There are times when I wonder if Anna really exists. She wants to use the new spa that Pamela and I have opened as a knocking-shop. I invited her to a meeting so that the three of us could talk about it, but she said that she only wanted to talk about it over the phone.
We did talk about it over the phone, eventually. I tried to make a joke about using the art screen in the reception area to display Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon, but she seemed to think I was serious. She said, ‘I know it is your favourite painting, but I don’t think it would be appropriate in that setting.’ How did she know that? I can’t remember mentioning it to any-one on the ship. The last time I had a conversation about Picasso, it was years ago, on a trip to London with Violet.
For reasons that I am not in a position to discuss at the moment, I have been having detailed discussions with some of the ship’s military people recently. I have invited some of them to the opening of the spa. Most of Anna’s ladies will be there, Pamela tells me. I hope everybody will conduct him or her self in keeping with decorum.
I must admit that I experience a certain frisson whenever Kelvin calls or emails Anna when he and Pamela are in the same room.
Kelvin has started a campaign recently, the details of which I can’t divulge at the moment, which means that I find it advantageous to earn as much money as possible. This is why Anna suggested broadening the range of services on offer at the new spa. Kelvin does not seem keen on this idea – what a hypocrite.
I have also been feverishly busy in my scientific research. I have been making some enhancements, but not to myself: to Rosalind. I have been doing experiments for some time now, and have finally had a breakthrough. I have invented a device for reading the signal from a nerve, reproducing it, and broadcasting it, all without interfering with the original signal. I made them partly by using my tunnelling electron-microscope. As well as looking at atoms and molecules, it can also pick them up and manipulate them. When I receive these signals, I can interpret them to turn them back into images and sound.
I have planted these devices in both Rosalind’s optic nerves and aural nerves. I did this in stages, making sure each time that the nerve was still working. I did not want her to go blind or deaf.
Rosalind makes quite a good observer, because she belongs to a species which is hunted, and so she has all-round vision (but of course she can only see in black and white). I can switch on both her eyes and ears and sense internally what she is sensing.
This, of course, was not my main objective. This was vivisection in the cause of reproducing the same procedures on Kelvin. Kelvin will get a further modification: the devices I am going to implant in him will be two-way: I will be able to make him see and hear things, should I so choose. I am sure this will come in very handy, one day.
The problem is to work out how I can perform quite invasive surgery on Kelvin without his realising what it is for. Among other things, I will have to take both his eyeballs out. They are beautiful (mostly grey, but the kind that change colour from one day to the next) and I want to put them back properly. When he comes round from the anaesthetic, he must be completely unsuspecting about what I have done to him.
I am thinking this as I look at Kelvin across the reception area of our new spa. Kelvin and Pamela are here as the hosts, in our brand new, white, towelling dressing gowns and flip-flops. Kelvin has brought out a very light and fragrant beer in honour of the occasion, which he calls Space Hopper. Most of the guests are drinking sparkling wine, but Kelvin sticks resolutely to his own produce. We splashed out for some of the good stuff (brought from Earth rather than made from the ship’s own grapes). It is eye-wateringly expensive, but we are quite well-off now. The birch panelling for the changing-rooms and the slate for the wet rooms was also very dear, but worth it – and it will all be re-cycleable after we land.
Cerise Vallance is here, with an entourage even bigger than usual. She was politely instructed to leave her camera and all recording equipment except a notebook and pen in the reception area. Jessica Springer and Emile Bourdelle are talking to Patrick Fitzgerald and Cecily Johnson. At least, Emile is talking to them. Jessica is nodding frantically and trying to keep up with the conversation, which is about freedom, the individual, and the State, and their relationship to artistic expression in a democratic society.
Partly to bump up the numbers, and partly for a laugh, I have enhanced some of my simulacra so that they can hold a kind of conversation without needing to be under my control. They still have no real intelligence, but I have programmed them with what is in fact a much more sophisticated version of an antique computer algorithm called Eliza. Eliza was the first of the line of chat-bots which used to be fashionable, and first appeared in the 1960s. It ran on an old-fashioned mainframe computer, and you communicated with it by typing on the keyboard. It analysed what you had said, one sentence at a time, tried to locate the keyword, if possible, and responded with something that sounded vaguely like a Rogerian psychotherapist.
To make it more interesting (and remunerative) I have programmed each of Anna’s ladies to prostitute herself to the men at the gathering. I doubt if any of them have got any money on them, but Anna can always collect later.
I am just sidling over to where Kayla is talking to James Holt. I did not think he would be able to make it, but here he is.
‘Er. So. What did you do back on Earth – before we set off?’
‘My dad was American. I was born in Hawaii.’
‘Er. I see. But what did you do for a living?’
‘I was half-American. Just like I am now.’
‘But, surely, you didn’t make a living out of that?’
‘Are you saying that I’m not living?’
‘Not at all. You are clearly very much alive.’
‘Yes, I am. I want to live. I want to live. I want to live.’
‘When I’m twenty-one, I have to decide on my citizenship.’
‘I’m beg your pardon?’
‘I have to decide whether I want UK or US citizenship.’
‘But there won’t be a United Kingdom or a United States on the new planet.’
‘Are you challenging my right to citizenship?’
‘No, no. Not at all. Not a bit of it.’
‘You don’t want a bit of it?’
‘We could go upstairs if you like.’ She begins gently to stroke his arm with her index finger. Poor Doctor Holt.
Next is Layla. She is with a short, stocky, red-haired man called Andrew Downing, who on Earth was an officer in the British Army.
‘You’re really my type of girl. Do you know that?’
‘It’s four sovereigns.’
‘For a fuck. Four sovereigns. One for a hand-job; two for a blow-job without CIM or face-cream; three for a messy blow-job; four for a fuck. If you want anal or any extras, you would be better talking to Angel.’
‘Please excuse me. I’m just going for another drink.’
Layla can be a little over-zealous sometimes.
Here we have another soldier. He is nearly seven feet tall, has muscles like coiled pythons, and his head looks like a turnip. His name is Brian McCann. He looks bored. Angel is talking to him. She is blonde, petite, with delicate features, and an intelligent and impish expression.
‘Are you big all over?’
‘Er. I suppose so.’
‘In every department?’
‘What I mean is, are you well-endowed?’
‘Do you mean…’
‘Yes, your cock. Do you have a huge cock?’
‘Can I measure it when it’s erect?’
‘For length and girth? I’ve got a tape measure in my bag.’
‘No to length, no to girth, or no to both?’
‘No to both.’
‘You are unreasonable. Do you know that?’
That’s my girl. I was cheating there. Part of that conversation was authored directly by me. Now for Olivia. She is talking to the last of our army men, Ben Stewart.
‘What did you used to do, back on Earth?’
‘I was a bomb-disposal expert.’
‘Oh, you brave, brave boy. Did you face death every day?’
‘Every weekday, yes. I didn’t have to face death at the weekend unless I was on overtime.’
‘What did you used to think of, at the moments when you thought you might be going to die?’
‘What are you thinking about now?’
‘I am thinking that you remind me of a lady I used to know once in Hanover. She was a gymnast.’
‘I’ve got quite flexible joints. Would you like to see me demonstrate some moves?’
Kelvin did not quite realise why, but we had spent some considerable time in building some hot tubs on the platform above which were each surrounded by a soundproof and vibration-proof enclosure. Since we are running a high-class establishment, each tub will be completely emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled with clean water and new aromatics in between clients.
I gave one of the hot-tubs to Cerise Vallance and her hangers-on (all female). You should have seen Cerise’s face at the moment when I told them it was ready. Her minions all went wild, but she looked utterly repulsed. I got a very good shot of her. I don’t know why she did not just come clean and say she did not want to get in it.