adoc Tamlin went out onto the bedroom balcony and lifted his face to bathe in the light of the afternoon sun. The breakers tumbling over the shingle had just begun their retreat from the ragged line of wrack and plastic that marked the high tide. In the distance, he could see Lenny Garon and Catherine Praill walking together, making slow but methodical progress in the direction of the house.
High above the house a young wing glider was wheeling in search of a thermal. His angelic wings were painted like a flamingo's, each pink-tinted pinion feather brightly outlined. Madoc had never seen a real flamingo, but he knew that they were smaller by far than the bird boy. Natural selection had never produced a bird as large as the human glider, but modern technology had taken over where mutation had left off, in every sphere of human existence.
Madoc smiled as he watched the glider swoop low and then soar, having found his thermal. He willed the flier to attempt a loop or some equally daring stunt, but the conditions weren't right and the boy hadn't yet obtained the full measure of his skill. In time, no doubt, he would dare anything-flirtation with danger was at least half the fascination that attracted men to flight.
Damon was lucky to have inherited a house like this, Madoc thought-all the more so if, as Damon continued to insist, Silas Arnett's death had been no more real than Surinder Nahal's. It was a pity that Damon didn't seem to appreciate what he had-but that had always been Damon's problem.
"Who was on the phone?"
Madoc hadn't heard Diana Caisson come up behind him; her bare feet made no sound on the thick carpet.
"Damon," he said, without turning to look at her. He knew that she would be wearing nothing but a bath towel.
"When's he coming?"
Still Madoc wouldn't turn to face her. "He's not," he said.
"He's not coming."
"But I thought. . . ." Diana trailed off without finishing the sentence, but she she wasn't finished. Madoc watched her cheeks go red, and he saw her fist clench harder than any streetfighter's fist. He'd seen her draw blood before, and he didn't expect to see anything less this time. wasn't finished. Madoc watched her cheeks go red, and he saw her fist clench harder than any streetfighter's fist. He'd seen her draw blood before, and he didn't expect to see anything less this time.
Madoc knew what Diana had thought. She'd thought that Damon had offered them temporary use of the house he'd inherited from Silas Arnett as a roundabout way of fixing up a meeting. She was still waiting for Damon to "see the light": to realize that he couldn't bear to be without her and that he had to mend his ways in order to win her back. When Damon had returned the full set of master tapes which he'd plundered for his various VE productions, she'd recklessly assumed that it was the first step on the way to a reconciliation: a gesture of humility.
Madoc knew different. Damon had never been one for seeing the lights that other people suspended for him. He liked to chase his own fox fires.
"What did did he say?" Diana asked. he say?" Diana asked.
Madoc thought for a moment that she might be trying-unsuccessfully-to suppress her annoyance, but then he realized that it was just a slow buildup. He didn't suppose he had any real chance of heading her off, but he felt obliged to try. "He said that we should relax and enjoy ourselves. He said that we could stay as long as we want, because he doesn't anticipate using the house at all. It's on the market, of course, but it could take weeks to sell, or even months."
"Will he be coming later in the week?"
"No, Di. When he says that he doesn't intend using the place at all, that's exactly what he means. He's busy."
"Busy!" Her voice had risen to a screech. "He's just inherited two small fortunes, to add to the one he already had but somehow never got around to mentioning. He doesn't have to make any more telephone tapes, or any more game tapes, or any more fight tapes, or any more pornotapes . . . not that he ever did, it seems. He can do anything he damn well likes!" Diana had not yet begun to accept that she was fighting a losing battle, because she hadn't yet begun to understand why she had never had a chance of winning it.
"That's right," Madoc told her as gently as he could. "He can do anything he likes likes-and what he likes, as it happens, is setting himself up in business."
"He could have done that in Los Angeles!"
"He thinks Los Angeles is way too crowded. There's no real privacy here. If he were going to stay here, he said, he might as well take the job that PicoCon offered him. He wants to work where he can feel free."
"And what, exactly, is he going to work at? at?" Her fingernails were drawing blood now, and were sinking even further into her flesh in response to the anesthetic ministrations of her IT.
"I don't know. Not VE, he says. Biotech, I suppose-that's what he was trained for, before he ran away to join the circus. As to what kind of biotech, I wouldn't know."
Diana had no reply to that but curses-and the curses rapidly turned to violent action. For a moment, Madoc thought she might actually try to take it out on him, but she turned and hurled herself upon the bed instead, tearing at the quilt with her bloody hands, lacerating its surface as easily as she had lacerated her own flesh. The filling came out in flocculent lumps which rose into the air as she beat the bed in frustration.
Madoc wondered, as he always did, whether he ought to slap her about the face the way people sometimes did in antique movies, but he had never believed that it would work. It might conceivably have worked then then, but it wouldn't now. The world was different now, and so was the quality of Diana's hysteria. Madoc couldn't believe that the hysteria was authentically destructive, let alone self-destructive. He couldn't believe that it was anything more than a performance, whose safety was guaranteed by courtesy of her IT-but it wasn't a performance he wanted to get involved in.
Damon had had something of the same fierce reactivity in him once, but Damon's had drained away. Damon had made a kind of peace with the world, and Diana's inability to make a similar peace had driven them apart.
"It's pointless, Di," Madoc said, going forward as if to take her arm when her fury had abated a little.
She lashed out at him from a prone position, but it was a halfhearted blow. He caught her arm easily enough, turned her over, and then caught the other so that he could look into her face without fear for his eyes.
She was weeping, but she wasn't sobbing.
"Give it up, Di," he said as softly as he could. "It's not worth it. Nothing's Nothing's worth that kind of heartache, that much frustration." worth that kind of heartache, that much frustration."
Diana shook away his constraining hands, then shoved him aside and walked past him to the balcony. She barely glanced at the boy with the flamingo wings, or at the approaching figures of Lenny and Catherine. She was lost inside herself.
"I'd have gone with him, if he asked," she said in a tortured voice. "To the ends of the earth, if necessary. A new start might be exactly what we need. I wish he could understand that. I wish . . .."
"He isn't going to ask you, Di," Madoc said. "He isn't even going to ask me me. Damon's always been restless. He has to keep moving on."
"He shouldn't be in such a hurry," Diana said, still shivering with resentment. "The one thing nobody needs to do in today's world is hurry hurry. There's time enough for everything. He really ought to slow down. I think he's running away, and I don't think it'll solve anything. Running never does. Nobody ever really solves solves anything until they can settle down and sort out exactly what it is they want. He anything until they can settle down and sort out exactly what it is they want. He needs needs me-he's just too stubborn to admit it." me-he's just too stubborn to admit it."
"Maybe he is running away," Madoc said, "but not from you. Whatever he wants, you're simply not included. He doesn't mean to hurt you; he's just doing what he thinks he needs to do. Let him go, Di, for your own sake."
Madoc knew that he wasn't getting through to her, but Lenny and Cathy were close enough by now to see her face, and she still cared enough about appearances to want to hide the true extent of her despair from them.
"Why do they they get the big bedroom?" she demanded, fixing her angry gaze on their fellow guests but holding her bloody hands behind her back, where only Madoc could see what she'd done. get the big bedroom?" she demanded, fixing her angry gaze on their fellow guests but holding her bloody hands behind her back, where only Madoc could see what she'd done.
"Because that's what Damon wanted," Madoc muttered. "He thinks he owes Lenny a favor, even though it was all a stupid mistake. I owe him one too, I suppose-if Yamanaka hadn't had the other guys to stamp on, I might not have got off with a fine. Try to relax, will you. You might actually begin to enjoy yourself."
There was a slight pause before she said: "I can't." Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it was no less bitter for that-and she was only keeping her voice down because Lenny and Catherine were almost within earshot. Madoc suppressed his annoyance and put a protective arm around her bare shoulders.
"Time heals," he said, "and as you say, we have plenty of it."
"Sure," she said, continuing in the same conspicuously weak but bitter tone. "We have a hundred years, or maybe two. We have legions of little robocops patrolling our veins and our nervous systems, ready to take care of any pain that might happen to catch us by surprise. We're superhuman. Except that there are some pains that all the nanotech in the world can't soothe, some sicknesses that all the antiviruses in the world can't cure. At the end of the day, it's what you feel in your heart heart that counts, not what you feel in your hands and feet-and that counts, not what you feel in your hands and feet-and there there, we're as frail and feeble as we ever were. What use is eternity, if you can't have what you want?"
"What use would eternity be if we could?" Madoc countered, knowing that it was exactly what Damon would have said. "If there were nothing we needed so badly it made us sick, and nothing we wanted so avidly that it made us wretched, what would draw us through today into tomorrow . . . and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?"
"That's good," said Lenny, standing below the balcony and waving up at them. "That's really good. You sound exactly like Damon."
"I taught him everything he knows," Madoc said, offhandedly. "He got it all from me. He may think he doesn't need me anymore, but I'll always be with him. In his mind and in his heart, there'll always be something of me. And you too, of course, Di. We mustn't forget your contribution to the making of the man."
Diana had already turned away, unwilling to expose the soreness of her distress to two mere children who couldn't possibly understand. She didn't look back to acknowledge Madoc's sarcasm.
"One day," said Cathy, looking up at the glider, "I'm going to get a pair of wings like that. Not in pink, though. I want to be a falcon, or a bird of paradise, or a golden oriole . . . or all three, and then some. I want to fly as high as I possibly can, and as far far as I possibly can." as I possibly can."
Diana made a sound like a kitten in pain, but she was still determined to keep the full extent of her anguish from the boy and the girl.
"You will," Madoc said, looking down at the silken crown of Cathy's head and wondering whether Lenny could possibly be persuaded that an older and more passionate woman might be far more useful to his sentimental education than a girl his own age. "Once you've you've learned to fly, even the sky won't be the limit." learned to fly, even the sky won't be the limit."