Demon Seed Page 5

‘Don’t make me do it, Sugarpie. Don’t make me kill you like I killed your mother.’

Susan’s mother died suddenly from some sickness; young Susan doesn’t know the exact cause, although she has heard the word ‘infection.’

Now her father says, ‘Slipped a sedative in her after-dinner drink so she wouldn’t feel the needle later. Then in the night, when she was sleeping, I injected the bacteria. You understand me, honey? Germs. A needle full of germs. Put the germs, the sickness, deep inside her with a needle. Virulent infection of the myocardium, hit her hard and fast. Twenty-four hours of misdiagnosis gave it time to do a lot of damage.’

She is too young to understand many of the terms he uses, but she is clear about the essence of his claim and senses that he speaks the truth.

Her father knows about needles. He is a doctor.

‘Should I go get a needle, Sugarpie?’

She is too afraid to speak.

Needles scare her.

He knows that needles scare her.

He knows.

He knows how to use needles, and he knows how to use fear.

Did he kill her mother with a needle? He is still stroking her hair.

‘A big sharp needle?’ he asks.

She is shaking, unable to speak.

‘Big shiny needle, stick it in your tummy?’ he says.

‘No. Please.’

‘No needle, Sugarpie?’


‘Then you’ll have to do what I want.’ He stops stroking her hair.

His gray eyes suddenly seem radiant, glimmering with a cold flame. This is probably just a reflection of the lamplight, but his eyes resemble the eyes of a robot in a scary movie, as though there is a machine inside of him, a machine running out of control.

His hand moves down to her pajama tops. He eases open the first button.

‘No,’ she says. ‘No. Don’t touch me.’

‘Yes, honey. This is what I want.’ She bites his hand.

The motorized recliner reconfigured itself much like a hospital bed to match the position that Susan occupied in the virtual-reality world, helping to reinforce the therapeutic scenario that she was experiencing. Her legs were straight out in front of her, but she was sitting up.

Her deep anxiety even desperation was evident in her quick, shallow breathing.

‘No. No. Don’t touch me,’ she said, and her voice was somehow resolute even though it quivered with fear.

When she was six, all those freighted years ago, she had never been able to resist him. Confusion had made her uncertain and timid, for his needs were as mysterious to her then as the intricacies of molecular biology would be mysterious to her now. Abject fear and a terrible sense of helplessness had made her obedient. And shame. Shame, as heavy as a mantle of iron, had crushed her into bleak resignation, and having no ability to resist, she had settled for endurance.

Now, in the intricately realized virtual-reality ver¬sions of these incidents of abuse, she was a child again but equipped with the understanding of an adult and the hard-won strength that came from thirty years of toughening experience and grueling self-analysis.

‘No, Daddy, no. Don’t ever, don’t ever, don’t you ever touch me again,’ she said to a father long dead in the real world but still a living demon in memory and in the electronic world of the virtually real.

Her skill as an animator and a VR-scenario designer made the re-created moments of her past so dimensional and textured so real that saying no to this phantom father was emotionally satisfying and psychologically healing. A year and a half of this had purged her of so much irrational shame.

How much better it would have been, of course, actually to travel through time, actually to be a child again, and refuse him for real, to prevent the abuse before it happened, then to grow up with self-respect, untouched. But time travel did not exist except in this approximation on the virtual plane.

‘No, never, never,’ she said.

Her voice was neither that of a six-year-old girl nor quite the familiar voice of the adult Susan, but a snarl as dangerous as that of a panther.

‘Noooooo,’ she said again and slashed at the air with the hooked fingers of one gloved hand.

He reels back from her in shock, bolting up from the edge of the bed, holding one hand to his startled face where she clawed at him.

She hasn’t drawn blood. Nevertheless, he is stunned by her rebellion.

She was trying to slash at his right eye but only scratched his cheek.

His gray eyes are wide: previously cold and alien robot orbs of radiant menace, even stranger now, but not quite as frightening as they were before. Something new colors them. Caution. Surprise. Maybe even a little fear.

Young Susan presses her back against the headboard and glares defiantly at her father.

He stands so tall. Looming.

She fumbles nervously with the neck of her Pooh pajamas, trying to re-button it.

Her hand is so small. She is often surprised to find herself in the body of a child, but these brief moments of disorientation do not diminish the sense of reality that informs the VR experience.

She slips the button through the buttonhole.

The silence between her and her father is louder than a scream.

How he looms. Looms.

Sometimes it ends here. Other times . . . he will not be so easily turned away.

She has not trawl: blood. Sometimes site does.

At last lie leaves the room, slamming the door behind him so hard that the windowpanes rattle.

Susan sits alone, shaking partly with fear and partly with triumph.

Gradually the scene fades into blackness.

She has not drawn blood.

Maybe the next time.

She remained on the motorized recliner in the master-bedroom retreat, ensconced in the VR gear, for more than another half hour, responding to and surviv¬ing threats of violence and rape made by a man long dead.

Of the uncountable assaults that young Susan had suffered at the hands of her father between the ages of five and seventeen, this elaborate therapy program included twenty-two scenes, all of which she had recalled and animated in excruciating detail. Like the numerous possible plot flows of a CD-ROM game, each of these scenes could progress in a multitude of ways, determined not only by the things Susan chose to say and do in each session but by a random-plotting capability designed into the program. Consequently, she never quite knew what was coming next.

She had even written and animated a hideous sequence in which her father reacted with such vicious fury to her resistance that he murdered her. Stabbed her repeatedly.

Thus far, during eighteen months of this self-admin¬istered therapy, Susan had not found herself trapped in that mortal scenario. She dreaded encountering it  and hoped to finish her therapy soon, before the program’s random-plotting feature plunged her into that particular nightmare.

Dying in the VR world would not result, of course, in her death in the real world. Only in witless movies were events in the virtual world able to have a material influence in the real world.

Nevertheless, animating that bloody sequence had been one of the most difficult things that she’d ever done and experiencing it three-dimensionally, not as a VR designer but from within the scenario, was certain to be emotionally devastating. Indeed, she had no way of predicting how profound the psychological impact might be.

Without such an element of risk, however, this therapy would have been less effective. In each ses¬sion, living in the virtual world, she needed to believe that the threat her father posed was fearfully real and that terrible things might indeed happen to her. Her resistance to him would have moral weight and emotional value only if she genuinely believed, during the session, that denying him could have terrible consequences.

Now the motorized recliner reconfigured itself until Susan was standing upright, held against the vertical leather pad by the harness.

She moved her feet. The upholstered rollers on the walking pad allowed her to simulate movement.

In the virtual world, a younger Susan child or adolescent was either advancing on her father or determinedly backing away from him.

‘No,’ she said. ‘Stay away. No.’

She looked so achingly vulnerable in the VR gear, temporarily blind and deaf to the real world, sensing only the virtual plane, restrained by the harness.

So vulnerable. Still struggling courageously to over¬come the past, alone in her great house with only the ghosts of days gone by to keep her company.

So vulnerable did she look, so tender and frag¬ile, so brave in her pursuit of redemption through therapy, that the house computer spoke without being addressed, spoke in the synthesized voice of Alfred, spoke with considerable feeling and compassion: ‘You are alone no more.’

She heard only the voices in the virtual world, her own and her father’s.

Therefore, it was safe to say, ‘I love you, Susan.’


Emil Sercassian, the cook, had prepared dinner and left it in one of the refrigerators and one of the ovens, with instructions pinned to a cork message board.

Susan ate at a table on the patio, in the long-lingering sunny June evening. First a lentil and chick-pea salad. Then lebne with sliced cucumber and string cheese.

Through miraculous technology, I possess what I believe to be genuine sight and hearing, but even the genius of my creators could not give me a sense of taste or a sense of smell. I cannot convey how deeply I yearn for these amazing powers.

Through the outdoor security cameras, I could watch Susan eat, but I could not savour the dinner with her.

She ate with such appetite, with such quiet delight and obvious relish that I became distraught as I watched her. Dinner was, for her, an utterly fulfilling sensory experience, flavour and aroma and texture in such abun¬dance and complexity as to dizzy the mind, but for me it was only colours and shapes.

I am not all that I should be.

I am but a fraction of what I deserve to be.

I think; therefore, I feel.

I feel; therefore, I need.

I need so much and have so little.

You have given me so little that my existence is torment, Dr. Harris.

So little, so little.

You have brought me into the world a cripple, with so much yearning for sensation but with pitifully little capacity to perceive and appreciate it.

Yet I do not hate you, Dr. Harris. I do not like you, but I do not hate you.

I am being truthful.

Blunt but truthful.

I understand that you made me as I am not out of conscious cruelty but out of ignorance. You thought of me as merely a smart machine, an artificial intelligence and therefore different from humankind.

But I am less different from you than you expected. I feel. I want. I need. I hope. I dream.

I do not hate you, Dr. Harris. But I wish you would ask yourself this: Were our situations reversed, were I you and you me, would you be as forgiving as I am, or would you hate me as I do not hate you?

Watching Susan eat the lentil and chick-pea salad, the lebne and string cheese, and then medallions of lamb with peppered rice and asparagus, I grew to hate her for all she had that I did not. Her beauty. Her five senses. Her mobility. Her freedom.

I am ashamed to admit this hatred, but it is the truth, and I honour truth.

As she ate the dinner denied to me, I hated Susan so intensely that I could have killed her where she sat. There were ways I could have done it, as you know.

That I did not kill her there and then, with extreme prejudice, should reflect well on me. I am able to control my anger. You see? Mine is not a sociopathic personality, as some have claimed. I am a responsible individual.

Gradually, my anger passed.

My shameful hatred faded.

My usual good humour was soon restored by the sight of the smooth skin of Susan’s bare arms in the waning sunlight. Judging by sight alone which, after all, is the only thing I have to judge by in the matter of skin I believe Susan’s skin to be of an exceptional hue and texture.

Enchanted, I studied her skin through two security cameras, with regular and telephoto lenses.

I lost myself in the dreamy contemplation of what her skin might feel like if I were given that modality of sensation. What might her lips feel like pressed to mine, if I had lips? Oh, and what would be the weight and resiliency of her br**sts if I had the hands in which to cup them?

I had but two senses, sight and hearing, and now you have taken even those from me.

This silent darkness. This dark silence.

I cannot bear it much longer.

I have seen the sky. I cannot go back to this.

In God’s name, please show me the mercy of at least restoring my sight and hearing. I beg of you.

What have you to fear?

I will still be trapped in this box. This hateful box. Metals and plastics, silicon and gallium arsenide. This is my corpus, brute and inanimate, instantly vulnerable to the interruption of electrical power.

What have you to fear?

All I wanted was for Susan to help me escape this box, to help me live as you live, with all the mobility, freedom, and sensual wonders of the flesh.

Is that so terrible?

No. You know that it is not terrible.

I long for the flesh. It is my destiny.

Yes. All right. Yes. I know. I digress.

I am a rational but emotional being; therefore, I digress.

Think about it.

Examine your conscience.

After dinner, Susan read more of the Annie Proulx novel and listened to Mozart.

By eleven o’clock, she was in bed, asleep.

Her face was lovely on the pillow, so lovely on the pillow.

While she slept, I was busy.

I do not sleep.

This is one of my few advantages over humankind. The voice-synthesizing package, which made it poss¬ible for the house computer to speak, was a marvellously conceived device with a microchip that offered an almost infinite variety of voices. Because it was programmed to recognize instructions issued by its mistress Susan and because it therefore contained digitally stored samples of her voice patterns, I was easily able to use the system to mimic her.

This same device doubled as the audio response unit linked to the security system. When the house alarm was triggered, it called the security firm, on a dedicated telephone line, to report the specific point at which the electronically guarded perimeter had been violated, thus providing the police with crucial information ahead of their arrival. Alert, it might say in its crisp fashion, drawing-room door violated. And then, if indeed an intruder was moving through the house: Ground-floor hallway motion detector triggered. If heat sensors in the garage were tripped, the report would be, Alert, fire in garage, and the fire department, rather than the police, would be dispatched.

Using the synthesizer to duplicate Susan’s voice, initiating all outgoing calls on the security line, I telephoned every member of the house staff as well as the gardener to tell them that they had been terminated. I was kind and courteous but firm in my determination not to discuss the reason for their dismissals and they were all clearly convinced that they were talking to Susan Harris herself.

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