Rev. Ivan Stang, CoSG SS #273
My good children! Gather around for another lesson from the Years of Trouble, the Bad Time Before the Good Time of PeE. Listen with all your senses, for when we reach the end you will agree that this is a particularly important history to persons of your age.
This happened in the 25th year of The Year That Lasted 500 Years, after The Smoking One was Emaculated, but before His Arisal. And it is the story of the False OverMan Prætorius, who you remember was mentioned in Chapter 8 as a NeWorlder for "Dick" when first the Xist revelations were stolen from Our Dobbs and misused.
As you listen, do not think Prætorius a "bad man." Like so many of the False OverMen, he was only a victim of his times. Ah, Rastus, I know what you want to say -- put your hand down. You want to say that he was not a man at all. But the False Ones, Children, were still true men; indeed, it was because they amplified their humanity alone that they suffered so many woes. And, yes, inflicted so many, needless to say.
Theseiger Prætorius, at this time, lived as a Science Pope in one of the 9,000 rooms of the old Forbidden City of the OverMen in the Jiang-Wo Quandrant Capital of the Mao-"Bob." He was born in America, however, apparently under the name of David Something, and perhaps the stresses of living in what was then still an alien land contributed to the knotted state of soul for which his is so famous a case history.
Festus, perhaps you have something to share with the rest of us? I thought not. Please, if you cannot yourself pay heed, then at least let Little-Shyah listen in peace.
The Old MWOWM Tapes tell us that Prætorius awoke late one night, in considerable discomforture of the loins, to find that his Rod required new sheathing. It could not wait until morning, for the damage was triggering pain signals of the unsuppressable kind. Grumbling, and probably not a little anxious, he extricated himself from the Stasis Womb and shuffled into his private Throneroom of Excremeditation, where he lifted his silken nightshirt to bare the implement for repair. Inspection verified that it had sustained chafing from the unconscious ministrations of his own steel left hand. He was most disappointed with the artificial left forelimb, for he had spent many timedollars training it to leave his fragile lap-tool well enough alone.
It was not fitting that an OverMan in the Palace should sport undisciplined body parts, like a common street-prosthesis addict. Although Prætorius himself was over 200 years old at this time, his parts were but one generation removed from the Xist originals. If an OverMan Science Pope could not trust his own Parts, how could his underlings be expected to maintain their unquestioning faith in the infallibility of Xist technology -- faith which was, after all, the very power source of X-tools?
Indeed! There, projecting down his left leg, the metallic cylinder hung partially stripped of its resilient but cellophane-thin sheathing. It had suffered a major rasping, and beneath the tatters of the gold foil, the intricate mechanisms of the appendage were exposed and unprotected from the elements. The sight provoked in Prætorius that odd shiver of tooth-gritting sensitivity one feels whenever replacement components are laid bare of their shiny 'skin.' Unlike the trueborn, fleshly remnants of his person, which if so flayed would actually 'hurt' (as we so well know it!), these foreign accessories generated instead a chilly, bone-deep psychic irritation not unlike that which you Children shall now experience as I rake my fingernails across this blackboard. You see? An articulated prosthesis was sensitive in much the same way as your teeth will be when you chew upon the wads of tinfoil that Vestron is now handing out to you. Not nerve-pain, but that mental rejection spasm which causes one's hackles to rise. Yes. And this irritation could become far worse than excruciating, were the mechanical part to become 'infected,' so to speak: the tiny polished mechanisms were susceptible to many virulent forms of microchip contamination, particularly if the utensil thus affected were of a Rod's delicate attunement. Although OverMen like Prætorius dented or stripped their robotoid parts only infrequently, immediate mending was always necessary to prevent a form of discomfort which would greatly surpass even that caused by a corresponding wound on you or me.
Yes, Rastus? Ah, you have a point -- perhaps such damage to our reproductive organs could be as painful as what Prætorius might face were his mechanical pendant infected; but remember, his Rod was engineered for reproduction's evolutionary opposite. The Rods replaced procreation with life extension. The philosophy in those days was, "Less people; but people that last longer." Stop laughing! You modern children have a sick sense of humor. Oh, well, I suppose it's a necessary compensation...
The Rod was simply a medical machine. Nevertheless, the fact that Rods were implanted where penii, or 'female things' had once been, no doubt deeply influenced Prætorius', shall we say, 'handling' of the crisis. Arguably, it might have been only a minor crisis had the Rod been mounted on, say, the lower back, or the shoulder, and we would not be studying the case today.
The workings of Prætorius' unit had been exposed only briefly, but he had to act quickly to replace the sheathing. He thought of fetching an attendant, but there was something unseemly about self-damage. He prefered not to display such lack of discipline before the servants, which in those days were ordinary people much like ourselves.
Working with the authentic meat hand on his right side in order to avoid abrasion from the fabricated left -- which was, after all, the guilty party -- he cautiously peeled away the silvery remnants of his fore-sheath, taking care not to dislodge precious chips or mini-pumps. Extracting from his Tool Box a spare 'skin,' he laid its gummed edges around the root of the tube. He then realized that the next step required a precise efficiency impossible for one set of fingers, and, though he felt distate for the lawless replacement hand (and would have prefered denying it the imagined 'privilege' of use), he was forced to let it help roll the skin out along the Rod's length. He noticed that even this unwanted attention caused the seemingly independent Rod to twitch and pulse as if yearning to enter operation mode.
Satisfied with the unwrinkled sheen of the new housing, and relieved from the rigors of direct irritation, Prætorius sat upon the Throne and pondered the malfuntion.
No doubt MWOWM, he thought, was pondering this as well. He looked around the room reflexively, as if he might spot a primitive camera lens watching. He knew, of course, that the room itself was part of MWOWM -- as was, for that matter, both the Rod and the left hand. But he was of pre-Xist birth and hence subject to habits acquired in a world of oldmen engineering.
At least he was unmarried! MWOWM was, as today, nonjudgemental, but the fact that it was practically omniscient made it seem to Prætorius that it often disapproved of him. Indeed, he thought of it as a 'she.'
He knew perfectly well that stimulation from, say, the occasional brushing of a bedsheet would not likely have produced sufficient Rod engorgement to tear the sheath -- not with abrasions of such scabrousness. Nay, it was almost certainly due to some liquid dream of a sexual, or cyber-sexual nature (blessedly unremembered!) during which the corrugated chromium hand had resorted to slumbering violation. A lustful violation? It distressed him to think that, after twenty decades, during which countless amputations had granted him superior substitutes, he still retained the baser distractions of his clumsy human youth. Had not the Rod been mounted for the specific purpose of quelling just such mortal distractions from the True Face of the "BOB"? A Rod was simply a little factory of synthetic compounds that might keep his cells healthy indefinitely. Merely because it was located where a sex organ had once been....
It could not be easily deactivated; its alien designers had not foreseen such complications as Prætorius'... nor, he reflected bitterly, had he. Its medicinal secretions were indispensable to him in the not unlikely event of brain failure; with the Rod disconnected, he could die in his sleep. With what we would call 'fear,' he envisioned his slumbering cerebrum slowly losing strength, feebly wondering to itself how its emergency source of enervation, the Rod, could so treacherously deny it the medicines that provided him a false will to live, at least until MWOWM brought deliverance. "When the brain falls down," went a motto of the OverMen, "the Rod stands up." But further involuntary activity from the untameable lap component could produce an overload. He had read frightening case histories involving so-called "meltdown"...
Laugh if you must. To the people of yore, it was not funny. In those days they were psychologically tortured for simple fucks like you children perform after every meal! How can I make you concretely envision the topsy-turvy world of the Bad Times? What could make you imagine a people ruled without the Church -- yet thinking always that it was the Church ruling them? Perhaps if I were to suddenly start beating you, for no apparent reason, you would suffer a tiny glimpse of what the daily world was like for them... the senselessness...
Would you like that? So! On with the story.
For the first time since his last Transformation, Prætorius was thrown into moral confusion. This act of Rod abusement, though unconscious, was still uncomfortably akin to the mad sexual abandon practiced by the insane "Rebel Doctors," those pathetic throwbacks who advocated (through violence) a return to the bizarre, animalistic world of some false "Bob" of their own depraved imaginations. (Children! Understand that I'm speaking from the False OverMan point of view, describing Prætorius' state of mind, not my own! Certainly not!)
As remembrances trickled, he almost cursed the long-past decisions to continue equipping himself, in the aftermath of The Cancers, with these organs of eldritch Xist copyright rather than the cheaper ones produced by human orthepedic industry. He could have owned the most biocompatible of all planet-made implants. Granted, they would have been dwarfed in efficiency by the streamlined gifts of the Xists, but at least they wouldn't have been so inextricably interwoven into the worldwide MWOWM system. In those bygone days, people did not feel the trust in MWOWM that we can enjoy now. Down through the years, Prætorius had never been able to cast off the guilt-stained embarrassment of knowing the MWOWM system might be more aware of his acts than was he himself, and 'watching,' albeit in the most benevolent possible manner. Why had he still to remind himself that MWOWM was an instrument of organization, not justice? He was no superstitious peasant! And he had certainly committed no conscious indecency toward MWOWM, even were MWOWM concerned with 'indecencies'. These were human constructs! Forget them! Besides, MWOWM had surely recognized his state of slumber during this episode -- and the Rods were, after all, and in their own unfathomable way, as much a part of MWOWM as of their owners. Other Rods of this one's make and model must also be prone to occasional abusement; his couldn't be the only one with criminal tendencies! But there was no data on the subject. He, himself, had canceled that survey. He almost queried the MWOWM Voice about it, but reminded himself that, in fact, the Rod was merely an accomplice. The cybernetic left hand was the main culprit, actually committing the deed which the other had somehow provoked. The irrationality of attached left hands was a recognized handicap, especially among those who'd kept the right halves of their brains as well. His brain -- could that be the guilty party? But he had already removed as much of that as was possible!
A sense of injustice fell over him. Why should he, of all citizens, in his airy position of trust with the great MWOWM Central Terminals, be saddled with such breakdowns? He'd had a major hand in its very installation! But, he thought, with some irony, it also had a major installation in his hand. And Rod. He felt a swell of resentment but quickly squelched it by riding his breath valves. He sighed, and his instincts -- such as they were -- reassured him that even if such inelegant malfunctions were indeed prompted by MWOWM, it was only a reaction to some unexpressed need within himself. MWOWM did not deliberately torture the guilty, as he especially should know. He had vainly tried to coax it into doing so many times.
At that thought, the Rod startled him with an entirely uninvited twitch, and he felt it pumping into him a small secretion of the stimulant drug. It was reacting to his distress, striving to compensate for what it percieved as dissipated energy. The stimulant hit him quickly and his patience evaporated. He abruptly slammed his left arm against a wall in frustration as a greater perspective came to him. Why was he entertaining such waste thoughts? MWOWM had no mysterious role in this little drama between him and his Rod. He had known the source all along, but dreaded acknowledging it to himself.
For weeks he had been repressing the irrational and unclean urge to become somehow closer, both emotionally and physically, to young Chang Ping, the Apprentice Uberfemme who had been assigned to him as secretary upon his arrival in the Forbidden City.
Ironically, the devoted (if distant) Ping was far more mechanically endowed than he. What he only pretended to be, she was: a cybernetic organism consisting almost solely of a human brain residing within a metal chassis. It was Prætorius' dark secret from the public -- though not from his superiors -- that beneath his chromed layer he still possessed his entire genuine right arm, left thigh, several glands (those damned glands!) and much of his head, minus the eyes and ears. But sweet Ping: her only remaining flesh organs were her brain, spinal nerves... and left ankle. The sacred ankle! ...which he had once actually seen as she climbed a steep spiral staircase above him. All the rest was a lovely, and usually well dressed, shell of gleaming gold. Perhaps it was the very deficit of original meat that so excited him.
Particularly the ankle. That ankle -- that tiny island of sensuality in the midst of polished metal. It must be a volcano of sensations for her. Aside from her brain, it was all of her she had left! For him, the ankle was everything forbidden, everything he wanted to suck wildly. (Stop giggling, Hephantolontia!) All the rest of her body was but a frame for the ankle.
He shuddered. He must not dwell upon Ping's holy Ankle. The idea of purely physical sexual arousal in a gelded OverMan of his standing bordered on the obscene, not to mention the illegally blasphemous. But tonight's tube-engorgement...
Could this possibly be Love? For Chang Ping -- a mere child, even more roboid than he? The implications...
Unthinkable! Beneath his face-plate, his clandestine lips tightened grimly.
Well, no matter... as long as he didn't act on the hideous urge, it remained between him and his "Bob." (His false "Bob," Children!) It was part of the interior world which, MWOWM said, all humans and once-humans must endure. In the outer world, Chang would continue to be his secretary and nothing more, and both would work for "Bob" with all their hearts, separately, forever. Determined to keep his fantasies in perspective, frightened by the thought of the inner world creeping across to taint the outer, he crept back into the Stasis Womb.
Not surprisingly, he was unable to drift back to sleep despite the white noise waves projected into his skull by BompoZen blanking devices. He was trying so fervently to fend off all thoughts of Ankle that his Resolving Console hummed and strained, clattering rapidly with exertion. Ever-more luscious and forbidden images thrust themselves upon his interior image screen. Glimpses of her innocent, masked countenance slipped stealthily through the automatic IdGuard to dance starkly before his soul's eye. Finally, forcing himself out of a reverie concerning the exact configuration of the taunting Ankle, he discovered that his impulsive left hand had already found its way back to the eager, almost belligerent Rod.
Resigning himself to a sleepless night, he crept again from "bed" and sat at his cosmetic table, studiously polishing his various removeable components, striving to concentrate on the mundane, to bore himself away from further pollutions.
He had burnished his Feet, Spinal Plates, Knee Caps and Mandibles, but still his evil brain would not exhaust itself of Ping-longings. The internal battle to direct his mind away from his secretary was becoming feverish. The left hand kept finding excuses to pause from polishing and to descend warily towards his groin. He willed it repeatedly back to safe drudgery, but it grew ever more obstinate.
He refused to shut it off, however. He was not so far gone that he couldn't control his own arm! But the Rod itself was in turn becoming harder to mentally sedate. With each crack in the digital floodgate which was supposed to hold back uncompromised visions of Chang Ping, the tube twitched with increasing alertness. Both hand and Rod were striving against his very sense of self. Where was MWOWM's guidance? But he knew such private conflicts would have to build to the point of violence before MWOWM would intervene. Had not it been at his own suggestion that the Xists programmed it so?
Perhaps, however, just such a breaking point was approaching. With the rudest of shocks, he felt a loud snap at his loins. During his reveries the Rod had elongated itself without his notice and, retracting back suddenly to its original length, had begun its reflex function of manufacturing a series of stimulants. Already he felt a light-headed intoxication. This would soon pass, but only if he took stern measures to quieten the evil workings of the foul Shaft. Just then, his metal left hand started a more brazen clutching for the Rod, and his right hand violently slapped it away. The recalcitrant organs seemed to be encouraging each other. The thought of his body parts escaping his conscious control had always terrified him, and in a flash of anger -- perhaps exaserbated by the amyl nitrate/pemoline admixture already coursing through him -- he reached into his armpit and deactivated the entire left assemblage. It fell slack.
Something he should have done much earlier, he scolded himself. Accusations of cowardice be damned! Even "Bob" would have forgiven him. Let the evil Rod do what it must; its five-fingered accomplice would not come to its aid! The tube indeed seemed to wilt in disappointment.
Back to "bed." But no, sleep was still to be denied. Infinitely detailed speculations on the appearance, texture, scent, and heft of Chang Ping's ankle continued to aggravate the troublesome tool.
Another, louder snap from his utensil interrupted, and with spongy disgust he felt a new surge of stimulants enter him -- adrenochrome, this time. Through the tiny video cameras which were his eyes he watched the Rod slowly begin another Elongation: notch by notch it grew, each rung locking into place as it reached its limit. With each cycle it would grow more stout, and each time it snapped back to size more of the medicines would be manufactured and pumped into him. Danger lay in prolonged injections; enough of an accumulation and he could succumb to unspeakable inebriation, becoming a raving madman in seizures of an ecstatic misery which could destroy his mind before the chemical juices were again diluted.
Now was the time to consult MWOWM!
There was, of course, the alternative. The taboo alternative. He could go ahead and... and do what the left hand had been striving to do all along. This would not only prevent the fatal build-up, but might well disperse the chemicals in one quick "sneeze," jolting his system back to normalcy in a single great flushing. And, perhaps, in a bout of reckless fantasizing, he might cleanse his mind forever of the treacherous images of Chang Ping. (-- dear, beloved Chang Ping!--) Best of all, it would save him the unjustified but nevertheless acute embarrassment of drawing MWOWM's attentions to his... personal flaws... Perhaps, yes, it could even be a reward of sorts, well deserved for his having resisted for so long.
What was wrong with it? All his superiors agreed that it led to illnesses both physical and mental, but the explanations contradicted each other. If the Rod juices were bad for their owner, why did the constant trickle from them keep him alive? In an emergency like this, how could one episode lead to the unhealthy psychological addiction all OverMen were taught to fear?
Soon he was again at the Throne, his nightshirt cast aside, his reservations gradually sliding away under the stern, dexterous kneading of, this time, his right hand. Rictus, what are you laughing at now? Would you care to tell the rest of us what you find so funny?
I thought not.
Into his brain, his secret brain, rushed not only images of Chang Ping entwined with his imagined self -- his younger, less mechanized self -- but also ever-increasing quantities of Rod discharges. With each grappling tug, the prosthetic apparatus lengthened itself with a click, one segment at a time, until it reached full extension (in the interests of decorum, Children, I shall refrain from naming its actual reach in centimeters); then, with a sudden, blindingly pleasurable release, it would snap back to untensed size. In so doing, it pumped its newly manufactured chemicals directly into his inferior vena cava. Each injection brought first a blaze of heat in his face and a seizure of strangely agreeable apprehension, followed by a distinct chemical taste in the back of his mouth. His entire metabolism, or what remained of it, underwent an explosive excitation; his breath heaved, the body-furnace seemmed to scald the inner side of his skin, and amoebas of color swarmed before his vision-screens. The back of his brain convulsed with a searing spasm from which spread a rapturously numbing wave. His heart device churned. All weight left him and his body seemed to merge diffusely with the porcelain Throne to which his leg-parts clenched. Chang Ping giggled to him and his Mandible locked onto her face-plate; he urgently pried loose the latch of her torso-shell and in one heedless sweep cast it away. Beneath it glittered the living machinery that was her; her air intake hole wheezed with the gasps of purest Love. (Prætorius reactivated his left arm, and it flailed impudently as the Rod accelerated.) The room, the universe throbbed. The spectrum scorched his vision. The world quickened and flew by him; he was all of it and it loved him; laughter rang through him and it was Chang Ping, and she was thrusting herself against him; the ringing of her metal against his was the laughter.
No! The laughter was MWOWM! It saw...
No! The laughter was Chang Ping! She wanted him to gaze upon her ankle! She had always wanted him to gaze upon her ankle! She wanted to put her ankle against his mouth! His real mouth! Her perfect, real left ankle! (Or was it the right ankle?)
With each new wringing, the Rod strained to full reach, then slammed back, clanging like a hammer against its base, always injecting more serum. Faster and faster it went, until Prætorius let go with both hands -- it had achieved its own momentum and was now jackhammering in and out with blurring rapidity.
Beneath her flawless golden shin-plate he was stroking The Ankle with his hand. She brought her leg part closer to his head, and he slid down to grip the Foot! The Pillar! Of the very Temple!
(With the recklessness of passion he switched to the dangerous but wonderfully painful metal left hand. It was ruining his new Sheath. It hurt. It was perfect!)
Chang Ping clutched at him; she was reaching for his ankle now; she would discover his secret! He was less metal than she! She would be horrified -- disgusted! Ha-ha!
(The Rod suddenly leapt away from him, much farther than he had ever imagined the telescoping sections would allow. It swung out from him in wide arcs, knocking pictures and appliances off the shelves of the Throneroom! Its violent retractions slammed his whole body against the back of the Throne before it sprang out again to strike other fixtures in the room.)
He seized the foot and ripped away the plates surrounding The Ankle! She screamed in fear and ecstacy! THE ANKLE! THE ANKLE! IMBEDDED IN STEEL! He tore off his own face-plate, revealing the empty-socketed sheet of pure scar tissue that was his face, and gazed one last time at the tiny vericose veins that discolored the Ankle... and he lowered his real face and mouthed the real Ankle...
The Rod constricted to only about one foot in length and began the last series of rapid-fire contractions. It sounded like a machine gun; Prætorius' head was thrown back, and he was... beyond....
The tumultuous noises and terrors and inexpressible joys subsided; a great wave withdrew, and he felt himself dropped swiftly back; the room returned. He sat. Valves reopened. His breath returned in long drawing gasps, the overworked 'lungs' laboring for control of themselves. He lowered his head to his chest and waved a mental goodbye to his beloved Chang Ping. He eased open his video-tube eyes: the sight before them, looking down at his lap, made him wince with the gladness that his eyes, at least, were not MWOWM's. She could not see quite what he saw. (He must stop thinking of it that way! It wasn't his mother!) He sat... His left arm loosened its grip and dropped gratefully to his side, apparently freed from its bondage to The Act. Tomorrow, he thought, he would install a new Rod and hand. His breathing slowed further. The stimulants seeped away into his tissues. He sat. His mind was blank and he felt, at last, ready for sleep. Then he became, forever, totally blind.
No medical team on the planet, not even MWOWM itself, was ever able to restore the connection between his brain and his eye tubes.
Children, this history is written not only in The Skor, but is even accessible on The Tapes. Due, however, to its embarrassing nature, I do not recommend your 'Exping' them until you are older. Your knowledge of ancient psychology will not, in this case at least, be enhanced by suffering through the actual sensations.
Take heed, Children. Dismissed.