If Purdom hadn’t said that this story was set in the same universe as Five Against Arlane and “Haggle Chips”, I wouldn’t have known. Granted there is the element of long-lived humans which is in those stories, but that has been and remains a Purdom fascination along with the wargame simulations mentioned here.
The trouble with this story is, while I know what Purdom was trying to explore, the details are too vague.
Protagonist Vostok is over 1,200 years old and assigned to seduce Larina Makaze. The why involves some political conflict between the normals and long-lived like Vostok on the planet Shuguro. The 268 year old Larina has been the blackmail tool of Hamanaka (a vaguely Japanese name along with Shuguro which, I assume, is Purdom’s suggestion the planet was settled by Japanese) who leads the faction of long-lived against the normals lead by David Fuchida.
Larina has been used for 37 years as a prostitute for men in “their middle hundreds” to rejuvenate their flagging sexual desire through whipping, chaining, caging, and humiliating her. Hamanaka seems to use what she discovers about these man as blackmail material against members of Fuchida’s faction. Her “last so-called lover” tortured her with laser shocks so she came to associate sex with pain. (Why she didn’t make that connection before or why she went along with this for 37 years is unexplained.) Fuchida wants him to bring back joy to her sex, presumably for altruistic reasons or he’ll “start burning out memory cells” from her brain.
Fuchida also wants Vostok to prove that he’s temperamentally still with the world of recognizably human appetites. If he doesn’t, Fuchida will kill him and go to war against Hamanka’s fashion with the only “competent tactical brain” he has, Vostok’s, gone.The long-lived are, expectedly, a whole lot more ruthless and powerful and wealthier than the normals. They’ve “reduced their personalities to the presexual passions of survival and power.”
Vostok himself has, to keep up with improvements in human biology, had his head expanded to twice its original size and is 250 centimeters tall. Vostok, sexually quite practiced and adept, tells Larina to just relax and he’ll take over so they can prove to Fuchida their both normal enough. He even gives her an aphrodisiac thus bringing up the question, with them available, why the men of their middle hundreds need to abuse Larina to stay sexually interested though I’m sure there are men who do the same in our age of Viagra.
They both, as humans often do in Purdom stories, have some advanced degree of control over their nervous systems. While he’s trying to prolong Larina’s sexual pleasure, Vostok’s mind begins to wander. He thinks not only about his past, but, suspecting Fuchida’s men are even then surrounding the house and preparing to kill him out of suspicion, starts to run elaborate political, military, and economic simulations in his head. (He reminded me of the fascination the protagonist of Purdom’s “Fossil Games” also has for those sort of simulations.)
Angered by this distant, Larina suddenly rebuffs him. “You’re dead already. You’re a corpse,” she tells him in disgust. Vostok rapes her in a legal sense, forcibly penetrating her. She tries to cut off her pleasure centers but can’t. Alluding to the extreme caution and conservatism of the long-lived, he tells her “I’m risking my life. I should be manning my defenses. They may be attacking me right now. I’m risking eternity so we can both go on being human.”
The story ends with Vostok thinking they were both now fighting the only fight that mattered – the fight to stay human. The last line is “He pressed her against the couch and held her while she writhed.” Earlier in the story’s climax, “she shuddered”. But, in typical Purdom fashion, that and “writhed” are ambiguous words and could designate not some cliched tranformation of rape to erotic bliss, but discomfort and pain and terror for Larina. It is only Vostok that makes the statement that what he is doing is a fight for both. Larina does not voice agreement.
It is another exploration of Purdom’s fascination with how advanced humans, able to control their biology, would deviate from us and whether that’s a good thing. It could also be viewed as a metaphor (though Purdom seems to eschew science fiction as a metaphorical tool) for a social split along generational lines, vitality and youth and poverty and ignorance and passion vs. wealth, cunning, and survival.
However, I still think the story is marred by vagueness in its setup. It is a clever and appropriate title for the story.
It appears in William F. Nolan’s anthology The Future Is Now which I will be reviewing shortly. Let’s just say I’ve been brushing up on the fine distinctions between the words “execrable” and “feculent”.