stirred,
“Dion, what time is it?”
“Seven thirty—and the air sings with a music that no one will ever learn to play.”
“Stopes! I’m on duty this morning. Ten thirty.”
“Rest tranquil. All mankind is on duty today and every day… How are your memory circuits?”
She sat up, shook her head and smiled. “Well enough to tell me that I love you, little meistersinger.”
He sat on the edge of the bed. “Love is a four letter word—like life. One should never be obscene before breakfast.”
She laughed. “I’ll give you today’s epigram. It wasn’t really the sexstasy.”
He looked at her coolly. “It wasn’t really anything but sex… Sex is a clean three letter word. Much easier to define than love.”
She made a face at him. “You want to fight, stripling?”
He shook his head. “It would only gratify you. You wanted to be loved. Now you want to be hurt.”
“It’s no use, Dion. I’m not going to quarrel with you today.”
“Such is the prerogative of the ruling sex. Whoever pays the pauper calls the tune.”
She hit him with a pillow. Then breakfast arrived. They ate it sitting together on the bed, naked and relaxed.
“How would you like to make it formal?” asked Juno, presently.
“Make what formal?”
He shrugged. “It matters not. What do you want to do—put a brand mark on my forehead? Or will you equip me with a bell so that I may parade the streets, uttering loud cries of ‘Unclean!’ ”
“I’m not going to quarrel with you today.”
“Then make it formal, if you wish—to celebrate the one day on which we are destined not to quarrel.”
She laughed and jumped up from the bed. “Deviant to the last—that’s my little troubadour. I’ll call the Registrar General before you switch channels in your mazy-dazy mind.”
“Not like that,” said Dion, taking the breakfast tray back to the vacuum hatch.
“Breasts covered. I’m a reactionary fascist beast.”
Juno went to the masterboard and pressed two buttons. The bed shot back into the wall and another section of wall slid to one side, revealing a profusion of clothes.
Dion went to the bathroom and turned on the shower. “Purify yourself first, you big bitch,” he called. “It’s not every day you put a ring through the nose of a poet.”
She followed him into the bathroom, and together they stood under the shower. Dion looked at her through the needle sharp jets of water. The bright blonde harvest of hair lay flattened now to her head, giving her face an oddly boyish look. Juno seemed to be almost exactly his own height, yet she frequently called him little. Remembering this, he gripped her hair fiercely and jerked her head back. He bent a little and twisted, letting his teeth lie on her exposed throat.
Her breasts were pressed against him. Such proud and confident breasts. Briefly he hated them. When he took his mouth away from her throat there were two semi-circles of red marks. The sight gave him some satisfaction.
Juno stared at him. “How strange. I find it hard to believe that I would ever let any man do that to me.” The rivulets of water ran down her surprised face, turning it into a thing of beauty.
Dion laughed. “Don’t measure the tiger by its tail, Peace Officer. Now let us formalize my prostitution.”
Juno blew her hair, and put on a plain gold bath robe, Dion wound a towel round him like a loin doth. They went back into the living room and stood before the plate. Juno dialled.
“Registrar General’s Office. May I assist?” The face was that of a vaguely Eurasian woman. She wore the routine mauve tunic of the Civil Service.
“I—that is, we—wish to register a squiredom,” said Juno.
“Stand by, please, for registration.”
The screen clouded, then a rather old face appeared, still female. This one was on the wrong side of her century, thought Dion. She wore a loose black vest.
“Registration squiredom,” she said severely.
“My name is Juno Locke. JLF, 23A, 27C. I wish to enter an unlimited time contract with Dion Quern.”
“DQM, I7L, 85B,” said Dion. “Mole on left testicle and compulsive producer of doggerel.”
“Playback?” said the registrar.
“DQM, I7L, 85B,” said Juno hastily.
Black vest dialled and pressed a couple of buttons out of the range of vision. There was a short pause, then she said: “The subject is a behaviour problem. DQM, I7L, 85B has already received three grade three analyses. Further deviance could result in a grade two programme.”
“I know that,” said Juno.
“I see.” Black vest appeared to disapprove of the knowledge. “Do you require mortality benefits?”
“Then you will both step closer to the plate, please… Do you, Juno Locke, being free of coercion or any unlawful pressure, offer a squiredom contract of unlimited duration to Dion Quern?”
“And do you, Dion Quern, being free of coercion or any unlawful pressure, accept this contract of squiredom for unlimited duration?”
“In sickness and psychosis.”
Juno surreptitiously trod on his toes. “I do.”
“Then, Juno Locke, kindly insert your right thumb in the scan ring.”
Juno held her thumb for a second against the tiny screen under the main plate, so that its loops and whorls could be checked against her number and a facsimile of the print attached to the contract.
“Now, Dion Quern, please place your right thumb in the scan ring.”
When he had done so, Black Vest said: “The contract has now been entered… Do you have any further transaction?”
“No, thank you,” said Juno.
Black Vest rewarded her with a frozen smile. “Good morning and out.” The screen went dark.
“Happy birthday,” said Dion. “How does it feel to have instant gigolo?”
“As before. Apart from the mortality clauses, the only difference is that you can inherit my untold trove and I can demand a baby.”
“Would you bear it yourself?”
Her face clouded. “Reprogramme, stripling. I don’t indulge in farmyard fun.”
“Afraid of offending that trim golden belly?” he enquired with malice. “According to legend, if you breast-feed, the muscles all go back. On the other hand, the breasts get slack. Nature is a shade careless, don’t you think?”
She flung herself at him fiercely and gripped his body with sudden strength. “Don’t be too humorous, meister-singer,” she hissed. “The words leave a bad taste.”
“A worse taste than you think, shrivel-womb,” he retorted calmly. “My mother, a
mother –I told you I was eccentric—died after seventeen pregnancies. That was the price of my education. Seventeen infants, seventeen pans of afterbirth and one embolism… So I’m an authority on reproduction. I can tell you all about toxaemia, induction, prolapse, torn vagina, mastitis, post-natal depression. That was her world; and as she was running out of time, I had to find out about it, to know what she was enduring for my sake… Have you ever seen a baby’s head crowning? Have
you ever seen the new wrinkled skull, the matted tufts of hair, the flecks of blood, the thin halo of steam? Have you ever sniffed that sweet, overpowering scent of birth?”
Juno fled to the bathroom, retching.
walked down the Strand ped-level, singing. No one noticed; no one cared. In fact there was hardly anyone to do either; for it was seven o’clock on a fine October morning, and the grey veil of dawn was only just conceding to the harsher light of day.
It was two weeks since he and Juno had entered into an unlimited time contract and he was beginning to recover from the indignity. The credit key that she had given him burned in his reticule like a slug of radioactive isotope. But he needed it. He needed it to pay for the time shots.
Idly, he had even considered using it to bankrupt her account. Ten thousand lions, she had said. That would be enough to take him to Bogota or Samarkand, to let him live in luxury for a couple of years before operating on some other unsuspecting dom.
But something stopped him. Loyalty? No. Love? No. Pride? Possibly… Pride, he reflected, was about the only thing he couldn’t sell.
Also, he resented the fact that Juno trusted him. She had no right to trust him. It was presuming upon an intimacy that was simple and straightforward.
But these were hypotheoretical considerations. The immediate and practical consideration was time shots.
He had had fits of trembling. Always a bad sign. He had also begun to break out in cold sweats. And that made the matter urgent.
Longevity treatment was addictive, regardless of what the drainbrains said. Once you embarked on the programme you were stuck with it—until your lions ran out and they trolleyed you off to a sweet little dodecahedronal cell.
So here he was, singing to keep the shakes off, and blasting his way footwise to the Trafalgar Square Clinic. Meanwhile, the dom was sleeping—after partaking of enough chianti to silence the Italian Embassy and three generous, five-star, chateau-bottled rapes.
He could, of course, have gone to the clinic in London Seven. You could get any Stopes-ridden thing in any of the London towers. But Dion, as always, preferred the hard way. And the hard way consisted of getting up before dawn, ignoring all mod cons, and pursuing the penitents’ path to Trafalgar Square.
The clinic stood where once a church called St. Martin in the Fields had stood. The church had been blown to glory in the abortive and ill-timed coup by the Sex Equality Party in’ 47. Three hundred desperate men had held St. Martin in the Fields and the National Gallery against the Brigade of Guards for four days. The National Gallery had contained too many priceless paintings for the Guards to risk taking it by storm; so they concentrated on making an example of the occupants of St. Martin in the Fields, which was, after all, only a church. But the defenders were surprisingly tough and surprisingly desperate. No quarter was asked or given. After a time, the women of the Brigade of Guards got tired of counting their dead. They persuaded the Home Secretary to authorize the use of tactical atomics, and disposed of the problem with one shell from a two point five mortar placed in St. James’s Park… When the occupants of the National Gallery saw what had happened to their comrades, they surrendered.
By that time, the women of the Brigade of Guards were in no mood to accede to the conventions of war. Those rebels who survived the subsequent rapefest (less than fifty per cent) were removed for grade one analysis. Since that time there had been no other serious rebellions. The Brigade of Guards could hardly have found a better method
pour en-courager les autres.
Dion gazed at the clinic and thought briefly of the men who had died. He had been twenty-two when the rebellion started and, in a surge of idealism, had just joined the Sex Equality Party. As he clearly knew nothing about anything, he merely received a suspended grade three—and a maternal lecture from an elderly juridical dom whose obvious aim was to take him back to her box and feed him chocolate creams.
He looked at the titanium and carbon glass monstrosity that was the clinic and reflected vaguely on the irony of existence. Men had died on this site for a concept of freedom, and the church that had been symbolic of an immortality hereafter had been replaced by a temple of instant immortality (or, at least, semi-immortality) for the here and now.
He smiled, went up the pseudo-marble steps and opened the door. The clinic’s lounge was almost deserted. A trio of doms—night-hawks by the look of them—sat moodily at the bar, sipping coffee until their schedules were ready. A couple of sports lounged in contour chairs by the picture window, their attitudes and lethargy suggesting that they had slept all night at the clinic, having nowhere else to go. And a sad, wizened little woman—clearly an infra—followed an electronic refuse cat, as it sniffed its way about noiselessly over the floor, lapping up dust and the miniscule accretions of time.
The dom receptionist, a big bored Indian, lounged in a glass pulpit that was a replica of the one that had once stood in the erased church. The designers of the clinic had not been above sentiment—or humour. They thought it appropriate to incorporate some reminder of an institution where there had been preached a somewhat different gospel of eternal life.
Dion approached the pulpit and attempted to claim the attention of the Indian. She affected not to see him. He coughed. Still she affected not to see him. Finally, he kicked the pulpit and pulled a face at her.
With an effort, she turned her head and focussed, looking vaguely like one emerging from an old-fashioned L.S.D. kick. The effort of returning to a lower and more sordid plane appeared to disgust her intently. The disgust concentrated on Dion.
“Felicitations to Shiva,” he retorted pleasantly, “and I wish to register for time shots.”