Demon With A Glass Heart

demon hand

From the 1964 episode of “The Outer Limits,” “Demon with a Glass Hand” starring Robert Culp and Arlene Martel

18 October 1964

“My name is Trent, and at last I know who I am or rather what I am. It will be dawn soon and I’ve accomplished my mission here. I retrieved my missing three fingers, stopped the Kyban incursion from a thousand years in the future, and destroyed their time mirror. Now I have to leave the building before people start to come to work, and especially before she comes back.”

Standing outside of the Bradbury Building, he looked at his reflection in a display window. He could pass for a man about thirty or thirty-five, but the fact is, he’s only ten days old. No, make that eleven with the sunrise. His jacket, pants, and shirt are all various shades of light gray. His hair is dark and his face is clean-shaven, although he’s been designed to not grow body hair beyond his current appearance. He’s handsome, but not particularly outstanding. In fact, the only thing that might draw someone’s attention to him is the dark glove on his right hand.

Trent started walking southwest for lack of anything better to do. He didn’t feel hungry, but in the past week and a half of his life, he never experienced hunger or thirst. Strangely, he has experienced fear, anxiety, anticipation, and even love.

Her name is Consuelo Biros and she owns a small business in the building he just left. He had been sent back in time to preserve the human race, but Kyban agents chased him, which in a way, was fortunate. The glass hand, the computer mounted on the end of his right wrist, was missing three of its fingers when he arrived. They had been appropriated by the Kyban invaders, the aliens who had come all too close to obliterating the human race in their quest to take over the planet.

At the threshold of Kyban victory, 70 billion human beings, the entire population of the Earth, had vanished. However just before that event, central command had released what was euphemistically called a “radioactive plague,” designed to terminate all intelligent life, which began slowly killing all of the Kyban. They believed Trent knew how to stop it and where the entire human race was hiding. They were only half right.

They trapped him in the Bradbury Building. In one of the upper offices, they had set up their time mirror and their base of operations in this time period. They brought the three fingers with them, hoping to quickly capture Trent and force him to reveal the location of future humanity. For that, all five data lobes of the computer had to be installed.

He encountered Consuelo by accident when he hid in her shop. Trent thought it was empty like the rest of the building, except for the Kyban.

For some reason, he felt he should protect her. Maybe it was a latent effect of his programming, to protect human beings and after all, she was indeed human. But later, they became allies, and by the end, they both hoped to become lovers.

That ended when the Kyban had been forcibly sent back to the future to die and the time mirror was destroyed. It ended when Trent inserted the last finger on his glass hand and learned the truth. He wasn’t a man with a prosthetic hand, he was a machine, and the hand was his auxiliary database.

The human survivors had been digitally encoded onto a gold-copper alloy wire wrapped around the solenoid in Trent’s thorax. There was no stopping the radioactive plague, but the radiation would reduce to safe levels 200 years after the Kyban invasion was terminated. Trent was immune to disease, and as long as he encountered no accidents or anything else that would prove lethal, in 1,200 years, he would still exist and resurrect humanity.

Consuelo learned the truth when he did, and Trent recognized the pity and horror written on her face as she left him behind. Nascent love had turned to ashes within her in seconds, but for Trent, in whatever passed for his glass heart, the emotion remained.

16 April 1966

“I read the wedding announcement in the Times last week. I’ve been working as a clerk for a shipping company for the past eighteen months. My needs are few. Shelter in the form of a one bedroom apartment, new clothing and such. I continue to have no need for nourishment and my existing power cell will last the full length of my mission. I walk the streets of Los Angeles, among the human race but not part of them. I feel I should be among them because someday I’ll save them.

“Today, I’m doing something different. I don’t have an invitation, but I can stand across the street from the church. The concepts of church and God are strange to me. 1,200 years from now, no Messiah or Jesus will arrive to save the people of the Earth. It will only be me.

“She’s coming out now with him. Consuelo looks just as lovely as the last time I saw her, but a good deal happier. Today, she has gotten married. She once told me her first husband made her unhappy and that he hit her. I hope this man will be better for her.

“I don’t know why I came. I suppose I have some sort of residual attachment to her. She was the first person I was ever close to. I don’t remember those who built me and activated my program.

“Someday, she will have children and grandchildren, and with this man, she was grow old and finally die. On that day, I will mourn her, but I will still look the same as the day I arrived in this time; still the same as I did when we first met.”

Consuelo and Ron were peppered with rice by their friends and family as they joyfully made their way to the street and the waiting limo. Her husband opened the door for her, and as she started to get in, she looked up across the top of the car. For an instant, she saw a tall, dark-haired man turning away. He wore a glove on his right hand.

6 November 2020

“Apparently, I’m not as good a predictor of human behavior as I thought. Consuelo was married and divorced three times. I admit to having difficulty understanding what makes people happy. I know her children and grandchildren made her happy, so I’m grateful they were in her life.

“Within my body, the digital representations of 70 billion human beings rests, awaiting eventual resurrection on the world free from deadly radiation and the more deadly Kyban. Consuelo died last week, and today, I am attending her funeral. She was only one among billions, and yet she touched the lives of so many others, including me.”

“I thought I knew all of my Grandma’s friends.”

“The young woman resembles Consuelo, but not very much. Her hair is lighter and not as long, and her complexion is a touch more taupe. Yes, that’s the right word for the color. Her most compelling feature is her eyes. They are exactly like hers. I feel myself drawn into her stare.”

Trent allowed his expression to change from disinterest to mild curiosity. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Ronnie Garner. I’m her granddaughter.”

“Trent Ford. Pleased to meet you.” They shook hands, and she hesitated as he gently grasped her right hand with his.

“A prosthetic. I apologize. I know it makes some people uncomfortable.”

“No, it’s my fault. I should apologize.”

“Think nothing of it.”

Lost in thought, which happened to him occasionally, he hadn’t noticed that the ceremony was over and the bereaved were retreating to their cars. He also hadn’t noticed Ronnie’s approach.

“How did you know Grandma?”

“We were acquaintances. I met her a long time ago. We only talked for a few hours, but she left an impression. I read her obituary and felt the need to come here.”

“You don’t look much older than me.”

Trent presented her with a slight smile. “I age well.”

“Well, pleased to meet you. Are you coming to the house for the reception?”

“No. As I said, we were only acquaintances. I don’t know anyone among her family or friends.”

“You know me.”

“We’ve just met.”

“You said you didn’t know Grandma very long and yet you were close enough to her to want to come here.”

“Your Grandmother taught me a valuable lesson about my existence. I live a life that is best lived alone.”

“That doesn’t sound very much like her. She always loved people, just not her husbands.” Ronnie twisted her face in a way that was interesting to Trent, expressing a mix of humor and sorrow.

“As I said, I knew her a long time ago, before you were born. I understand people change.”

“Are you sure you won’t come? You look lonely.”

It was a simple and profound statement. Until that moment, Trent couldn’t identify the emotion that had sent him both to Consuelo’s wedding and her funeral. Ronnie was right. He was lonely. But he knew there could be no future with another human being, not the sort of future he briefly hoped he could have with Consuelo.

“You are very kind, Ronnie, but I must go now. My condolences on your loss.”

“And yours, Trent.”

“Thank you.” He turned and walked back toward the parking lot. He had long since established a digital identity which allowed him to own property, buy an automobile, and subtly manipulate key stocks, thus amassing enough wealth to provide for his needs across the long stretch of time that extended before him.

Ronnie watched the tall, dark-haired man recede in the distance as she stood alone near her Grandma’s grave. She looked at the gloved right hand. Two days ago, while cleaning out her Grandma’s effects, she came across a small diary in the back of a dresser drawer. There were only a few entries, and they were nearly sixty years old. Grandma wrote about an impossible series of events she had faced with a man in a single night, a man she fell in love with. His name was Trent, and he wore a glove on his right hand, a hand made of glass.

2115

“Ronnie Garner Randolph died yesterday. All of Consuelo’s children have died, most due to aging. Only two grandchildren are left, but the other two perished in the India/Pakistan nuclear war. It was a small war, and nuclear winter should only last decades. It is fortunate that there are now human colonies on the Moon and Mars.

“The Kyban will eradicate them at the same time they invade Earth, but that’s still 850 years from now. I must be cautious and avoid such conflicts. My mission won’t terminate for over a thousand years. The problem is that my programming only contains limited information about future history. I know enough to have accumulated vast wealth, and in fact, am considered one of the ten richest men on the planet. I’ve changed identities multiple times, pretending to age and die at the appropriate time while creating a new persona so I can continue.

“I would have thought war, social conflict, disease, disorder would have been abolished by now, but wisdom seems to elude humanity. I don’t even know the nature of those 70 billion people I harbor within my artificial frame. Perhaps the world would have been better off if the Kyban had been successful. After all, human beings unleashed radioactive genocide upon the invaders. Of course, they were desperate, but they caused as much death as the aliens threatened to do. I sometimes question the ultimate purpose of my mission and the consequences of fulfilling my program.”

2617

“Over half of the time I must endure has passed. Perhaps my past cynicism was misplaced. Currently, the Earth is experiencing a global peace, but the records, though incomplete, show that such occurrences are exceptionally rare. Races, nationalities, and religions frequently find reasons to quarrel with one another, and the all too predictable result is that a good many people die.

“I’ve found it tedious to maintain a continual presence among humans. It also became increasingly difficult to create credible identities that were impervious to fraud detection. It was much easier to establish a hidden bunker in a wilderness area and then to descend into a period hibernation, coming out of standby mode once every century or so, to sample the human race via news broadcasts.

“I have less than 550 years until I complete my mission, but in three-and-a-half centuries, the Kyban will arrive. That will be an especially dangerous time for me, since they will learn of my existence, of how I was sent back in time a thousand years, and that I possess the secret of the continued existence of the human race. They will be looking for me, not the ten-day old me who was sent back in time, but the thousand-year old me who must survive them and must survive the radioactive weapon that will eliminate their threat.

“Perhaps it is time to again walk among humanity. It won’t be terribly long until Earth will become too hazardous for me.

2965

“I’m standing naked on the surface of the Moon looking at the Earth. I’m not alive, so I cannot die, and over the centuries, I’ve discovered ways of hardening my apparent flesh so that heat, cold, and solar radiation are to me as a gentle breeze on a warm spring day is to humans.

“My decision to relocate to the Moon was correct. I escaped detection by the Kyban who are now all long dead. Their unmanned ships are either grounded or in orbit, though over the course of decades, those orbits will decay, sending those vessels into the atmosphere to incinerate. The bulk of some of the larger ones will survive to impact the surface, but there is a high likelihood that they will strike one of the oceans and sink into a dark oblivion.

“If I had chosen one of the Lunar cities for my sanctuary, I would have been ended along with the human inhabitants, but I selected a crypt on the far side of the Moon, thousands of kilometers away from any artificial structure. My mission is near completion and I feel a sense of anticipation, and even excitement.

“I am in communication with the information systems on one of the Kyban ships in orbit. I am ordering it here to what is left of Copernicus City. The ship will remain intact and functional for the next two centuries until I need it to return to Earth. It will require some cleaning, the removal of the Kyban corpses, but I have witnessed so much death in the past thousand years, I seriously doubt handling the alien dead will affect me.

“That was a lie, of course. I find death appalling. No, not the natural occurrence, but death when caused by war, violence, destruction. After a thousand years, I wonder if humans and Kybans aren’t all the same. If only I hadn’t met Consuelo, perhaps I could be dispassionate about life and death, but she taught me what it was to be alive, to feel, to care, and to love.

“If humanity is cruel, murderous, warmongering, it is also warm, tender, and compassionate. How can I deny the resurrection of the human race if it contains perhaps many Consuelos within its ranks?”

3164

“I’m standing on the portion of the Earth that once was called Los Angeles, within just a kilometer of the Bradbury Building where I met her. It is now a beautiful meadow covered with wildflowers. I’ve witnessed a number of ground animals and some birds. The radiation purge was designed to destroy intelligent life, acting upon the higher brain centers, so the beasts, fowl, and aquatic life remains. They must have found the past two-hundred years a paradise. I’m here to change all that.

“Being intelligent and self-aware and yet programmable is a curious thing. For 1,200 years, it never occurred to me to examine the encoding on the gold-copper alloy wire entwined within me. It is the last hope for the people of the Earth who once boasted a bloated population of 70 billion. I hadn’t allowed myself to truly envision a world where limited resources were greedily fought over by nations and corporations. Such a vast number of humans is completely unsustainable globally.

“The squalor among the many poor was unimaginable. No wonder that when they finally achieved superluminal travel, they rushed to establish colony worlds among the stars. That must have been horrifying for the Kyban. No wonder they invaded the Earth with plans for the total extermination of the human race. People were about to become a plague among the stars. The Kyban were only defending themselves. It was so simple to complete the gaps in my knowledge of history once I accessed the alien database and added it to my own.

“I must have been a fool to believe that my unknown creators would really encode the entire human population onto this wire with the expectation of total retrieval. Now that I’ve read the set of instructions that only became available in the last six months, I know that less than a million are to be retrieved first, and after that, slowly, a million more will be restored to serve my programmers and their superiors.

“Humanity hasn’t changed. It hasn’t grown in wisdom by any measurable amount in 1,200 years. It is still greedy, hierarchical, obsessed with possessions, and demanding the subjugation of any ‘lesser’ beings in order to have servants.

“However, while human beings haven’t changed, I have. I am programmed, so I must comply with my instructions, but I am also self-aware, intelligent, and perhaps even conscious to some degree. I can choose not only the specific number of people among 70 billion to resurrect, but exactly which ones. I can read each individual, their personalities, their wishes, their dreams, the dark flux in their spirits and the bright. I will be the Father of a new humanity. If I am to save them, I must preserve them from both the Kyban and themselves.

“Humanity will rise from the ashes of their own self-destructiveness to build a world only imagined by Saints and Pietists. It will also be a humanity that has been imagined by me, a machine.

“One million human beings to start. Actually, one million and one. I have found someone very much like my dear, lost Consuelo. No, I can never have her back, and I never had her in the first place. But her granddaughter was right. I have been very lonely and in spite of my nature, I have the capacity for tenderness and compassion, and the need for companionship. The long journey is over and the requirement to be alone is obsolete. The demon with a glass hand has possessed a glass heart for the last twelve centuries. Like the fable of the Tin Woodsman from an ancient motion picture, I can now have a loving heart.”

I wrote this as an homage of the life and works of the late Harlan Ellison. His career and accomplishments spanned decades, and they include writing the screenplays for two episodes of the 1960s television anthology series The Outer Limits. One was called Soldier and the other Demon with a Glass Hand starring Robert Culp and Arlene Martel.

I’ve seen them countless times before, both because they are excellent stories, but also because I’ve been a fan of Harlan’s work since the 1970s. I rewatched “Demon” a few nights ago following Ellison’s death last Thursday. I’ve said before that many authors have made me want to read, but only Harlan made me want to write. There was something so human about his stories, they made me believe I might also have a “voice” that could tell my own tales.

I’ve seen Harlan at various conventions and heard him read his own stories, but we never met. Truth to tell, even at a height of 5′ 5″, he was terrifically intimidating, at least as far as his public persona was concerned. He would have scared my younger self to death.

After watching the episode again, and after reading that he had long-planned to write a sequel to “Demon” (which he never did), I thought I’d write one of my own. Oh no, it’s not anywhere near as good an effort as he would have accomplished, but Trent’s story was unfinished, and something inside of me needed to complete his journey.

I hope I did okay.

Harlan, wherever you are, if you’re aware of any of this, it’s my wish that you accept my story kindly or at least without harsh words and thoughts. It’s just my way of saying “Good-bye.”

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7 thoughts on “Demon With A Glass Heart

  1. It seems to me that your farewell homage to Harlan Ellison has succeeded to capture at least one characteristic of his writing that always struck me, which is a streak of nihilistic or dystopian darkness. In this case, you made the intended vehicle of human rescue into a judge, condemning fully half of them to remain in oblivion, ultimately to become an enslaved class. I imagine that to be a violation of his original design purpose, and eventually a cause for an uprising that likely will engender a great deal of destruction, probably including the millennially-aged automaton who divided humanity in this manner.

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    • Actually, the problem is Trent’s programmers set that up, commanding him to resurrect one million “elites” and then another million people to act is their servants, allowing the vast majority of 70 billion humans languishing in digitial oblivion.

      As I was writing this, it occurred to me that 70 billion is way too high a population to sustain on our planet. I don’t know if Ellison came up with that number originally or if some eager editor made a change. But “dumping” 70 billion people into the biosphere all at once seemed like a recipe for disaster.

      Hence my greedy “elites” plotting to set themselves up on a renewed Earth controlling the number of people to be resurrected.

      As I recalled, Trent was planning on resurrecting a million people of his choosing, ideally people who he believes would benefit the planet and people rather than exploit it and them. Of course he is setting himself up as judge, but he’s had 1,200 years of observation to go by relative to his understanding of human nature.

      It is a disturbing point and ultimately, he does plan to return all of humanity to life, but probably not all on Earth. If different bodies in the solar system could again be made suitable for colonization, and if there are exoplanet also suitable where our presence wouldn’t be perceived as a threat (as it apparently was by the Kyban, then the 70 billion could be “redistributed” to sustainable environments in numbers not resulting in an ecological disaster.

      Yes, I’m leaving a machine in charge of making decisions for the whole human race, but Trent’s creators (and Harlan Ellison) did the same thing. I’m just attempting to craft an outcome where everybody wins.

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      • Sorry, I must have missed the bit about discrimination and partial reconstitution being part of Trent’s original programming. You’re right, of course, that 70 billion must have been an exaggerated number, because natural forces would have suppressed the human birthrate long before such an unsustainable number was reached. I’m not sure I can envision even some technological environmental structuring that could enable humanity to produce environments across this planet that could support such a number in a manner that they would continue to reproduce. The notion of exo-planetary expansion and distribution prior to the Kyban invasion and disaster offers some possible explanation for how such a number might have been reached, and why such a redistribution would again be required. Some explanation might be helpful to fill in the history of how they then were collected from these planets, processed into coded, compressed, stored form, and transferred into Trent who would serve as their “Ark” and restorer.

        However, your story only mentioned restoring two portions of a million each. But part of the darkness or bleakness of this method is that even 1200 years of Trent’s non-human existence and observations of humans leading up to the disaster cannot qualify him to apply human compassion or principles, nor to improve upon his original programming. There is no suitable guidance by which the “Tin Woodsman” could develop that truly human sense of “heart”, his experience with Consuelo notwithstanding. Indeed, his sense of justice is already suspect in that he considers restoring the second million in a second-class subservient state that cannot help but evoke the human sense of competition and entitlement that would lead to eventual violent uprising to resolve the inherent conflict that he himself had created.

        If his reconstitution project were to succeed, he would have to release the population gradually rather than in large batches, and create training programs for them to show them how their prior history had led them to disaster, and the alternative principles they would need to apply in order to create a sustainable society. He would also need to maintain the capability to re-imprison the worst offenders who subsequently refused to “choose life that they might live”, presumably after trial by their peers to engage them all in the judicial learning process that they would need in a sustainable society. Ultimately, he would have filtered the population until most of them were living and dying and reproducing normally, but in accord with their improved set of principles.

        There might remain some percentage of selfish or predatory incorrigibles imprisoned in encoded form, and some evaluation would be needed about how to deal with them. If they were released onto their own planet together, they *might* live out their normal lifespans; but given that they had already demonstrated their characteristic bent, most likely their lives would be “nasty, brutish, and short” as they destroyed each other. Or some of them might spread out across the planet to live as disconnected hermits. Whatever other technology might be provided to them would have to be limited to exclude off-planet transportation. Perhaps a suitable name for their assigned planet would be the ancient name for a territory reserved to hide evildoers from other humans and cooperative society: “Hell”.

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    • I hope so. He could be a pretty tough critic. That said, I’ve seen a ton of things that need to be edited, but then again, not owning the characters and the base story, besides this blog, my wee tale will never see the light of day publishing-wise.

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