The Last Bender, Chapter 50
“He’s using us,” she said.
We lay in a double ess. The heat of our two bodies pressed together radiated into the room. My face was in her hair, my arm draped across her belly. “For what?”
Evalyn sat up. “I’m not sure how, but it has to do with sex.”
I stood and looked at the head. Its lips were parted differently, almost in a smile. I turned to Evalyn. “Who cares. I’ll take it. But this place is spooked. I feel it walking around at night. It thinks. Have you heard the sound? It’s barely audible. Almost like singing, but a murmur. I can’t figure it out. Am I hearing it or what? I feel it in my ears. And I know it’s a conversation. The heads and the walls are whispering back and forth and singing. And now it’s discovered a tune called sex. Well, I say let’s belt it out to them.”
“That’s fine with me. What I can’t stand is not smoking.”
“What about the drink?”
Evalyn looked like she had bitten into something bad. “I just don’t care about it here.”
“The way I see it, this is our best bet right now. It’s not a sure thing–any day now I expect someone to break in on us and start shooting. But at least in here we can defend ourselves. I got the gun, and we got a way out. Out there, Watts’ll grind us up into dog meat. He said as much to Helen Stark.”
“I’m hungry,” she said. “Even those mushrooms would taste good to me now.” She put her arms around me and kissed my neck. I was hungry too.
We stopped off for a bath, soaked in the hot one first, then swam around the cool bath. In the waterfalls I washed her hair, and soaped up her body. Her skin was slippery with the soap, and she washed me. We embraced and kissed beneath the pouring water. It splashed into our mouths. The wet skin fused into one sensation. We dried off and went to Level 3 for breakfast.
What I wanted was a plate of eggs and bacon with burnt toast and coffee. But what we had instead didn’t suck. There was some bread made of mashed sprouts baked in sunlight, a paste of ground up mushrooms, and a pile of those sperm sprouts St. Claude had been picking in the garden. I washed it all down with a glass of green juice.
We bathed again and went back to the room. We weren’t there five minutes before we started to fuck. It was overwhelming, we consumed each other. When I went down on her it felt like I was drinking from a mountain spring. I kissed her pubic hair and between her thighs, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was like coming back from the dead and rolling around on the hot and sunny earth. She sucked the life out of my cock, and I sucked it back up again, inhaling her sweat, absorbing it off her tongue. Then the fucking circulated between us, growing stronger, more refined, till it started to transform us. When I first got there the walls glowed a dull apricot color when I walked by. Now they flashed suns whenever I passed. The brain had gotten hold of our sex energy and was circulating it through the dome. From there it seeped into the people.
It went on for days like that, until it got so that when we walked through the labs the technicians would stare wistfully at us. People dropped things. Everyone in the dome amplified the sex and reabsorbed it. St. Claude was beside himself. Whenever he saw me he emitted a barely audible yip. He said, “I never could decide if desire was of the mind or of the body. But I can see now it predates both. Before the spores and slugs, there was sex. Just pure sex radiating out, creating as it dawned. Jack, I didn’t think the Botrytis experience was capable of enhancement, but I can see now that I was wrong. Aren’t you proud to have brought so much to us?”
“I think that’s the craziest thing you’ve said yet.”
He took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. “Tell me more Jack!” he ho ho hoed.
“What, about how crazy and stupid this whole set up is? But what’s to make it different then? Isn’t that what the world’s like? You go to create perfection and only recreate yourself.”
“Burton, Democritis to the reader, Thou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself.“
It was the death of time. I read, I slept, I ate, I bathed, and I fucked the woman I loved with more abandon than I ever did at twenty, and it probably would have gone on forever. But then St. Claude invited us to a graduation ceremony, held in the Level 2 meeting room. Evalyn and I stood in back. The room was solemnly lit, with candlelike light streaking across the ceiling. Each floor had its important convocation of heads, and the Level 2 meeting room was no exception. Clara Turback’s and Padraic Stanislau’s waterlogged visages presided over all.
I can’t pin down what the menace of the heads was. Something about the way the whites of their eyes showed a little too much. And maybe the incongruity between the lifelike texture of the skin and lips and the state of floating in a tank of water ten feet off the ground. It was the strange smile they wore, now that we were fucking. It was like they had a crush on us. And there was the mocking quality of their expression too, like not only did they know things we didn’t know and experience things we couldn’t experience, but they had the power to make us want to die, to become one of them. The heads looked at you in a way that made you jealous of their position, their authority.
Twenty-five men and women sat on white cushions. A clear screen of glass separated the audience from the stage, where three naked people stood, hands relaxed at their sides. Their skin was suffused with the same lunar radiance Evalyn’s was that first night in the lab. Behind these three stood Stronghole, in a black raincoat, and rubber beekeeper’s hat with clear plastic o’s for eyeholes. Next to him, in the same raincoat, but with the beekeeper’s hat off, was St. Claude.
“I guess I don’t have to tell you what this is,” he said, holding up a hedge clipper identical to the one I found in Lafferty and Stanislau’s closet. There was laughter. This was as lively as I’d seen this crew get.
They worked doing one of two things. Making Botrytis, or making crystal. All their projects required these two basic elements. The lab technicians had to produce enough crystal brain to contain them when they moved up. I asked St. Claude about it. I asked him how come he didn’t just take the drug and live as a more highly evolved member of society. I thought of all the things he could’ve done that would be useful. He actually got indignant. Nothing else got to him but that one thing. I could say, “Hey, St. Claude, I saw you wiping snot on your girl friend’s ass last night,” and he would pause, mull it over, and burst out laughing. But this thing made him nuttier than any other. He said, Two billion years ago we made that mistake. It cost us dear. Crystals have the power of self-replication, and they’re more stable with fewer needs. I looked into plants and insects. Bugs were good but too emotional. Plants weren’t complex enough. Too ephemeral.
He gazed out over the group. “You know, I always say I wish I were joining you, but tonight I really mean it.” He stepped back and put on the hat. Then he cut through the neck of the man in front of him with the clippers. Stronghole ran a blade up either side of the spine and the body jerked forward, head and spine swinging free, blood spraying all over the glass screen, ceiling, walls and floor. I threw up in my mouth. Yet there was something almost orgasmic about the way they looked when he did it. I felt her mind ascending to the dome. All the while the other two just stood there, waiting for St. Claude and Stronghole to do them.
It went very fast. Snap, zip, stagger, drop. By the time they were done the floor and walls and ceiling were covered in blood. It ran across the eyeholes and dripped from the sleeves of their coat. It splashed into the water system. Little pulses of blood worked their way into the veins and arteries of the dome. It was circulating through the glass. Evalyn and I ran out the door and up to our room.
“Evalyn, we have to get out of here.”
She was crying. “I can’t leave him Jack.”
“Did you know all along that that was what he did?”
“No. I knew about the dome. But you hear how he talks. I never believed half of what I heard.”
“Well, I knew. And I didn’t try to stop him. But this can’t go on. He’s out of control, you can see that, right? And you and me and everyone else involved. You know we are seriously fucked right now.”
“How can I leave him like this?”
“Maybe we can take him out of here.”
“That’s what I was thinking. We can take that ship out of here. I know the captain will take us to Champa.”
“Go to St. Claude and see what he says. If he won’t go, will you come with me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Do you love me? Cause I love you. I know this, here, isn’t real. But where I was in your yard, that was real. There were no walls then either.”
“Yeah, not one. I’ll go if he won’t.”