Tanith Lee



Mother, I am in love with a robot.

No. She isn’t going to like that.

Mother, I am in love.

Are you, darling?

Oh, yes, mother, yes I am. His hair is auburn, and his eyes are very large. Like amber. And his skin is silver.


Mother. I’m in love.

With whom, dear?

His name is Silver.

How metallic.

Yes. It stands for Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot.

Silence. Silence. Silence.


• 1 •

I grew up with my mother in Chez Stratos, my mother’s house in the clouds. It’s a beautiful house, but I never knew it was beautiful until people told me so. “How beautiful!” They cried. So I learned it was. To me, it was just home. It’s terrible being rich. One has awful false values, which one can generally only replace with other, falser, values. For example, the name of the house, which is, apparently, very vulgar, is a deliberate show of indifference to vulgarity on my mother’s part. This tells you something about my mother. So perhaps I should tell you some more.

My mother is five feet seven inches tall. She has very blond hair, and very green eyes. She is sixty-three, but looks about thirty-seven, because she takes regular courses of Rejuvinex. She decided to have a child rather late, but the Rejuvinex made that perfectly all right. She selected me, and had herself artificially inseminated with me, and bore me five months later by means of the Precipta method, which only takes three or four hours. I was breast-fed, because it would be good for me, and after that, my mother took me everywhere with her, sometimes all round the world, through swamps and ruins and over broad surging seas, but I don’t remember very much of this, because when I was about six she got tired of it, and we went to Chez Stratos, and more or less stayed here ever since. The city is only twenty miles away, and on clear days you can see it quite easily from the balcony- balloons of the house. I’ve always liked the city, particularly the look of it at night with all the distant lights glittering like strings and heaps of jewels. My mother, hearing this description once, said it was an uninspired analogy. But that’s just what the city at night looks like to me, so I don’t know what else to say. It’s going to be very difficult, actually, putting all this down, if my analogies turn out badly every time. Maybe I just won’t use analogies.

Which brings me to me.

I am sixteen years old and five feet four inches tall, but mother says I may grow a little more. When I was seven, my mother had a Phy-Excellence chart done for me, to see what was the ideal weight and muscle tone aesthetically for my frame, and I take six-monthly capsules so I stay at this weight and tone, which means I’m a little plump, as apparently my frame is Venus Media, which is essentially voluptuous. My mother also had a coloressence chart made up to see what hair color would be best for my skin and eyes. So I have a sort of pale bronze color done by molecular restructuring once a month. I can’t remember what my hair was originally, but I think it was a kind of brown. My eyes are green, but not as green as my mother’s.

My mother’s name, by the way, is Demeta. Mine’s Jane. But normally I call her “Mother” and she calls me “Dear” or “Darling.” My mother says the art of verbal affection is dying out. She has a lot of opinions, which is restful, as that way I don’t have to have many of my own.

However, this makes everything much more difficult, now.

I’ve written bits of things down before. Or embarrassing poetry. But how to do this. Perhaps it’s idiotic to try. No, I have to, I think. I suppose I should begin at the beginning. Or just before the beginning. I have always fallen in love very easily, but usually with characters in visuals, or books, or with actors in drama. I have six friends, of roughly my own age—six is a balanced number, according to the statistics—and three of these have fathers as well as mothers. Clovis, who has a father, said I fell in love easily—but only with unreal men—because I didn’t have a father. I pointed out that the actors I fell in love with were real. “That’s a matter for debate,” said Clovis. “But let me explain. What you fall for is the invention they’re playing. If you met them, you’d detest them.” One morning, to prove his theory, Clovis introduced me to an actor I’d seen in a drama and fallen in love with the previous night, but I was so shy I couldn’t look at the actor. And then I found out he and Clovis were lovers, and I was brokenhearted, and stopped being shy and scowled, and Clovis said: “I told you so.” Which was hardly fair. Secretly, I used to wish I were Clovis and not me. Clovis is tall and slim, with dark curly hair, and being M-B, doesn’t have to take contraception shots, so tells everyone else who does they’re dangerous.

I don’t really like my other five friends. Davideed is at the equator right now, studying silting—which may indicate the sort of thing about him that I have no rapport with. Egyptia is very demanding, and takes over everything, though she’s lovely to look at. She’s highly emotional, and sometimes she embarrasses me. Chloe is nice, but not very exciting. Jason and Medea, who are brother and sister, and have a father too, are untrustworthy. Once they were in the house and they stole something, a little blue rock that came from the Asteroid. They pretended they hadn’t, but I knew they had. When my mother asked where the blue rock was, I felt I had to tell her what I thought, but she said I should have pretended I had broken the rock so as not to implicate Jason and Medea, who were my friends. Loyalty. I see it was rather unsubtle of me to betray them, but I didn’t know any better. Being unsubtle is one of my worst faults. I have a lot.

Anyway, I’ll start when Egyptia called me on the video, and she cried and cried. Egyptia is unhappy because she knows she has greatness in her, and so far she can’t find out what to do with it. She’s just over eighteen, and she gets terribly afraid that life is moving too fast for her. Though most people live to be a hundred and fifty, or more, Egyptia is frightened a comet will crash on the earth at any moment and destroy us all, and her, before she can do something really wonderful. Egyptia has horrible dreams about this a lot. One can’t comfort her, one merely has to sit and watch and listen.

Egyptia never had a coloressence chart or a Phy-Excellence chart done. Recently, her dark hair was tinted dark blue, and she’s very thin because she’s been dieting—another of her fears is that the world would run out of food because of earthquake activity, so she practices starvation for days on end. At last she stopped crying and told me she was crying because she had a dramatic interview that afternoon. Then she began to cry again. She knew, when she sent the voice and phy-tape to the drama people that she had to do it, as her greatness might occur in the form of acting. But now she knew she’d judged wrong and it wouldn’t. The place where the interview was being held was the Theatra Concordacis, which had been advertising for trainees for weeks. It was a very little drama, with a very little paying membership. The actors had to pay to be in it, too, but Egyptia’s mother, who was at the bottom of an ocean exploring a pre-Columbian trench, had left a lot of money to look after Egyptia instead.

“Oh, Jane,” said Egyptia, blue-tinted tears running through her blue mascara. “Oh Jane! My heart’s beating in huge thuds. I think I’m dying. I shall die before I can do the interview.”

My eyes were already wet. Now my heart started instantly to bang in huge painful thuds, too. I am very hyperchondriacal, and tend to catch the symptoms of whatever disease is being described to me. My mother says this is a sign of imagination.

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