Androids Over New York, Part 4

Chapter 14:  Laurie’s Story

We screamed into the Bronx with the flashers on and headed for Feral’s apartment somewhere up in Laconia.  He ran upstairs to fill the little bottles with water.  I was tired and strung out, and it seemed like he took forever.  Finally, we were on our way back to the warehouse on 58th.  I was going crazy asking myself why I hadn’t let Feral take out Laurie and Perril.  Now these robots were going to disperse all over the world.  Even if they didn’t do any damage, how were we going to find them all?  It was gonna to be like the al Qaeda days back around 2001.  We’d probably have to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and start checking everyone’s underwear at the airports.  It would be nuts.  Maybe we should just let them discover the botulin was missing, I thought.  But they’d just replenish their supply.  Better go ahead with the plan.

I walked the last two blocks to the warehouse in my Newman Ayers uniform.  Inside, the conveyor belt was running.  Muscly male androids, prone, moving along  on it, still having their faces attached.  Gross.  But no one bothered me, and I headed down the stairs with my case of fake botulin.  On Level Six, I checked out the passing androids.  I spotted Elsie and smiled at her.  She smiled back and licked her lips suggestively.  They were exquisitely formed, bulbous, with just a touch of a resistor protruding from below one nostril.  Everything was going fine.  I stepped into Room 612 and the safe was still ajar.  It was almost too easy.  I slipped the case back in and heard the doorknob turn behind me.

Laurie stepped in.

“Newman – what are you doing here?”

I had to think fast.  “I was just checking the supplies, you know.”  So lame.  My heart was going like an idling Enduro 2-cycle.

“You’re not Newman.  Newman talks funny.  He can’t form sentences.”

Oops.

“We found blood on the floor this morning.  It wasn’t human.  You’re Legion, aren’t you.  Legion Ayers.”  In a flash, she’d turned and locked the door.  She walked slowly toward me.  Nowhere to run or hide.  Her eyes like firebrands burning into my soul.  She reached toward that personal area on me that her clone had so mistreated.   It would start there, the torture and pain.  But no, her touch was gentle and filled with desire.  She threw her other arm around my neck and pressed her vulva against me.  “Oh God, Legion, I’ve missed you so.  Take me away from this.  Please.  Away from Perril.  Away from this cursed project.  I need you, I need you all the time.”

I hate it when they do that.  I’m Legion Ayers.  I operate alone. I travel light.  I’m a roadrunner, can’t stay in one place too long.  Yes, I’m the wanderer, they call me the wanderer, I roam around, around, around, around…

“What are you thinking about?” she demanded, breathlessly unbuttoning my jumpsuit.

“Well, nothing much I guess.  I dig you too, but this is a tight situation, you know?”

“That makes it more exciting, don’t you think?”  She was wearing another zip-down android thing and already had me out, rubbing me against the moist center of her passion.  With a single thrust, she took all of me, moaning with pure pleasure, a sound so sweet I forgot where I was until after we had turned the little storeroom into our personal pleasure-dome, a dome encrusted with sparkling diamonds, colors and sensations to rival anything Michelangelo ever did in the Sistine Chapel.  I mean, with his paint brush – I don’t think he ever got it on there.  You’re not allowed to. When we’d spent our last energy, that is, when I’d spent it – Laurie could have gone on for weeks – she got back to business.

“You switched the bottles.  They’re harmless now, right?”

Another moment of truth.  “Yeah, what of it.” I said.

“Oh Legion, I love it when you play the tough guy!”

“I am a tough guy!”

“Yeah, baby, sure.  You’re real tough.  Anyway, good for you.  I decided I don’t like the idea of killing the entire human race.”

“That’s sweet of you.  How many of us did you have in mind?”

“No one.  Except maybe Manny.  I hate his guts.  That was his big mistake.  He programmed me – only me – to possess real human emotions.  Like love.  He thought I’d fall helplessly in love with him because he created me.  Men are pretty dumb, huh.”

“Let me think.  Well…”

“See what I mean?”  She laughed.  “Anyway, Manny made me intelligent enough to see what a shmuck he is.  Legion, you’re not into, what’s it called – golden showers?”

“No, not really.  Is that what he likes?”

“Yeah, at the breakfast table.  He likes it in his Cheerios.”

“Awful.  Look, Laurie, I’m awfully glad we had this little talk, but now that you seem to be on our side, where do we go from here?  I mean, like, where’s Manny?”

“Back at the apartment.  We’re distributing the stuff today, then he’s taking me away to Cancun for the weekend.”

“No he’s not!”

“Ooh, you’re jealous.  I love it!”  But I didn’t love it.  She was right, she had me under her spell.  But I had to wrap this thing up and get back to the 26th century.

“Look, baby, we gotta take this slow, see?  I got some business to take care of.  Just play along with him for a couple more days.  Then O’Farrell is going take him down.”

“But what about you and me?”  She looked panicky.  This was going to be tough.  How could I explain, how much should I tell her?  “Look,” I said, “Let me get out of this room and hook up with O’Farrell.  You and I can meet up after that.  How about 42nd and Broadway at 4 PM?”

Now she was skeptical.  I put my arms around her waist and pulled her close.  “Hey, I’d be a fool to let a creature like, I mean a woman like you get away from me.  Look in my eyes, you can see how I feel.”  When she did, I could feel myself falling into hers too.  I could barely breathe.  “OK,” she whispered, placing little electric kisses on my ear and then laying her head on my shoulder.  “I’ll meet you there.”  Our bodies were locked together like a jigsaw puzzle with only two pieces, which you’ll never see, because who wants to lay out cash for a puzzle with only two pieces?  Not me, pal.

“Wait two minutes before you come out.  We don’t want anyone to know we were in here.”  She nodded, and I made my way through Android Annex, and started up the stairs before it hit me: she could have been making the whole thing up!  She could have her goons follow us.  I had to think quick.  The only solution was to keep an eye on her.  Maybe O’Farrell could manage her while I was gone.  I headed back inside and found her coming down the hall from Room 612.

“Look, Laurie,” I said, I’m crazier about you than I realized.  I don’t want us to be apart.”

“In other words, you don’t trust me as far as you can throw me and want to keep an eye on me?”

“No, I…”

“Men – so cute sometimes!  Sure, let’s hang out.  Come on, I’ll show you where the elevator is.”

When Feral spotted us walking down the street together, he ducked way down behind the steering column.  Laurie started to lift the front end of his cruiser a few feet in the air for fun, but I stopped her.  “Laurie, stop – he’s got a gun!”  I waved to O’Farrell to cool out.  “She’s with us now, man.  She’s helping us out.  Everything’s under control.”  He rose up very cautiously, like a someone on the toilet with diarrhea.  Laurie and I scooted into the back seat.  But it felt strange, because I knew what had gone on between the two of them the other day at the Waldorf.  Was I really a jealous guy?  I thought those days would be gone for good after I got over Asenath, Cleopatra’s maid-in-waiting, who spurned me for Thoth, keeper of the Great Seal of Ramses.  It broke me up so bad, especially when I found out they were doing a threesome with the seal.

“OK, so we’re all good friends now?  Did you switch the bottles?”

“Yeah, Laurie came in just when I did.  We had, uh, a meeting of the minds.”

“Judging from the time you took, it was more than your minds that met.”  Laurie giggled, as cute a giggle as you ever heard.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Erec – I mean Mr. Feral, but I couldn’t get Legion off my mind.  He’s so easy to be with.”

“Well, I gotta warn you, he like to take little trips.”

“Trips?  Where to?”

“Never mind,” I interrupted.  “Why don’t you two go off and have a nice Chinese dinner or something.  I gotta…”

“…go on a little trip?”  Laurie interjected.

“See, I told you, Feral said.  “Now, I know just the perfect place sweetheart, not far from my place in the Bronx.  We’re gonna have a real nice time, baby, I guarantee you.”

Laurie gave me her lost little girl look.  That was enough for me.  I told myself it was about keeping an eye on her, but I knew better.  I couldn’t stand their being alone together again.  There would probably be hell to pay, but maybe I could justify it to Regnum.  After all, we’d made a lot of progress in the last 24 hours.

“Laurie, hook your little finger in mine, baby.”  She looked at me quizzically but did what I said.  “Would you like to come on my little trip?”

“Sure,” she grinned.

“Right now?”

“Why not?”

“Feral,” I told our driver, “you take it easy.  I’ll guard our guest tonight.”  And just like that, O’Farrell lost his passengers and was driving solo.

I nailed it this time.  In a couple blinks, Laurie and I found ourselves in the lobby of the Trans-temporal Correction Building.  It was the only time I ever saw her stagger.  I grabbed her waist and pulled her up tight against me.  “It’s OK baby, sometimes the landings are a little rough.  This one was pretty good.”  I walked her over to a big couch near the information desk and sat her down.  “See, we just traveled a few blocks across Manhattan, but we also went 476 years forward in time.”

“But how…?”

“I never introduced myself properly, honey.  I’m with an agency that does what’s called trans-temporal investigations.  They sent me back to stop Manny Perril.  This, the year 2540, is where I’m from.

“You mean we’re in the 26st century now?”

“That’s right.”

“But that is so cool!”   She was beaming like I was a rock star.  It felt good.  But in reality, it was far from that.  I had to run the gauntlet of Quantum Regnum’s displeasure.  I started to send him a thoughtmail, but deleted it.  I needed an attitude.  I showed Laurie to an elevator and we stepped off on the 3rd floor and headed for Regnum’s office.  Falanga Robitussin, his secretary, smiled at me as I entered.  “Hey, Legion, you’re back!  Did you…?”  Her voice trailed off when she saw Laurie.

“The boss busy?”  I inquired.

“Let me check.  She stared blankly at me for a moment.  “No it’s OK, go ahead in.”  Which we did.  Regnum was up in his maglev as usual, but when he saw Laurie he sat up straight and rotated the thing to face us.

“Nice uniform, Legion.  What’s with the name change?”

I looked down. I was still Newman Ayers.  “It’s just a camouflage I’m using to carry out the assignment.”

“So what’s all this about?”

“Just me and an extraordinary woman who just helped me save the world, sir.  Your world.  Our world.”

“No dramatics, Legion.  Just make out your reports and…wait a minute.  You brought this woman back from 2044?”

“She’s more than a woman, sir, and actually, well, the mission’s not exactly completed.”  The silence in the room was suddenly heavier than the atmosphere of Ranthor 6 in the Frapnol star cluster, where it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning.  The hospitals fill up every autumn with people injured by falling leaves, and although baseball was introduced fifty years ago, pitchers have yet to get a ball across the plate.  You wouldn’t want to live there.

What I’m trying to say is, Quantum was pissed.  But Laurie spoke right up: “Dude, didn’t you hear?  We just saved the world.  Fucking lighten up!”  She was so 21st century.  I loved it.  But it didn’t help our situation.  It only made Regnum’s ears curl forward.  When his ears curl, you know you’re in deep shit.

“What is the current situation on the ground?” he barked.  Then he barked again.  Deep, like a Labrador.  Quantum was a weird guy.

“Well, we got rid of the botulin, we replaced it with water, but the androids are still programmed to disperse that all over the world.  Thing is, I don’t know how we’re going to round them up, and if we did, what would we do then?”

“Oh, Legion,” Laurie broke in, “You should have asked me.”  They’re pre-set to return to base back to New York.  Reassembly takes place in eight days.”

“Ayers, who is this woman and why is she here?”  Regnum snapped.  At this, Laurie walked around his desk, eased over to him and began lightly fussing with his hair.  “Poor Mr. Regnum, you have so much stress, don’t you?  Managing human history!  What a chore.  I bet you need some superhuman help sometimes.”  Regnum almost fell into the Laurie-zone, then shook her off.

“Very nice, Ms…  you didn’t introduce us, Ayers.”  He was right. I didn’t even know her last name, or if she had one.

“Lucid,” she announced.  “Loralee Lucid.  But call me Laurie.”

“You’re one of the androids, aren’t you.”

“Yes,” I said, “but she’s finished with Perril.  She’s the only one he made capable of human emotions, sir, and apparently a conscience too.  And she’s got a lot of other things going, including a great sense of humor.  Tell him a joke, sweetheart.”

Instantly, she said, “Two astronauts in outer space.  One of them goes outside the space capsule, comes around and knocks on the spacecraft.  The other astronaut says,  ‘Who’s there?’”

Silence fell over the room.  “It’s very existential,” Laurie explained.  “It involves cosmic loneliness and the difficulties we all have living fully in the moment.  It’s so funny to me!”  She began that giggle again, and it made me start to chuckle, then Regnum broke out in laughter, and a sense of pure joy entered the room and we couldn’t stop, we were in hysterics, holding our sides in pain saying, “Stop, stop, please, it hurts!”  And then Laurie just snapped her fingers twice and it was over.  Regnum’s face was red as a beet.  He tugged at the collar of his uniform and tried to compose himself.

“Good joke, Ms. Lucid, but there’ll be time for levity later.  So what are your loyalties, uh, Laurie.  Do you have any ideas about the future of your, your…people?”

“I sure don’t want us to be destroyed.  We could help humans in a lot of ways.  Basically we’re programmed to be peaceful and co-exist with each other.”

“Yes, of course.  The thing is, Ayers, this is a population we can’t decide about all on our own.”

“You mean…”

“Yes.  The Grolnathians must be consulted.

“Grolnathians?”  Laurie asked.

“Humans are no longer alone on this planet, Ms. Lucid.  We have overseers from elsewhere in the galaxy guiding and stabilizing our species.

Laurie processed the new information.  “But that’s just like some Arthur C. Clarke novel.  You want me to believe that?”

Regnum smiled.  “Clarke was actually one of them, Laurie, a precursor.  All his life, he communicated with his intergalactic superiors through those bifocals he always wore.”

“That’s news to me,” I put in.  “Well, the truth is no stranger to fiction.”

“You mean science fiction is stranger than truth.”

“You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead,” I added.

“OK!” shouted Laurie.  “Knock off the one-liners.  Why do you have to deal with these Grolanauts.”

“Grolnathians.  We’re required to.  And they may be able to get your android friends to co-operate with us.  Now what about Perril?  What do you think he’ll do next?”

“Just make trouble” I said.  “Especially when he finds we’ve foiled his plans.  I need to take him out.”

Laurie looked confused.  “You mean go on a date?”  I realized this might be a touchy subject.  “Yeah, I was thinking sushi.  He just came back from Japan, right?  Me and him can talk things over.  Just let me handle him.”

Regnum was about through with us.  “I’ll set up a meeting with Supervisor Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP! of the Grolnathian Regulatory Commission in a few days.  Why don’t you two take in some of the local color.  I’ll contact you later.  I swear, Ayers, I don’t know how you do it.  No one gets days off in the middle of an assignment, certainly not with someone like Laurie here.  But Ms. Lucid, please watch your step.  You’re in Agent Ayers’ custody at this point.”

“Oooh,” said Laurie.  Regnum waved us away and went back to work.

The next few days were some of the happiest of my long life.  Our age difference – I was 280, she was two – was somehow no problem.  First thing, I took Laurie shopping for new 26th century fashions.  She looked stunning.  We were so happy we felt like we’d gone to the moon.  Actually, we had gone to the moon, to the legendary Copernicus Crater Resort.  She loved the lunar ski jump where you free-fly six kilometers in the Moon’s weak gravity and set down gently in fields of clover, now that Earth’s satellite had been atmospherized.  And how she laughed when I did the Moonwalk.  The Aerosmith concert was great (how do those guys keep it up?)  But in our suite, her passion knew no bounds.  Yes, we bounced off the walls, but they were padded.  Then off to Disneyworld 2500, which used to be called Madagascar.  We couldn’t see it all, of course, that takes four years.  The jungle ride alone is six weeks.

We were 50 meters down, scuba diving the sunken ruins of the old Miami Dolphins stadium – now it really was a dolphins stadium – when I got a thoughtmail from Quantum Regnum telling us to return to his office.  I knew our idyll had to come to an end, and it wasn’t easy on the hyper-rail back to Manhattan.  I knew we might never be this close again.  Things can change fast when you’re Legion Ayers, and believe me, I am.  When we strolled into his office, he hit us with the news.

“Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP! wants you to appear before him soon.   It needs to evaluate Laurie before they decide anything.”

“It?” asked Laurie.

“Yes, Ms. Lucid, Grolnathians are genderless.  They are an incredibly advanced life-form we still barely comprehend.  But they brought peace to the Earth.  Everyone is happy now.”  Laurie looked skeptical.  “So they want to check me out?  I don’t know if I like that.”

“We have no choice.  Any new life forms must be inspected.”

“Come on, Laurie,” I added, “They couldn’t be worse than Perril.”

Quantum shot a thoughtmail to the Grolnathian Supervisor.  “Where do we go to see this thing?”  Laurie wanted to know.  Regnum looked a bit tense for the first time.  “We don’t have to go anywhere, Ms. Lucid.  It comes to us.”

A few seconds later, the light in Regnum’s office seemed to change, it seemed “fuzzy” somehow.  Then the fuzziness evolved into visible particles, swirling, dusty specks that filled the entire room.  Gradually the swirling contracted into a single column between us and the doorway.  As the image congealed, it was clearly acquiring some sort of human form.  And the more defined it grew, the more I liked it.  Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP had obviously chosen a form to put us at ease.  My pre-assignment research was helping me, because I recognized the woman who was materializing before our eyes.  Her name was something like “Beyond” or “Behold,” No…no…it was Beyoncé!  She came completely into focus and stood before us in a skin-tight sequined gown.  She spoke to Laurie first:

“Girl friend!  What it be like?”  I could see Laurie’s faraway stare as she plumbed the depths of her memory banks, searching pre-loaded images and videos until she hit the correct ones.  “I don’t understand,” she said finally.  “Why is Foxxy Cleopatra talking to me?”

“That was just one of my roles, darlin’, don’t worry your fine self about that.  We just checkin’ you out.  It’s like an audition.  So run down for me what you know about the times you livin’ in back there.”

“You mean 2044?  Well, the oceans are rising pretty fast.  Apple bought Exxon in 2020 and converted it into a solar power company, and so a war broke out between Texas and California.  China bought Australia a year later.  Then there was that cool Iranian Prime Minister who launched missiles at Israel that exploded in mid-air dropping lox and bagels all over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, resulting in the Smoked Salmon Peace Accords in 2027.”

Suddenly Beyoncé got weird. “Very good,”  boomed a far deeper voice than any contralto Beyoncé was capable of.  “However, our scan of this life form shows she has killed an Earthling.  Others of her kind can do the same.  They cannot live together in harmony on Earth.”

Laurie hung her head.  I figured this might happen.  But I was hooked on Laurie bad.  I decided to speak up.  “Look, they could be reprogrammed, right?  Can’t we reconfigure them a bit, take out the violent stuff and then install it in the rest of them?

         “That may be possible.  However, their reproductive cycle is so fast they would overrun the planet.  We would need to slow such activity down.” 

Laurie broke in.  “You mean I can’t…”

“No, Laurie,”  I said.  We can, I mean, you and I can still…”   Suddenly, Laurie began singing:

 “If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it
If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it

Androids, they learn fast.  She was throwing down, as they used to say.  But now the Beyoncé entity began to dissolve as Laurie continued to gyrate in ways that so distracted Quantum and I that we barely heard its deep, departing words:

“We will put this under review.  The visitors shall return to their former era and wait for our ruling.”

Our vision filled again with the swirling particles, but they grew faint and disappeared.  As I had suspected, my holiday was over.  It was time to go check on O’Farrell and see what the news was in the 21st century.  And deal with Perril once and for all.

“Laurie, calm down.  We need to get back.  I’ll set you up in a safe house out of the way somewhere until all this gets resolved.  Let’s head down to the street level.  I can set my coordinates easier there.”  Reluctantly, she gave up her groove.  Her undulations lessened.  Her fingers ceased their popping.

“Well, that’s it, Ayers,” Regnum said.  “You’ll be contacted when we know more.  Until then, do not show up here again, or it’s your job this time.”  He turned back to his work.  What the hell.  I took Laurie’s hand and we made our way down to the ground floor.  In the lobby, I turned to her and looked into those eyes.  I thought back over the 260 years of my adulthood – the Viking hottie I pulled out of an avalanche when I was just 93, the Sudanese princess I rescued from the Nile at 140 after hand-to snout combat with three crocodiles, and yes, Asenath, as for the thousandth time I struggled to understand what a seal had to offer that I didn’t – but they all faded into nothing before the limpid green orbs pouring pure love vibrations into my soul.  “Come with me, sweetheart,” I told her, “Let’s get this over with and then it’s just me and you and a beautiful life together.”  The words flowed out of my mouth like the hot creamy gravy that leaks out of a Swanson’s TV Chicken Pie when it’s been in the oven too long.  I reached out my little finger to her and she hooked hers tenderly in mine.  I began our re-insertion.  And then, at the one instant when it was possible to do so, she jerked her hand away, and I went spinning through time without her.

She had stayed behind, she had tricked me again.

Woaahhhhh…I’m spinning, falling, twisting, trying to regain my balance and then Kaboomsplash!  –  I’m underwater, no chance to take a breath, writhing, struggling, frantically reaching for the surface…there!  –  I can breathe!  Gasping for air now, treading cold murky water.  I look up and see the fucking Brooklyn Bridge, and it felt like she’d thrown me off the Enduro during our first encounter.  Talk about throwing cold water on a relationship, this took the prize.  I was nearly in the middle of the East River, but my powerful arms and superbly toned thigh muscles brought me to the bicycle path on the Manhattan side in less than 10 minutes.  But now I was mad.  I was madder than Joe Louis after he lost to Max Schmeling, madder than Hitler when he lost Stalingrad, madder than Newt Gingrich when it was revealed that his three marriages had just been cover-ups for his life-long love affair with John Malkovich.

Chapter 15:  Planetary Chaos

I hauled myself up onto the bike path, soaking wet and trembling from the cold.  I stood there in a daze for a moment as traffic streaked by, then an approaching Yellow Cab slowed down and stopped in front of me.  The cabbie rolled down the passenger-side window to check me out, then turned on his blinkers and jumped out, a ruddy-faced guy in a Hawaiian-style shirt.  He opened his trunk and pulled out a blanket, ran up and threw it around me.

“Wow, man, what happened to you?  Here, jump in the cab.  Where can I take you?”

Not your normal New York cabbie, I thought.  My rage diminished a few notches, and by notches, I don’t mean taco chips.  “Thanks, man.”  I said.  “Hamilton Hotel.”

He pulled back into traffic.  “You gonna be OK?  You fall off your bike or something?   I saw all that water dripping off you and you trembling like that.  I saw it from 50 yards away.”

Sensitive guy.  He kept chattering how strange it was to encounter me, that it was his destiny to find me and help me and that this was all beautiful.  Then I looked out at the people on the street.  The sidewalks were too empty.  And hardly any cars.  I saw bare-chested men in jeans carrying briefcases.  And women in flouncy cotton skirts and bikini tops.  I saw at least five couples embracing on the street, some deep into passionate kisses.  Everything seemed too quiet.  No one was hitting their horns.  In Manhattan!  Not even the cabbies.  Was I hallucinating?  Suffering some weird side-effects from my out-of-control reinsertion?  Then I noticed the cab’s dashboard. He had it covered with bird feathers and little ceramic figurines.  We reached the hotel and I took out my sopping-wet wallet to pay the guy, but he refused.  “Hey, man, you had some bad luck.  Start your day again with a positive!  You’re beautiful, man.”  And he took off, smiling.

A suspicion began to settle in the back of my brain.  In the hotel, the guy at the front desk rushed around the counter.  “Mr. Ayers!  We were so worried about you.”  He threw his arms around me.  “Are you all right?  Let’s get you up to your room right now!”

I pushed him off me.  “Back off, buddy.  I’m fine.  Lemme have my room-card, that’s all.”  He gave it to me and I headed up the elevator.  In my room, I went directly to the compscreen and flicked it on.  ‘WORLD PEACE!’  the New York Times was screaming in giant fonts.  I read down into the lead article:

It’s so beautiful, everybody.  Everything is so beautiful!  Love and peace!  President Fineman is flying to the World Peace Meeting in Bali to meet with world leaders to send food and other stuff to poor people all over the world!  I love you, man.  And my wife too.  I love her so much!  Police and soldiers around the world have thrown down their weapons! They’re wearing beads and flowers and shit.  Me too!  It’s so beautiful, man!”

I picked up the hotel cellphone and called O’Farrell.  It rang and rang, then he answered on the ninth or tenth ring.

“O’Farrell here, man.”

“This is Ayers.  What the hell have you done?”

“Just fucking solved all the world’s problems while you were gone, future guy.  Hey, how’s our girl friend?”

“Don’t ask.  Feral, what the hell did you do?”

“I told you I was more than a hunk.  I told you about my hobby.”

“What?  What hobby?”

I’m into chemistry, man, remember?  I got a nice lab at my apartment.  See, if you use the enantioselective synthesis method based on catalyzed domino cyclization reactions – you know, Fujii and Ono did that way back in 2011 – it crystallizes into these very thin hexagonal leaflets.  Then I used the biosynthetic route and alkalized  tryptophan with dimethylallyl diphosphate…

“Feral!  Stop babbling!  What did you fucking do?”

“I increased the potency of lysergic acid by a factor of 350,000.”

“And you put that shit in our little bottles?”

“I couldn’t resist it, man!  Worldwide distribution!”

“But you’re a cop.”

“With a heart, man.  And a destiny.  I’m here to help mankind.”

“Geez, Feral, this stuff’s gonna wear off, right?”

“Time will tell, man.  I hope not.  Did you see the people out there?  So blissed!  Did you read about the peace conference?  Look, man, I got some left if you want to try it…”

“Did YOU take it?”

“No, man, I have to monitor the experiment.  But you could…”

“Fuck you, man.”

“Sounds like you do need a tab.  Why’re you being so hostile?  Everything’s cool.  Hey, is this about Laurie?  Where the hell is she?”

“Let’s say we got disconnected.  She’s back in 2540.  I can’t get to her until we close this case.  Remember the case?”

“Oh yeah, that.”

“Yeah, that.  I doubt the androids drank any of your happy-juice, they probably went with their own water supplies.  Perril is gonna try to take advantage of this.”

“Well, we could head over to the warehouse and see how many of them came back.  Still got your Newman Ayers suit?”

“It’s in the backpack.  Come pick me up at the Hamilton.”  I had to work with O’Farrell, even if he was certifiably nuts.  Especially  now that everyone else was even crazier.  And for how long?  We didn’t know.

It took an hour for him to show up.  “What took you so long?”

“I dropped by the station to check in.  All the guys were hugging me.  They were leaving to go sit in the park and look at trees.  Quartz was in tears, falling all over me, saying he really loved me and how sorry he was.  It’s great stuff, man.”

“Forget about Quartz.  Focus on the road.  There’s gotta be a lot of disoriented drivers to watch out for.”  Right then, the car in front of us stopped short and the driver leaned way out the window to stare up at Trump Tower II.  I rolled down my window.

“Hey – you’re fired!”  I yelled.  The guy looked back at me and said, “Bummer!”

“See?  Drive careful, O’Farrell.  New York is zonked.”  We made our way north, past a few fender-benders, until we reached West End Avenue and parked the cruiser.  I stepped out and walked the block to the warehouse.  Inside, it was business as usual.  Today was Ladies Day: you name her, they were making her.  Blondes, brunettes, redheads, pretty Asian girls, African goddesses.  I’d seen enough.  They were back.  Back in the car, I knew there was only one move left to us.

“Time to cut off the head of that snake, O’Farrell.”

“Man, that’s so P.P.E.”

“What?”

“Pre-Psychedelic Era.  Manny probably got into the juice.  It’s in the water.  He’ll be like a teddy bear now.  Besides, what’s the charge?  Building robots without a permit?”

“Good point. Well, hell, let’s lean on him and see what happens.”  We turned around and made it downtown to Laurie’s apartment tower.  Inside the lobby, the front desk was empty.  All the staff was in the bar, staring at old Jacques Cousteau ocean documentaries on a vidscreen.  I could hear people moaning ecstatically and comments like “Oh, that’s so far out!” and “I can totally feel where that octopus is coming from!”  We took the elevator to the 55th floor.  I decided to take the direct approach, and simply knocked on the door of Laurie and Manny’s apartment.  Nothing.  I tried again.  Finally we heard the sound of the door chain being removed and very slowly, then the handle turned.  Feral had placed his hand on his weapon, but I told him to cut it out and get out his gun.  We had to be ready for anything from Perril.  But we were unprepared for who stood before us when the door swung open.  It was Laurie.  My heart went crazy in my chest.

“Yes?”  she asked, coldly, as if all feeling had been removed from her soul.  “What do you want?”  But I saw fear in her eyes.

“How… how did you get here?”  I managed to ask.

“I came from West Side Drive.”

“And how did you get there?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped impatiently.  “Look, Mr. Ayers, what’s this about?”

“What’s this Mr. Ayers shit?”  I was losing it.  “I’m through with you jerking me around.  Where’s Perril?”  I saw a pulse of terror flash through her.  Something inside her crumbled.  “Oh, God, what am I going to do?”  she cried, staggered back into the room and collapsed on the sofa weeping, her head in her hands.  We followed cautiously and closed the door.  O’Farrell had his revolver out now, scanning the room from one side to the other.  “Where is he?” he demanded.

“In the other room, on the bed.”

O’Farrell went in first.  “Jesus!” he cried.  I looked in and saw the guy.  He was on his back, naked, with deep, bloody lacerations down his front side.  Stone dead.  But it was his head, twisted almost 180 degrees backward, that made the scene really horrific.  O’Farrell went over and rotated the head back.  It was Perril, all right.  At least it looked like him.  Only the coroner could tell us if he’d pulled another cloning trick.  We went back in to Laurie.

“What am I going to do?  What are you…all of us going to do?” she moaned.  “Exalted Leader Perril!  I’ve killed him!

“What caused you to part ways with him?  I mean, this time?”  I added sarcastically.

“Well, first of all,” she began wiping the tears from her eyes, “he was acting so weird.  Crying like a baby, moaning about all the bad things he’d done, how he’d had these humans killed in Japan, how all those people back in the ‘90s had gone nuts and killed themselves because their PCs were always crashing – what’s a PC?”

“It means you can’t give your secretary a massage,” said O’Farrell.

“Shut up, Feral.  So you stripped him and raked his body with your super-nails and broke his neck because he was crying?”

“No…let me talk.  Then he was staring at things for a long time, like at those flowers on the kitchen counter, and then back at me, saying how I wasn’t real, I wasn’t natural, stuff like that.  That hurt my feelings, but I guess I lost control when he took off his clothes and ordered me to paint his body with peanut butter and put sweet dill pickle chips all over him and lick it all off.  He kept yelling at me, ‘Do it now, do it now, I’m the Exalted Leader, do it NOW!’ and I guess I just snapped.”

“Was it the sweet pickles made you lose it?”  O’Farrell asked.

“Yeah, I think if it’d been a nice kosher dill I could have done it, even with the peanut butter.”

“With kosher, they add more garlic, I like that.  And you can choose between half-sour and full-sour.”

“Really!  I didn’t know that.  How did you get that information?  I don’t have it?”

“Hey you two, cut it out!”  I yelled.  But then…wait, I thought.  Then it dawned on me.  ‘How did you get that information, I don’t have it?’  Laurie thinks Feral is an android!  She must think I am too, with my Newman uniform on.  That’s why she called me Mr. Ayers.   I was thinking clearly now.  What were the chances she could get back here from 2540? – nil.   But Perril had had five full days to crank out another replica of her.  This was wasn’t Laurie – this was Laurie II!

I threw O’Farrell a glance from the corner of my eye. “So anyway, Laurie, what do we do now?”

“Who the hell is Laurie?  I’m Denise.”

I looked at O’Farrell and saw the lights go on for him too.  Then, as I realized this killer wasn’t really the girl I’d spent five idyllic days with, I felt a warm glow in my heart.  I hate it when that happens.

“If you can find Laurie, can I have Denise?”  Feral inquired.

“Shut UP, evil chemistry person,”  I barked, startling Denise.  I turned to her.  “I’m sorry, Denise, you reminded me of someone else.  Look, Feral and I, we’re programmed as high-function solution units and, uh, could you excuse us for a second?  We need to put our heads together.”

“Are you really  going to put your heads together?”

“No, that’s just an expression.  We’ll be right back.”  I pulled O’Farrell out into the hallway.  “OK, you’re the cop.  Where do we go from here?  Even if we could arrest her somehow, your cops would just take her to the park and start touching her body under the trees.  My God, Central Park must be like a scene out of Breughel right now, and don’t make any stupid jokes about ‘lox and Breughels.’”

“What?”

“Never mind – what are we gonna do?”

“I say go back in and tell her there’s a Manny clone in storage that he built for emergencies, so everything is cool.  Then we wrap up Manny and toss him in the freezer at the morgue.  Damage control.”

“That’s brilliant, man.  If you’re that smart, why’d you turn the whole world into a gigantic Haight-Ashbury District?”

“Hey, so far so good, man.  Just don’t know how long it’ll last.  I tried to make it so the body continually reproduces the substance, but we’ll just have to wait and see.  Anyway, I’m waiting for the coroner’s report to tell us this was really Manny.”

“Can’t you do the analysis, Mr. Science?”

“Hey – good idea.  I’ll take a thumb home.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Science isn’t all fun and games, Legion.”

I let him have the last word and we went back in to Denise.  We told her to head back to the warehouse, relax, and not tell anyone what happened.  She was ecstatic to find there was a Manny clone.  “I don’t like humans very much,” she added.  Time to leave, I thought.  Feral re-parked the car in the delivery basement, we wrapped up the body in a rug and took it down the service elevator.  The place was empty of personnel.  I wondered if anyone on earth was taking life seriously.  If O’Farrell’s stuff didn’t wear off soon, the supermarkets were going to be empty and people would start to starve.  Same thing at the coroner’s, except for a guy staring at the corpses.  “What a bummer,” he was mumbling.  Then he shouts, “Alas, poor Yorick – I knew him, Horatio!” and runs out laughing like a madman.  We slipped Manny into a drawer and headed out for a beer. 

Chapter 16: The Space-Time Cavalry

It turned out to be more than one beer.  O’Farrell caught me at a weak moment, what with Laurie gone and a world gone mad.  The liquor stores and bars all seemed to be closed – the concoction he’d whipped up for humanity didn’t mix well with alcohol, I guess.  We found a supermarket that sold beer, where the clerks were riding shopping carts up and down the aisles, grabbed a couple six-packs and threw some cash on the checkout counter.  It was getting to be late afternoon.  I didn’t even want to see what Central Park looked like, so we parked on a side street north of it and enjoyed a few brews.  Then O’Farrell pulled out a fifth of Jose Cuervo from his glove compartment and we took turns on that.  I told him he was more  defective than detective, and that seemed to amuse him.  It was right around sundown when I thought I saw a strange pattern of diffracted waves in the clouds over by the Hudson River.   “Look at that cloud formation,” I said, pointing in the direction.  I suddenly realized it was about where Perril’s warehouse was.  The clouds seemed to be congealing into a darker area in the center that looked more and more regular in shape, like a hexagon.  I knew I’d had a few, but Feral was seeing the same thing.  “Let’s head that way,” I told him, and he started up the motor and took off.

It was over the warehouse.  The diffraction patterns grew more defined the closer we got, the hexagonal shape more perfect.  It seemed impossible but apparently the Grolnathians had already decided and were making their move.  There was no dazzling space ship, just clouds roiling above us within that hexagon.  These entities were far beyond physicality, they had become pure energy fields.  Of course, the residents of New York thought it was just another of the light shows they’d been seeing all day.  People were pointing up at the sky shouting how cool it was, yelling, “It’s just like Independence Day, it’s just like Cocoon!  Remember Cocoon?”   “No, no, it’s like Ghostbusters, man!  There was just a big cloud in that one.  Did you ever see that flick?”

“OK, man, what’s going on?”  O’Farrell asked, looking nervous.

“You know as much as I do.  I’ve never seen this before.  But basically, a couple hundred years from now, humanity is going to get so destructive that a civilization from another star system will send emissaries to come and transform us into a peaceful species.  They’re called Grolnathians.  They’re not in physical bodies, and that’s probably them now.  We had to check in with them about the androids and ask their help.  I don’t know what comes next, but we’re going to find out real soon.

We were a block away from the warehouse, and the shape was directly over our head.  Sparkles of light began to appear above us.  The streets were teeming with onlookers – uplookers – and what a ragged crowd.  They’d been strung out on O’Farrell’s potion for more than 48 hours now, continually ingesting it whenever they drank water.  It looked like a city of zombies, all of them now staring up at a Biblical apparition in the heavens.  There was a great roll of thunder, and the earth began to shake.  A grey, finger-like whirlwind emerged from the center of the hexagon and probed downward, downward, straight toward the warehouse.  Were they going to kill them all?  It seemed certain.  The faint of heart on the street were scattering like the wind, crying out in fear.  Now the tip of the funnel touched the roof and we heard a heavy crunching sound as great chunks of it flew up and seemed to dissolve in the air.  But as the funnel delved deeper into the structure, an eerie silence fell over the scene.  There were more sounds of impact within the building but not as violent as the initial penetration.  Then, inexplicably, impossibly, came voices, voices singing.  Singing a song from long ago:

We are family…I got all my sisters with me

We are family…Get up everybody and sing…

We are family…

And up they came.  Scores of them.  The androids, whirling slowly in the air, appearing and disappearing into the funnel, which had now turned a bright pink.  They were doing the L.A. Hustle and the Hot Chocolate, chanting a disco song from long-forgotten 1979, the song that helped the Pirates beat the Orioles in the World Series that year.  Why was this happening?  Who knew?  Is it possible to plumb the workings of an alien mind millions of years more advanced than our own?  Of course not.  But now the people were coming back onto the streets, acclaiming the androids as they rose out of the depths of the basement floors, sucked up into the great hexagon in the sky.  Yeah!  We are family!  The song echoed between android and human, from the earth to the sky and back again.

Such ecstasy!

And then they were gone.  The funnel retracted, the cloud faded and dissolved.  The onlookers stared at each other in wonder.  And then it dawned on them.  I could see it in their eyes, in the way they moved and began checking themselves out.  The party was over.  They were straight again.  Skinny stock brokers with bare chests folded their arms to hide their diminutive pecs.  Overweight women in tight bikinis fled.  Septuagenarians on roller skates suddenly lost their confidence, reaching out to grasp trees and steady themselves.  It was over.  In tomorrow’s New York Times, the whole event would be relegated to the status of a mass hallucination, if it was mentioned at all.  I looked at O’Farrell.

“Talk about deus ex machina,” I said, “that’s as good as it gets.”

“More like deus ex vacuum cleanuh.  Well, I guess I can forget about Denise.”

“Yeah, she’s on her way to who-knows-where.  They’ll fill me in on the details when I get back home.”

“Laurie was probably inside the cloud already, right?”

Damn!  That sinking feeling in my heart again.  I’d still been hoping to find her back in 2540, but O’Farrell was right.  Those Grolnathians had a hell of a vacuum cleaner and surely she was the first to get sucked up.  Well, the gig was really over now.  Just pick up my backpack at the Hamilton and be on my way.  A travelling man.  Born to run.

“Well, I guess this is it, buddy.  I owe you a lot.”

“Yeah, but you forgot what it is you owe me.”

“Huh?”

“Remember a little lady by the name of Moon Crystal?”

“Look, man…”

“A promise is a promise.”

“I can’t send you back there – you could get lost.”

“That would be fine with me.  Those were good times.  Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, the Doobie Brothers, the Summer of Love…”        “Charles Manson, the Vietnam War, the race riots…Look, if you go there, I can’t get you back.  We can only execute remote transfers within a 100-year period.  I’m going back to 2540.  You’ll be out of range.”

“I don’t care.  I’ve had it with Quartz and all the modern technology.  I want to hold an LP in my hands and set it on a turntable, hang out at Golden Gate Park, see Willie Mays crank one out of the park.  Live on a ranch with Moon Crystal.”  O’Farrell’s fantasies  were sounding pretty good to me too, but my destiny was not Feral’s.  I had taken a pledge:  “To Build A Better Past.”  Time-travel wasn’t some game for me, it was my job.

But I broke down and agreed to send him back.  He’d been there for me.  I gave him 24 hours to get his affairs in order and spent a quiet night at the Hamilton.  The next morning, the honking taxis outside my window told me New York, and the world, had returned to normal.  The New York Times said President Fineman had returned to Washington without a peace treaty.  Rumors had it he was more concerned about certain intimate photographs of him taken at the beach with Chinese Foreign Minister Madame Hualing Yeung than with any international agreements.

In the afternoon, O’Farrell showed up.  He’d changed his savings into gold coins – I told him that was basically all he could take with him.  “Feral, we do this, you’ve got to make me one ironclad promise: no Super drugs.  The Sixties were rough.  Don’t try to change the world with chemistry.  You’ll just fuck up the future.  Did you see the Times this morning?”

“You talking about the suicides?”

“Or else people who thought they could fly.  They’ve picked up almost fifty bodies all over the city.  Must be thousands all over the world.  People jumping out of buildings, off cliffs.  That’s your work.”

He looked truly remorseful.  “I know.  I gotta live with that the rest of my life.  That’s another reason I want to go back.”

“Well, if I hadn’t had your help, Perril might’ve wiped us all out.  You broke some eggs.  Stay out of the kitchen from now on.”

“You got my word.”

“You ready to go?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.  Hey, if you ever need…”

But he was already gone.  What a character.  I headed downstairs and paid my bill at the front desk.  The same clerk who was all over me the day before barely noticed me now.  He was a real New Yorker again.  I stepped out onto the street, cast a wistful glance downtown towards Laurie and Manny’s old high-rise, and initiated my Withdrawal.  Where, I wondered, as I whirled through space-time, had the Grolnathians sent all my androids?

Chapter 17:  Row, Row, Row Your Robot, Gently Down the Stream

When I’m not under a lot of pressure, my Insertions are pretty accurate, so there I was, back outside my one-bedroom flat in New East Queens, out by the beach.  I needed a shower and a change of clothes before dealing with Regnum.  But by the time I was through, I don’t know, I didn’t have the energy to take the hyper-rail downtown.  I crashed out for the rest of the day.  I must have gotten up around sundown.  I found some old French bread and some cheese, warmed up a can of Ultra Spam and washed it down with a beer.  Next thing I knew it was morning again.  I threw on some clothes and headed for the office.  As usual, Quantum was busy when I came in.  I thanked him for the help from the Grolnathians.

“Yeah, it all worked out for the best, Ayers, but you did good too.”  The burning question for me was if the overseers, who had somehow been able to override O’Farrell’s global acid party, had reported the phenomenon back to Regnum.  He gave no indication, yes or no.  Maybe I was in the clear.  And I sure wasn’t going to bring up Laurie.  I spent the rest of the morning writing up the report, making no mention of Feral’s magic potion.  About 11:30, I went back into the boss’ office.  Quantum glanced quickly through my report.  When he got to the final events at the warehouse, he let out a low whistle.

“Pretty exciting stuff.  The Grols don’t fool around do they.”

“So what’re their plans for the androids?”

“There’s a double-star about 10 light years away, hosting a planet they’ve been developing.  It has a survivable atmosphere and water.  Your friends are being replanted there.  They will have their reproductive cycles slowed-down and should do well there.  The Grolnathians actually admire Manny Perril’s skills.  He seems to have been quite a genius, if a perverse one.  Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP dropped by here to run it all by me yesterday.  He took the form of Carl Sagan.  Do you suppose he has a sense of humor?”

“Could be.  Hard to tell with invisible energy fields like him.”  I couldn’t bring myself to ask Quantum about Laurie.  I had to assume she was history, and I didn’t want to tip my hat that I gave a damn.

“Oh, by the way,” he added, closing the report.  “I want you to meet this new guy.  Join me for lunch, OK?”

“Sure thing.”  It was last thing I wanted to do.  I usually feel that way after a job, like soldiers are after combat situations where everything was more real than real life.  What civilians think of as real life seems empty, or is just my life that way?  Never got married, no kids.  I should have settled down maybe when I was in my 100’s.  Well, there’s no use crying over sleeping dogs drinking spilt milk under a bridge.  Anyway, Quantum and I went down to Eskimo Pie Trattoria, a place famous for cheese and blubber deep-dish pizzas.  He opened the door, and there’s most of the office staff with a big banner overhead shouting and cheering for me.  Cause I helped saved their world I guess.  The word had gotten around.  I’d almost have preferred androids with guns.  Core Roblin chugged over to hand me a frosty mug of Moonbuzz Brew.

“What did you call that assignment? ‘The usual stuff?’ ‘Boring?’ You sell yourself short, Legion.  Congratulations and thanks from us all.”  I thanked him in return and took cheery back slaps from the others.  After a couple beers, Regnum took me aside and started talking promotion.

“To tell the truth, Quan,” I said, “I’m fine where I am.  As a matter of fact, the sooner you send me out again, the better.”

“It’s that Lucid, uh, woman, isn’t it, Legion.  I can see it on your face.  Get over it, pal.  It wasn’t the real thing – in more ways than one.”  When he chuckled at his little joke I wanted to slap him around, but really, he was right on the money.  I just didn’t know my face was a goddamn book.  Eventually, the slightly tipsy staff headed back to the office.  Regnum shook my hand and told me to take a couple days off and come in on Monday.

Outside, the weather was spring-like.  I took off, walking the streets of New Manhattan aimlessly, its sky-cruisers and elevated walkways whirring overhead.  Generation after generation of buildings had raised their profiles to this sky, grown old and been torn down.  But after all these years the structure of her streets and avenues was largely unchanged.  I ambled through Grolnath Quad, which used to be Times Square, then down 7th Avenue, down, down, to 28th Street.  I turned and looked around me.  Why the hell had I come right to the corner of Laurie’s long-gone high-rise?  I disgusted me.  Where the building had once stood, I saw a Retina Reader Center.  The readers are sensor-cups that sit on your eyes and read the images that flash across your retina in a low-stimulus, low-light environment.  In ten to fifteen minutes, lulled by ambient music, you enter a dream-state whose images can be played back when you return from dreamland.  I thought what the hell, why not indulge my blues.  Inside, the lights were low, normal for Retina Reader shops.   I grabbed a seat in a booth and leaned back in the recliner, pulling the headphones on and slipping the reader device over my eyes.  I chose Debussy’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” it seemed to fit my mood, and closed my eyes.  The wandering motes you always see on your inner eyelids came gliding across my view, then the grey clouds that form and churn and dissolve, giving way to new ones that do the same.  That day, I didn’t really need any playback, I remembered most of what came next.  The clouds took on colors, first a pale blue, then an indistinct pink, on the way to yellow.  The clouds transmuted into puffy goldenrod-color fronds, then willowy branches could be seen supporting them, and as I scanned down, here was a lush, mottled forest springing up out of a floor of dark violet grass.  I seemed to be suspended a couple of meters above it and could move forward, which I did.  The forest went on for a while, then I came to a clearing.  There were people working there, building what looked like simple shelters.  Even as I drowsed, I remained lucid enough to consider that I was watching my defeated Perrilian creatures on their new planet, reassembling their lives.  I’m lucid dreaming, I thought, and then made the association with Laurie’s last name.  Instantly, she appeared before me a few feet away in the indigo meadow, her face shimmering and iridescent.

“Wake up baby,” she said, her voice like honey.  There in my dream-state, grief swept over me and I cried.  Then came anger.  Even in a fantasy, she was pushing me away again.  I tried to hold on.

“If I awaken, I lose you.  Let me dream a little longer, please.”

“No, wake up…let it go, let it go.”  Her voice was too powerful.  It overcame my will and I awoke.  Yet before I could remove the retina reader, fingers grasped them and pulled them away.

And there she was.

“Let it go, baby, wake up.”  I stared at her for a second or two, then asked her to slap my face.  Boom!  Bad choice.  “I didn’t mean that hard,” I said.  Sternly, I began to dab at my tears.  Laurie just climbed onto the recliner, stretched herself the length of my body and started kissing them away.  Beats Kleenex by a lunar mile.

“OK, OK,” I said brusquely and pushed her away, my heart still pounding in its lonely hell, one that was freezing over fast, “why do I feel like you’re the S and my heart is the M?”

She looked surprised.  “Aren’t you glad to see me?  You were dreaming about me – I was watching your monitor.”

“How could you do that?”

“I work here.  It’s my job.”

“Who’d you kill to get it?”  When I said that, her crestfallen look snapped me out of my bitterness.  “I’m sorry, that was a low blow, but I’ve had it with you.  I let down my guard too many times.  After your last escape, what am I supposed to think?”

“Oh, that.  Legion, something told me not to go back there with you.  I can’t explain it.  It felt dangerous.  So I hid out. I came down here to the corner where I used to live and saw this shop.  I thought I’d ask for a job, and they said yes.  That told me I’d made the right decision.”  She raised her eyebrows and blinked prettily.  “So what happened when you went back, anyway?”

“Manny got killed, for real this time, and all your friends got relocated.”

“To where?”

“Well, there’s this planet about 10 light years away…”  I paused as the wisdom of Laurie’s choice sank in on me, that is if she really was different from others of her kind.  If, in other words, if she had a heart.

“So I did make the right choice!  I didn’t want to be with them.  Legion, you’re the only real friend I ever had.  You care, don’t you?  That’s why you showed up here.  Something told me you would.”

An old duet between Ray Charles and Norah Jones sprang to my mind…

“Here we go again,

I’ll take you back again

I’ll play the fool again,

One more time…”                                                         

         What could I do?  I threw my arms around her, my sculpted biceps enclosing a deceptively fragile female form that once tossed a BMW Enduro through a third-floor window.  I can handle this, I told myself.  I’ll find a way to keep her with me.  We’ll find a cozy place, a fireplace, a cozy room.  A little nest that nestles where the roses bloom.  Just Laurie and me…that was when I looked up and noticed the fuzziness in the room, the whirling specs turning into miniscule particles, the swirling that contracted into a single column in front of our recliner.  This time it appeared to be composed of tightly wound brown fibers, but from within it, that deep voice once more boomed out in a harsh monotone:

“This is the missing “Lucid” unit.  We suspected you would find a way to contact her.  It must now join the others on the double-star planet.”

I had to think fast.  I changed the subject.  “So, Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP!  What’s with the column of fiber?  Is it a new look for you?

         “Why do you wish to know this?”

“You know, just making conversation.”

         “In our old physical form, we consumed soil, gravel, and finally rock as nutrients.  This lead to what humans call constipation.  It was decided to change the Grolnathian diet to high-fiber foods.  Lots of grains.  Prunes were also consumed.  This helped greatly, but over the centuries, our bodies became more and more fibrous, resulting in the appearance you see before you.  Other life forms in the galaxy mocked us, so we resolved to leave physical form entirely and after centuries of meditation achieved our goal.  We can now adopt any form, but this feels quite natural for me.  Would you prefer Beyoncé?

“No, no, the fiber is nice.  I like it.  But look, Fthnokreeny – can I call you Fthnokreeny? – Laurie here, Ms. Lucid that is, see, when she blew up that building, she was acting under the orders of Perril, she was programmed, like a brainwashed soldier. Really, she’s changed now, she’s far more human than the others.  And she feels terrible about what happened, don’t you Ms. Lucid?”

Laurie got up from the recliner, eased over to Fthnokreeny-SPLEEEP and began lightly fussing with his fibers.  “Oh, yes, Mr. SPLEEEP!, I so regret all that craziness.  Thanks to you and your Nolgrathians…”

“Grolnathians, Laurie”

“Yes, Gorthnailians – thanks to you, Manny’s terror is gone forever.  Now I just want to live in peace with my friend Mr. Ayers.”

         “I observed that, Ms. Lucid.  You were kissing his face.  But you have extraordinary powers and could easily become dangerous.”

“I would only use them to serve mankind, under orders from Mr. Ayers or Cumquat Regnat.”

“It’s Quantum Regnum, Laurie.”

“Yes, whatever.  But really, Fothnoreeny, I so enjoy working here at the Retina Reader shop.  I think I could live out my days quite happily here in complete anonymity.  My, your fibers are so strong and yet so soft to the touch.

SPLEEEP! emitted something that sounded like a sigh. “I had forgotten the joys of my old fiber life, Ms. Lucid.  I mean real fiber, you know?  Not cyber-fiber.”

I cut to the chase.  “So can she stay, SPLEEEP?  How about a period of probation?”

         “I think this may be acceptable.  We will put it under review.  I shall recommend that Ms. Lucid be granted a trial period on Earth.  We shall inform you of the ruling at a later date.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” 

“Oh, that’s just wonderful, Fthnokreeny!” Laurie cried out, sensuously massaging his fibers up and down.

         “Please, Ms. Lucid, please!  That’s quite enough.  That reminds me: I am concerned about your reproductive capacities, given how I discovered you two on this couch.  We shall alter them now.” 

         He began to fade again, transforming into a cloud of whirling particles that rose in the air, then descended to envelope Laurie.  There seemed to be a glow coming from her lower abdomen.  Then a sound like an electric train pulling into a station, a whine that started high and sank into lower and lower frequencies, then stopped altogether.  At last the swirling column rose up and began to fade into nothingness. Suddenly, Laurie called out.

“Oh, Fothnoreeny, honey, could you take out that off-switch too?  It’s such a bother!”  The column returned and seemed to focus on an area behind Laurie’s waist.  I didn’t like the way she was smiling, but soon enough the cloud arose and dissolved.  We were alone again.  It seemed as if bright sunshine had filled the room.

“You’re a lucky guy, Legion Ayers,” Laurie smiled.

“And you’re a fortunate android, Ms. Lucid.”

Was SPLEEEP and his fiber-boys still watching us?  We didn’t really care.  Laurie crawled back on top of me and flicked a remote device that locked the booth from the inside.  After that?  Well, I’d rather not say.  After all, now we’re talking about a relationship here.  If you want more intimate details, you might flip back to page 33, but remember, this story is written in Ephemeralscript, so it might have disappeared by now.

A few weeks later, the probation approval came through for Laurie.  She’s got a little place down in Soho now.  We get together there a lot, but it’s not like that little house with a white picket fence and a swing on the porch they write songs about.   Don’t get me wrong, we’re still close.  Very, very close.  But Laurie, well, she said she needs to adjust to her new life, learn how to be an independent woman in a new world.  After all, she told me, I’m only two.  She’s taking criminology classes at NNYU, but she says she’s not seeing other guys and, fool that I am, I believe her.    Anyway, after this caper was over, I started remembering who I was: Legion Ayers, Trans-temporal Correction Agent.  We agents are born loners, and if we forget that, well, there’s only a one-letter difference between loner and loser and a one-letter difference between loner and goner.

I’ve had a couple of easy assignments since then.  I had to pull Plato out of a cave.  He liked it there, said it was the ideal place for him.  And I had to go back to 1904 and talk to Albert Einstein.  He was living in this tiny apartment, working 15 hours a day at the patent office.  He was going to give up on physics.  I told him he was very close to a breakthrough.  Then he says,

“Achh, but I am so busy und zis place is so small.  I simply do not haff any space or time!”

“Say that again, Al, and think outside the box,” I told him.   He did, and then he figured the rest out at the speed of light.

Mission accomplished.

 

Praise for ANDROIDS OVER NEW YORK:

“A stunning literary triumph.  Don’t waste your money.”

–  Splits McConnell, Schizophrenia Today

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