MASTER OF THE GNOMES

by James Nathan Post








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Dieter Frey settled his flabby hundred-forty kilos into the black-upholstered contour chair, fitted the helmet mounted on the back over his head, and grasped the pistol grips mounted on the arms. His consciousness wavered for a few seconds as the equipment matched his bio-wave output and initiated complement feedback to supress his awareness of his own body sensations. He felt an instant of nausea and disorientation, then quickly picked up the sensory pattern of the remote unit. The sensation was akin to returning from a daydream to oneís own real surroundings.

Still aware of his own identity and personality, but free of his clumsy body and its fears and problems, he found himself standing in a clear area in tropical vegetation. The floor of the clearing was a level bed of sand, and the sky above the strange omnidirectionally-lighted blue of a large translucent dome.

It took him a few seconds to completely adjust to the slaveís body sensations, then he felt the sand beneath his feet and the cool and even breeze against his skin, which was slick with nervous perspiration from the slaveís anticipation of the upcoming action. Permitting the nervousness to swell for an instant, Dieter felt a delicious adrenaline rush convulse the body, and he made it stretch and flex the rippling muscles.

Then from a door partly concealed behind the vegetation stepped another person. Dieter watched him through his slaveís eyes, noting that he was not a large man, but small and compactly muscled, with the low forehead and thick features of the genetically-engineered gnomes. Like his own slave, the opponent gnome was dressed only in a leather support loincloth, and carried a forearm shield and short sword.

Dieter could see by the gnomeís blank face and quick mechanical movements that it was still under the control of the set-up operator, and had not yet been turned over to the player who would fight with him. The gnome stood dumbly for a few seconds, then jerked once and immediately began to look around. Spotting Dieterís gnome, it chuckled wickedly and began to flex its muscles. Somewhere in his mind, Dieter heard a signal he recognized as a five-second warning.

He hefted his sword and waited until the release, then lunged forward, roaring mightily. His opponent was quick, and the first blow rang against Dieterís shield. He tried to use the shield to deflect the sword upward while he attacked low with his own blade, but the other had dropped his shield to cover himself. Twice he found himself pressed such that he could not couple his defensive move with a simultaneous attack, and he began to backstep. Taking blows on his shield and permitting his sword to be easily deflected by the other, Dieter retreated, allowing his opponent to press him faster and faster in his drooling and triumphantly-roaring lust for the victory and the kill.

In his feigned confusion, Dieter watched until his opponent was in a position to deliver a downward slash, then he stumbled and let his shield arm open as though to catch his balance. Seeing an opening, the opponent swung the blow at the arm, a blow which would almost certainly cost Dieter his shield. But instead of trying to dodge or pull the shield into position, he took the blow squarely on the bicep and stepped into the undefended area left by the stroke. With a short, precise thrust, he stuck his sword into the other gnomeís liver.

"Thatís the difference between fighting a man and a gnome, my friend," he said to the dying gnome, speaking in the clumsy accent of controlled gnome voice. Then he noticed that his own gnome was becoming weak and losing consciousness from shock and the loss of blood from the severed arm. Abruptly he was disconnected from the remote unit and found himself lying soaked in sweat in his control chair, his gross body trembling in reaction to what he had been doing.



####

EXCERPT:
VICAR, Inc. Employee Personal Data File

PERS: FREY, Dieter S. /Age 41 /Male /A-S eth-root /1.87M /143K
EDUC: PubSch Calif: Elem /HS BS: UCLA /Elect. Engr.
EMPL: After grad UCLA, began work as VICAR electech. 3y/8m in that status, then began work as VICAR remote-unit set-up operator and parttime character actor. 11m in that status, then began fulltime work as remote-unit actor.
CHAR: Chronic obese /suffers masculine-sexist physical prowess frustration manifest as physical-combat sword-phallus-keyed sado-masochism /VICAR use rating: addict /external life data describes hostile recluse.
CRED: Floating VICAR debt ceiling: C300 /payment irreg but satis /major income: VICAR r-u actor /major expense: VICAR use. (Note: Class TZ clearance for itemization.)


####


EXCERPT:
NEWS AMERICA, Vol. IX: 24

The early work out of which the VICAR (Vivipansensory Individual Control Apparatus, Remote) Harness grew was done by Mr. Gerald Speesmeyer as a graduate student in biophysics at Magoffin College studying the electromagnetic phenomena associated with the body and trying to decode field and neuron impulse patterns. Using the primitive computers of the time, he was able to analyze, record, playback, and construct these in such a way that one personís patterns could be transmitted and then received by another person. By limiting the transmitted signal, Speesmeyer created the first telecoms--telepathic transcievers --and the first feel tracks for the movies which were the popular entertainment medium.

The first known use of a complete motor-control harness is the still-controversial Charlie McCarthy mission series in which a team of investigators operated remote bodies who knew nothing of the missions themselves in a daring raid on an Islamibloc main cybernetic ganglion. Intending to most beneficially regulate its use, the United Americas Government placed all use of the equipment under Federal control. But American peoples, recognizing that did not constitute the best approach, responded with heroic democratic initiative. The corporate leaders of the industries associated with the production and use of the harness and other Speesmeyer-derived equipment petitioned the Government for the right to operate in certain areas not affected by need to ensure that national security be not threatened. The resulting laws permitted certain kinds of benign vicarious sensation and control through the use of such equipment for entertainment. It also permitted use of complete bodies by mentally-competent but physically handicapped people, thus enabling many aged or crippled people to still grant society the fruits of their talents.

Recent advances include remote ambulance units by which a trained technician rushed to an emergency is operated by a surgeon who remains at the hospital. In this manner the surgeon is available in many places at once. The Government has also instituted other beneficial uses.......


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EXCERPT:
Conversation recorded at VICAR, Inc., office of C.C.Beckman, Remote-unit actor supervisor. Subject: Dieter S. Frey.

Beckman: OK, Dieter, your rate of payment hasnít been too bad, not unsatisfactory, even if a bit slow from time to time. However, you must be aware that you are now in arrears by three hundred twenty credits.

Frey: Yeah...and whose fault is that? You havenít set me up for a real bucks gig in weeks. How the hell am I supposed to pay you if you wonít get me the paying work?

Beckman: I see. You think your debt is the companyís fault. Well, Iím sure you know there isnít always a call for your special...

Frey: Donít gimme that! The world is full of vicarhypers.

Beckman: Thatís true, Dieter, but many of them are just like you, trying to finance their own hypes by geeking for the paying clients. If you donít have a personal following with lots of credit...

Frey: Look. I donít want to argue about a lot of little stuff with you. I need to go out for a kilo. I gotta have it, Beckman...so what do I have to do?

Beckman: One thousand credits?

Frey: I want...I want to do...the big one. (Pause) Dammit, you know what I mean...the big blonde one. She has been put up for a closeout, you know that...and you also know the first kilo will take her. And itís got to be me...do you hear me?

Beckman: Ah. And where do you intend to get one thousand credits if I extend this to you?

Frey: Come on, Beckman, donít play hard to get with me. You know there is something special you need somebody to do. Youíve always got somebody hanging around who wants something really putrid. Now come on and spill it. Do I get her or not?

Beckman: Well. Since you put it that way, there is a thing -- a small thing -- a person asked of me today...

Frey: What is it?

Beckman: Never mind that. Are you interested?

Frey: All right, Iím interested. I donít give a damn what it is, Iíll get the mark off. Do I get the blonde?

Beckman: For doing a client a little favor, we will permit you to go into arrears for an additional one thousand credits. Then we can discuss a plan for paying it off.

Frey: Youíre an asshole, Beckman, but you know what? I donít care what you want me to drive some dumb gnome through. Chances are pretty good Iíll get off on it...and thatís just like getting it free.

Beckman: Let me warn you, Dieter...it could happen the company might not let you pay for your pleasure by working it out doing company gigs. With tastes like yours, you would be well advised to develop a specialty and a group of kilocredit clients who like it. And Dieter -- there are ways, of course, for those who just canít figure it out, but they are not always pleasant.

Frey: Well, good, then you donít have anything to worry about, do you? I have some ways going for me too. So Iíve got the blonde?

Beckman: Luckily for you, there isnít a great demand for slobs like her these days. At ten credits a whack, weíre losing money on her. Sheís yours for the grand...and the favor.

Frey: Thatís all I needed to hear. Keep her off the line...I want her fresh.

Beckman: Of course...Mr. Frey.


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EXCERPT:
VICAR, Inc. public telemedia commercial.

Letís face it, folks: VICAR is here mostly so people can go out and enjoy something that for some reason or other they canít do for themselves. If you live behind a desk like so many of us do, you might not have time to stay in good enough shape to explore a sunken ship. But you can do it safely and without strain by the use of a VICAR scuba diver. And itís just like being there. Really!

VICAR guests may enjoy the complete experience of racing a superbly conditioned athletic body through an obstacle course. As our guest you can thrill to the heart-fluttering excitement of skydiving in complete safety even if you are elderly or invalid. Know again the surging vitality of youth, and wrestle with strength and stamina, the throbbing drive available only to the young. It can all be yours again.

VICAR performers are raised from birth to best serve you, and they love doing it. And why not? They are supposed to have fun, so you can enjoy their pleasure. VICAR is the most amazing and revolutionary thing thatís ever happened to the world of entertainment -- now anyone can actually experience the most demanding activities in safety and without strain. Itís exhillarating, and itís just like being there. Really!

Make your reservations now for a weekend. Your meals will be delivered to your sumptuous suite with its comfortable control couches and handsome living appointments. Call toll-free for reservations in Woodstock, Las Vegas, Balboa, or La Plata.


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Dieter Freyís gnome was much larger than most, bullet-headed and terribly strong, dressed in the loincloth sword belt Dieter favored. When she came into the sand arena where he stood, he looked at her and shuddered in revulsion, a revulsion that drew him fascinated to her. As he had requested, she was dressed in farmerís overalls, a sagging broken wreck of blubber-laden body. Her face was lined and mottled with ruined veins, her expression apathetic but for the subtle self-interest of the actor operating her.

He loosed his tortured need, his irreconcilable confusion of love, hate, lust and shame, and the harnessed bodies responded. She begged him and cursed him as he ripped the coveralls from her body. Then forcing her to grovel, he drew his sword and hacked and hacked, and thrust and thrust.

Dieter lay in the control couch, weeping and trying to calm his own shuddering body. "Oh, dear God, thatís so hard," he sobbed, "so sweet and hard." Then as he regained his composure, he pressed the sweaty palms of his great pudgy hands to the doughy flesh of his face. "One thousand credits. Oh! Oh, I want it again. Iíve got to get money...real money. These crooks will geek me dry." He took a deep breath and shook himself calm. "Itís time to make the move," he said, and he heaved his bulk up from the upholstered control couch and stood resolutely to leave.

Beckman was waiting for him in the hallway when he left the cubicle. "One thousand credits, Mr. Frey," he said. Dieter žignored him and started down the hall. "A word with you, Dieter...now!"

"Tomorrow," said Dieter, leaving without looking back.


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EXCERPT:
SOCIAL CONSCIENCE DIGEST, Vol. 2; 11.

The use of this terrible mind-control device was illegal as soon as the telemedia engineers discovered how to make it. A lot of the early work in developing it was done in secret by renegade engineers outside the law and by hidden Government labs behind the law. There is no question that many very beneficial uses for it have been found, but in no way do they compensate for the unimaginable potential for abuse by the power-hungry in it. It was when the power-hungry in a position to make the laws decided they wanted it for themselves that laws were passed enabling them -- and only them -- to use it. Their first use of it was typical -- they operated remote-controlled spies with disposable bodies.

Recognizing its power for controlling the credit flows of the public, a powerful group of businessmen and their lawyers created a national issue centering around the complete Federal control of the telecom and telecontrol equipment, not only in those areas like intelligence work where the old scare-cry of "national security" could still be trooped out for justification, but also in its uses like the feelie-movies, for entertainment. In the ensuing battle, several American states obtained the right to legislate for themselves certain aspects of the use of the equipment solely for purposes of entertainment. Domes were built in New York, Nevada, Panama, and Argentina to exploit the possibilities for amusement. They were popular at once, though the general public quickly tired of them and left them to those whose particular madnesses were sated by the remote use of other peopleís bodies.

It was after this had been accomplished that study and work began to determine, locate, or create the optimum type of person to be the controlled unit. The favorite combination was great strength and motor control, with low intelligence. Recruiters scoured the docks, mines, and gymnasiums of the world searching for the right combination of strength, stupidity, and willingness to sell control of their minds and bodies.

Eventually, as genetic engineering techniques became more sophisticated, organizations were created to carefully raise cloned humanoid bodies whose function was to be operated by another manís mind and will through the power of the telepathic harness. It is to the eternal shame of mankind that we have Frankenstein-like created a sub-species of our genus for the purpose of using them as slaves in the most profound sense. Even if laws could be passed giving human rights to these pathetic creatures, they are incapable of caring for themselves.

So shall we soon have masses of ignorant humanoids capable of service in any harness, and of no further ability or use? Shall employees soon wear their managersí harnesses, or dance to the tune of a recorded program, tote that barge, lift that bale? Shall police forces become armies of expendable fighting machines, masterminded by indestructible intelligence miles away? Shall....



####

At the next shift change, Dieter returned to the Las Vegas dome complex dressed in a technicianís jumpsuit, and let himself into the service section of the gnome quarters with a passkey he had obtained during his employment as a harness technician. Unnoticed among the stream of other techs, the moonfaced, balding fat man moved quickly to a cell he had previously selected. The gnome inside was one he had picked for a reason. He lacked the gnarled muscular body and low forehead that would immediately identify him as a gnome in public. "A genetic throwback," he had concluded, "one that can pass for a straight man on the street."

Taking an instrument from his case, he entered the cell. The gnome looked up at him in surprise, then froze as Dieter activated the instrument. Working quickly, he laid open the skin on the mastoid process, removed a small plate, and made an adjustment. Then he replaced plate and skin, sealed it with a salve, and departed, leaving the case behind. Two hours later, the gnome stood, put on the clothes left in the case, and departed also.

Shortly thereafter, a business establishment was successfulžly robbed. The assailant fled leaving behind three corpses and taking almost three thousand credits in hard cash chits.

At the next shift change at VICAR, the gnome returned to his cell, hid the clothes and the suitcase, and prepared to go on duty in the slapstick chamber.

Dieter Frey stood in his one-room flat with one hand filled with credit chits and the other resting on his homebuilt harness, made from parts stolen or duplicated from VICARís own. "Now," he said, "now, Mr. Beckman, we shall see who comes courting whom."


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EXCERPT:
THE ESSENCE, Vol. 1; 3.

AMERICAN CREDIT MONEY POWER GLUTTONS GOBBLE FREEDOM PEOPLES SOULS WITH TYRANNIC MIND HARNESS INVENTED FOR SPIES.

DEPRAVED PUPPET MASTERS FORCE ULTIMATE SLAVERY ON RACES BRED FOR SERVICE AND ON POLITICAL PRISONERS.

BLOOD-SLOB DESPOTS SECRET RAILROAD FREEDOM FIGHTERS USED AS ROBOT MEAT IN SADO-MASOCH ORGY FOR HIGH-CREDIT CONNECTIONS.

NEO-SOCRATIC FREE SOUL PEOPLES ARMY LIBERATION WORKERS GIVING SOUL TO OPPRESSED GREEK REFUGEES IN SUBURB GHETTOS DISAPPEAR. ESCAPED WITNESS VERIFIES NARCO-COVER POLIT-SQUAD TEAMS HUNT AND CAPTURE FREEDOM PEOPLE FOR ROBOT SLAVE MACHINE INPUT.

HELP FREE SOUL. KNOWLEDGE THE GUIDE. RESISTANCE THE TOOL. KNOW HARNESS INVENTED BY NAZIMIND SPEESMEYER FOR CIA CONTROL. CREDIT MACHINE STATE BARONS FORSEE TOTAL CONTROL ALL PEOPLE IN HARNESS OPTIMUM FOR ABSOLUTE ORDER AND MEGAPROFIT.

NEW HARNESS LAW THEFT OF HUMAN RIGHTS PERMITS ROBOT CONTROL OF EMPLOYEES FOR TRAINING DEXTERITY PATTERNS. PERMISSION FOR USE NOW GRANTED BY CONGRESS. NOW ONLY QUESTION: WHO GOES NEXT???

FREE SOUL LIBERATION WORKERS FRONT LINE FREEDOM FIGHTERS NOW ENSLAVED AND MURDERED BY MACHINE-STATE TYRANTS ILLEGAL USE OF SOUL-STEALING HARNESS. GOVERNMENT ROBOT SLAVE WORKERS NOW LEGAL. WHO IS NEXT REPEAT WHO IS NEXT? RESIST. RESIST. SEND CREDIT TO FREE SOUL 12426 ABQ 88112.



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Dieterís gnome stood in the main hall of a major bank, waiting in line for a teller and watching the clerks and guards. When he felt it was the right time, Dieter stepped to one end of the room and blew a whistle. "This bank is being held up."

Seeing a guard step into the open at the other end of the room, he pulled from beheath his coat a brush-cutter pistol he had taken from an ambushed policeman. With a sound drill-like and shrill, the pistol spat a bolt which burned fist-sized holes in the bodies of the guard and two people standing near him.

"Nobody move," Dieter shouted, "not a muscle or I just start burning everybody down. Now listen carefully. I want you to know exactly what you are up against. What you see before you with the cutter in his hand is a gnome, a harnessed slave. To me it is just another worthless body, and Iíve got dozens of them if I want them...so it doesnít matter to me if you trap it or kill it. I will just keep coming back with another body until I get what I want, and next time I will begin by burning down whoever happens to be around me. You can catch me or kill me a dozen times, and every time I come back I look like somebody else.

"So get me money...hard credits, and right now, and if anybody tries to stop me, or follow me, then...." Without warning, a cutter bolt stabbed out from the dark space behind an opened door and burned away the gnomeís right hand and the pistol it held. Dieter looked up in surprise to see two more guards, both armed with cutters, run into the room from different doors. "Damned fools," he muttered, and disconnected, leaving the gnome to face death by himself.

Half an hour later, Dieter Frey was sitting in his room dejected because his gnome had been stopped, but using the frustration to feed the hate-powered anticipation of the revenge he would wreak with his next one. Next time he went to VICAR in techie disguise, he would make adjustments on several gnomes, so he could afford to waste them to make his point if need be.

He was interrupted by the crashing open of his door by a compact, cutter-armed policeman. His shuttered window shattered and he saw the snub nose of a cutter thrust in to cover the room.

"Freeze, Fatso," snarled the cop.

Dieter sagged into his chair. "But... but...how?"

"The slave. He surrendered when you disconnected, and his description of you led us right here."

The gnome stepped into the room, gingerly holding his plasto-bandaged stump. "You should have made me rush them so theyíd have burned me down," said the gnome to Dieter with contempt. He chuckled ruefully when he saw Freyís astonishment to hear him speak intelligently. "Youíre stupid, man. You picked me because you thought I was a gnome that looks like a straight. Well, Iím a straight who looks like a gnome. Not everybody in harness here was bred for it, you know. There are all kinds of ways a man can end up...."

"All right, shut up," said the leading cop.

Suddenly feeling his bowels go loose, Dieter struggled for control of his voice. "I...I want a lawyer," he squeeked.

"You donít need one," said the officer. "Weíre not taking you to the station...weíre taking you to VICAR. They told us you belong to them."

Dieterís face went white and glistened with sweat. His jowls began to quiver uncontrollably and his eyes became wide with fright. Seeing him, the cop leered. "Ha-ha, look at this! The dumb slob has just figured it out."

"No! Gnomes arenít people," Dieter cried. "Theyíre -- you canít use real... no! Not meeeee!" He turned to the cop imploring, "Get me Beckman! C.C. Beckman, Vice-President -- youíve got to let me talk to him."

The officer laughed again. "What a coincidence. Mr. Beckman also requested that we bring you to him...personally." Dieter Frey began to squeal and shake, looking from one to the other of them in terror. Then the cop clamped a wristband with an electrode needle in it to his thick wrist, and the body relaxed.

"OK, Iíve got him," said Dieterís voice, strangely mechanical. He stood and walked from the room with the cops, his face an apathetic blank.

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This story is included in the Science Fiction anthology
KING'S KNIGHT.