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PIERS ANTHONY

Out of Phaze

?1. Mach

The two young men dived into the pool. Mach struck the water more precisely and got the lead, but Rory splashed harder and caught him a third of the way along, then drove ahead for the victory. Panting and ruddy-faced with his effort, he laughed as Mach finished. 'Slowpoke!'

Mach shrugged. He had expected to lose, because his power was produced evenly; he could not put forth that extra surge of energy for a spot activity. However, neither did he tire; he could maintain a similar pace indefinitely. Had the race been longer, he would have won.

Rory knew that, of course; it was only the luck of the grid that had given him the victory. He liked to tease Mach about his supposed unwillingness to try harder. It was his human way, for he was fully human. Mach was, of course, unhuman in all but form and consciousness.

They shook themselves dry and watched while two girls lined up at the far end of the pool for their own contest. Both were young and well-formed, with tresses that fell down about their breasts with the provocative suggestion of clothing. One waved.

'Hey, I think they're following us!' Rory exclaimed. 'Let's wait for them!'

'Yes, they collaborated to match our choice of contest,' Mach agreed.

Rory squinted as the two young women dived in, wincing as one made a bad entry. 'Android,' he muttered. 'They're clumsy.'

'Less so than prior generations,' Mach said. 'Soon the androids will be up to the human norm in coordination and intellect.'

'I'd rather have them clumsy and stupid,' Rory said.

'So you can love them and leave them,' Mach agreed. They had been over this before. The human male was easily aroused, but also easily satisfied. Mach himself could invoke his arousal circuit, and could also nullify it, but preferred to do neither. He wished that his body could move his mind in the involuntary natural human fashion, but it never happened.

The girls completed their race and heaved themselves dripping from the pool. The breasts of the android bounced as she shook herself. The other girl was more diffident, standing somewhat awkwardly, so that her body did not show to advantage.

'Looking for company?' Rory asked, his eyes traveling up and down the android's body.

'You're human, aren't you?' the android inquired. 'I'd like to trade.'

'Favors?' Rory asked, licking his lips.

'Companions.'

Rory nodded. 'Sure, why not! Here's Mach.' He hauled on Mach's elbow.

'Here's Agape,' the android said, giving the other girl a little shove. 'I'm Narda.'

'I'm Rory. Let's go somewhere.'

The two walked away, leaving Mach with Agape. He had not sought her company, but found himself thus abruptly committed.

'I don't believe I have seen you before,' he said to the girl. Actually, he was sure of it; his memory for detail was of course infallible.

'I'm new,' she agreed, speaking with an odd accent. 'I just arrived yesterday. Narda was showing me the Game.'

And now Mach was obliged to take over the task the android had been assigned. Well, he really had nothing better to do. 'I will show you whatever you wish, Agape,' he said, carefully pronouncing her name the way the android had, three syllables with the accent on the first. 'But I should advise you at the outset that I already have a liaison with one of your sex.'

'My apology if I am violating a custom,' Agape said. 'Are liaisons required?'

'They are not. But sometimes they are expected.' He studied her more closely. 'Are you android? You seem different.'

'I am-alien,' she said. 'This is not my natural form. But I was advised that if I wished to participate in this experiment, it was best to assume it. Have I given offense?'

Alien! No wonder! 'No offense.' Mach became more interested as his circuits grappled with the shift of concept. He had never interacted this closely with a humanoid alien before. The experimental community consisted of human beings, robots, androids and cyborgs, all in perfect human form, and in the course of the past year there had been a number of changes as individuals were shifted from one city to another. The purpose was to create a new, egalitarian society in which no serfs were ghettoized. It seemed to be working, and now these integrated serfs were being spread about the planet of Proton so as to bring the enlightened attitude to all. Whether that latest effort was to be successful remained in doubt; the wider society of Citizens and serfs clung to its prejudices as if they were points in the Tourney.

Now aliens were being included. This was ambitious indeed. Mach perceived the input of his father in that. Citizen Blue had been laboring for twenty years to revamp the society of Proton, and had accomplished a great deal. Obviously the effort was not slackening.

'Is my presence a burden to you?' Agape inquired.

'It is not. I was merely assessing the implications.'

'I am concerned that I merge inadequately.'

'This is to be expected at the beginning,' Mach said. 'I will show you the premises.'

'This is appreciated.'

He took her through the stations of the Game Annex, explaining how any legitimate resident was free to play any of the games of the grid. He told her how many serfs, including himself, practiced the Game diligently, because each year there was a Game Tourney whose winner was granted Citizenship and became a member of the ruling class. Apparently Narda had simply brought her along without explanation, and dumped her at the first opportunity. This was not proper behavior, but allowances had to be made for androids. They tended to be less socially aware than others were.

He brought her to a cubicle and showed her the two panels. 'This is the selection mechanism,' he explained. 'You stand at one, and I stand at the other. Each panel presents the primary grid, with the numbered terms across the top, and the lettered ones down the side. One player chooses from the numbers, the other from the letters. On my grid the letters are highlighted, so I must choose from them. On yours it will be the numbers.'

'Yes,' she agreed. 'They read '1. PHYSICAL, 2. MENTAL, 3. CHANCE, 4. ARTS.' But I do not grasp what they mean.'

'You must select one. If you wish to indulge in a physical competition, touch 1. If you prefer mental, touch 2. I will touch one of mine, and where they intersect will define the nature of our game.'

'How very clever,' she said. 'I shall touch the first.'

'It is not necessary to tell me your choice. It is the mystery of it that provides much of the appeal.' But since this was only a demonstration, Mach checked his choices of A. NAKED, B. TOOL, C. MACHINE and D. ANIMAL, and touched B. He was of course a machine himself, but that made no difference here. Citizen Blue had given the self- willed machines serf status, which meant they could play the Game.

The square for PHYSICAL/TOOL brightened, then expanded into a new pattern. 'This is the secondary grid,' Mach explained. 'It helps to define the tool-assisted physical games. We must choose again-you from the lettered ones, I from the numbered ones, this time.'

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