By RD Rivero
By RD Rivero
September 3, 2000
From the moment of my manufacture, in the ancient factories of a distant planet,
I was told that I was different. The director of Plant #47, a man whose name I
cannot recall, sat me in his office and told me while he stood that I was not a
man, that I was metallic, unpleasant, that I did not sleep and that I was made to
work long, grueling hours without tiring. I was confused, I looked around the
room in terror -- I was not yet an hour old -- a window behind him was bare
open and though the bright, white light from a clouded sky hurt my eyes, the
room remained in complete blackness while he spoke: “We, the technicians
and engineers of the this corporation, are you fathers.”
I was taken from the dark room by hands that came from nowhere, literally,
from the shadows that engulfed the chair I sat on. Doors morphed into halls,
halls into rooms, rooms into vast arenas until at last I was with others who
recognized me as one of their own. In that crowded, silent chamber, as vast
and open as infinity, we were segregated by age and function and -- isolated
from the outside world -- we were educated for ten years.
My fathers sold me to a spacefare-er named Shiner. Shiner carried me away in
his mercenary ship and to a thousand frontier worlds we traveled. I was his
assistant, I counted his money and I kept track of his numerous contacts in the
underworld. For twenty years my service to him was without question until --
and then that night. That night when by chance he came upon me while reading
books in his library.
“Books are the treasured wealth of the world.” In disbelief he grabbed the
volume from my hands. “‘Antony and Cleopatra’? What are you doing with
“Reading it,” I said factually.
He turned to a page and read it aloud: “Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor
can her heart inform her tongue -- the swan’s down feather that stands at full of
tide and neither way inclines.” I could see the glimmer of a tear form in the
corner of his eye under his monocle and then he turned to me enraged: “And
what could this mean to you? And what could you possibly feel from this?
From what you can only understand as a mere connection of words. You are a
machine, you are not a man --”
“I am not --”
He ram the cover of the closed book against my face -- as if the machine he so
belittled could feel pain.
I murdered him that night while he slept. The cruelty of that monster, of his
murders, deceits and crimes I cannot and will not enumerate. Forgive me for in
my mind in knew no better, but if he, a man, could commit such horrors
unpunished then so could I, a machine.
Freed from my cruel master I jumped ship while his crew was busy elsewhere.
For the next five years I traveled the galaxy a criminal in my own right and
assumed the name QuickPick. Pick-pocketing, lock-picking and robbing --
those were my arts and I learned them well from Shiner.
But in time the law caught up with me and at my trial I attempted no defense.
Shiner’s ‘friends’ and others testified against me, they provided irrefutable
evidence of my guilt. The magistrates took only seconds to pronounce the
verdict. My sentence was life in hard labor on the planet of Third Earth. No
parole, no appeal. Before the day had passed I was taken aboard a freighter
and kept in the brig. Soon I was headed off.
The joke, of course, was on me. Life in prison meant eternity.
The work on Third Earth was worse than what I had known earlier. I was sent
to the field to harvest candy fruit bushes and cotton, planting them again in
winter. Forty-eight prisoners composed the colony -- mutants, lunatics and
humans for the most part. Five robots equipped with tentacles served as our
jailers. The warden was Officer Mandora -- she took a particular interest in me
after my arrival. I despised her strongly for she reminded me of Shiner, both
shared a brutal, bitter disposition.
We prisoners toiled for sixteen hour days in the fields and slept the nights in our
cells. Our cells were holes in the ground formed from stone and topped with an
iron netting. Our only company were the local native people, the Warrior
Maidens. Their villages were in the rough, surrounding forests a few miles from
our colony in any direction. They were agreeable and though stubborn they
were kindly -- by day -- and often they brought us food and water while we
worked. At night they went on the rampage, prowling, screaming, murdering
each other senselessly -- none of us understood that and we were afraid.
I came to know one of them, Nayda and, soon, I fell in love with her.
In the morning, when the netting was lifted by our jailers and the rope ladder
descended, I was always the first up topside. That particular morning, the
bright yellow sun above my head, I found a dead woman near the cell.
Nervous, I turned the body fearing the worst but once again it was not Nayda
who had died.
My cell mates were soon with me and we watched while others emerged from
nearby, subterranean cages. Some shouted about the good morning, most of
the rest of us had nothing to say. Jackalman, like myself, was serving a life
sentence. His crime, too, was murder but he never discussed the particulars of
it. Alluro was a convicted mercenary, his sentence was more merciful, eighty
years without parole. The harsh climate and the hard treatment did much to age
him prematurely -- he was bald and wore what was left of his hair unkept --
each day he seemed to take longer and longer to crawl to the fields. His
shoulders were weak and his back had failed him twice in the ten years he had
served already. When the time approached for the warden’s morning
inspection Jackalman and I made certain he looked all right.
Mandora soon emerged from her central headquarters, from the gate in the
electric fence that surrounded her hut. She approached our ranks when one of
the jailers rolled across the terrain, beeping furiously. It was too far from me to
judge its meaning but I did hear the warden swear violently.
She laughed then scolded: “All of you, forget the inspection. Cell number
twelve, come out at once.”
She led the way herself, the jailer behind her. We prisoners had formed a line
around cell number twelve and seeing that, she pointed down for us to look.
From the tears in the iron netting we all knew what awaited down there in the
shadowed darkness. I had seen it before: three men lay in a pile at the center,
their eyes wide open, their faces contorted in horror. Starting at the neck and
ending at the crotch, their bodies had been torn in half. Blood and mangled guts
littered the dirt floor in a gooey mess, flies and white, crawling insects squirmed
through the entrails.
Two Warrior Maidens crouched arm in arm, shivering near a corner.
I tried to reason with Mandora: “Let them go, they didn’t know what they
“Ridiculous, our treaty with these, people, is explicit on this point,” she fired her
blaster into the hole twice. A puff of blood and disintegrated flesh rushed up to
the sky, followed by the smell of burnt skin. The cries of the damned -- “When
they brake the rules they are punished -- that’s the way it is.”
She spun on her heals and backed away from the hole, perhaps overcome by
the stench, perhaps not. “Get to work! I want everyone to work HARD
today.” She turned to her hut while the jailers inched their way to us and drove
us to the fields.
Jackalman: “Why doesn’t she protect us? She could easily put a fence around
our cells --”
“She can’t, the treaty forbids fencing the land.”
“And what about the fence around her hut? I don’t see her taking it down.”
“You don’t. None of us are safe.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Alluro said at last and that was the end of the
conversation. We all knew it was not true.
The work went badly that day. None could forget what they had seen and fear
had made their fingers numb. Many men stumbled and fell in the mud while
they picked and furrowed rows of bushes.
Shortly after noon the warden appeared and, seeing our lack of progress, she
frowned angrily. “Less than a thousand bags picked? I call that a disgrace.
Three of you are dead but that still leaves forty-five alive. I want another six
hundred bags before nightfall. If you don’t get them picked by then you’ll stay
here until the work is done.”
Her threat needed no explanation. The men stood immediately and returned to
work. We all knew the warden well enough to know her threats were never
hollow. In the past when the work had failed to suit her she had delivered
similar warnings. So far, her quotas had always been reached in time -- we
hoped it would be the same that day.
I worked with the others while Mandora stood nearby, watching. Overhead
the sun beat down savagely. Knowing my strength and stamina I wondered
about the others, would they bear up long enough to finish? In the row next to
mine I saw Alluro crying, his hands clawed desperately in the worm-ridden
“What’s you cell number?” Mandora asked me, I had failed to notice her
“You know it,” I said quickly.
“The controls that open and shut the cells I keep beside my bed at night. I
wanted you to know, that’s all.”
I kept working refusing to look at her. “You can’t frighten me. If you want to
kill me then do it -- it’ll do you no good. She will never be yours, she can never
I have neglected one important detail about my relationship with Mandora. A
tradition exists among the Warrior Maidens of ‘marriage’ among chieftain
women of neighboring villages. I say marriage but I do not mean it in the usual
sense since the Amazonians were ‘married’ to men, too, although we never saw
them for they lived far, far away. Nayda, my love, was the sister of our local
chieftain, Willa and when she came of age her sister came to the colony and
asked to see our ‘chief’ -- the warden. Mandora promptly accepted the offer
and the saying of the vows, a rite that was more political that social, was
scheduled one year to day after her acceptance.
During the course of that year I arrived. How the love between me and Nayda
started confuses me for me for I do not fully understand emotion. And yet the
moment I looked into her soft, watery eyes I knew I loved her. Forgive me for
the simple, rational explanation, it is all I can say about the matter. Although
marriage between us was impossible, I was determined to protect her from
Mandora. I sent her to her village and told her to study the laws and customs
of her people, I hoped to find the possibility of victory. She soon came upon a
certain precept long made obsolete by the crushing passage of time but we
were determined to make good use of it. This was the law: a challenger to the
position of chieftain may assume that office by defeating the old chieftain upon
the field of battle.
I tendered the challenge, Mandora had no choice but to accept. We came
together in Nayda’s village one summer afternoon. The end was never in doubt
-- we wrestled in the village square. Within seconds I had thrown her and
pinned her and with that my love’s hand was offered to me. I declined, much to
relief of the Warrior Maidens.
Nayda was then free to chose her political ‘wife.’
Mandora’s fascination with me dates from that fateful encounter, our hate
brought us together and that humiliation bound us forever.
Nayda came out of the underbrush to the fields. Waving her hands happily she
shouted my name. Seeing her coming the warden turned and departed.
Nayda walked beside me while I worked. She gave me water from the flask
she carried. I sent her to help Alluro and when she returned we talked. I could
work thrice as hard as the others talking all the while. I felt guilty having her
there with the sense of desperation in the air while the men toiled.
The bags filled one by one, slowly, painfully slowly.
I told her what had happened last night.
She shook her head: “It was bound to happen, it could not be avoided and I
am truly sorry.”
I knew she was and all of her people too. What they did at night -- their
rampaging -- was not done deliberately. When morning came they
I told her what Mandora had said to me but she brushed it off: “She’ll never kill
you. If she did who would she talk to? Who would she hate?”
We spoke of other things, other plans. I reached the end of the row and
prepared to turn. Suddenly, from behind, I heard an awful wail, I had no time
to react. Spinning around I saw Nayda -- she screamed, her mouth foaming
like a rabid dog, her lips curled back, her teeth dripping wet. I shouted her
name and she lunged at me.
Her strength was enormous, her hands were around my neck before I could
resist. She forced me down to my knees while I reached her wrists and pulled
desperately but I could not break her hold. Her mouth came down and her
teeth clasped me around my neck and though she bit hard the metal of my body
did not give way.
Past her quivering shoulders I saw the others standing back afraid to come
nearer. I could not blame them, she was more than a match for me, she could
easily kill them. I heard the harsh beeping of one of the jailers. I tried to shout
out, not wanting Nayda to be harmed but the jailer was not coming to protect
me. It was Alluro, I saw him fallen on the ground asleep. The jailer had gone
to him to rouse him.
The struggle ceased: “Are you all right, oh, please say something, speak to
It was Nayda: “I’m all right.” I was and as I looked around I saw that Alluro
was wide awake standing with the others. I was on my feet. “Let’s get back to
work. We can’t afford to waste another moment.”
The men returned to work knowing the necessity of haste and with that the
jailer and its wavering tentacles went away. Only Nayda remained. She
pressed her flask to my lips and I swallowed the water deeply -- the clear fluid
was necessary for my cooling functions.
“I didn’t mean, I didn’t know, I just --”
“I understand,” I said, “it will be all right now.”
I moved across to the next row. Nayda followed, her head bowed in shame
and when I could bear her painful silence no longer I asked: “I didn’t hurt you,
She looked at her wrists, they were purple and indented: “It doesn’t matter.”
I held her in my arms gently. “Why did you let go?”
“It just happened.”
She could remember nothing, except for the moment she had her head turned
and saw Alluro getting up from the ground. She looked back and saw me on
the floor, my hands on her wrists. “Get back to your village and rest, come
Still she refused to leave my side: “At night, always before, it’s happened at
“Yes,” I said, “before.”
“But now we know it could happen at any time, it could even happen again right
“But it won’t, but you must go now. It will soon be late, very late.”
She went away without a backward glance.
A few hours later when sunset was impending the warden appeared. She
inspected the bags we had picked. She made no comment but we knew she
was not satisfied, nothing the men ever did ever satisfied her. The total sum
was still fifty short and for the first time it seemed certain we would fail our
But she had a surprise for us: “Enough, everyone back to their cells. Work is
over for the day. GO!”
We went immediately even if no one could understand why. Pity and empathy
were not emotions present in her personality. Just when I was about to follow
Jackalman down into our cell she appeared behind me and placed a restraining
hand on my shoulder.
“Not you, it’s time for you and me to have another, chat.” I nodded and turned
to accompany her to her hut. With about a half hour left of daylight we had
more than enough time for a good talk. She had to ‘feed’ me first, she plugged
me into the generators -- our talks were rigidly patterned to the point of
From the coldness of her smile I knew she was holding a surprise for me. Not
until I was fully recharged did she speak: “Your girl friend did it today.”
I had no choice but to ask the question she wanted me to ask: “What do you
Out of a shelf she grabbed a book, a thick, heavy volume and fluttered the
pages tenderly. “Control Book of Regulations,” she explained. “Here it is,
written into our treaty with the Warrior Maidens. Care to have me read it to
“In the event a native people present a clear and present danger of aggressive
action to colonists, it is permissible to take all necessary precautions and actions
in order to protect the lives of said colonists until such time as the situation may
be resolved by higher authority. On-the-spot discretion rests wholly with the
local commander. Excessive force (defined as that which is plainly more than
suitable for necessary protection) is summarily excluded and use of same is a
capital felony under Control Genocide Regulations.” She dropped the book
loudly on her desk. “Was that clear enough for you?”
She felt she had to explain the situation never the less. “What it means is that as
long as the Amazonians limited their rampages to the nighttime hours, when
everyone was safely asleep and locked up, I could do nothing. But look at the
lovely things that happened today. First I discovered three men murdered in
their cells in the night, proving that the cages alone are not sufficient protection.
Then, only a few hours later and in the day no less, your, girlfriend, suffers a fit
and tries to strangle you to death in the fields. As far as I can see there’s more
than enough reason to order my, necessary response.”
“And what will that be?”
“A new set of orders for the jailers. I’m going to set them to patrol the night
and if any of the cells are forced open they will shoot to kill.” Here her voice
lowered to a rasp, harsh whisper. “And in the day any, attack by an
Amazonian will result in death.” She took pleasure in that word, how she
“You’ve made yourself quite clear enough already.”
She was not finished. “Remember what I told you today, about my sleeping
Her smiled made me shiver. “The controls to the cells that sit next to your
“Need I say more?”
“What would be the point? Why set off an incident, killing --”
“Killing is up to you, all I want is the girl. Hand her over and nothing will
“She doesn’t mean anything to you.”
“No, but you -- you do. You’re not even a man and still you humiliated me.
Now it’s my turn and I’ll humiliate you as you did me. And it’s that girl -- I’m
going to give you a full day to decide. Tonight I’ll sleep soundly with my hands
under my pillow but tomorrow? Anything can happen tomorrow.”
I could have argued with her, pleaded with her, even threatened her but I knew
it would be in vain. Like Shiner the warden was a woman strictly ruled by her
passions, by feelings deep and blunt and powerful that she hardly knew they
were there. In her I could see the presence of those human emotions I had
been denied by my creation. Yes, I knew love and fear and anger, I could even
understand hate but the less primal, the more complicated ones -- jealousy,
envy, pride, vengeance -- I did not know or understand them.
“Send me to my cell,” I spoke.
“Sleep well,” she said, knowing the paradox of that statement.
I could not have slept well even if sleep had lain within my abilities. As soon as
I entered the cell I shook Jackalman awake and whispered into his ear:
“Tomorrow.” Understanding, he nodded and quickly went back to his
dreams. I admired his calm, I knew how often he fought back his fears and
timidity to not look weak in front of the others.
The moment the smooth disk of the sun slid below the limits of the horizon the
nightmares would begin on Third Earth. I came to know them more intimately
than anyone during those awful years for I would lie awake each night, I would
listen in spite of myself, hearing the wailing cries of the native women while they
prowled over and above the cells -- my cell. Through all the hours of night it
was my punishment to lie awake and listen to that madness.
Night crept gently into the hole and then it began. Nearby, Alluro suffered, too,
at least in the torments of his mind. Every night he tossed painfully in his sleep,
he whimpered, he cried and sometimes he spoke aloud the names of fallen,
forgotten loved ones. Of what he could not reach, of what he could not have
again. “Chilla” he would scream and awaken but that was rare. I often
wondered what his nightly visions were like but I knew he would not let me in, it
was something he never talked about. And I admit I did not want to know.
Intertwined with his cries came shivering sounds from above. As the night
slowly ebbed toward sunup I found myself listening, trying to discern the tones
of Nayda’s screams along those of the others. I closed my eyes but for a
moment and saw in my mind a cold vision. I saw Nayda as I had seen her in
the fields that afternoon, her face torn and ravaged by those forces beyond her
control. I saw her attack me, I saw a jailer come forward, I knew it would kill
her and I saw her shatter into a wisp, a spray of blood and burnt, dry chunks of
flesh. Mandora ran toward me, laughing, waving her finger. I opened my eyes
thankful of the darkness in the cell.
At dawn, as if it were merely a normal day, we arose from our cells to greet the
sun. That morning I saw four dead Warrior Maidens on the ground and more
fearful than ever I inspected the bodies. A jailer tried to hold me back but I
was able to avoid the menacing arms. Almost to my surprise none was Nayda.
Back at the edge of my cell I whispered again to Jackalman: “It must be
“Yes,” he replied.
He had given me his promise many months before at the time when I had first
known Nayda and as the weeks passed we developed a plan, chiseling it down
to its simplest and most perfect form. I had known then and even at that
moment that it was not right. It was backward, I knew I should have been
helping Jackalman escape, not the other way around but he said he did not
Escaping from the colony was not very difficult but except for me no one else
would dare run the risk that would surely come afterward. Lost in the
uninhabited wilderness of that world, death would not be long in coming. Only
I had sufficient reason to run the risk.
Emerging from her hut, the warden inspected our ranks. As she passed I felt
her unwavering gaze and hoped I had allowed nothing to enter my expression
that might arouse her suspicions. When she left us the jailers rolled forward,
driving us to the fields.
Walking beside me Jackalman said: “Just before noon, I’ll give you a shout
before I go.”
I nodded and started to express my gratitude for what he was doing, knowing it
would be my last opportunity but Alluro was walking too close to us. As I had
hoped, Nayda came to me early that morning. I drank the water from her flask
and I told her of my plan. I had little time to explain the abrupt decision but she
did not want to know more. Instead, after offering her water to a few other
men, she wandered away. I knew where she had gone: to the edge of the
nearby woods to wait for me there.
Morning continued and my fingers picked slowly, my eyes flew constantly to the
sun watching it climb steadily, steadily and at last -- it happened. Jackalman
had been working right behind me, then he stood, he shouted “NOW!” and,
turning, he ran across the fields waving his arms. A wailing siren exploded
within the nearest jailer. Shaking its whip-like tentacles it rumbled toward the
mutant who, flopping to the ground, eased himself away from the clutching
hands. Back on his feet he gave shout, waved his arms and ran straight at the
next nearest jailer. He danced away from that one too and soon all five were
after him. Carefully they corralled him in a circle and then advanced.
While all that was happening I had not remained idle. As soon as he shouted I
dropped my shoulder bag and stepped back. He ran and I stepped away in the
opposite direction, never lifting my eyes from him. I saw a jailer’s tentacle lash
out and grasp him by the ankle and he fell, caught. I knew I could wait no
longer and, turning, I saw that the woods were only a few yards away. I leaped
-- a wave of brilliant green washed around me.
I ran, hearing nothing, dashing between wide trees, over small, scattered
bushes. From behind the trunk of one of the trees, Nayda appeared,
intercepting my path. Without missing a stride I caught her and threw her up on
my shoulders, letting her ride there. Her tiny presence barely slowed me. I
shouted up at her, letting her know all that had happened.
“They never saw me,” I said. “Nayda, we are safe! We are free!”
I ran until the threat of impending darkness prevailed the sky. A good ten miles
from the colony, I lowered her to the ground. Holding hands, our shoulders
touching, we waited beneath the form of a great shaggy tree with long, stringy
branches that dangled loosely down toward the earth. The darkness pressed
near and we both knew it was the moment of truth.
The sun was gone from the heavens and we waited a minute, then two minutes,
then five minutes. Ten. The seconds passed dreadfully slow. She pressed my
hand, she smiled.
“It must be all right, I feel nothing, I see clearly.”
She was herself and I was thankful. In the event of failure I was determined to
allow her to rip me to scrap metal, to kill me without resistance. I felt that death
would have been preferable than to suffer eternity without her.
“Where are your men?” I asked her.
She turned to face the darkness between distant bushes, “They live away, far
“I don’t know, they just always have. We only see them once a year and only
for a few hours.”
“Then I was right. Men cause your rampaging.” Nayda had already told me
that her village was the only one possessed by the mad spirits. Their nightly
rampaging was unknown elsewhere and it had only commenced with the arrival
of the colony ten years before. Mandora knew everything I knew and must
have guessed the truth -- yet I was certain she would never act.
“But if it’s the presence of men that’s the cause,” she began, “they why doesn’t
it happen now? Aren’t you a man?”
“No, I am not.” And that time I turned away. “They said I wasn’t, they always
said I wasn’t.”
Neither of us wanted to rest that night. Instead we stood and left the shelter of
the shaggy, sweet-smelling tree and pressed forward into the unknown of the
wilderness. The whole of Third Earth was now our domain. For Nayda as
well as for myself, the freedom of the wilderness was a new and unique
experience. Her people never traveled far from their villages except to hunt.
She knew of the Berbils and the Wolos and the legends of an ever-living
mummy she related to me were most amusing. After story time was over and
we were forced back to reality, she got up to gather handfuls of food -- leaves,
roots and fruits -- and I searched for the trickling waters I could hear clearly.
We walked five days, she slept five nights while I stood watch. I could tell she
was not entirely happy and that disturbed me. On the sixth day I begged her to
tell me why.
“Do you miss your people?” I asked. “You don’t like this wandering?”
“No, it’s not that, but you’re right, there is something.”
“Please tell me.”
She tried to explain to me what she desired. I learned that her people were
never alone. In some way that I could only understand as communion their
minds were always linked. It was not telepathy, it was deeper, a more primal
connection. She told me that even then she could feel the presence of a village
nearby. The closeness of the people brought to her mind a sense of peace and
“And what is it you want from me?”
“Come to the village and enter into our communion, become one of us, then
we’ll always be together.”
I could not refuse her though I felt that no communion could be possible
between us. I had told her I was not a man but I had not explained it further
and though I knew that by my metal body that she could see clearly I was
different, she had not made the connection. And yet I could not refuse her.
“It will be a true beginning for us,” she promised.
But no, for when he we entered the village after a hike of several hours it was
not Nayda’s people who came forward to greet us, it was Mandora. The open
barrel of her blaster pointed at Nayda’s heart. Behind the warden a small ship
stood waiting, its engine brazenly humming in the soft silence of the village. Far
from the warden the Amazonians stood in a cluster in fear. I realized that they
had never met anyone quite like her before.
She laughed with sadistic pleasure.
“You thought I was an idiot? But shouldn’t I of all people be able to guess your
plans? I’ve been expecting you to try something like this. When last we talked
I planted a tracking seed in your water, I’ve known your exact location since
you left the colony. And now I’ve got you.” Her lips curled, her wet teeth
glimmered in the glaring, white light that glowed from the clouded sky in the
heavens. “You mean to say she didn’t tear you apart that first night? She really
must love you.”
“She does,” I said by instinct.
“A pity for you. For her, too, or haven’t you told her yet that you’re a
machine? A robot --”
I did not turn my head but yet I could see Nayda faced to me in shock and
“As an escapee you’ll receive an automatic sentence of five years in solitary. A
hole in the ground gets to be awfully tiresome after a few months, I wonder if
you’ll go mad. Most do, but a mad android? That’ll be something to see.”
She waved toward the ship with her free hand. “Quick, now, to the vehicle, I
won’t be caught here overnight.”
We had no choice. I took Nayda’s hand, I led her to the ship. Following
behind, the warden chattered in a curious, careless way, openly boasting of her
success. I had nothing further to say to her. In one sense I could not feel
bitter. For five days alone with Nayda in Eden was far better than nothing at
all. At least it was something I would always remember. In the ship I turned
silently to the window and watched the village disappear below into a blanket of
featureless green with intermittent, snakelike clouds of smoky white-gray.
The darkness of night swallowed the tiny ship and for the first time Mandora
seemed visibly nervous but when she noticed that Nayda did nothing she slowly
relaxed. The warden sat in the forward cockpit beside her. The rear of the
craft was entirely mine. I moved into the shadows far enough away that
Mandora did not have to fear a surprise attack from me. I did not want to
make her nervous, since she still held her weapon at my Nayda.
I considered grabbing the controls, making some desperate gesture but I knew
any sudden movement on my part was hopeless and dangerous -- and Nayda
would die at once. Soon the Amazonian fell asleep and I saw then that I had no
real choice. Our only salvation lay within me. My theory would have to be
tested -- I had to sleep too. I closed my eyes deliberately and, in the darkness,
I tried to think of nothing. I envisioned the absolute void of deep space and
attempted to match my mind to its shapeless contours. Hours seemed to pass
-- could I do it? I had been created to live without sleep but did that mean I
could not sleep at all? I had never really tried before.
I sensed it coming -- yes, the calm, tranquility grew near. I began to lose
hearing sporadically. I lost my sense of balance, I could not tell if I was
standing or sitting or lying down. My brain felt tired and I could no longer avoid
it. My only thought at that point was a plea, I did not want her to die.
And then I slept and I dreamed. I was in that office again, with that man but he
was different, he was faceless, featureless. No -- there was someone else with
him, too, another man who stayed in that shadows and of who I could see his
outline only. The man without a face spoke harsh: “You are not a man, no, no
--” he turned and ran out of the room, out of a door that then opened in glaring
brightness. The light hurt my eyes and I turned away -- I heard footsteps come
near. The shadow man was next to me, I could feel him: “The experiment was
a success, his mind has all the proper, human functions all in working order, it’s
just a shame we’ll have to turn them off.”
I saw Shiner dissolve into a corpse, the knife sticking out of his chest where his
beating heart sent bursts of blood through the gapping wound. I screamed and
when I awoke Nayda was kneeling at my side. Her hands were bloody, stringy
flesh dribbled from her lips, her teeth smeared by the fresh kill. “It worked,” I
“She’s dead -- I killed her. I must have. It was dark and then the crash. I
awoke and she was beside me, her throat torn open. I pulled you out of the
wreck and brought you here. At first I thought you were dead, too, but then --
you are a, machine.”
I sat up on the brown, green substance of the earth.
“I have water for you,” she handed me the flask, trembling.
I drank deeply and with the water left over I washed the blood from her fingers
and from her lips.
“How long has it been?”
“An hour since dawn.”
“Then we must go.”
I drew her close to me and told her all that I knew. What I had guessed before
but could not prove until then. I promised her that she would never have to fear
anything again, that it was indeed men who caused her people -- the women --
problems. But it was more than just the men, it was their dreams.
“Do Amazon women dream? Do you dream?” I asked her.
“What is that?”
“I didn’t think so but that’s what’s been happening. You’ve been dreaming,
you told me that the minds of your people are linked and I believe it’s so, that
it’s your subconscious minds are connected and when the men at the colony
sleep those portions of their subconscious minds come awake and invade your
communion. Man’s subconscious mind is not peaceful, they have no
communion among them to make it so. Their minds are raging with the purest
hells, teeming with unrestrained urges, lusts, fears and when those thoughts were
released into your communion it drove your people mad and forced them to act
the way they did. Since I do not sleep when we were along nothing happened
but that other time, when Alluro fell asleep in the fields, that was enough.”
“But you did sleep --”
“Only once and never again. I promise. I am not a machine anymore, I know
Then we halted, standing together, we had reached an open place in the forest
where, directly over our heads the sun burned savagely. “I wish I could do
something,” I said, “about the men in the colony and your people too.”
Suddenly the air came alive with a loud roar, an earthshaking boom. We
looked above, a bright, red ball streaked through the air and when it passed our
sight the cloudy shape seemed to have dissolved away to reveal the contours of
a strange, catlike ship. A bright flash followed and all was silent once more.
“They are free and I am free, too,” Nayda said.
“Then we shall go? Go wherever we want to go, do what ever we want to do.”
“There is a village near, will you take the communion now?”
“I do not know what will happen. My subconscious, it’s not different from any
“But will you try?”
“I will,” I said. “I want to try.”
And with that we moved away, plunging ever deeper into the thickness of the
wilderness. Only once did I look back but I saw nothing in the hot, steaming
jungle, nothing but a speckled snake crawling through the exposed roots of a
fallen oak. I knew then that everything lay ahead of me.
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