A Company lift had been sent for him. A big fifteen-passenger job with two stewardesses, a lounge, movie theater and pocket billiard accommodations. Before he was put on board, the Projects Superintendent, head man on the TexasTower, spoke to him at the lock.
“You aren’t a Typhoid Mary, you can’t give it to anyone. It’s merely unlovely and unpredictable. That’s what they tell me. Technically, there’s no quarantine; you can go where you please. But realistically, you can appreciate that your presence in the surface cities wouldn’t be welcome. Not that you’d be missing much…all the action is underground.”
Pareti nodded silently. He was well over his shaken reactions of earlier. He was now determined to fight the Disease with the strength of his own will.
“Is that it?” he asked the Projects Super.
The man nodded, and extended his hand.
Pareti hesitated a moment, then shook it.
As Pareti was walking down the ramp to the lift, the Projects Super called after him. “Hey, Pareti?”
Joe turned back.
“Thanks for belting that bastard Ball. I’ve been itching to do it for six years.” He grinned.
It was an embarrassed, brave little smile that Joe Pareti returned, as he said goodbye to who he was and what he was, and boarded the lift for the real world.
He had free passage to the destination of his choice. He chose East pyrites. If he was going to make a new life for himself with the money he had saved in three years working the goo fields, at least he was going to do it after one king-sized whore leave. It had been nine months since he had been anywhere near excitement—you sure as hell couldn’t call Peggy Flinn with her flat-chest, excitement—and there was time for fun before the time to settle down.
One of the stewardesses, wearing an off-the-bosom jumper with a “kicki” skirt, paused beside his seat and smiled down at him. “Care for a drink?”
Pareti’s thoughts were hardly of liquor. She was a high-breasted, long-legged item with light turquoise hair. But he knew she had been apprised of his ailment, and her reaction would be the same as Peggy Flinn’s.
He smiled up at her, thinking of what he would like to do with her if she were amenable. She took his hand and led him back to one of the washrooms. She led him inside, bolted the door, and dropped her clothes. Pareti was so astonished he had to let her undress him. It was cramped and close in the tiny bathroom, but the stewardess was marvelously inventive, not to mention limber.
When she was done with him, her face flushed, her neck spotted with little purple love-bites, her eyes almost feverish, she mumbled something about being unable to resist him, gathered up her clothes without even putting them on and, with acute embarrassment, floundered out of the bathroom, leaving him standing there with his pants down around his shoes.
Pareti looked at himself in the mirror. Again. He seemed to be doing nothing but staring into mirrors today. What stared out at him was himself, bald Pareti. He had the suddenly pleasurable feeling that whatever manner the goo infection in his body was taking to evolve itself, it would probably make him irresistible to women. All at once he could not find it in his heart to think too unkindly of the goo.
He had happy dreams of what joys and delights were in store for him if the goo, for instance, built him as big as a horse, or if it heightened this already-obvious attraction women had for him, or if it—
He caught himself.
Uh-uh. No thank you. That was just what had happened to the other five. They had been taken over by the goo. It had done what it had wanted with them. Well, he was going to fight it, battle it from invading him from the top of his bald head to the soles of his uncallused feet.
He got dressed.
No indeed not. He wasn’t going to enjoy any more sex like he’d just had. (And it became obvious to him that whatever the goo had done to the attraction-waves of his personality, it had also served to heighten his perceptions in that area. It had been the best he’d ever had.)
He was going to grab a little fun in East pyrites, and then buy himself a parcel of land topside, find the right woman, settle down, and buy himself a good position with one of the Companies.
He went back into the cabin of the lift. The other stewardess was on duty. She didn’t say anything, but the one who had taken Pareti into the toilet did not show herself through the remainder of the flight, and her replacement kept staring at Joe as though she wanted to nibble him with tiny teeth.
East pyrites, Nevada, was located eighty-seven miles south of the radioactive ghost town that had been called Las Vegas. It was also three miles below it. It was conservatively rated one of the marvels of the world. Its devotion to vice was obsessive, amounting to an almost puritanical drive to pleasure. In East pyrites the phrase had been coined:
PLEASURE IS A STERN DUTY IMPOSED ON US BY THE WORLD.
In East pyrites, the fertility cults of antiquity had been revived in deadly seriousness. Pareti found this to be true as he stepped out of the dropshaft on the seventieth underlevel. A mass gangbang was in progress, in the middle of the intersection of Dude Avenue and Gold Dust Boulevard, between fifty male members of the Ishtar Boppers and ten lovely girls who had signed in blood their membership to the Swingers of Cybele.
He carefully avoided the embroglio. It looked like fun, but he wasn’t going to aid and abet the goo in taking him over.
He hailed a taxi and stared at the scenery. The Temple of Strangers was served by the virgin daughters of the town’s leading citizens; executions for impiety were held publicly in the Court of the Sun; Christianity was in disrepute: it wasn’t any fun.
The old Nevadan custom of gambling was still observed, but had been elaborated, ramified and extended. In East pyrites, the saying, “You bet your life,” had real and sinister meanings.
Many of the practices in East pyrites were un-Constitutional; others were implausible; and some were downright inconceivable.
Pareti loved it at once.
He selected the Round-The-World Combination Hotel, close to the Hall of Perversions, just across the street from the verdant expanse of Torture Garden. In his room, he showered, changed, and tried to decide what to do first. Dinner in the Slaughterhouse, of course; then perhaps a little mild exercise in the cool darkness of the Mudbath Club. After that—
He suddenly became aware that he was not alone. Someone or something was in the room with him.
He looked around. There was apparently nothing wrong, except that he could have sworn he had put his jacket on a chair. Now it was on the bed, near him.
After a moment’s hesitation he reached for the jacket. The garment slid away from him. “Try to catch me!” it said, in a coy, insipid voice. Pareti grabbed for it, but the jacket danced away from him.
Pareti stared at it. Wires? Magnets? A joke of the management of the Hotel? He knew instinctively that he would find no rational way in which the coat had moved and talked. He gritted his teeth and stalked it.
The jacket moved away, laughing, dipping like a bat. Pareti cornered it behind the room’s massage unit, and managed to grab a sleeve. I’ve got to have this goddam thing sent out to be cleaned and burned, he thought insanely.
It lay limp for a moment. Then it curled around and tickled the palm of his hand.
Pareti giggled involuntarily, then flung the garment away from him and hurried out of the room.
Descending by dropshaft to the street, he knew that had been the true onset of the Disease. It had altered the relationship between him and an article of clothing. An inanimate object. The goo was getting bolder.