A Woman a Day, p.1Philip José Farmer
Philip Josè Farmer
A Woman A Day
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A WOMAN A DAY
Philip Josè Farmer
First published by
Galaxy Publishing Corp.
© VintReads -2017
They met in the strange world of the future—the man who had renounced sex, and the woman who used sex as a weapon. Their love might save them both—and destroy their world in the process!
—H. L. GOLD
DOCTOR Leif Barker pulled the woman to him. She did not resist; she had not come to him to resist. Not at this point. Her actual intention, as he knew, was to yield so far and then scream until the men who were undoubtedly waiting nearby would burst in and arrest him. Or pretend to arrest him.
The woman looked up at him, her rouged lips halfopen. She said, “Do you think this is real?”
“It’s factual,” said Leif, and then his lips closed over hers. She responded wildly—a little too wildly, for he knew that she was acting. Overacting. Or was she? Perhaps she enjoyed her job more than she would have wanted her superiors to know.
He reached up with his right hand. Before she knew what he was doing, he seized the ruffled collar around her neck and ripped open the back of her dress.
Her eyes opened, and she tried to pull away, to say something, but he kept his mouth over hers. Before she could move she was stripped to the waist. Then he released her, but his right hand was open, ready to chop against the side of her neck if she tried to scream.
However, she seemed stunned by the rapidity with which the seduction was taking place. And, perhaps, she had not been in the business so long that she was cynical about a lamech-wearer. Perhaps her conditioning still held, telling her that a man in Leif Barker’s position was irreproachable. Perhaps.
Whatever she thought, she was lovely. Whoever had sent her had chosen a woman who would make resistance difficult. She was a tall slim blonde with the body of a fully developed woman but a face that still suggested the innocent child. A passionate child, yes, but still a child. However, exposed as she now was, the large, firm breasts robbed her of the immature appearance and made it easier for Leif to do as he had planned.
Her hands had been hanging by her side; now, aware of his gaze upon her breasts, she put up her hands to hide them. He laughed.
“What is the matter?” he said. “Have you now decided that you do not want me to become your lover? That you have not always admired me from afar and that it was a mistake to come here and give yourself to me? That you have decided not to go against the teachings of the Sturch?”
“No,” she said, her voice trembling. “I—I just did not expect that—that...
“That things would go so fast you might actually have to go through with it before your friends could get here?” he said, still smiling.
She turned pale. She opened her mouth to say something, but the paralyzed throat refused to allow the words to come.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said.
“What is a sign?” she managed to say.
“Once,” he said, “a man who wore the lamech—” he touched the large golden Hebrew L which he wore pinned to his shirtfront—“was regarded as above temptation. Being above temptation, he was also above suspicion. There were no attempts by the Uzzites to make him prove that his conduct was based on reality, by trying to seduce him into immorality. But these are degenerate times, and now no man is above suspicion.”
He paused and said harshly, “Tell me, did Candleman send you?”
She flinched; he knew that he had struck the truth. So —his own superiors in the Cold War Corps were not testing him. He was being trapped by Candleman, the chief of the Uzzites, the secret police of the Haijac Union.
“How many men are waiting?” he said.
She did not reply, so he took her by the hands and pulled them away hard, exposing her breasts. She turned her head away so she would not have to look him in the eye, and the paleness of her skin was replaced by a blush that spread from the hips upwards.
“You won’t tell me?” he said. “It doesn’t matter. Look!”
He released her and went to the wall, pressing against a section of it. Instantly, a square just above his hand flickered and became a screen, and the interior of the waiting room in the penthouse was revealed. Three men were slumped unconscious on the floor. They wore the black uniforms of the Uzzite.
“As a lamech-wearer, I have many privileges,” he said. “One of them is the right to take precautions against the violation of my person. So I have this. I press a button, and an anesthetic is released into the waiting-room.”
“But the gas circuits were supposed to—” She stopped.
“Have been de-energized by one of your friends?” he said. “They probably were. But I’m not such a fool that I didn’t install a duplicate circuit—one even Candieman wouldn’t know about.”
She was pulling at the front of her dress again, her blue eyes wide with fear.
“Why are you telling me this?” she said. By her question he knew she thought he was going to kill her.
“Because you are going to continue to work for Candle-man,” he said. “And you are also going to be working for me. But your real loyalty will be to me. You’ll be afraid to expose me to him.”
“What do you mean?” she gasped.
He approached her slowly, reaching out for her dress again.
“You know Candieman. He will not tolerate unreal sexual conduct, even on the part of his agents. I know that you were supposed to get me aroused and then call your friends. Candieman, who is so moral that he doesn’t mind killing a man or trying to tempt a lamech-wearer, would not tolerate one of his girls actually going through with the act.”
“You don’t mean...?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll have you now. You’ll be in no position to betray me to Candieman. Besides, you’re lovely, and I’ve not had a woman for a month now.”
“Your wife?” she said, stepping back.
He laughed and said, “My wife and I have never even kissed each other.”
She continued retreating until she felt the cold wall against her bare back. Then, suddenly, she fell on her knees before him.
“For the love of the Forerunner!” she begged. “Do not do this! I will be forever lost!”
For a moment, Leif actually thought of allowing her to go. Then he told himself that would be the act of a fool. If he did not go through with this, he would have to kill her to prevent her from accusing him to Candleman. He certainly did not want to do that. Moreover, she was lovely.
“Ingrid, my dear,” he said, “I don’t think that you will find this as distasteful as you think.”
“Please don’t!” she said, her voice breaking. “I had to do this! Candleman would have ha
He hesitated. Perhaps her story was true. But he doubted it. Candleman would not trust an agent who did not have the same fanaticism as himself.
“You are lying,” Leif said. “And even if you aren’t, I want you.”
He put his hands under her armpits and raised her. Within five minutes she had quit struggling, and in another minute she was acting as wildly as before Leif tore her dress. This time Leif was certain that she was not pretending.
THE TRANSPARENT QB cube upon the wall flickered. The miniature storm inside it flung itself about like a caged beast. Clouds roiled; lightning flashed.
Abruptly, chaos became order. The QB crackled and sputtered, and figures appeared in it. One of them was a man seated behind a desk. For a few seconds, the scene shimmered. Then, as if the essence of the tiny man had decided to become existence, the figure became as hard and sharp-edged as fact itself.
The cube held the projection of a government gandy studio. The desk and the reporter behind it and the wallsized portrait of Isaac Sigmen behind him were real as life, if only a sixth as large.
Dr. Leif Barker, sipping his breakfast coffee in his penthouse atop the Rigorous Mercy Hospital, sleepily watched his QB. The instrument was daily becoming less efficient. He could call in the overworked techs. If they could requisition the needed materials—a big if—they could have the QB working at ninety percent efficiency. But the shoddy materials they would get could not keep it from slipping back to its normal seventy-eight per cent.
No, there was no use calling the techs. These breakdowns were signs of the times.
He sipped the skin-searing liquid.
Very good signs of the times, too.
Leif liked them, for he was their prime mover, the spider who squatted in the center of the web and strummed the strands from time to time.
.. and it may or may not be real that Timestop will occur within a year,” the gandyman was honking. “But we’re authorized to say that events of the last six months seem to point to such a possibility. You all know what we’re referring to, the strange signs and portents that have been so numerous recently.”
Sleepily, Leif smiled. Yes, the Haijac Union’s government had itself started rumors of Timestop, the prophesied day when Sigmen would return from his travels through past and future to the present. That day could see the destruction of his enemies and the rewarding of his faithful. Every follower of reality would be given a universe of his own to play with; he’d have no more authority above him, no guardian angels to check on his every move.
The Haijac government had itself created events designed to take the citizens’ minds from long work and short pay. But the Cold War Corps of the nation of March had caught the ball and was rolling it downhill, where it was causing an avalanche. They had a plan to make the rank-and-file Jack a fervent believer in the close arrival of Sigmen, the Forerunner.
And when the citizenry was expecting Timestop every day, then watch out! For they’d not only get one Forerunner, they’d get a... and he drifted off into thoughts of the frantic efforts of the Jack bureaucracy to dam the flood they themselves had started. There would be nothing more upsetting, more revolutionary, than a man who sees his expected millenium proved to be a fraud.
That—plus one other important movement Leif was closely connected with—might wreck an empire.
Halfway through his second cup, the buzzer sounded. Annoyed, he flicked the toggle. Immediately the scene in the cube dissolved. The mist that replaced it flickered, was shot with quartz that ran the spectrum, and then cleared to a not-quite focus. The figure of his secretary was revealed, sitting behind her desk ten stories down.
Revealed, thought Leif Barker, wasn’t the right word. Not when a thick, highnecked, floor-length dress covered her presumed figure. The virtues stamped upon her waxlike character by the Sturch had not been smoothed out in rubbing against her boss. Rachel was a real girl. You’d not catch her in any behavior that might possibly lead to a pseudo-future. She was real.
He stared at her. She blushed.
“Yes?” He felt like growling, but he smiled instead. If he could break his face into the desired joviality, he’d be all right the rest of the morning.
“Dr. Barker, there’s a Zack Roe who insists he’s to see you.”
Leif didn’t permit his smile to change.
“His appointment is not until ten this morning. Tell him he’s made a mistake.”
Another small figure entered the cube and looked at the little glass box upon Rachel’s desk. Zack Roe was a tall and stooped man with grey hair and the OD’s of a laborer. He spoke Icelandic with a slight Siberian accent.
He held his hat in his hand, and ducked his head as he said, “Please, Doctor. I know I’m not here at the right time. But I forgot that today I start my purification rites.”
“What’re you doing here?”
“I thought maybe you could give me my tests now. That way we’d both be satisfied. I know these tests are important, doctor.”
He ended with a giggle and a bulging of his blue eyes.
Leif sighed and said, “Shib, I’ll be right down. Rachel, tell Sigur to turn on the eegie, will you, please?”
Rachel said she would. Leif flicked the screen off, drank his coffee, though it scalded his tongue, and rapidly ate his seaham and eggs. Roe had given the key words— that way they meant that Leif was to contact him as fast as possible.
Something big was up. Otherwise, Zack would never have broken the pattern of his ways and thus given his gapt a reason for investigating him. Fortunately, he had a good excuse. Purification rites came ahead of everything else, and his role as a stupid shovelman would fit it with his apparent forgetfulness.
Leif strode through several rooms, furnished quite well for these drab and dismal days, and toward the elevator. His collie, Danger, leaped for him and was quite offended when his master only scratched his ears as he went by.
“Later,” said Leif, pressing the button that would take the car down to the eegie rooms.
There was no reason to be alarmed at the unusual pattern of events, but he felt uneasy. The Plan had been going well—almost too well. But he must not allow an expression of anxiety to cross his face. What had he, a lamech-wearer, to fear? Smiling he dismissed the thought from his mind and returned to the hospital routine.
He yearned for another coffee. And yawned. Yearn and yawn. He smiled to himself. He seemed to be doing a lot of both lately—though last night had taken the edge off the yearn.
The door opened. He walked into Rachel’s office.
She said, “Good morning, doctor.”
He said, “Forerunner bless you. Any important mail?”
He didn’t want to give the impression of haste. She might wonder about concern over a nonentity like Zack.
She said, “No letters, abba.”
“Don’t call me father,” he said.” I’m only ten years older than you.”
“I respect you as a father,” she said, eyes downcast.
He lifted her chin and kissed her on the mouth. “Here’s a fatherly buss. You get one every time you call me abba.”
He chuckled and said, “And as a reward for not doing so, you also get one every time you don’t call me father.”
“Doctor Barker! You mustn’t do that!” Her cheeks were flaming.
He grinned at her and said, “I’m taking unfair advantage of you because I’m a lamech-wearer. On the other hand, what’s the use of being one, if you can’t take advantage of it?”
Her mouth hung open. Leif resisted the temptation to close it with another kiss. Though beautiful, she was more cold candy than warm flesh. The man who broke down her defenses would find that he’d have done better to spend his time elsewhere. She wouldn’t be good business; the overhead would be large and the assets frozen.
Ah, well, she was a human being and not responsible for all of what she was. He stepped into the elevator, turned, waved
WHEN Leif ENTERED the eegie room, he found that Sigur had seated Zack Roe and had placed the tantalum helmet over the grey head.
Zack exposed his buckteeth in a smile and said, “Sigmen love you, doctor.”
“A real future to you,” replied Leif. He nodded, and Sigur pushed a button. The kymograph beneath the eegie machine began turning. Accompanying it was a beep-beep noise which, as part of the experiment, was supposed to distract the subject. The experiment was, ostensibly, an attempt to correlate the brainwave pattern of the subject with his vocalization. For some time Leif had been spending an hour a day on this project to read a man’s mind through electronic means.
Actually, he had been doing just that for the past two years. The lower half of the so-called electroencephalograph was what it was supposed to be. It recorded the subject’s brainwaves on a kymograph. But the upper half of the eegie was the machine which had been smuggled into Leif’s hands by the Cold War Corps. It did what the other was eventually intended to do. It could “read” a man’s mind. And at this very moment it was detecting and amplifying Zack Roe’s thoughts and transmitting them through the supposedly meaningless beeps.
“I’ll ask the usual number of test questions,” said Leif.
“Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I don’t care whether or not you tell me the truth now. Later, I want you to indicate the true answers. Got it?”
A Woman a Day by Philip José Farmer / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes