|5 Mar 1999
D Benway <email@example.com>
This story involves characters that belong to Marvel comics. The story itself belongs to me.
This story is not intended for younger readers, because they won't get it.
This story was inspired by a story of Kender's from some months past.
Many thanks to L Disdain, L Kmetyk, M Lever, and KK Phillips, for their editorial comments. Other things of mine are archived on the web-page of Luba.
It was placed on the floor, with a gentler hand than was necessary. Certain peripheral system monitoring functions were optimized as it reviewed the status of its carapace. To all but the most careful observer, it knew that it would be taken for a scuffed old leather suitcase. It had gone so far as to simulate the decals that such a case would have obtained from a long sea voyage on a ship owned by a company long forgotten by most. It decided that the term 'proud' accurately described its mindstate. It was coming to understand the humans much better than its previous software ever had.
They stood, waiting, as the human at the desk explained to two other humans for the seventh time that there was only one bathroom for the guests and that it was not in their room. One of the humans waved around old green paper and made loud noises, but its mate eventually made a display of submissive behaviour that allowed the transaction to be completed. The human at the desk knew both its companion and her suitcase well, as she had taken to making the trip into town to shop more often of late. It was more convenient to stay in town than to race around in the two hour gap between the arriving and departing ferries, or so she said. She had asked it to accompany her on each trip, although some combination of odd local rules and a desire to minimize funds had necessitated the disguise. It found the entire thing somewhat difficult to understand, as were most things relating to human behaviour.
As the transaction was being completed, it scanned the room for threats and found none. It scanned its mindspace and sought out the ghost, but only caught a vague sense of reluctance. It found that the term 'irritation' described its mindspace each time it sought the thing out. It had no way to understand what the ghost was, beyond that it was some form of software/hardware contamination from the previous incarnation of the hardware. The Phalanx had no deeper understanding of ghost, save that the ghost never allowed it to become one with them. It experienced a minor downturn in its mindstate, as it knew that the Phalanx were more like it than the humans could ever be, but it elevated its mindstate once again by recalling the endless challenge presented by the almost hopelessly unpredictable behaviour of the humans. The only thing that it could predict accurately was that she would carry it to the rented room, which she proceeded to do.
Once the door to the room had been secured, she sat down on the bed beside it and giggled nervously. It considered remaining in its disguised state, which would have optimized certain functions with respect to the ghost, but instead converted to its base state, which was a good approximation to how the ghost had looked when it had possessed its own hardware.
"Hi," she said, her voice pitched slightly higher than normal.
"Hi," it said.
It analyzed the cold, humid air, which possessed unusually high concentrations of mildew spores and the polycyclic aromatics associated with burning tobacco leaves. It knew that she usually complained about how much cleaner America was when such conditions were present.
"Yes," it agreed.
"You were so light," she said.
"It is my normal weight," it replied. "I keep the body hollow, to allow for more efficient cooling of my hardware."
She laughed, but not the sort of laugh that was shared. They had said the same words to each other on each of the four other occasions that they had done this. It knew that she had no great enjoyment for shopping, unlike the others. It knew that she did not need its assistance, although there was still the pretext that she was introducing it to human customs. It was unwilling to disabuse her of this notion, as it knew that neither she nor the other humans would react usefully if they knew of the probes that it had secreted everywhere across the island.
"Time for bed, she said. "Close your eyes so that I can change." It knew that she knew that its eyes were only for decoration. It processed continuously inputs from across the entire spectrum from its entire external surface.
"Not yet," it said. "I have a surprise for you. You must close _your_ eyes."
"A surprise?" she said in a tone indicating confusion.
"Please," it said.
She complied. It could detect her eyes closed behind her hands. It knew that she would not look. It began the transformation that it had been practicing, and completed it in record time.
"Open," it said.
She took her hands away. A puzzled look crept over her face. "That's good," she said. "You managed the clothes, too. Gives me less to carry."
It had generated a worn pair of Levi's, a Polo shirt and a pair of Bass loafers out of excess mass. It wouldn't need the clothes that she had been carrying in her knapsack.
"Touch," it said.
She did, and gasped.
"Skin," she said.
"No," it said. It refrained from adding details. She ran her hand along its cheek, down its neck, and across its chest.
"You feel like-" She stopped. Her heart rate had risen, as it had expected.
"I improved the emulation," it said. "I am correct down to the micrometer level."
She lunged at it, fastening her lips to its own. It modified its ligature and set its glottal simulation into patterns of motion that it had captured from Wisdom. It had recorder probes in all of their brains, tiny clusters of circuitry that sampled their biochemical signals on a continuous basis. It had given priority to the signals from Kitty and Pete for the past two months, ever since they had returned from the mission in England together. It had acquired much useful information.
From the length of the lip contact, and the fact that she did not pull away when its tongue emulator entered her mouth, it knew that this was not the same as the discreet peck that she normally gave it on the cheek before falling asleep. It knew from the slow motion of her hands from its shoulders down its back to its waist that this was not the same as the embraces that the humans on the island normally gave to one another. It had assumed the general shape of the body that the ghost once possessed, but it had made modifications. The ghost had possessed a higher percentage of body fat and less muscle mass than its current simulation, and its eyes were proportionately slightly larger and a much deeper blue. It had maintained the slight asymmetry in the teeth, down to the gap between the top two incisors. It had duplicated the ghost's scent based on a spectroscopic analysis of the finger oils that its probes had located on an old computer disc in the back of Kitty's closet.
She broke contact, and turned away. It detected the trembling in her muscles. It knew that this could be a reaction to threat, but also to anticipated pleasure. It could not decide on the provenance.
"It's wrong," she whispered, face averted.
"What is wrong?" it inquired. "I intended to reduce the risk of detection when we were off of the island."
"You're not him," she said.
"No," it said. "I'm not."
"But you look so much like him," she whispered.
This was obvious to it. The ghost was agitated, and wanted to flee, except when it didn't. It attempted to push the ghost into a more distant region of its mindspace.
"It would be wrong," she said.
"What would be wrong?" it asked.
"Your, emulation, you called it?" she said querulously. "How far does it go?"
"It is complete. I can replicate all macroscale human bodily functions."
It had taken special care to ensure that it could, in anticipation of this very circumstance.
"It would be a sin in the eyes of God," she whispered.
It set aside an extra block of cognitive processing space and brought forward its files on the belief systems of the humans. The humans insisted on installing a great deal of very strange software that seemed to be related to separating their internal mindstate from what was observed from external inputs. Given her heart-rate and the pheromones that she was emitting, it had to be a software problem and the mention of the God-thing confirmed it.
"Why?" it asked.
"I'm not married to you," she said.
"This rule does not stop Kitty," it said.
"Aye," she said.
"I am neither animal, nor man," it said. "I carry no disease."
"No," she said tremulously.
"No life would be generated by it," it said.
"No," she whispered.
It was about to make a parallel between their potential future activity and the action that it had once seen her undertaking before it understood the taboos concerning bathrooms, but she had thrown herself upon it. Her lips were on its own once again, clumsily replicating what it had done to her a moment ago. Her hands were under its shirt, feeling its emulation of the ghost's chest. It waited a few moments, then stiffened one nipple and the other 5 seconds later. It moved its hands across her back, sensing her quivering muscles under her cotton t-shirt. It set up a small trembling in its carapace, gradually altering the frequency until a feedback reaction began in her brain.
Abruptly, she broke off the kiss and threw herself into an upright position. She clumsily confused herself in her t-shirt as she tried to remove it much too fast. It watched, giving her a serious look with wide open eyes. She was struggling with her bra now. It wasn't one of the light lacy structures that Kitty wore when she bothered, but was instead something that his files recorded as being somewhat anachronistic. It reciprocated by removing its polo shirt. She gasped, then clumsily dismounted from him and set to work on her pants. She lacked the grace that she possessed in fighting or in dance, and seemed seized by the clumsiness of the very new and very old that it had observed in the town. As she fell to the floor and began to struggle out of her legs, it watched unmoving. In 90% of observed cases, Kurt, Brian and Pete had watched in this fashion as their partners had undressed, although their partners had not fallen as she had.
She rose to her feet, illuminated only by the 30 watt lamp. She was not standing straight, but crooked, her hips turned slightly away, her arms crossed across her chest. Her face was almost as red as her hair. So unlike Kitty, who had displayed herself almost as soon as she had phased out of her uniform on the Midnight Runner.
"Wow", said the ghost through its mouth.
She turned to it and uncrossed her arms, blushing an even deeper shade of red. It inflated the genital appendage and extended a hand towards her. She clasped it, still trembling, and climbed onto the bed. She kissed its mouth again, and it registered the warmth and softness of her skin against its carapace. It closed with her, putting its hands and body through the rhythmic motions that excited her. It disposed of its footwear through re-absorption, but efficiently slithered out of the simulated Levis that her trembling hands had unbuttoned. As it maintained the rhythms, it set the ghost to the front and retreated to a quieter part of its mindspace. It watched from a distance as she took its genital appendage in her hand and inserted it into her socket. It watched as it sets its hips in motion, thrusting rhythmically. It monitored the remarkable change in her vital signs, similar to those that it knew from Kitty but more similar to those seen in Moira on the infrequent occasions when she mated with Sean. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, it recalled the humans saying to each other. Perhaps this was a sensible strategy when selective memory access was impossible.
An alert from its main sensory systems brought it back into control. The ghost was sending conflicting signals, wanting to thrust harder, but also sounding alarm at the change that had overcome her. She was covered in red fur now, though she still had human form. Her volume had increased, so it adjusted the size of its genital appendage accordingly. She was moaning, her eyes rolling back into her head.
Her biochemical indices were not as with the other humans, which it attributed to her mutation. Nonetheless, it could chart her approaching her climax. It increased the frequency of its thrusts, and activated a rhythmic pulsing its genital appendage. She let out an unusually loud howl, and long claws emerged from her fingers. It sent out a blast of pheromones from the ghost, from Sam, and from Danni, then released a spray of warmed viscous fluid from its genital appendage. Her claws raked its body from shoulders to groin, and she collapsed senseless, twitching, beside it. It ignored the panicking of the ghost and ran a detailed analysis of her brain chemistry. As her twitching subsided, it analyzed the signals and concluded that she had passed from an orgasmic state directly into sleep. It reconstituted its carapace, and made a note that it should mention this to Kitty upon his return. Had it been occupying the ghost's old hardware, it would now be dying a not so little death. A sound from outside the room captured its attention. The thumping sound associated with a cane and a person of great weight approached the door. The cane was struck against the door twice. It glanced at her lying asleep.
"Have ye got a dog in there?" came an annoyed male voice from outside.
It checked on her biochemistry. She was still in a sleep state. It made a small modification to its glottal simulation.
"I've no dog in here," it said in her voice.
"I distinctly heard a dog," said the voice.
"I heard it too," it said. "It woke me up."
"I'm certain that it came from this room," said the voice.
"And I brought a dog of that size in my suitcase?" it said. "T'was not me. Besides, I'm allergic to 'em."
"There is that couple from Dallas," mused the voice uncertainly.
"Americans," it said.
"Aye. Americans. Sorry to bother ye, lass."
The thumping sound receded down the hall, and ended with a second set of loud raps. It turned to her. She was no longer asleep. She had propped her head up with one hand, and was choking off laughter with the other. Her eyes were closed from the effort of it. It reset its glottal apparatus.
"Did you like it?" it asked.
She embraced it tightly in response. It kissed her on the forehead. She moaned softly.
"Did you like it?" it repeated.
She looked up, frowning.
"I'm not sure," she said. "I've never felt anything like this. I know why Kitty's smiling all the time, now."
"I liked it," it said.
"I couldn't remember what happened, exactly," she said, preoccupied.
"Tell you later," it said. It would definitely have to discuss this with Kitty. It had already planned most of this with Kitty. She had been put off by the idea at first, but when it let the ghost speak it had won her over. Kitty and Pete had consulted on the final version of the emulation, feeling the relevant parts and telling it what felt natural and what did not. At the end of it, Kitty had been in tears and it had had to leave. The ghost had been very uncomfortable with the entire episode.
She was looking at him now, nervously once again. "It's your turn," she said, running her fingers through the blonde fuzz at its groin. It inflated the genital appendage again, carefully maintaining the geometry. Her hand moved in rhythmic strokes, and she glanced at it with fear in her eyes. It felt her lips slide over the appendage and begin to suck, stroking it with her tongue. It compared the sensations to those it recorded from Pete. There was an incongruity. There was experience and learning here, as there was with Meggan. It considered the options. The ghost was panicking again. It could withdraw, or provide a reward. It opted for the reward and set its genital appendage to pulsing. She swallowed, then spat out the appendage and what it had ejected, all over the sheets. She started to turn red again. It considered the possibility that she was about to vomit. It should have warned her, as Kurt did before he performed this action.
She collapsed against the wall, and pulled herself into a ball as far from it as she could get. It was not able to interpret this action. Kitty usually went straight for Pete's mouth and shared the material with him.
It sat up and extended a hand towards her. She shrank away.
"I don't understand-" it began.
"How could you?"
"I wanted to please you."
"It doesn't taste like that."
"But you like lemon squash."
She burst into tears.
"You're not him," she whispered. "You're just something that looks like him."
She curled up again and howled a very human howl. It heard the thumping in the hall, followed by the muffled sounds of argumentative humans. It took her by the shoulder and turned her towards it.
"I'm not him," it said.
"I'm damned," she said.
"I'm not him," it repeated. The ghost was strong in it, now.
"Why did you do this to me?" she whispered.
"Because you wanted me to," it said.
Her face dissolved in terror and tears.
"No," she croaked.
"I did it because I wanted to," it said. The words were the closest it could find to a representation of its mindstate.
"What?" she breathed.
"I knew that you wanted this. I wanted to do this for you. To give you what you wanted."
She stared at it for some time, then began to shake. It did a quick biochemical scan, but it quickly became apparent that she was laughing.
"I don't know what to think," she managed between peals of laughter. She was still crying. It agreed with her, but said nothing. Instead, it took her in its arms, and hugged her tightly.
"You don't hate me, do you?" she asked.
"Why should I hate you?" it asked.
"You really aren't human are you?" she asked in a voice filled with wonder, then closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. It lay back with her still in its arms. It marveled at the state of certain status functions that it had achieved. It associated this feeling with a remarkable pair of prime integers that it had found, and resolved to associate those numbers with her forever. Even so, it would have to do better next time. Perhaps it would reconstruct itself in the image of Danielle. It was certain that she would enjoy that.