He meant it.
I stopped, looking down toward the bottom. The stairs came into one end of the cellar, and it was impossible to see anything of the basement room if you stood at the top of them. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing wrong,” He said.
“Then I’m coming down.”
“No! I’m not—not pleasant to look at,” He said. “There has been a major change within the last hour. You had best stay up there.”
The voice was something like a seventy-eight r.p.m. recording being played at forty-five, though it was intelligible and still carried enough of His former tones to let me know it was definitely Him. “I think I can take it,” I said, starting down again.
It was such a definite negative that I stopped on the fourth step, then turned and went to the top landing again. I was shaking all over. Scenes from the old horror story wound through my mind despite my earlier proclamation. Bolts in the neck . . . A series of heavy stitches across the forehead . . . malevolent eyes, eyes of a dead man . . .
“The changes,” I said. “What—”
“It became necessary to adapt my circulatory system to my newer form,” He said. It was eerie talking to Him and not being able to see Him. My mind conjured up worse apparitions, I was sure, than the one He must truly have possessed at that point. “It could not support the tissue I was making. I restructured it into a triple pump with external as well as internal vessels.”
I sat down on the top step because I did not trust myself to remain standing. “I see,” I said, seeing nothing. I have this complex about seeming stupid. It comes from having lived with Harry Leach for so many years. He would explain something to me, something so complex that only a team of specialists could fully understand it, and then he would say, “See?” And if I said no, he sulked and slunk around looking for simpler language to put it in, inevitably putting it so simply as to embarrass both of us. He never inferred that I was not as swift as he, but the aura of his frustration made me feel somehow inadequate. It was years and years, until I was finished with interning and had gained some confidence as a full-fledged doctor working on my own, that I came to understand myself in this respect, this threatening inferiority complex. I understand it now. I still can’t shake it.
He went on. “And my eyes were insufficient. I did away with those. Other systems are more efficient. A great number of organs—Jacob, in short, I am not human—not even android—any longer. Not even remotely.”
Nonsense! Or was it?
For a time, we honored silence. It was the old inferiority thing again as I groped about for some understanding, some interpretation that would present my mind’s eye with a coherent theory-picture. It was hard, sweaty work, even though it was totally mental. Finally, I said, “What good are you like this? Are you even mobile?”
“No. Too much tissue.”
“If you’re not mobile,” I said, “They’ll get you in a few days. Sooner or later, they’ll find out we crossed them, and they’ll come here and find you waiting for them like a plastic duck in a shooting gallery.”
“No,” He said confidently. His voice was still garbled and strange. “I can never die, Jacob.”
“Invulnerability now? Are you certain it will hold up even to nuclear weapons? They’ll use limited atomics, I should think, if there is no other way to get to you. They hated you that much. And they will hate you more when they see whatever it is you have come to be. And when they fully understand that you think you can give men unlimited Me spans.”
It was laughter, I think, that rolled up from that cold cellar. At least, it was as close as He could come to making the sound of mirth now that He had forsaken human form. Instead of conveying good humor, however, it left me uneasy and with a nagging desire to keep looking over my shoulder. “I’m not invulnerable, Jacob. I am not, you see, the immovable object. I am the irresistible force.”