She died as she lived, with her eyes open and looking straight ahead.
The bullets passed through her, and she felt herself deflating like a balloon. Less pain than she expected, just a sudden lost of strength, and an enfolding numbness. Her eyes were open, but all she saw were blurs of color. She heard footsteps approach and felt a gun barrel against her head, then heard the firing of the gun meant to finish the job.
Except she did not go anywhere. She did no go up, or down, or leave her body. She just lay in twilight and was disinterestedly aware of her body being moved and discussed. How much had they been paid for taking her away? Was she going to be put on display like a stuffed tiger?
A FEW DAYS AGO
“You’re telling me this is really…”
“…was, really. We don’t even call her by that name any more. She answers to Greta, like Garbo. She loves that movie.”
“She’s alive?” ‘She’ was what appeared to be a waxwork of a slim, dark dancer wearing silks, jeweled bra, and other jewelry. Even for those who forgot or never knew her likeness, the image was as indelibly etched in the popular mind as the name Mata Hari, even if the name and the image were somewhat disconnected. Next to her was a little wooden doll, of the kind used by artists as a posing reference.
The other, older, man took out what looked like a shiny new tablet computer. “We call this her homunculus. The original – that little doll in the corner – was linked to her through radio waves. As technology progressed, control of her body improved. However, we’ve never tried to change her expression – and changing her mind,” he laughed, “may be beyond man, God or the Devil.”
The older explained how she came to this place. “One of her paramours was an industrialist, a patron of the sciences, and an avid reader of what we would call science fiction. When she was condemned, he could not let her die. But, you see, he was conflicted because she was a condemned spy so he couldn’t give her freedom either. So he arranged for her to live forever young, but as a prisoner of the homunculus. A false body was left behind for her funeral, and quickly stolen so that no one could discover it was a fake.”
“Getting back to the homunculus, each joint in the little figure corresponds to one of her real joints. Not all are represented. Her face, her stomach, and so on. But she could be posed, or manipulated like a marionette, by moving the homunculus limbs. A key in its back gave her short moments of freedom, as she moved and it followed her. Her dances could be recorded on a wax cylinder to play back into the homunculus.
“The current system offers more precision in control, but still the same range of options. Wake her up, put her to sleep, pose her, control her like a puppet, let her do what she will.” The old man paused. “Actually, she always will say and think what she will, she has quite a will of her own. “
“She never tries to get free?” the younger man asked.
“Remember, she was a courtesan, and one from a hundred years ago.,” the older man replied. “She expected to be a rich man’s plaything until she was discarded. Being what one might consider the ultimate toy agrees with her. You’re thinking of Earhart, whose acquisition was – in retrospect – a mistake. But remember, Greta here expects to be a pampered plaything. When she’s among the living, give her luxury. She’ll make it worth your while.”
She stretched slowly and carefully. Like so much else it did, the stretching served her in a number of ways. It gave her a chance to get the feel of her new surroundings, and to size up her new ‘owner’ as he watched. It was, of course, part of the seduction. She pirouetted leisurely around him, taking in the room and letting him see all of her from every angle.
Then she dropped to a split, and looked up at him in supplication. “I am Greta. What do I call you, My Lord?”
He grinned. “I’ve never been ‘My Lord’ before. Let’s stick with that for now.” He held out his hand to help her up. Two points in his favor; a sense of humor and courtesy.
“May I ask what year this is? How long have I slumbered?” He told her. Despite her self-possession, her eyes flickered to once again check the mirror in the ceiling. She definitely did not look as old as she was. She even looked a bit younger than she was when she died, thanks to the concoctions she had been infused with.
“And in this strange year, what – if I may be so bold – does My Lord do?”
“Computers. Do you know what they are?”
She had a dim idea of a cross between an adding machine and a locomotive, but she had a better answer than that. “Some sort of loom for weaving facts into stories. I’ve been shown how to operate one, but I’m not fond of many activities that would bind me to a desk.” Would he take the bait?
“What are the exceptions?” Oh yes he did.
“It depends on the rope and the knots. I chafe,” was the prepared riposte.
And he laughed. He would be good for her. Neither too shy nor too bold, clearly interested, but willing to watch and learn before reaching and taking.
He visibly thought a minute, and picked up the little book – it was a computer of some kind, but she kept thinking of it as a magic book – that controlled her limbs and wakefulness like the little doll once did. “Why would I need a rope when I have this?”
She answered trusting her instincts. “Some men like to risk I might break free and ravish them completely.” He laughed again and she knew she had him. He took her hand and led her out of her room.
He lived in a sort of two-story flat. The hardwood floor was cool under her bare feet. The new glossy materials were strange to her, but she was pretty sure that the place was expensively furnished. He lived alone, obviously. There was a box that produced music, another that had short plays and long ones (called “TV” and “movies’ for some reason). A large window overlooked a mighty, lighted city below. Of course, for all she knew now this was a minor town, but the fantasy would depend on everything seeming important.
It was a chore, though a necessary one, to flatter a man already convinced of his own importance. Such an ego required steady feeding. And then there were the fools who took nothing seriously, and she might just as well insult them as praise them. But a man who cultivated self-preservation as a defense against excessive pride, now there was a worthy challenge. Give him the butter in small doses that he could enjoy without rejecting.
“Thank you for inviting me into your private den,” she purred. It was obvious from the décor that he lived alone and did not entertain, but part of the game was making everything seem an asset.
“I paid handsomely for the privilege, but I think it was worth every penny.” She wanted to know, but could not tactfully ask, how much she went for. Did she appreciate like fine art? He walked around her, appreciating her, and she bowed her head demurely as he walked behind to coyly peek up at him as he came to face her again. His thumb was tapping against the magic book.
“Command me as you will, My Lord. If you wish to test the magic that makes me yours, you may.” She stood still, of her own volition, as he opened the book. He tapped the open page and she felt the warmth that indicated her body would no longer respond to her. He tapped the book in different spots, and she changed her pose. These were stored in the book so she remembered them. Now kneeling with one knee out and both arms stretching heavenward. Now standing at attention with both hands behind her head and elbows pointed outward -- an aesthetic pose, but one which tempted men to use her for a coat rack. Now standing with feet shoulder width apart and arms held outward as if to beckon, a position was often the prelude to being carnally used. She expected it when he began doing something down at her nether regions. It felt like he was inserting some small beads.
Another tap at the book, and she was dancing. It was one of her more athletic numbers. She was sweating even more because she felt the beads move around inside her – oh! Oh! She felt herself become slick with sweat as the tempo increased. When the dance was over, she was twice exhausted – once from the exertion, and once from the ecstasy. She was in a position similar to the kneeling one, arms raised up.
She looked up to her new master. “If you release me now, I’ll just fall to the floor. Only your book’s command keeps me upright. Does that please you, that I am so spent on our first night together?”
He laughed, bent down, and kissed her on the lips. “What would you say to sleeping in a bed tonight?”
“If it would be your bed, words would fail me.” The truth was that she could sleep outside on a cobblestone street right now, but the book’s power held her awake. She can feel it buzzing in her head, the way she feels it buzzing when it takes her to slumber.
He picked her up, one arm across her small breasts (she knew there was modern medicine to make them larger, but none of her masters would let her have it) and one reaching into her crotch. As he carried her, she felt the small beads continue to move.
He placed her on the bed and took the beads out. Then he stripped, got into bed, and adjusted her so she straddled him. He then took his pleasure from her until he fell asleep. Fortunately, a mercy of the book was that if she was conscious for more than a few hours, it made a small bleating sound. If her master did not answer, the book took her to slumber. She felt the warmth hold her face in a mask and then she felt her mind slip away. Her last thoughts were to ponder how many nights she would spend with this master before being passed along again. Would he grow bored, or decide he wanted a family?
Boredom was soon crossed off the list. When she next awoke, she discovered that he had made some changes to his flat and to the little book. Both now responded to voice. “Lights, music and television both obey the same commands from both of us. The phone will only respond to you if there’s a call coming in from me or if you want to call my cell phone -- the command for that is ‘call master.’ The homunculus here will obey any command you give it except unlocking your body. You can tell yourself to walk, sit, dance, and so on, put yourself to sleep if you want, and even set a wake-up time for yourself. The phone will wake you up if I call in. I also linked the homunculus to the smoke detector, so if something’s burning you can wake up and deal with it or get out to safety.”
She nodded, with growing satisfaction in her new situation. He might be reveling in the power over here, but he gave her the ability to entertain herself and took a step to guarantee her safety.
She spent her day posed in the middle of the room. She stood with one knee outward and both hands thrust back behind her, in the middle of a dramatic dance step. She faced the large screen that showed plays or showed what was available on her master’s computer.
She reviewed the news every morning to have things to talk about. However, it was not a pleasant exercise. So much war and disease, so much scandal that seemed alternately petty and monstrous compared to the world she knew. She might be a stuffed bird in a gilded cage, but she knew she was safer and more comfortable here than she would be out there. One good thing is that she stopped feeling anxiety about her figure. So many of the women had artificially enhanced breasts that on the whole, they looked ridiculous. Her master was perfectly happy to press his face against her small bosom when he came home, so clearly she was fine as was.
She might have been a good lawyer, though. Speaking before judge and jury, holding them rapt with her eloquence and her knowledge… then she remembered her own trial and squelched that notion.
She made notes on other clothes she would like, and how she would ask her master for them. He was perfectly gracious but happy lapped up any opportunity to pamper her. A few “flapper” dresses, of a period she skipped over but would have loved to participate in, and some colorful bikinis.
He added one more, a pink ballerina costume. Now she was deeply touched. For all her pretension, she was never trained as a dancer. He also somehow wrote into the magic book movements from classical ballet. As she danced to the music, she pretended it was her will and her skill that produced fluid grace, that the music moved her and not the book’s tricks. She knew then that she would miss this master when it was time to move on.