Note: This story, while it stands alone, belongs to the Anan Muss series.

Anan Muss was careful, but not so careful he didn’t make mistakes (after all, a legion of King Ash’s slitters once sliced arc-blades at his head on every quantum-entanglement port).   Anan’s caution primarily meant it took longer to do simple tasks–as if his brain had rocketed to light-speed, slowing down his time, relative to others’.  Washing, ironing, and folding laundry usually cost him a weekend, even with robots. Cleaning his apartment required a week’s vacation.

Love was trickier.  Courtship took time:  a month to muster the courage to ask women to the aquarium theater, to talk intimately and walk the hanging orchid gardens, yet another month to kiss beneath bridges by the canals, and a year later to fall helplessly in love.  The year after that might have been marriage, he supposed, but women rarely waited long enough for him to ask them out.

Luckily, the second-generation AI ladies appeared in Japan.  All the shy lads wanted one.  By design, quantities were low, demand high.  One would have cost his year’s accounting salary.

So Anan mail-ordered one of those borderline real phonies made in China.  His fingers trembled as he unwrapped her.  Her skin–a soft, off-ivory–accentuated her raven-black hair.  His heart wanted to gallop away, but he reined it in.  She accepted his hand and stepped out of the box, “Am I not beautiful?”

Caught off-guard, yet ever poetic, Anan sought the right words:  “Yes…. I mean, no…. I mean, you are beautiful.”

“Love me, and I will be whomever you want.”

“Being yourself is enough although contents may settle, like cereal in a box.”

“And you will be whomever I want you to be.”

“Sure.  Within the limits of my present brain pattern.”

She laid plans of their future together.  He said he hoped she would have patient understanding, be someone he could share words with, someone who’d sharpen him gently, someone who would challenge and accept challenge.  “That’s exactly who I am,” she said, mentioning her unparalleled poetic sensibility.

As he painted her a porcelain love poem, he spoke of this inane idea he’d had of dating women virtually–not for love per se, but to understand women better.

He handed her his poem:

Laxity in

love milks

the black

swell of

twisted minutes

into hours

She shattered the porcelain and stalked away.  “I have no time for words.”

“She’s right.”  Anan sifted through the broken chips.  “It’s not much of a love poem.”

Thief Bowlsalot’s girlfriend dragged him to the artsy-fart reading at the Thebes gallery. He couldn’t even wear jeans. It was for some fancy-schmancy writer lady who won the Bigwad award, and his girlfriend had read him the Bigwad o’ crap and he’d wanted to say, “So what?” but said, “Oh, baby, that was great.” The things he put up with to get down a girl’s pants. Only she thought he liked novels that rich heiresses wrote–those who never dirtied a fingernail except as snot-nosed brats slumming it with her girls at the Everyman’s Mall.
Ms. Bigwad wore a pink feather boa and was trailed by a ham-handed, bodyguarding knot-head, who looked like he was itching to pound any one of these balding scrawny sycophants, and by a waiter with a tray of black goo on crackers, which Thief found more lively than anything else in the gallery.
Ms. Bigwad read. Nothing happened to the characters, so they never had to deal with anything: no air raids, no gun-toting fourth graders, no fistfights after a night of booze and schlepping through the streets with some other guy’s girl. They never disobeyed signs: no fishing, no hunting, no shoes, no shirt, no service. Just a dentist who collects famous photographs and trades them with friends who blow their never-ending wad at Macy’s and not at the hooker’s or on a line of blow, and the characters blab, blab, blab about zip–enough to make you gouge your ears out. Somebody gets a brain aneurysm, but fuck talking about that–too interesting. Who cares about death? What did Ms. Bigwad know of ticking time bombs ready to explode in her head? Thief’s granny died of one. That meant something–to the family at least: an inheritance of quilts, several dozen balls of yarn, and thirteen feral cats.
Thief tried not to snore as the writer lady droned in a voice parched as the Sahara. Thief’s girlfriend elbowed him awake before he’d been ready to, so he left the reading. No chick’s pants were worth that much.
The rich lady’s lousy limo was blocking the alley when Thief went to kick start his motorbike. A steel bar with a large knob concrete at one end got Thief to thinking: He’d give the poor lady something to write about.
With the first stroke of luck he’d had all evening, he found a diamond as big as the Ritz on the back seat.

[O]n the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally….  We can cut wherever we please…. Chop it into numerous pieces and you will see that each one can get along alone. — Charles Baudelaire, “To Arsene Houssaye”

It was that great modernist monk of the late fourteenth century, Baudelard, who first codified the principle of spontaneous generation.  He had stowed away a porcelain saucer of skunk meat high in a cupboard where no animal–including the human kind–could reach it.  In truth, he had set it aside like manna, afraid that one day the countryside would be barren of meat if he and his fellow monks kept hunting as they had been all that blustery fall.

When Baudelard removed the meat from the cupboard a week later on the occasion of dusting, he rediscovered the meat writhing with worms and quilled his findings in his thirty-pound volume of observations.

Yet Baudelard was no one-trick pony of a natural philosopher who folds his hands to rest on laurels.  He understood that this principle had to be developed to its fullest extent, for “To understand nature,” as he was so fond of informing his fellow monks spraying a mouthful of his sibilant noon meal: day-old bread, goat cheese and wine, “was to understand the mind of God.”  So Baudelard cut worms at varying lengths to see if life might sprout again.

And, lo, they did grow full and wriggling blood-red with both head and tail intact, whichever was the original of which.  The confusion brought him to recall a minor poet friend of his, the Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer.  He had started a series of semi-bawdy, semi-humorous tales of wanderers mocking the Old English tales of heroes, using the vulgar, common English tongue.  Chaucer and Baudelard both saw the stories–pale imitations of Boccaccio–as best fit for lining refuse bins.

To test just how far the principle of spontaneous generation went, they took his original manuscript, mulched it, stirred in earthworms, water, and ink, and let the rotting mass germinate for several months.  Chaucer was probably over-eager and exhumed the manuscript prematurely.  The Canterbury tales were still unfinished and a bit raw, but Chaucer corrected the earthworms’ grammatical errors and found ways to punch up the bawdiness.

The triumphant success of Baudelard’s literary experiment, logically lead him to human beings as his next test subject.  The rest, as you know, is history–eternal glory springs from temporary gore.  Even now, a century later, Baudelard’s achievements remain the high-water mark of natural philosophy and letters.

Carlo kissed Becca on the forehead and squeezed her hand as the bus pulled up. She smiled at him, and he smiled back so brightly, the light seemed to shine out of his whole face. As he climbed onto the bus, he waved, and then the doors closed and it pulled away.

Becca practically danced as she made her way down the sidewalk toward work. She had never imagined it could be possible to give her heart so freely, so easily, but she trusted Carlo, and Carlo trusted her.

Seeing Carlo off had made her a few minutes late, and she decided to cut through an alley that came out right across the street from where she worked.  Stepping from the May sunlight into the dirty shadows of the alley she shivered, but the aftereffects of Carlo’s kiss still radiated through her body, and she kept up her elated pace. Then someone grabbed her.

She didn’t even see him at first: the man just grabbed her from behind and jerked her down onto the grimy pavement behind a trash bin. A minute later he was on top of her, a knife held out in warning, pushing up her dress.

She should have been frightened, but instead she was furious. How dare he! Carlo would rip his eyeballs out if he were here. Her attacker lifted his body off her dress for a moment, and Becca took the opportunity to drive one knee up with all the anger and power she could muster into his crotch.  He jolted as though he’d been shocked, and his knife hand jerked reflexively and plunged into her chest, just to the right of her sternum. She gasped. He whimpered, pulled himself up, and stumbled away as fast as he could, still clutching his injured privates.

Becca pulled the knife out of her chest and threw it away as she sat up. Her dress, nearly new and worn specially to impress Carlo, was ruined–ripped and filthy, with a slightly bloody hole over the right breast. She picked up her purse and opened it nervously, taking out the silver box she kept there and lifting the lid. Carlo’s heart undamaged, beating steadily in its silken padding. She breathed a sigh of relief.

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