We've never been there. Merle shot me a sleepy look. We tilted forward slightly and lifted another half meter off the water, slowly weaving around sailboats. The Opera House and skyline receded.
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It was going to be interesting, though probably not as life-and-death as Lamont Randolph had made it sound initially. When I pressed him for details about the brain death emergency, he had to admit that he didn't have any; it was essentially a rumor he thought he could use to "get me interested.
I would go anywhere in the world, three worlds and fifty rocks, to see Maria again. You know, most of 'em? God's gift. The cabby tapped the compass again. Swing by the free beach?
That was the nude beach on the southwest side of the Harbour. Somewhat out of the way. But of course I didn't know that. I watched the water while the driver and Merle exchanged obvious comments.
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Immortality did complicate your sex life. Merle could joke about "losing track. You meet a woman socially and, more often than not, the first moment is a mutual hearthe-wheels-turning, did-we-or-didn't-we exercise in sorting memories. Then perhaps a conspiratorial wink or squeeze—"Majorca, back in '23, wasn't it?
I was mentally reviewing the list of women I'd be likely to meet at Claudia's party—I do try to keep the past fifteen or twenty years' worth straight, anyhow—when I realized Merle had said something. Happy hunting ground. All look an' no touch. Every slit brings 'er own cob, she does. We were getting close enough to see a few pink dots on the rocks. Sunbathing in shadow, this late in the afternoon. The cabby said the female population, though he didn't use that term exactly, doubled when the beach was in shade.
Made sense to me. He and Merle waved and the shade-bathers waved back. The polite gentlemen waved their hands. Claudia's place was about two kilometers north of the beach. It was conspicuous even from that distance. Cantilevered out over the water with no supports below, an extravagant display of space stuff. No earthly material could take the strain; it must have been those carbon filaments or something.
I don't keep up on it. With a noisy surge the cabby banked to the left and climbed, missing the roofs of cliffside dwellings by a few meters.
People who had moved out here for peace and quiet. The cabby laughed. The vehicle bobbed in a good imitation of a small boat in a heavy sea, the rotor building up to a banshee scream. He set it down pretty smoothly on the redwood deck; blessed silence when the rotor disengaged.
The tab was fifty dollars; I punched sixty, and the driver nodded vacantly, staring at our welcoming party. It wasn't legal for private citizens to own them in Australia. Barr," the young lady said, "come with me. Everyone is having drinks by the pool. I'm Mr. Barr's bodyguard. Unless my instinct was off, she wasn't immortal, not yet.
All original equipment. Low mileage, one owner. Oiled regularly. The pool was spectacular, a crystal bowl a couple of meters deep by twenty in diameter, floating suspended at eye level in an elaborate sprawling rock garden. Pretty things of both genders swam naked in the clear water; whenever someone dived from the edge, the pool bobbed slightly.
It's been forever! Head shaved up to a medusa ruff crown some electrostatic thing kept it writhing slowly. Her kiss was strawberry. She turned around and stood gracefully on one toe, displaying. It's … different. Want some? A nipple brushed my bare bicep and immediately sprang up hard. She giggled. You should try a little. What it does to men … " "I've seen what it does. No thanks. Not the bangoff creeps. I never did understand poking, though, not when you can afford to pop or punch.
You don't understand pain. Liver, spleen, and heart transplants. I do know pain, Claudia. Not like wanting it. Fifty straight. She laughed.
Be a gent here. The bartender took a sudden interest in rearranging his bottles.
She stopped abruptly and walked back, standing at an awkward distance. Thanks for asking. I was almost broke, but you had to be careful about the markers you put out. Claudia wouldn't have let herself get addicted unless she was going in pretty soon.
So if I took her money now, I'd be giving it back in a few months, technically in defiance of the Stileman contract. That would unnecessarily complicate things, so early in my own tenth career. Claudia and I had lived together in New Orleans about forty years ago. She used to share my caution toward drugs. They didn't have cream back then, though, and grief was a sure killer. Nowadays, a lot of people let themselves become addicts before they check in for rejuvenation.
The Stileman Process does cure you of physical addiction, but if it's a manifestation of some deep psychological problem, you'll of course still have the problem when you get out. There can't be many immortals who are "natural" drug addicts, their chromosomes lined up so as to make them need it no matter what.
People with that affliction don't put together their first million. People like Claudia just get physically bored, I guess. Grief turns you inside out, but nobody was ever bored by it.
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Cream just makes you into a sex machine, as far as I can tell: very intense orgasms refreshed at will. After a few years you're impotent without it, though; not a great selling point. I would have thought Claudia would go for dizney, if any drug. She always liked exotic places. With dizney you can visit a dozen solar systems without leaving your chair, always different ones.
Some people never quite get back, of course. Dizney and grief are more potent to immortals than phems, they say; a lot of drugs affect us differently. And it varies from individual to individual; aspirin deadens my sense of smell, but I've never heard of that happening to anybody else.
Eric Lundley, an Australian immortal who once was my business partner, got auditory hallucinations from antihistamines. I wondered how many of the forty or so people here were immortals.
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