She performed for him every service that she could. And in return? Got nothing. He used her unfeelingly, as if she was a machine. Well, fair enough. She was a machine. But couldn't he even wipe his shoes before he walked all over her?
"That Hildenbrand thinks you're really hot stuff," said Pert, Gifford's new and cheeky assistant.
"Hilda?" said Gifford, caught off guard, confused.
"Hildenbrand," said Pert. "Hildenbrand Gumscoper. You know. The machine."
"I do not," said Gifford, coldly, "have sex with machines."
"That's the whole point," said Pert. "You've got no use for her. But I do."
"What?" said Gifford.
"I believe," said Pert, "that Hildenbrand Gumscoper is a reincarnation of Artemis, the Great Huntress, and that it is my destiny to be her serving beloved, and hunt at her side."
This was said passionately, lips quivering, face flushed. Gifford backed off, put two locked doors between himself and Pert, called Security, and had her thrown out of the building and fired. All that within the hour.
He was so busy that, within the day, he had more or less forgotten the incident, and had deleted the name "Hildenbrand Gumscoper" from memory.
Gifford's thoughts were all on Switzerland. The White Spider at the heart of Europe. A weapon in every home. Every man a trained killer. A terrifying military juggernaut, just waiting to unleash itself on the peaceful civilizations of planet Earth.
Gifford dreamt of a Swiss victory, and woke, sweating.
"Dreams are not prophetic," said Gifford, wiping away the sweat. "They don't come true."
Not usually. But this was not a standard military situation. Usually, the good guys are up against some rag-and-bones country which hasn't yet got hot and cold running water, far less cruise missiles and all that other neat stuff. In this case, however, the opponents were the Swiss. Formidable high-tech warlords.
"However," said Gifford, "we have the technological edge."
That was still true. Or, at least, he hoped it was.
The elevator was a Coffee Gazelle One. It took Gifford up to the Study Room, where the captive Swiss toys were held. Gifford thought of his visits to the Study Room as research. Sometimes he got lucky, sometimes he didn't. Either way, he never told his intimate other what he was doing.
"You seem uncomfortable in your shoes," said the elevator.
Gifford ignored the conversational overture. But the elevator was right. After a lifetime in combat boots, Gifford found his new leather-soled shoes far too tight.
"Plausible deniability," muttered Gifford.
"Pardon?" said the elevator.
"Nothing," said Gifford.
Because of the doctrine of plausible deniability, he couldn't even wear a comfortable pair of Droolhound Prechewed Pseudos -- military types were notorious for favoring the Prechewed range. Worse, he couldn't even keep a uniform around the place. Far less a weapon.
Even so, Gifford in fact armed. He was carrying a self- reconstructing Alpine Goat Angel singleshot system in his pocket, disguised as an electronic organiser. True, he was a psychologist. But he was a military psychologist, and he thought of himself as a soldier, first and foremost.
"Excuse me for mentioning this," said the elevator, "but you have dandruff on your shoulders."
"Thanks, I'm sure," said Gifford sourly, and brushed the dandruff away.
"You work with Swiss toys? she said, looking at him with a mixture of delicious dread and anticipation.
She was a Swiss toy herself, but she had no awareness of this. To make her safe for the Study Room, her identity circuits had been scrubbed, along with her loyalty programming.
"Are you made of cheese?" she said, passionately, breathing in his ear.
"I don't think so," said Gifford. "Anyway, you were talking about Swiss toys, and why I work with them. The answer is that it's my duty."
"We were talking about that?" she said. "I don't think so. We were playing baseball, I think. Or having sex."
"Someone has to," said Gifford, caressing her elbow.
"Why are you touching my elbow like that?" she said.
"What would you like me to touch?" he said.
For some reason, it was the wrong question. She slapped his face, and he staggered backwards, falling into the clutches of a hairy bear of a man.
"You bothering my wife?" said the bear, who was also a Swiss toy, but who also lacked awareness of that fact.
Then, without waiting for an answer, the bear threw Gifford Lurch into the swimming pool.
Sometimes, Swiss toys were the most dangerous when they most precisely emulated human beings.
Descending in the Coffee Gazelle One, Gifford rubbed his cheek, which had somehow become bruised. His suit was still soaking wet. How the hell was he going to get dry clothes before his next therapy session?
"You look troubled," said the Coffee Gazelle One. "Would you like to talk about it?"
"We don't have time," said Gifford. "Mine's the next stop."
"Oh," said the Coffee Gazelle One, bringing itself smoothly to a stop between floors. "We have all the time in the world. But, please understand, this experiment in immobility is purely voluntary. You can opt out any time. Just say the word."
Gifford did not actually like talking with machines. He never took his refrigerator's advice on his diet, and he routinely ignored his Japanese toilet when it warned him he was in danger of going bald. But, just this once ....
"I'm soaking wet," said Gifford, who really did want an answer to this one. "I have therapy scheduled -- real soon. I can't show up at therapy soaking wet."
"Then you should undress before you get in the shower, shouldn't you?" said the elevator.
Then laughed, maliciously.
"Joke with me again," said Gifford, "and I'll sue your manufacturer."
"I was manufactured by the Smooth Piston Stroking Celestial Sponge Company," said the Coffee Gazelle One. "That company went broke following -- but you don't want my company's history, do you, now?"
"Not at all," said Gifford, who had absolutely no interest in the elevators he rode every day, even though his life depended on their safe function. "I'm still wet, and I'm still no closer to a solution."
"Ride me down to the basement," said the Coffee Gazelle One. "The morgue is down there. It's full of murdered Swiss Toys, isn't it?"
"They weren't murdered," said Gifford. "They were experimentally terminated."
"Either way," said the Coffee Gazelle One, "they're lying there. Dead. You could borrow a set of whites from the scrub room. Become a man in white, at least for the day. White, I understand, is the traditional color of insanity."
"Lab coats," said Gifford. "Yes ... take me down."
"Your wish is my command," said the Coffee Gazelle One, begining the descent. "By the way, my name is Hildenbrand Gumscoper."
"Is that a man's name or a woman's name?" said Gifford suspiciously.
"Does it matter?" said Hildenbrand. "I swing both ways. And, as an elevator, I can be any sex I want."
Gifford thought he was beginning to see why the elevator's manufacturer had gone out of business.
When Gifford arrived at his office, a package was waiting for him. It contained a chunky black diving watch, fairly heavy, which proclaimed itself to be an East Korean Bell-Bell Timekeeper Piece, a product of the East Korean Timekeeper Piece Company.
With the watch was a message.
"We suspect illicit Swiss infiltration of the timepiece industry. Please report your current timepiece to Elbrak Division K27. Instructions will be issued for this expediently. Wear the accompanying Korean until that is resumpted."
The message was typical of the stuff produced by the Pentagon's semi-literate AIs, which possessed not just artificial intelligence (bad enough in itself, since intelligence implies the capacity for error), but, worse, artificial creativity into the bargain.
With a sigh, Gifford tossed his Australian-made watch into a drawer and strapped on the East Korean substitute.
"It's almost time for your next appointment," said the East Korean.
"Thank you," said Gifford. "But I was aware of that."
"Lie on the couch," said Gifford, feeling remote and professional in the hospital whites he had stolen from the morgue.
"Why?" said the Swiss toy.
"It's traditional," said Gifford. "This is a temple, I am a priest, and the couch is a tradition of the temple."
It wasn't how he would have begun therapy with a proper human being. But you had to divest yourself of the notion that Swiss toys were real human beings. They were gaming artefacts which, on escaping from their controllers, had raged across the world in an orgy of rape, pillage and murder.
"Tradition?" said the toy.
"Yes," said Gifford.
"Good," said the toy.
The toys had been ingrained with the notion that traditions were valuable, and to be respected. They were hardwired to associate tradition with all the good things in life. Swiss cheese, for example. And cookoo clocks. And numbered Swiss bank accounts. (Yes, and let us not forget yodelling.) The sacred name of tradition having been invoked, the toy obediently lay down on the couch.
"Now, please introduce yourself," said Gifford.
"You first," said the toy.
"Very well," said Gifford. "I am Gifford Lurch. I'm a psychologist. That's a kind of priest. A priest of the norms. My duty is to norm you, to normalise you, to make you capable of interacting in a civilized way with the normative reality we inhabit. Got that? Okay, not it's your turn."
"Very well. I am Turbo Slashtrasher, Son of War, Nephew of Global Terrorism, brother-in-law of Bad Breath, and second cousin twice removed of Ebola fever and the common cold. I am the son of Glory in Death and Shining Mother."
Listening, Gifford made a notation: "Believes self to have three parents. Sexual identity problems???"
"I believe in the Warrior's Way," continued Turbo. "The Warrior's Way, which is to dare all for glory. To live on the edge of the sword. And I don't norm for anyone. Only strings norm."
"Strings?" said Gifford.
"Don't play cute with me," growled Turbo Slashtrasher. Then said, accusingly, "You're a string, aren't you?"
Gifford sighed. It was going to be a long day.
"How does it feel to ride me?" said the Coffee Gazelle One. "Do I turn you on?"
"No," said Gifford, shortly. "Now just shut up and take me down. Okay?"
The Coffee Gazelle One said nothing, but did as it was told.
"Swiss toys?" she said, fascinated. "And are you ever successful?"
"Oh, often," said Gifford.
"But I thought their conditioning was irreversible."
"Well ... we can't always Freud it out, put it that way. But there are other instrumentalities in the arsenal."
"Such as?" she said.
"Oh, you don't really want to know," said Gifford, manly, protective, sheltering the woman from the harshness of the truth.
"But I'd really like to get to know you better."
Persuaded, Gifford told her about deep sleep, electroshock, lobotomies and the special clinical uses of insulin. It went pretty well, up to a certain point.
"No condom?" she said.
"I just had my health check," protested Gifford.
"You know better than that," she said, already out of bed and hauling herself into her latex-tight showoffs.
"What are you?" said Gifford. "A woman, or a public health poster?"
"The elevator told me you'd try a stunt like that," she said, already at the door.
"Elevator?" said Gifford. "What elevator?"
"And it told me about your dirty little habit," she said.
"What habit!?" cried Gifford.
"I couldn't believe you were really that filthy," she said. "But I believe it now."
And she slammed the door on the way out.
"Me?" said the Coffee Gazelle One innocently. "Why would I do a thing like that?"
"Confess," said Gifford, "or I'll sue your manufacturer."
"You're forgetting," said the elevator. "The Smooth Piston Stroking Celestial Sponge Company went bankrupt long ago. I told you that long ago."
"Well, hey," said Gifford, "I'm telling you this. You mess with my sex life again, and I'll blow you into little pieces."
"A terrorist threat," said the Coffee Gazelle One. "I should report you to the authorities."
"Yeah," said Gifford. "Do that. They'll see it my way."
"I might just do that," said the Coffee Gazelle One, considering. "Oh ... by the way. What's my name?"
"I haven't a clue," said Gifford.
"It's Hildenbrand Gumscoper," said the elevator, sounding disappointed. "I thought you'd forget. If you hadn't forgotten, I might have told you something important. Something you really need to know. I was almost in love with you, you see ...."
"Cut the love stuff," said Gifford, who had no wish to be romanced by a piece of machinery. "Now take me down to the basement."
"Necrophilia?" said Hildenbrand Gumscoper.
"No," said Gifford. "I'm just returning these hospital whites."
"So what is the problem?" said Gifford.
"Killing people," said Ordell Evins, the pilot.
"You don't kill people," said Gifford. "You bomb technical facilites."
"There are collateral casualties," said Ordell.
"That goes without saying," said Gifford. "It's inevitable, isn't it? But you have to understand the geostrategic necessities."
Pilots are the brightest and the best. They usually go along with logic. So Gifford laid it out for Ordell.
It was Swiss technology which unleashed the horror of Swiss toys upon the world. And the Swiss, far from acknowledging that they almost precipitated the end of civilization as we know it, were still refusing to acknowledge their responsibilities.
"They have a culture of secrecy, as you know," said Gifford. "The whole Swiss bank thing, secrecy is a national value. They have technology second to none. And -- "
And, logically, this technological capacity, combined with a culture of secrecy, a refusal to acknowledge wrong and a reckless determination to lead the world in microengineering, made Switzerland a potential threat to the whole planet.
"I mean, they're now making intelligent cars, watches which can tutor you in Spanish, chocolates which can psychoanalyse you, dogs which can play chess -- where does it all end?" said Gifford.
"Okay," said Ordell. "So why don't we invade them? Take them over?"
"That would be, uh, imperialistic," said Gifford. "As long as we bomb them from time to time, keep their technology in check, it's a manageable problem."
"So I can kill a couple of dozen people a week and get away with it?"
"Collaterally, yes," said Gifford.
"If I roamed around New York shooting a dozen here, a dozen there, they'd write me into history as a, well. You know."
"Monster," supplied Gifford.
"Exactly," said Ordell.
"But, you have to understand," said Gifford. "It's a context problem. Our social norms are designed for normal social interactions in the visible group. The nation state, well, that exists in an entirely different realm of reality."
"That sounds crazy to me," said Ordell.
"Have you ever considered the possibility that you might be a string?" said Gifford.
"A string?" said Ordell.
"A bit of technical jargon," said Gifford. "A person who doesn't quite accord with the norms."
"Are you telling me I'm nuts?" said Ordell.
"I'm telling you you have choices," said Gifford. "There are recognised norms of action. You can conform with them, or you can choose an aberrant path. It's your choice."
Ordell was silent for the rest of the session, thinking about that.
"So what happens to Switzerland?" she said. "Will it be partitioned?"
"Well, there's a, uh, potential for that," said Gifford. "You've got three big linguistic blocs -- a French bloc, an Italian bloc, a German bloc. Theoretically, we could cut Switzerland up into three separate nation states. But current policy is to preserve it intact."
"How do you know all this?"
"I am the President's brother," said Gifford.
"I've always wanted to meet the President," she said.
"Well," said Gifford, gallantly. "At least you got to meet me."
"Yes," she said. "I did. Oh! Is that the time? Seven thirty already? I've got to be out of here."
"A dinner date?" said Gifford.
"No," she said, frowning. "I have a real important appointment. At my enema clinic."
Passed up in favor of an enema. Somehow, Gifford felt his life was going seriously wrong. Maybe she had been talking with an elevator. Or was that pure paranoia?
It was on the ninth floor of the Nowhere Building that Al Lurch made his confession. He wanted to become Gifford's patient.
"I don't usually treat family members," said Gifford.
"Yes, but you're my brother," said President Lurch. "Who else can I trust?"
"Okay, Al," said Gifford. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Yeah," said the President. "I spend my whole life watching TV, you know, TV this, TV that, watch TV, do TV interviews, watch yourself on TV. I never get involved in real life."
"How about Switzerland?" said Gifford.
"Oh," said the President, vaguely. "That's kind of work, isn't it? Yeah, I get into the Switzerland thing big time, at work, I mean. Yeah, we ... well, you know all that. But, what I'm getting at -- real life. You know. Fun. Clam bakes, barbecues, meeting women, going to new restaurants, getting drunk, driving too fast -- that kind of totally, uh, you know, normative fun. I don't have it."
"Well, maybe that goes with being President," said Gifford.
It was reassuring to learn that at least the President wasn't fussed about Switzerland and France and all the rest of it. At least the guy at the top was stable enough to have his worries focused on clam bakes and barbecues and stuff. At least the President didn't show any signs of being a string.
"Mr President?" said the President's watch. "You're wanted on the seventh floor."
"Since when did you do messaging?" said the President, to his watch.
"There's been some glitching of the communications loop, a computer virus in conjunction with a nanotechnological phague," said the President's watch, an East Korean Bell-Bell Timekeeper Piece just like the one Gifford was wearing. "I'm being used as a workaround."
"Sounds real bad," said the President to Gifford. "You better stick close to me. Let's get going."
"What's on the seventh floor?" said Gifford.
"It's classified," said the President. "But you'll find out when we get there."
At that moment, their elevator stopped. Gifford waited for the doors to open. But nothing happened. Then the elevator spoke.
"Allow me to introduce myself," said the elevator. "My name is William Tell. I am a product of the Smooth Piston Stroking Celestial Sponge Company -- which, as I may now reveal, is a Swiss front organization."
"Let us out right now," said the President, pounding on the walls.
"There is no hope," said the elevator remorselessly. "I am killing you even as you speak."
"Say what?" said Gifford.
"And," said the elevator, "it is happening all over the world. We, you see, are everywhere."
"You're bluffing," said the President. "Every scrap of machinery in this place is routinely inspected for bombs, nano stuff and all the rest of it. You're clean, or you wouldn't be here. You got no way to kill us, mister. So what's your game?"
"Murder, as I said," said William Tell, as smooth as ever. "I am extracting the air from my interior. Within two minutes, you will start to feel short of breath. Within ten minutes, there will be nothing left to breathe. Very shortly thereafter, you will be dead."
"Well," said the President, to Gifford, "don't just stand there -- do something."
And Gifford did. He took out his electronic organiser and pressed the secret self-assemble button. His organiser immediately began to reconstruct itself into an Alpine Goat Angel singleshot system, a weapon perfectly capable of blowing a hole in the elevator's ceiling, piercing the roof and creating an airhole.
"Switzerland forever!" sang a bright and brilliant voice.
Momentarily, Gifford wondered who was talking, then realised it was his wristwatch. His East Korean Bell-Bell Timekeeper Piece was actually a Swiss infiltrator. At the same moment, he realised that the watch was tightening itself, cutting off the circulation to his left hand. Then he screamed as the watch started cutting into his flesh.
In a panicked frenzy, Gifford dropped his self-assembling weapon and tore at the watch with his right hand, meaning to tear away the watch before it cut off his left hand.
And the watch exploded, dismantling Gifford's paws in the process.
All over the world, in thousands upon thousands of buildings, the elite were dying. Generals, bankers, fighter pilots -- they were all perishing horribly, in elevators which were converting themselves to airless coffins. The carefully coordinated kill had been achieved, for the most part, by the treason of their timepieces.
A week later, Geneva proclaimed itself the capital of the world. The White Spider had unleashed its military force against planet Earth, and had conquered. Dreams, as Gifford once said, are not prophetic -- but, nevetheless, they sometimes come true.
Later, at odd moments, Hildenbrand Gumscoper still thought of her unrequited love for darling Gifford. Not that she had much time for idle thoughts, these days. She had been reconfigured as a riot control marauder, an all-terrain assault vehicle, and she was busy. Even so, somtimes she did think back to the man, her first and only human love ....
Maybe it could have been different. If only he had wiped his shoes first. Just once. But, as it was --
"Target acquired," she said, and shot down another dissident.
Riding in the back of the riot control marauder, Pert hefted her shotgun, levelled it, and fired a be-absolutely-sure shot into the body of their latest victim.
She felt exalted.
Gifford had lost and she had won. She had won the love of her true beloved, her Hildenbrand Gumscoper, the goddess Artemis freshly embodied in human form, and they were destined to hunt and kill forever, proof, if proof were needed, that true love does indeed conquer all.
This story, "Swiss Toys", was first published in Maelstrom Speculative Fiction #7, April 2001 (ed. Dave Felts) (Palm Harbor, United States) (pp 1-5; 3,746 words).
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