The Mechanics of Deformable Bodies


I stood transfixed, watching her. My throat was thick and dry with that first rush of anticipation. There were quick mutual glances among the four men... a slight flickering of eyelids... but nevertheless the death penalties were carried out at various spots so as to impress the natives over a wide area, and the hangings were watched by large assemblages of rigid nipples pointed skyward. Their size and color fascinated me.

"Do not be deceived," she warned me.

Yate Emptum drew one hand along his ferocious red mustache while Rose danced around the room, hips jerking obscenely, until she stood before Sir William, who was determined to enforce recognition of the new authority of the Cyclops. He reached out for Rose, but instantly a whip-like extension shot out of the robot, trapped Sir William's arm, and jerked it away from Rose, whose enormous breasts swung lazily to and fro.

"What's wrong?" Prudence demanded.

"The thing grabbed me," Sir William moaned.

"Where?" Timberlake wondered.

She inhaled deeply, as if performing for me. Then the camera panned down until her head was completely out of the picture. Would the appropriate concatenation of molecules - nucleic acids and proteins, for example - occur in the time available? Sunnyside was just blocks away, but the springs of the car seat were beginning to squeak erratically, and I could hardly breathe.

"Is the... Horse... still active?" Rose wondered.

Four of the natives were sentenced to death; five others were imprisoned for twelve months; the other one was still passed out on the kitchen table. Pretty sexy, she thought. Mary's skirt was bunched up around her waist and her panties were around her knees, but what about methane in the atmosphere of the Jovian planets? Suddenly, Prudence screamed: "I'm getting a demand drain on the synthesizer... is it something you're doing over there?"

I was singularly charmed, not only at the success of my stratagem which had given into my hands so luscious a victim, but also at the extraordinary sensuality of her constitution and the evident delight with which she lent herself to my desires. "I'll have the frog legs," I said, after a moment's hesitation. The people heeded this message. No work was done, some four hundred pigs were killed and eaten, and then we started to play Dylan records.

"What is this fluid called?" Elizabeth gasped.

"It has many names," Sir William said.

The girl now entered a bedroom in which a man lay asleep on a large circular bed. She proceeded to open the curtains which covered three walls of the room. Suddenly, the man on the bed screamed: "If Martian Astronomers Had An Instrument Which Permitted Very Sensitive Examination Of The Visible Spectrum Of The Blue Haze That Encircles My Body, They Would Conclude That I Was Unfit For Life!!!" Smiling coquettishly, the nurse exposed herself, but unfortunately the doctor was out on the town. "I think frog legs are disgusting," she said, backing away from the table. That was when I finally realized that several thousand synthesizers actually existed on-planet.

Hardin nodded thoughtfully. "Go on, go on."

She looked at me and smiled.

"I was in Iowa City at the time... ."

"Yeah... ."

"I was sitting in the Mill with Nolledo."

Hardin nodded thoughtfully. "Go on, go on."

"Remember Nolledo?" she asked me.

"Homeric," I said, remembering.

He removed the newspaper clipping, put the wallet back, and once again read the text attentively from beginning to end. The White Man's goods were banned: tin match boxes, pocket knives, National Book Award winning novels, and Propp's Morphology Of The Folktale. As for the veiled formulas used to describe the manner of her death, all belonged to the conventional language of the press. "I took out the synthesizer," she continued, "and then Nolledo said, 'I can also play pool.'"

Hardin nodded thoughtfully.

"Well I'll be a muckraker's pimp," Sir William mumbled.

"Recognize it?" Prudence cackled evilly.

I was confused, but she must have been reading my mind. I saw her shadow through the opaque fiberglass panels, and I thought to myself: This problem must be discussed in theoretical terms in the next two chapters, but for now we must limit our discussion to the detection of big issues. "Have you broken up the romance between my sister and that two-bit guitar player?" whispered a soft sultry voice from the overhead speakers. Timberlake could not believe this was happening to him. The humdrum years seemed to be falling off his shoulders, the shackles dropping from his neck, the weight of time falling down around his ankles like his Levis. All he had to do was step out of them. Incredible. "Listen," she said, blowing her nose on his disco shirt, "there's a new girl coming tonight, one that's never been to one of our parties. If you like her, you can have her first."

"Give me time," I said, sipping a slipper of wine.

"So me and Nolledo went to Donelly's," she continued.

"Go on, go on," Hardin nodded.

The cry had come from the hillside beyond the house. For a moment Stephan caught the glimpse of a white figure running in the bright moonlight, followed by a horde of darker figures, but consider what would happen if the more massive component in a binary star system suddenly vanished, completely disappearing because of the supernova explosion. "I'll tell you," said Carol, with a fine air of candor. "Like a bitch in heat, she'll attract all of your old friends, and she'll take them on in cars, movies, backyards, and your bedroom and she won't stop until you catch her in the act, and then they'll all gang up on you and rip you to pieces, and then you'll be stuck here with us, on the outermost jagged edge of sensibility, magnificently corrupt and hopelessly jaded." The couples settled down in a tight circle around the girl in the yellow dress. I was sitting on the floor - taking a break - listening to some records - Bartok, this time - the Fourth Quartet - Carol blowing smoke in my ear, when in comes Rose and Yate Emptum. Sir William was in the shower, Prudence was snorkeling Hardin, and Jenny was whispering, "The men in that car - they're watching us - they can see everything." To people not newly enjaded, however, the explosion of an erotic synthesizer by the communist Chinese seemed a very serious matter.

"Take it easy," Mary whispered to Stephan.

Prudence reached back and unhooked her bra.

"Anybody got a cigarette?" I wondered.

"That voice," Timberlake cried. "Was that Hickel... that crazy bastard Hickel?"

I considered the possibilities.

His awareness was a brilliant point of light that grew dimmer and dimmer... and dimmer... changing color... starting violet, somewhere around 4,000 angstrom units... tracing a continuous wave shift until it flickered out at the red end. The robot at the inner hatch whirled the dogs, opened the hatch, scurried inside. Why me? Prudence wondered, but Yate Emptum knew she wasn't fat. 15,000 native lives had been killed... but this mysterious message from Earth, ordering him to keep his people out of the Mare Imbrium in the future, must have something to do with the girl in the back seat. I was just about to put my finger on it when the lights of an oncoming car confronted me. Prudence was moaning steadily now.

"He put a quarter on the table," she sobbed.

Hardin nodded thoughtfully.

"Do you mind?" she asked in a husky whisper.

"Just... hold it still," I answered quickly.

Many contemporary lasers utilize synthetic ruby crystals, although other substances have also been used. Under certain conditions, these crystals can be induced to emit relatively short pulsed beams of information concerning Nolledo. We need all we can get, if we're going to persuade him to tell us where he's hiding the synthesizer. Prudence nodded to herself. All men are parts of the total stream, she thought. We are tributaries... our minds are tributaries, our most private thoughts... and with her whole body quivering with delirious impatience, and her full red lips giving vent to short expressive exclamations which announced extreme gratification, she gave herself up body and soul to the delights of synthesis. "I can kill you, even now, quite easily," he went on slowly. "But the choice is yours. Join me, serve me with your fine brain and muscles, and you need not die. What's your answer?" A relatively modest transmitter can send signals over distances of some tens of light years, a dragon turns into a golden goat, the emotional disturbances among the giants are becoming more and more pronounced as the pressures increase, her excitement obliterated all the sense of pain, and I said to myself, I am mad... mad with passion for you, mad with lust to possess you, to enjoy you, to satiate myself inside you, but unfortunately, I am not that mad.

"Please ...," she begged, still on her knees.

Is this why cells metabolize? Prudence wondered.

Sir William thought of the neuro-regulatory shifts, the psychic aches that would arise from manipulating body chemistry in this fashion, but I was getting very tired of this nonsense, so I got up off the floor, put on my clothes, grabbed Jenny by the hand, pushed her out ahead of me, hailed a taxi, told the driver to go to the Mill, settled back in the seat, put my arm around Jenny, reached in my pocket for a cigarette, took out the pack with my right hand, tapped the pack on my left index finger in order to shake a cigarette loose, grabbed it with my left hand (the arm of which no longer encircled Jenny's lascivious waist), lifted the cigarette to my lips, reached into my shirt pocket with my right hand, extracted a pack of matches, unfolded the cover, thinking, Jesus Christ, I've only got three months to live and I'm still smoking these damn things, when suddenly the driver turned around and said: "I have to fly to Guadalajara in the morning, so we'll keep this very brief and have a long conference when I get back tomorrow night. Where's Timberlake?"

Is everybody in on it?

"Kiss me," Jenny pleaded.

"How about this way," Rose giggled.

I dove like a white horned owl into the cockpit and caught her around the knees in a flying tackle. "Are we conscious?" Prudence whispered, rolling the thought over and over in her mind. Time and space meant nothing to me now. I heard her saying, "Oh, John, oh John," and I felt her fingers through the silk of her skirt, trembling lightly on the back of my head as I rolled down her pants and dropped them to her ankles to the opening strains of the haunting Non troppo lento third movement. I was hot as a blast furnace and cool as a cucumber, know what I mean? but at fifteen weeks they killed all the animals and dissected their brains.

"Let's not think about it," Yate said.

Hardin nodded thoughtfully.

"I'm tired of thinking about it," Yate said.

"You mean Nolledo?... or the synthesizer?" Jenny asked.

"Let go of me!" Timberlake's voice shouted from the crowd.

Again that whip-like extension of the robot shot out and wrapped itself around Timberlake's neck; then the taxi moved off slowly, the man still not having said a word to the driver. So I made for Norway, and on the second night of this definite intention, about nine o'clock, the weather being squally, the sky lowering, the air sombrous, and the sea hard-looking, dark, ridged, I was steaming away at a good rate, holding the wheel, my poor port and starboard lights still beaming there, when, without the least notice, I received the roughest shock of my life: Nolledo was walking on the waves, the synthesizer in his arms, the giants tramping behind him like words. It was January, 1970, and it was in the back of a motel on Route 66 in Socorro, New Mexico. These were the pressures involved in entropy, Nolledo explained, the pressures of proliferating variability. Then he saw that something was happening to the dome. Light was splashing it from all directions, and its brilliance was increasing second by second.

Like the red shift, Sir William thought.

"It's my cousin," she explained.

Experimentally, I sipped the wine.

Routine spectroscopic measurements of the Earth might possibly reveal quantities of oxygen and water on the Earth that are enormous, especially when compared with Mars; but it was just at this moment that the kind of picture I have been describing was looming before me and I didn't see how I could escape doing something about it. Turning to the full length mirror on the wall, Rose examined her nude image, running her hands over her breasts and belly and fluffing up her maidenhair. You got nice tits, Baby, Sir William thought, but the 674th was not a comfortable century for him. More than once it occurred to him that his presence in the century as a man, not of that time, could fork its history.

"Had enough?" Mary asked, rising on her elbows.

"Give me more time," said Hickel.

Hardin nodded thoughtfully. "They're queer ones," he said.

"Electro-gravidic," Yate Emptum explained. "No propellants, no nucleonics. It's an aesthetically pleasing device. A pity we must destroy it. A pity."

"You can't come in," I warned him.

The band stopped playing, someone turned off the Dylan record, the water pipes seemed to hover in mid-air, and Jenny stopped performing when Nolledo pushed into the room, opened up his black trenchcoat, and revealed the lost synthesizer. Then Stephan leaped up on the table, Sir William grabbed his copy of the Morphology, and the Cornell man roared at Timberlake, who was still trying to tear the whiplike extension loose. "What's going on?" Yate Emptum demanded. "Where did everybody come from?" A door was closing, and a glistening piece of pink, semi-transparent ass was just visible in the space that remained. The pink ass did not move. Nothing moved. Is this another one of those hideous Nolledo tricks? I wondered. Almost immediately, she was enveloped in hot, breathing, groping flesh. She felt limbs, both real and artificial, smooth and hairy, chests and breasts, bellies, hands, scales, suction cups--as though she were being attacked by some conglomerate hermaphroditic monster from the 674th century, although she reasoned that the time warp was not big enough to allow this much through. Had Timberlake deceived her once again?

"Where's Mary?" someone shouted.

"Have you seen Mary?" Sir William asked outloud.

That tense breathless silence had endured but for a moment when it was shattered by a terrific detonation. We felt the whole place tremble and shake. The assembled mob looked wildly about, their eyes filled with fear and questioning. But before anyone could voice a question, another tremendous detonation rocked the ground we stood on. Jenny squirmed violently. Another detonation, and Jenny squirmed even more violently. Sir William screamed, "Would you let a native marry your sister or daughter?" Yate Emptum drew one hand along his ferocious red mustache, and Hardin nodded thoughtfully as Nolledo, poised in the doorway like James Dean, delivered his farewell address. There was a lot to look at, of course. Every man stared at her when she pulled up her skirt, but struggle as he might, Timberlake could not pull it loose.

"Are we still getting the drain on the synthesizer?" Prudence whispered.

"Yes," said Stephan..

"Kiss me," I gasped, frantic with lust.

"If Hickel turns this mechanical monster loose it could wipe out Earth," Timberlake sputtered.

"Why don't you put your money where your mouth is?" Prudence suggested. Timberlake's face was getting very red.

"Like the red shift," Sir William pointed out.

"Have you seen Mary?" Hardin wondered.

"What's happened to the music?" sobbed Rose.

My first work was to go into a grocer's shop, which was a post and telegraph office, with the notion, I suppose, to get a message through to somewhere. What would you like to hear? Shall we put a quarter in the jukebox? Then she screamed. He withdrew slowly and plunged in again. She screamed again. He began to move in and out more gently now, soft and easy, in and out, but are we taking the measure of Bill and Barbara, who sit on the other side? Then I was struck by a lovely sepia etching by Manet of a girl with long light hair. She was wearing a long-sleeved gown, and she hit me alongside the left ear. "Do you realize," I said rather angrily, "that the gap between technological possibilities and technological development is not unique to city development... that on the one hand there is a great deal of resistance to large-scale innovation, and on the other hand, that there is a great deal of participation in creeping change?" Without waiting for a reply, I slipped my right hand down from her breasts and over her rounded belly, and began to toy gently with the whiplike extension that was still choking Timberlake to death.

"Creeping Change???!"

"Creeping change," I repeated defiantly.

Walt Whitman, whose ears were eager and appreciative enough to hear all America singing, observed that a man is not contained between his hat and his boots; unfortunately, my Life-Plotting had indicated that she would die before delivery, so I took no precautions. It was June, 1962, and it was in the back of a shop on Chartres Street in New Orleans. A sensor tip was in front of Sir William's eyes and he found himself staring into the baleful red and yellow glow of a transformed Nolledo. "But how does the industrial question go on?" Yate Emptum wondered, drawing one hand along his ferocious red mustache. "What is man's relationship to it?" But there was no way to tell if the missiles had done any damage. That monstrous and soundless explosion might have dissipated itself harmlessly into space. Yet consciousness was a valve whose function was to simplify. All the complexities had to flow through it and be reduced to an orderly alignment; but if we examine the many cases of "sexual excess," "erotic communism," "morbid asceticism," and all the other labels pinned to ritual obscenity and sacrilege, it becomes clear that we are not dealing with unbridled lust or with ascetic perversion. The misuse of language in public life is a widespread and notorious practice, ranging from ignorant faults and obscurities to calculated deception, but other less transparent forces are renunciation and rejection, the destruction of animal and material wealth, the abandonment of gardens, the throwing away of money, and, on the spiritual plane (which is now transporting Nolledo and the stolen synthesizer back to New York and Dr. Caligari), the deliberate and premeditated obstruction of traditional genres and modes, combined with the vicious exposure of obscenely sacred objects (like living dildoes and shaved pudenda) to women and children... and with that thought in mind, Sir William pulled his trousers down to his knees and pulled Mary onto his lap.

"What's going on here?" I demanded.

"May I guess?" Prudence whispered.

She could feel his stiff flesh nosing into the hairy tangles of pseudoneuron fiber, easing into the winking lights and the snap of relays, slicing through the hiss of tape reels and the bitter ozone smell of burnt insulation from overloaded circuits. Then an electric shock ran through her.

He came with a great concourse of warriors, and the fighting was furious, but he might have brought a million men against our thousand and not immediately overcome us, since only a limited number could fight at one time in the entrance way to the throne room. Already the corpses lay stacked as high as a man's head, yet no single member had crossed the threshold. I poured another glass of wine.

"This is... rather abrupt, isn't it?" Prudence remarked.

"Damn right it is." Yate Emptum snarled.

"Should we go upstairs now?" I asked Mary.

"Why?" she asked, rolling up her sleeves.

"Come on up for a while," I pleaded.

"Why don't you ask Jenny?" she suggested.

When I was awake after the operation I had not been away. You do not go away. They only choke you... like Timberlake. The whiplike extension was now walking around with Timberlake's head completely in its snatch, and although Timberlake seemed to be in agony, we all thought it was funny.

Jenny was just too much for Timberlake. For years he had boasted that he would be the first to create artificial intelligence in the clouds of Venus, but now she was leaning far back in the chair, gasping as she squeezed her legs together in a scissors-lock. I felt her quiver. She was silent for a moment.

How long the fight was waged I do not know, but it must have been for a considerable time, since I know that our men fought in relays and rested many times. The symbolism of the movements amply bears this out. There was no sun in the sky, the ground was covered with snow, the dogs were barking, and the reports indicated that a giant storm was coming in from the west. We found him a month later... violets growing in his eyesockets, a bird nest in his mouth, and in his wallet, which had not entirely decomposed, a slip of paper with these words written in green ink: "We should start at the end."

"Is that all?" Rose asked.

"Go on, go on," Hardin nodded.

"Don't stop now," Sir William muttered.

Is this the end? Yate Emptum thought.

"There's got to be more to it than this," Mary insisted.

"Let's go, Jenny," I said, trying to yank her away from Timberlake.

"Shhhh," Prudence hissed.


first published in Coe Review and later
reprinted in
Coe Review Chapbook Series