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Chapter Twenty-One

Cobb chewed down his broiled fish with apparent relish, and managed to enjoy his wine by taking one DRUNKENNESS snort through his left nostril for every two glasses. After dinner he went to the men's room and emptied out his food unit... not because he had to, but just to reassure himself that it was really true.

He was feeling the effect now of a good five or six whiskeys, and the whole situation didn't seem so horrible and frightening as it initially had. Hell, he had it made. As long as he kept his batteries charged there was no reason he couldn't live another twenty years... scratch that, another century! It was only a question of how long the machine could hold up. And even that didn't matter ... the big boppers had him taped and could project him onto as many bodies as he needed.

Cobb stood, swaying a bit, in front of the men's room mirror. A fine figure of a man. He looked the same as ever, white beard and all, but the eyes ... He leaned closer, staring into his eyes. Something was a little off there, it was the irises, they were too uniform, not fibrous enough. Big deal. He was immortal! He took another jolt through his left nostril and went out to join Annie.

While they had been eating, the band had set up in the hall behind the Gray Area, and now enough pheezers had arrived for them to start playing. Annie took Cobb's hand and led him into the dance-hall. She had helped decorate it herself.

Overhead they had a big, slowly spinning ball covered with a mosaic of tiny square mirrors. From each corner of the room a colored spotlight shone on the ball, and the reflected flecks of light spun endlessly around the room, changing colors as they moved from wall to wall. There had been a mirror-ball exactly like this at Annie's Senior Prom in 1970, lo these fifty years gone.

"Do you like it, Cobb?"

It made Cobb a little dizzy. This subroutined DRUNKENNESS wasn't quite like the real thing. He held his finger to the left side of his nose and took two quick breaths through his right nostril, coming down a couple of notches, enough to enjoy himself again.

The lights were perfect, really, it made you feel like you were on a boat ride down some sun-flecked creek, trout hovering just beneath the surface, and all the time in the world...

"It's beautiful, Annie. Just like being young again. Shall we?"

They stepped onto the half-empty dance-floor, turning slowly to the music. It was an old George Harrison song about God and Love. The musicians were pheezers who cared about the music. They did it justice.

"Do you love me, Cobb?"

The question caught him off guard. He hadn't loved anyone for years. He'd been too busy waiting to die. Love? He'd given it up when he left Verena alone in their apartment on Oglethorpe Street up in Savannah. But now...

"Why do you ask, Annie?"

"I've been living with you for a week." Her arms around his waist drew him closer. Her thighs. "And we still haven't made love. Is it that you're ..."

"I'm not sure I remember how," Cobb said, not wanting to go into details. He wondered if there was an ERECTION subprogram in his library. Have to check on that later, have to find out what else was in there, too. He kissed Annie's cheek. "I'll do some research."

When the dance ended they sat down with Farker and his wife. The two were having a spat, you could tell from the claw-like way Cynthia was holding her fingers. and from the confusion in Parker's eyes. They were glad to have Cobb and Annie interrupt them.

"What do you think of all this?" Cobb asked, using the hearty cheer-up-you idiot tone he always used with Parker.

"Very nice," Cynthia Parker answered. "But there's no streamers.''

Emboldened by Cobb's presence, Parker waved over a waiter and ordered a pitcher of beer. Normally Cynthia wouldn't let him drink, not that he wanted to, normally, but this was, after all, the...

"Golden Prom," Annie said. "That's what we called it, since it's been about fifty years since a lot of us had our high-school Senior Prom. Do you remember yours, Cynthia?"

Cynthia lit a mentholated and lightly THC-ed cigarette. "Do I remember? Our class didn't have a prom. Instead some of the hot-heads on the student council voted to use the funds for a fall bus-trip."

"Where did you go?" Cobb asked.

Cynthia cackled shrilly. "To Washington! To march on the Pentagon!. But it was worth it. That's where Parker and I met, isn't it dear."

Parker bobbed his light-bulb head in thought for a moment. "That's right. I was watching the Fugs chanting Out Demon Out on a flat-bed truck in the parking lot, and you stepped ..."

"I didn't step on your foot, Parker. I footsied you. You looked like such an important person with your tape recorder, and I was just dying to talk to you."

"You sure did," Parker said, grinning and shaking his head. "And you haven't stopped since."

The beer arrived then and they clinked glasses. Holding his glass up, Cobb closed his right nostril and took a snort. Sitting down, the dizziness was bearable. But, listening to his friends talk, he had a feeling of shame at no longer being human.

"How's your son?" he asked Cynthia, just to be saying something. Chuck, the Parkers' only child, was a United Cults minister up in Philadelphia. Cynthia loved to talk about him.

"He's getting more nooky than you ever saw!" Cynthia gave a thin cackle. "And the girls give him money, too. He teaches them astral projection."

"Some racket, huh?" Parker said, shaking his head. "If I were still young ..."

"Not you," Annie said. "You're not psychic enough. But Cobb," she paused to smile at her escort, "Cobb could lead a cult any day."

"Well," Cobb said thoughtfully, "I have been feeling sort of psychic ever since..." He caught himself and skipped forward. "That is, I've been getting this feeling that the mind really is independent of your body. Even without your body, your mind could still exist as a sort of mathematical possibility. And telepathy is only ..."

"That's just what Chuck says," Cynthia interrupted. "You must be getting senile, Cobb!"

They all laughed then, and started talking about other things: food and health and gossip. But, in the back of his mind, Cobb began thinking seriously about cults and religion.

The whole experience of changing bodies felt miraculous. Had he proved that the soul is real ... or that it isn't? And there were his strange new flashes of empathy to explain. Was it that, having switched bodies once, he was no longer so matter-bound as before ... or was it just the result of having mechanically sharp senses? What was he ... guru or golem?

"You're cute," Annie said, and pulled him back onto the dance-floor.

Chapter Twenty | Software | Chapter Twenty-Two